Ella and the Guitars

Sometimes, I like to pretend that I can play my father’s guitars. Then, he turns on the amp and everyone runs away in terror.

Rebellious Elegance and Aggressive Domesticity

Let’s turn the music up and listen to Vivaldi in all his power! We’ll make the winter’s snows turn into blizzards, the spring crocuses will burst out of the ground with aggression instead of hope, screaming “I am here to reclaim the earth!” the summer will be oppressively hot, smothering us in humidity, and the autumn leaves will fall annoyingly into flower gardens where they must be picked out by hand. And the music will be so ear-splitting that we can still hear it as we use the whirring vacuum cleaner to suck dust out of the corners.

I’ll be an oxymoronic cleaner, both traditional and rebellious at once. We’ll have the elegance of the music at a rebellious volume, the domesticity of cleaning, without a sense of duty.

This house will be clean, every impurity banished, and every surface will shine. There will be a high price to pay for the first person to make a ring on the glass coffee table, create crumbs on the counter, or leave speckles of toothpaste on the sink. The cats will learn to keep all the litter in their box, and mud will get no further than the doormat. The weather won’t even dare to dirty the outside of the windows when it rains or when pollen blows through the air. There is order and power in this hand that holds a mop and bucket, and no one shall dare to defy me.

For I am the cleaning goddess and the bearer of deafening music.

As always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Kidz Bop, Classical Music, NPR, and Me

Today, I discovered that not only does Kidz Bop still exist, but that I dislike pop songs even more when they cover them. I had become so convinced that it wouldn’t be possible to hate LMFAO any more than I already do.

However, everyone in my house is on a major classical music kick, so it was nice to come home to a house where Bach was being blasted in the kitchen.

(I reject out of hand the notion that classical music should only be played quietly. When you go to the symphony, you don’t find yourself wishing for a hearing aid to help you distinguish the first violin, and I have no desire to make my house sound like a doctor’s waiting room with the radio turned to some bad classical music station.)

In the spirit of sharing good music, please enjoy these amazing NPR Tiny Desk Concerts.

Hilary Hahn (This one is my favorite, and her CDs were the whole reason I played violin as a child.):

Charlie Siem (I must admit that I spent most of this video looking at the pink nail polish on his left pinky and admiring his amazing left-handed pizzicato.):

Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile And Stuart Duncan (I would listen to Yo-Yo Ma tuning his cello, he’s that amazing.):

Gil Shaham (I love Gil Shaman’s facial expressions and the obvious joy with which he plays–it’s infectious!):

In other news, I spent most of today in complete astonishment of how tired I was. Then, I discovered that at some point last night, I woke up and wrote well over a thousand words of what appears to be a very incoherent recollection of playing in the Hippo Park on New York’s Upper West Side at the age of three. I have no memory of doing this. However, judging by the number of times Max leapt out of bed to try to capture a very annoying moth (which I killed this morning by throwing a ball at the ceiling), I’m not surprised that I was apparently woken up for several hours. And writing is certainly preferable to sending people very long and strange text messages or deciding to take a shower and instead falling asleep on the bathmat (something I seem to do at least once a week). I also feel it is necessary to point out that none of these things were done under the influence. I neither drink nor imbibe any caffeine other than what is found in chocolate.

In other, other news, I got to spend the afternoon reading the names of Crayola crayon colors to an adorable three-year-old. We had a very interesting discussion about different hues and exactly what asparagus is (and yes, I did squash my initial impulse to say that while the tips are nice, the stalk is the spawn of the devil). Then, we pretended to be dogs and had a puppy freeze-dance party. Have I recently mentioned how much I love children? Because I do. So much.

As always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella and the Night of Fiddle Music

There are moments when I feel particularly happy. Happy that goes beyond discovering that I did in fact put York Peppermint Patties in my bedside table to eat when I wake up. It’s that ridiculous type of happy that makes me smile so much that when I close my mouth, my teeth feel cold (I know that as weird as this sounds, you too have probably experienced this).

Tonight was a very prolonged happy moment. Clara, Jacob, and a few other friends hosted a southern dinner at Jacob’s house where we ate homemade pulled pork, mac and cheese, cornbread, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and salad at a large table. Clara had squeezed lemons to make real lemonade and someone brought a delicious chocolate cake.

But good conversation and food wasn’t the extent of the evening’s fun. Lily had brought her violin and book of fiddle music, which meant that we spent the rest of the night playing instruments and singing songs like Old Joe Clark and Bile ‘Em Cabbage Down. Jacob has pictures of me looking insane while holding a shaker egg that will hit the internet at some point, causing me much more amusement and less shame than they should.

