Silly Rabbit, Piano Lessons are for Grown-Ups!

The piano has always been a part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of Grandma Marion playing carols in the crowded living room after a traditional Christmas dinner of Swedish meatballs, lefsa, lutefisk and rømmegrøt. (Yes, I’m a bit Norwegian).

Surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins, the 24th of December was full of warmth, even on the coldest of winter nights in North Dakota. I do believe my love of music, especially the piano is rooted in large part with memories of her. My piano is part of her legacy.

I took lessons as a child and through my teenage years. If memory serves me correctly, I made weekly trips to my instructor’s house until I graduated from high school. I don’t ever remember dreading practicing or going to the weekly lesson. I also don’t remember looking forward to it.

To the best of my recollection, I liked my teacher a great deal, hated playing in recitals, always had trouble remembering the right fingering and was somewhat relieved to be “done” playing the piano as I entered my college years.

Thankfully, my parents were wiser than me, and when my grandmother passed away, they used part of my dad’s inheritance to purchase a piano for me. It seemed like the right thing to do, although I never dreamt it would mean that I’d ever touch the keyboard again.

They bought me a beautiful upright, made by Yamaha – which according to my new piano tuner is one of the best.

Anna tuning Beth's Piano

The details are fuzzy, but soon after the purchase, I arranged lessons for myself and my three children. We all advanced at different speeds, and I’m not sure why we stopped our Saturday lessons, but by the time we did I had made my way through most of John Thompson’s fourth-grade series. For anyone familiar with the series, you’ll understand why I’m proud of this accomplishment.

My piano and I were separated for three years when I moved from Nebraska to Pennsylvania.  We were reunited thanks to the generosity of friends, but in spite of the reunion, it went unplayed for the better part of eleven years, that is, until recently.

Inspiration comes at the strangest times and often-times in the most unexpected ways. My new boss and I were talking about music, and I happened to mention that I had a piano.

“Do you play?” he asked.

“I used to, but I’m beyond rusty and my piano is horribly out of tune.”

He said, “Why don’t you get it tuned and start playing again?”

“Hmmm, that’s a good question, maybe I’ll look into it.”

His comment and the rest of the conversation motivated me to get serious about at least getting my piano back in tune after 11 years of traveling back and forth across the country.

Finding a piano tuner was much easier than finding a teacher – but after a few weeks of Googling, I found both and I couldn’t be happier with both discoveries.

Anna or A. Ajemian is a second generation piano tuner – she mastered the art of piano tuning against her father’s advice. He wanted her to pursue a “respectable job” for a woman. In other words, he thought she should find a “nice office job.” Thank goodness she ignored his advice!

Three weeks after having my piano tuned I had my first lesson with Mark. He welcomed me warmly and I felt at home as I took my place on the bench in front of the obviously well played and loved white upright against the main wall in his studio.

We talked and I explained that I had taken lessons for many years and the focus of my study had been on classical and jazz. I shared that I’m at a point in my life that I just want to have fun with music, and while I want to learn and be challenged I don’t feel a need to graduate from John Thompson’s Fifth (and last) grade level book.

He said “I know exactly what you need,” and flipped through a book of sheet music intended for someone who plays the ukulele. I was dumbfounded and wondered for a moment whether or not I had made the right choice for a teacher; ukulele sheet music only has a single note melody line – no chords, no bass clef. I was perplexed and had no idea how this was going to work out.

After settling on a song, he asked me, “Do you know how to chord?”

I responded by playing the middle C chord with some authority. He beamed, “Yes that’s it! Now, do you know what the inversion of that chord is?”

I looked at him blankly. He went on to explain how chord inversions are different ways to play the same chord, each position is called a different inversion depending on what the bass note is. He guided me through some basic chord formations, and I felt both comfortable and challenged. It was clear to me then, I had most definitely found the right teacher.

It was scheduled to be a 30-minute lesson, so at 8:35, five minutes over the scheduled time, I fully expected him to give me my homework, not to say, “Start from the top again and incorporate the chord work we just talked about.”

I did, certainly not flawlessly (not even close), but I did my best and it was fun.

At 9:05 he wrapped up the lesson and gave me my homework assignment, which includes a lot of work around root and inversion cords while working a Bob Dylan classic, “Blowing in the Wind.”

As we were wrapping up, he said, “Your lessons won’t usually be this long, they’ll be in the neighborhood of 30 minutes or slightly more. But tonight I was inspired to keep going because of how quickly you were catching on.

