Monday, December 26, 2016

~I'm looking out for angels, just trying to find some peace~

George Michael's music has been so much of the soundtrack of my life.  His sweet, pure voice!    I cried some yesterday after learning he'd died.  Just last month I had emailed my friend Kent and mentioned my love of George Michael.
"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is playing on MTV the last days of my first grade school year and I am dancing around the living room with my toddler brother.  Mom tells me she thinks the song is cute too and mentions that she heard that the song originated with a note one of the singers had left for his mom, so forever and always, I will associate it with not only George Michael's and co-singer Andrew Ridgeley's moms, but also with my own mom and with these cozy days in my favorite blue house, as if we'd all been here together, laughing as we sang the silly, sunshiny verses.  ♫  "Wake me up before you go-go, 'cause I'm not plannin' on goin' solo. . ."  ♪  I am imagining myself dazzling the TV audience of "Solid Gold" while I dance around the coffee table now.  ♫ "You take the grey skies out of my way, you make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day. . . ." ♪  And George's clear, gorgeous voice repeating, ♫ "WAAAAAKE me up!" at the start of the verse as the song continues. . . .  ♫  "Wake me up before you go-go, don't leave me hangin' on like a yo-yo" ♪ through my giggles to my brother--Like a yo-yo!  Ha!--as I twirl around.  And that most-satisfying-to-sing-along-with line:  ♫ "Taaaaake me dancin' toniiiiiiiiiiiiiiight."  ♪  So ends first grade. 

"Careless Whisper" is second grade and one of the first music videos that informs my imaginings of what Adult Life might someday be like:  The sparkling lights of a city at night, summery fun on sailboats, stunning sunsets. . . .Well, Adult Life looks promising, even if "guilty feet have got no rhythm."  Poor, sad, beautiful George in the video, though, and I just can't look away.  
Soon the opening drumbeats of "Everything She Wants" are everything.  And it turns out, they will forever have the power to transport me instantly back to1985.  Instantly.  Play this for me when I'm ninety years old and I will immediately report that I am really finishing second grade, my older brother is finishing fifth, little Brian just turned three, and gymnast Mary Lou Retton's Wheaties commercial and the Saturday morning cartoons are my favorite things.  At eight years old, I don't understand the song's lyrics, but I love its sound and George's soaring "I work! So haaaaaard! for youuuuuuuuuuu!"  ♪  Instant '85, that. 

"Last Christmas" is forever one of my favorite Christmastime songs.   When I called Mom last night and and told her of George Michael's death, one of her first comments was, "But that song!  It isn't Christmas until we hear that song every year!"  Just last week, while we were together for our early Christmas, it came on the radio while she was baking and I was wrapping presents, and in unison we called out to each other, "There it is!"  :)  ♫  "Once bitten and twice shy, " ♪ Angel-Voice sings.  "I keep my distance, but you still catch my eye.  Tell me, Baby, do you recognize me?  Well, it's been a year, it doesn't surprise me." ♫  Dear heartbroken George, but he's determined to live and learn and love again.  'Love this song.  ♫  "This year, to save me from tears, I'll give [my heart] to someone special." ♪  'Love, love, love this song.  

By the time I am devouring the Laura Ingalls Wilder book series and Laura's budding relationship with Almanzo in the fifth grade, I am more than ready for George Michael and Aretha Franklin's romantic duet, "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)."  It has been one of my top-five favorite songs since I first heard it on a cassette tape my mom bought me called "Hot Hits."  So many of the songs on that best-of album will be some of the 80s' greatest--"Mary's Prayer" by the group Danny Wilson,  "Don't Dream (It's Over)" by Crowded House, "Human" by Human League--but I rewind the tape over and over again to listen to George Michael and Aretha Franklin and vow that if I ever have a wedding, I want this song to be played at the party after.  This was something of which eleven-year-old Val is sure.  Watch and listen.  It will be one of the finest things to come out of the 80s, with too many great lyrics and perfectly-hit notes to recount here.  Pure joy, this song, start to finish.  It will be an anthem for me while I fall in love, while I recover from broken hearts, whenever I'm struggling my way out of bouts of depression, and whenever I just feel like belting out a song around the house.   Pure joy as George sings,  "I don't regret a single moment--Looking back--When I think of all those disappointments, I just laugh, I just laugh. . . ."  ♪   
And pure joy at George's sassy shimmy at Aretha around the two-minute-and-fifty-four-seconds mark of the video, because you just know he feels this song--he gets it--and because he and Aretha are so clearly enjoying and respecting each other's talents here too.  In interviews I find when older, I will read that singing with Aretha was a dream come true for him, so no wonder it shows in the song and video.  It all just glows with sweetness and triumph.  I love that this song exists, period.  