I was brought back to my childhood when we would have near weekly music sessions with our neighbors. The kids would role around in the grass and play flashlight tag in the first whispers of darkness, the adults would drink fancy French wine out of the Dixie cups that had jokes printed on the sides–the humor of the juxtaposition lost–and I would beg for Country Roads or Downtown to be played over and over again.

I also played violin and would spend hours listening to bluegrass and Irish reels, hopeful that one day I could play that quickly, and in fifth grade we spent music class learning about local music. Two years back when I was in southern Virginia, I was surprised to discover that I can still play the spoons. I can’t recall anything from my Irish step dancing class in sixth grade, but I do know that you can’t get too close to your partner or you’ll kick them in the shins and they will be very angry with you.

Later, after Cecelia had driven me home, I sent in a lot of college applications (the first to a college in the Roanoke Valley, of course) while playing John Denver songs at a volume higher than could be considered socially acceptable. Last night, it was French punk rock, and tonight, country. Pippa had to crank up Friends in order to drown me out and complained about my music taste.

I also wore my The Great Gatsby shirt, which started the day’s awesome level at a much higher baseline than normal. I refuse to believe that there is a situation that can’t be remedied by wearing a book cover on your shirt.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella and Christmas Music

I’ve been feeling the Christmas cheer today. The advent wreath with its three tall purple and one pink candle, the lights and evergreen swag on the houses, and the little red Scandinavian wooden carvings we have set up in the dining room are making me especially happy. Christmas/winter holiday time is wonderful.

Now, when it comes to Christmas music, I tend to dislike pretty much anything that isn’t a hymn or a very traditional song. It’s not that I am overly religious, it’s just that the commercialization of Christmas gives me the creeps, and I generally don’t like the music style of songs like “Santa Baby.” (Getting me to go to the mall after Thanksgiving would involve a very large bribe or a present emergency.) Instead, I prefer to listen to CDs of the Vienna Boys Choir over and over again for the entire month of December.

But I digress. Today, I discovered something wonderful in my youtube subscription box! Rhett and Link made a “caption fail” video of Christmas carols.

To explain: youtube has this service that will put captions on videos uploaded to the site. However, the technology that does this is pretty poor, leading to some hilarious interpretations of what’s being said.

What Rhett and Link do is take the youtube interpreted captions and turn that into the script for the video.

For those of you who would like to laugh and be merry, I highly suggest that you watch this video.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella and Teenage Kicks

I was walking this morning to pick up my bike from the train station where I left it on Monday afternoon, and my iPod died when I was about three blocks away from the house. But that was no matter, I don’t require constant amusement via technology.

So I kept merrily walking down the sidewalk, stepping over tree branches that are still downed from the October snowstorm, and started singing to myself in my head. Which, you know, is totally normal and totally fine, as long as the song doesn’t get stuck on repeat for the next thirty six hours.

Now, I care enough about this phenomenon to know the science behind it. So after listening to it in my head for about two hours as I flitted around town by foot and on a bike, I immediately turned the song on and listened to it over and over and over again. Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped.

All I’ve heard for hours on end is The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks.

Max spent an astonishing amount of time sitting on the washing machine and watching me sing and iron this afternoon, because apparently, I’m more amusing than a nice sunny piece of carpet (which, admittedly, is nice to know, even if I’m only getting the attention for doing something strange–don’t we all want to be more interesting than the carpet?). And I’ve only continued to sing:

“I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight;

Get teenage kicks right through the night”

Here’s hoping that going to sleep will clear this earworm up.

In other news, GUESS WHO FINISHED NANOWRIMO!!! If you guess me, you win this very exciting round of Ella’s Guessing Game. There is, unfortunately, no greater prize than a brief moment of satisfaction.

I’m positively thrilled and now have thousands of words of terrible writing on my hands. At a certain point I began freaking out and there are pages upon pages of very detailed descriptions of characters and settings. There are probably about twenty thousand salvageable words from the whole extravaganza, but it’s over and done with and I can stop be so darn stressed about the word count all the time.

In other, other news, my mother just handed me a heart-shaped card two of her students made for me. All it says is “HeLOW” and is addressed to me in big penciled letters with more interesting capitalization. If I still had bullitein board space, it would be pinned up very prominently.

