Tuesday, May 29, 2007


1. School has been out since Thursday and we haven't killed each other yet.

2. The pool opened Saturday and we've been everyday dispite the fact that the temp has remained under 80 and closer to 60. I have yet to put on a swimsuit. I told the kids I could either read my book, fully clothed, at home or in the shade at the pool. They picked pool. They had a teeth chattering good time.

3. I just finished A Prayer For Owen Meany--my all time fave. I just started Austen's Persuation, which is no Pride & Prejudice but I'm getting into it.

4. I put the final touches on my song selection for VBS. This is the fourth year I've done music. This means teaching and leading songs for about 100 pre- through 2nd graders and then about 100 third through sixth graders. Here's the lineup:
And Can It Be--Charles Wesley hymn. I rewrote the melody to the first half of the verses (to make it accessible to small people and people [me] who find it hard to lead songs and play guitar at the same time--so not the same thing as performing).
Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus--only we're saying "love me like Jesus." I believe the vernacular has changed since the song's inception. I don't want to sing about Jesus doing me.
Let My Light Shine Bright -- camp song, call and response, hardy Yee-haw!
Go! -- from Scripture Rock, which is now out of print and was mediocre to start, except for this song. The text is basically the great commission. Nice.
The Word -- Sara Groves. She is about the only pop Christian music I can take these days. We're not singing the whole thing--just bits.

5. We've started the Dunbar Family Push Up Challenge. We all did push ups last night and recorded our starting ability. We'll check in every Monday night and whoever score increases the most by percentage will win something. The kids wanted candy, but we thought that defeated the purpose. I had a hard time explaining percentages--that it's not who does the most that wins. Very confusing.

6. I went to the Heavy Petting Zoo today. Okay, it was the Heavy Equipment Petting Zoo at the Library where the kids could climb on bulldozers, tractors, an ambulance, a firetruck, a semi, a hum-v, whathaveyou. Good fun.

7. Jon & Hope live in Iowa, which is for all practical purposes as lame as Nebraska, except that a caucus is looming there. So, they can go to the Pizza Palace and have Hillary Clinton kiss their new baby and sit down at their table for a few minutes. And Hopi can go to the local high school and sit with a kid on each knee and ask Barak Obama questions about immigration policy. We don't even get presidential campaign advertising here because neither side wants to waste money on a state that is without-a-doubt Republican (cough, gag, roll eyes, point finger to temple, etc).

8. It is time for the nightly after-dinner family walk.

9. Hope you are enjoying your summer so far!

Friday, May 25, 2007

first day, last day

My, oh my, what can change in nine months! It is only fair to point out how cute Phoebe's hair is now, since I made a point of discussing it earlier. Very cute.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

strange things are afoot at the circle k

You know you're a loser when you find yourself quoting Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Two Days, Two Extraordinary Events
I had dinner, I kid you not, a the home of a prince. I will leave you hanging with that small amount of information, but I mean that description quite literally. We had delicious middle eastern food, that I LOVE and is usually hard to come by in my neck of the woods and -- as you can imagine -- very interesting and delightful conversation.
We were riding bikes home from the library and stopped for a moment outside the courthouse because Mo had a minor crash. There was a great ruckus from the tree overhead. Down flew a beautiful cockatiel. He landed on the sidewalk beside me and when I bent down and offered it, he flew up onto my finger. Obviously, this was someone's pet. Obviously, we should help it because this prettyboy was about to get a whoopin' from the starlings and grackles on the means streets of south central Nebraska. But there we were--on bikes. An Adams County employee came out and said she'd call the animal shelter and/or take it home--she has two cockatiels already. The bird hopped from my hand to hers and off they went into the courthouse.
Tomorrow: I'll keep you posted. I might be on a roll.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

inch worm

Susan posts video on her blog. The thought had never occurred to me that I could use my camera for video and post it. Technology is nuts.

If you've never met Mo, I should explain that he is neither hoarse nor sick. That's how he always sounds. That is how he sounded when he was 10 months old and said "mama" and "ball" for the first time.

