Into the Woods

Last night, we went to see a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at our local professional theater.  “We” equals me, my spouse, and my parents.  My mother-in-law was to have joined us, but she is having difficulties with her back and couldn’t sit for such a long performance.

Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals.  I find the interwoven fairy tale adaptation fascinating and love Sondheim’s ability to pack both wit and depth of feeling into the lyrics, which move the plot along even more than the spoken dialogue.  I also have a longstanding relationship with the musical because it was a favorite of my daughters when they were young.  We watched it many times through a recording of the original (1988) Broadway cast.  For quite a while, I only let our younger daughter see the first act, which ends with the somewhat expected “happy ever after” vibe, shielding her from the much darker second act, until her four-years-older sister told her what happened and my shielding tactic became moot.

I enjoyed last night’s performance because the brilliance of Sondheim and James Lapine, who wrote the book, shines through.  I especially enjoyed the performances of CInderella, the Baker’s Wife, and Little Red Ridinghood and the singing voices of the two Princes.  Some of the other performers were occasionally flummoxed by Sondheim’s complex melodies, although those in the audience who have not heard the music over and over might not have realized it.

My major disappointments were with the technical aspects.  The lighting was often too dark – and, yes, I get the whole being-in-the-woods thing, but it would have been better to use dappled lighting to give the illusion of moonlight through trees, rather than just not having enough light to see the actors.  There was also a gaping hole in the back wall of the set, which was only used in one scene in the second act.  It was very distracting to look at it for two and half hours when it was so little used.  The stage could also have used some pitch, as quite a few songs took place sitting on the stage; alternatively, the actors could have been placed more upstage to make them more visible to those in the back rows.  (The seating is cabaret style, so there aren’t many rows, but each row is deep.)

I was also disappointed with the costuming.  Many of the costumes were too drab.  A number of them were ill-fitting, especially too tight.

The theater company is in the midst of a change in leadership.  I wonder if some of the technical problems are the loss of a long-time team experienced with this theater, which was once a storehouse for apples.  It is a tricky space in which to work and the new team may be groping a bit as they adjust to its idiosyncracies.

One of the surprises last night was of a more personal nature.  I found that the second act’s deaths of a number of mothers of varying ages hit me hard.  As I have said, I know the play well, so I knew what was coming, but I found myself tearing up as the losses mounted.  Sitting beside my mother, who had a heart attack on July 31st, missing my mother-in-law who is suffering from osteoporosis, having spoken earlier this week with a friend who recently lost her mother, and anticipating the upcoming birthday of a friend who died much too young nine years ago, my heart was aching more than usual in reacting to the losses in the play.

The loss of a mother – at whatever age – represents its own brand of pain and even fictional losses on stage can echo or foreshadow that pain in our own lives.

SoCS: First/second

We just found out that our firstborn daughter and her husband will be visiting from Hawai’i for Thanksgiving week. This will be their first visit since Christmas 2011, when we were happy witnesses to a Christmas morning marriage proposal. To make this visit even better, our secondborn daughter will be home all that week on break from her first semester of graduate school. So, YAY! Thanksgiving with our daughters and son-in-law and the three grandparents will be soul-warming and prefect, even if the turkey is slow to cook or the pies don’t come out perfectly.
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Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt was use of ordinal numbers.  Please join us! Details here:  http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-september-2714/

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Smith College Alumnae Chorus

Early tomorrow morning, I leave for Northampton to participate with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus (SCAC) and the Smith College Chorus and Glee Club in a tribute concert to fellow alumna Alice Parker ’47.  We will be singing some of her compositions and arrangements and she will be conducting some of the performance herself, at the age of 89! Here is a link to the campus press article about it:  http://www.smith.edu/news/the-power-of-womens-song-alumnae-chorus-to-honor-composer-alice-parker-47/

Because the members of the SCAC are spread out across the country, we have been learning our parts on our own and have an intensive rehearsal schedule from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning to be ready for the concert Sunday afternoon.  Of course, I am looking forward to the music itself, because I love to sing.  I have sung a number of Alice Parker’s works over the years, beginning when I was on campus as an student, including a premiere written for the 25th anniversary of Helen Hills Hills chapel during my sophomore year.  (Yes, for those who aren’t familiar with Smith, Helen Hills Hills is correct; Ms. Hills married a cousin.)

