New Music Wanted

OK, so last week I’m packing for a well-earned weekend away. I’d been working more than usual—which is a good thing—and I’d committed like two months ago to a women’s retreat in Virginia. You’d think that I’d want to get away, but the more I worked, the less I wanted to do what it takes to get myself the 5 ½ hours to and from (not so) world-famous Goshen, VA. Staying at home, in the dark, in my bed, all weekend was looking pretty good to me. I swear, I’m so anti-social.

Anyway, not only did I agree to still go on the trip, I wound up volunteering to be the driver of a mini-van packed with five other women and all their pillows, overnight bags, lemon-scented skin products, and sale-priced fiber bars. The group promised to be a good one—chatty girls, great personalities, me just aiming the wheel in the right direction—so I was happy about that. As it turns out, I would really rather drive than ride, mainly because insecure me would rather navigate I-495 around Washington in a 10-mile rush hour snarl than navigate a 5 hour long social event. So really, it took the pressure off and I was glad for that.

But the way I saw it, there was at least one big hitch: music. No matter the group, there’s always a lull in the conversation, and you need a crowd pleaser to fill the void. Hence, my problem. What music in the world pleases a crowd anymore, especially a crowd of six church-going Christian women of various ages? Maybe contemporary Christian music, but, to be honest, I don’t listen to it, so I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Connie, who was riding shotgun, listens to Christmas music year round. Flora wants her funeral dirge to be Aretha’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Eclectic? Oh boy.

Needless to say, I was kind of stumped. So I took the first step into what turned out to be a discouraging, “I’m so incredibly unhip” quagmire: I went to the record store at the mall. This, I know, is pitiful. If I was hip, I’d have an iPod loaded up with a thousand songs that I’d downloaded from iTunes—songs that are relevant and catchy and have been released within the last decade. But, no, I still buy CDs and call them records. And not only do I buy CDs but I’m drawn like a super-powered electromagnet to greatest hits, soundtracks, and corny compilation CDs, especially the corny compilation CDs that they play over the speaker while you shop at places like Pier One Imports then sell at the counter for your listening pleasure—like I want my car to simulate my Pier One shopping experience. Wait, let me correct myself—like I want my MINI-VAN to simulate my Pier One shopping experience. In case you weren’t watching, we just moved from pitiful to pathetic, yes?

So I came home from the FYE store with (get this) The Essential Monkees, Aretha Franklin’s Greatest Hits, and (going out on a Christian limb here) The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin. Then I scanned my CD shelves at home (there’s not that many of them, trust me) and compiled the most white bread music assortment of all time. Seriously, I even threw in Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. And I threw in the Time/Life Collection of the ’70’s for 1970, 1971, and 1972. I test ran Sgt. Pepper too, but, to be honest, I found the sex and drug references to be a little in-your-face this time around.

Gosh, I’m getting old.

Eventually, I landed on a live recording on Elvis’s 1972 Aloha concert, which opens with Thus Spake Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey and moves quickly into (I am not kidding you) Elvis channeling George Harrison with, “Something in the way she moves…” featuring the high-pitched, Star Trek-y “aah-aah-aah-ahhhh” girl in the background.

Oh my.

As it turns out, I loaned Elvis to another driver for the ride home. She said that before Elvis got to the end of “Suspicious Minds” she was going 85 miles an hour and breaking out in a little bit of a sweat. Ah, the power of Pantsuit Elvis.

So now that I’ve returned from my trip, I’m going to empty out the CD basket and put Mamma Mia, More Cowbell, and the Are We There Yet? driving collection from Hallmark back up on the shelf. I just ordered four new CDs from Amazon, featuring music I’ve never heard before from some artists that I’ve just become acquainted with. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think so. Between my Amazon Reward Points and the 5-9 day Super Saver shipping, I’m only paying $3.68 for everything. (Is bargain shopping good for my new image? I don’t know.) What I do know is that I just had a meeting cancelled, so not only did I have time to shop for music online, I’ll also have time today to go out and look at the Blackberry I’ve been contemplating. I may even teach myself to text.

