Sunday, December 21, 2008

Last Year's Christmas Letter

I came so close to sending out Christmas cards last year . . . soooo close. I even got this fine picture taken--nice theory with a three week old baby, but the picture production must have drained me dry; I couldn't quite get closure on the letter. (And I call myself a writer!)

Here's my draft; you can tell it's a draft because it's all so unbalanced. I got really carried away with the hamsters, and they got more coverage than the children. In defense of my motherhood: I was going to give my bid kids some room to write their own stories, which explains their skimpy paragraphs. I'm posting this just in case I get around to this year's letter.

Merry Christmas and all our love!

Christmas 2007

Hello friends, It looks like every fourth baby or so we finally get a Christmas letter out, so here's a quick five year review--born: Joanne, Marguerite, Eden, and Alice (one month ago). We finally caved to peer pressure from our kids (or is that subordinate pressure?)and decided to have just one more.

If you were counting, that totals seven girls and one lone Jonathan for us. I spent most of the year pregnant, therefore lying around groaning and complaining, which explains why every surface in my home acquired grafitti: Sharpie in all colors on the walls, the woodwork, table tops (all of them), window sills, shower walls, and carpet. Not even Rapunzel Barbie's braid was spared. (See my favorites below.)

We had a wonderful beach trip with most of the Shills this summer. It was all part of my mom's Christmas theme: "the 1960s." We spent a blissful week on the beach in San Diego, enjoying the most perfect weather I've ever seen and unusually warm Pacific waters. It was a landmark adventure for the cousins. My kids even got to experience a true "hoot-n-nanny," I thought Annette Funnacello might materialize in a yellow bikini. DAVID Occasionally, people mention that they have a hard time finding David in the choir, so I feel obligated to mention that he quit 4 years ago (about the time I was expecting Marguerite). There's a reason all those choir members have grey hair--their kids are grown. Between the Olympics and the touring schedule, he decided that it's not really meant for the man with many small children. NANCY spends her free time on Powerschool, checking her grades and squeezing extra credit points out of her teachers. On any day, she can tell you the exact percentage she has in any class; and she takes wild pleasure in tipping over the 100% mark. It's amazing! She bought herself several pairs of impossibly high-heeled shoes and discovered hair dye this year. ("Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!") JONATHAN Jonathan went to BYU lacrosse camp this summer, and we all learned just how much he keeps us entertained. The little girls all moped around complaining the whole time that there was nothing to do. And, I had to agree. SARAH is another PowerSchool addict, checking grades, but she's quieter about it and not so shameless about begging for extra credit. She embraced lacrosse this year. LIZZY (8), my sweet Social Planner is all about relationships." She got baptized this year after several months of threatening to wait for her Linford grandparents get home from their mission (still more than a year away). Relationships mean a lot to Lizzy, and she couldn't bear the thought of crossing this important threshold without them. But, after two months of EVERYONE needling her about her baptism and having to explain to people--like the primary president and bishop--that she had decided to wait, she thought better of the idea and decided that October was a good time. We went to Las Vegas so she could share her special day with her cousin, Adam. As we left the church after the baptism, we got a double rainbow which we count as a real miracle in Vegas with its three inches of rainfall a year. JOANNE (6) Fireball. Very, very feminine looking, but she loves to play with her boy cousins and has learned to do the more shocking things that boys do. (I'll leave it at that.) Joanne is Jonathan's honorary brother. In Jonathan's words: "Joanne is the closest thing to a brother I'll ever have." This girl knows how to play and dance and be especially goofy and, most importantly, laugh at Jonathan's antics. MARGUERITE is our diva. This girl is going somewhere--we're not sure where, but wherever it is, she'll be dressed well! She won't even come down for breakfast before she's showered, dressed, and accessorized--from hair to shoes. Favorite accessories include: headbands, scarves, tiaras, boas, and all of her mother's jewelry. (Much of it bit the dust this year), She's three whole years from the onset of her shoe fetish, (when she used to wear shoes to bed every night and hold another pair in her hands while she slept), with no signs of remission. She remains an avid shoe collector. I offered to take her on a "Mommy Date," and she asked if we could go to the shoe store: "It will be so fun, we can look around at all the shoes and stuff." --no kidding.