Helen Hills Hills Chapel Smith College Northampton MA
Helen Hills Hills Chapel
Smith College
Northampton MA

I am also looking forward to being back on Smith’s beautiful campus as summer turns to fall.  Paradise Pond and Island, the gardens, and the arboretum, which is located throughout campus, will be just beginning to show their fall colors.

I am very excited to see my SCAC friends, especially my college roommate Mary, with whom I will be sharing a hotel room. She lives a couple thousand miles away from me, so it is always an event when we can get together!  I’m proud to say that our class of ’82 will have five members in the chorus this time around, among the other singers who will range from class of 1958 through class of 2011.

Besides the alumnae from my era that I know, I am also looking forward to seeing some of the women I met when SCAC did its first international tour to Sicily in 2011.  We sang Mozart Requiem in three fabulous cathedrals and had amazing sightseeing tours and some of the most delicious food ever!  It was my first – and so far only – trip to Europe and memorable in so many ways.  Here are links to Facebook photo albums from that trip:
In and near Palermo:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1886246721373.2096968.1397554070&type=1&l=1cec6fc201
On the road and Agrigento:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1888024885826.2097042.1397554070&type=1&l=3750b71abbCatania/third concert:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1889498042654.2097145.1397554070&type=1&l=c4bb1ef847
Mount Etna:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1889812410513.2097161.1397554070&type=1&l=0fcd144dab
Taormina:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1902946218850.2097804.1397554070&type=1&l=7e109ce0b2
Giardini di Naxos and the first two concert churches:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1904778064645.2097873.1397554070&type=1&l=510431c641
Thankfully, there are no photos of the goose egg I got on my head after I walked full-tilt into a glass wall!

Reunited with my luggage in Catania
Reunited with my luggage in Catania

This shot is included in one of the albums, but I had to share it here, too, as I know it is a favorite of some friends.  My luggage had gotten lost and it didn’t catch up to me until we were in our second destination.  I was very happy to have it back!  This is currently the photo posted on my Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page, which you are invited to visit and like. (Hint, hint.)

I had to miss the second tour, so this will be my first opportunity to re-connect with the SCAC members I met in Sicily.  One of them, Anne Harding Woodworth ’65, is a poet, which I hadn’t realized when we were traipsing about in Sicily.  We have communicated by email a bit and she has graciously agreed to look at my first attempt at assembling a chapbook.

So many threads coming together!  I don’t know if I will get any posts in while I am gone, but wish everyone a fabulous weekend. I fully intend to be having one myself!

SoCS: The best years of my life

When I was in college, senior week/commencement happened at the same time as all the reunions. My house always hosted the 60th reunion, with alumnae staying in the rooms vacated by the undergrads. A few undergrads stayed to help out with the activities or because they were members of Glee Club and needed to stay to sing. Of course, all the seniors were there enjoying the campus for the last few days before graduating. I was always really taken by the vitality and zest for living of the alumnae there for their 60th – in their early 80s, they were excitedly meeting up to chat, climbing the stairs without seeming exertion, heading out to activities, and marching in the Ivy Day parade without any problems. My friends and I marvelled at their long-standing friendships, intelligence, wit, and wisdom and hoped that, in 60 years when it was our turn to be back there, we would be as gracious and engaged with life as they were.

The one comment that always gave me pause, though, was many of them saying that years at Smith are the best years of life.

We students had just all come through another hectic semester, filled with learning and friends and growth, but we were also often anxious, sleep-deprived, and overwhelmingly busy. I would think – please, no, tell me that this is not as good as life gets.