Yes, world, Cheryl Scheir has arrived.

Or at least she will arrive, via U.S. mail, in the next 5-9 working days.

Pleasant surprises

The kids are just back to school after Spring Break, and, looking back, I’m astonished at the number of pleasant surprises that can happen in one week off.

First, the weather—temperatures in the ’80s for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. Just when I finally got both of my children outfitted in pants that fit, here comes the sweltering spring sunshine that makes you want to drag out your shorts. No matter. With our late winter wet down, the heat was a welcome change for me, and for my growing grass.

That’s another pleasant surprise—the growing, growing, growing. Growing kids are quite amazing. They report over 2 cm each, since Christmas!! No wonder they needed new clothes. Then there’s the growing flora all over my yard—it’s a joy! The bushes at the corner of my driveway have merged into one fuzzy, tentacled muppet of a thing—so crazy and enchanting! And another pleasant spring break surprise—the church I grew up in, where I visited yesterday, has grown to an astonishing size. What a pleasant surprise to be there with old faces and new, a new pastor, a fresh outlook, a super cool antique of a building with a new coat of paint. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but, again, I’ll take it.

Another surprise—the green of spring! And as I mowed down the new growth, inspiring yet more, I noticed that the once one square foot of ground cover under the bushes in my backyard has expanded to take up the entire end-to-end span of the back of my house, about 75 square feet! Perennial progress—a pleasant surprise! And as I surveyed the yard, I wondered, how many shades of green are there in nature? I count at least 2 in my yard, 3 on my bushes, and 3 or 4 more in the lawnscape outside where I’m writing. As I mowed the grass yesterday I noticed darks and light, color variations from new growth, my favorite blue greens to set off the tried and true forest greens.

Speaking of forest green, I was pleasantly surprised on my Spring Break excursion to my parents’ home in New Jersey, as I drove my husband and children to my high school alma mater, the school colors of which were (brace yourself) forest green and gold (Ugh!). All of us were bowled over by the amazing natural setting that I appreciated pretty much not at all back when I was a teenager. As we drove up the hill to approach the school, there were only trees all around, just budding with the first inkling of leaves. And my son said, “I want to go camping here!” I was retroactively thrilled to have had the opportunity to traverse such a beautiful space every day for so long. A long forgotten memory, pleasantly recalled.

On that NJ trip we made more pleasant discoveries—the crazy Fort Nonsense, built atop a steep hill as a fortification for the Continental Army; Jockey Hollow, home to some of George Washington’s troops, who slept 12 men to a cabin, through the worst winter of the 18th century; Ralston Park, a can’t miss community playground that Hayley spotted from the road, and wouldn’t let us forget until we stopped so she could play there.

There were other pleasant surprises last week: a clearing in my schedule that allowed me to make a long-desired visit to a sick friend; a quick stop at the Borders bookstore by the hospital where the $4 bargain bestsellers were practically throwing themselves into my handbag; clear breathing for the asthmatics in the group in a place that usually wheezes them out.

But the best surprise of all, the one we couldn’t have predicted in a million Spring Breaks, was the one that I must swear you to keep secret from my sister, Linda, whose birthday is coming up on May 1st. Linda, if you’re reading, stop now…or else I won’t give you the cupcake that we got for you from Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ, home of TV’s Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. Yes, we road tripped it to Hoboken, expecting to buy a cake at the bakery, and happened on the entire extended Valastro family selling half-price cupcakes out on the sidewalk. We had no idea it was the 1st Annual Cupcake Day at Carlo’s. We ended up on film. We signed release forms. We shook Buddy’s hand. My poor father held a cupcake in his kung-fu grip for almost an hour on the ride home. Let me tell you, though, it was the highlight to end all highlights.

Unless you count the guy that we saw getting arrested on our way into town. Now that was totally awesome.