It’s clear you’ve had excellent musical training and have talent. Because of your background, you made more progress in 30 minutes than some students make in months. This is going to be fun!”

I’m going to enjoy learning something completely different from playing classical music. It’s also cool to know that all of the years of playing and practicing songs from the various grade levels of “John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano” paid off.

I’ve had great fun practicing this week, even if my cat doesn’t seem to appreciate it.

mia guarding the piano

I’m excited to see where this new adventure takes me!

If you’ve made it this far, here’s a sound bite from my first week of practice – it’s far from perfect, but it makes me smile nonetheless.

For the second time in my life, I’m proof positive that piano lessons are not just for kids. I also won’t be surprised if my next lesson includes a lot of focus on the importance of finger position on the keyboard. I have a feeling it would have made some of the chord transitions much smoother.

All in all, it’s so much fun to explore something familiar, but yet brand new.

 

 

Peat and Repeat

Just because a recipe made its way into a church cookbook doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. That’s a lesson I learned many years ago when I was cooking for a family of five.

Apparently the same holds true for recipes that are delivered by a meal delivery service. A lesson I learned recently,  as a part of my attempts to master the art and science of cooking for one.

Cooking for Five

When my kids were growing up they were all very active in sports, at school and hanging out with friends. Evening mealtime was a very important time of the day for our family and we made it a point to sit down together whenever we could – no cell phones allowed, to share a meal and the highlights or sometimes lowlights of the day.

The older they got, the more difficult it became to come home from work and prepare a home-cooked meal and we found ourselves eating out way too often; a fattening and expensive habit. I wanted to find a way to help us all eat healthier, at home, and at the same time take the drudgery out of the daily task of figuring out what to make for dinner and then prepare it.

The answer was a weekend of mass meal preparation. Over the course of a few years, I fine-tuned my technique for prepping somewhere between 20 and 25 meals from taking up an entire weekend to a single day. Somehow, I found a way to complete everything from grocery shopping to cleaning up in a little over eight hours. The answer to the question “what’s for dinner” changed from “ugh, I don’t know” to “let’s go pick something out of the freezer.”

It was a family affair and usually included loud music, dancing and off-key singing into the head of a wooden spoon which did a fine job of doubling as a microphone. The day always ended with dinner at Fernandos, our favorite Mexican restaurant. After all that food prep, I figured I had earned the treat.

The one downside to this approach was that it was tempting to make the same meals over and over again because I had learned how to prep them and practically knew the recipe and ingredients by heart. In an effort to add variety into the stacks of plastic storage containers and gallon-size freezer bags that filled the freezer, I started including a few new recipes in each of the monthly meal prep events.

Peat or Repeat

For many people, I would guess that hearing the words “peat and repeat,” may conjure up a memory of the riddle: “Pete and repeat went fishing. Pete fell out of the boat, who was left?”

In our house, it had a double meaning. Each time I served one of the new recipes, the family would vote on whether or not it was worthy of repeating. The meals that didn’t make the cut were voted off the table and categorized as a “peat,” the opposite of repeat.

The worst peat I ever made didn’t even make it to the table, let alone a family vote. It was a recipe for barbecue chicken from a church cookbook. To this day I don’t know what I was thinking when I combined ketchup and frozen lemonade concentrate poured it over the chicken and turned the crockpot on before leaving for work. (I know!)

I’m not sure why I thought that just because a recipe made it into a church cookbook meant that it was going to be good, but I did.

Thank goodness I was the first one home that day. I walked in the kitchen and almost gagged when the sickly sweet smell of ketchup combined with lemonade hit me. I didn’t think twice and while holding my breath, I unplugged the crockpot and dumped its contents into the trashcan in the driveway.

Needless to say, that recipe was an unequivocal peat and we had dinner at Fernandos that night.

Cooking for One

There have been a lot of changes in my life as I’ve transitioned from the time in my life when I regularly cooked for five and sometimes more, to most often trying to figure out how to cook for one.

Oddly, or maybe not, it’s been one of the more difficult things for me to figure out. The first challenge for me was getting used to the lack of a need to have leftovers on hand to serve as midnight snacks during impromptu visits from my youngest son and his friends. The second challenge, and not a small one for me, was in finding recipes that serve one and appealed to me.

There are some pretty good resources out there and I did manage to find more than a few that seemed worth trying. This led to challenge number three, grocery shopping for recipes for one and also challenge number four, having the motivation to cook after work.