Without further ado, here is a little moment from my day.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

no way did that just happen

Last night was my guitar recital. Guitar recitals are a lot of fun. We all sit in Robin's living room. Everyone steels their nerves with just enough alcohol to relax and still play. All Robin's students (and this recital is just adults) usually get a new song at every lesson, and many of us get the same songs...or newer students are playing songs that more advanced students have played in the past...however it works out, it works out that most of us know each other's songs. And most of us sing harmony--or at least sing along--on every song.

I played two really hard David Wilcox songs in open C tuning: Rusty Old American Dream and his arrangement of Same Old Song. Neither went off without a hitch, but it was fun. I also played a song I wrote in open C called Sarpy County. Or maybe it's called Thunderstorm Warning. Possibly, Thunderstorm Warning in Sarpy County, but that seems a bit long.

There was lots of Patty Griffin--Trapeze, Heavenly Day, Never Give Up. There was some Mindy Smith, Dar Williams, John Mayer, Townes VanZandt. Not those actual artists, but lovely covers of their songs. We joked and laughed, played and sang. That's what I call a good night. Throw in mojitos and frozen margaritas and well...fantastic.

After the formal (which is a very relative term) portion of the evening my friend Mary asked if I would play Boone's Farm Wine for her. I was sitting on the couch eating a cookie, like the one pictured above, and holding my guitar. I looked around for a place to put the cookie, but there was no coffee table and I didn't want to set it on the couch or floor. So, I did what any classy broad would do--I tucked it behind my ear like a pencil.

I played BFW, which is always a crowd pleaser, and those who were still around sang along. Then Barb asked me to play a song I wrote as an assignment, that I guess Robin told her about called Morbid Girl.

Morbid Girl is a song about my screwy philosophy that if I imagine terrible things they cannot happen. The chorus says, "I don't believe in psychic ability. I don't believe in ESP. I just believe the more I imagine the less it can happen to me." That's very logical. I am not psychic. I can't tell the future. So if I think "today Paul will die in a car crash", logically speaking, he can not die in a car crash. The verses are lists and lists of all the terrible things that might happen ("the asthma attack without an inhaler, the white-picket turned impaler").

I couldn't really remember the chords or the words to this song. I was fumbling through it --playing a little, talking through the parts that were sketchy in my memory. I looked down at my fingers while playing and--as if in slow motion--the cookie slipped out from behind my ear, fell end over end and landed, I kid you not, INSIDE my guitar. That giant cookie somehow got past my strings and into my sound hole.

There was a split second of stunned silence and then...well, I can't remember when I've laughed so hard. It took FOREVER to get it out. I didn't want to shake it into cookie crumbs--that can't be good for my under-saddle pickup! I held it above my head and Robin reached in as best she could and tried to fish it out. We finallyI shook it out onto the carpet, but there are still crumbs rattling around in there. At least it's not meat or dairy based.

If only I'd thought to include a line in my song about a Pepperidge Farm Piroutte falling into my guitar, it never would have happened.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

thrill ride

I used to be somewhat of a thrill seeker. I've never shied away from a roller coaster or ride. I've bungee jumped. I've rappelled. I've flung myself out of tall trees on high ropes courses. I've downhill skied. I've waterskied. All good fun.

Since becoming a parent, I've had no desire to thrill seek. Maybe it would have happened with age anyway, but having Phoebe eight years ago put an end to most unnecessary dangerous activity. When I was pregnant in England I was really paranoid about crossing the street. It had a lot to do with them driving on the left and me never being sure where the traffic was coming from, but also it had to do with the fact that this little fluttering life inside my belly was depending on ME to nourish, care for it, and walk it home safely. I obeyed the traffic lights ABSOLUTELY. Unless it said "walk" I was glued to the corner, though crowds of annoyed British commuters went around me, I stayed put.

I wouldn't say I'm paranoid. I certainly would NOT say I'm no fun. I just think about things more. I weigh the fun of a few minutes against the fact that three little people depend upon me. I no longer want to go sky diving, which had been a long term goal of mine. This summer at Universal Studios I'll ride the rides, but I probably won't go on the ferris wheel at the carnival in the K-Mart parking lot over Memorial Day weekend.

