Monthly Archives: September 2011

because we (still) can.


yesterday was my 44th birthday. to me, this means today is the first day of my 45th year because i hit the 44th year mark yesterday at approximately 3:53pm. but i won’t get into details.

for people mostly those past their 30s, birthdays are oftentimes opportunities for reflection and assessment. are we where we hoped we’d be? did we have a plan or idea about where we are now? are we happy? what is happy? are we doing what we thought we could when we thought about doing it?

i can say that i have done/achieved a lot of things and most of them i didn’t plan on. by sheer grace and divine providence, i am here to say that. the things i did in my youth, i am largely still able to do.

i realize as i typed that last line that i sound like i should be surprised by that because 44 is so, y’know, ancient. i don’t think it’s ancient. i think it’s the beginning of calcification, however, if i don’t pay attention.

the other day, i picked up my violin. i haven’t really sat down and played it, more than a couple scales or arpeggios in decades. three to be exact. my fingers were rusty and they had no interest in doing scales. as a youngster, my father often impressed upon me the importance of practicing… . “DO YOUR SCALES.” … “I DON’T HEAR ANY SCALES.” … “SLOW DOWN.” … “AGAIN…. FROM THE BEGINNING.”

i took up violin because i couldn’t carry a piano.

also, because my dad took me to see Lord Yehudi Menuhin when i was 8. for an hour or so, it was just me and Dad and about 2,000 other people at the buffalo philharmonic symphony house with its polished mahogany walls, crystal chandeliers, sloping ceiling, tiffany sconces, elegant trolley bars selling cokes in glasses dotted with the half-circles on the bottom, and sapphire-blue carpeting with the golden stars in it. to me, it was just me and Dad.

we sat in the dark and listened to Lord Menuhin play with two other people whom i’m sure i was supposed to be impressed by, but it was Yehudi i was interested in. after the show, Dad got us behind stage and i held out my program for Lord Menuhin to sign and he did. it wasn’t a “i’ll never wash this program again” moment for me because it wasn’t a crush i had on him; rather, i was mesmerized by him. he was elegant, in his tuxedo, so refined, and graceful; like a slow and steady arpeggio or a sip of fine wine. he smiled at me, got down on his haunches and talked to me. i didn’t know what to say; i don’t know if i said anything but for me having this genius whose virtue calmed me just by doing what he loved was beyond special. i was a child and all i knew was that it felt good. i felt lucky.

i kept that program on my roll-top desk blotter for years. i spilled chocolate milk on it and it missed the autograph but it stiffened the paper and glued the sheets together inside. now i had my two favorite things together: the memory of that day and chocolate milk.

so last week, when i picked up the violin my parents bought me when i still showed interest in high school, a rich voiced, amber-toned, “single back” (which is unusual, most violins are split backs) Karl Hofner (#165) built in 1979 in Bubenreuth, Germany it felt very natural.  i was fully conscious of what i was doing; it wasn’t like i was guided to it by some mystery music nymph. i thought about it.

i thought: am i doing this because i want to recapture some of my youth? am i crazy, thinking i can do this? how stupid is this?

but i picked it up because i wanted to and because i knew it would be a little hard, but that i and the situation would be OK because things are different now. there is no need to be perfect, to get it just right. for now, the exercise is in the joy of just doing it.

and we were OK, my violin and i; we related almost immediately. it felt like an old friend who’d been in the neighborhood and who wanted to stop in and say hi. it was out of tune, but not awfully and once i’d tuned it up and put rosin on my bow, i did what i used to do: i skipped scales and arpeggios (sorry, Dad) and went on brain memory and muscle memory to bring me to a place where i felt confident to continue.

i tried some Bach and Mozart (Twinkle-Twinkle) and tooled around with it. the Bach was hard so i went back to what always impresses but is actually pretty easy: Vivaldi. i don’t know why i think Vivaldi is easy — the Vivaldi i know is intense, angry music. oh, now i know why i think it’s easy: because i’m pretty intense and can be quick to temper. Vivaldi goes high on the finger board into octaves that could shatter glass. once i felt comfortable with my old friend, i decided to forage for more. the memory banks were depleted but i still wanted to go on because i was very excited that my playing didn’t sound like a dying forest animal.

