Saturday, March 29, 2008


In my post "New Year's Day," I used an image I found via a Google Image search with the keyword "sunrise." I "lift" images off the internet all the time this way and presume others do, too. I never thought much about it.... I assumed that they were sort of public domain, or something.

They aren't necessarily.

I received this comment on that post, from Digital Revolutions, a design-resource company which creates graphics and screen wallpaper :

Hello - Please avoid directly linking to my "Sunrise" image without at least crediting or linking to my site.

Oops. I'm sorry.

I went to his (or her?) site and attempted to use the "Contact Us" button to let them know I had now credited and linked it. However, I kept getting a message that I'd responded incorrectly to the "Challenge Question" (like a word verification, I guess) which was not being displayed in the contact form, so I was unable to contact them.

Anyway, it's done, it's credited, it's linked, I've learned. If I use someone else's image, I'll be crediting them. If someone used one of my own photographs, maybe finding it via a search or on my blog, I would want credit. I'm proud of my work and if someone else likes it, I want them to tell the world where they got it. Once a friend (who was also my boss) asked me to make a collage of photos of her niece. I worked hard on it in Photoshop, erasing out the cluttered backgrounds and replacing them with pastel gradient ones, added feminine little graphics, was pleased with the result, she loved it and paid me $50, and then color-Xeroxed copies of it on photo paper for the family. I felt affronted, maybe even a little violated.

So I understand and I apologize.

I feel overwhelmed, though, at the idea of going back through 3 years of posts and crediting and linking all the images not my own that I've used to illustrate what I've witten. But I'll be doing it from now on, and encourage my readers to do the same.
How to do it: Life's Journey asked how to creat a "byline." Here's how I've started doing it:
While writing the post, under the image type "Image Source:" or whatever words you choose, followed by the name of the website it came from. Like this: "Image Source: Website." You get this information by clicking the image in Google, which makes the image pop up with the website of its origin. Copy that. Then highlight "Website" and copy the link. It will create a link to that website. For the byline, in the toolbar I select small type and italics. Hope this helps :-)

Saturday, March 22, 2008


So today I went with our neighbors on an Austin Cycling Association group ride. Choices were 33, 45, or 69 miles. We did the 45.
That gives me 140 miles of biking this week.
Last week, with two round-trip commutes and one one-way, I did 80.
The week before, the same, 80.
Before that, I'd been doing 48 miles a week in 3 one-way commutes.
I feel like I've done a LOT of cycling this week. My quads can feel it. But they don't hurt.... they feel strong. Hope that holds! I guess it will, if I keep up the biking!

Friday, March 21, 2008


The people who've seen this photo have asked, "Is that real?"

Yup. Passed him today on the bike. I didn't really need the sign to convince me to refrain from jumping the fence to pet him.

I went biking with our neighbors, finally.... hard-core roadies (in their 60's) who bike at least 3 days a week, and I've never been able to go b/c I was working at the daycare or, earlier, training for the marathon. Today the daycare was closed and I had no responsibilities, and we went for a WONDERFUL 30-mile ride.

I AM SO HAPPY!!! I had such a good time!! I saw Texas hill country, and Texas farm country, something other than my urban/suburban bike commute. No deadline, didn't have to be anywhere by any time! A PLEASURE ride!!!!! What a novelty!!

They're going out tomorrow with the Austin Riders Cycling Club, and I'm going to feed the livestock early and be ready to go by 7:45. We're planning the 45-mile route (there's a choice.) I've never been on a group ride! The most I've ever ridden with is 2 other people. This is going to be fun!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


In the daycare center where I work, the classrooms for the under-2 kids have chest-high doors opening out into a large common playroom. You can always see what's going on in the playroom and in the classrooms.

The other day, one of the front office staff members came and looked over my door. 3 little boys, all 20-22 months old, were seated at the table drinking milk. "That's Miss Callie," I told them. "Can you say Callie?"

One of the boys made a stab at it: "Cawwie," he said.

One of the others immediately said, "Moo."


Doesn't seem like two 16-mile bike rides should have tired me out, even with 4 hours of little kids sandwiched in between.

