Saturday, October 24, 2009

Trust your instincts...

September 20, 2009.

Although ten days before my official due date, I knew Sadie was going to arrive on this day. Knew it. Without doubt. As sure as there is a nose on my face. Dave was back from India and had all but cleared out the nasty argument between New Dehli and his lower gastro-intestinal system. Ergo, all-systems go on the husband front. And my belly was already extending outward the width of a small parking spot.

But more than that, my blood right as a child-bearing female to sense things without empirical instincts told me so. She was to be born on this day. was close. Er. Close...Ish. Give or take...well...eighteen days...

I should've known better. You see, somewhere along the line, I unknowingly picked up a set of "slightly damaged" or "refurbished" maternal instincts. Perhaps someone's castoff maternal instinct. Seemingly not as effective as those I've seen in other women. Almost like picking up a virus. Thus, proving yet again that perhaps some things are better acquired new, in the original package, equipped with the full warranty should you need repairs or an upgrade.

Yes, I think there's argument that I have had some lower grade maternal instincts.

Take, for example, a conversation I had with my brother-in-law Dan a few years ago when he came to visit us in Amsterdam. "So Lynn, how do you feel about having a baby in Amsterdam? Would you do that? Would you feel comfortable?"

Thinking about my desires and ability to manage a "foreign" birth experience and the impact it would have on my future child:

"Absolutely, unequivocally, without doubt...No."


Or think back, dear readers, to February of this year when I was quite certain that the baby in my belly was no baby at all. Rather, a bout of indigestion due to travel. Maybe some bad airplane peanuts. And when I actually faced the Home Pregnancy Test, my common sense IQ dropped about 80 points as I tried like heck to figure out what a blue '+' meant. Somewhere in that moment, my instincts told me that a plus sign meant "no baby."

(What, in my life experience, has ever told me that a plus sign means "no" more than "yes"? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.)

Oh yes...and then there was the gender postulation.

Had Sadie been a boy, she would've been named Oscar David. Dave and my mother-in-law Brenda had come up with the nickname Oz for Oscar, and thought that was pretty dang cool. "Hey Oz...wanna go to a movie?" "Hey guys...Oz is coming over!" "Dude...check out Oz hanging ten on that crazy left!" "Ladies and gentlemen...We give you...OZ...!!!"

Although my heart was secretly longing to raise a daughter, the whole nickname thing teamed with my best gal pal Bridget's prediction (via the Chinese Baby Chart) that she would be a he landed me into a conviction that Baby Sheldon was certainly to be a Mr. I may as well have painted the room blue and bought the Oscar-to-be a football uniform. I was convinced we were to welcome a little David into our family.

Oops. Wrong again.

And then, there's the delivery. Perhaps this is less about bad instincts and more about shifted expectations (and by "shifted," I mean not-even-close-slash-the-reality-was-unrecognizable-within-the-scope-of-what-I-thought-would-happen).

After a few months of thinking things through and learning more about the Dutch tradition of giving birth at home, I had come to imagine, if not hope, that I would deliver in our guest room. In fact, I even took on a fake name (see previous entry) to receive delivery of the necessary equipment to do so. And I really thought that I was going to be waking up a pregnant lady and going to bed a mom, all within the confines of our nest on the Herengracht.

Wrong-o. Zero. Zilch. Negatory.

Twenty seven hours of labor, followed by an emergency C-section.

All of which took place in the hospital.

Oh Sadie, I hope that among the things you inherit from me are not these types of maternal instincts. My radiant personality, super model body and stunning intellect...why yes, of course. But the baby instincts...well...

There is a life lesson to be learned here, however. Trust your instincts - yes. But if your instincts tell you something new about yourself or your situation that is different from what your instincts were yesterday, then you should take note. Because it is possible that your instincts weren't as much instincts as they were preconceived ideas about how something would go. Or about your ability (or lack thereof) to handle a situation in a certain way. Perhaps instincts are tricky that way. Slippery shape-shifters posing as your gut, when in actuality, they are just a set of expectations and perceptions that you yourself have formed.

Within only hours of you being born, dear daughter, I resigned yet another of my instincts.

For many many years, as I watched friends and family members become parents, I would imagine myself as a mom. I would try to imagine the point at which I decided to extend beyond myself and hope to create a new life. Admittedly, I would choose the wrong moments to ponder such a thing: When standing over the shoulder over my sister-in-law as she changed the foulest of diapers, praying to God that I wouldn't up my dinner. While watching my best friend dab spit-up off of her formerly favorite sweater. As I tried to help a new mother in my neighborhood by offering to install her car seat...only to realize I apparently didn't have the mental fortitude to figure it out. Picking up my girlfriend's wobbily-headed newborn, hoping I wouldn't break her (baby parents always tell you that "she won't break." I was always relieved when it actually proved true).

Based on these and other experiences, I was certain that I would have the best shot of being a good mom if I could do the simplest of tasks: I would have to give birth to a kindergartner.

Really. If I could just do that, then I could manage parenthood in a snap. No diapers. No spit up. They can walk. They can talk.

Yeah, that's more my pace. None of this infant stuff. No thanks. Not for me.

