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(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

All this dog walking we’ve been doing lately is a great way to slow down and really see the neighborhood where we live. When my daughter and I first started walking our little pack of three, her puppy, Patches, garnered much of our attention. Not sure how often I really noticed the surroundings. But now that he’s about to turn five months’ old, we’re all settling into routines. That leaves more time for us to pay attention to more than just the dogs.

We tend to amble around without a pattern, especially to keep the puppy from thinking he knows where we are going. Why should he be any different than we are? Even if we choose to walk the dogs to a specific place in order to complete an errand, we don’t often choose the same path. We set off on an “expotition”—in the words of Winnie the Pooh and friends.

I love living in an older neighborhood laid out in a grid. Every block as well as every house on that block is different. Not only that but properties range from very well kept-up to, well, not kept-up at all. That’s just the potluck of living in a town developed one house or a few at a time, mostly before most people thought about master planning communities. If you know anything about me, you know I think potluck=you take what you get—and that’s most often a good thing.

Each walk we take leads us to discover another house that surprises us in some way—a bold color combination, a unique original style, or a creative response to adding space to a home built before most homeowners expected more than 1,000 square feet to satisfy their needs. People can mock our town as a “hood” all they want, but some real jewels add sparkle to the neighborhoods, either in traditional ways or “would have never thought of that” ways.

Part of why walking around these spaces feels like home to me is because so many of my nearby streets remind me of the small town where I often explored streets on foot and/or wheels or the one where I did so with my cousins when I visited my grandparents. Those were streets where real people lived and where putting on airs and “keeping up with the Joneses” was the stuff of seeing who could get wet laundry out to dry on the line earliest and whose flowers and produce might do best at the county fair. These were not homes where people thought spending money in showy ways was clever, but rather that thrifty living and taking a creative—and wise—approach to making do was how the clever amongst them had survived the Great Depression.

Most people who live in the homes in my town either do not have the means to spend in big ways or still believe in the value of a dollar taught to us by previous generations. We choose to live here in this old school place with its old school values because we want to do so—even if that means putting up with not everything around us being just so.

And during these now-hot days of August, I especially appreciate the opportunity to drink in the kind of growth that comes from my neighbors’ diligent attention to tending their colorful flowers. At the same time, I also notice the kind of growth that comes from ignoring weeds—something that will eventually be handled through encounters with city code enforcement officials.

Potluck—that’s what we get here, without the tightly held parameters of HOA control and without the sameness of master planning. These daily walks of late remind me just how much the ordinary as well as extraordinary that surrounds me and my humble abode satisfies my hunger for beauty. Not every dish is pleasing, but the overwhelming bounty and variety at the table provide just the sustenance I need to fill me up.

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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Took the long way home last weekend. I, for one, think of the place where I grew to adulthood as my hometown and that’s exactly where I was headed—for a 35th year high school reunion.

But I think memories from our early childhood days really are our homes—especially those from the years from which only fuzzy images and other sensory traces remain. The smells of burning leaves, the crunch of the snow under our boots, the vivid colors from tulips that came out in time for last day teacher thank-you gifts, the flashes of electricity that danced across the walls on hot summer evenings, and all the other tactile encounters, pictures, smells, sounds, and tastes that were first part of informing us what the world was.

Whenever I leave behind the city and its suburbs (and now exurbs) and travel east toward what used to be home, I feel an almost primeval relief as the sky opens up. On the way to that hometown get-together, I met with friends to visit another friend at her ranch. As we drove those roads less traveled, that feeling of relief increased as I journeyed deeper into memories I cannot even access but the sensations were oh-so-familiar.

When you grow up in the middle of nowhere, you spend a lot of time driving—either to another spot in the middle of nowhere or to somewhere where you can buy goods you can’t buy at home or where you can do activities not available where you live. Unless weather kept us from the roads, my family and I were often busy going from here to there, more often than not riding roads that were not graded but instead followed the natural contours, my stomach dropping as we swooped from each hilltop to valley and back again.

I got to experience that feeling again once my friend turned her minivan (with us three now city-slickers) onto the one-lane road that stretched north across now-flat, now-rolling terrain. As the car aimed to climb the first hill, I realized the images of hills in my dreams are not some made-up generic picture, but a conglomeration of the hills my family used to drive in my earliest years. The graded and tamed hills of town and city have obscured what I first knew.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

This is what I knew: a land of sky and grass and herds of horses and cattle. A space where hawks sat on fence posts while flocks of birds took to flight and various other types of wildlife moved along the periphery of the bubble of our car. I may have grown up a town girl but in a town nestled in the country and arranged around agriculture, not industry.