I tried a meal delivery service in an attempt to solve three out of four of the excuses for not preparing healthy meals for myself. After one too many ingredient substitutions, the worst of which was when they sent brussel sprouts instead of asparagus, I canceled the service. Once again found myself falling back into the habit of eating at restaurants, one in particular, far too often.

A little over a month ago, I decided to give a different meal delivery service a try and I’ve been trying new things. For the past few weeks, I’ve been “zesting” limes and lemons, charring corn and goodness knows how many other new food preparation methods that were previously unfamiliar to me.

Much to my surprise, I’m actually enjoying learning these new techniques and with the exception of one “peat”, I’ve been very happy with all of the recipes. The ingredients are intended to make a meal for two, but I find the serving sizes to be more than generous and in some cases, could feed at least four. This means I have just the right amount of leftovers for meals throughout the week and I have variety.

It’s worth noting that my grocery bill has gone down, I throw away less food – in particular, produce because the service sends me just what I need. I’ve even made a few of the “repeats” on my own.

As with a church cookbook though, not every recipe is worthy of a repeat just because it’s featured as a menu selection on a meal delivery service website. Although I’m sure the odds are probably higher than the church cookbook.

Going forward, for me, any recipe with couscous or cooked spinach is an automatic peat, or in this case, a do not order.

The Weekend the Pope was in Town

The past several years have been quite the adventure and full of stories, most of which, I haven’t been able to share until now. In part due to being smart about the timing of when to share certain adventures and for some experiences, well, just being ready to tell them.

My travel misadventures during the weekend the Pope last visited the U.S. falls in the first category.

In the late summer of 2015, I was working remotely for a company located in Long Beach California as an SEO Specialist. I was also doing a fair amount of free-lance consulting in the hours before and after the office in Cali came to life. For a variety of reasons, it became obvious to me that it was time for a change and I added a full-time job search to my already full plate.

My goal was to get back into a leadership role, be a part of a team and return to the world of eCommerce and making websites easier for people to use. Much to my surprise and delight, I didn’t have to wait long until my first in-person interview.

On the evening of September 24, 2015, I boarded a plane to Indianapolis. Indianappolis Boarding

I lived in Philly at the time but had the company I was interviewing with make my flight arrangements through Newark, N.J.

Knowing that the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia and NYC that weekend had the potential to make local travel a hassle, I figured it was safer to suffer finding my way around the airport in Newark rather than risk missing my flight.

The flight went off without a hitch, I landed on time and felt like a fairy princess when a limo picked me up from the airport and again in the morning at the hotel the next morning.

One interview blurred into the next as I answered what seemed to be the same questions over and over again. Midway through the back to back day of interviews, the executive admin assistant who had made my flight arrangements burst into the conference room.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but your return flight was canceled and we had to rebook you. We’ll adjust the remaining interview schedule and the limo will be here to pick you up an hour earlier.”

I looked at the itinerary she handed me and replied, “This will actually work out well, this flight will get me home an hour earlier than the original flight.”

A final limo ride to the airport, a glass of wine and some dinner to celebrate the day and the flight took off on time, I made my connection without missing a beat. And then…

About 45 minutes before landing, I pulled the itinerary out of my bag to double check connecting gate and the details for my final destination. My heart almost stopped.

I turned to the young man sitting next to me, “Am I reading this right? Does my flight land at LaGuardia, in the middle of New York City?”

“Yes, you’re reading it right.”

“But, my car is parked in Newark. I’m supposed to be flying into Newark, not New York.”

“Let me start checking train schedules for you. Oh,… but wait, the Pope is in town. The train schedule will be completely unreliable. Let me see if I can think of something else for you.”

While I appreciated his optimism and desire to help, it seemed unlikely that he was going to be able to help me out of my predicament. I was on a plane that was about to land more than 30 miles away from where my car was parked. Thirty miles in the Midwest is nothing, it’s thirty minutes or less depending on how fast you drive. However, thirty miles between NYC and Newark is an hour’s drive under the best traffic circumstances, let alone on a Friday night when the Pope was in town.

I turned to my journal and started listing out possible solutions while bargaining with my travel angels. If perhaps I could get a taxi from LaGuardia to Jersey for $100, the day would be saved. The chances of finding a hotel room were none, so images of myself on a bench in Penn Station or on a chair at LaGuardia, one eye open, seemed to prevail. I had no idea how I was going to get home that night.

I closed the journal with the realization that I would just have to figure it out.

The young man next to me flagged down a flight attendant, “Her flight was booked into the wrong airport and she needs to find a way to get to Newark tonight. Do you have any recommendations?”