She also wins the prize for asking the most incomprehensible questions: I saw her take a tape measure, spread it out along the kitchen counter and ask, "Dad, guess how much the counter weighs. . . . 100 degrees!" (This, with her million dollar smile, of course). Give that girl some Math! EDEN: The Narrator. Eden narrated every event--no matter how small--that occurred in our house this year in full, exacting, descriptive sentences. I'm sure she tripled the average number of words spoken per day by any grown woman. Sometimes, just listening can be exhausting. She talks so much, that as we were preparing for her third birthday (just a couple of weeks ago), David lost his brains for a minute and thought she was turning four. It took a bit of convincing before he conceded: "Do you mean to tell me she's still TWO! She can't be two! No two year old talks that much." She's still cute enough to get her way virtually all of the time, even with Alice threatening to usurp. I'm sure this stage will end. ALICE: Absolutely perfect. It's the one thing on which we are all in complete agreement. She recently added "smiling" to her repertoire of tricks.

Well, that's it for the Linford kids.

ME: I'm busy with all of the above. I spend a lot of time in the car. I still write for and that takes up all my hobby time, so I really don't do much else, which makes writing my paragraph here pretty simple. I had a couple of short business trips this year, so I started a new policy of taking a kid with me whenever I have to travel. This has seriously increased my popularity at home.

In February, I had meetings in San Jose, which were timed perfectly so that I could join my sister, sister-in-law, and niece playing with the Temple Hill Symphony in Oakland. It was so fun to dust off my violin (literally) and play again. It took about two weeks of scales for me to remember how to work my fingers, and still I barely survived the 2nd violin part, but the music was sublime and so nourishing.

I also had a fun trip to DC with Nancy. We stayed with my sister in Arlington and saw some of the DC sites. My love of George Washington still grows.

Hampster tragedies: Hamlet & Horatio

We acquired 2 hamsters, Hamlet and Horatio, born on the 4th of July last year. It turns out, we tempted the fates with those names. Hamlet died this summer at the worst possible moment--DAVID WAS OUT OF TOWN. So I had to conduct the funeral and bury him myself, accompanied by the plaintive wailing of 5 wretched little girls. In my world, burying an animal is a man's job, and I was very bitter about having to do it. I'm a disgrace to my pioneer ancestors.

At the funeral, I tried to offer a few kind words about Hamlet: "He was a good hamster, he never bit us." But, I was corrected by Sarah, "Actually, he bit me once, but it was only after he went insane because we hadn't changed his hay, and water had spilled all over the cage." Everyone had a bite story, modified with a comment like, "But it wasn't very hard." I started wondering about their vaccinations.

Marguerite suggested that we get a rock and write on it, "Hamlet Is Dead," which we did. If you come visit us, be sure to stop by the pet cemetery in the back corner of our yard, and you can admire the memorial (black sharpie on granite). This was one of the few occasions in my life where I knew exactly what to say: "Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." (Thank you, Shakespeare.) But, the girls were unimpressed; they blasted me with a mishna full of questions about the afterlife for hamsters and whether or not they get resurrected, who takes care of them in the meantime, are they with Grandma Nonie, etc.

Hamster Epilogue: Lady MacBeth

Nancy and Sarah decided to buy another hamster--a girl this time--with high hopes for offspring. They named her Hero after that buoyant character in Much Ado about Nothing, but , we had to change her name to Lady MacBeth when she turned into a vicious biter. We all fear Lady MacBeth. Her unfortunate name turned out to be even more appropriate when Joanne woke up one morning to find that Lady MacBeth had eaten--yes, eaten!--Horatio. Oh the humanity! There were only remnants of him left.

Since then, only Lizzy--ever tenderhearted--has the wherewithal play with her. Several times, I heard Sarah mutter, "murderer" under her breath as she walked by the hamster tub.

On that happy note, I'll leave you with a Merry Christmas. It's been quite a year!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Responsible Women: Going on 24!

In March, the Responsible Women book club will celebrate it's 24th anniversary. (And we look so young!) I became one of the "new" members when I joined in 1995. We were ALL together for our December gathering, so we snapped a photo. I treasure these friendships so much. We're all so very different--we often disagree--but I value every opinion. Thank you, friends, for showing me how to be responsible!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beyond Outcomes

I voted early this morning. It was just starting to storm outside. The voting room was warm. There was no line. I got my electronic voting card, and went straight to the booth. This election was like every other election in just one way: I was teary as I picked up my voting card and walked to the booth. Every year, I have to blink back tears before I get to the table where the nice lady puts the "I Voted" sticker on me. I can not look at a voting booth without thinking of the hundreds of millions of people who have lived and were never allowed any voice in the rule over them. I am part of a very small, very blessed percentage. It's still early, and I have no idea how the election will turn out, but it's unlikely that the majority will vote with me. Still, an election has meaning beyond its outcomes. Elections are an opportunity to clean up my thinking, to declare my allegiances, to put lamb's blood on my doorpost even if it looks unenlightened to a trendy majority. As long as I have the freedom to do that, I'm the luckiest girl alive! Love you all. Thanks for voting! Sally

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Something Useful to Circulate on the Internet: Beware the Hair Tourniquet!

