Crying in Nordstrom’s

There has been an event on our calendar for some time—a 100th anniversary celebration of an organization my husband has belonged to for many years. I assumed it would be a coat-and-tie and nice dresses type of affair. Until last Friday, two weeks before the event, when I discovered it was formal. And by formal I mean black tie and long glittery gowns.

Oh. My. God.

My retired teacher lifestyle does not require formal wear. My wardrobe consists mostly of jeans and casual pants and tops. I am not a tiny person who can fit into just any dress pulled off the rack. I live in a body that requires, well, let’s just say, careful construction and styling of garments in order for me to look reasonably acceptable in this type of social situation.

For my husband, this was easy—he could just wear his short jacket choir concert tuxedo. When he mentioned that if need be, I could also wear my black choir concert dress, I was not amused.

I hit the ground running the next day. Contacted a friend who is a talented seamstress, has a great sense of style and knows where to find decent clothing. We both started looking online, realizing that between shipping time and alterations, that was a long shot, assuming I could even find something that fit. She suggested some boutique type stores or heading out to a mall where I could still find upscale department stores that stocked formal dresses.

So off I went to the Towson Town Center (which, like malls around here, has a lot of empty storefronts and a very different vibe post-Covid.) I needed to find something between mother-of-the-bride and overweight slut.

I must have tried on every dress in my size in Nordstrom’s. Nothing, Nada. Hideous. Lacy, matronly overlays. Bulges. Plunging backs and fronts. And insanely expensive. I literally was near tears but took a deep breath and plodded on to  Macy’s at the far end of the mall.

Things started out the same way, but at least Macy’s had more inventory. I found something that was sort of ok, it  was black with a little bit of bling—I could deal with it. And then as I was going to check out, I saw a dress hanging on what I suspect was a returns rack. And miracle of miracles, it was in my size. I took it into the dressing room, it fit well, I felt good in it, and my blood pressure finally started to drop. I texted a picture to my friend, and she approved. When I took it up to the register (along with the other dress, just in case), the cashier kept marking it down and re-scanning the tag and finally, she looked up and said, “You know, this is a final sale and can’t be returned.” I ended up paying $20 for it.

My seamstress friend, bless her, skillfully pinned the hem to accommodate all of my imperfections after our Monday night Chorale rehearsal. She will have it hemmed and ready in time. I bought sparkly sandals and scheduled a manicure and pedicure the day before. I will be ready for this bash, and I won’t have to wear my concert clothing. Not bad for a mission impossible dress search and near-meltdown in Nordstrom’s.  

Why it Matters

“I miss the music so much. That was always so important to me, but now it’s just too hard to get to church anymore. But I so appreciated the organ music and the choir.”

The elderly woman on the other end of the phone was calling to thank me for the birthday card I had sent her in response to a card shower organized by the church. She always complimented the choir after a good anthem day and rarely missed performances of the church’s concert series. As a long-time choir member, I understand how she feels. At one point during the pandemic, I thought if I had to spend one more Sunday watching streamed services and not singing, I was going to lose my mind.

For those of us who have been in the music business in one form or another since we were kids, it’s easy to become jaded. To get lost in the weeds of endless rehearsals and drama with personnel and budgets or constantly fighting for the survival of school programs. Or in the case of my husband and me, navigating the ups and downs of behind-the-scenes management of a choir and a drum corps. It’s easy to let frustration and stress get in the way of reaching people, or to question whether the cost of livestreaming a concert or doing a run-out somewhere is really worth it. Or whether we should keep banging our head against the wall trying to get students to practice and come to rehearsal. Sometimes it’s just so damn hard that we want to give up.

But I think if we’re honest, whether we’re performers or listeners, we’ve all had those moments when music takes our breath away, sometimes when we least expect it. To paraphrase the commercial—they’re priceless. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we feel the hair on our arms rise and even tears come to our eyes because something being played or sung is so impossibly beautiful that it just reaches down deep into our soul and hugs us.

We are bombarded with sound and stimulation to the point that we’ve become almost numb to the noise. Something is always pinging or ringing or demanding our attention. When those rare and extraordinary musical moments occur, they take us out of ourselves and remind us of what it means to be human. The last time it happened to me was in a rehearsal last summer, and the anthem we were singing will forever take me back to that day and to the people I was with at the time.

We who have signed up to create music in any form can’t lose sight of those moments. They’re like diamonds in the rough and believe me, I know there’s a lot of rough, whether we’re in professional, school, community, or church settings. Some days, it feels like rough is all there is. But we figure out how to make it work because, like the conductor of our choir always tells us, “You never know when someone is hearing a song for the first time. Or the last.” Yes. And I’m grateful to that lovely lady who called to thank me for the birthday card for reminding me once again why it all matters. Why touching another person’s heart with music and changing his or her life for the better, even for a short time, is enough.

Too Many Remotes

I’m old enough to remember when TV’s were massive pieces of furniture that dominated the room. You walked over to the set to turn it on, cranked a dial to pick your channel and that was it. No remotes, no sound bars, no streaming services. If you were lucky, your antenna picked up all three major networks albeit with fuzzy pictures if the weather wasn’t cooperative.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy great shows on premium channels and have no desire to return to the dark ages of TV. However, sometimes I feel like I need the skills of a sound engineer just to operate the damn thing. I recently wanted to watch something on Showtime which I get as an “add-on” with my Hulu subscription. I used to do this by casting from my phone–switch the HDMI input, pull up the show on my phone, hit the cast button, and there it was. (See—look at all the tech words I know!)