At a sleepover at my friend Apryl's house the next summer,  we laugh ourselves into hysterics when she tells me that her parents bought her George Michael's new album, Faith, but told her not to listen to it because they think one of the songs on it is too raunchy for kids.  "Then why did they buy it?!"  I shriek through my laughter, and "I know!" she shrieks back, and we giggle over that the rest of the night.  "Are you allowed to listen to anything on it?"  I ask.  (Because:  "Faith," "One More Try," "Monkey". .  .Come on, Apryl's Parents!  These are great songs!  [How can anyone listen to "Faith" and "Monkey" and not feel like dancing?  How can anyone listen to "One More Try" and not marvel at his voice?  That note around the three-minutes-and-twenty-three seconds mark!!])  But no.  They have bought it for her because they know she likes him and wants his new album, but she is not to listen to it.  That will still make me laugh twenty-nine years later.  We remain innocent enough in these final days of elementary school that hearing the song in question--even analyzing its lyrics, between more giggles and shrieks, of course--wouldn't mean anything to us.  And anyway, we don't listen to George Michael to decode lyrics.  He just makes good music.  We like listening to him sing.  We like watching him dance.  We like singing and dancing along with him.  
(The sexiness of both his trademark stubble and of his voice during every single "BAY-BEE!" of "Faith" don't register with me at age eleven, but a future Val will say in regard to both:  Hubba hubba.  :)  )    

Junior high, high school, and college are all marked by his beautiful Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.  His cover of Queen's "Somebody to Love" for a Freddie Mercury tribute concert in the 1990s is his voice and showmanship at their finest.  Both the rehearsal of the song and the performance itself are online, and both are powerful.  Watch the rehearsal and catch David Bowie listening, obviously impressed, at side-stage.  Delight, as I do, in Queen guitarist Brian May laughing with George after one-minute-and-forty-four-seconds.  Watch the show itself and enjoy both the high note seemingly-effortlessly reached at the four-minute mark and George's strut every time he turns toward the band between lines. 
"Waiting for That Day" is one of the gentle and bittersweet songs I can't help but keep torturing myself by listening to after my best friend Sommer's death, these last few months before high school graduation.  ♪  "My memory," George sings clear as a bell while I weep, "serves me far too well."  ♫  "Freedom" finds me in my early twenties dancing around my off-campus apartment as I finish packing while waiting for my parents to arrive to take me home at the end of a rough school year.  ♪  "Now I'm gonna get myself happy. . . ."  ♫  Yes, do that, George.  Let's all do that.  Because by the late 1990s, he is making the news more for tabloid-ey personal issues than for his music, which is a shame--"[It] was my own stupid fault, as usual" he famously acknowledges in an interview about one arrest--since he seems to have the type of sensitive but troubled personality that somehow finds him only ever hurting and sabotaging himself.  But his talent is pure, and he always seems like a goodhearted soul, and I always love him.  As part of a rare televised interview,  he shyly gives a brief tour of his garden and of a few rooms in his home, and it pleases me whenever I think of it after to imagine that maybe at this moment--or this Christmas--or this spring--George Michael is both healthy and happy in his idyllic English cottage-- 
--curled up with his dogs and a good book in one of these chairs by the fireplace--
--or beginning a new song at this old piano.
And it has been nice to imagine that.  He is one of my "80s people" with whom I'd have loved to have shared my finished memoir someday.  And I have to believe that he somehow already knows all this, even all about Mom and I with "Last Christmas" and Apryl's parents with her forbidden album-gift and our fits of giggles over itTonight I find myself still hoping, more than ever, that he is reveling in well-being and joy, and that he has finally found what seemed to be hard-fought-for peace.  I hold on to my mental picture of him sitting at his piano and see him safe and sound and singing a new song.   'Cause I gotta have faith, faith, faith. . . .

Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Favorite Night of the Year

The pastel heart, star, and tree cookies are now tradition, but the green gingham towel from Aunt Laurie and the pink gingham pot holder Mom made for me are new this year and at least as sweet.  Happy holidays and love to you all tonight. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Sallie Mae Pay-Off Cake (This Year's Best Accomplishment)

After sixteen and a half years making payments toward one of my student loans, I finally paid it off last Friday morning.  
And made myself a celebration cake to beat all prior celebration cakes.  :)  A glittering rainbow,  some shiny coins, a goodbye scroll, a few smiley faces, a bluebird of happiness?  OHHH YEAAAH, it's got it all.  :)
I first took out this student loan in the summer of 2000, a month or so before starting grad school at New York University.  That is so many lifetimes ago now, it seems, so all the better to have all the payments for it finally completed.  
Even with jobs, grants, and scholarships, the student loans were also always necessary for me throughout college and grad school, but the debt is quite a burden to carry, and as with everyone after a certain age, if I knew then what I know now and could redo it all, who's to say. . . .And I still have an insane amount of student loan debt, but let us celebrate today what we can, right.  Never again having to pen into my journal my new-and-improved Sallie Mae balance is an accomplishment. 
I have been keeping diaries and journals since I was nine, and while looking through some of my old ones late this summer, I soon grew tired of seeing how many times I'd written "My Sallie Mae balance is now down to $[whatever-amount]" or "Another payment today.  New balance:  $[whatever-new-amount]."  Blah blah blah, entry after entry, year after year. . . .When I was twenty-three. . .Thirty-three. . .Thirty-nine. . .Until I got sick of it late this summer and sat down with pen and paper to figure out how much I'd have to work to pay it off by the end of this year.  THIS year, finally.
I calculated my wages, my usual number of hours/week and hours/month, what overtime would maybe be available throughout the fall, and how much extra I'd need to do in order to make the final payment on this loan by New Year's Eve.  I came up with the number of extra hours I guessed I'd need to work--and I worked them.  And worked them, and worked them. . .days and nights, going back to work after just a few hours of sleep from the shift before, giving up days off to get a few more hours. . .the past three months. . . .And I ended up working only one hour more than I'd estimated that I'd need to and actually paying it off two weeks early, so all my estimates were spot-on.
I gave up what was to be my second visit to Boston, in October, for this.  I had already booked the flight and gotten the days off work but decided to be a grown up and do this instead.  'The  right thing to do, but I so wanted to be there in the fall. . . .It was to have been the weekend of David Ortiz's final game with the Red Sox and of an Oktoberfest-themed 5K race I'd intended to run.  My designated "Boston days" found me back at work here instead.  Life goes on, and I'll get back to Boston sometime, and now the loan is paid off. . . but the trip would have made for some sweet autumn memories. 
I made the final payment last Friday morning, hours after returning from a week of "merry early Christmas" with my family and set out for the grocery store for cake-baking and cake-decorating supplies soon after.  ♥  The cake was the classic Hershey Celebration Cake but with hot coffee and buttermilk replacing the hot water and milk per an Ina Garten recipe.  Candy-tape made the rainbow, I dolled up a few yellow gumballs for the smiley faces, the coins were easy to find with Hanukkah candy this time of year, and I crafted the bluebird and scroll out of homemade marshmallow fondant.  It is not the most prettily-frosted cake, but I was too tickled by the cause for celebration to care.  :)
And I called my dad--who had warned me in summer 2000 not to take out this loan in the first place, but I had just turned twenty-three so knew everything and didn't listen to him, of course--to tell him the good news. ♥ 
Stuffed was unimpressed and remained on his warm radiator-perch all afternoon.
I should have followed his lead, as it turns out, for I came down with the flu Friday evening and was sicker all weekend than I'd been since early 2012.  But until then:  happiness and cake!  :)
Even if fatigue ultimately caught up with me, I reached my goal and have kissed this debt goodbye.  And the fresh new journal I begin next month will be the first in almost seventeen years that won't mention it.  And the flu has now mellowed into a cold, and there are still two slices of cake in the fridge.  :)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Face of Christmas 2016 :)