I was pretty active with them: running around their playground, having "animal parades" (we crawl on all fours pretending to be various animals while we make the sounds of the animals, an educational diversion I invented for 1.5-yr-olds), picking them up and swinging them around a lot, going down the slide with them.... that shouldn't tire out a 56-year-old woman, should it?

I can feel yesterday's biking in my legs. The trip out was against 15-25mph wind the whole time. Trip home was better, and I worked on keeping my cadence up with the gears just a click higher than I would have liked.

Guess I'll ride my easy gears today. I'm sleepy. Slept late (8:30.) I guess there's landscaping work going on here at the camp, but I get in most of my hours feeding the animals, so I don't have to go out there digging holes more than about 3 hours a week.

The landowner, faced with more work than can be finished in the week and a half most of us will still be here, has offered $10/hour for work beyond the agreed-upon hours for our sites. I'm tempted to work extra, for maybe another $100 in the till for running shoes, bike shorts, 1/3 of a really good down sleeping bag, or insurance against next month, when we'll be between work-camping jobs and relying on skimpy savings and Steve's retirement check.

Or not. I'm not Superwoman.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Wow. I am really planning this. Last year when I was talking AT, I was just saying, "I really like backpacking in the mountains. I'm going to hike the AT."

This year, I am blogging HOW I am going to do it. Big difference.

I need to make lists. I'm making them on paper, and I'll also be publishing them on a new blog, Ellie's List of Lists. So far the only one there is my Ironman Race Day packing list.

Here's the general backpack list. I'll be posting it over there as well. Later, I'll list details of what's in each kit or set. Most of this stuff is what you'd take on any camping trip.

OK, here goes:

Ellie's Backpack List (a work in progress...)
Big garbage bag as waterproof liner & slick surface to slide stuff in
Extra garbage bag, ziplock bags, plastic grocery bags
Sleeping bag & liner
Pillow (minimalists will cringe; travel size, compresses flat)
Sleeping pad (softer surface & insulates you from cold ground)
Shelter (tent or tarp, tarp is more versatile, can rig as tent)
Groundcloth to go under tent (controversial to minimalists)
Clothing (list coming later )
Cookset & fuel (list coming later)
Food (list coming later)
Essential toiletries, medications (list coming later)
First Aid (list coming later)
"Murphy Kit" (for whatever can go wrong, will... repairs etc.) (list later)
Rain gear -- pants & jacket
Water bottle(s) & water container for camp
Sanitation kit (list coming later)
Sandals for camp wear and river crossings
Camera, extra batteries or charger
Flashlight, extra batteries
Cellphone & charger (I'm looking into a battery-operated charger)
Hiking poles (can carry a few lengths of duct tape wrapped around)
Pocket-size New Testament
Book (can be mailed ahead in sections to save carrying weight)
Pen & paper for journal

I may have left out things... this is just off the top of my head. Hopefully, the weight of this basic pack, not including food or water (called base weight) is under 30 pounds; ideally, under 25, since food and water are going to add up to 10 pounds. Total carrying weight over 35 pounds is too energy-sapping, but you want to have enough stuff that you're not using leaves to cover you at night!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


So, how do you send something ahead to yourself while you're hiking a wilderness trail and don't know anyone in the next 3 states?

You just send it to the next post office you expect to land at, addressed like this:

Ellie Hamilton (or whoever)
ATTN: Hold for AT Hiker ETA 4/12/2009 (or whenever)
General Delivery
State, Zip

When planning your trip, you estimate your daily mileage and travel time using a trail guidebook or data sheets. The AT Thru-Hiker's Companion notes the number of miles between towns, shelters, water sources (creeks, springs), and other essential information, including landmarks and side trails leading to road crossings or towns, plus a list of post offices. You figure out where you will be and roughly when, and bingo, the Mail Drop.

A Bounce Box is a box of supplies you mail to yourself, pick up at a post office, take out what you need, maybe add something you aren't using much but expect to need later, repack and reseal it, and mail it to the next place you expect to stop. Some hikers pre-pack individual boxes of supplies, maybe a week's worth of food or other stuff, leave them with family or friends along with their list of mail-drops, to be mailed out separately to reach specified post offices by a certain date. There's leeway: A post office will hold mail for a couple months, and then if it's unclaimed, return it to the return address.