Granted, I somewhat came to terms with the fact that I was indeed to give birth to a newborn. Not a five-year-old. But in the months I was pregnant with you, I was picturing that I would hold my breath in those early years and wait until we turned the corner into older childhood. That I would enjoy your infancy on some level, but really be holding out the big guns until you and I could sit across a cup of hot chocolate and talk about our days.

And then, I left the hospital with you in my arms.

Dad called a taxi to bring us home after our five day stay. I was tired and sore. You were wide-eyed and tiny. The autumn sun was shining a crisp light onto Amsterdam's cold paved streets. I lowered myself into the backseat and dad placed you in my arms.

On our way back home, we encountered the usual array of sights and sounds of the city. A group of teenagers smoking on the corner. Scooters noisily scooting. Hookers hooking. A car appeared from out of nowhere and cut us off. A lewd advertisement hung in Dam Square. People everywhere, going where they need to go in a hurry.

With each passing corner, I pulled you in closer to me. Closer. Closer. Closer. Until you were a bit smothered by my throat and chin.

We got home and I fed you on the couch near the front window. Within minutes, you had curled up in a ball on my chest and fallen asleep. I watched you breathe. I felt your warm little body rise and fall with my breaths and enjoyed the rhythm of it. We stayed there for what felt like hours.

The second night we were home, I walked you around our front room, introducing you to all of our favorite trinkets and baubles. Not even a week old, you mustered all of your strength to lift your head and look up at a row of books that was slightly over your line of sight. You bobbed and nodded involuntarily, mouth wide open and eyebrows lifted. But you kept your eyes on the prize: to catch a glimpse of those colorful objects on the shelf.

In only days, you had started to become alert and curious. And determined!

How could this have happened? So quickly? My pre-kindergartner was changing so fast. Too fast. Something was slipping away. And too soon. Was I still sure I wanted to zoom ahead past the point where we were that very day?

My reformed instincts now tell me to savor every moment of your current smallness. Your newness. The simplicity that accompanies each day's routine. The fact that I can turn on a lamp and the mere change of light in the room fascinates you for a half an hour. The love you have of the pictures we have on the wall, the cardboard deer head hanging over the fireplace, the sound of my voice. That I can either wear my glasses...or take them off...put them on...or take them off so interesting. Or that singing "Edelweiss" puts you to sleep when seemingly nothing else can.

There will hopefully be bountiful years to come when you will crane your neck like you did that night in search for new adventures, new knowledge, new experiences out on your own...bobble-headed and wide-eyed.

But for now, you are mine.

I can hold you closer, closer, closer. You can still sleep on my chest. And I can hold your head steady so you can see something new each day.

And hopefully my instincts won't be as shabby as I first thought...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's all in a name...

As a kid, I always felt kind of bad for other kids who had names that, come every fall when students make that predictable pilgrimage into new classrooms, teachers would have a hard time pronouncing.

Jada Werkhoven. My pal Janae Bakken. The one black kid in our high school, Amewoke Ngoboda (I still don't know how to pronounce or spell his name, but it's something like this).

Then there were those with easy first names, but the last names would often get bollixed:

Derosier. Kostuch. Saumweber.

The teachers would come close, but scattered giggles from across the room from those of us who had been through this the year before would alert them to a near-miss.

Growing up in middle America, my name was never a problem. The Hutchinson name goes back nearly a thousand years in Wales and England, and over 200 years in the United States. There's even a city called Hutchinson in my home state of Minnesota, named after my great-great-great-great-great-great uncles who founded it.

So you see, pronouncing "Hutchinson" was never a problem.

Until I moved to Holland.

Understanding and speaking a new language requires dedication and lots of practice. Of which I have done some. Enough to keep our household out of trouble (although remind me someday to tell you the story of when I called the pet crematorium the day our dog died and mistakenly requested that someone DELIVER a dead dog opposed to the intended PICK-UP a dead dog soon...).

But at the very least, when my vocabulary fails, I have cracked the code on the Dutch alphabet and how things are pronounced. For example, when you see "oo," you say "oa," as in the word boat. When you see "ij," it sounds like "eye." And when you see "ch" in a word, you do your best to cough up a mouth full of mucous.

I am now wishing I would've kept track of all the comical variations of my name that I've seen and heard in the last five years. "Lynn" can be tricky for spelling, but "Hutchinson" is the one that baffles them all.

I offer the two most recent examples:

About two and a half months ago, Dave and I ordered our crib ("ledikant") for Sadie's room (on yet another day, remind me to tell you about how much I miss having a Target around the corner). It would be arriving in the store in 6-8 weeks. As with all of the baby stuff, we put the order under my name.

Two weeks ago, I saw on my mobile that three phone calls had come in from this store, but no messages were left. I called back and asked if, perhaps, our crib had come in and that's why someone called.

What ensued was about two hours and 4 phone calls back and forth between me and the store manager as to why these first calls were made. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but we have no order placed for Lynn Hutchinson. Not anywhere."

Ahh...but what I SHOULD have asked them was if they had an order placed for..."Hutekineson Lin"! Because that's who they thought I was...some strange Scandinavian woman mysteriously born and given a surname in the People's Republic of China!

And now this morning, I opened the door to receive the mandatory delivery of bed risers and bed pans for home birth (yeah, yeah...another story), and ended up signing for...(drum roll, please)...