My mother-in-law would cite the years she was at home with her young sons as the best. I loved my own young daughters and was constantly amazed at their lives unfolding before me as I tried my best to care for them and help them learn about themselves and the world. But those years were also filled with lack of sleep, innumerable trips to the doctors’ office, budgetary wizardry, and mistakes – which, even though I tried to rectify them as quickly as I made them, still carry tiny twinges of regret. So, was that supposed to be the best?

Others nominate childhood or high school – no one seems to pick middle school – as the best years.  They somehow remember those times as carefree, but they are often times when young people are being pressured to conform to being members of groups that may not suit them well at all and are confronted with adult-size problems which their child or teen selves are not equipped to handle – and somehow adults expect them to make decisions like adults, which they decidedly are not.

I agree with my (very wise) mother. There is no “best age.”  Phases in life are certainly unique and have their own charms but they also have their own problems. I would not trade my years at Smith for anything. College was a unique experience. I learned so much about so many different topics but most of all I learned about myself. And I learned as much from my peers with whom I lived as I did from my professors. Being in a women’s college taught me so much respect and admiration for women’s capabilities and leadership. I don’t think I would be the same person were it not for those for years.

But that doesn’t make them “the best.”  That time was often difficult and sometimes lonely.  I missed my family and my boyfriend (now my spouse of 30+ years).  The intellectual work was stimulating, but also exhausting as I always tried to do my very best. Even at Smith, there were instances of lack of respect for women’s autonomy, especially in having to deal with church issues, which, as a Catholic organist, I frequently did.

The same mix of positives and negatives applies to other times of my life. None of them ever could or should be seen as “the best.”

What I feel called to do is to give my best and try my best at all times of life. There will always be some good even in the midst of bad times and some struggle even in good times.

But never any one time as “the best years of my life.”

This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. This week’s prompt was: young, old, or anything to do with age. Please join us! Details are at the link below.

http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-august-3014/

 

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Badge by Doobster @Mindful Digressions

Women’s Equality Day

Ninety-four years ago today, women in the United States were finally accorded the right to vote in every state and in federal elections. It was a long time coming, starting out with Abigail Adams reminding her husband John to “remember the ladies” during the early days of the republic and progressing through generations of women working for the cause, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. In commemoration, today is celebrated as Women’s Equality Day.

What is so disturbing is that equality is still a work in progress. The country is still struggling with basics like equal pay for equal work. Some people feel they should be allowed to interfere with women’s personal health decisions. Women have higher rates of poverty. More women are low-wage workers, even though women have higher education levels. The work that women have traditionally done caring for home and family is not considered part of the economy of the country, unless someone else is being paid (poorly) to do it. Women are in only a small portion of leadership roles in government, companies, and educational institutions. Few jobs offer the flexibility that women want to both make a living and have a life.

Policies that would help bring greater equality to women would help men, too. Many men would benefit from greater workplace flexibility and initiatives such as paying a living wage. When will we celebrate a Women’s Equality Day in recognition of having achieved that goal, instead of as a commemoration of women’s suffrage?

 

numb again

I have several topics for posts hanging out in my draft folder and a few more rattling around in my head. Also, poems that need attention and revision. But I can’t manage to get any of them in a fit state to post.

There is just too much right now. James Foley. Ferguson as shorthand for racism. More violence and atrocities in the Middle East than can be counted. Severe storms and wildfires and drought and blights and disease. A national government that can’t even manage to pass desperately needed legislation. Hunger. Poverty. Pollution.

I could make the list much longer and add personal distractions, too, but it wouldn’t really matter. My brain can’t find any way to make order out of the chaos.

Maybe I’m not meant to find order or insight or solutions or just the right hopeful words today.

I’ll just handle whatever the day brings – bringing Mom to her doctor’s appointment, checking in on my daughters and son-in-law, sharing dinner with my spouse, saying a prayer for all those who are in need – all billions of us – and trying to sleep so that maybe I can do a bit more tomorrow.