Childhood as I knew it ended the summer I turned ten when we moved from what I had considered small town paradise to a close-by but larger town. I could no longer ride my bike to the pool or roam the countryside alone for hours or walk either downtown or to the shopping mall where my father now worked. The nearly treeless lawns in our newer neighborhood made me ache for the established leafy maple trees that framed the early 20th century house I had called home for most of my memories. The paved roads stretched flat in every direction—there were no hills to make me wonder if my bike and I could reach the top or gravel roads to ride on school buses while going home to stay with friends who lived in the country. Many of my toys never made it out of the moving boxes. That new town became my hometown at an age when the magic of childhood was waning.

For me—no matter that I experienced all four seasons—childhood in my early town will always be the green, green days of summer when the hours stretched with nothing better to do but splash in the cool wetness provided by the hose or explore the almost cold creek (“crick”) or sit behind our Kool-Aid stand (for which customers??!!) with its sugary sweet smells or pedal that banana-seat Schwinn out onto the not often stationary gravel.

And yet it didn’t have to be summer for me to read—which I did with a passion. Town kid that I was, I devoured every horse book—fiction and nonfiction—I could find in the little local library or that I could con my mom into ordering from the colorful newsprint paperback book orders the teacher dropped onto my desk every month or so. Sure I read of racing horses and London town horses but I preferred tales of horses that roamed in hills that looked more similar to those around my town.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

So it came to pass that this small reunion that I got to experience was much more than a chance to talk and laugh and renew friendships with people whom I have missed for too long. No, “meanwhile back at the ranch,” as we made certain to say frequently, I had a reunion with the child I was—as well as the one I wished I was.

Not only has this summer been green at a level not too often duplicated—and the lands that sit on a sweet spot over the massive Ogallala Aquifer are especially green this year—but I also got to return to hills similar to those in my dreams and to achieve proximity to horses in a manner that had only happened in my dreams.

Urban woman I still am and still want to remain, but, please—no apologies for the early morning sun that streamed into the windows of the room where I lay sleeping. I had a room with a view—of fields gilded with dawn—and of the country girl who is also very much a part of me—even after all these years.

I’m so in each moment these days that it feels a little bit unnerving. All those thoughts that usually overrun my head have gone a bit silent. Even with all the divisive news of recent weeks, I have my strong opinions but not so much that I have big words I can follow down the rabbit holes. Don’t know whether to try to stir up my thoughts on my own or to take this fallow period as a time of rest and underground growth.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert


So my moments are often filled with activities such as dog walks—lots of dog walks since our daughter got her puppy about five weeks ago. Of course, if we’re available when she is walking her puppy, we ought to walk our own dogs, right? Walk we do—this street and that street—serpentine if you will to keep that puppy from thinking he’s in charge and knows where we are going. I see raindrops on blooms, flowers gone bold in this oddly wet growing season, new paint colors on houses, as well as nighttime light from porches and the bluish glow coming from large screens inside.

What is different about those walks from when we walked our dogs before is that we no longer walk in partial anonymity. The puppy draws attention to our little group—despite having lived in our neighborhood for decades, we are meeting people old and new as never before. Perhaps the constant human connection and conversations ground me more into the here and now than previously when I so often could escape into my head?

Beyond walking dogs, most days we also visit my husband’s mother as she rehabilitates from a fracture that led to a partial hip replacement. The puppy comes, too—with or without our daughter—since he is one of the few bright spots in the sameness of my mother-in-law’s days where she is a little too in the moment. The little superstar works her into thinking about what’s good about being able to sit still with a puppy at your side. And on his way in and out of the residence, he brings smiles to staff, other residents, and visitors alike. Although he is an amateur at therapy, he is an expert at causing people to pause.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Life is change—whether it’s a daughter finishing college and trying to find her way or a long-lived person encountering a body that no longer does as she bids or a society debating whether or not to keep traditions. Maybe at times of great change what we most need is a pause.

