There’s No Place Like Home

I disagree with Dorothy.

I disagree with Dorothy.

My family watched The Wizard of Oz recently. My sense of the movie has changed every time I’ve seen it, but one thing has always stayed the same:

… if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?

Oh hell, no! There’s a whole big wide world out there and it is full of things you can’t even imagine till you get your ass out of Kansas. You only get one shot to explore it. Life is a story that you write; it should be worth reading. Your back yard is just a little old back yard.

I have always needed to find out what’s on the other side of the rainbow. When I was Dorothy’s age, I filled a drawer with tour brochures requested out of the back of National Geographic. I took the first opportunity I found to get the hell out of Dodge, and to this day it doesn’ feel like travel if you don’t need a passport to get there. But I’ve never quite become fully nomadic. Some string has always pulled me back to a home base and sometimes I am reminded there’s a reason home base has always been Seattle.

I was walking my daughter to school, when I smelled the rich aroma of the Theo Chocolate Factory. Inhaling deeply, I thought, “Holy shit! I live down the street from a chocolate factory. No one lives down the street to from a chocolate factory except for Charlie Bucket.”


You know how you watch romantic comedies and think to yourself, “How does a single mother afford to renovate a fire house in the Haight?” or “Who actually lives in a floating house on Lake Union? There are only like a hundred of those.” The people in stories never have lives as prosaic as our own. If our lives are stories, they desperately need editing.

I remember telling myself a few years ago, “This is the part of the story where they say two sentences like ‘The next four years were dark for our heroine, and then one day…”

And then one day, I smelled chocolate in the morning and realized I had a life worthy of fiction.

Follow the polka dot road.

Follow the polka dot road.

A ship’s mast sailed past the kitchen window as Dee bid farewell to her preschooler, the dog, and the nanny. The ship itself, cruising through the canal from Puget Sound to Lake Union, was hidden from view. Dee left her tumble-down post-war cottage just as the sun was rising. Not that you could tell the sun was rising, because the cloud cover would give the sky the same Ansel Adams-gray cast all day. She walked her third-grader down their street with the polka dots painted down the middle. (Someone repainted them in the middle of the night every year in June; she had her ideas, but had never figured out who it was for certain.) They talked about Shakespeare. Third-grader X believed that all love stories ended with a marriage, but the two of them had press tickets to see Romeo et Juliette at the ballet. Dee was expected to write for a parents’ magazine about taking (ahem) “tweens” to the ballet, and she would rather not have to leave early with an eight-year old in tears.

You kiss by the book(let)

You kiss by the book(let) Romeo

The smell of chocolate cooking at the organic, fair-trade factory down the street filled the air as she explained the difference between the tragedy they would view next week, and the comedy they watched at the neighborhood brewery/theater at Christmas. The British-style pub hosted a panto every Christmas season. The cross-dressing fairy godmother and double-wedding ending from this year’s panto had been exactly suited to X’s taste.

British Panto at the neighborhood pub.

British Panto at the neighborhood pub.

Dee kissed X goodbye. She watched her little girl cross the street to school and walked to the corner to wait for the bus in the icy wind. It had only been a couple of weeks since New Year’s Eve fireworks over the lake had wakened the whole family, but she already couldn’t wait for summer. Then the neighborhood would close the streets to celebrate the Solstice with a parade in celebration of life and art. In honor of the sun (whether it showed or not) hundreds of belly dancers, dozens of body painted bicyclists, and everyone else in fairy wings, festival clothes, or birthday suits would march from the canal to Gasworks, the city park ornamented with the rusted sculptural remains of industrial process, where they would put on a pageant that Dee had never yet managed to attend. When you could see the origin of the parade route from your crumbling back deck, it hardly seemed worthwhile to walk all the way to the park for a show, especially with little kids in tow. Instead, they would join their neighbors for a block party with vegan burgers, drum circles, kegs from the brewery, and a cover band. The kids would play in the street and practice circus arts with the neighbor who juggles knives.

Kids have a ball at the festival. (Sorry)

Kids have a ball at the festival. (Sorry)

In my neighborhood, we celebrate Solstice by painting our bodies to look like storm troopers. What do you do?

In my neighborhood, we celebrate Solstice by painting our bodies to look like storm troopers. What do you do?

And for just a couple of days, Dee would forget all about the wide world and really believe that there’s no place like home.

Wherever I may roam...

Wherever I may roam…


There’s No Place Like Oz

20130113_194828When I watched Cinderella at Seattle Opera, I wished that I could see it through my child’s eyes. Soon after that, the whole family watched The Wizard of Oz. My opinion of the movie has changed with each viewing, evolving over time, as I have. This time I thought it would be fun to record the impressions of someone seeing it for the first time.

Here are the comments from my 8 year-old, with occasional responses from the rest of us, Mystery Science Theater-style. You know, except without the movie.


During the black and white scenes:

She’s supposed to be a little girl, but she’s as tall as the grownups.

Oh, I just love it when girls sing in movies!