Nevermind that my purse is likely covered in social diseases, that my children could be skinned alive by Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser, or that there may be tarantulas in my bananas . . . Circulate this!
This medical condition occurs when a baby gets a single hair wrapped around her toe (or finger), and the toe swells up and turns a color that freaks out all mothers. Two weeks ago, this happened to my neighbor, Baby Jane.
When her parents couldn't get the hair off, they ran her up to the Insta-care. (It was Saturday.) After looking at the toe, the Dr. announced that he would need to cut the toe to get the hair out. That sounded drastic, so they decided to take Baby Jane up to Primary Children's Medical Center.
(If you've ever had a kid who needed serious, frightening, major surgery, you know that this is the medical version of Disneyland.)
Instead of the scalpel, the doctors at Primary's whipped out . . . are you ready for this? . . . a bottle of Nair® --seriously, NAIR! As in, "Who wears short shorts? . . . Nair for short shorts!" Remember that commercial from the 80s? Tammi calls this her $500 bottle of Nair. Treatment requirements: 5 minutes for hair to dissolve, 2 hours for the pediatric orthopedic surgeon to come verify that the hair is, in fact, dissolved. I thought this was important enough that I decided to post my first legitimate addition to a Wikipedia article. (I don't count the time I added to the Alfred Lord Tennyson Page: "And yet, Jonathan and David, still did not know who he was." It took a whole week for that to get deleted.) So, there you go. . . something new for the diaper bag. Get the word out!
[NOTE To the Snopes investigator who will certainly verify my story: My name is Sally Linford, and this really did happen to my real neighbor. She has 3 delightful children who play with my kids. I saw the toe myself.]

Monday, October 27, 2008

My, My That's One Heavenly Pie . . . (to be sung to the tune of Don McLean's song.)

Looking back, I see I've been advertising Susan Bauer's book for quite a while now. I was thrown into a depression by . . . [edited out due to lack of relevance anymore!] But, something snapped me out of my melancholy. It was a pie. I don't do a lot of recipe pushing, but this one deserves some attention. I ran into it in Family Fun and thought it would be nice to serve to the Quickwater Mothers at our informal reunion yesterday. Of course, I ran out of time, and my girls jumped in to save me, yet again, by making the expirimental recipe. (Delightful girls, I have.) The result was something to blog about! Three short letters (p-i-e) don't do justice to this food from the gods. I regret that I have no way to attach a taste here, but I can tell you, it's a subtle pie. And romantic. And just when you think you understand it, it surprises you with a bit of lemon zest! Enjoy! Maple Heaven Pear Pie (
6 cups peeled 1/2-inch diced just-ripe pears (about 8 small pears)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped candied ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
9- or 9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie crust or try this Flaky Piecrust
Oatmeal Crumb Topping
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
L cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1. Heat the oven to 400°. Place the diced pears in a large bowl, sprinkle the cornstarch over them, and stir well. Add the remaining filling ingredients and toss gently, until the mixture is evenly combined. 2. Turn the filling into the chilled deep-dish pie crust and smooth the top of the fruit. Place the pie on the center oven rack, with a piece of aluminum foil under the dish to catch any drips, and bake for 45 minutes. 3. Now make the topping. Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter, and using your hands, rub the ingredients together until you have large crumbs. Refrigerate the topping until you are ready to use it. 4. After 45 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 375°. Remove the pie from the oven and carefully pour the crumbs in the center of the pie, then spread them evenly. Return the pie to the oven and bake it until the juices bubble thickly around the edge, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pie to a rack to cool for at least 2 hours before serving. Serves 10 to 12.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Susan Bauer's New Book

