TBR List Declutter, Issue 46

Tangent: Music Theory

At the park the other day, my son called to me from the swings.

“Hey, Mom! What song is this? NAH-na-NAH-na-NAH-na-na-na-NAH!”

“I think that’s ‘Für Elise,'” I said.

“Oh, right! I always get that one mixed up with ‘Iron Man,'” he said, referring to the song by Black Sabbath.

“You always get ‘Für Elise’ mixed up with ‘Iron Man’?” I asked, confused.

“Yes,” he said. “They sound the same.”

After more questioning, a little brow-furrowing, and then consulting his sister on some music theory, we figured out the culprit: minor seconds.

My spouse asserts that ours is the only house in the U.S. where the similarity between these two songs has ever been or, indeed, could ever be noticed. I’m skeptical about that claim, but either way I’m indebted to my son for linking Beethoven and Ozzy Osbourne like this for me.

And now you are, too.

I’ve shared the songs at the end of this post so you can hear for yourself.


Visual Interest:


My son’s favorite musicians (by “Iron Man” he means Black Sabbath). Photo included with his permission.

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 631-650:

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Nursery Song

Today, my daughter recounted for us a story she’d read about a pregnant woman who put headphones on her belly so her baby could listen to music. When my children stopped laughing, I told them I’d done just that when I was pregnant the first time.

I’d read somewhere that if you play a song for your baby in utero, it will help soothe her after she’s born. Something with a strong beat was recommended so baby could hear it through the white noise of the womb. It seemed pretty low-risk, so every night before bed I would put the headphones on my belly and play this song for my daughter:


After she was born, it did work pretty well to calm her when she was crying. So did running the vacuum or the hair dryer, but this way was more pleasant for her dad and me. As a toddler my daughter called it her “crying song,” but the actual title is “Captain Badass” by Songs: Ohia.

Today, my children giggled at the title, of course. When I played the song for them, they weren’t particularly impressed—“Okay. Can we eat lunch now?”—but I loved it as much as I ever had.

“Will you stand up for your one chance? Will you stand up for love?”

Worth Doing Poorly

Growing up and in early adulthood, I heard two conflicting messages about my voice. One was that I have a beautiful voice that soothes and comforts and brings pleasure to the listener. The other was a mostly nonverbal discouragement in the form of ignoring me or making fun of me, which from my perspective was more mortifying than fun. These messages applied both to my singing/speaking voice and my writing voice. I’ve come to understand that those discouraging me from making my voice heard were doing it either to protect me from pain or embarrassment or to protect themselves from injury to their own egos, but the messages stuck so firmly that even dissection and understanding weren’t strong enough solvents.

For one reason or another, I chose to listen to the “keep quiet” message more than the first, and I kept my mouth shut. It seemed safer for me and safer for everyone else around me.

But the desire to be heard, to make noise—a joyful noise, a mournful noise, perhaps even a beautiful noise—persisted. Eventually, the need to be heard overwhelmed the fear of being heard, and in August of 2013, I started taking voice lessons. Read More

A Dinner Invitation to “Weird Al” Yankovic

Dear Mr. Yankovic,

Your new CD, Mandatory Fun, arrived on my doorstep this afternoon. I knew the UPS guy rang the doorbell even though we didn’t hear it because the power was out because I did like I always do and hid around the corner and watched him through the window.

After the power was back on, my spouse and I put the album on while we made dinner, and I want to commend you on another album the whole family can enjoy.

My spouse loves “Lame Claim to Fame,” and I think he should play “Sports Song” next time he gets together with his brothers for a University of Michigan football game. My nine-year-old loves Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and I was looking forward to hearing her opinion on your “Inactive.” She liked it, but she observed that it “is kind of a sad song, when you think about it, Mom.”

My four-year-old made us put down the liner notes and all hold hands and dance around in a circle in the middle of the kitchen.