When the Circle of Life Feels More Like a Box

A beautiful reflection on grief and friendship from a high school friend who has recently begun blogging.

jazzyjeweljude

IMG_439808736277A dear friend of mine lost his mother this week. The moments of death & grief unfold unexpectedly yet predictably. That is, not knowing when or how they will arrive, they will come. And as a close friend who, as any of us do, wants to help ease the pain, I realize such skill doesn’t always easily come. And maybe it’s not suppose to. I can think of no more solitary journey than that of grief. Being surrounded by love, family and friends cannot, nor should it, alleviate that sacred walk along immortality and mortality, finite and infinite. Life and death. We all breathe it everyday, witness it ad nauseum through news media which desensitizes us with over sensationalism giving little to no regard for the sanctity of life and death. And the most difficult observation while grieving is the harsh realization that life around us marches on. How is…

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One-Liner Wednesday – George Washington Carver quote

“How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong, because someday in life you would have been all of these.”
– George Washington Carver

This is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday:  http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/one-liner-wednesday-now/ Join us! It’s fun!

Do hospitals run two-for-the-price-of-one specials?

This was supposed to be the schedule for Thursday.
5 AM: Get up.
5:30: Arrive at my parents’ apartment to get us to the ambulatory surgery unit of the hospital.
6:00: Wait in the waiting room until surgery because only one person is allowed to be with the patient in the unit.
8:00: Dad has laparoscopic hernia repair surgery while Mom and I grab breakfast at the hospital cafeteria.
9:00: Surgery complete. Talk to doctor. Mom waits for him to be brought back to his cubby in the ambulatory surgery unit while I drive to church for
10:00: Millie’s funeral, where my daughter Trinity is singing in the choir. After the funeral, attend the funeral luncheon in the church hall.
1 PM: Check in with my parents by phone to see if there is a release time set for Dad yet. Drop off my daughter at home and get to the hospital to bring my parents home and get them settled, perhaps in time to attend
4:30: Poetry workshop.
6:00: Dinner with my daughter, followed by rest, attending to email, phone call with my husband who is traveling for business this week, television, etc.

We followed the schedule until 7:35 AM.

Dad was all ready to be brought down to the operating room and Mom came to get me from the ambulatory unit waiting room so we could re-locate to the OR waiting room. As we neared Dad’s cubby, Mom got really dizzy, grabbing onto a spare gurney in the hallway for support. We were just outside Dad’s cubby, so we navigated to a recliner next to his gurney. I got her a sip of water from the bottle she had with her, hoping she was just a bit dehydrated, but it didn’t help. She started to zone in and out of responding to my and Dad’s questions and we were becoming alarmed. Just then, a transport person arrives to bring Dad to surgery and he helps me to get nurses there to help Mom.

Suddenly, we have at least half a dozen people in the tiny cubby, so I have to step out into the hall. I hear someone say her pulse is twenty. They put her on oxygen, which seems to help her pulse a bit. Her skin is clammy. She is continuing to zone in and out of awareness. Sometimes, she could answer a question from the medical team, but more often my father would. Yes, she had eaten some breakfast at 5 so she could take her meds. From the hall, I chime in to let people know that I am their daughter, that Mom has a history of TIA. The staff calls for a team to come up from emergency to bring her down for evaluation, as it is clear something is really wrong. Snatches of prayer mixed in with the jumble of thoughts in my head.

Meanwhile, the OR is waiting for my Dad. It has only been about five minutes, I think; my perception of time is distorted by so much happening at once. They ask Dad if he wants to postpone surgery, but I tell him to go, that I would take care of Mom. On a practical level, we had to get Dad’s gurney out of the cubby in order to get the transport gurney in to take Mom to the emergency room and I knew that with Dad under anesthesia in the OR, at least he would not be worrying about Mom for a little while. There really wasn’t anything he could do; we both needed to let the professionals do what they needed to do.

They lift Mom onto the gurney and attach her line to a portable oxygen tank, as they had initially attached it to the central wall unit. They rush her down a patient elevator to the ER – one of the few things my mom remembers between the initial dizziness and being in the ER was that she told them it was a rough ride – and the nursing supervisor takes me down by another route. When I arrive outside the curtained area where they are working on her, Mom is able to answer some questions on her own, but I am able to help with some of the them. Frustratingly, a new computer system had gone in to the hospital in June, so they weren’t able to bring up her information easily. I had to give addresses and contact numbers. I have my mom’s pocketbook in which she carries a complete list of her medications, which was a huge help. Meanwhile, the ER team is getting monitors attached and I hear them tell my mom within a few minutes that she is having a heart attack. I also hear her surprised reaction. She isn’t having chest pain, but does have a pain in her back.