The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease: Strong Fundamentals (Complete Writer) The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease: Strong Fundamentals by Susan Wise Bauer rating: 5 of 5 stars I left this review on Amazon: Susan Bauer's opening essay on the writing process and how to teach it is the most cogent, informed explanation I've ever read: "Writing is a process that involves two distinct mental steps. First, the writer puts an idea into words; then, she puts the words down on paper. INARTICULATE IDEA ---> IDEA IN WORDS IDEA IN WORDS ---> WORDS ON PAPER . . . The pianist practices first the right hand, and then the left hand, before putting the two together; the young writer practices putting ideas into words, and then putting words down on paper, before trying to do both simultaneously. . . What follows will equip you to train the young student in the language of writing." And Bauer delivers on this promise perfectly; she shows even the most unprepared parent or teacher how to teach good writing in just a few minutes a day. Her program will be a great relief to students who feel overwhelmed by writing assignments. It's all so manageable: she even tells you exactly what to do if you're starting with a "reluctant older student(grade 6-12)." To make her case, her own writing is so easy and delightful that it's relaxing to read. I'm ordering the workbooks. Thank you, Ms Bauer. _____ My off-the-record comment: Susan Bauer ROCKS! I want to BE her. (I guess I should say, "I want to be SHE," but that sounds goofy. So, if Shakespeare can get away with "Woe is me," I'm sticking with I WANT TO BE HER!) View all my reviews.

Coolest Wedding Photos Ever

I just watched a wedding slide show that had the most stunning and edgy picts I've ever seen . . . and I even saw JFK Jr's wedding photos in People magazine! These are better. It was my niece's wedding (the first for my family--another story altogether). If you're interested in photo wedding art (or Amy & Shaun), here's how to view: Click the following link to view the collection: When prompted, enter the password: amyandshaun It was a bit of a pain to get it to run: you have to download a plugin that doesn't want to be downloaded, then click on "Loop All" when you see the big pict of Amy & Shaun. Personal favorites: the one you're looking at, the hot salmon wall--wow--and the bride and groom sitting at the soda bar in the Blue Bird! No "McPictures" in the lot. Excellent work, Charles! ____________

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reading List for Boys

Thank you, everyone who replied to my request for literature for boys. I'll let you know if I find Capt. Moroni in these pages. Here are your recommendations:
Books I Have to Read Before I Go on a Date (for boys)
* Les Miserables (Hugo)--for obvious reasons! (Nevermind the part where Jean Val Jean stabs himself in the arm with a burning poker just to illustrate his manhood.) * War and Peace (Tolstoy)--This replaces Anna K from the girls' list. I've never read it, but Jonathan acts like carrying a book named "Anna" through the halls of junior high would make him a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti. I trust that Tolstoy wove his magic into this one also. * Horatio Hornblower--for valor and honor, brave deeds, and what-not. * The Virginian--never read it. I'll keep you posted. * Great Expectations (Dickens)--illustrating what not to do. * Twilight-- (an unlikely bedfellow here, but included to promote the waning qualities of gentlemanliness:
  • Manners DO matter.
  • Don't look at other girls when you're on a date.
  • Don't devour her even if you really want to.
  • If at all possible, be wealthy, good-looking, and strong. (Not required, just helpful.)
The girls have LOUDLY pointed out that Twilight is utterly unfair, because he's already read it. We might have to pare down the list, but this is an excellent start! Thank you!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Weekly Random Photo

This is my sister Marsali at the White House Christmas Ball (yes, it's a ball). That sculpture you see behind her is the White House in white chocolate--not your average Christmas party!