Friends and supporters can also send care packages this way. Many hikers post their list of mail drops on their blog or Trail Journal (here's an example.) has an article with more information than I ever dreamed of on how to send a package to a hiker (remember, I'm going to be out there next year....) :-)


Carpe Diem is the topic of a recent post by Jade Lady. I recently met Jade Lady for the first time here in Austin. She's the sister of Shirley Perly, whom I'd met once before at Ironman Florida, and we all met up for lunch one day before the Austin Marathon.

Anyway, Jade Lady comments, on my blog and in private email, that I inspire her. It always astonishes me when someone tells me that -- somehow I never seem to think I could inspire anyone, I'm just me.

But JL's "Carpe Diem" post has inspired me. Seize the day, get 'er done!

I am a procrastinator par excellence. I could probably win the State Championship. Which State should be no problem.... living in our RV, we hit all of 'em.

Like, just now, I walked past the cat box, noted that it needs new litter (*sniff*), and continued past it to the computer. Actually I noticed it yesterday, too. The cat box would have taken 3 minutes and it would have been done. Now it's still hanging over my head.

This morning is rainy and muddy and we work-campers can't continue for now in our fire-ant-infested field (see my last post, "Ants in My Pants"). So I have the "Diem" to:

  • Clean the litter box
  • Straighten the living room (which consists of a sofa and keyboard-piano, shouldn't take that long to fix up, eh?)
  • Do laundry (2-hour undertaking, have to walk down to the laundry room 3 times)
  • I could probably even run, while the laundry's in the washer....

......before I head out to mind the munchkins at the daycare center, where I've given my 2-week notice by now (we're heading back north April 1.) Actually I didn't procrastinate on that one. I turned it in a week ago, with 3 weeks' notice.... I couldn't stand it hanging over my head making me feel guilty. Now they know, and it's a big relief.

I already "practiced" for the AT today by getting up and getting started even though it was raining. (Knowing we wouldn't be working outdoors, I could have stayed in bed, and felt like it.)

Thanks for the push, Jade Lady!

Monday, March 17, 2008


Not me!!

Today we were measuring and digging in a field that had a lot of fire-ant hills. Everyone was stepping carefully. I went back to our camper and got the duct tape. Ta-daaaahhhh! Ant-proof pants!

Hmm, this will also work for tick country on the AT. Or places where pebbles and pine needles get in your boots. I'm not buying gaiters. They look dumb. Not that this duct-tape version looks haute-couture. I'll get the camo color. Or black.

You always carry duct tape on the AT. You wrap a few feet of it around your water bottles or your hiking poles. You don't carry a whole roll, too heavy. If you run out, you buy more in town. Or, you put the roll in your "bounce box:" a box of things you need but don't want to carry a full supply of. You mail the box to yourself at an anticipated stopping place, pick it up at the post office, take out what you need, and re-mail it to your next mail-drop. You carry just a little to last you a week or two, then refill without re-buying, since stores in a lot of the little towns don't carry travel-size stuff. Like toiletry items. And duct tape.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Image by Digital Revolutions

Because this is the first day of my Appalachian Trail Hike Plan-and-Prep year.

I celebrated by running, a New Year's Day tradition for me. This is only the second time I've run in the 4 weeks since the Austin marathon and I only ran half an hour. But I have got to get back into running shape, to train for SavageMan. I've already picked up my biking by riding home from as well as to work, now that it stays light an hour later.

I took a bag on my and collected 3 of those super-tall beer cans, to make a windscreen for my camp stove (which is made from a Pepsi can.) The more free garbage I can recycle into useable gear, the better.

New Year's Resolution: Do one thing each day to prepare for my hike. I'm gonna do it this time. I can feel it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


My grandfather used to say, "It's time to begin to get ready to commence to start!"

I'm committing: Although I don't have an exact date down, this is the middle of March, and one year from now (or two weeks from now, like April Fool's Day) I expect to plant my first step on the Appalachian Trail.