At this point, they had IVs started and they let me go back to be beside Mom. They give her baby aspirin to chew and administer heparin and plavix. The pain in her back goes away. They tell us there are clots or blockages that need to be cleared in the cath lab, that the cardiologist on emergency call is getting ready to do that, that the aspirin and other blood thinners have relaxed the vessels enough to help the blood circulate better so that the back pain went away, that we are lucky she was already in the hospital when she had the heart attack so that treatment was started very quickly because that tends to lead to better outcomes, although not guarantees. Mom tells me I should still go to the funeral; she is worried about my sisters, who are together on a Florida vacation, and Dad. I tell her that I will handle everything, that she needs to concentrate on herself right now.

She is wheeled up to the heart catheterization lab – on a much cushier and more shock-absorbent ER gurney – and a nurse brings me first to the OR waiting room to tell them what has happened and then to the cardiac waiting room. Although it feels like a long time has passed, it’s not yet 8:30. My dad’s in the OR, my mom’s in the cath lab, and I’m alone. I call my husband, Brent. I guess the first words out of my mouth were, “I need you to come home.” Because I did. I tell him what is going on and that I would call back as I know more. He needs a couple of hours before he can leave anyway. As I wait, I am making lists in my head of how and when to tell people. I knew I couldn’t tell my daughter until after the funeral. I was hoping she wouldn’t get too worried when she realized I wasn’t in the congregation; the choir is in the front of the church, so she would be able to see that I hadn’t arrived. I post a vague Facebook message asking for prayers/good thoughts for my parents. I couldn’t be specific because I didn’t want our older daughter, six hours earlier in time zones so it was still the middle of the night, to see a post that her grandmother had had a heart attack first thing when she woke up in the morning. I needed to make sure that my sisters didn’t find out via social media, too.  And I needed to be able to give good news about what I was praying would be successful treatment. As much as I wanted company in the frightened, shocked place where I was, I didn’t want to subject anyone else to it, although I had already, by necessity, dragged my husband into it. And I wasn’t sure if I would need to be the one to tell my father after he was out of recovery. And, more than anything, I needed to have two successful outcomes to report.

Dr. T, my dad’s surgeon comes in at ten of nine. Dad’s surgery had gone well and he is in recovery. Dr. T knew what was going on with my mom and had decided to admit him for a day or two, because he is 89 and because it would be easier for us. Obviously, the plan for him to go home with my mom to look after him was not going to happen. He had tried to see if he could put them in the same hospital room, but my mom would have to go to the cardiac unit, which only has private rooms. Dr. T says that it was very lucky my mom had already been in the hospital when the heart attack happened. I call my husband with the update and resume alternately pacing or sitting, staring into space. I had reading material and my iPad but couldn’t concentrate enough to use them. The CBS morning news on the waiting area television finishes and a repeat of Queen Latifah starts. She is congratulating Boston on the successful marathon. Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts was originally April 19th. My parents’ wedding anniversary. Sixty years. More prayers.

At about 9:25, Dr. K., the on-call cardiologist comes out. Mom had had two blocked arteries that they had opened through angioplasty and that were now being held open with stents. Another report of how lucky she was to have already been in the hospital. I need to wait there and they will come get me when my mom is ready to be moved to her room. I call my husband again with the news. We are so thankful and relieved. Our conversation is brief; he needs to finish getting ready to leave. I am alone again, but feeling an intense need to talk to someone. Someone with whom I am used to sharing personal and spiritual issues. I want to call my friend and spiritual companion Yvonne, but I can’t remember her phone number, which is stored in the cell phone my husband has with him. I use my iPad – and the hospital’s free wifi – to search for her home phone and call. She is home and we speak for about ten minutes, which calms me down a bit, helpful as I have gone from the paralysis of numb anxiety into a phase where I am feeling jittery.