"A.E. Huddleston."

A. E. Huddleston! Now THERE'S a name I might be able to get into. Maybe it could be my pen name if I start writing murder mysteries. Maybe I could become an aristocrat with a name like this. The possibilities are endless!

Well, to all of those kids heading off to new classrooms this week armed with seemingly impossible names, I salute you. Be strong. I feel your pain.

"Proper names are poetry in the raw. And like all poetry, they are untranslatable."- W.H.Auden

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dear Sadie...

Last night, your dad mentioned how shocking it will be for you when you are in the world, breathing air, righted from your six-plus-week stint of being lodged head-over-toe inside another human. There will be so much to learn. So much to understand, beginning with the simple chemistry of oxygen in, carbon dioxide out.

No definitive guide could ever successfully be penned. Certainly not by me. But I offer you here a few guidelines that might lessen the pain of unknowing as you transition into autonomy. As I understand our first months together will be ripe with hindrances such as learning to use your eyes, awkward diaper changes and sleep deprivation (hardly a fitting state of mind for a proper welcome), I'm writing to you now...before things get ugly!

Let's begin with what you already know. Life in the womb.

Pregnancy with you has been fantastic. I have been a lucky new mom to have had such a healthy and easy pregnancy. The first few months were rather tiring and nauseous - you and I slept a lot and ate a lot of bananas and crackers. I'm sure the smell of our couch will be a familiar one, once you're on the outside.

But once we crossed the threshold of Trimester Two, we hit the ground running.

In the last seven and a half months, we have traveled together to Boston, Minnesota, Nashville, Majorca, Copenhagen, Maastricht and Istanbul. You were with me when I performed in New York, Berlin and Amsterdam. In fact, the first movements I felt from you were during the premiere performance of a piece I wrote called "The Bully." You also showed off a whole new range of movements when I was on the bench in Berlin. Brahms will never be the same for me.

I've read and been inspired by many books during pregnancy. My favorites being "Music and Imagination" by Aaron Copland and "Findings" by Leonard Bernstein.

You've been with us to see U2 and Pearl Jam in concert.

You've been around for the 258 hands of gin your dad and I have played in the last seven and a half months. (He has been in the lead for eleven months solid, but I am plotting a handy take-over, as we speak!)

Our days have begun with Number Five jumping gracefully onto our bed, often resting his chin on your cocoon-bubble, waiting patiently for us to get up for a morning walk. In these moments, you turn a little. Clearly, the morning wakes us both up. After a rather particular series of routine events, the three of us head out for our morning walk.

While on our hour-long hike together, you seem to sleep. That, or you enjoy just bouncing around a bit. Not certain which. Regardless, this ritual is a crucial one for all three of our happiness each day. By my calculation, we have already walked over 700 kilometers together.

(It's important to treat animals kindly, Sadie. We share the planet with all sorts of amazing creatures and it is indeed a gift to know one as closely as you will get to know Number Five. I promise he will make you giggle everyday and be your pal if you treat him with respect.)

After the morning walk, the day progresses and you usually don't seem to mind the rest until right after dinner. After doing dishes, I sit down, put my feet up, and enjoy your numerous attempts at becoming a world-class gymnast. From what I can tell, you've got cartwheels, somersaults and arabesques nailed. Perhaps there's even a downward dog in there somewhere.

Speaking of which, we took a few pregnancy yoga classes. I learned how to move and stretch in ways that have been helpful and relaxing. Admittedly, I stopped going to these classes when the discussion went from stretching to birthing. I hope you and I have a good experience when that day comes, but until then, I'm happier to leave the thinking and imagining out of the picture.

More pertinent information for you:

We live in Holland. That, you should know. Many have asked what I think about giving birth to a Dutch baby, and I'm not quite sure what to make of that. It wasn't long ago that throngs of immigrants moved to America solely for their children to be born of the privilege of being first-generation American. So, I guess by definition, this does indeed make you Dutch in some form. But I must admit, I think of you as an American child who just happened to touch down in Europe for a while. I'm proud to be American and often miss what America and Americans are about. I'm not sure how long we will live here, and therefore, I have no idea how much of the life here will rub off on you. You may learn some Dutch. You may not. But your dad and I are American and so will you be.

Living away from the country in which I grew up has afforded me much space to think and re-think and understand better where I've come from. For the most part, your dad and I have been welcomed in Holland and have made good friends here. We have also been challenged by many about what has happened and is happening in our homeland. As a matter of background...

Barack Obama was elected president only months ago. As you will learn in your history classes, he is the first black president of the United States.

We are at war with Iraq after attempting to occupy this country and help transition it toward a healthier state. As with any war, there is much sadness and anger from many sides. I'm hoping you will learn of a good outcome in those history classes.

There is much discussion over oil, global warming, the economy, and the state of human health in the face of a shrinking natural agriculture.

Oh Sadie, what to say about all this? Much gloom and doom to be unveiled under each of these topics, should one choose to look at it that way. But I'm not sure the weight is any heavier than what the world has faced throughout time. Your generation will be picking up pieces, undoubtedly. I hope we do well enough to make it a manageable load for you and your peers.

On the upside of modern life, technology affords incredible opportunities. The internet, email, video chatting, on-line social networks, mobile will never know a life before these things. But your dad and I do. Things happen very quickly now and I presume will only speed up in coming decades.