Although my mind is not much used to pausing, perhaps this little break is just what it needs to figure out what comes next. What better than a puppy (and its paws) to make play from a pause button?

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

“Puppy, puppy, puppy”—that’s what my husband Sherman used to say to me when I was waiting for my puppy to get old enough to come home to live with us. I had puppy fever bad. As an adult I had never had a puppy right from its early weeks away from its mama. Not too long after my own mama died in a pretty horrible way, so did my dog. I’d had it with old age and illness. I needed youth to renew me—or at least that’s how it felt.

Now that four years have passed since our puppy came to us, I still know that getting a puppy was what most helped me through the healing days. Yes, taking care of that puppy and raising him was hard and took a lot of energy, but loving him put my focus on growth and rebirth—and fun and joy.

Nothing like being around a puppy for helping you to see that the world is pretty exciting—even if you don’t quite agree with the puppy on what exactly is so exciting. Morning! Breakfast! People! Grass! Sticks!

So here we are with a puppy in our home again, but it isn’t really ours. We’re not up with it in the night or cleaning up most of the messes—unless we offer to be on puppy duty. Yes, our daughter just graduated from college but she’s been waiting over six years to get her own dog. This is no post-graduate whim for her.

To everyone who thinks it’s crazy to get a puppy when you’re looking for that first career job and hoping to move out on your own (again), I just have to say that the healing power of puppies can be worth a lot of the cost (time and money) involved. It’s a big transition to finish school and come home again, but now she has bigger motivation for moving on to what comes next.

The puppy has her keeping a daily schedule and requires her to plan ahead for how she’s going to complete her obligations. She is taking two computer skill-based classes at the community college to round out her abilities and has to figure out how to get that work done on deadline without the puppy eating up our house or doing unsafe things. She borrowed a pen so that we could all work on getting her moved back in—not an easy task when someone’s been living in an apartment for four years—and she could start on her class work. The puppy’s own pen should arrive any day, even if he hasn’t yet demonstrated any affection yet for not being the center of attention.

She is also training him to use a crate and taking him on frequent walks to prepare him for the likely day he becomes an apartment-dweller. She also sees how good it is to be able to work him through his often noisy protests to boundaries now while she doesn’t yet have neighbors that live just a wall away.

The puppy is in his own way training her to develop a routine while filling her heart during these early days when her former social structure has so recently ended. Nothing like the full-out run of the little tyke as he races to see her when she comes home from her evening class.

The first week with a puppy here again has been chaotic but rewarding. He is a quick little learner, especially thanks to our daughter’s commitment to creating consistent boundaries—despite how adorable he is and despite how exhausting every waking (and interrupted sleeping!) minute is. She is in this for the long term—and it shows.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

The puppy, puppy, puppy has come to stay at our house and I think he will likely turn out to be what inspires her to figure out just what comes next in her post-grad journey. She has dog food to buy—and someone who already knows she won’t let him down, even if he’s not going to like her spending less time with him.

For some of us, when life gets hard, we get a puppy—and somehow everything else seems easier.

(c) 2015 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2015 Sherman Lambert

This May has seemed too busy to be thinking much about the future. Not only was our daughter graduating from college, but she was also putting together a solo art show. My husband spending time with her setting up the exhibit. Check. Our going up for the opening. Check. Getting the house ready (enough) for our graduation visitors and picking them up and spending the day before graduation away from the festivities. Check. Meeting up with our daughter and then watching her graduate before going out for a celebration dinner. Check. Spending the night at a motel and then celebrating some more with her before coming back to our home with our guests. Check. Day of local sight-seeing with guests before taking them to airport. Check. Getting a cold. Check?

Busy times for sure, all in the midst of Mother Nature’s deciding we need a cool, rainy (and snowy if you count Mother’s Day) May as we haven’t seen for a few years. In fact, the road trips to and from the art show opening were so ridiculous that I was starting to expect encounters with the Cyclops, Sirens, and a few other Odyssean-type characters. Luckily graduation weekend weather was less dramatic, although we were told we had just missed the biggest hailstorm of the past 30 years in Estes Park, the location where we spent the night before graduation. Nonetheless, all this “weather” does mean I don’t have to rush to get my plants in the ground—which is good because I haven’t had time to do so anyway.

