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!!!!)

Three weeks in America, part 4...

Forgive my self-indulgence in dispelling all the details of this discovery process. Millions of women in the world go about this, go about pregnancy, birth, motherhood. And here I am, elevating my story so that the simple phrase "I'm pregnant" becomes the epilogue to some kind of long-lost undiscovered sequel to The Iliad.

But, as a dear friend once told me, the best stories are those that end in redemption. In transformation.

The day after I found out I was pregnant, we celebrated the life of my grandfather. As part of his elegy, the pastor talked about the blessing of grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and the grandchildren yet to come. This was the first moment I connected with this strange foreign element in my body which folks would soon start referring to as "the baby."

Ironic. Saying good-bye to the last of my grandparents. And now, a new person in the making. This is big.

The last two days that I spent in Minnesota were glorious. I mean that as no disrespect to the memory of my grandfather, as it was his death that brought me home. But somehow, his death - and the passing of other wonderful members of our family in recent years - were, in one weekend, made examples of the greatness of the cycle of life. I shared some precious moments with Alaina and Maddy, my nieces, as they - upon learning I had a baby in my tummy - made sure I was pampered with arm massages and a stylish new hairdo (NOTE: if you haven't yet experienced a make-over by a 6-year-old, put it on your bucket list). Great moments with my brother. My sister-in-law. My best friend Bridget. My father.

And of course, my mother, who both grieved and celebrated with supreme sensitivity and love.

Exhausted, nauseous and completely over-run by a new set of thoughts, I boarded the plane back to Amsterdam.

Three weeks in America, part 3...

"First pee of the day," I remember Bridget telling me at some point. "That's when you have to do it."

I snuck downstairs to the guest bathroom before mom and dad got up.

My heart was racing. I didn't know what I wanted to see out of this thing. Like a young man struggling with his first condom, I was all thumbs in this operation. Such a simple task. I mean, many college degrees does it take to pee on a stick?!

I peed in great quantity, most of it on the stick, and waited in the bathroom a few minutes.

I stared at the little window.

At first, a blue horizontal line.

And shortly thereafter, a vertical one crossing it.

Aha! There we go! A BLUE PLUS! Well, that's gotta mean...something, right?!

Aw, nuts!!!...What the heck DOES it mean? In my haste leaving Amsterdam, I grabbed the stick without the instructions.

Can logic prevail here? Let's see...a plus could mean yes, a plus could mean no...well, which is it?

I sneak to my mom's computer and go on-line, looking at the website of the manufacturer.

"Damn! Why do they have to make so many models?!" I was thinking so loudly, I probably woke the neighbors.

I found what I thought was our model and looked at the results information...

" pink line, not pregnant...two parallel pink lines, pregnant..."

What the..?!?!? Pink PARALLEL lines?!?!? I have a flippin' blue plus!!!!

Noticing that it was early enough in Minnesota for it still to be nighttime in Amsterdam, I requested a video chat with Dave.

Three agonizing minutes later, he responded. Happily as always, of course!

"Hi honey! How was your flight? How did you sleep? I heard MInnesota had a snow st...."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah...flight good. Lots of snow. Could you run up to my office and grab the pregnancy test instructions?"

"The preg...??!?!"

"Yes, the pregnancy test instructions. Just go get them, would you?"

One-hundred-and-twenty-four steps later (62 up, 62 down), he returned with the set of fold-out instructions that came in the box. With all of the writing on this four foot square piece of paper and the way Dave was navigating, you may have guessed I had asked him for directions from Biskinta to Beirut.

"Okay, says it's more likely to give a false NEGATIVE, than a false POSITIVE..........And........the negative shows when you just have a horizontal blue line. But if you have both a horizontal AND a veritical...a plus are, basically without a doubt........pregnant..."

All of the blood rushing in my body came to a dead halt. I held still, realizing that now this was as much of a moment for my husband as it was for me. Time to pull it together.