[When Dorothy wakes up after getting conked on the head in the tornado] I thought she was sleeping in this part.

[Response from my 4 year-old] She’s dreaming.

Opinions were divided on the Lollipop League

Opinions were divided on the Lollipop League

Switch to color:

[4yo] Look! Fairies!

I like the soldier munchkins because they’re taller. The other munchkins are like babies.

[4yo response] I like the babies.

Ding Dong the witch is dead!

All that smoke is just to give the witch time to get off the stage.

He’s floppy.

Hey! It’s the woodman. I remember this movie now.

He’s sad because he doesn’t have a heart but you have to have a heart to be sad. And the scarecrow actually has brains..

[4yo] He does have a heart!

The witch!

They’re going the wrong way. [Dorothy and friends turn around] Good job!

She’s just picking Toto up by the collar.

Oooh! The cowardly lion! [This delivered with jazz hands]

[4yo] I scare myself – that’s silly!


Scoot over. I want to sit next to daddy.

She talks weird, “Poison.”

[Daddy leaves and returns with popcorn] Since I’m sitting next to daddy I get the most popcorn.

[Snow falls on the poppies] I didn’t read this in the books.

[Daddy responds] A little white powder will perk you right up!

Hey guys, the horse changes color!

[King of the Forest song] Haha – he doesn’t sing good.

That’s all that royalty does is dance.

What makes Dorothy Dorothy? Courage!

[4yo roars]

[The lion flees the wizard and jumps through a window] They’ll have to repair that.

That’s a lot of monkeys.

[4yo] They’re going for her ruby slippers.

She’s gonna die soon.

She died like a balloon.

She died like a balloon.

[The witch melts, “Oh you’ve destroyed my beautiful wickedness. What a whirl, what a whirl – my favorite line in the movie]

[4yo] She died like a balloon.

Omaha! Oz the great humbug!

[4yo] Poor Dorothy.

Back in Kansas:

Now I get it! He’s the tin man – and he’s the scarecrow,  and the lion, and that’s Oz!



Bonus –

Daddy’s favorite line in the movie:

Lion: I hope my strength holds out.

Scarecrow: I hope your tail holds out.

Opera for Kids: Heron and the Salmon Girl

At the end of my rant about holding on to my own aesthetic standards in the face of a sanitized kid-friendly worldview, I gave opera as an example of music that really didn’t work for kids. I ate my words at Seattle Opera’s performance of La Cenerentola, a Cinderella story that both of my daughters would have enjoyed completely. About the same time, I won a Twitter contest for tickets to see Heron and the Salmon Girl.

My argument against kids’ music had been that parents deserve good art even while preoccupied with child care. Heron and the Salmon Girl opened a whole other dimension to the issue, reminding me that not only do kids deserve good art, too, but the world needs kids to know and love good art if good art is to survive. Introducing the performance, the announcer referred to the performers in the Seattle Youth Symphony as “another endangered species.”

A picture of the set, taken from Seattle Opera's FB page because of technical difficulties related to my cell phone.

A picture of the set, taken from Seattle Opera’s FB page because of technical difficulties related to my cell phone.

I’ve commented before about what counts as “young” in the opera world, and at my day job in county government, we are always talking about “succession planning,” because the average age of our workforce is close to the average age of retirement. Young people cannot love music they are not exposed to, and if they don’t love classical music, they will not learn to play it. Arguably the highest expression of Western culture, classical music could become endangered. It’s painfully obvious that art forms cannot survive if they are not passed down through generations, but part of the cost of our helicopter parenting culture is that the obvious is overlooked. We are so busy guarding our kids against things they’re not ready for that we forget to prepare them for anything.

Heron and the Salmon Girl is part of a program to bring the next generation into the classical fold; a partnership that includes Seattle Opera, Seattle Youth Symphony, and The Nature Conservancy formed to create a new opera, rooted in the environment and native cultures of the Pacific Northwest, and utilizing the talents and energy of young musicians in the region. The three parts of the Our Earth cycle are debuted separately over the course of the year, essentially creating a youth opera season. Performances are held throughout the region, and can even be arranged in individual schools.

In February I attended the premier of the first part, Heron and the Salmon Girl, at Town Hall with my four year-old, Little A. The performance began with the Seattle Youth Symphony performing two pieces by Wagner. I’m not a fan of Wagner, but I know that his music is considered technically challenging. The Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra organization is one of the best in the country (according to their website, but I’m inclined to believe them because I’ve suffered through some painful high school orchestra performances, and this was nothing like them). Although their skill assuaged some of my newly-raised fears for the future of orchestra, the children in the audience (Little A opted to nap on my lap) were a reminder that this kind of music is as challenging to the listener as the artist. Rare is the child who will be instantly captivated by this music – if you have one of them, get them an instrument and find a teacher immediately!