“Well, a cab is out of the question. The fare between New York and Newark is normally at least $100, but with the Pope being in town, the traffic is crazy and it will cost at least double that.”

There went my hopes.

“But, there is a bus that shuttles passengers between JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. I think it costs around 30 bucks.”

Hooray! The day had been saved, or had it?

My flight into LaGuardia landed late. Like a madwoman, I made my way through the crowd – down the escalator and to the ticket counter for the airport shuttle bus. The agent was just turning the sign from open to closed, the hours said 9 am to 10:30 pm. It was 10:33.

I must have looked like I was going to burst into tears, or perhaps I actually did. At any rate, he turned the sign around and asked, “How can I help you?”

I explained my situation and he nodded along.

“Here’s the thing,” he said.

“I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it, but the Pope is in town. This has changed our regular route. Normally my bus would take you to the parking lot at Port Authority and the next bus would pick you up from there and take you to Newark. But because the Pope is in town, the roads have been rerouted.

We would drop you off near the Port Authority parking lot and then you would need to walk about a mile to a temporary lot. From there we can get you to Newark.”

This was not what I wanted to hear as the hour was nearing 11 pm in the heart of NYC.

Just then, a man near my age turned to face me.

“I’m in the same boat and am trying to get a cab. Would you be interested in splitting the fare with me if I can negotiate it?”

Without thinking twice, I answered yes. Somehow, he miraculously negotiated a fare of $160, to be split between us.

My share, plus a $20 tip equaled a $100 taxi ride from LaGuardia to Newark.

I never saw the Pope in person, but I’ll never forget the weekend he was in town. It was quite an adventure.

Change is the One Thing in Life that is Certain

“I’ve suffered a great number of catastrophes in my life, most of which have never happened.” ~ Mark Twain

There have been times in my life when I feel like I’ve jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, in other words – moved from one difficult situation to one even worse.

What I’ve learned from these times is that nothing is certain, except that there will always be change, and that sometimes being in the fire – dancing through the flames – serves to make me stronger.

Last weekend, I walked through fire. Not just metaphorically, I literally (yes, this is an appropriate time to use this word) walked across a bed of hot coals. It was an unbelievable experience.

There’s no part of me that woke up last Friday morning and thought, hmmmm…tonight I’m going to walk across a bed of hot coals.

I don’t have any pictures of it. My phone and camera were safely tucked away in my room, and for some reason I resisted the urge to run to the elevator and collect the technology that might help me capture the moment.

Thankfully, a few people did capture the moment and were willing to share it.

firewalk
Photo by Jeanine Moravec Weise

The woman in the picture isn’t me, but it could be.

The first time I walked across the bed of hot coals, I was simply carried by the energy of the group. It wasn’t without intention, but it wasn’t specific to me.

The second time I stood in front of the path of burning embers, I raised my hands above my head and shouted “Abundance!” I heard two hundred voices echo my intent as I crossed the fiery pit.

The path to Abundance is paved with challenges, it won’t be easy – but it will be worth it.

The key is to live each day without making up what tomorrow will bring and accepting that the only thing that is certain is change.

Knock Three Times on the Ceiling if I’m Noisy, Twice on the Floor if the Music’s too Loud

Nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbor’s noisy party than being there. ~ Franklin P. Jones

One of the upsides to living in a 100 year old building is the amazing hardwood floors. One of the downsides to living in a 100 year old building is the amazing hardwood floors; heavy footsteps, the bass line of movie soundtracks and the latest party music can make it difficult to catch the punchlines when you’re watching a rerun of Cheers.

A few weeks after moving in, I received the best welcome note ever under my door, it was from my upstairs neighbor. It started out like this:

“Hey Beth!

It’s me Dave Baby Boomer….the fella in #301.
I have been meaning, meaning, meaning….planning to drop by long before this…mostly to check in on the noise level.”

The note included additional welcoming thoughts and a $20 gift certificate to Spirit World and in closing he said,

“When you have a mo’, do lemme know how life is in #201, wouldja?”

Truth to be told, I do hear the floors creak if we’re both home at the same time – but it’s more comforting than annoying. In a quiet space, it’s a reminder that I’m not alone.

The heavy bass line is another story though, when I start trying to guess which movie he’s watching, it’s time for a text or a phone call. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often, and a reduction in volume is only a phone call and an apology away.