"So, you wanna see the stick?" I did my best ever poker face.

And there we were, connected by whatever it is that makes the internet tick, five-thousand miles apart, looking at our screens with amazement and unprecedented joy.

Three weeks in America, part 2...

After a comically bungled trip home from NYC (PLEASE tell me somebody else out there accidentally went to New Jersey when they should've gone to JFK...What?...No?....No takers?), I walked through our front door on the Herengracht and landed in a heap on the couch, where I would basically stay for the next 24 hours.

I awoke in the morning - or at least it was morning somewhere in the world - to an email from my mom saying that, while I had been flying back to Amsterdam, Grandpa Bob had died due to a list of complications that, well, basically came from living almost a century.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but my first thoughts on the topic were not grief or sadness, but an overwhelming wave of frustration that I had just been in America 24 hours earlier (I even had a connection in Detroit, as a matter of fact...a mere 70-minute flight from Minneapolis). Going back in the next few days seemed a nearly insurmountable task.

And on top of it all, I felt miserable. Tired. Nauseous. Headachey. Sluggish.

In the fog of what turned out to be the next four days, between nibbling on crackers, sipping water, taking Pepto Bismol ("what IS this stomach bug, anyway?!"), endless naps on the couch, and making flight plans for my weekend trip back to America, I had a few passing thoughts to my dinner-time light bulb moment the night of the fashion show in NYC.

("Maartje...I think I might be pregnant.")

Of course, a logical person in this situation would've simply busted out a pregnancy test and come to the end of the mystery. But truly, I was in another world in those interim days. In fact, it wasn't until the day before I left for Minnesota that I told Dave what I thought might be up.

We talked about my taking the pregnancy test before boarding the plane, but somehow, that just seemed overwhelming to me...If I WASN'T pregnant, then what the heck was wrong with me and would I want to worry about it at the funeral. And if I WAS pregnant, I wouldn't want to leave Dave behind for the weekend.

But being perfectly honest, I was simply quite terrified. Terrified of what the answer was going to be.

Me? Pregnant? After so many years of trying NOT to get pregnant, this seemed unthinkable. Pregnancy happens to OTHER people. Not me. And, even though Dave and I stopped birth control six months earlier, a part of me was holding my breath, happy to allow fate to determine whether we would become parents.

And yet, I have met so many women who have desperately wanted to become pregnant and couldn' could I not be grateful and excited if the answer was "yes"?

I am hoping that I will be granted the good fortune to live long enough and to have the kind of relationship with my daughter-to-be that I can tell her about this, woman to woman. Some women - many around me, in fact - were born mothers. And they knew it. They walked glowingly into motherhood, accepting with seeming ease the sacrifices required, not giving a second thought to the what-might-have-beens.

I, on the other hand, had hemmed and hawed and stewed and processed and prayed and all sorts of things, trying to discern if I was mother material or not. When it came time to pull the goalie last April, I made the wager that I probably wouldn't be a TERRIBLE mother...and for anything that I lacked, the greatness of my husband as a father would more than make up for it.

And now, there I was. Faced with a reality, not a hypothetical. And I kind-of just didn't want to know.

I landed in Minnesota, feeling queasy and cold, navigating the two feet of snow that had just fallen before I landed. As ever, I had a wonderful time with my parents the first night, staying up late talking about life, love, music, religion, politics. The usual for us.

As we were all heading off to bed, I gingerly approached the topic of motherhood with my mom, all the while giving myself a mental image of me as a child, hands clasped behind my back, staring at the floor, lightly kicking a pebble with my toe...all while talking about something deeply important to me. I unpacked as I talked, trying to make the whole topic seem more distant than it was. She probably had no idea how intently I was listening.

With great conviction, this is what she said:

"Someday, if you and Dave decide to become parents, you will be great at it. You will work as a team and give that child a loving, creative, disciplined, adventurous home life. You've done many wonderful things in a lifetime, Lynn, but this would top them all. You will be just fine."