So many people have asked us, “She’s graduating already?” Sort of funny since she has been in college for five years—and since she had 122 credits last May, but still had 11 remaining required credits that would take her two consecutive semesters and without having a summer option available. Sigh—but this isn’t the post about the systemic problems that led to an extra year of college. This, however, is the post about what’s next.

Not sure in the long term, but in the short term she’s taking two “practical” courses at the local community college this summer to shore up her graphic design skills and to add website design to what she can do. She’s applying for jobs in the usual ways, plus through connections of mine, she has some future visits at a nearby large logo-based sportswear company and a local art gallery. She’s selling embellished baby shoes and getting contracts for custom designs on adult shoes. Also—and this is a really big deal—the quality and quantity of the work at her solo show recently brought her toughest college professor to tears. Her arts entrepreneurship professor critiqued her website and stated that, of all the visual artists the woman has taught, so far she is the one most poised for commercial success, thanks to her versatility. While the “world” is telling our daughter a BFA in studio art is crazy, she’s receiving very positive feedback that shows she does have the ability to at least supplement her income, and possibly create her income herself, by making art.

For now this likely means she’ll be back home with us for awhile while she figures out just how she is going to support herself—which is not so different from other recent college graduates, especially in the metro-Denver area where the most recently reported rent rates are averaging around $1200 monthly.

We haven’t even helped her move home yet but she’s here now. After a couple nights of decent sleep, she goes back to her college home to begin packing up her goods that somehow we are going to have to squeeze back into this house. Of course, we will all have to deal with more than “stuff” when she returns—as we learn how to be a four-person household again and as she learns how to live under our roof again after being on her own—and we all learn what it means to live together when everyone here is an adult.

As a family, we’ve reached a crossroads. The road signs don’t really provide a clear direction for which way she should turn in order to discover the best way to be able to leave for good. But no doubt about it, she is finally on her own way—even if she doesn’t know—yet—where she’s going.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert  Hummingbird Moth seen among the flowers at O'Toole's

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert
Hummingbird Moth seen among the flowers at O’Toole’s

Mother’s Day has come and gone and that makes me think of . . . planting flowers. Here in the metro Denver area of Colorado, gardening experts warn us not to put annuals in the ground until after Mother’s Day—which is really good advice. This year that day dawned with about six inches of snow blanketing my lawn. Much as I love my local garden centers, I’d rather support them by purchasing plants that live. And so I wait, but not very patiently.

For me, searching for seasonal colors in a place that only sells plants and trees and soil and the like is worth the extra pennies. I know I can usually find plants for cheaper at big box stores, but the quality and experience is nowhere near the same as that in a garden center—plus I really don’t want to contribute to the demise of this type of business so near and dear to my heart.

I most definitely work to support local businesses by patronizing them and by sharing my good encounters with others. However, I am only one person so I also love seeing that other businesses such as Good Monster—which creates engaging customer experiences through digital marketing—support the cause by helping the types of local businesses, such as those I mention here, build and maintain customer awareness. I want others to share in the joy I experience, but I also, selfishly, want to keep the businesses I enjoy in business. Yes, I have ulterior motives, but I also believe that others—small business owners and other customers—benefit from our support of  unique businesses and how those businesses add to local economies (and beyond) while fostering a more creative business climate for all.

And thus, my first plant-buying expedition of the season takes me to a small family-owned nursery that, despite all the development built-up around it, has more land than I ever imagined. Bonsai Nursery Inc. (Englewood) offers so many more plant options than the casual gardener I am needs. Other than providing my yard with two dwarf conifer trees and a (gift) rosebush, Bonsai mostly serves as the place where I go in order to bring home the splash and easy-care of annual plants for my containers and built-in beds.

But what splash those flowers have brought my yard over the years. Bonsai is a quiet sanctuary where I can arrive on a weekday and take my time moving back and forth between flats of plants while visualizing and dreaming. I do not buy the colorful pre-made hanging baskets—I come here to create for myself. Which palettes do I want to honor this year for each of my various containers and which of the available plants will work best together? If I pause too long, often one of the owners shouts across the space to find out if I need help. He can answer what conditions work for certain plants or when he will be getting another truckload of which plants and talk about how the current season’s conditions are affecting what is available and which plants are thriving. Not only do I get experienced guidance on the flowers and conditions, but also on fertilizers and soils and maintenance—all served up with humor from the various family members. They may not remember me personally but they most definitely do remember those who return season after season for larger purchases I can only covet. Though I wish I could spend even more there, I always spend more than I should.