Not having met my downstairs neighbors, I wasn’t sure quite how to handle it last week when the level of noise invaded my apartment and spilled out into the hallway. My first instinct was to stomp on the floor and hope that they would get the hint, but I figured it would be close to impossible to distinguish a stomp on the floor from part of the song.

After waiting several minutes, it became apparent that without an intervention, the evening would only get louder. I padded down to the first level and knocked on their door.

No answer.

I knocked again.

No answer.

One more time, as hard as I could without hurting my knuckles.

No answer.

My hand was on the doorknob, it twisted freely toward the right. The door was unlocked, do I dare? I did.

I’m not sure what caught them more off guard, the fact that someone who wasn’t invited to the party opened the door without permission or the fact that a woman, old enough to be their mother was standing in their living room – wearing pink and black leopard print flannel pajama bottoms, bright blue and white polka dot fuzzy socks and a Penn State hooded sweatshirt.

Without looking anyone in the eye, I pointed my thumb toward the ceiling and twisted an invisible volume knob down, turned around and closed the door behind me. It was instantly quiet.

The following day, about thirty minutes before guests were schedule to arrive for dinner, there was a knock on my door.

“Hi, my name is Jack College. I wanted to apologize for the noise last night, it’s been eating at me all day.”

“Nice to meet you Jack, I’m Beth. Thanks so much for stopping by to apologize, it means a lot.”

Shifting from one foot to the other, “Ummm, I also wanted to give you my phone number. Just in case it happens again, you know, so you can just call me.”

“That’s a great idea, I’ll send you a text so you know who’s calling. Thanks again, I really appreciate it.”

A few minutes after he left, we exchanged a few text messages:text-with-jack

It was very thoughtful of him to stop over and apologize and give me his phone number, but I can’t help but giggle and suspect that there might have been conversation after I closed their door behind me. It might have gone something like this:

“Dude, we gotta find a way to keep the old lady from upstairs from walking into the apartment again; what if she calls the landlord or worse yet, the cops?”

“I know, you’re right. I’ll come up with something.”

After stewing about it  for the better part of the day, I’m guessing Jack was hit with a stroke of brilliance.

It would appear that, after weighing the risks associated with my having his phone number vs another unannounced visit or a phone call to the “authorities,” he mustered up the courage to face the woman who is brave enough to be seen wearing leopard print flannel pants and a Penn State sweatshirt in Nebraska.

The conversation was amicable, we now each know our neighbor by name and most importantly (to me) there’s been no breech of acceptable sound volumes since exchanging phone numbers.

Life in the multi-generational lane. 🙂

 

The Miracle Comes Quietly and When We Least Expect It

We’ve all heard the expression, “it’s darkest just before dawn,” or some variation of it. I didn’t realize until today that it’s actually a proverb, first committed to print by the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller in his religious travelogue A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, 1650, citing this view:”It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.”

It can be viewed as an annoying cliche’ or bromide that people use to offer comfort and hope to someone who is going through a tough time, or as a truism that really should offer us hope. For me, it’s a little of both and it’s right up there “it is what it is,” “everything happens for a reason,” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I’ve come to believe that there’s something else that happens just before the metaphorical “dawn.” We become quiet and still and our needs are met in unexpected and often-times wonderful ways. We tend to think about how being still and asking for help apply only when it comes to major things happening in our life, but miracles small and large are happening all around us every day.

A few months ago I was traveling for business.  Normally I make my own travel arrangements, but in this case the company I was visiting took care of the planning and booking of airline tickets, limo transportation and the hotel. My area airport of choice is in Philadelphia, but because I was traveling the weekend the Pope was leaving NYC and headed to Philly, I flew out of Newark to avoid the crowds and potential travel delays. I made it to the airport without getting lost, boarded on time,
General Boarding

had a smooth flight, a ride in a limo and stayed in a beautiful hotel. The following day was filled with productive back to back meetings and conversations. Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, my  much needed break was interrupted by news that my return flight to Newark had been cancelled but new arrangements had been made.

The updated travel plans meant cutting my day shorter than planned but it also meant I’d be home before midnight (or so I thought).

I said my farewells and was whisked away in the limo,

limo

rode in style to the airport and zipped through security with my TSA pre-check boarding passes in hand. Half-way through the first flight to Chicago I decided to check the boarding pass for my connecting flight into Newark.

Much to my dismay and borderline horror, my next flight was headed to JFK in New York City, not to Newark, New Jersey. How could this happen you ask? So did I! It never dawned on me to look at the flight details other than the times – after all why would someone book a return flight into a different city than the originating flight?