i went to set up my music stand and grabbed some music i knew i could play because i just had played some of it from memory, but i wanted to finish the rest of it.

memory is powerful: it can help you cook, drive a car, dial a phone to call a friend, sing a song; but memories are linked to emotions which are like the water that creates its own way, no matter what you’re doing or how composed you think you are; when emotions flood into memories, all bets are off. bringing out those music books changed everything.

it wasn’t even seeing the notes on the page that shifted things for me, but rather the comments in handwriting from my father and my various teachers over the years that opened up a giant hole into which i slipped and lost time. the comments were foreign to me, speaking to a child who really had no sense of “Feeling!” or “Expression!” as proposed by the teachers. i saw my Dad’s iconic green felt-tip markings on the sheet, working hard with me to keep my strokes up or down and helping me stay on course. his comments, “S-L-O-W” here and “Gentle” there in his loopy almost illegible, save for the few entitled, scrawl. they stopped me in my tracks. i don’t have many notes from my Dad.

have i always been rushing? have i always been trying to get to the next place? even as a child? not savoring the moment? but probably enjoying (i hope) them nonetheless…  today’s myriad insistences that we “live in the moment”; “slow down to savor” each and every … thing implies that we’re not ever enjoying what we have before us. how do you marry “live each day” with “a rolling stone gathers no moss” while honoring the intensity of emotions evoked by memories that crowd your body without losing perspective? which is right? savoring or rolling? feeling or moving? growing or learning? i don’t know. can you do both — learn and grow from savoring? yes. but you don’t want to sit still all the time either because then you don’t “LIVE!”

engrossed with the covers, feeling the yellowed, velvety dog-eared and soft edges of clearly well-worn and turned-over music books, all with my pre-teen bubble writing, claiming ownership, i pick one up, turn to page 20 and lo and behold, i see in my own hand in pencil at the top of the page: “Count!!” and i’d “pinked” all the Ps and Fs and dolces and mFs and cresc. markings.

i guess i knew even then. or someone told me to … pay attention.

my career with the violin didn’t last more than 9 years. i wanted to “take a break” and ultimately gave up soon after i asked my teacher to give me music i’d heard on the radio or that i would love. i asked for Bach. even then, i knew (well, when you hang out with music geeks, you learn what you like) that i loved Bach. i think that upset my teacher. he had me playing pedantic exercises by some dude named “Keyser” and others. but i was on a different plane: i had grown beyond that child who didn’t know what “Expression!” sounded like in music. i was able to identify with the music on an emotional level (i was 17 and had learned how sadness and disappointment could feel) and i felt i was ready to play music that mattered. to me. at this point i was ready to stop entirely. while i knew i had a lot of time invested in it and it mattered to me to keep trying, i also wanted to assert myself.

i felt that if i was going to continue, i should at least try playing something i like… to keep me interested. of course i would play classical music; playing the Beatles didn’t even occur to me. i remember the conversation distinctly still. so in a bit of a snit, he gave me some Bach. music by Bach that was so complex and accomplished, and frankly, impressive but sterile sounding to me, it was what my father identified as “warm ups” for Itzhak Perlman. Perlman, a violinist so well-known, so genius, so beyond my league, that i felt defeated. i was excited that it was Bach, but i was aware of the implicit message from my teacher, “if you think you’re so hot and you know so much about it all, try this…” when he presented the music he sorta flinged it at me.

to him, i was rebelling because i thought i was hot stuff; to me, i was rebelling because i was losing interest fast and i wanted to play something i’d like because i still liked the violin. it wasn’t rocket science and it sure as hell wasn’t about him. being 44 now, i can see how his overinflated, thus fragile ego could make it about himself; he was  first chair viola for the national symphony orchestra who grew tired with my half-assed interest in his experienced tutelage; we were wasting each others’ time. he was where i am now: including in the mix as many things as possible that bring pleasure and tossing out anything that brings drama.

so when i saw that Bach book the other day, i picked it up and leafed through the pages, still awed by the music in front of me. it still intimidates; it breathes. it’s Bach Concerto in A Minor ( but i was determined. i picked up my Hofner 165, sat up nice and tall, fingers going where they remembered, poised my bow, inhaled and played something entirely different.

my kids, fresh from their various cleansing rituals, came in one by one and in the doorway stood to listen to me. it was not bad; it was rusty and a little halty-grindy, but i knew what i was doing. they were kind; kinder to me than my brothers ever were when i played as a child (i was pretty good, too) and they smiled with pride at me, their mom, who until now never played a note near them.