My next stop on my plant-buying tour—usually a few days later—is at the closest of three metro Denver stores. The experience at O’Toole’s Garden Center (Littleton) could not be more different. Even early on a weekday May morning, the parking lot is full. I park as far away as I can to avoid all the crazy shoppers who just can’t seem to buy enough plants—once again I envy their budgets. In through the store and out to the plant patio and the land beyond, we shoppers negotiate our carts between aisles packed with almost-overwhelming options. The ever patient plant specialists working amongst the plants provide solid advice as we line up for their expertise on plants as well as for their knowledge of where the newest shipments are on site. Off to the side and across the back we can find more, more, more—maybe the hidden plants at the back corner will be even more vibrant than those on close display—the hunt in O’Toole’s can take me hours as I—and many others—waver between this and that option. All the while lively music (from the younger days of many of the shoppers) plays over the loud system—plant-buying at O’Toole’s is a party, not a solitary experience. We whisper admissions of guilt to one another about how we are just too tempted to behave properly with our purchases. Non-gardening family members enter into this pleasure palace at their own risk.

I admit I still pick up a plant or two at the big box centers—but only to round out what I have not found elsewhere. For pure magic and possibility, only garden centers provide. As I write this—full well knowing my schedule is too busy yet for my seasonal return to the garden (centers)—I am already seeing, smelling, and touching those beautiful plants that will fill my heart again this season—even those flowers I only visit in passing on the journey to finding those that will come home with me to brighten up our humble spaces.

Thanks to my local garden centers, paradise awaits.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

My dogs have watched the old morning glory vine with fascination, ever since they figured out the sounds and smells they detected come from birds—clever birds that hid the nest behind a tangle of old vines. Even I can’t see any birds if I look from the side closest to the door.

Each year, at least one pair of finches graces our lawn with songs from the clothesline or trellis or wires strung above our yard, although some years we never discover where they build their nests. Most of the years they choose well, although there have been a few disasters, such as the time they built a nest on loose wood that moved with the winds or low in a trellis that our former English Springer Spaniel could head butt.

The current two spaniels normally let birds flit and flutter around the yard unimpeded, but the constant sounds coming from that hidden nest seem just too tempting for them to ignore. Sam stands on two paws, sniffing with delight in the general direction, while Furgus settles in the grass watching.

I am not comfortable with supporting this habit—circle of life or not. My dogs have a healthy diet of quality (read: expensive) prepared food and also con us out of table scraps from time to time. Their health does not depend upon eating little birds. Any time they get too obsessed and I can’t distract them from their subjects of interest, I bring them in.

Today, as I looked out the window (currently screen-less in order to aid in our own bird-watching views) I saw both Mr. and Mrs. Finch hovering, almost hummingbird-like around the nest. Usually they take turns visiting and feeding their squeaky little offspring. One would dance toward the nest and fly back and then the other would swoop in. But today, little flutters of wings answered in response from the nest.

Suddenly I realized those formerly fuzzy-headed and barely covered little birds, now seem feathered-out, so to speak. It’s almost time. Wow, that was quick. Wasn’t it just one of the most recent cold snaps (with snow!) when they broke out of their shells? These little finches seem destined to take the most important steps (flights) of their journeys during Colorado’s flakiest spring weather days.

On this cool and rainy morning, those birds are getting ready to fly away from the nest.

What a metaphor the finch babies give me this day when we will soon attend our daughter’s solo art exhibit opening. Next week she graduates from college, but this week she shares a tangible view into the work from her hands, mind, and heart. Our baby is getting ready to fly and we are so proud of not only how well she has developed and strengthened the talent with which she seems to have been born, but also how she persevered through many dark and stormy days—and yet still is seeking flight—just like the finch babies outside on our porch.

No wonder the songs of Mr. and Mrs. Finch resonate outside my window and fill the yard with such joyful noise.

Though our yard hosts hazards such as spaniels and the occasional visiting cat or hawk, the Finches still sing with the joy of what comes next. The babies in the nest are safer from outside threats, but if they stayed, they would soon wither from lack of movement—and they’d never know what it’s like to soar—a glorious feeling despite all the risks.