My best guess is that one of two things happened – one theory is that whoever made the original reservations said Newark really fast and the person who made the revised arrangements either heard New York or they’ve never heard of Newark. The other theory is that they looked and found that Newark is “only” thirty miles from JFK and it would be easy to get from one airport to the other.

My heart pounded against my chest and I wouldn’t want to know what my blood pressure was in that moment.

One thing I knew was clear, I had no choice but to board the plane in Chicago and figure things out from there.

In addition to highlights of the Pope’s visit to NYC, the news was also filled with updates about modified train schedules and street closings throughout the city so I knew my options could be limited. The first thought I wrote in my journal was, “If I can get a cab for less than $100, I’m going for it.”

The nice young man sitting next to me tried to help by pulling out his app with the NYC subway schedules, “You could take the X line to the Y line and then hop on the Z line and maybe make it to Penn Station before the last train leaves. Of course I don’t know for sure if they’re running on schedule because of the Pope’s visit.”

Thoughtful as he was trying to be, his assistance only conjured up images of myself spending the night at Penn Station with a colorful cast of characters from NYC nightlife.

I asked the flight attendants about cab fare. “You’re looking at a minimum of a $200 cab fare; your better option is to take the airport bus from JFK to Newark, it’ll cost you about $30.”

Hallelujah!

A $30 bus ride was totally reasonable and sounded like an easy solution to my dilemma. For the rest of the flight, my heart was still and the worries were put aside.

As explained, the booth to buy tickets for the bus between airports was at the bottom of the escalator. The sign said it closed at 10:30 pm, I looked at my watch – it was 10:32 pm. Not one to give up, I approached the man at the booth and asked if I could still buy a ticket to Newark.

“We can hold the bus for 5 more minutes, so you’ll have to decide fast.”

I pulled out my wallet to pay and asked, “Does the bus go directly from here to Newark?”

“No, normally you get on this bus and it goes to the Port Authority parking lot where you would get on another bus, but since the Pope is in town, that area is blocked off and so you’ll need to walk 12 blocks to meet up with the connecting bus that will take you to Newark.”

Schlepping my suitcase for 12 city blocks alone, at night, in NYC did not seem like a very appealing idea.

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” said the man who had arrived at the booth a few minutes before me. “I’m in the same situation, if I can find us a cab would you want to split the fare with my daughter and me?”

He didn’t need to ask me twice.

This kind stranger negotiated a fare that cost me $80 plus tip.

When we are facing a problem, sometimes a peace and quiet comes over us because we think the problem has been solved and we know what the solution is. Other times we become quiet and still because we “give up” and make a conscious choice to quit trying to chase after the solution and control the outcome.

In those moments of  quiet and letting go, miracles happen.

The Miracle Comes Quietly

A Case of Mistaken Identity

A few years ago I splurged and bought myself a new suitcase. At the time I bought it, I thought it was the most brilliant purchase I’d ever made. It’s purple, one of my favorite colors, and also a color I figured would stand out from the typical dark green and black bags we all see swirling around the baggage claim carrier.

In the store I loved the fact that it has four wheels and is as tall as my kitchen table. I thought to myself, “This is going to be awesome! Finally a suitcase that will hold everything I need and will be easy to roll through the airport.” I’m not exactly famous for packing light. 🙂

giant purple suitcase

I continued to think it was brilliant right up until I packed it for it’s maiden voyage and had to figure out a way to get the darn thing down the stairs without killing myself. I managed to slide it down without too much trouble, problem solved and the suitcase’s “brilliant” status had only been slightly tarnished.

Each leg of the trip it became more and more obvious that the purchase was not brilliant at all. I couldn’t get the bag into the trunk by myself, the shuttle bus driver could barely hoist it onto the bus, and it weighed in at just under 50 pounds. If that wasn’t enough, the raised eyebrows and out-loud-laughter from friends and family confirmed that I had actually purchased one of the most ridiculous suitcases on the planet.

The only thing that’s turned out to be good about the bag is that I never have any trouble identifying my suitcase in baggage claim, until recently that is.

The night before my annual trip to Big Sand Lake, I first packed the essentials: walking shoes, ink pens, a drawing tablet, and my hair dryer and then I threw in my clothes. (you can see why I first thought this bag was brilliant, right?)

packing for the lakeAfter 7 hours of travel, including the trip to the airport at 4 a.m., I was more than thrilled when I saw my giant purple bag was the second suitcase off the plane and onto the carousel. I retrieved it and rolled it outside to wait for my parents to pick me up. (I have to admit that the one thing I do still love about the bag is how easy it is to roll around the airport.)