Planning starts now, and includes making sure my mother will be taken care of, not 24/7 but just someone checking in every day and doing little things for her. I don't know why I consider this more of an absolute for my hiking than I do for traveling to heaven-knows-where with Steve. Some kind of guilt trip, I guess. Gotta get rid of that. It's weight I don't need in my pack.

I'll miss Sarah's first birthday but she won't know. I don't mind that, myself. I don't want to miss her ACTUAL birthday, which is the reason I'm not hiking this year.

The most popular starting dates are today, the Ides of March; St. Patrick's Day; and April Fool's Day. On any of those dates, I'd probably find a trip-long hiking companion within the first day. But on any day between the middle of March and the middle of April, about 30 people start. I won't be alone or wanting for comrades.

Surprisingly, the one thing I'm *not* committing to is hiking all the way to Maine. Six months is a long time to live in the woods. A little less than 3 months would get me to Harper's Ferry, WV, and from there I could hike home, if Steve is staying again 20 miles away in Winchester, VA; if he's back at Deep Creek in Maryland, it would be a 2-hour drive to come pick me up; or I might decide to keep going. Or take a break and go home for a few days (maybe for Sarah's birthday?) and then keep going.

This plan has been on hold for so long, I hardly remember how to start planning it, even though I was so close last fall to leaving....well.... right about now.
It's time to begin to get ready to commence to start.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Now that we have an extra hour of daylight, besides biking to work I'm also biking home.

I have been biking to work just on the 3 days a week that Steve works at the RV place. Just having him not come pick me up will save about 35 miles a day on the truck... wear and tear, plus 2-3 gallons of diesel fuel, $3.95/gallon nowadays around here.

And if I bike both ways on the two days I took the truck... it comes out about the same, 32 miles a day.

It's free. It's green. It's also at jump to at least twice the biking I've been doing. That's the fly in the oatmeal. Maybe I should work up to it -- bike there and then, every other, day, have Steve come get me as before, maybe for the first week.

Especially since I've never fully recovered from that bug I had before the marathon. I'll think I'm well again for a few days and then I'm coughing again. Right now I'm in a "coughing" phase. But I feel better after I bike, so it must be opening up my airways. Another saving.... cheaper than Albuterol.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Literally. All day. Not "in" the supermarket, you notice.... "at" the supermarket.

We took our truck to get service: new tires, alignment, and transmission flush. Appointment at 9:00a.m. We were right on time. Pick-up time estimate was noon.

We only have the one vehicle, but figured we could easily kill 3 hours. We ate breakfast at the neighboring McDonald's. Went to Radio Shack, bought an aircard, WHOOPEE, monthly charge but at least we're on the internet again!! After much discussion about said card and various per-month plans at various costs for various numbers of megabytes (or whatever they are), plus looking at cameras (I can never resist,) we had only an hour or so left till the truck should be done, so we hit the grocery store for weekly shopping.

At 12:30, the truck place called and said it would be about another half hour.

Half an hour later, Steve went to get the truck while I went through the checkout line. I took my cart out front and waited.

And waited. I sat on the curb.

And waited. I sat on some bags of water-softener salt.

And waited. I put one foot on the cart and leaned on the handlebar with my elbows.

I'd forgotten my cell phone, so I couldn't call to find out what was happening. After about an hour, I wheeled my cart of paid-for groceries over to the truck place. Steve was there waiting. Apparently something had broken or otherwise gone wrong and they needed a part they'd had to send out for from a branch facility. However, it had been procured and progress was in progress.

There was no place to sit down at the truck place, and the truck wasn't available to load groceries into, so I wheeled the cart back to the supermarket.

And I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

A store employee came out and offered to put my cold and frozen groceries in the cooler. It was fairly cool outside and I was keeping my cart in the shade and had packed it with packaged stuff all around the cold stuff, and I figured Steve would be there any minute with the truck, but I thanked him anyway.

And waited.

I wheeled my cart back into the store and bought a magazine. I took my cart and the magazine out (it was cooler outdoors than in) and read the whole magazine (just a Woman's World, took about half an hour.)

