Playing by Ear

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

What is something you wish you knew how to do?

Play the piano by ear. I see friends sit down at the piano and joyfully tickle the ivories. I love the spontaneity; I love the carefreeness. Just sit down and play.

I took lessons for about 15 years and can read music. And sheet music is my crutch. I get nervous without it, and when someone invites me to play without sheet music I feel a small wave of panic come over me. I can usually remember a few measures of former recital pieces (Für Elise; Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring), and then I fade out.

Playing in the privacy of my home, with my tattered sheet music in front of me, brings me great joy. I love the feeling of my fingers on the keys, and the ease that comes from practicing a piece over and over; the reading becomes easier, more fluid. I love the actual music: the sound of chords, the rhythm of notes (triplets are my favorite).

I’ve considered signing up for lessons again with the sole intention of learning to play without sheet music. Learning the basics of what works together and what doesn’t. Adopting a playful attitude with music, rather than a studious one. Looking forward to sitting down at a piano, even when my sheet music is carefully tucked away at home.

Flying the Friendly Skies

Today’s prompt:

What was your favorite toy as a child?

I was five years old when Santa brought me Barbie’s Friend Ship plane. My first real flight wouldn’t come for two years later, but I loved imagining flying the friendly skies. I carried the plane with me everywhere. To school, back home, to friends’ houses. I loved imagining where Barbie was flying to, which sparked my love of globes and maps. I made up elaborate stories about where she was going to and what she was doing.

Not necessarily a toy, but my favorite pastime was reading. In the winter I would curl up on our couch, in front of our wood stove, and read from dawn until dusk. In the summer I would find a place in the grass, and do the same. My favorite thing was to finish a book in one sitting. I remember finishing Jane Eyre during a power outage, during a winter snowstorm, reading by sunlight then candlelight.

I eventually was able to fly on real planes, and engage in real adventures, far better than what I had imagined when I was five. But my favorite pastime is still reading a complete book in one day, curled up on the couch.

Winter Beauties

Yesterday we were walking without jackets, enjoying 70° F weather. I took down all of our outside Christmas lights and drug the Christmas trees to the curb for recycling. I worked in the garden, planting tulip bulbs (I can’t remember where I’ve planted things, so spring will be the ultimate surprise!), and clipping back dead plants. I marveled at our camellia bush, full of beautiful pink blossoms. I know it’s hardy, and I wondered if it would survive the cold front supposedly coming through.

I had my doubts. Could the temperature really drop 50° overnight and bring snow?

It could.

I awoke this morning to howling wind, freezing temps, and a dusting of snow. It was just enough to make everything appear magical.

Camellias enjoying 70° weather
Camellias enjoying the first snowfall

I Would Walk 500 Miles

Today’s Bloganuary prompt is:

What is a road trip you would love to take?

Going anywhere with good friends is a treasure. But road trips aren’t my favorite. Mainly because I don’t enjoy driving (that’s what living in a city for 25 years with no car will do to you) and riding as a passenger lulls me to sleep immediately.

Walking, however, is another story. I love walking. I love the rhythm of walking, the ability to take so much in. You move slowly enough that the details don’t escape you. My favorite manner of walking is walking without a schedule. Meandering and allowing the day to unfold. There are a couple of walks in the United Kingdom that have piqued my interest – the Coast to Coast, the walk along Hadrian’s Wall. And once there, I’m sure I would discover many more.

For now, though, I’m happy walking the trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains when I can sneak away, or walking through Asheville neighborhoods and the Arboretum with Mom when I can’t.


I’m super excited to be participating in Bloganuary, a month long blogging challenge. (You can join, too – the more the merrier!) Today’s prompt:

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Oh, goodness. I’m not sure my teenage self would have listened. But I would have told her to embrace her quirkiness; it’s something to celebrate, not something to be hidden. And to focus on the moment, and not try to plan so far in advance, because things will change in ways that you can’t even imagine.

Advice that I loved that my teenage self embraced, without being told, was embracing every opportunity that came her way, and defaulting to “yes” not “no.” Here’s to another year of “yes!” Happy 2022!

Me vs The Voles

Voles have overtaken my yard. I’m generally a “live and let live” type of gal. And, these voles have more or less recreated the Sierras in my yard (front and back) so that walking through the yard is a hazard. Something had to be done.

A neighbor told me that voles don’t like castor oil. So I bought four bottles of castor oil from the drugstore, mixed them with water in a spray bottle, and coated our lawn.

I was severely underwhelmed by the results.

What I expected: Voles, overwhelmed by the scent of castor oil, exiting my yard en masse. Kind of like the reaction of the Wicked Witch of the West when she was doused with water. Or Moses, parting the Red Sea. An immediate, grand, response.

What actually happened: Nothing.

No voles left my yard. If anything, they created more tunnels. So I bought castor oil granules, which you spread over the lawn and in the tunnels, and methodically move the voles one direction or the other. I don’t love this option, because this simply means moving the voles to another spot. ie, to one of my neighbors’ yards. So I’m trying to move them towards the street, to the very wide swatch of grass between the sidewalk and the road.

I’ll report back in a week.

Night Visitor

You crack the door and shuffle in

Crying hysterically

Ugly crying

Face swollen with red blotches

You crawl into my bed

And snuggle hard, grabbing my hand to your face

Through tears, you sob

He’s dead, isn’t he?

I inhale then whisper


Why didn’t anyone tell me?