It's not just the fear of leaving my children motherless that makes me play it safe, it's the fact that the kiddos are watching. If I don't wear my bike helmet, they won't. If I don't wear my seatbelt, they won't. If I don't wear flip-flops so as not to burn my feet on the asphalt in the pool parking lot, they won't either. I'm not only a caretaker. I'm an example.

Yesterday afternoon I had a library board meeting. I set out on my bike at a few minutes after four. By the time I got to the library, fifteen minutes later, the sky was dark and scary. I called Paul and asked him to take the cell if he went anywhere because I'd probably call for a ride home. We all looked nervously out the window during our meeting. Several people offered me and my bike a ride home. I said I'd wait and see, because unless it was raining, I'd really like to ride.

The meeting ended and it was just starting to sprinkle. The sky looked awful. My colleagues thought I was nuts and trying too hard not to be a bother, but I got this question in my head: can I beat the storm home? Well, I had to find out.

There was distant lightning. I'm not stupid. If I thought I might get struck I would abandoned the bike ride. But was distant. The wind was strong and cold. I hoped on my bike and hauled ass. Every minute I could feel the air getting colder and the rain coming a little harder.

When I stopped at the light at Burlington and Ninth I could see drivers looking nervously at me. But I also could see a few joggers who hadn't made it home yet and a couple of bikes down various side streets. I wasn't the only one out. I was one mile from home.

I sped down the only hill in town (and by hill I mean long, five-block, very gradual slope--Nebraska is great for bike riding) grinning like a Cheshire cat. This was fun. At Ninth and Baltimore the sprinkle had turned to rain. Half mile to go. My pants were soaked. I wasn't cold, though, because I was pedaling so hard.

I thought to myself that this is the sort of thing Paul normally does and I normally find annoying. He gives himself a difficult but unnecessary challenge, that could end badly. If the tables were turned I would be rolling my eyes and saying, "For Pete's sake, just let me pick you up! You don't have to ride in the rain!" But so far I was doing okay. I was having a blast. I was beating the storm. I figured I would get home just in the nick of time.

In front of the Methodist Church (quarter mile from home) the rain took on a sleety quality. I began to wonder if I would have to seek shelter from hail on somebody's porch, but I pedaled on, still grinning, exhilarated by the race. I crossed Ninth and rode up my neighbor's driveway onto the sidewalk and in the process dislodged the basket on the front of my bike. So I had to stop. I was literally in my backyard and I had to stop. I tried to hook it back on, but I couldn't get it, so I held it wobbly in one hand and continued to ride as the rain came down harder.

I ditched the bike in the garage and ran inside. By the time I had said hello to everyone and changed my clothes there was furious lightning and thunder and the rain was blowing in horizontal sheets. I was wet and cold and tired but I had beat the storm--thank goodness. And I was very pleased with myself.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I haven't been in to record for almost three weeks. I hit some sort of wall. I just got so bored of sitting in that little room by myself, pushing record and singing into the mic take after take. Ugh. What I got down is technically fine. There's a strong signal. It's clear. No one but me would notice the small mistakes in the final take. Todd says once we start mixing it will become a totally different animal--the mixing is where the magic happens. But to me it all seems flat. Once I realized (a few weeks ago) that I would not have a cd to sell at my Listening Room gig last Friday, I eased up. I gave myself a break, from which I have not returned.

Then Sunday night I played at the Blue Moon. Everybody did a little set. I was in the middle. Mostly people did solo or duet stuff. Jay sat in on drums for most. And mostly it was mellow folk music. Don't get me wrong, I love mellow folk music. Most of what I play is mellow folk music. But this last batch of songs I've written (and, really, many of the songs I've written) have a strong pop leaning. They are "up". So I was thrilled to have Jay there. And Jay called John up to play bass--even better.

We hadn't rehearsed any of this. I wasn't even sure what I was going to play. I started with a new one called "Catch it when you can." It rocked. Then Robin came up and we sang another peppy new song called "Boca 1979" to which the lyrics are actually incredibly creepy and sad. It rocked. We then pulled "Econolodge" out of the recesses of our memory. Guess what. It rocked. Robin sat down and I finished with "Box of Letters" which I'd always wanted to play with a band.