When Niece Bianca, who is somehow now three years old, first saw my parents' Christmas tree decorated and with colorful bundles already under it--even before Santa's arrival, ooh! ah!--she immediately ran over to the gifts and tried to unwrap one.  My mom repeatedly redirected herThis one is is actually for So-and-So. . . .We only open our own presents. . . .You can open them when you come with your mommy and daddy on Christmas Day. . . .Awhile later, little B carried a present over to my dad and said, "Mimi"--my mom--"said I could open this."  :)  Dad was amused but not buying it and eventually was able to distract her with a book.  When Mom next returned to the living room, though, Bianca was caught in the act yet again, sitting under the tree holding her stuffed animal and trying to tear into a gift.  "My bear wants to open one!" she explained.  :)  Dear sweet little imp.  Look at that FACE.  :)   

Monday, December 5, 2016

Patchwork Walls with the Christmas Tree

It took a few days longer than anticipated, but I finished patching the walls Saturday afternoon and got the tree up yesterday afternoon.  I love both:  the walls turned out exactly as I'd envisioned and the tree is my favorite one yet.  A package from my mom arrived Saturday afternoon, so there even a few presents under the tree already--blocking certain curious cats, hopefully, from chewing on the tree's lower boughs. 
I'll add my set-aside framed pictures to the walls after Christmas when this becomes my writing corner.
Most of the mishmash of wall fabrics are from Mom and other loved ones.  The Old English Sheepdog sketch fabric was a gift from my friend Kent, the pink chenille was from my grandparents' house, the blue floral and the green gingham were from Mom, a few of the floral handkerchiefs were flea market finds from Mom, the long-stemmed pink roses-on-white fabric was a 69-cent pillowcase I found at Goodwill with Mom one of the last times I was home, the few small patches of coral roses were cut off an old sweatshirt from my rag bag. . . .Thus I used most of the fabric I'd had stored-away here--and a hearty "Yeaaaaa!" to that. 
As my fabric-supply dwindled, some of the patches had to be reconstructed in a way that was especially patched--
--but it all turned out as I'd wanted. 
The touches of green gingham on these tiny walls are across from the green gingham curtain I have dividing the kitchen and dining spaces and diagonal from the green hutch in the corner, and already this small apartment looks so much cozier and so much more tied-together as a result. 
The tree is a simple one, only four feet tall but up on a tray-table and decorated with some favorite ornaments.  Most everything on it is handmade and/or a gift from someone.  (And most ornaments are from Mom, it seems.)  The skirt is one of my tablecloths.  The angel tree-topper was made by friend Sommer's mom when I was eighteen.  I made my stocking, and I think Mike's was a gift from my younger brother.  Stuffed's stocking is one of the rare things I saw and just had to buy, but it was too perfect to pass up.  
He snuggled up with it again last night when I unpacked it from its box.  The green snowflake cookie ornament next to it was a gift from Mom, as was the Chickadee ornament below that she painted. 
The pastel green patchwork pear was from Mom too and is actually a pincushion. 
. . .Pale green ice skates from Mom,
glittery pink deer from Mom,
a sign from my friend Madai,
a dear and detailed ornament from Aunt Laurie of the Cratchit home from A Christmas Carol,
a pink snowflake cookie from Mom,
a salt dough ornament I made of Stuffed years ago,
another Chickadee mom gave me,
and a few ornaments I've found, like this snowy window from a thrift shop about ten years ago,
two $1 doves from Barnes and Noble I glued together and joined with a heart,
a simple gingerbread man from the $1 bin at Target,
and so many snowflakes and handmade salt dough hearts. 
The only ornaments that seem to be missing this year are the pink candy cane salt dough ornaments I made years ago.  I've found the yellow, blue, and green ones.  An afternoon spent watching a Christmas movie while twisting salt dough into candy canes would be lovely, though, so. . .one of these days.  Next is Christmas card-mailing, and the sewing of an in-joke ornament for my dad, and otherwise I'm all set until a few days before the holiday when I begin baking.  I finished my Christmas shopping November 29th.  I get a little more organized every year, and despite having worked so many hours of overtime the past three months, this really is the most on top of things I've ever been with all this.  'Am quite proud of that.  'A few weeks now, then, to slow down and just enjoy it all. . .to look up from a good book every few pages to admire the newly-patched walls, and to nap with Stuffed in front of the string lights.  Bliss.