But if I may, I will suggest that you also take time to value people in a personal way. Learn to sit down with them eye-to-eye for a cup of coffee and ask them how they are. In person. Learn how to write letters and postcards. No matter how busy you can be, quality time spent with people you care about is the best thing you can do for your heart and theirs. I can only imagine that, as communication technology gets easier and easier, these things will be harder to remember. But do your best.

I can't wait for you to meet your father!

It's hard for me to know where to begin describing him, and you will like him so much from the very beginning that he probably needs no introduction. But I want to share a few things with you that I have learned about him over the last six years.

First of all, everyone loves your dad. He is one of those rare people on the planet who can make you feel you've been dear friends your whole life when you've only just met him minutes before. I've never seen him do this in the interest of gaining anything. He's just that way. He is the glue in every social setting, making everyone feel at home. He makes people laugh with his humor and willingness to go the extra mile in pursuit of fun.

Oh boy, will you two have fun together!!!

Secondly, your dad is a man of balance. On our first date, he told me that his basic tenet in life is to work and play in equal amounts, and with similar energy. He is incredibly driven, succinct, intentional, organized and passionate in both his career life and his social life. This might not make much difference to you for a few years, but when the time comes for you to launch your own direction, you will be so grateful for this influence. I promise.

He is a great teacher. Whether toddler, tot, teen, or grown-up, he is effective and inspiring to those around him. Be sure to take advantage of every last bit of knowledge he has about everything. Like I did, he also grew up with parents who taught him much and valued education and life experience at every turn. You will inevitably benefit from this.

I'm trying to avoid pigeon-holing you into a pre-destined course, but I must admit it is hard to picture you not knowing how to surf, how to golf, how to take great pictures, how to manage your household technology, how to successfully pursue a career, how to operate power tools, how to draw and paint...

...all while also knowing how to throw a perfect spiral.

(Forgive the expectations, Sadie. But when you get to know your father, you will understand how I came to them.)

More than any of these wonderful traits (and believe me, they are indeed wonderful), I hope that, should you choose someday to make a commitment to spend your life with someone, you will have learned from your father just how wonderful a partner can be. I hope that what you experience growing up in our house will inspire you to shoot for the moon in matters of love. Your father has been my best friend, my confidante, my cheerleader, my inspiration and my safety zone since the first days I knew him.

I couldn't wish for anything better for you, daughter, than to know love like this.

Oh my, Sadie...wait until you get to know your grandparents!

All four of your grandparents are rich with personality. Truly. They all have a great sense of humor, love to laugh and love to have fun. They are all intelligent, well-spoken, talented and wise people with so much to share with you. As your dad once said to me, "If I couldn't have been raised by my own parents, I would've wanted to be raised by yours." And I feel the exact same way.

You need to know that it is very difficult for all four grandparents that you will be living so far away for the early years of your life. They want to know and love you and enjoy your company, and are already making plans as to how they will connect with you from across the ocean. If luck is with us, there will be many many years ahead for you to get to know them and spend good time together.

You have three aunts, three uncles and six cousins. You have great aunts and uncles. Second cousins (probably some of them removed...?) (I never really remember how that works). All sorts of blood relatives. And like the grandparents, they are all anxious to know you.

You also have an amazing extension of surrogate aunts and uncles whom your dad and I have gotten to know across the globe throughout our lives. Blood relatives are certainly one-of-a-kind, but I want you to know that the world is FULL of amazing people, and that your dad and I wouldn't be who we are today without the love and influence of the friends, mentors, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances we have encountered, invested in and been touched by in our lifetimes.

Always remain open to that new person in your life who may just be right around the corner. And be that someone for others. I believe the world needs people who are unafraid to step over boundaries in order to love and influence, to be loved and to be influenced. I wish that courage and openness for you.

Oh Sadie...

I really do find it hard to believe that I will be your mom - truly, your mom - not just an incubator - in only a few weeks. Even at 35 years old, I find myself wondering if I'm really grown-up enough to be responsible for molding another human life. I myself am still shaping my own...waking up each morning, hoping for new sources of inspiration, open to new directions, seeking mentors and good influences.

I certainly don't have all the answers for you, kiddo. I have an idea what is a good starting point for you - such as some things my parents taught me ("Lesson #1: No whining. Lesson #2: No lying. Lesson #3: Review lessons number 1 and 2.").

But at the end of it all, my greatest wish for you is that I can give you the tools to become a strong, independent, thoughtful and loving human being who will have much to offer the world. Because the world needs people who see beauty in human potential. People who care. People who touch. People who lead. People who work hard. People who create. People who think big. People who show up. People who make opportunities for themselves and others. People who take responsibility for the mistakes they've made.

And whether you are an extrovert, an introvert, good at school, not good at school, creative, not creative, religious, not religious, athletic, not athletic, popular, or doing your own thing... Sadie, you can be someone who makes a positive impact on others.

And I hope that you yourself will hope for make the world a more beautiful place.

As I said, I have no definitive answers about details. But I do believe that those who seek to give openly and honestly of themselves, who work hard to become skilled at whatever they do best so that they can contribute to the world...they are the happiest.

And that's what I want for you.