We like all of the songs on the album (except for “Jackson Park Express” because it’s just a little creepy and kind of long for our short attention spans), but I think our family favorite is “Word Crimes.” I love it because I’m a grammar pedant from way back. My daughter loves it because she loves diagramming sentences. My spouse loves it because he’s always on everyone’s case about “less” and “fewer.” And my son loves it because…well, he likes pretty much any song because he likes to show off his mad dancing skills (or is it “skillz”?), so perhaps you shouldn’t put too much stock in his adulation.

While we were all dancing around the kitchen, I thought back to the days when my mom would put Dare to Be Stupid on the tape deck in our 1983 Volvo station wagon and we (Mom, sister, brother, and I) would all sing along.

I thought back to my spouse’s and my courtship in the late 90’s when I tried to patch up a huge gap in his education by serenading him with “I Want a New Duck” and “Yoda.”

I thought of all of the times we’ve told our kids, “Look, kids! It’s Spatula City!” They’ve heard it often enough, even the four-year-old doesn’t respond anymore.

And then I thought about this past week when my kids and I were stuffed into a rush-hour green line train car on the T in Boston and I barely suppressed the urge to belt out, “Another One Rides the Bus.” (The only thing that stopped me was that there was already a guy yelling “fire,” and I thought another crazy person making noise wouldn’t have been welcome.)

“You know,” I said to my spouse, “I would so love it if Weird Al came to our house for dinner.”

I blogged about this a couple of years ago, about how my dream dinner party would be you and the Dalai Lama, and that I would have no problem finding something really yummy to make because I have lots of experience with vegetarian cooking (I’m a near-vegan myself), but neither you nor the Dalai Lama ever responded, perhaps because I never directly invited either of you.

My spouse said I should write you a letter, but I’ve not yet perfected my Palmerian handwriting and it’s just easier to invite you via blog post.

So, please consider this an invitation. I can make my awesome vegan lasagna, and we can have homemade vegan ice cream for dessert. Between courses we can play bocce in our back yard. We usually eat pretty early, so you’d have plenty of time to do something else afterward, if you wanted to. I know of at least two public places nearby where there are its/it’s errors that need correcting.

If you’d like, we have an ongoing Saturday Salon at our house at which each person shows up with a poem, song, book, or Big Idea they want to talk about. We all just chat for two hours and then go our separate ways, but you’d be welcome to stay for dinner afterwards.

So, you know, if you and your family are ever in central Massachusetts, drop me a line. We’d be glad to have you over.

In the meantime, thanks for releasing albums three generations of my family can enjoy together.



Discovering The Avett Brothers

CIMG3012I learn about new music (i.e., music made since 1999) from one of three sources: My spouse, NPR, or the local college radio station.

In the case of The Avett Brothers, I first heard their music on WERS, the Emerson College radio station that just barely comes in where I live. I can listen to it only in my car because it won’t come in inside my house.

I heard their song “February Seven” several times on the radio and really enjoyed it. I remembered the title of the song because it’s my mom’s birthday. (They’re also from the town in North Carolina where my mom graduated high school, which seemed kind of like a sign. And Scott Avett was born the same year I was! How’s that for a sign?) I initially decided to check out the album it’s on—The Carpenter—from my library because I thought maybe I’d buy it for my mom’s next birthday. After listening to the lyrics a few more times, I’ve decided against sending it to my mom, but I’m still glad I picked up the album.

Everyone in my family enjoys listening to it, which is something of a rarity. I admit, usually I’m the limiting factor. My kids enjoy listening to Led Zeppelin with their dad, while I only tolerate it. The kids actively request Vampire Weekend, and my spouse is happy to oblige…when I’m not in the car. And while I know that my spouse plays AC/DC for the kids, I choose to ignore that reality.

But we can all agree on The Avett Brothers.

Except for two songs towards the end of the album, the songs on this album have a rolling folk-music feel, with the addition of a cello or a saw (which I thought at first was a theremin) that adds a bit of surprise and a richness that I really like.