Fly, little birdies, fly—the world is waiting for you, too, to fill your surroundings with your own joyful noises.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

We loiter in winter while it is already spring.
Henry David Thoreau

There’s a whole new season out there—America’s sport opened yesterday with hearty shouts of “Play ball!”, the grass is way more than knee-high to the already jumping grasshoppers, Mr. and Mrs. Finch have built a nest under our patio roof, the dandelions are shining like the sun, and the most recent snow didn’t even stay on the ground a whole day—well, in most spaces.

Easter Sunday, after singing two church services (the finale of a song-filled Holy Week that began with a Saturday all day rehearsal, followed by Palm Sunday service, the two-hour Bach St. John Passion service, a Wednesday choir practice, plus Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services), I was ready for what seemed more like a long winter’s nap than spending time outside in the midst of earth’s rebirth. But with what turned out to be just a short spring fling with sleep, I was ready to experience the great outdoors I had been so missing with all that indoor singing.

My husband Sherman and our dogs Furgus and Sam were just as willing as I was to get back at moving under the big blue sky with which we were blessed on Easter.

Just a few minutes into our hiking climb up the Hogback, I realized how early in this season it still was. Yes, it was warm enough that I needed to keep an eye and ear for rattlesnake activity, but my breathing told me I hadn’t been climbing for several months. Apparently the large (to me) hills I run in my neighborhood as well as riding a chair lift up a mountain in order to ski down have not kept my lungs in anything like the hiking form I soon hope to regain. Another excuse to pause and admire the view stretching below, right? Worked for me and Sherman (though he already has been climbing on his mountain bike) even if the dogs would rather we pushed the limits from the start versus eased into the season.

By the time we descended to terra more firma, we sported evidence of both sun and dirt, morphing our winter skin into brand new shades. And speaking of brand new shades, the warmth of the new season seemed to have ushered in the return of the full moon, thanks to a cyclist-gone-commando who felt no need to hurry into his post-riding shorts. Yes, it is most certainly springtime next to the Rockies.

Transformations are happening in our home, too—though we prefer a more modest (and appropriate) approach style-wise. Our daughter is graduating from college next month. She and I are both looking for work—in many ways it seems as if finding that first post-college career job is a lot like finding one as a returning job seeker. The world wants to see both levels as stuck in the winter of our recent pasts and yet we are primed for the rapid greening that comes with spring.

Oh yes, the seasons are changing—outside and inside this house. Let us not loiter too long in winter when it is already spring—each step we take brings us closer to the growth and eventual fitness that comes with moving upward and outward into the world.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

When I took the Strong Interest Inventory about 20 years ago, some of the results indicated I might like to work in a church. Since I didn’t feel any calling in that direction and since I also like my weekends free from job-related tasks, I eventually put the suggestion down to a cultural bias. Just because I answered as a person of faith doesn’t mean faith-based work was my vocation. Perhaps I am just called to think and act as a person of faith in other professions/work settings. Nonetheless, I’m betting it was my “I like singing hymns” response that most directed that particular result.

But, hey, I do like singing hymns. In past centuries much of the best music was written for the Church and I’m into singing good music. Beyond that, though, part of why I am musical is because I was raised in a strong German-American family. The German-Americans where I’m from had traditions such as playing instruments together in family bands and meeting up often to sing—which included singing many of the hymns that came from the German chorales.

Even as teens and young adults in the 70s and 80s, my cousins and I had great fun doing this. It never occurred to us just how nerdy our singing hymns might appear to the general population. However, we didn’t sing just hymns—I remember singing songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” or pieces from musicals such as Pippin—but we always sang in at least 4-part harmony. The youngest cousins started as page-turners for my mom’s piano playing, learning from the bench before they were old enough to join in. When we reunited in song at Mom’s and an uncle’s services, it was as if we were doing what we had always done but with cousins moving into the places of director and accompanist.

My own music lessons began with piano and clarinet, but picked up vocally when we moved to a new town when I turned 10. With our family back in a Lutheran church again, Mom began to teach my brother and me—Sunday service after Sunday service—how to read and sing harmony from the liturgy and the hymns. So much of what I know about choral singing comes from first honing my sight-reading skills while singing hymns. Hymns have also helped me practice singing almost weekly since 1972, even during years when I do not participate in a choir.