We were there with him, Mom

We held his hand and told him we loved him

More sobbing.

More sobbing.

More sobbing.

I think you are asleep when

You stumble out of my bed

I’m going back to my room

I see you turn towards the guest bedroom and

Gently guide you back to your room

Where are you taking me?

You yell

Back to your room, Mom

It’s time for bed

A tight hug and you sob

What is wrong with my head? 

Why don’t I know anything?

I tell you it’s okay, tuck you in, return to my room,


ugly cry. 

Happy Halloween!

“We haven’t seen this many children in eons!” 

Mom was in her element. She loves socializing. She loves children. She loves candy. We sat on the porch in rocking chairs, 6 feet away from the small table with a huge bowl of candy on it. As soon as she saw children approaching on the sidewalk (a good 30 feet from where we were sitting), she started gesturing, inviting them to our porch, “Come here! Come here!” 

“How many can I take?” the unicorns, Cruella DeVils, Spidermen, and vampires asked.

“As many as you want, sweetie!” I tried to explain to her that we’d likely get hundreds of children over the course of the evening, so maybe we’d want to limit them to 1 or 2 pieces. “Oh, yes, that’s what I was thinking.” 

The next group of children arrived. “Look at you! Aren’t you just precious! Take as much as you like!” Fists emerged with overflowing handfuls of miniature candy.

It was more important for her to enjoy herself that for us not to run out of candy. Mentally, I started thinking about what else we had in the cupboards. A box or two of granola bars. Some small bags of peanuts. Possibly some hot cocoa packets? If nothing else, I had some one dollar bills we could give out if we ran out of everything else. Do kids use Venmo at Halloween?

The kids would leave and she’d exclaim again, “I don’t know when we’ve seen this many children!” Then she’d laugh and laugh and laugh. 

“We’re having a good day today, aren’t we?” I often say what I want her to believe. 

“I haven’t had this much fun in ages!” Me, too, Mom. Me, too. 

A Stitch in Time

“Really? Really?” She said with tears in her eyes. “You would do that for me?”

“Of course, Mom. I’m happy to.”

The “that” in question was repairing the hem in a pair of pants. 

Mornings generally follow this pattern: I wake up first. I get myself together, make a cuppa tea, start work. I hear Mom wake up. It could be 8:30 am, it could be 10 am. I go upstairs, help her pick out clothes, and start her shower for her, making sure she has a clean washcloth and towel. Once she’s in the shower, I leave, still listening carefully for any loud thumps. 

We were at the picking out clothes stage. There was a pair of pants she wanted to wear, but part of the hem in one leg had come out. She was utterly distraught. Barely awake, she couldn’t seem to grasp the task of getting a needle and thread and repairing the hem. Which is why I offered. 

“You get in the shower, and I’ll have your pants hemmed and ready by the time you get out.”

She hugged me hard and stumbled into the bathroom. 

As I hemmed her pants, I pondered. Why was this the task that moved her? Why was hemming part of one leg of a pair of pants appreciated so much? More than buying a house. More than moving in together. More than going on daily walks. More than eating meals together. More than comforting her when she wakes up at 1 am, or 5 am, crawling into my bed, grieving Dad. 

There often isn’t much logic to our days now. But there is a lot of gratitude. Flowing both ways.

I Scream! You Scream! We All Scream for Ice Cream!

She could eat nothing but Chips Ahoy! and ice cream and be perfectly content. She’ll go to the pantry, get a handful of cookies, and on the way back to the living room take a bite of a cookie, set it down, take a bite of another cookie, set it down, and by the time she gets to the couch, she might have one cookie left. Or none. Or she may sit down for a moment then say, “I think I’ll get a cookie” and the process repeats itself. Throughout the day I gather up cookies and put them back in the packaging.

And ice cream. Oh, how she loves ice cream. After every meal she asks for ice cream. As I walk into the kitchen to get it for her she yells, “And a cookie!” She’ll finish the bowl, bring it to me as I’m cleaning up in the kitchen, and say, “I think I’d like some ice cream.” Depending on how much energy I have, I may explain that she’s holding her empty bowl, and has just finished her ice cream, or I may simply dole out another scoop. Given how often she eats ice cream, I make the scoops appear large, yet they are hollow. I pull the ice cream scooper along the top of the carton, and the ice cream forms a large curl. I arrange the scoops so that it appears to be a full bowl of perfectly rounded scoops. I use tiny bowls so that it appears she has a lot.

Last night I walked into the kitchen and found Mom at the counter, scooping out her own ice cream. She didn’t have a tiny bowl, but instead a large coffee mug. And she was packing it in. She scooped almost a third of a carton of ice cream into the mug then walked onto the porch to eat it. The carton was still on the counter; the freezer door open. I tidied up and joined her on the porch. “Is it good?” “Mmmm hmmm,” she replied, staring into space and spooning bite by bite into her mouth, rocking slowly in the dusk.

It was ice cream that alerted me something was wrong. It was summer 2015 and Mom and Dad and I were in Italy. They would send me to the gelato stand to fight the throngs of tourists, while they found a quiet reprieve nearby. I’d get our cones, bring them back, and no matter what flavor Mom had asked for, she would say, “I didn’t order that” and take my cone or cup. At first I thought she was joking with me, even though none of us were laughing. One day I realized she really didn’t remember what she ordered, and took whatever looked best.

It’s somehow easier to deal with when I remember it’s not intentional; it’s how her brain works now. And when I remember to order two cones of the same flavor.