Reading List for Girls: Lessons in Mate Selection

Six girls and a roll of aluminum foil: the Linford girls(minus Alice) manifest the royal within. I have a question: After becoming a parent of a daughter, how long did it take for you to start worrying about her choice in a mate? What man would ever be good enough? Is she really going to choose her husband herself! All that. I think I might have had a peaceful 30 minutes after Nancy was born before that thought occurred to me, and it's been a downward spiral ever since. When Joanne was born, and I was up to four daughters (8, 6, 2, 0), I decided to take action. What else could I do? I gave my girls a reading list--let them experience the perils of mate selection (good and bad) through literature. Here's the list:
Books I Must Read Before I Can Go on a Date
  • Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), so they can live through Jane's moral strength to run away from what she knew was wrong even when all her happiness (as she supposed) was there. (And, it's the greatest book of all time!)
  • Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte), so they can see how a woman will rationalize away the flaws of a man she loves and how that will poison her future.
  • Any 2 Jane Austens (preferably P&P and S&S): in the words of Marguerite (when she was 4), . . . "Mom, guess what, Mister Wickham LOOKED like he was a good guy, but ACTUALLY, he was a bad guy. And, Mister Darcey LOOKED like he was a bad guy, but ACTUALLY, he was a good guy." Mission accomplished! (This was one of proudest moments of my life!)
  • Anna Karenina (Tolstoy): There are so many reasons to read this book, but most importantly, so they can see how someone, by degrees, can lie herself into doing anything she thinks she wants (the foil to Jane Eyre), and the excuses don't matter.
Anyway, 5 books is all. We've been talking about this list for all these years, and the girls didn't think much of it until last summer when Nancy realized that she was down to 9 months and had roughly 3000 pages to read. She's been in heavy negotiations trying to plead down the Anna K requirement. (At some point, she got this negotiation twisted into her begging to get her ears pierced--oh, the cogitations of the adolescent female brain!--and she claimed that if I let her pierce her ears, she would read ALL the Jane Austens AND write a paper on Anna K. I'm still considering that.) Help! But, now my problem is I need to give Jonathan a list. And, the girls' list just doesn't cover it for Jonathan. So, I'm asking for help here: please give me suggestions for books that show real men--men of valor and integrity, how they do hard things, how they treat women, how they value life. Please no whiny metro-men. I need Captain Moroni in a novel or biography. If anything comes to mind, send me the title. Somehow, I've neglected this genre. Thanks!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Problems with Grounding: Can she do a short post?

Yes, she can! Here's why I should never ground my kids: Jonathan: "Mom, can I use your computer?" (Nevermind the grammer. Wait, I'm having a wisp of memory. I think I grounded him from the computer. Why? Can't remember.) Me: "Did I ground you from the computer?" Jonathan: "Yes." Me: "Why?" Jonathan: "Because I was playing games yesterday when you said no games." Me: "No, you can't use my computer." I'm not sure I'm cut out for this profession.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pounds and Pounds of Empathy . . . or . . . My First Massage

My younger cousin Emily gave me a writing assignment. She can do this, and I cannot say no, because she's a brilliant creative writing professor at BYU. I hesitate to share her blog with you because you'll never come back here, but in fairness to you:

My assignment (I put it in purple because that's the kind of girl Emily is):

Do something you have never done before and write about the experience. The activity must be something on the domestic level (no sky-diving or other "huge" things...just something small). Examples: using a loofa, riding the bus, visiting a homeless shelter, something out of your ordinary schedule or something you've always been nervous to try doing.

My "domestic activity" was receiving a massage. So, here are my thoughts from the Shower Wall about this new experience.


I got a massage today, my first. I'm thirty-eight years old. After three years of carrying around a gift certificate in my wallet—seriously three years—I finally got up the nerve make the appointment. Truthfully, my husband had to make the appointment for me after I declared my intent to go. How many hours have passed since I showered this morning? Do I smell? I wonder as I fill the bath tub. Why have I delayed this pleasure? Just how probing is a real massage? I wish I were skinny. "Sally, you need to leave," my husband calls to me. At the last possible minute, I shuffle through papers looking for that gift certificate. Have I really procrastinated something that the entire free world considers a luxury? What could be so threatening?

Nothing, I decide. I haven't been procrastinating; I've just been very busy. How many women with eight children sit for a massage, really? Yes, this is perfectly natural. I clear my throat. I'm going to get the massage therapist to work out that burning spot in my back. I should have done this months ago. I'm supposed to be 10 minutes early, but getting out of the house is more difficult than I'd anticipated. Maybe I should go to the bathroom again. I finally leave. I won't be there early. As I drive, I ponder the trade-offs of having a man or a woman masseuse. I'll be more comfortable with a woman, but a man will have stronger hands, and I really need this knot worked out. It's killing me. I walk into the clinic and get in line behind a Gen Y businessman who's buying a membership. (I didn't know memberships were a possibility for massage therapy.) In front of me is a shapely, middle-aged woman who has the confidence of someone who's been here before. My eyes probe the walls for reading material. Behind the counter, the door opens, and a young blond man wearing an apron walks through. My heart leaps into my throat: He looks about fifteen though I know this is impossible. I realize why I've been this putting off. Oh, Master of the Universe, please don't make me undress in front of that child.

He's far too young to have accumulated any empathy. I imagine him telling jokes about my body to the other therapists after I leave. Stop it! I correct myself. He's a professional. But, in a split second, I admit the truth. No, this boy-child will not do my massage.