That was THE MOST FUN I had had with my music in...forever. I felt energized. I felt inspired. I thought, I want to write songs for a guitar, bass, drum combo! And most of my songs really lend themselves to that bar band alt-country feel. It was so great. I'm sure it didn't SOUND fantastic to our listeners because it was totally on the fly with me shouting at John off mic "here comes the bridge! it goes to C!" or "in the next verse, guitar and bass drop out but keep a beat going, Jay!"

It was an epiphany. I need to change horses in midstream here. I think I need to go record live at Jay's with Jay and John. I can't go back to that little room by myself. Jay has an analog recording set up. It's not as high tech as Todd's and has a less polished, radio-ready sound to it. But I think I will gladly trade that out for an inspired sound and for ENJOYING myself doing it.

I have these nagging inner voices, though. They say, "oh, so suddenly you're a temperamental artist? and you can't create your art unless it's under the right conditions? get over yourself." It is hard for me to admit to myself that I'm a musician. To say "I'm a songwriter" and not "I've written a few songs." I don't know why it is, but it is hard to say that music is art and art is not like math where the answer comes out the same every time. Just putting in the time and practice and pushing the right buttons on the digital recorder does ensure (insure?) that I will have a product I can be happy with at the end of the day (month, year, God help me). Art does require inspiration. It is completely personal. It is about self expression and if I want to produce art (yes, please) I need to create a situation where I fell inspired, comfortable, and..well..psyched. I have to deliberatley grant myself permission for this.

Why do I resist that? Why do I feel like it's silly?

I don't feel like I've wasted my time recording at Todd's. It's all about lessons learned, right? So, I am learning what works for me and what doesn't work for me. I wasn't going to have a cd for my May show, anyway...so, we'll start over at Jay's this summer and hopefully, by the time I start school in August I will have a sweet, rockin', album of songs with my bar band. Oooh, I get excited just thinking of that.

I do of course need to get a couple songs recorded to send into a festival contest I want to enter. I've entered before with no success...but this may be my year...you never know.

Friday, May 04, 2007


1. Tonight I open for Storyhill at the Listening Room. I'm playing five new songs, including one I wrote this week. That might be a really stupid idea, but what can you do? Robin is singing harmony on one. I had hoped I could get Jay-The-Busdriver to play drums for me, but we couldn't get our schedules to match up, but that's okay because....

2. Sunday night I'm playing at the Blue Moon. The Listening Room is hosting The Thing in May. The Thing was started by Margaret because...what's happening on Sunday nights? Since, February, The Thing has been happing. From 7-9 there's music. It'll be me, Robin, Jay, Peter...I think Carla and a few others. So Jay and I can play together then.

3. Paul arrived safe and sound last night. He was pleased to report that on one tank of gas the Fit broke the 4o miles-per-gallon barrier. Take THAT global warming!4. Kids have been skateboarding on the church sidewalk/stairs, directly across from my front porch. This makes me very happy. I want to sit and watch but I'm afraid they'll think I'm staring with disapproval...and I can't think of a way to be welcoming without feeling like a total dork. Anyway, I love it.

5. I have a new nephew named Joseph William Dunbar. Congratulations, Jon & Hopi. Can't wait to meet him.

6. Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

two side to every story/practice makes perfect

I was just in the principals office. I went on my own initiative. Last night we were at the playground and Moses smilingly said, "You know what happened at school today? Mrs L (the substitute) took my shirt off in front of the whole class!" I asked why she would do such a thing. "My shirt was on inside out and backwards." And off he ran.

Now, anyone who knows Moses or has seen him from one day to the next knows that something is always on inside out and or backwards: pants with the fly in back, shirts with the pocket logo on his shoulder bade, whathaveyou. Sometimes I point this out before he leaves for school and my comment is met with a shrug or an "I know." Sometimes teachers have told me that they pointed it out to Moses and got the same reaction. He just doesn't give a rip. Fine by me.