Before bed, with new courage, I dug the pregnancy test out of my suitcase and set it out on the bedside table. Tomorrow morning. I'll face this tomorrow morning.

Three weeks in America, part 1...

(In my continued effort to fill in the blanks of what's happened in 2009, I begin with tales of February.)

Off and on for the last five years, I have had numerous casual conversations with Dave's colleagues at the firm about the relation between design (urban, on the large scale and structures, on the smaller) and composition. About inspiration, form, maintaining vision, communicating vision, choosing a palette, etc. My husband is fortunate to work with a group of hard-working visionaries who are never short on interesting conversation material.

In the last year, the conversations moved toward talk of collaboration. Of uniting musical design with space design. Naturally, in the somewhat torrential economic climate of development (and thus, commercial architecture), this partnership has moved cautiously, but not without progress.

In conjunction with a performance opportunity that was flying me back to the continental 48, I decided to make a stop in Nashville to record a demo track for the folks at Jerde Partnership. A 5-minute track for a promotional video about Zlote Tarasy in Warsaw, Poland.

I love spending time in Nashville. There was a season where I was inches away from making it my place of residence. But as things turned out, visiting for work and play on occasion has proven to be, perhaps, equally rewarding.

At the top of the list is spending time with dear childhood friend Jennifer Johnson Bays, her husband Greg, and her kids Theo and Josephine who live in Franklin. They have always opened their door and hearts to me and I absolutely love being in their presence. Inevitably, Jenny and I will stay up one night talking until our eyes have long ceased to open. Inevitably, Jenny will take me to downtown Franklin for fantastic food, shopping and hospitality. And inevitably, we will laugh heartily about long-gone days around Hiner's skating to her house in the winter months, kick the can on summer nights, and the hilarity of growing from toddlers to teens in the same neighborhood. She is a priceless friend.

And as if my heart wasn't filled enough by that visit, I managed to make my way from Nashville to Boston to visit yet another stellar woman and her family (who, coincidentally, is also named Jennifer!).

Jenn, Asif, Aleisi and Senna had left us - a weepy pile of broken-hearted friends - in Amsterdam four months before I we were reunited in Logan Airport in February. She was waiting for me in the baggage claim area, and let's just say the weepiness in our reunion was simply an extension of what transpired in October. BIG hugs. BIG smiles. BIG crocodile tears.

And what a welcome by our nearly 2-year-old godson Aleisi when I approached the car! Priceless! Waving and smiling and bouncing up and down! And within minutes, he was asking all about Number Five..."Five...woof...? Five...woof...?" "Yes, Number Five still says, 'Woof'!"

I got to spend nearly three days with them in their spectacular flat in downtown Boston, which I had heard much about over the years. We went out on Valentines' Day and drank ourselves some nice smooth urban cocktails, ate Wendy's (my four-hundredth, Jenn's first!), walked in the park near their house, ate some delicious homemade goodies by Jenn, ordered Indian food, and talked and talked and talked.

The weekend ended way too fast, but it was great elixir for the soul to be in her presence again. I miss her in Amsterdam more than I'm ever able to show with our intermittent phone calls and emails.

And from Boston, a short jaunt to NYC.

One taxi ride from an illegal Caribbean immigrant later, and I was at the front door of Dane Larsen's Brooklyn apartment. My capacity for beaming with enthusiasm and love for all of these long-distance people in my life was stretching so far, I could hardly breathe!

Dane and I have known each other for over ten years now, having first been introduced in Minnesota when I worked at a church as a worship music director for a weekly high school service. He was a teenager then, but only by birth certificate. Dane's wisdom and thoughtfulness far surpassed any 15-year-old I had ever encountered, and we became friends without much effort at all.