We spent the afternoon in Fargo, and after a leisurely lunch with my aunt and uncle and a short visit with my cousin and his beautiful wife and cute, cute babies we started our 1 hour drive to the lake. About 15 miles into the drive my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize so of course I didn’t answer it, they left a voicemail.

“Hi Beth, this is the supervisor here from United Airlines calling. We have a big purple bag here at the Fargo airport with your name on it so it looks like you picked up the wrong bag from the baggage claim area this morning when you landed. There’s a passenger here who is missing a bag that matches the same description, so we think you have hers.”

Yikes!

Thirty minutes later I confirmed that there was indeed at least one other person in the world who must have initially thought this suitcase was awesome – they were identical.

We made the swap and I learned that the bag I mistook for mine belonged to a group that was originally traveling through Chicago, but had been re-routed through Minneapolis due to a cancelled flight. Unfortunately for both of us, their giant purple suitcase caught the first flight out of Chicago which put it on the same flight as me. What are the odds of that?

All’s well that ends well. I just hope they’re laughing about it as much as we are.

Weekend Shenanigans and Celebrating Friendship

Seven years ago, I stumbled across an online community for wannabe triathletes as well as triathlon veterans, not a place I’d ever  have imagined myself fitting in. Much to my surprise, through online fitness challenges, mentoring forums, and individual training blogs I’ve “met” and formed friendships with people across the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Over the past seven years, many of us have also become friends on Facebook, but the connection on BT (beginnertriathlete.com) remains a special one. People check in on each other weekly, if not daily.

We’ve “watched” each other’s children grow up, celebrated personal victories, and mourned together over the loss of friends and parents. We’ve sent virtual hugs and cried real tears during times of personal hardship and have kicked up our heels with joy for the good and happy times. We’re cheerleaders and confidants.

On more than one occasion I’ve taken a train, plane, or automobile to travel hundreds of miles meet one of my virtual friends in real life. What may shock some, will seem cool to others – not only did I travel to meet them, they welcomed me with open arms, amazing hospitality, and a place to rest my head for a night or two, even longer if needed.

The majority of my trips have been related to participating in a race. There’s nothing better than having a safe and welcoming place to stay the night before an event. It’s also awesome to share the early morning pre-race ritual and jitters with someone who is experiencing the same feelings.

Being connected on more than one social platform has its advantages. You always know when one of your friends is planning a party and can casually take them up on their “open invitation” to come visit. It’s simply a matter of keeping an eye open for pictures of large shipments of Mardi Gras beads to posted on Facebook and inviting oneself in a comment.

inviting myself to the party on facebook mardi gras beads

The response was almost immediate and I was DARED to attend.

the dare to attend

I made some noise about accepting the DARE, asked for some details and started to seriously consider making the trip from Philadelphia to Lake Lure, North Carolina to attend the party.

the details

The party was scheduled for February 28th, so the weather forecast played a role in the final decision. As it turns out, I threaded the needle and made the 12 hour drive (each way) in between winter storms.

The weekend shenanigans kicked off on Friday night in Roanoke, VA. I made it to my halfway point just in time to see the lights in the hotel restaurant go dark. Fortunately the Holiday Inn that Hotwire selected for me offered complimentary shuttle service to and from any of the local eating establishments.

I chose TGI Fridays because it was close, I had a coupon, and figured it would be laid back and quiet since it was fairly late. My expectations were more than a little off; there was only one seat left at the bar and a ten minute wait for a table. I opted for the bar.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a place where everyone gets carded, the females are on the prowl, and the males are primed for the hunt. I also don’t know that I’ve ever seen so much bling, leather, and leopard print in a single room. Too bad the fashion police weren’t there to call out the woman in the skin tight body suit –  embellished with tiny imprints of the “hang loose”surfer hand symbol (can’t even describe how bad it was).

Who knew that I’d picked one of the local hot spots for singles to hang out? So much more I could write about the evening, but it’s time to move on to the main event.

I arrived in Lake Lure on time and not in the least bit frazzled. Between Google Maps and my friend’s most excellent directions there was no way I could make a wrong turn or miss my destination.

We had just enough time for a hug, a walk around the property, a glass of wine, and a bit of gabbing before the co-hosts and guests began to arrive. The house looked spectacular, every inch of the main floor was covered in beads and sparkles.