“February Seven” is still my favorite, with its dark but hopeful lyrics. My daughter and I sing along with it together.

I also love the first track on the album, “The Once and Future Carpenter.” The lyrics reflect my habit of moving from here to there every few years.

The chorus:

Forever I will move

Like the world that turns beneath me

And when I lose my direction

I look up to the sky

And when the black dress drags upon the ground

I’ll be ready to surrender

And remember we’re all in this together

If I live the life I’m given I won’t be scared to die

My spouse was a little surprised that I like the album so much since the lyrics can be a little cliched and almost cheesy; usually I have a very low tolerance for cheesiness. But there’s something about this I don’t mind. There’s a special place in my heart for cheese, if the music underneath it works. Pleasant vocals, nice harmonies, and that cello just really work for me.

“Winter in My Heart” is a song of especially cheesy lyrics, but, while I wouldn’t say it’s an objectively great song, I find myself singing it to myself on my dark and frigid morning walks around the neighborhood, where it’s actually more winter outside and and spring or summer in my heart, so I’m not really sure why the song comes to mind so often. I think the rhythm of the words and the sing-song way they sing the line, “They say flowers bloom in spring,” really appeals to me.

Another favorite of mine is “A Father’s First Spring,” which appears to be about the way a father feels after his first child is born.

When I’m in the sweet daughter’s eyes

My heart is now ruined for the rest of all time

There’s no part of it left to give

I feel a lot of license to interpret songs however I want to, regardless of what the lyricist intends, but this really sounds like a new parent to me. The lyrics pretty much nail the way it feels to love someone so deeply and thoroughly, to surrender one’s heart to a being in a way that’s totally new and unexpected, no matter how much you’ve anticipated it.

And “Down with the Shine” could just about be the theme song for my blog. “Down with the shine, the perfect shine/That poisons the well, and ruins my mind”. Sing it, Avett Brothers.

The Avett Brothers released a new album last month called Magpie and the Dandelion. I’ve heard one track from the new album—“Another is Waiting”—and it sounds pretty good. The song reminds me a little of a band from the 90’s, but I’m not sure who. I think I’ll be picking up the album soon to hear some more. And who knows…maybe if they do a show nearby, I’ll try to see them live, even though I have mixed feelings about going to see live music. But that’s a topic for another post.


My four-year-old asked me to sing him a lullaby before bed tonight.

“Which one do you want me to sing?” I asked.

He proceeded to sing a little lullaby of his own composition. The tune—in a minor key because my kids both prefer minor keys like their mama—was a little meandering, but lyrics followed a pretty decent pattern. And the words he chose really showed me both his fears and his comforts.

He sang it to me once in the kitchen, and I had him sing it to me one more time after he climbed into bed, then I sang it to him.

It goes like this:

Sleep, sleep, sleep
Don’t be afraid of the dark.
Your mom and dad are everywhere,
All around you.
So, sleep, sleep, sleep,
Tucked in your comfortable,
Warm, warm, warm, warm

As he listened to his words and tune come from my mouth his face showed pride and surprise and joy.

Today—heck, the past several weeks have been a challenge with him. He’s so negative and fearful and angry sometimes. He argues and cries for something, then when he gets it doesn’t want it anymore and argues and cries for something else. He’s not been acting like the born-happy son that I know, and I’ve been a little worried, even though I reassure myself, “This is what four looks like.”

But for this sweet little moment, the worry just melted away. I hugged him and kissed him goodnight, and he smiled at me as I shut his bedroom door.

How Can I Not Like Coldplay? This is How. (Day 6 of the Cross-Country Road Trip)

Toledo, Ohio, to Cleveland, Ohio

Driving time: 1 hour 48 minutes

After our recent all-day driving times, this under-two-hours day felt like a trip across town. We didn’t need to stop in Cleveland, but how can you travel through Cleveland and not stop? Plus, my mom and my sister and brother live about 40 minutes south of here and this gave us a chance to take a trip to the zoo with them on our way to our New England life.