Adina Aaron, who has already built a reputation in the role of Aida, provided a visual focus that helped settle some of the restless little ones – at least for a while. I’m not as familiar with Aida as I should be, but Aaron’s voice had the deep resonance that I tend to associate with mezzo-soprano roles like Carmen. Despite the gravitas of the music, Aaron was very emotive. It was delightful to be so close to the stage in a smaller venue where I could see more expression and body language than I usually get up in the cheap seats.

Who knew Orca was such a pest?

Who knew Orca was such a pest? (Photo from Seattle Opera’s Facebook page)

After a much needed intermission – an hour is a long time for a four year-old to sit still and listen – we got to see the opera. It was truly an opera for kids. The natural and cultural histories behind the piece were explained before the music started, and the audience learned a few key words in Lushootseed, which made me think how cool it be to see an opera for adults in Lushootseed. The libretto was in English. Although the earnestness was a little too much at times (How could it not be? It’s an opera in Seattle about the environment. Triple threat sincerity!)there was a lot of humor, too, and the humor was pitch-perfect (sorry) for the audience. I would never have thought to characterize Orca as an overenthusiastic Rintoo type pest.

If you want a kid to eat a vegetable, have them grow it themselves. Occasionally, children appear in operas as extras, or as in La Bohéme, sing one line. But Heron and the Salmon Girl includes an entire chorus of kids who sing as ocean waves, river currents, and salmon fry. When the wave chorus rolled down the aisles it really caught Little A’s attention! Kids in the audience really do connect best when kids are on the stage, and the opportunity to actually perform as part of an opera is sure to give young performers a much stronger bond with the art form than anything else could.

The next event in the Our Earth series takes place on Earth Day. Here are the details:

April 20, 12 – 4 pm: Earth Day Celebration with Our Earth performances

What: Premiere of Rushing Upriver, the second opera in the Our Earth cycle, and an encore performance of Heron and the Salmon Girl
Where: Fisher Pavilion, Seattle Center

Tickets: Free

Stevens Passages: A Sick Ride

A Bad Beginning

A Bad Beginning

Family ski day number three got off to an inauspicious start. The grownups stayed up too late and drank too much wine the night before, so we were running late before we started. Because I’m not a morning person, I always tweet a picture of the sunrise on the way up the mountain – I want to document every one of those I see. Usually, I take that picture from inside the car soon after we pass Sultan. It’s about the last place that a tweet will go before I lose connectivity until we get to Stevens. This time we were in the parking lot of the coffee shop in Sultan. I fumbled my phone and it landed face down on the asphalt. I tried to brush it off. Material objects shouldn’t keep us from enjoying real life activities, even when it’s a two month old Samsung SIII that you got for your birthday.

We got to Stevens and the cold dry air made me cough. But why was the cough wet? The XX was nervous about her snowboard class, and dealing with it by behaving, as they used to say, like a pill. We dropped Little A at ski school and took two warm up runs on Daisy. The Daddy and I were trying to help XX with her toe side turn, and she was afraid to try it, so it took an hour to get those two runs in. We dropped her at ski school and moved over to Hogsback.

Sunrise on Hwy 2, photographed with a broken phone

Sunrise on Hwy 2, photographed with a broken phone

I wasn’t sure if I was hung over, just tired, or bummed about the phone, but I wasn’t feeling it. After one run on Hogsback that should have been great – soft groomed snow, not too crowded, sun peeking through the clouds – we cruised by the ski school to check on Little A. Her class was not using the magic carpet. She was hiking up the hill and having a hard time because her gloves were too big and she couldn’t hold onto her poles.

Another run on Hogsback. This time we went down the other side of the lift. This route was much better than the one I’m used to. Not quite as narrow in the narrow places, it was about the same steepness in the steep places, but in those steep places, the snow was not as choppy. It was perfect Gemma conditions. Until I fell face down and slammed my knee. Even with the fall, it was a good run. I should have been having fun.

By the time I got to the bottom, I was feeling achy and sick. It wasn’t hangover or sleep deprivation, it was virus. I headed inside and got a mocha, hoping a little extra caffeine would power me through two more runs so I could call the day a success. By the time I finished my coffee there was time for one run, but I still felt crappy and it was Superbowl Sunday, so I just went upstairs and put my name on the list for a table for lunch.

They were out of veggie burgers. Fine, I was kind of nauseated anyway. After lunch there were two hours to kill before XX got out of class. We checked the shop for gloves that would fit Little A but there was nothing small enough. The Daddy went out to get a few decent runs in while I put my head down on a picnic table and Little A climbed on me. Eventually I got too cold so we wandered over to the fire pit. Then back to the ski school. Then the fire pit. And so on until XX got out of class.

We watched her slide down to the lift without turning. She stepped out of her board and walked back to us. As soon as she got close enough, she started crying. The boys in her class were mean and her finger hurt. She took off her glove and showed us a puss-filled, swollen digit that could not have gotten that gross in the four hours since we’d seen her last. She had no memory of cutting or scratching her finger and thought she might have noticed swelling three or four days ago.

Tired and dejected, and trying not to snap at each other, we headed back to the car where everyone except the Daddy promptly fell asleep. You can’t win’em all.