I thought taking a child's shirt off in class seemed a bit much, but Moses said it like it was a funny and exciting story so I said nothing. But I found myself thinking about it...thinking, "at least it was Moses and not some other kid." Which is totally unfair to Mo. He shouldn't get the lion's share of weird treatment because he's well-adjusted. And later I thought that a teacher would never do that to a girl in class. And how hard would it have been to say, "go to the bathroom and turn your shirt around"? And why, with 25 six year olds to teach did she care about the state of Mo's shirt? But these were all fleeting thoughts which disappeared instantly into a game of tag.

This morning at 7:05 the phone rang. For a split second I was 100% sure it was the Missouri Highway Patrol calling to tell me Paul was dead. But it was another kindergarten mom calling to make sure I had heard about the shirt-taking-off-incident. Now, this woman is a friend of mine. Her kids and my kids spend a lot of time together. There are load of things I love about her--however--she is a bit of a drama queen and gets really worked up about things that don't ruffle my feathers at all. She said her daughter felt so bad for Moses because all the kids laughed and his faced turned red. And it all just seemed "not right" to her.

I said Moses mention it in pasing: that he didn't seem upset; but, that it did seem strange to me. I thanked her for her concern, because, frankly, though I'd thought about it a little last night, I had totally forgotten about it.

But then I was in a quandary. It hadn't stuck out in my mind as worth pursuing. Was I going to be manipulated into creating drama where there is none by my friend? This is something I have to be deliberate about or I find myself sucked in. Or am I going to ignore a situation I should really look into in an over-zealous fit of anti-manipulation?

I asked Moses about it again. I asked how it felt when Mrs. L took his shirt off. he said it was kind of funny. I said if it was only kind of funny, what else was it? Embarrassing. Did it seem like an okay thing to do or a not-okay thing. With a thoughtful nod he said "not okay."

Then I wondered if my questions were leading (though I tried to be neutral) and he was saying what he thought I thought he should say. This is the very thing I complain about my friend doing, saying to her perfectly content and confident child, "Don't be afraid of that big dog, honey. Don't think that big dog is going to come over here and bite your face off. If you want to cry because your so scared of that big dog, it's okay..mommy will take care of you." And then, voila, the child is crying and terrified.

As you already know, I went to talk to the principal. I really like this principal. She's the daughter of a LCMS pastor in our circuit. When her dad was ill recently, Paul visited the family regularly and got to know her outside of the principals office. Inside the principals office she does a fantastic job. I couldn't be more pleased with her.

I had gone over in my head how to present the story. I just told her the straight story. "Moses is in Mrs.P's class. Yesterday he had his shirt on inside out and backwards and Mrs L stripped him bare chested and put it on right in front of the class." She immediately said, "Oh, my. That doesn't sound good. Was Mo upset about it?" I told her how he had told me and how he had answered when I asked him. We talked about it for a few minutes and she said she would talk to the classroom teacher and Mrs. L about it. "Or," she said as a women entered the outer office, "we could ask Mrs. L about it right now."

And there was Mrs. L and my very first fleeting instinct was to say "NO! I want to be passive aggressive and complain to you and YOU deal with it." But I said, "We may as well ask her, since she's right here. Then it will be clear that I'm not freaking out about and we'll know what the story is."

Here is the story: A classmate made a teasing comment about Mo's shirt being on wrong. Moses asked Mrs. L to fix his shirt. She thought about taking him out in the hall--but there were 24 other kids to supervise. So she said, "close your eyes, everybody!" And fixed Mo's shirt and Mo seemed pleased to have it fixed. And that was the end of it.


That sounded very plausible. And I could tell by her face and voice that she was slightly horrified, realizing how the story could have sounded to me, but wanting to sound unruffled and not-guilty. It was the same way I was balancing between making sure my kid was okay and not wanting to sound like a lunatic drama queen. She said she wouldn't have given Mo's shirt the time of day, but she heard what the other kid said, and Mo asked her to fix it, displeased with it being pointed out. I said he clearly wasn't traumatized by it, I just wanted to make sure it was all appropriate and above-board.