Well, Sadie...I can't wait to meet you, you squiggly and strange alien being who has been poaching my nutrients and energy in recent months. If you can, please be kind to me on your way out. Try not to punish me for those late-night goodies or the occasional cup of coffee I subjected you to.

Let the journey begin, daughter...


Friday, July 17, 2009

All the world's a stage...

And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

-William Shakespeare, As You Like It

So I may be the last of an entire populace to make mention of Michael Jackson's death - not that I could say anything that wasn't said throughout the multi-week blitz of media attention given to his passing. Based on sheer volume, I don't think an original angle on this apparently world-changing event could be presented.

It seems the spectacle of his leaving the planet was as phantasmagoric as the life he led on it.

Admittedly, I paid my respects in the days that followed, spinning through A-B-C-1-2-3, Billie Jean, Thriller, and Bad, to name a few, wondering how so many years had passed since I listened to these on cassette tape. And whether analogue or digital, watching a coming-of-age Michael dance and move in ways that defied entertainment standards of the day (if not also gravity) is as spectacular now as it was then. He was the whole package: voice, movement, musicality, presentation and attitude.

I also choked through some video tributes that exposed less notable musical offerings, such as his whitewashed collaboration with Janet Scream, Remember the Time with Eddie Murphy, and the political statement piece They Don't Care About Us (the melody and message of which bear an uncanny resemblance to Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall).

At the peak of Michael Mourning Madness, I was in Berlin, performing at G-Star Raw's runway shows during Fashion Week, experiencing my own strange taste of the life fantastic.

Wafer-thin beauties and fat free beau hunks intermingled with cigarettes dangling, perfect skin glistening, and libidos charging as they paused between fittings and rehearsals. Whether in the hallway, the kitchen or the rest room, the poise of their flawless genetic structuring silently commanded respect in every space. An unspoken law that everyone obeys.

These boys of barely 23 or 24 years of age spoke with me quite a bit in five days, offering baby congratulations with smoky voices that slipped between sparkling teeth and perfect lips. Smoky enough to make a pregnant woman of thirty-five blush. Throughout the week, these men-children could be spied spending their down time pouring through Vogue, Elle and Detail magazines, picking out each other's latest spreads. Or discussing contract negotiations from the shoot they finished last week in Barcelona. Or, as the hot days got longer and longer, talking about their latest sexual conquests and how many numbers they planned to score before the day was done.

The girls kept mostly to themselves, smoking incessantly and drinking water. Although the boys were admittedly gorgeous specimens, I could hardly keep my eyes off the women...each one of them looking like a china doll carefully on loan from her perch on a pristine glass shelf. Eyelashes and lips at perfect volume. Hair long and smooth. And as they changed backstage, I couldn't help but notice as I walked by that there wasn't an ounce of fat on them. And no visible veins. No bruises. No dimpled skin. Not an imperfection to be found anywhere.

No wonder these people - these specimens - are preoccupied with plans to fornicate with one another.

Of course these aren't the only cast members in this well-oiled theatrical machine of fashion. Far from it. The twenty-some models were heavily outnumbered by a team of creative directors, producers, choreographers, light and sound technicians, hydraulic lift operators, set builders, hair and make-up designers, "dressers" (those who dress and strip the models during the show), canteen operators, security, latrine attendants, assistants, assistants to the assistants, business managers, marketing directors, the CEO of G-Star....and somewhere in the mix, us two musicians.

And yet, the models adhere to a slightly different moral code than the rest of us, and somehow, this gap isn't disturbing. In fact, it was almost pleasing to me to imagine these beautiful people participating in illicit short-term affairs with each other. And if that was all they concerned themselves with beyond making sure they didn't miss a cue on the stage, so be it. That would somehow be okay. Almost an entitled right.

My musical partner / good friend Maartje and I spent much time on this trip discussing this strange caste system that seems to exist in the presence of the beautiful, the famous and the obscenely wealthy. And it is an intuition formed in us by an early age. The cool kids in junior high. High school cheerleaders and the captain of the football team. Beautiful people seem to inherit special privileges. Maybe not always in extremes, like models or pop stars. But there's just something about them that commands different attention and concessions to certain rules of conduct.

People who live their lives on stage carry at least two persona with them at all times: that which is dressed up for the audience, and that which is the inner voice of their intimate self. The bigger the audience, the bigger the fame, the larger the gap between these persona. Or perhaps more accurate, the larger the gap between people's perceptions and genuine understanding of the two. Is who we see who we would get, should we be invited into their private world?

Michael Jackson lived a big life both on and off the stage. We saw him. Listened to him. Watched him grow. Watched him change. We read stories of his strange relations. Heard about allegations. Wondered about his metamorphosing appearance. And now, we have memorialized him in ways bigger than for Nobel Peace Prize winners, past presidents, and important scientists. Through mourning this highly public figure, we have claimed a piece of him.

And yet, all we really know of this man is what he and his entourage offered on the stage and in the studio. The rest is smoke and mirrors, resulting from a combination of our imagination and the very well-paid publicists who told us who he was.

But maybe that's enough. Maybe, as humans, we need to believe in the fantasy of the beautiful, the famous. To watch these specimen, these spectacles as they pass by and allow them the extra room they require be.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Strings and Sketches....