Back Flips Off of the Sofa, Daredevil Stunts, and Childhood Dance Shows: The Story of Ella, the Gang, and the Merits of Free-Range Parenting

Somewhere in my family’s deep video archive, there is quite a bit of video footage from the “dance shows” I used to direct as a young child. We staged around two or three a year, but I’m going to focus on what was probably our most ridiculous performance.

From left to right: Lee (age 6), Pippa (my sister, age 7), Zach (Lee’s brother, age 10), me (age 9), and Joseph (age 7)

(Don’t worry, Lee’s arm isn’t broken or deformed. She’s just double-jointed in her elbows and wrists.)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Mary Queen of Scots’ Beheading, The Commodores’ “Brick House,” and Other Odd Things My Parents Exposed Me To, Pippa and I did not live in a house that celebrated pop music, specifically of the Disney Channel stars variety. So we made up for this deficit by listening to the Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations at Joseph’s house where his sister had them all.

Joseph’s sister was also a nationally ranked gymnast, and they had a huge playroom filled with balance beams, tumbling mats, exercise machines, and mini trampolines. We LOVED that room. Mostly, it was because it had two high-speed computers (well 2003 high-speed) that we could play on in one-hour long intervals and because we were allowed to roughhouse and climb on everything. (One of these days I’ll write about a game we called “Gladiators” and our very odd way of playing computer games that involved much more imagination and make-believe than actual gaming.)

When we first began working on our shows, they’d be performed in the living room while we hopped about in a very uncoordinated manner for close to an hour while all of the onlookers we had managed to coerce pretended to be impressed. But this time, this time, we had decided that our performance was going to be epic. We were going to pull out all of the stops, and it was going to require the playroom and its wealth of gymnastics equipment.

After much discussion and argument, many declarations of “I hate you, and I’m never going to talk to you in a million years,” and a very surprising amount of quitting only to return fifteen minutes and beg for reentry to the group, we chose four (I think) songs. I’ve put the links to their music videos below.

We clearly had “excellent” taste.

Then, the “choreography” began. And I’ve put choreography in quotes for a reason, because the extent of planning that went into the dance pretty much only extended to the opening and closing poses and first and last twenty seconds of the song. Also, we weren’t doing too much actual dancing. You see, we wanted the basement playroom and all of its gymnastics glory because we had recently discovered how to do flips and flying leaps from an eight-inch wide window ledge about two and half feet down from the ceiling onto the couch and from there onto the mats or one of the trampolines. For a while, the sit-up machine and the stationary bike were weirdly involved, but once we discovered that we could also pile up the cushions from all of the other furniture in the house and use it as an even cushier landing pit, we ditched them for even more daredevil stunts.

(I’m very proud and relieved to report that in all of our years of dangerous activities, the only bad injuries that were sustained were Lee’s broken collar bone when she stood too close to the swingset while we were swinging, cuts on Joseph’s leg when he kicked his foot through a glass door, Pippa’s badly cut eyebrow when I accidentally bucked her off of my back while we were playing “horsie,” and Beth’s sprained ankle when she got pushed down the stairs headfirst while completely trapped in a sleeping bag. Zach also badly broke his arm while riding on a defective scooter, but that doesn’t really count because he was wearing pads and the scooter broke, causing the fall.)

But because I had recently been Annie in my class’ abridged production of the musical, I had decided that we also needed to perform a song we were going to sing entirely by ourselves. I held a long audition process, only to cast myself as Annie. Pippa was Molly, Lee was Kate, and Joseph was Pepper, who I managed to convince him was a boy (Note: Joseph had seen the movie before, so this “convincing” must have either involved very carefully crafted persuasion, threats, or brain-washing. I suspect a mélange of the three.). While we did sing it a cappella and pretend to clean, and there was actually a set in stone series of moves we did, there were also a copious amount of flying leaps and flips from the ledge, trampoline, and sofa, which, you know, is totally in the spirit of a musical set in the Great Depression.

Additionally, we would frequently get into arguments in the middle of our routines when we would crash into each other or want to do moves that someone else didn’t like or want to do them at the same time. I’m pretty sure that the whole point of our “dancing” was to one up each other and get as close to breaking our necks as possible without becoming paraplegics or requiring trips to the hospital. Joseph was by far the biggest ham.

While we did know the lyrics and would sing along, the music would always end up being too loud and drowning us out. Besides, by the end of the song, we would be so out of breath that the actual singing would have been atrocious, anyway.

