Miss Zinnia sings. It’s her thing. Unless you count loving plants, which is also her thing. Perhaps her Italian parlsey, rosemary, and basil continue to thrive because she sings to them. After all, when she sings to me, I certainly thrive.

With its thick, stone walls and thus surreal acoustics, the Abbey at Poblet was, for thirty minutes or so, the perfect venue for a Young Thing desiring to flirt a little with the echo.

I’ll tell you a secret. I have to come to love the old churches of Europe not only for their cavernous beauty but also because they enliven The Girl Who Sings.

And I wonder: doesn’t every teenage girl have her own kind of “church?”–a place which, though it may never have been anything at all like a house of worship, functions as the perfect space for the expression of her bliss?

For that matter, doesn’t every mother, too? What a cause for celebration, the discovery of that which makes us want to sing.

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This morning, in a small town in Catalunya, in an old church high up on a hill, Miss Zinnia sang for a man of mature years who took the time to give us an impromptu tour.  He showed us through the church, rebuilt after the Spanish Civil War.


By European standards, it is brand new.  But the gorgeous art work on the walls dates to the 1500’s.  And the sarcophagus, to the 1100’s.  He was proud indeed of his church, this gentleman, and, after telling us the story of its reconstruction and contents, he needed to be thanked properly.  So I suggested to Miss Zinnia that she sing for him as a gesture of gratitude.  When she agreed, I explained that my daughter had a gift for him–a short song.  Immediately he sat down, ready for her music.


Hearing a young person sing in a stone church with a vibrant echo is a near surreal experience.  When that person is your child, the experience is sublime.  So thought our fine gentleman, too.  When he rose at the conclusion of Pie Jesu, he had tears in his eyes.  “I have become emotional,” he said in Spanish, clearing his throat.  He explained that he had a granddaughter just Miss Z.’s age.    Clearly, he missed her.  And clearly, he felt he had been duly thanked for his time.


It may not be practical to break into song each time a kind person needs to be thanked.  But in a country church frequented by few people, a song was perfect.


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Years ago in one of her columns for the Oprah magazine, Martha Beck talked about how to connect with your right life.  As she explained it, first, you need to know what you’re truly passionate about.  For some of us, that might seem like a big “duh.”  But she points out that some people have gotten so good at ignoring those self-sent invitations to take up doing what they love that the invitations eventually stop coming.  The result:  they completely lose touch with their sense of vocation and spend their lives doing what they feel they’re expected to–at the expense of ever doing what they love.

Her remedy for this is an exercise so powerful, I’ve used it many times with my teens to get them thinking about how to engage with their connected, impassioned selves.  So here’s the trick:  notice where your thoughts go when you’re not aware that they’re going anywhere.  In other words, when you find yourself daydreaming, what do you daydream about?  More often than not, we daydream about what we’d really love to be doing.  I suggested this to my son, who often wondered what (beyond surfing) he was meant to do with his life. When he became more aware of where his daydreaming mind went, he started attending to it, and he discovered over time that his thoughts always went to music–and not just to the kind he wanted to listen to, but the kind he wanted to make.

My older daughter’s thoughts inevitably go to fashion and design, more specifically to things she can make right now in an attempt to beautify her little room here in Spain.  Recently, my husband found an old door sitting out in front of an apartment building nearby, a signal that someone was ready to abandon it to a new owner.  The piece is tall and narrow, as are so many doors here, with the hinges still on it and panels carved into it, which she plans to cover with chalkboard paint as a prelude to standing it up against a wall in her bedroom, where it will serve as an art board.  How to give old things with good bones a new life–this occupies her daydreams.  Currently, my younger daughter has been daydreaming about growing a little garden.  Her nice dad helped her find some antique pots to serve as homes for her herbs, and she’s one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming a plant whisperer.

The second piece to this is the more complex one.  As we grow up, we realize that the price of doing what we dream about means acquiring the discipline to accept the drudgery that always goes along with it.  It was easy, for example, for all of us to watch my amazing niece, Breeja, who just swam in the Olympics, and forget the day-in, day-out, unremitting, muscle-straining work that got her to London.  Yes, she dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer.  And oh yes, she absolutely did the work.

What do your kids daydream about?  Where do their thoughts go when they’re untethered?    Ask them.  The answers are illuminating.  Moreover, sometimes it falls to us to help move them along in their march toward a dream.  My son’s brilliant piano teacher interviews and auditions every prospective student.  She also wants a detailed bibliography of the family’s music libary.  When he first met with her, who do you think put that bibliography together??  Um-hmm.  That little task took many, many hours out of my life, but it helped land him a spot on her docket.