A year ago, I experienced a combination of events that would lead to the next round of new pieces to write and perform. The first was encountering - and subsequently spending much time analyzing - Ravel's Piano Trio in A Minor. The second was a Sheldon family trip to Siena, Italy, where in a beautiful music room in our hotel, I fleshed out a harmonic form that I had been kicking around for some time but hadn't yet completed. And the third was meeting Dutch artist Arjen Dijksma in a chance encounter in the Leidseplein the day after Jenn and Asif moved back to Boston.

After a few postponements due to work in America, pregnancy fatigue and at one point, a mild case of writer's block, I was finally able to hear my Sonata for Piano Trio in E Minor - as well as two other simple forms pieces I had written - realized in performance.

In early June, I hosted our ninth Canvas performance, this time offering two days of performances, as opposed to just one evening. Between the two concerts, over 60 people attended, half of whom were new additions to the Canvas community. Very exciting progress for me.

Also extremely rewarding was the collaboration with Dutch artist Arjen Dijksma, who installed an exhibit of his work for the performance and (most excitingly to me) created an original work inspired by the music I had written and the rehearsals of ours he attended.

Arjen specializes in making prints from etchings...a technique popularized by old Dutch masters such as Hendrick Goltzius and Rembrandt. Through manipulations in etching technique, he creates various depths and texture in his prints that is particularly brilliant in person. You can see in this work (titled "Canvas") a representation of our violinist Emma Breedveld, our cellist Eva van de Poll, and me at the piano (complete with a cubist-inspired maternal belly). Those of you who have been in our house or seen pictures will also recognize our beautiful stained glass windows in the background.

In the foreground, there is a piece of sheet music with "Canvas" inscribed on it.

It's a fantastic piece and I'm honored to be represented by his vision.

(Arjen made a limited number of prints and they are available for purchase. Should any of you be interested, please send me an email or leave a comment on this blog entry.)

I'm including below the introductory notes I wrote for the program:

"About a year ago, I heard a recording of the Beaux Arts Trio performing Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor. Having performed numerous times with violin and cello in separation, I was struck by the expanded realm of possibility of what the three instruments could express together and began exploring the combination. I started listening to and studying some of the great piano trio literature by Beethoven, Brahms, Schumman, and most impactingly, Maurice Ravel.

In deciding to assemble a piano trio for this performance, my primary objectives were 1) to gain aptitude in understanding and writing for this combination of instruments, and 2) to gain enough comfort speaking the language of this combination to be able to express myself genuinely through new pieces.

I was fortunate to find musicians to play with who are not only gifted technicians and intuitive interpreters, but who are also flexible and open-minded. Both of these women have the imagination to see their instruments both inside and outside of the conventional definitions of how a violin and cello should and could sound. They aren’t afraid to see their instruments as not only melodic string instruments, but also as bass, percussion, and even sound effect generators.

I have learned much from Eva and Emma and am honored that they have taken on the task of launching these new pieces.
In addition to my own work, I am happy to present two pieces by Ms. Breedveld in this program. This performance marks the premiere of Wals, and the first time Na den Beginne has been performed with the instrumentation of violin, cello and harmonium.

We will also play two pieces by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) from his Quatro estaciones de Buenos Aires (“Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”), written in 1969.

ABOUT CANVAS – The history of the salon concert is centuries old. Although its origin is porportedly Italian, it was the French who, in the 17th century, brought salon gatherings to a new level of prominence. Composer and pianist Frederick Chopin gave an overwhelming majority of his performances in salons, prefering to offer his works to small groups of people, most of who were friends or acquaintances.

In an ongoing effort to develop as both an artist and a craftsman, I began offering home concerts to friends and neighbors in December 2007. In March 2008, I gave the name Canvas to these programs, suggesting that each performance was a unique opportunity – a blank canvas – on which to place new pieces, new ideas, and new collaborations.

In less than two years, within the boundaries of space and budget, I have enjoyed presenting a wide range of genres and presentation mediums to an audience of over 120 different people, and I’m happy to see that number grow this weekend!

It is a pleasure to have you in our home. I hope you enjoy the opportunity to experience music in such an intimate setting. Please join us again!

Yet another Queen's Day...

By now, you are probably coming to expect at least a brief telling of the annual Queen's Day festivities.

As ever, I kept it to a dull roar - especially since Dave was out of town on business and he's usually the one encouraging me to enjoy the day. But it was never the less a nice day. Beautiful weather. Funny, funny people everywhere. Good greasy food on every corner. And more second-hand stuff to peruse than even the most seasoned of garage sale-ers could shake a re-purposed stick at.

(Zanny, you do know I'm talking about you, right?)

A couple of favorites this year:

1. Our neighbor's kids made a large drawing of the Queen with a gaping hole cut around the mouth. For fifty euro cents, you could get four chances to "make a basket" with water balloons. Very cute.

2. An aspiring young violinist of age seven charged twenty cents for a performance of "Wilhelmus"...the Dutch national anthem.

3. Cleverly finding ways to earn money off of a recently completed science project, a young woman charged a few cents to take a peak into a handmade shadow box with the theme of Prehistoria.

And, of course, there were many ridiculously dressed, orange-clad Nederlanders at every turn. Year after year, I can't help but to take a few photos.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A quadrant of visitors...