Then sudden clarity: No man will give me a massage. Forget the fireball in my back and stronger hands. I regret becoming a sexist, but I must have a woman.

I find myself wishing that English had a word, like comedienne or stewardess, for distinguishing between a man and a woman masseuse. How pathetic for me to have to announce, "I prefer a woman therapist." So much more dignified to say, "Schedule me with your masseusess." Even if there were such a word, the feminists would have stamped it out by now. Damn the feminists. [Footnote: see Diane's enlightening comment about this.] The woman in front of me speaks up. "I'm here for Kurt" she says. "Hello," the child-masseuse replies, and I'm spared the shame of having to refuse him. I smile briefly then steel myself for my impending request that will announce to the world (the empty lobby) that I am a sexist with body hangups, likely abused as a child, therefore unable to get a massage from a man.

Don't be ridiculous, I chide. Who cares? I assure myself that there is no shame in requesting a woman. After all, I'm the client here. With new resolve, I prepare my words and anticipate my masseuesess . . . I wait . . . I fill out the form where I indicate that I want a "deep" massage, not "mild" or "therapeutic" (not sure what those mean), and I wait again. . . . then, a new fear. Please let her be large, I pray silently. Before I even have to ask, the door opens again, and a woman comes out. She looks me in the eye, and I can see that she's comfortable in her profession and kind, old enough to have experience, but young enough to still have strong hands. (Maybe that spot will get worked out after all.)

But, more importantly, she's large. Not just large but hugely obese, and obese in a strange way, so that her top looks almost normal, but her hips and thighs spread out in rippled scallops. Pounds and pounds of empathy. I pause briefly to acknowledge the blessing. My body will present no surprises. Relief. We walk down a professional-looking hall and into a darkened room. I hear soothing oriental music. I explain that I've just had a baby, so I'm hunched over, nursing all the time and sleeping like a pretzel with my baby next to me. I tell her about the fireball. "Undress to your comfort level, and lie face-down under the blankets. I'll knock before I come in," she says. Wow. I admire her script. (Has the whole world had sensitivity training?) I undress and climb—without shame—under the sheets. She begins by standing at my head and pushing down my back, horizontally, like I'm a truck stuck in a snow bank. "We're going to communicate here. You tell me if it's too hard." Her hands slide down my back until she comes to a marble that sits under my skin next to my spine—exactly where the burning is. Her fingers probe for other lumps, then return to the marble. She pushes down with her thumb, slowly, applying constant pressure. Harder. Hm. That feels a little uncomfortable. This lump becomes her enemy. She rolls over it with her thumb, increasing the pressure, pushing it into my rib cage. Just before I scream, . . . she lets up. She uses the back side of her forearm to roll over my back, stopping again on the marble, She rolls again over and back, over and back, always edging towards excruciating. Can human hands rip the cartilage off my ribs? Now I will scream. But, again, she releases the pressure and transitions into light brushing movements—Ah, yes, the familiar feel of generic back rub. As she finishes working on my back, I realize that this pleasure, like all good things, is going to end. I begin some long term planning. I should do this again, maybe twice a year, just to protect my back. I can see I'm developing back problems. When she gets to my neck, I become earnest. This is really something. It must be healthful, even medicinal. Maybe this is like vitamins—not urgent, but important. I should come in at least quarterly. What was David saying today? "Back to a hard budget. Cut 7 years off our mortgage with a fifteen-year loan." "Yes," I had agreed. "That will feel good."

As good as this? I wonder. What did I hear about membership?

Yes, I'll be back.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I want to love opera . . . Really, I do.

I want to love opera. . . really, I do.


I love the soaring arias, the rich baritone voices, the grand choruses blasting me with the glory of the music. I marvel at the accumulation of so much excellence and effort represented in every production—many lifetimes of practice and rehearsal on stage.


Beyond the music, I love the extravagant sets, the dazzling costumes! So many sensory pleasures crammed into a single event.


Are you convinced? I really want to love opera. And, I do . . . except for one tiny detail—the plots. Or, I should say, "the lack of plots." Opera plots stink. They are the dead fish of storytelling.


Honestly, with the amount of effort and money that went into the grand operas, couldn't anyone have thrown a few bones at a decent writer to put some story into it? Why not? Why pretend we're telling a story (sets, costumes, the fog machines for the love of Pete!), when we have to trudge through the misery of the opera plot?