About 3:00p.m. Steve came. On foot. They were still working on it. He watched the cart while I went to the bathroom, then he returned to his post at the truck place and I sat at the store employees' picnic table.

Another employee offered to put my stuff in the cooler. I accepted. I bought a crossword puzzle book and a bottle of water.

Maybe Steve cooked up that story about the delay so I wouldn't think it was odd that he wasn't coming, and he'd really just skipped town.

My cell phone wouldn't have helped, even if I'd had it. "Hi, hon, any news?" "Nope, still working on it." He'd have gotten tired of my calling. Maybe I could have used it to call a neighbor to come get me/us, but the truck could be done any time.

I ate a couple Pop-Tarts out of the cart.

I waited at the grocery store. Steve waited at the truck place. After a while he came over and said he was going to McDonald's. I wasn't hungry, since I'd just eaten Pop-Tarts. And what would we do with the cart while we were in McDonald's?

He went to McDonald's and I waited with the cart at the picnic table.

Guess what time the truck was done?


I'd been waiting in front of the supermarket 5 hours. I did a lot of crossword puzzles.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


One day in the 1980's, I woke up realizing I was over 30, overweight, and probably going crazy. I signed up for a twice-a-week aerobics class and that was fun. It was the first real exercise I'd done in probably 12 years, since I'd been riding my bike everywhere in college. One day class was cancelled and I wondered.... what to do? I needed my fix. Hey, maybe I could try running! Couldn't hurt to try....

So I went out in my Keds and started. I made it from our driveway to the first telephone pole before I had to stop and walk. Out of breath and whupped, despite the aerobics class. I hadn't run since eighth grade, when we had a yearly (yeah, YEARLY) track meet in the spring.

So I walked to the next telephone pole, then turned around and ran back to the first one, then walked from that one to the driveway and I was done in.

But I had enjoyed that run. I decided to run on the days that aerobics didn't meet.

My first goal was to run to that next telephone pole before walking.

It took about a week. And I was pleased as punch when I made it. Then I set a new goal: THREE telephone poles. That one only took a few days.

I was running about 4 times a week and doing aerobics twice. I put my toddler on the back of my clunky, rusty, one-speed bike and added biking.

I'd go out running and pass those telephone poles and decide to run to that mailbox up there, or that barn, or that driveway, before walking.

I bought running shoes. Nike's. Don't ask what model. They were Nike's and they cost me $35 and I thought they were Cadillacs.

I ran a mile without walking. Then I set me sights on making it all the way back home, for a total of 2 miles. That took another couple weeks. Yo!! I was a runner! Even though I had never heard of Runner's World or read anything about running, only knew that some of our friends did it for 5 or even 8 miles and some people even ran marathons... can you imagine, a marathon??? Like, 26 miles??? No way. Not humanly possible.

I will never, ever forget my first 4 miler. After I got solid with my 2-milers, my next goal was 3. I measured the distance with the car and figured on going half a mile past my 1-mile turnaround. But I got high on my out-trip, what with sailing past the mailboxes, barns, and road signs that had formerly been signals permitting me to walk, and although I planned on turning around after that extra half-mile, I felt good and went out 2 mile, heck, I can run 2 miles, I've been doing it for a week. Ran out 2 miles, ran it all. Ran all the way home.

I went down stairs backwards for a week. Totally trashed quads. Running was out of the question that week. So was aerobics.

I went from 0 to 30 miles a week, 0 to 6 miles per run, in 3 months, and with aerobics, pedalling that old bike with my toddler on the back, and eating a lot of vegetables, I lost 18 pounds. I was hooked on running.

I have the profoundest respect for people who run 3 or 4 miles. Three would have been plenty for me that day. Four was way too much of a stretch. Three or 4 miles.... those are good, solid distances and don't ever let me hear anyone diss people who run those distances.

Or 2 miles, or 1. Because I struggled to achieve those distances, one telephone pole, one mailbox, one driveway at a time.

Twenty years and 24 marathons ago.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Average speed 16.3mph for the 15.87 (hilly) miles, first time out of the 15's, yay!!!