Thing 3 came up to me later and said, “i didn’t know you played the violin, mommy.” and i said, “yes, i used to play it all the time. now i just have a violin.” and he said, “no, you played it. i heard music. but why did you play it?” and after a pause, i thought about it: i have the itch now. i have the patience now; it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just can be pleasing. and i don’t have Mr. FancyPants flinging music at me any more. said, “because i still can.”      

Thank you.

Sidewalks Are Good for Picketing


I have been away. I have been playing Mommy to my brood from June until September. I have also been taking up a new hobby: engaging in Me time, which heretofore was unknown. I have learned that I love to row on the water. More on that later.

Rowing and motherhood didn’t stop me however from staying involved / babysitting in the ridiculousness that is the Burke Centre Parkway Task Force as well as its arch-foe, the two keystone cops: FCPS School Board and FCPS drone/pawn in the Office of (un)Safety and (in)Security.

It will be hard for me throughout the existence of this Blog to stray from the random meanderings of these organizations and believe you me, I have tried to not make this a political RANT blog; there are enough far-more qualified ranters out there who have sponsors and get paid and all that good stuff. My payout is dissension and continued fight. I feel like I will not rest until this school gets a mother-lovin’ school zone light. This battle predates Montague v Capulet. People have died (of natural causes) during the life of this battle; they’ve also gotten divorced, married, had kids, moved, changed their hairstyles, been promoted and assumed new lives. All perfectly rational and normal experiences.

Me? I dunno. But they didn’t have then what we have now: a sidewalk.

To do what we could to dance around this situation and still seem … genteel, a near-unanimous (guess who didn’t agree? the drone) quorum of the TF asked the School Board (SoB – I know there’s no “O”; I’m invoking a trash-talkin’ acronym when I use SoB… ) to consider on a case-by-case basis the policies (you like this? see how egg-shelly, tissue papery we’re being?) that steer the decision to install Wink-O-Matics (WOM) at the schools. We’re not asking for much. We’re simply asking for someone to think about thinking about something that requires more people to think about before anything is even… responded to.

Remember: this school has no identifying sign (now going on 15 months), is UNDERground, and now has a sidewalk next to it, but STILL (despite the endorsement by VDOT and the powers that be at the SoB that the children should now walk on that sidewalk NEXT to the superhighway) no “school zone” speed reduction signs.

Oh, I know the rationale. I understand the so-called reasons for these WOM systems. And no one is suggesting or even making the link that if you slow down traffic in front of the school on a posted 40-mph, 7-lane superhighway that sees 32,000 cars daily traveling averages of 57.9 mph that a WOM will suddenly enable the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the heartless to care, and the stupid to be smart and walk across the road at safe crosswalks. No. No WOM will ever get college-educated, war-hardened, classroom-challenged, carpool-hazed adults to NOT cross at the juncture points between their place of employment and Starbucks. It just won’t happen. Lattes overrule Intelligence. Count me in as one of those people who is idiotic enough to cross at that point. I boast my cinnamon-sprinkled foamy mustache with pride.

But this WOM isn’t for the foamy adults amongst us. The WOM is for the children; who by all standards really shouldn’t have latte face, but whose school should have safety and fair treatment, regardless of whether it fits into a logarithm to assess suitability.

I won’t bother to show the letter (maybe I will) penned (really, it’s a form letter, I’m sure, with macro settings already embedded to expedite its dictum): “Dear [PROLETARIAT / RABBLE NAME]” thank you for your “[STUPID REQUEST]” that dares to usurp our 20th Century brilliance. After a moment’s consideration, we offer the following and outmoded information that reminds us why we laugh at your proposal: “[ENTER REASON CODE(s)] FOR [REJECTION] or [DENIAL] of [BASIC RIGHTS HERE]” Ut prosim, “[BUREAUCRAT LOSER]”

The WOM systems cost about $100k. A high school kid was struck by a car and died about 3 years ago in the area where the WOM could be installed. Crickets. Not saying the WOM would have saved his life, but you have an 80% higher likelihood of dying from being hit by a car traveling at speeds at 40mph or greater than you would at 25mph. (These are some of the unpleasant facts I’ve learned on this TF.)