Four and a half years of flying across the Atlantic on a regular basis, and I'm still in awe of the capacity for loved ones to budget the time and expense to visit us here. Certainly flights are more available and ticket costs not completely out of range. But still, it is a gift to us every time we get to open our door and see a familiar smiling face on the other side.

This spring, we had a fantastic burst of visitors on our side of the Big Blue. Besides Norm and Brenda's visit in March, we saw Jenn and Ryan Alexander here in Amsterdam, Dave's Aunt Vivian and Uncle Ted in Copenhagen, my mom's long-time Norwegian pen pal also here in Amsterdam.

And last but not even remotely the least, my parents made their first visit to Amsterdam (or anywhere in Europe, for that matter) in the second part of May.

Long-time friends Jenn and Ryan were able to leave their two-and-a-half year old son behind with family in Seattle to spend nearly a week with us here. And spending quality time with these two has become nothing but more valuable over the years. Two passionate, talented, intelligent people in our house for five days straight? Like a vibrant shot in the arm, morning after morning. We played, ate, rested (Jenn is ALSO pregnant! She's expecting a baby boy a few weeks after our daughter is due), talked, talked and talked some more. It was wonderful. Hard to say good-bye when the time came, but we were grateful for the time we had.

Dave's Aunt Vivian and Uncle Ted were on vacation in Copenhagen and invited us to join them for dinner sometime during their stay. Copenhagen is a mere stone's throw away from Amsterdam, so a one-night visit was completely feasible. Dave was able to plan a business meeting around our 24-hour stint, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner in Tivoli Gardens with Norm's sister and brother-in-law.

This was the most quality time I had ever spent with this fascinating couple, and we didn't waste any time getting to the heart of what was going on with all of us. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more intentional and thoughtful conversationalist than Vivian. And Ted is an endless source of fantastic anecdotes, having climbed mountains, swam across channels, and ran across countries globe-wide. They are beautiful people and I was so glad to have a chance to have a Danish rendezvous with them.

(I also managed to squeeze in a visit to an amazing Danish piano store, spending time playing a few pianos I had never seen long-standing favorite...a Yamaha S6. Good times all around!)

The night before we left for Majorca, I intersected with Liv, a long-time pen pal friend of my mother's, who was visiting Amsterdam with a group of girlfriends celebrating the 50th anniversary of their sewing club. Our time together was brief, starting with a tour of our home (Dutch canal houses are always fascinating to see), and ending with dinner at Nomad's, a Lebanese restaurant near our house.

Having lived in America for some years in the seventies (the period in which she met my mother), Liv's English is nearly impeccable. Her friends had to work a little harder to communicate with me. But after they had had a few drinks, their English improved dramatically! A wonderful group of ladies, they were, and always nice to meet folks from the Motherland.

And then, there are my parents.

There are some happenings that I have longed for so hard that, when one is about to come true, I wonder if it will live up to my imagination. One such happening was finding and falling in love with my husband. And after that one worked out so beautifully, not far down the list was the opportunity to share with my parents our life here in Amsterdam.

They were here for 9 days. One better than the next. Amsterdam's weather even managed to level out for their stay.

We spent some time visiting Amsterdam's "must sees"...the Rijksmuseum (complete with a personal guided tour from good friend and art historian Blanka Pesje), the Van Gogh Museum, the canal boat tour, the Anne Frank house, the Saturday morning market. But I think we agreed that the best time of all was spent in our house, cooking and eating together, playing with remote-controlled helicopters and the Wii, Dad teaching 5 how to catch treats, Mom going to pick out baby clothes with me.

And, perhaps the most special happening of all was going to our 20-week ultrasound - all four-and-a-half of us to check on the health and (baby's position allowing) the gender of this new Sheldon-to-be. Mom and dad were in the room with us, checking out what we discovered is their newest granddaughter on the echo screen.

Moments not to be forgotten.

To everyone who has come to visit us in the last four+ years, thank you thank you thank you! We can't tell you how much your effort means to us. There are countless brilliant places to visit on this planet, and that you choose to allocate time and funds to be with us is an irreplaceable gift.

Waking up in Marjorca...

So, by the time I found out I was pregnant, I was already about two months along. And the not knowing, in many ways, was a blessing. Those were two months I didn't spend worrying about an early miscarriage, and two months where I thought the best thing I could do to deal with this mysterious nausea and fatigue was to simply fight through it. Also, probably not a bad response.

But once the in utero cat was out of the bag, my mind caught up with my body and basically checked out for about five weeks. As experienced by many women, never had I been so tired and nauseous for such a long time. I logged in more couch time in those weeks than in the previous five years combined.

Toward the end of this period, Dave and I decided to err on the side of optimism and plan a trip to Majorca over my birthday - which would land in the middle of the fourth month of my pregnancy. Seemed safe enough. Besides, I was more than ready to wake up from this seemingly unending slumber and get back to things.

By European standards, our four-day stay was laughably short. But for us, it was a perfect getaway. We flew from Amsterdam to Madrid. Madrid to Palma de Majorca. And an hour long drive from Palma to Deija, the small mountainside town where we stayed.