I left half an hour early so I could get in some extra riding before I had to be there. So I rode nearly 25 miles. I'm starting to increase my distance for SavageMan! I rook my usual route and checked my average when I passed the daycare. I am very pleased. Even the Monster Hill was easier than usual.

On another hill, I passed (in my big ring) a guy on a mountain bike (in his smallest gear.) He'd been ahead of me, turning right, at an intersection where I had to wait to turn left. Then I had to wait for traffic in order to cross the road to go to work; he rode past me, I waved, and he yelled with a laugh, "You got me good!"

Yeah, I do some hills in my big ring. I have a theory it makes my legs stronger.

If I am correct, and the Internet says I am although many people say I'm not, Daylight Saving Time starts this Sunday. And if that is right, I can start biking home as well. More mileage on the bike, less on the truck. Win-win.


I discovered, in composing this post, that I have just learned why I don't bike or swim right, either.

What's the common thread here?

I wing it. There are better ways to do all three, and I envy people who "can," but they can because they've learned properly in the first place.

In the last several days I've made reference to playing the piano very well even though I don't read music well. Shirley commented on this and I feel the need to elaborate.

I don't read music well because I resisted, I refused to learn. I was stubborn. My ultra-musician mother tried to give me piano lessons starting when I was about 6, partly to debunk the myth that parents can't teach their own kids. The experiment served only to reveal the myth as truth, at least in our case. It didn't work for my mom to set piano-lesson time, specify assignments, and enforce practice time.

I practiced on my own. I practiced what I wanted to practice. I practiced by ear. My mother played the accompaniments for choral arrangements she was working on with her high-school kids (she morphed from a professional soloist into a school music teacher) and I listened and then played them myself. Yup, both hands, full chords and arpeggios, when I was 8, by ear. I had no interest in the little ditties in the Learn To Play books. I did learn enough to play the stupid beginners' pieces in the books, but I fought my lessons. I sassed. I sulked. I got dragged to the piano bench where I sat with my hands in my lap. I won. Eckstein got put away and I played Ol' Man River by ear. My mother gave up. My music-reading never went beyond the second book.

When I was about 11, we moved, and one of my mother's new friends was a piano teacher. They thought I might be happier with a neighbor than my mother as a teacher. It might have worked, but by then there was a new fly in the oatmeal: I couldn't see. I was hiding this because I didn't want to be a dork and wear glasses. I did learn the neighbor-lady's music, at home, on my own, squinting at one note at a time, with my eyes 3 inches from the music, the piano-room door closed for secrecy. I memorized them. Then I played the pieces for my teacher, she coached me on any rough spots and wrong notes, and she and my parents were pleased. When my teacher presented me with new music during a lesson, I refused to play it. I said I couldn't bear to play it without practice in her presence when I could learn it on my own and play the polished result next week.

For a while it worked. But she was suspicious. One day she insisted I take a stab at a simple new piece. I swallowed. I sat. I said I didn't want to take lessons anymore, I was making more progress on my own. I'm quitting. My teacher had been watching me stumble around obstacles other than sheet music and she told my parents she thought I couldn't see.

I was busted. I went to the eye doctor. I got glasses. I refused to wear them, until one day, trying them by myself where no one could watch, I discovered I could see individual leaves on trees and the mortar lines between bricks.

So now I could see. I still refused piano lessons, having hated both go-arounds with them. I learned by myself. I still read one note at a time, though, as I'd been doing for years. I learned the accomaniment to "The Swan," the Schubert and Bach/Gunod "Ave Maria"s, and played them along with my mother's cello. She and my dad (also a professional musician, a trumpet player with Vaughn Monroe back in the Big Band Era) said I played as artistically, sensitively, and generally beautifully as any pianist they'd ever heard. I listened to what I heard coming from my piano and I knew that they were right. I'd heard plenty of music and musicians in my environment and I knew that what I was playing was outstanding. They didn't push about the lessons anymore. I was doing it on my own. One note at a time, but once I went through a piece of music a couple dozen times, I had it memorized, and could really start to lean into it. "Moonlight Sonata" took me a month to crawl through and a summmer to perfect.