Thanks to Mom, I always had an opportunity to sing while growing up, whether at home, in church, or through some group she was directing for my brother and me and our friends. Of course I also sang at school, but only through my freshman year in college. The hymn-singing is what has remained most constant for me.

And when I can, I sing the harmony in those hymns, week after week. Over time I’ve noticed the patterns of particular organists. For example, the organist playing for the church I attended in college always changed up the harmonies on the third verse while my church’s current organist usually varies the final verse. Until I joined the choir at church again in 2011, hymn-singing has been one of my only opportunities in adult life to sing harmony besides the three years in the 80s in another church choir and an earlier year (1990) with my current church choir. Singing harmony with hymns is to singing in choir as doing warm-up jogs are to running races or as writing in a journal is to formal writing—it is a very good way to practice skills even when you aren’t performing, so to speak.

As our society has transitioned to a post-Christian one—a society where a person who likes to sing hymns might not just be considered an average churchgoer but instead someone who should work in a church—so has the Church’s desire to be welcoming—as it should if it wants to remain relevant to all who hunger for God. We need to remove barriers that make others feel unwelcome. Yet at the same time we are also losing traditions, some strongly tied to eras when our ethnic traditions carried into how we “did” church services. Nonetheless, what feels inclusive to me most likely feels exclusive to someone raised outside my tradition.

I get it, but that doesn’t mean I like musical changes in the church service such as (only) the words of hymns being displayed on walls for us to sing or our hymnals showing just the melodies for many songs. For me so much joy has come from communal singing—in harmony.

Which means I better keep singing in a church choir. Trust me, though, when I say no one is going to pay me to do so as a profession. As Bach wrote at the bottom of each of his works, “S. D. G.”“Soli Deo Gloria” or glory to God alone. To get to sing to God—in harmony with others—is enough.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

The winter of my son’s discontent has begun to thaw thanks to—his Grandma Mae’s accordion? Really. These long days and nights of waiting for his post-concussion syndrome to subside have left him with time on his hands since he is still banned from doing his martial arts—the activity that previously filled his evenings and provided an outlet for the excessive energy that runs through his body whether or not his head is aching. Winter’s low light, his restrictions, and his pain have led to a massive case of cabin fever, especially as he has no idea when his healing will pick up. He needed something (safe) to do and we needed him to have something do when he wasn’t at work—which was more often since he’s still not released to work a full schedule. Who knew the accordion really could step in against the face of doing too much of nothing?

Not I, but I was getting desperate. If you don’t know, people who are concussed (mini-rant: when did that become a proper term?) get pretty irritable. Plus, any brain challenges a person has get exacerbated—which means my son’s rant gene (we’re pretty sure there must be one in our family including in his mother) has ramped up the monologues around here. What could he do that would grab the attention of his brain while having a physical component? I thought he’d try out my LEGO suggestion but instead he grabbed onto the accordion idea, especially after I pointed out he could start learning by using the Internet.

After the first two days he had already played the thing for eight hours. His bored (yet bruised) brain sang with joy—or at least his fingers did. Pretty soon he was researching how the accordion was put together and how to fix the stuck buttons. He knows the background of his accordion’s brand and has a good idea of its age and value. He can tell you about different styles of instruments and accordion-playing traditions across different countries and over several time periods. I’ve become used to falling asleep to the sound of an accordion—which is fine since he most often chooses to play with a sweet tone—it’s almost as if I’m rocking asleep in a boat in Venice. Almost.

At first our dog Sam ran from the music. Something about the vibrations or the movement of the bellows scared him in a way that our playing other instruments hasn’t. Thankfully Sam’s made a truce with the instrument because I don’t think it’s going away any time soon—and that’s a good thing because this personal music therapy has done more for our son than anything else has over the past three months.

Perhaps he’ll become the next Lawrence Welk? When I first said that, I meant it in jest, but after finding a really old video of the Bubble-master playing his accordion, old Lawrence is much redeemed in my eyes—I’ve yet to forgive him for all those dull shows of his I had to watch while visiting my grandparents, but if he’d played his accordion that way in his later years, he would have kept my attention.

Maybe my son had to get hit on the head to find his true calling—or not. But thank goodness the accordion is a friend when he needs it to get through this overly long healing period. Even if his music didn’t sound so sweet, that alone would make it enough for me. How sweet it is indeed.

P.S. Check out Lawrence Welk’s playing–it’s well worth a listen.

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