How do you help your teens identify and move toward the things they daydream about?  Over the years, I’ve missed the boat a couple of times, not for lack of good intentions but simply for lack of know-how. So let’s grow each other’s tool kits, shall we? What a great resource we are for each other!

(Photo from June, 2012. The Eleven O’Clock Kids are dead serious about Budapest.)

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Sometimes you can’t see the beach for the shells, you know what I mean? This is a function of what I like to call RTS (Racing Thoughts Syndrome), where your mind races out of control, your thoughts jauntily boomerang-ing (I just made that word up!) at the speed of light while the rest of you moves in ultra-slow-mo, like you’re wading through wet sand.  (Picture me raising my hand to admit that yes, this describes me, perfectly.)

I most certainly have RTS.  In fact, I think that if folks could actually see the lightning storm of chaotic electrical activity going on inside my head, they’d politely say, “Um, I’ve got somewhere I’ve got to be right now,” then run away, as fast as their legs could carry them.  According to one group of researchers, we have around 70,000 thoughts a day!  Mindblowing, no?  I figure that, given how much time I spend thinking about my kids, roughtly 69,950 (give or take) of those thoughts have to do with how to mother them.  (I am rather manic, however, so a thought that gets stuck in my head and starts looping probably makes the rounds 30,000 or-so times before I manage to reset with a second one.)

Examples of thoughts that fall into the “30,000 plus” category.  How will Miss Z. move forward with her vocal music in Spain, without her teacher and without a piano??  (Multiply that single, potent thought by 30,000.  There–you get the idea.)  Or, How how how how how (times this by 6,000, since I already lined up five iterations of the thought at the beginning of the sentence) is Miss Lavender going to finish her online physics class given how passionately she hates the subject and how impossible it is to connect with the tutors back in the states?  Or HOW (times this one by 30,000, plus a migraine, indicated by all CAPS) am I going to send a proper Christmas package to our young Mr. Beethoven back in the states, without filling it with nonsense he won’t need and without spending  hundreds of dollars to get it there??

See what I mean?

If you, too, are a victim of racing, looping thoughts that seem to be a function, ironically, of your love for your children, I suggest a brief moment of meditation.  I’ve tried meditating before, by the way.  I am not good at it, for the aforementioned reasons.  BUT when I see a beautiful image, I can sometimes manage to lock on and go to that place, which frees me momentarily from the scary math going on inside my head.  Likewise, when I hear a cool piece of music, I can lock onto that, too.  I plan to step up my meditating in the weeks and months to come, eventually (and hopefully) segue-ing to the proper–i.e., more quiet–kind.  I know this will require significant discipline, especially because those darn times tables are constantly sabotaging my efforts to slow down and smooth out my thoughts.  (I also know this may require a full brain transplant, so I’ll keep you posted.)


I invite you to let your thoughts return for a moment to a place you found restful. For me, that would be Zandvoort, on the Dutch Coast, where, back on July 3rd, three of the Eleven O’Clock kids looked as meditative as I’ve ever seen them.  Must be something in the air in the Netherlands.

I also invite you to check out some music that helps me chill.  What would I do without Yo-Yo Ma’s immortal Obrigado Brazil album?  (Not everyone’s thing, but the combination of classical and jazz totally works for me.)

Finally, I invite you to share your thoughts . . . about racing thoughts!  And about your meditative practices.  I’d love to know what you do to increase the productivity of your mothering efforts and to decrease the chances that such efforts will be undercut by old habits of thinking, let’s say, or just those rogue thoughts that run away with us!  And if you have ideas for music, by all means, share!

May your morning be peaceful.  May your thoughts be yours to direct, especially as you embrace another day of mothering!


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Post image for Grooving With Grooveshark

Grooving With Grooveshark

by Becky on April 2, 2012

in Music

Lots of internet sites let you find and grab music and stash it in your own self-created music library. I like Grooveshark.

Aside from the occasional really annoying ad, Grooveshark is, well, groovy. It lets you search for music and pile it into your own little cache. It also allows you to create playlists that work just like iTunes playlists—except that you haven’t actually downloaded the music. But with your computer as your boom box, the music sure feels like yours. Planted for the moment in the music of the 19th Century Romantics, my eighteen-year-old has probably found every Chopin, Ravel, and Debussy piece known to man. Even better, he recently discovered how convenient it was to listen to a particular etude by Chopin on Grooveshark before puzzling it out on the piano, so for all you piano students out there: giddyup!

Additionally, with the playlist feature, we’re set for teen events that need scoring, i.e., background music. Next time we host one of our famous popcorn fests, it’ll have 80’s tunes!

Which music-gathering sites do you and your kids like?

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