038

Of course, no Mardi Gras party would be complete without costumes and masks. After much laughter and exchanging of hats, we concluded that Robin’s outfit called for the Jester’s hat and the 1920’s circa feathers worked best for me.

mardi gras party

We looked cute, but I’m fairly certain the cape won the prize for best costume.

the cape

The food was incredible.

Amazing food

Once the party started, the dining room was the most popular room at the party, well maybe with the exception the other side of the house where the Tarot card reader was burning incense and tapping into the future.

Each guest picked a number when they arrived and when their “number was up” it was time for their reading. Somehow or another, my number was 3, not saying it was rigged in any way – just saying I’m lucky. 🙂

The night was filled with toasts to newly wedded couples, explanations of why I was there, wine bottle opening demonstrations, roulette for high stakes prizes, and most likely some neighborhood gossip which went over my head. It was a wonderful evening, but there seemed to be too few hours between putting my head on the pillow and the knock on my door in the morning.

A sinfully delicious breakfast was followed by a long, long nap, and a delightful dinner. What could be a better way to spend a day?

Sadly the party is over (for this year). The beads and masks have been gathered, the dog and kitty cats are once again free to roam the house, and I am safely back in PA.

the party is over

The story is far from over though. I look forward to future shenanigans and an ongoing friendship.

What’s Your “Real” Name? | A Little Election Day Humor

Japanese Maple

My given name is Beth, not Elizabeth. Throughout my school years teachers constantly asked me this: “Are you sure your real name isn’t Elizabeth?”

“Yes, my name is Beth. Just Beth, Beth Lee.”

It’s an interesting thing to have a short first and last name, especially when they fit so well with each other and could very well be a single name. Maybe it was influence of Petticoat Junction and the characters Betty Jo, Bobbie Jo, and Billie Jo that made people ask me for my last name after I introduced myself as Beth Lee – or maybe they just thought I was from the South because of my ability to imitate a southern drawl.

Fast forward a decade or two and wouldn’t you know it, I unwittingly perpetuated the “what is your real name” conundrum. Twenty-some years ago it was fashionable for a woman to create a new last name by hyphenating her maiden name with her husband’s last name when she got married.

I was an independent woman with personal dreams and career aspirations, I wanted to retain my identity before marriage, and also Lee-Browning had a really nice ring to it so I legally changed my name from Beth Lee to Beth Lee-Browning. What I didn’t realize is that personal records are most often filed by last name and a hyphenated last name was subject to interpretation which meant that I never knew if was filed under “L” for Lee and other times under “B” for Browning.

Ok, so about the election. It was funny on multiple fronts.

By avoiding eye contact I managed to weave my way through the line of awkward teenagers passing out campaign literature with only one unwanted flyer in my hand. I can only hope that the trash can full of crumpled campaign promises made it’s way to a recycle bin.

There was no signage indicating which one of the two tables set up in the Middle School gym would have the book with my name in it, so I flipped a mental coin and chose the closest one. After a few minutes of pre-voting chit chat with others in line it was my turn to sign in.

The volunteers manning the table didn’t find my under the letter L or B, and it sparked a mini-debate about whether or not I was registered at all. Finally one of them looked at my driver’s license and asked, “Which side of Arborlea are you on?”

“When I look out my front door it’s on the opposite side of the street,” I replied.

“Well then! You’re at the other table, if you’re even registered at all.”

Clearly in her mind I should have known which of the unmarked tables was for voters that live on my side of the dividing line. I walked 25 ft to the next table and waited patiently to explain that they might have to look in both books to find record of the fact that I am registered to vote.

I sized up the volunteers at the table and determined that the woman with the Lucille Ball red hair would need to put rocks in her pockets on a windy day or she’d be blown away in a wind gust. And based on the thoughtful nods and the serious demeanor it was clear that the grey-haired gentleman beside her took his role in the election process very seriously.

I approached the table and said, “I’m not sure which book you’ll find me in, I might be filed under L or I might be under B.”

Who knew such a loud sigh could come out of such a tiny woman?

“You mean we have to try and look you up in both books?”

“I’m afraid so,” I said. “What can I say? I’m a complicated woman.”

A response that didn’t even trigger the slightest of grins. They were both too busy trying to locate my name in the election sign-in books.

“I found you! But I have a question for you,” said the silver-haired gentleman.

“Sure, what’s the question?”

“So, your name is Beth Lee Browning. Is Lee your middle name or part of your last name?”

I think it was his way of asking if I knew what my real name is. All I could do was laugh. I also voted. 🙂