The first night we were there, I had the fantastic pleasure of having a planned video chat with a few girlfriends in Minnesota who had yet to discover I was pregnant. Fabulous sister-in-law Beth (completely in the know, of course) had a few gals over for lunch, under the guise of this being a "birthday lunch by proxy" for me. After twenty minutes of catching up, I dropped the news on them and received in two minutes what seemed like a year's worth of squeals and screams and giggles and tears. It was in a word, unforgettable.

Our first full day, we had We hiked down to the Mediterranean via this crazy unmarked path. Saw and HEARD (gratuitous capitalization offered for those who know my favorite sheep joke...()You know who you are and you know what I mean...) sheep as they lazily strolled and baa'ed throughout the city. We played tennis. We swam in the pool. And we ended the day with a beautiful dinner (And, by the way, don't ever try to tell a pregnant woman who happens to love meat to NOT eat local Parma or Jabugo ham. Rules are meant to be broken, right? Ask Dave for details.)

Before the torrential downpour of the next day, we squeezed in nine holes of golf (my funny swing is even funnier with a baby belly), more pool time, a stroll through a local art fair. And then the rains came while we were watching a local tuba and trumpet-driven funk band in an outdoor cafe. Back to the hotel for some cartoon-esque attempts at playing outdoor ping pong in sideways-blowing winds, followed shortly by a couple of warm showers and room service.

I guess I would be in fashion to call this our Babymoon. There was no work, just play. And it was divine.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wild horses...

Only a few short weeks after I returned from Minnesota, in-laws Norm and Brenda came to visit us in Amsterdam. This is, at minimum, an annual trip for them. We've shared many fun times on this European continent, often heading out to see new cities or countries together.

On this trip, we decided to stay in Holland and take a two-night trip to Maastricht, a Medieval city in the southeast corner of the country.

Before doing that, we spent a few days together in Amsterdam. We went out for a fantastic dinner together. Norm and Brenda got to sit in on a rehearsal of mine. We watched movies together. All good fun.

But unbeknownst to them, Dave and I had a surprise event lined up that would top the proverbial vacation cake. You see, we had miraculously managed to keep the news of the Sheldon-to-be a secret from them, knowing that it would be WAY more fun to tell them face-to-face when they came for a visit.

An agonizing 36 hours after they landed in Amsterdam, Dave and I set out our trap!

Now, as background for those of you who do not already know this, there is something one of a kind about Jewish grandparents. This was not something I realized fully until I married into a Jewish family. But when an adult Jewish child announces they have created another family member, it's like the sun shines for the first time, global warming has stopped, and scientists have announced that eating chocolate is the best thing you can do for your health...all rolled in to one! Coming from a more reserved Scandinavian Lutheran background, experiencing this kind of energy is so lovingly entertaining, it literally makes me giggle!

So, now you can understand that this revealing had to be something special.

Dave and I decided that the best way to surprise these two (because believe you me, they have been surprised more than a few times by their clever offspring...they are no rookies when it comes to the Art of Off-Guard) was to distract them with a secondary surprise. And we had the perfect thing...

Let me tell you about the Sheldon horses...

About thirty years ago, Norm's mother bought a large ceramic sculpture of three white horses. One is reared up on his hind legs. Another is pointing his nose forward, probably snorting. The other is throwing his head back playfully.

Although well-crafted, one would probably say that the aesthetic of said horses is...well...rather heinous (no offense, Grandma Hilde, may you rest in peace). And after Dave's grandparents died, the piece become somewhat of a traveling family white elephant gift:

Norm's sister Vivian passed it on to Dave's brother Dan, as a housewarming gift. I think from there, it went to Dave's sister Audrey on her wedding day. Then it went back to Dan for his wedding day. Back to Audrey for the birth of her first child. Somehow, Dave got in on the mix. And he slipped it into his parents' hotel room at his cousin's bar mitzvah....

Well, you get the idea.

Three years ago, when we got married, the last recipient of the horses (Dave's then 2-year-old nephew Jonah) decided to ship it to Amsterdam as a wedding gift. But Jonah's youth shone through when he decided to ship them in an over-sized box with only a handful of packing peanuts.

That's right. The horses arrived in about two hundred little equine pieces.

We discussed a few ideas for the fate of our ceramic thoroughbreds. Throwing them away. Painting the pieces different colors and creating some strange Picasso pastiche. Making a movie about how the horses died. Etc, etc, etc.

In the end, Dave wanted to remain pure to the original sculpture and take on the painstaking exercise of putting them back together to look like the original sculpture.

This process took - off and on - about three years.

Now, back to the present.

Norm, Brenda, Dave and I were sitting at the dining table, finishing a lovely dinner when Dave announces that we have been "working on something for quite a while now" and that "they (Norm and Brenda) will be very excited to learn what we're talking about..."

Undoubtedly thinking we were talking about BABIES, they leaned in closely and gave wide-eyed smiles...

I excused myself from the table and returned moments later with....DUT da da da!....THE HORSES!

Laughter and giggles ensued as Norm and Brenda accepted their fate as the next keepers of the horses, and Brenda took a closer look at the card I had attached around one of the horse's necks:

"Dear Brenda, Happy Early Birthday!...And don't even THINK about sending the horses back in fall for the birth of your new grandchild!"

(HA! GOTCHA!!!!)