But, alas, we’ve gotten a new TV and new phones in the last six months and the rules have changed. I assumed with the new TV I could just go through the Hulu app to watch Showtime and not have to cast. But, no, that wasn’t good enough for the LG TV.  It kept insisting that I start a Showtime subscription WHICH I ALREADY HAD THROUGH HULU.  I kept googling solutions and pressing buttons and becoming more and more frustrated, until, at one point, a shot of the home screen of my phone mysteriously appeared in the corner of the TV. I was ready to throw the remote across the room and give up.

Unless you happen to have a thirteen-year-old in your house, managing TV technology is not for the faint of heart. I eventually got to watch my show, and I think I now know all the steps to make that happen although I need to take deep, calming breaths before I start the process.  Here’s what I learned.

a) “Pairing” devices may also be called “mirroring;”

b) Sometimes giving up and threatening to contact customer service prompts the TV and its assorted remotes to finally relent and allow the cast button to show up on your phone.

c) In order to change HDMI inputs on new LG TV’s, a small droplet-shaped object appears on the screen which you must maneuver onto the correct setting and then hit the enter button before it moves off that setting . If you ever had trouble playing games like that – good luck.

d) Because our amplifier (which dates back to the Clinton administration) is connected to the TV, in order to hear the sound on a program I’m casting, I must shut the amplifier off (using its own remote) and then turn the sound up on the TV using the LG remote, (not the Comcast remote) and then do it all in reverse when I want to return to regular TV. Seriously.

e) There are three remotes on our coffee table and it’s like a game of Russian roulette as to which one you should use to accomplish a task. Press the wrong button on the wrong remote and everything goes black or silent.

After this  traumatic experience, I went upstairs and turned on the TV in our bedroom to watch the late news. The screen was frozen on a scene from a show from the last network we watched. Shouting obscenities through the voice command was not effective. I said to my husband, “I can’t deal with this right now.” He replied, “When it does that, you just have to punch in the number of another channel on the Comcast remote, and it’ll work.” Which it did. Who knew?

No Diet/No Resolution January (with a nod to Laura Lippman)

I just read a wonderful essay by Laura Lippman (the Baltimore-based mystery writer) about how as a 60-something woman, her diet plan going forward is to eat what she wants, when she wants. She  is done with dieting. Be forewarned that the piece is peppered with expletives, but well worth the read.

I hear ya’, Laura. I was bemoaning my sins of sloth and gluttony at a recent appointment with a new physician’s assistant and promising that I would do my part to help lower my blood pressure. The medication I’d been taking for 15 years needed to be changed, and I felt like I deserved to be yelled at for indulging in too many carbs and not going to the gym every day. She looked at me and said, “Just wait a minute. You are 65 years old and take one medication. One. Your bloodwork is perfect. You take care of all of your preventative health check-ups. You walk and you swim.  Do you have any idea how few patients I see in this office like you? Who are younger, taking multiple medications and doing absolutely nothing to improve their health on their own?”

All right then. I didn’t feel so terrible. And the fact that she was encouraging and positive makes it a little easier to get in that daily walk, pick up the free weights, or substitute a handful of raw veggies for potato chips. From the time we develop an awareness of our young bodies until we reach my age and older, women are bombarded with negativity. Don’t eat this, don’t eat that. Carbs are bad, dairy is bad, sugar is bad (ok, sugar probably is, but like our moms told us—everything in moderation.) And please spare me the recipes for chickpea pancakes and tofu lasagna. Ugh.

We should do Noom, we should do WW, we should find a “life coach” with thousands of Instagram followers, we should spend lots of money to transform ourselves into a mostly impossible and often short-lived standard of perfection, no matter how old we are. I’m not critical of anyone who has benefitted from these programs, but it’s the message that we’re never attractive enough that disturbs Laura Lippman and me. (She puts it more bluntly.) Corporations earn billions telling us we’re too damned fat.

Obesity is a serious health issue, (especially now, sadly, in children and that’s another story)  but there is also an underlying message to those of us whose bodies don’t lend themselves to pencil skirts and high heels that we need to fix ourselves. “Just look at who you could be” comes through loud and clear from the svelte images on our social media feeds as if who we are is not enough. The folks I see leaving the water aerobics class at my gym are not svelte. Some may even walk with canes but they’re in the pool and moving, and most are chatting and laughing as they make their way down the hallway in front of the cardio room where I’m getting in my steps on the treadmill. Those are the images that matter.

So, am I gradually increasing my fruit and veggie intake? Yep. Trying to adjust my attitude about trips to the gym, stretching more and sitting less. Absolutely, and that’s partly because a medical professional reassured me that I was ok, that I was healthy, that I did not deserve to be judged. Good health is a genetic crapshoot, some things are beyond our control, and we do what we can to keep ourselves going. But our choices should be made based on what’s best for us and those we love, not because some talking head on social media says, “You, too, could look like me if only you would stop this willy-nilly enjoyment of food and spend money on my program.” And then if our before and after pictures are not Instagram-worthy, we feel guilty, but the company still has our money, and they’ll make even more when we come crawling back to them.

Laura Lippman and I are too old to buy into the propaganda. We’re over it. Enjoying food is not a moral failing, nor is being a double digit clothing size. We are all beautiful.