While I was speaking to Yvonne, my sister Kathy had called the cell phone that my husband had, because it is the one I usually carry. She was looking for news on my dad, as she had expected a call by then. He had to tell the story to her. It was a blessing that she hadn’t called until Mom was out of the cath lab, so that he could tell her that she and Dad were both okay. I missed Brent’s call while talking to Yvonne, so I call him, find out that he has spoken to Kathy and call her, using my mom and dad’s cell, which is in my mom’s pocketbook. We only speak briefly because a nurse comes to take me back to my mom, who is being moved to the cardiac care unit.

The nurse tells me that my mom and dad have met up in the hallway outside of the recovery area. They got to talk and hold hands for a moment. They got to see that they are both all right. My dad says not to make him laugh because laughing makes his belly hurt, but just saying it makes him chuckle.  The nurses all think that they are an amazing couple. I know that they are. Later, my mom, who was only under sedation in the cath lab, will remember this hallway encounter. My dad, who had been under anesthesia, loses the memory from this point in his recovery process.

I ride up in the elevator with my mom and wait in another waiting room while they get her settled in her room and attached to all the monitors. When a nurse comes to get me, I first have to stop at the desk for a phone call. Another nurse is calling to tell me my father’s room number. She had also been witness to their hallway meeting. My parents are adorable and we were so lucky that my mom was already in the hospital when she was stricken. I thank her and tell her that I know how lucky I am to have them.

Other than the fact that my mom is not allowed to move her right leg where the catheter had been threaded from her groin up to her heart and that she needs to keep her head back on the pillow and still, she is amazingly chipper. We talk about everything that has gone on and I let her know of the few people that know what has happened. I need to make more calls and I need to get to church after the funeral to tell Trinity. Mom says that she will make phone calls so I can make a visit to Dad’s room and then head to church, where I can tell Trinity and we can attend the luncheon.

Dad is resting in his room, still a bit groggy from the anesthesia. We talk about how lucky we are that Mom is okay. He says they are the talk of the hospital. They have promised to take him down in a wheelchair to visit her a bit later in the afternoon, after they have both had a chance to rest. I let him rest and head out to the church. It’s a little after 11:00.

As I near the church, I see the funeral procession on its way to the cemetery. I go into the church hall and ask the choir member who had driven Trinity to church for choir warmup before the funeral if she knows where Trinity is. She is still in church. She has a worried look on her face and I tell her that Nana and Paco are both doing fine. Then, I deliver the first of several shortened renditions of the story. Right before Paco was brought down to surgery, Nana had a heart attack. They took her to the ER and then the cath lab and put in two stents. Paco’s surgery went well. Now they are both in the hospital for a couple of days, but everything is fine. We are very lucky her heart attack took place at the hospital. Trinity gives me a long hug, which I definitely needed.

We only told a few people at the funeral luncheon what had happened. Several people that we had known for a long time. Three priests whom we asked for prayers. Most importantly, Millie’s daughter Nancy, our good friend and Trinity’s godmother. I told her I was sorry to have missed the funeral, but, of course, she understood, reminding me that her father, who was sitting close by would not have survived a cerebral hemorrhage years before were it not for the fact that it had happened while he was already in the hospital.

In  a way, even though I was not physically present at the funeral, I was there in a spiritual sense.  I had written the universal prayer that closes the liturgy of the word before the liturgy of the Eucharist begins. Nancy, all three priests, and a friend who had also participated in reading the petitions thanked me for the words I had written. I was heartened to know that my words enabled me to have a presence in Millie’s funeral in my absence.

Trinity and I leave the luncheon a bit after 1:00, which meant that our older daughter, Beth, would be up and about in Honolulu. While I drove to the hospital, Trinity calls Beth to fill her in. We go to Nana’s room to visit and to Paco’s room. Brent arrives and we alternate rooms for visiting. My dad’s room in particular can’t easily accommodate three visitors at once.