So, did I underreact? Should I have called for the resignation of Mrs L? Did I get sucked into the drama? Would I have followed through at all if my friend hadn't called? Did I overreact? I don't think so. A mama bear's gotta do what a mama bear's gotta do. Though I momentarily wanted to bail, I'm so glad I got to talk to Mrs L right there. It would have turned into a much bigger deal if it was a three-way conversation between the teachers and principals and then I was called back with the results. Instead, I asked the question. I got my answer. All is well.

And, like most things in life, I view it as practice. I have practiced what to do when something seems suspicious at school. I sharpened my tools for having a non-confrontation discussion with pricnipal and teacher about the treatment of my child. The lines of communication are open and that can only be a good thing. And maybe Moses will put his shirt on right...but, frankly, that would make me a little sad.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Freaks and Geeks

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Have I mentioned that this is the best tv show ever made? I've been reluctant to post any video because any one clip might not be representative of the show as a whole. This clip, in fact, is silly. There is a lot of silliness in the show. But it is not only silliness. It is genius. (Please make special note of that tape recorder.)

My box set came in the mail yesterday and I managed to wait until the kids were in bed to watch the first two episodes. And I'm dying to watch more. And the special features. There's two commentaries for each episode--some with the actors and creators; some with the fans who pushed to get the dvd released, some with the actors' parents; one with a couple of the actors in character. Bizarre. I'm totally geeking out. Or should I say Freaking and Geeking out?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hardcore May Day

May Day in Nebraska is no joke. May Day in Nebraska is serious business. Our first year here it hadn't registered in my mind that it was the first of May. Why would it? And why, I wondered, did my doorbell keep ringing? And why were there goody-bags on my porch but no people?

To be honest, that first year, when we hardly knew anyone and Phoebe was almost three and Moses 18 months, the doorbell rang twice. I remember the Carrs and the Vonderfechts bringing us May Baskets. But this year...I wish I had my camera (but it's in St. Louis with Paul). It looks like Halloween.

After school as we were playing in the backyard four friends approached with May baskets. Of course we made the ring-and-run aspect of this difficult as we were in plain sight in the backyard. Twice folks walked up and handed us treats and two sets (one for each kid) were stealthily left on the porch. We spent the evening at the Steinauers house and when we returned our little porch was full--probably five May Baskets for each kid.

Most of the May Baskets were not baskets at all, but Styrofoam cups with pipe cleaner handles adorned with stickers and full of candy or trail mix. There were a couple sets of construction paper tulips that served as stapled-on wrapping for Blow Pops. About half of the May Baskets had a "To:" and "From:" on them and half were anonymous.

I love the anonymity. That seems like the whole point, doesn't it? I mean, why ring-and-run if the recipient is going to know who it is from anyway?

For our May Baskets we bought three grocery store fresh flower bouquets. Each kid got a bouquet, three mason jars and scissors to cut the stems and rearrange the big bouquet into three small bouquets. Florists they are not, but they had fun and who can resist shasta daisies and gerber daisies regardless of their arrangement?

We took two to the kids next door; one to Becky, who teaches Phoebe piano, leads the kids' choir at church and is subbing for their music teacher at school this month; three to the Vonderfecht kids; and three to the Steinauer kids. By the time we were done I had waters sloshed out of the jars and all over the floor of my van and a daughter who was a wreck.

Phoebe got totally freaked out by the sneaking up to the door. This happens every year. She just gets so worked up--the nervous anticipation kills her. It almost makes it no fun. What if they see her? What if she is sneaking and she is surprised? By the time we got to our last house she couldn't take it anymore. She said, and I quote word for word, "I want no part of this. I wish none of you would do this, but if you do it anyway....I want no part."

Paul said, "tell her to remember that on prom night."

But back to May Day. I have vague memories of weaving construction paper baskets or cones filled with daffodils at school when I was little. I know one time I took one of these to my next door neighbor, Mrs. Freber. But that was the extent of my May Day participation. I don't know why this tradition, that I always thought of as old-timey, like something Laura & Mary Ingalls or Anne Shirely would do, has kept hold here in Nebraska, but I find it very charming. And every year it's a surprise to me. I just don't remember what a big deal May Day is until suddenly my doorbell is ringing and there are treats on my porch.