What we didn’t realize was that today was some kind of free day at the zoo for specific counties/townships. Our family got to go to the zoo (which was, even more than we expected, a zoo), but my family of origin arrived too late and were turned away. We left before the exodus and all got to eat dinner together at this odd little family place and then hung out while the kids played and played and played at a rec center playground.

Cleveland gets just 65 days of sun a year, and we were lucky enough to be here for the most beautiful of beautiful days. If Ohio intended to put on her best to make me miss the state even more, she did a lovely job.

I’ve been feeling especially emotional since we’ve been in Ohio. I feel very much tied to the state and the landscape, which is kind of odd since when I lived here, I kind of hated it. I found the landscape boring and the culture oppressive and backwards.

I think part of it is the clarity of distance and being able to see the beauty of the area after being away so far for so long. But I think the other part is the realization that when we head out on the road tomorrow, I will be traveling a route I’ve never traveled before. Up until Ohio, I was traveling away from Utah, and perhaps even towards these rendezvous with our families. As of tomorrow, we’ll be definitively heading towards Massachusetts and the unknown new life that awaits us there.

And I’m finding this prospect a little scary.

Ohio trying to make me love her.

In other news, my husband has been trying to get me to like Coldplay during this trip. He’s repeatedly tried to sell me on them by saying they were a more radio-friendly Radiohead. I think they sound like U2, i.e. pretty sissy and incredibly boring, which is about what I think Radiohead would sound like were Radiohead more radio-friendly.

Today, after having me listen to two of his favorite songs, I sportingly suggested I try a song from the Garden State soundtrack, since I really liked the music from that film. I noted that the title of the track was “Don’t Panic.”

“There’s not much likelihood of me panicking now that I’ve been bored into a torpor by the other Coldplay songs,” I commented.

We’ll be playing Iron and Wine on our drive tomorrow, in between the Jim Weiss audiobooks about mythology and about ancient Egypt.

“Have the Rolling Stones Killed”: XM Radio on Day 5 of the Cross-Country Road Trip

Peru, Illinois, to Toledo, Ohio

Driving time: 6 hours and something


  • Gorging myself at a cookout with my in-laws and watching my kids wrestle their uncles.
  • Determining that Gary, Indiana, still smells like it did last time we drove through 10 years ago.
  • Watching Ohio unfold before me from behind the wheel of the Yukon for the first time. (The unexpected joy and feeling of being home took my mind off the fact that, at 5’2″ and under 130 pounds, I’m rather incongruous behind the wheel of a GMC Yukon.)
  • Noting that the sky in Illinois isn’t as brilliant a blue as the sky is further west (or even compared to the sky in Indiana).
  • Laughing hysterically at my husband’s Simpsons reference. “What I Like About You” came on XM Radio, leading my husband and me to determine first that we recognized the song and then that we didn’t really like it (mostly because we can’t figure out what they’re saying). We’d forgotten who it was by, and when the band name (The Romantics) came across the readout, my husband said, “Have the Rolling Stones killed,” quoting Montgomery Burns at a performance by The Ramones. We’ve been on the road long enough that I can’t tell if that was a “had to be us” joke or if it’s objectively funny. And I’ve been on the road long enough, I’m sharing the story regardless.

When we went to rent the vehicle for our trip, we decided it wasn’t worth the extra money for XM radio. But when they switched out the minivan we’d rented for this large SUV, they threw in the XM at no extra charge. For the most part, we’re glad to have it. It’s re-introduced us to classics of the grunge era, the music to which we came of age. But while I think it would be more convenient if there were an XM station that played only good songs and left the sucky ones out, my husband thinks the addition of the sucky songs increases his appreciation of the good songs.

We both agree that we still wouldn’t pay extra for satellite radio.

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Relinquishing Ownership of my Kids’ Successes (and Failures)

This is not my sticker chart.