The next two days are filled with visits back and forth to the hospital. My dad gets a couple of visits to my mom’s room, which are good for both of them. They are both discharged on Saturday, a process which winds up taking over five hours.

Last night, they got to sleep in their own beds. They need to take it easy for a few days. Mom has some new meds added to her daily regimen. Follow-up visits need to be scheduled. Dad’s incisions and muscles will heal. Due to the speed of re-opening the arteries, Mom has no damage to her heart. They have very few restrictions and will be able to ease back into their social and exercise routine over the coming days/weeks. We are so thankful that they are doing so well and are very grateful for the care they received.

But my dad still wants to know, as he kept joking, if the hospital gives discounts. He thinks two for the price of one should apply.

 

 

Why I will always love Harry Potter

Happy 34th Birthday, Harry Potter! Yes, I do know that July 31st is Harry’s birthday. (It’s also Joanne Rowling’s birthday, although she is a bit older than Harry.) Harry’s birthday is even marked on my calendar because he – or, rather, the books that J.K. Rowling created about him – has been very important to my family.

I bought the first two Harry Potter books on the recommendation of a friend who worked in the children’s department of the bookstore when the books were just starting to be known in my region of the US in 1999. They were an end of school year gift for my younger daughter, who was then in elementary school. She was having trouble getting into the first book, the beginning of which was too reminiscent of Raold Dahl, who was not a favorite of hers – or mine, so my husband began reading the first book aloud to her and soon the whole family was hooked.

Thus began our family tradition of reading Harry Potter books aloud. We read all of the subsequent books as a family, the four of us taking turns reading subsequent chapters. We would receive first day deliveries or go to midnight launch parties as the new books were released. Because release dates of the later books in the series were summer Saturdays, we would embark on marathon weekend reading days, getting through the bulk of the long books over Saturday and Sunday, with the exciting conclusions reserved for after my husband’s return from work on Monday. (We hid the book on a high shelf in our bedroom so no one would read ahead!)

The book launches became important events for us and the later books coincided with times when our family needed the strength of our mutual support. Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) appeared when our older daughter had just been diagnosed with an intractable migraine, after missing most of a semester of high school because she was ill and no one could figure out what was happening. Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) appeared during the three-week span between the death of my father-in-law and his memorial service. The declining health and death of Dumbledore acted as counterpoint to our own family story, as Grandpa had been a long-serving and much-loved school principal with striking white hair. When Deathly Hallows (Book 7) was released, our older daughter had just been diagnosed with fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome, giving a name to the puzzling assortment of ailments that she had endured for years, including the aforementioned intractable migraine. She was about to start her senior year in college with a semester away in Vienna. The family time we spent reading together was a precious time before she set off into the unknown.

This was especially fitting because the Harry Potter fandom had gifted her with some of her best friends who had sustained her through some of her worst times. As a precocious literary-minded secondary school student, she had joined some of the adult fandom online. She had taught herself some web design to start her own Harry Potter themed website, including an advice column in which she and Snape answered questions about both muggle and wizarding concerns. She wrote some fan fiction and engaged in literary analysis in online groups. When she became ill with what turned out to be the 8-month migraine and couldn’t leave the house, her online friends became her main social outlet outside of our family. It helped that several of her best online HP friends were in different time zones, as she often could not sleep at night and there would nearly always be someone online with whom she could chat, whatever the hour.

These women are still some of her closest friends. She has now met several of them in person. Two came to her senior voice recital in her last semester of college. She met more at a Harry Potter convention and has even spent time travelling and visiting with them in Japan.

In a way, they are even responsible for her current master’s thesis project. Some of her Harry Potter friends were also fans of J-pop (Japanese popular music), in which our daughter also became interested. Her decision to pursue a master’s in ethnomusicology and to study at University of Hawai’i – Manoa were related to this interest. U of HI is known as a center of excellence for Asian studies.

The life of our family was made richer by Harry Potter and Joanne Rowling. Happy Birthday to them both and eternal thanks for everything you have given to our family!