During all my high-school years, I was the organist at a small rural church. I'd get the hymns a month ahead, explaining to the pastor that I really needed that much time to work on them. It would take me probably 20 seconds to figure out each next chord, finger by finger, dot on the staff by dot on the staff. But I nailed them and I played them on Sundays.

SWIM NOTE: I got Girl Scout swimming lessons, from a certified instructor, but I had to take my glasses off to swim and never got comfortable in the water because I couldn't see.

I agreed to voice lessons. I loved my vocal instructor, who was also my choral director and French teacher (and I actually learned from her to speak French, which I still do, quite passably.) I could read the music for my voice lessons, since there was only one note at a time to sing. She accompanied me and it sounded good.

One day she was late to my lesson. I occupied myself on the piano waiting for her. She stood outside the door listening to me playing "Moonlight Sonata" (she hadn't known I played piano), and when I was done, she walked in and asked where I'd learned to do that. I told her, by myself. She said, "Would you like me to help you?" Gosh.... no edicts, no directives, no coercion: "Would you like me to help you?" The ball was in my court. I accepted. So we started spending half of each voice lesson on piano work.

I told her I could only read notes one at a time and had to figure each one out. She asked me to show her; I tried one of my vocal accompaniments, and she said, "I see what you mean." And she said I could take my music home and learn it at my own pace and she'd help me with details like fingering, touch, and expression. She was the piano teacher I had needed all my life: she saw what I could do and what I needed, and not only let me do it my own way; she OFFERED to do it my way because she saw that that was the only way I could do it. She was an elderly nun at my Catholic high school. She's dead now. I hope she sees from Heaven how much she influenced me, because I never told her, because I never realized the magnitude of it till she was dead.

I wanted Debussy's "Claire de Lune." She gave it to me. I learned it over a couple months. It became my specialty. She gave me Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C# Minor." She gave me whatever I asked for and I struggled through it until I could combine my ear and my memory and produce amazing music.

I sang at weddings and in church at Christmas and Easter and played the piano in my living room and voice studio.

I graduated. Went to college. Played the piano in the dorm lobby. Got married. Had no piano for 6 years. Got a basement freebie and learned more Rachmaninoff ("Prelude in G Minor") on my own, along with a lot of Chopin and more Beethoven. I played my old favorites from memory. This was a slow process. It had been so long. But the fingering that my voice teacher INSISTED on (she was a BEAR for fingering, one of the things I convinced my mother didn't matter)led me back to where my ear couldn't take me and the music slowly came back under my fingertips. I even tackled the 31-PAGE "Rhapsody in Blue." I never got all the way through that one, although I learned much of it.

Anyway, if you've read this far, you're almost done. You now understand how I can be the pianist I claim to be without really reading music.

And, extrapolating this to my swimming and biking..... I do those the way I read the music. One note at a time. One swipe at a time. One pedal revolution at a time. One arm-recovery, one kick at a time. I read books and try to do what the books say.

I guess I should take lessons.

Monday, March 03, 2008


At the daycare where I work, when the children lie down to nap, my co-teacher turns on classical music on National Public Radio. The other day, one of the featured works was "Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saens.

This is a creative epic featuring 14 little movements musically representing a number of animals in illustrative, eloquent, sensitive, and in some cases, even comic style. It's been a favorite of mine all my life.

"The Swan" movement brought me to tears, right there among the sleeping toddlers.

It's a cello-piano piece in which the cello solo portrays the swan gliding gracefully along the water surface, while the piano forms the rippling water of its wake.

Photo by Steve Rutherford -- thanks!

It brought me to tears because, when I was in high school, I used to play that piano accompaniment for my mother, whose cello sang the swan. We were beautiful together and, there in the room with the children, I imagined hearing that music after my mother is no longer here, and that is what brought the tears. I will never be able to hear that music again without tears.

I got to thinking..... I need to recall and re-learn that music, and she and I have got to play it together and record it. I haven't played it for 40 years. She only gets her cello out, nowadays, to play "O Holy Night" in church at Christmas.

My mother used to play with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. And the Baltimore Symphony. And the Washington National Symphony.

My mother was major league. She stopped playing the cello professionally to have a baby. Me.