In an alternative to the WOM, the VDOT rep performed a traffic study to warrant another intervention: (a $350k) red-yellow-green stop light between the school and the Starbucks et. al center. The study proved the situation warranted it, based on vehicular traffic. This was good news, we thought we had something. Guess who said no way: The Office of (un)Safety and (in)Security. How? Because the school is supposed to be renovated in 2 years based on $16.6 million in bond funds coming from a vote this November. What? Yes, it’s Monopoly money until that bond request is approved. While these requests have been approved historically, the economic reality might make this yet another wedgie in the underpants in the underground ass of our school. But we’ll see as I am hopeful it will work out.

Tell me this though: even if a stop light were installed, how much ya wanna bet (I’ll wager a latte too) that even if the light says, “DON’T you dare WALK!” and traffic is light that people will cross anyway? I would. I know I would. They’re doing it now with NO light, so what’s to stop them with the light? So to me, the stop light is a giant waste of cash.

The WOM however is not and while it’s not designed to engender safe crossing, it is predictable: for one hours 2x a day, 5 days a week for 9 months of the year, drivers will have to drop their speed to 25mph from a likely 50mph. No big deal. But SoB and FCPS Office of (un)Safety and (in)Security pawn say no way.

While the FCPS Office of (un)Safety and (in)Security drone can’t be voted out, he can be told what to do by a SoB that is awake and alive.

I posted last week on FB the gist (and I will continue to rant about): “I am sick and tired of people whose children are beyond the FCPS ages running the show on this school board. These people have GOT to go.”

In the wake of that “status” I had the pleasure of meeting a candidate, Megan McLaughlin (, who knows how to drive a car (not horse coach), knows that phones needn’t be connected to walls anymore and actually has children who are currently in FCPS schools. So far, she’s got my attention. We talked about the WOM policy and I sent her the letter and she’s in agreement that an underground school with no sign that sees 32,000 cars rush past it daily should be considered for a WOM review.  While I’m not here to endorse anyone (sheeya, like that matters… I’d like to think that my PTA executive years count for something) I like that she’s running for my district because the person who’s leaving has to meet her spaceship to deliver her tissue samples from her time on Earth… and she’s not running again anyway.

Apparently the SoB races are so hot that they might overshadow the local politician races (… I like our guy, John Cook, enough but I am now wondering if what he’s doing has any traction anyway. Here’s my point: can he over-rule VDOT and FPCS drone / SoB?     

What do we get from the principal on this issue? Crickets (and some of those crickets are dead or have beards like Confucius and are wobbling as they hop with canes). As usual. I remember telling her one day when my kids were younger and I was naive and thought she was paying attention that her employers are those who can’t tie their shoes or open their chocolate milks. Crickets. She doesn’t live in Virginia, she doesn’t care and if it brings her negative publicity, she won’t say dick. Whatever. I’ve given up factoring her in anything of any material worth in these situations because she’s totally uninterested.

So we have this sidewalk now. It’s fantastiche. It abuts the service / carpool lanes that travel along the superhighway. Some of those carpool cars enter that lane at 35mph easy. I tried to explain to VDOT blank stares at the penultimate PTA meeting I chaired that the presence of the sidewalk endorses walking along the road and that the presence of the sidewalk means “walk to school this way but we won’t bother to slow down traffic for you or separate you from some of the carpooler drivers” who are thinking about their powerpoint presentations, their next shift at the hospital, their ongoing fight with their in-laws or their ailing parents. Kids are 3′ tall and weigh 40lbs. Cars / vans, SUVs average 5′ tall and weigh 2,500 pounds. At 35mph, guess who’s gonna lose in that confrontation? 

But I want to thank the powers that be (no one’s really owning it ‘cept for our district supervisor during his re-election year as a PR and photo opp — I chose to not stand in the ribbon-cutting picture that day because I see this as a hollow and well-timed opportunity for him on a project that was in the books for at least 2 years and had nothing to do with him but is owned by Burke Walks Safe & Green, a local group I belong to) for giving me somewhere to march with my picket signs demanding a review of the policies for WOMs. RISE UP!    

Thank you.