Even back then, he would talk about living in NYC someday, pursuing a creative career in the business world. And now, living happily in His Town, he works at top notch advertising agency in Manhattan that has a view of seemingly the whole planet. He talked over Thai food about his plans for the future, about where he hopes to be and what he wants to do, and I couldn't have been happier than to have been sitting across from him, taking it all in.

Luckily, Dane was able to spend more time with me throughout the week as I began working on the project I was ACTUALLY there for...performing for G-Star Raw's NY Fashion Week runway show. My good friend Maartje Meijer (Dutch) - a fantastically talented jazz pianist - and I had been hired to be the two live musicians at the helm of G-Star's big show in the Hammerstein Ballroom. In the all, the performance lasted only 12 minutes and we did only one show, but it was a great time. We each sat at a grand piano at the base of the stage and played together a montage of five pieces, one of which being Brahms's G Minor Rhapsody, which I played alone.

It was a good time and as ever, completely intriguing to me to enter a new world...this one being the Fashion World. Having worked in the Hollywood music scene, red carpets and famous people didn't faze me. But talking to the models off and on during our endless rehearsals and thinking about how clothes are presented and why designers do what they do was a brilliant exercise for me. An intriguing and profitable remedy to the grey dark days back in Amsterdam.

We had a few long days of rehearsals, fittings, hair and make-up sittings. And on the day of the performance, we rehearsed almost up until the crowd filed in. We had a short 20-minute gap in which we could inhale dinner before the show. We ran up to the buffet area - which just so happened to be filled with nearly every one of my favorite American foods - and filled our plates. We were mutually famished.

But a funny thing happened.

I sat down. Surveyed my spoils with what must have looked like a raptor's grin. But couldn't stomach the thought of taking a bite. Maartje noticed right away and asked if something was wrong.

As confused as she was, my wheels began to spin a bit, and something came to mind that never had before in my life...

I leaned over to whisper to my friend what seemed at once both preposterous and entirely logical...

"Maartje...I think I might be pregnant."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Musicians have the best funerals...

By some miraculous stroke, I was able to live 34 years of life with the presence of grandparents. I got to know all four of these important people for fifteen years before, one by one, it became time to say good bye. Grandma Jane, my father's mother, died first. Then, after a gap of about ten years, Grandpa Hutch. After surviving the second massive stroke in her lifetime, Grandma Marian died a few years ago. And lastly, Grandpa Bob, my maternal grandfather, died in February of this year just days shy of his 94th birthday.

As you may already know, Grandpa Bob was, by profession, a musician. A violinist, a trumpet player, an arranger, and (I have tapes to prove it) a singer. He and my grandmother met in the stream of mutual musical talent and, much to the benefit of those around them, they continued to make music together in various ways through the majority of their years.

Grandpa Bob, although jovial and sharp and deeply interested in the things that mattered to him, was admittedly not a warm and fuzzy grandfather type. He was not the man to invite you to his knee, to wipe away tears (not that you would think to show him tears in the first place), or to become vastly sentimental by the sheer presence of his outstanding wife, children or grandchildren. On this, I must be clear and honest.

But the man could play.

Growing up in a strict German family with a relentless work ethic, it was upon his sole determination to learn to play the violin at the age of eight that he took on an early morning paper route to earn the twenty-some dollars necessary to purchase a pee wee-sized instrument upon which he could learn.

Later in his youth, he would demonstrate similar initiative in acquiring and then learning to play the trumpet.

Years would pass and he would carve out numerous professional alleyways for his talent, the stories of which he shared with me over the years. Playing in a band at a party filled with mobsters. Driving with some pals to a gig in a classic Minnesota snowstorm, only to slide off the side of the road, eventually have a door of the car ripped off, and waiting for rescue. Playing in the band backing up the circus that came to town...the swish of an elephant's tail passing by the end of his bell being my favorite detail of the story.