I called my mother and told her, that this summer, we have to make a recording of us playing that music together. She was thrilled.

I called my mother again. I want us to record all the stuff we used to play together, The Schubert Ave Maria. The Gunod Ave Maria (which is Bach's "Prelude in C Major" for piano, with an overmelody composed by Charles Gunod.) Sometimes I played these to accompany her cello. Sometimes she played the piano to accompany my singing.

There's Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring," which was played at her wedding, and mine, and Valerie's, and Jonathan's, and Avery's (my children... my mother played it at all 3, to a tape of herself on the piano.) The Lullaby from Madame Butterfly. I'll have to learn that one. The list goes on.

She is extremely excited about getting out her cello, and digging out the music, and playing it all with me. I keep calling her with more compositions I want to include. She calls me with ideas of hers. Some I've never played. It is going to be a huge project for us both. She has to get her bow arm back into use. I have to get my piano fingers back on the keys and get my flowing and rippling back into smooth silk. In some cases, I'm going to have to get the sheet music and learn it, or re-learn it, note-by-note, since, as I said in my previous post, although I am an artistic and accomplished pianist, ironically, I never had real lessons (except voice lessons) and barely read music. Kind of like someone who's functionally illiterate memorizing Robert Frost and Shakespeare.

I am really looking forward to this. We're going to record ourselves playing together, for the first time in my 56 and her 87 years. And when she's gone, I will weep whenever I hear this music performed. Especially "The Swan."

And it occurs to me.....we will be recording the tape that will be played at her funeral.

And, eventually.....mine.


Jade Lady tagged me with a meme: 7 random or weird things about myself. Well, pretty much everything about me is random or weird, so it shouldn't be hard. I just hope my internet connection holds out long enough to list some, tag 7 other people, and publish it all! Actually, it's going to be hard to find 7 people who've been reading my blog enough to realize they've been tagged.

You can find other weird things about me in my last Odd Facts About Me post here, from a long time ago.

Here goes for this go-around. I don't think they're as interesting as the last ones. Maybe I'm just not as inspired today. Or nowadays.

1. I hand-feed grapes to a vicious rooster. He attacks the other livestock feeders. I tell them it's because they don't feed him grapes. They say they're not going to get close enough to feed him grapes.

2. I broke down and colored my hair a few days ago, after 5 months of letting the gray grow out. It was making me look my age, which I generally don't.

3. I keep writing and deleting a controversial opinion for this one. I think I'll save it for a separate post and see what kind of hate-mail it engenders.

4. Not that the guys (or even girls) care, but I've just passed the 10-month mark since my last period. It doesn't count as menopause until it's been a year. Last time, I thought I was clear but then after 6 months... crap, hadda start counting all over again. I was 55 then. Sheesh.

5. I can bend the last, short joint of my fingers while keeping the middle joints stiff, except for the middle finger of each hand... doesn't work with these two. Two of my children can do this. One can't, and neither can my husband. My mother can and my grandmother could.

6. I can't roll my tongue into a tube. My husband can, and two of our three children can. I haven't tested the grandkids or their fathers. :-o

7. Although I play heavy-duty classical stuff on the piano (Bach, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Beethoven, among others) I have never really had lessons and have a terrible time reading music. A new piece takes me hours to dope out one note at a time. After a few weeks of doing that (a little easier each time) I finally have it in my soul and can play it so it has life and breath.

I tag:

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Our frickin' internet connection.

Or lack thereof, more precisely.

I hate it.

It's wi-fi provided to each of the 6 campsites at this workplace (which is not a genuine campground, just private property with sites connected to water, electricity, cable TV, and wi-fi.) It doesn't work.

Sometimes it does. Then I get online and maybe have time to read and answer a few emails before it goes out again. Or post something on my blog or read comments. And then I try to reply to folks who have been so nice as to comment, and *plip* the connection's gone.

Sometimes it says the signal is low but the speed is 54mps. Or sometimes it says the signal is excellent but the speed is 1mps. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

This is driving me crazy.

Only 4 more weeks here till our work-camping contract is done. Hopefully the wi-fi will work better at the next place. And the places in between.