My friend K came over today with her boys to play and hear my daughter play her flute. K is a flute teacher, but not my daughter’s flute teacher. She’s currently on hiatus from teaching and is missing working with students, especially the cute little ones like my daughter, which was part of the purpose of her visit.

It was interesting how quick and painless the practice session with K was. My daughter was so excited to show off all that she knows that she just bounced from one thing to the next with no sass-back at all. Not that I expected sass-back with a person she doesn’t know that well, it was just a pleasant change from our usual mom-and-daughter practice routine, which generally involves one or both of us yelling and/or crying.

I used to take the practice-time power struggles as evidence that I shouldn’t homeschool or at the very least that I shouldn’t help my daughter with flute practice. But I see it differently now.

I see that the power struggles are inevitable, and if they didn’t happen around flute and math, they’d happen around food or cleaning up toys or screen time.

Since we can’t avoid the power struggles, I’ve fairly successfully embraced them as opportunities to improve our relationship (at least during the times that we’re not practicing flute). It’s an opportunity to use all of my skills—breathing before I explode, speaking in a loving tone of voice, defusing the situation with goofiness, offering hugs and labeled praise, being present with my child. Sometimes this is a real fricking hassle. Most times I don’t get through it exactly as I wish I could (which is perfect, loving, and June-Cleaverish for the entire hour we practice).

Part of why I lose it is because my expectations are not realistic. I want to be perfect, sure, but I also realize (with some shame) that I want my daughter to be perfect, too. It’s not that I expect perfect performance, just perfect behavior. I want her to accept my corrections without argument, I want her to try everything seriously, and I want her to work through her practice until she has a sticker in every box for the day. When I lose sight of my “loving mother” goals, it’s when I let myself become more invested than she is in whether she’s got a sticker on every practice item. I start worrying about what her teacher will think of me when she sees those empty spaces where stickers ought to be.

And here’s the hard part: this is not about me.

My daughter’s success or failure must be hers alone. My job is to assist her, direct her, and encourage her. And my job is to step back and let her sink or swim and to be there to love her regardless of the outcome. If I take her success or failure on as my own, what does that leave her?

How do you react to power struggles with your kiddos? Do you find yourself trying to take ownership of their performance? How do you manage this reaction?

Play Some Skynyrd!: Avoiding Embarrassing my Cousin at his Gig

Individual silicone earplug worn at ear with E...

I wonder how many people's fantasies involve ear plugs? Image via Wikipedia

Last night, my husband and I got a taste of what it might be like if we lived nearer the kids’ grandparents.

It was the first time we’ve seen live music together since our pre-kids days. I’m grateful that bars have gone non-smoking since then.

We saw the Spark Notes, my cousin’s band (technically he’s aunt’s husband’s nephew, but cousin is more brief) at The Blue Owl in downtown Sarasota. I sat right by the amplifier, so I’m fairly certain I suffered some damage to my hearing despite having my fingers in my ears for about half of the show.

I enjoyed the show on two levels.

First, I really enjoyed the music and I enjoyed watching the family support my cousin received. I’ve lived far from family my whole life, and it’s always something of a pleasant surprise to find that there are all of these people with whom I share an automatic connection and who love me even though we often have very different opinions and have made different lifestyle choices. It was a very pleasant feeling to be part of offering that love and support.

The second level on which I enjoyed the show was that it took me back to my early 20’s and revived a sort of fantasy I have of an alternate life in which I listen to a lot of live music.

In this life, I’ve got no kids and I work just enough to pay for cover charges, alcohol, and ear plugs (even in my fantasies I’m at least a little responsible). I stay in a community long enough to listen to and befriend the local musicians, then I move on to a new community and do the same thing. I sit in the bar listening to the music with my eyes shut, watching the other patrons listening to the music, maybe writing a few notes down in my little notebook. After a time, perhaps I start bringing my laptop and writing blog posts about the show as it’s happening.

What’s certain is that in this alternate life I’m very cool and people are drawn to my authentic coolness.