On the day of our performance, we created some “awesome” costumes. I wore—and I kid you not—teal and puce horizontal striped bellbottoms with flower appliqués and a matching teal and puce horizontal striped shirt with a purple bow at the neck. And—get this—I thought I looked incredibly “cool.” (Oh, Ella of yesteryear, how you’ve since changed.) Joseph’s sister also did our makeup, Joseph was included in this, amusingly, and we were plastered with sparkly powders. For the final touch, we also stuck smiley-face stickers on our ears and cheeks. There are pictures of this somewhere, but I suspect that Joseph’s parents have them back in D.C. Otherwise, I would have a full slideshow of the shots.

From the get-go, Zach had refused to have anything to do with our dancing and had instead been relegated to the roll of D.J. where he terrified many by testing how loud the speakers would go and got fired numerous times by us for not being able to play the right song. He was always hired back the next day with a, “you can’t do it again or it’s going to be for real this time, okay? And we won’t talk to you for two million years.”

On the night of the performance, we invited everyone in the neighborhood to come and then sold the contents of Joseph’s parent’s pantry at our “bake sale” at intermission. I believed we also signed autographs and charged admission.

The next day we spent at Lee’s house singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic while marching around the house with musical instruments and practiced our skating routine (also known as shoving all of the furniture to the edge of the room, rolling up the rug, and sliding around in leotards and tights or socks and shorts) to Paul Simon’s album, Graceland.

A few years later, when I was twelve, I began writing plays, using the songs from various musicals, for us to perform. Beth’s parents built a huge wooden stage/playhouse in their backyard, and we would perform them there. Unsurprisingly, the increased quality of our performances drew more audience members and the Southhampton Players (I gave us the name by pointing my finger at a map of England after having read a book about Shakespeare and The Globe Theatre. My understanding of how theatre companies were actually named was more than a little off the mark.) had a healthy two year long run.

The best part about all of these mostly goofy and bad productions of ours was that we were given free reign and a copious amount of encouragement to do them. If we wanted to make a backdrop, some adult would supply us with the paper and paint and let us cover the porch with newspaper while we painted. If we needed assistance assembling mats, someone would help us move them. And we were only rarely stopped from doing risky stunts. I can recall leaping off of the back deck onto the trampoline was vetoed, as it would have been a drop of about twenty feet, and playing with spears was also off limits, but that was almost the extent of our restrictions. As long as no one got hurt—emotionally or physically—and you were home for supper, you were in the all clear.

And I think that this is the way that childhood should be lived. You have so long to act in almost reckless abandon without societal conventions holding you back. Now, as much as I would sometimes like to, I can’t spend large portions of my time practicing my bannister sliding abilities (They are very superior, let me assure you.). I’m eighteen, an honest to goodness legal adult, who is expected to be calm and composed and not to wear crazy outfits and do flips off of ledges, sofas, and trampolines while listening to pop from the early 2000s.

There is also a great deal to be said about “free-range” parenting, which is what all the parents on our street practiced long before it became a thing. We kids had a lot of of confidence to do new things, solve our own problems, and to entertain ourselves without adult intervention, organized activities, or tvs or computers. In fact, I didn’t regularly use a computer until I was thirteen. But starting when Zach and I were eight, we were allowed to walk over a mile, across three busy avenues, to eat lunch and ice cream by ourselves, as long as we came back before dark and didn’t talk to strangers. We didn’t even have cell phones, and we lived in a city. We went for bike rides in Rock Creek Park and played in creeks and in huge piles of mulch, and no one batted an eye. We would even go grocery shopping for our mothers by dragging a red metal Radio Flyer Wagon along that one-mile route. And unless we were going some place in public or it was freezing, we could wear whatever we wanted (I once wore a very fancy velvet dress to a playdate, and another party dress when running around the block.) and didn’t even have to put on shoes (though as I later learned, just because you could leave the house without them, didn’t mean that you should, especially when going exploring in construction sites. But that’s another story for another day.).

We were allowed to be ourselves and didn’t have our parents’ anxieties projected on us, as they tried to mold us into what they viewed as the perfect child, the way so many kids are today. And you know what? The whole lot of us has turned out pretty well. Lee is in a private school and riding competitively, Joseph is very passionate about music, Pippa is at a prestigious prep school, Zach and Soccer Boy are off at excellent universities, and I’m doing an extraordinary amount of writing during my gap-year. We’re very well adjusted and (I’d like to think) interesting individuals.