True opera-lovers will call me a Philistine. What educated person needs a pedestrian plot—how obtuse! But, please look with fresh eyes at one of the greatest—the very best that the opera world produced: Verdi's Aida. (Sorry, Wagner will not even get an honorable mention here—nothing for the man who sweats syrup.)


I just saw a delightful production last week done by Utah Festival Opera. The performance was impeccable: brilliant soloists, huge choruses, exquisite sets—three intermissions! But, the excellent production couldn't overcome the genetic problem—the birth defect—no plot! Nothing happens on stage. The opera goes (roughly) like this:

  • Collection of people on stage singing: La, Laaa. Something happened before the curtain came up, there was a battle, we are patriotic. Egypt is great. Aida fell in love. Things happened, but you missed it, because it all happened before this opera began. Laaaaaaaa!
  • Re-arrange the same collection of people: Aaah, aaaah. I love Radames, but I long for my homeland. I'll never be happy.
  • Turn set upside down for different look. Add another group of people—still everyone standing around doing nothing: Look at the Ethopian slaves. Aida's father is one of them. We're very sad. We long for our homeland.
  • Re-arrange again: There was another battle. You missed it because it happened during intermission, but Radamses won again. BIG, AMAZING CHORUS—sounds like the end. . . (psych!)
  • Out of love for Aida, Radamses accidentally reveals plans for the next battle. (Okay, I concede something did happen here.) He's condemned (offstage again) to die for his treason by being buried alive in a tomb. Oooohh, Oh!
  • Aida sneaks into the tomb so they can die there together. Biggest opera of all time ends with the dying stars singing a diminishing duet. (No way is this the end!)

I left out all the meandering with the extraneous love interest that comes to nothing. (Gotta have something for the mezzo.)


You call that a story? I'm telling you, the opera emperor is naked, and we continue to shell out $50 a ticket (I sit in the cheap seats) for NO PLOT!


An Idea


I would like to propose a solution to the stinking opera plot. (If I ever come into great sums of money, I will oversee this myself.) We need to rehabilitate the grand operas. Pay some seriously good writers to take the brilliant music of the masters and give us a good story already! So when it's over, we're truly satisfied; we've had a catharsis. Our bearings are reset, and we're ready to step back into life, invigorated, ready to live and love. Is that too much to ask? With the glorious music, it should be a cinch.


Take, for example, La Boheme, the most pathetic of them all, where the brilliant-music-to-crappy-plot ratio soars the highest, and the characters are so pathetic, you can't care about them at all. (Please . . . stay with me here . . . )


Mimi the seamstress is "co-habitating" with Rudolfo the poet and his student friends. They're all poor—too poor, in fact, for Rudolpho to pay for medical care when Mimi contracts the dreaded consumption. She coughs and coughs and Rudolfo sings that he can't stand to be with her anymore—her coughing drives him crazy and reminds him that he can't provide for her. (What a guy!) They agree to split up in the spring. (This is supposed to be romantic somehow. Go figure.) Mimi moves in with a viscount, but leaves him too (What a girl!) and wanders the streets until Rudolfo hears that she's homeless. He takes her back just in time for them to sing a glorious duet before she dies. (How noble!) The opera ends and we pretend that those people were worth all that breath. (Did you hear the thud?)


Imagine, now that Stephenie Meyer gets her hands on Puccini's music, and instead of the wimpy, Rudolpho, whining about Mimi's illness, we have the noble, self-sacrificing Edward, in all his luxurious restraint, coming to the rescue. Think of the tension that would snap into those soprano-tenor duets if they included Edward's thirst for Bella's blood, his longing for her scent and the tremor of her heartbeat. Instead of the village scenes, the school and Phoenix airport. Instead of the courtyard, the forest. Appealing, isn't it?


I know this would work.


Imagine that Orson Scott Card put Ender's Shadow into The Magic Flute! Honestly, I have no idea how that would work, but I'm confident that OSC could pull it off beautifully, and I'll bet he could do it without the misogyny.


Give Tosca to Frank McCourt, Turandot to Jeannette Walls, and to lighten it up, we could beg JK Rowling to re-do Faustus. And, just to be sure we've covered the whole spectrum, let Dave Barry re-write Gianni Schicchi—oh the humanity!


The writer in me screams for justice, but like any addict, I'll continue to feed on a drug I can't afford because I can't stay away from the music—I love it too much!