And somewhere in the mix, I heard stories from both him and my mother of the years when he helped launch a drum and bugle corps for young men. In this group, besides helping with fundraising and administration, he directed, taught, and wrote original arrangements tailor-made for his up and coming troupe which would go on to win numerous awards throughout the Midwest for their musical style and excellence.

Now, as a certain rite of passage, I decided at the age of ten to learn the trumpet and play in our school's band. Then working at Torp's Music Store in St. Paul, Grandpa Bob supplied an appropriately worn-in cornet upon which I could begin, and gave me my first lessons.

As I mentioned earlier, he came from a German family with a penchant for working hard. So what did these few lessons with him look like? They looked like a stern man giving direction befitting an older player, a ten-year-old girl huffing and puffing into a horn for what must've been an hour and a half, with no break, and a set of young lungs not capable of sustaining such a routine!

But would I dare say anything to him about it? What do YOU think?!

Well, just like I wish I had the mind to have understood my physics lessons on a deeper, more sustained level, I wish I could have had the potential on the horn to have taken advantage of Grandpa's strict - but effective - teaching methods.

Fortunately, there were many...MANY...young people who did. And many young people whose lives were impacted by his dedication to teaching players in such a way that pushed them to their best.

Much to the delight of our family, a group of six such students - now all close to seventy years of age - assembled a musical reunion to play tribute to Grandpa at his memorial service. They played a handful of pieces, a few of which were arrangements written by my grandfather many, many years ago.

And as I sat there in the front row with my family, I was struck by how completely perfect this demonstration was. That there was no other elegy or poem that could've expressed the character of my grandfather more accurately.

Musicians are complex characters. On one hand, they can be ripe with frippery and balderdash at one moment, flourishing a final note with a dramatic gesture in order to secure a crowd's approval. On the other, they can be deeply internal and private, wishing for no one to hear a note before the whole picture is fully in place.

And a postmortem performance in dedication is, in a sense, a combination of both.

Naturally, there is oohing and ahhing over the talent and brilliance of the musician lost. Like opening your ears to an auditory monument of the greatness that laid within the deceased person.

But there is simultaneous homage given to the private person, the person who spent hours working away in solitude to perfect notes, pitches and inflections to create such a thing.

And what better background to honor this kind of trait in a person than a funeral?

I realize I have a limited range of funerals from which to judge. And perhaps professionals from other fields - actuaries, dentists, postal workers - could find similar meaning in services honoring their dead. But I truly believe there is no other memorial service quite like that of a musician. To sit for minutes at a time, listening to and honoring both the outward and inward person he or she strived to be...through the rhythms and colors of the music they created...

...there is no greater salute.

The longest day of the year...

Dear Faithful Readers,

Today is the summer solstice. The longest day of the year. And while that may not offer much significance to you in your present ring of latitude, it means dusk at 10:52 pm in Holland.

If I may complain about such a wonderful thing for just a moment, I will note that it is this phenomenon - this seemingly unnatural length of day - that stirred me from near-sleep in my comfortable and warm bed. And now, I have gotten up, gone downstairs (without needing to turn on a light, mind you), picked up my electronic writing desk, and trudged back upstairs to settle in with you now.

So, if I may presume that you are happy to be reading from me once again, and you have yet to count yourself grateful for a single thing in this day, be glad that today is, indeed, the longest day of the year.

Oh friends. So many things afoot in recent months. So many emotions and experiences that, based on previously determined mores, I would deem write-worthy. And yet I delayed the gratification of telling for so long that with each passing day of silence, the task became more and more about administration, and less and less about the beauty of life shared.

But, inspired by the determination of the daylight to continue to both stretch AND stay her course, here I am. Husband sleeping. Dog sleeping. My body is sleeping. But my mind is alert and my interest in writing renewed.

Surely, this task will take many days to unfold. But if you are here reading this, I'm hoping you will desire to check back in the coming days and partake in my self-indulgent reach across counties and oceans to share with you.

Thanks for the patience.

Awake in Amsterdam