If there’s anything that you should get out of this story, besides some entertainment (which I hope I’ve provided), it’s that you should let your kids have freedom and independence, and encourage all of their crazy ideas, as long as they are, of course, non-life threatening. Have a little faith. They’ll still live if you aren’t always within hearing or seeing distance. Falling down teaches you not to do what you just did or to do it more carefully. Kids have a surprising ability to work things out for themselves and invent their own, happy worlds. You just have to let them have the opportunity to do it.

I’d love to know if you are finding these story-telling post interesting, and if there is anything you’re interested in reading about.

Tomorrow, I plan on live blogging my day, because, guys, what could seriously be more fascinating than knowing what I’m doing every single second. I mean, you’ll finally get to know how much time I spend staring at the wall daydreaming when I’m supposed to be focussed on working. Also, I’ll have to be truly accountable for all of my actions, like I’m probably going to have to cut back on non-essential research. But don’t worry, it won’t read like a schedule, I’m going to offer you all sorts of stunning INSIGHT and tell ENGROSSING stories. It’ll be like me yammering away all day into your right ear. I’ll be that kid you had to sit next to in third grade who just wouldn’t shut up, only I’ll be a gazillion times better and more interesting.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

A Guest Post by PIPPA

So Ella said she would bring me food if I (Pippa) wrote her blog post in the six minutes before midnight. So since I have no time I shall write fast.

I learned the harry potter theme uke tab for my ukulele today.  This is the kind of uke I have. Ukes are easy to learn and fun to play and youtube uke hunt and uke tabs are great websites for chords and tabs and advice.



Here’s the snack Ella made me:

When I asked why Ella put blueberries on top of the peanut butter and jelly, she said that just plain jam was too boring and that the blueberries would make jelly “in my mouth.”

Tunes for a Very Special Road Trip

Greetings Blogizens —

It’s Mr. Ella’s Dad, substitute blogging again. Ella is out spending the night with her friends before tomorrow’s very special day. Since I’m bracing for a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the months ahead, I thought I’d pull together a playlist to ease the journey. Enjoy listening to this rapturous collection; feel free to add your own suggestions.

Blondie – Rapture

Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky

REM – It’s the End of the World as We Know It

U2 — Until The End Of The World

Guns ‘n’ Roses -Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

The Pixies — Monkey Gone to Heaven

The Cure – (Feels like) Heaven

Cracker – Can I take my Gun to Heaven?

Mazzy Star – Be My Angel

Sly and the Family Stone – I Want to Take You Higher

Jimi Hendrix – Angel

Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven

My Mind is a French-Pop-Song-Singing Bullet Train

While I was sitting in French class, singing a horrible French pop song in preparation for our class’s  Foreign Language Night presentation, I started to think about other songs that I’ve had to sing in front of large groups of people. I did a lot of musical theatre when I was younger, so the list is quite long: Nathan Detroit in sixth grade, Ariel in fifth, Annie in fourth, etc. Being in shows made me feel happy and proud that I was able to really entertain people.

And the memory of that childish joy got me thinking about the last performance I was in. It was about a year ago, and the last time I sang in my church’s Treble Choir. I was Head Chorister, tasked with keeping the little kids on pitch and in line, and we sang “My Favorite Things” in our Spring Showcase. The little kids were adorable, and the rest of us were pretty good, too.

But because my brain moves so quickly that it’s like that infuriating car on the highway that’s going ninety miles and hour and dangerously cutting people off left and right, I immediately decided to make a list of my favorite things: I love the way that heels clack on hard surfaces, especially when you’re hurrying. The sharp noises make you seem important, business-like, and worthy of attention. I love the taste of toothpaste and the way that your teeth feel all smooth and shiny and the way that your tongue tingles once you finish rinsing. I love the smell of lemon and sandalwood perfume and how the scent is so clean and refreshing. I love the color of apricots and mangos and how that color makes me feel. And I love Pushkin’s soft, delicate, long, black fur.

As we went through the song for the fifth time, and I botched the same lyric that I’ve been messing up for weeks, I smiled. A huge, toothy, goofy smile. A smile that made me look like I thought that singing Mourir Demain was the pinnacle of awesome. I may hate the song and how pop-y and stupid the lyrics are, but man, did I love that train of thought. It was a reminder that my racing thoughts aren’t all bad. Sometimes, they lead me to really happy conclusions.

So if you happen to see someone walking around in high heels on a hard surface, wearing loads of perfume, dressed in orange, with a toothbrush hanging out of their mouth, and petting a cat named after a Russian poet, you’ll know it’s me.