Mix Tape


My exasperated, whispered command to be quiet is the loudest sound on the cassette tape. Repeatedly.

Through the whir of the nearly 40-year-old tape, I can hear the giggles of my younger brothers fade beneath the laugh track. Marie Osmond is singing about how she’s a little bit country, and her brother Donny is responding that he’s a little bit rock’n’roll. I hear the shuffling click that signifies a commercial break, abruptly followed by the resumption of the intro music and laugh track.


tape-recorderIt’s just before 8:00 on a Friday evening in the fall of 1977, and 11-year-old me is crouched on the shag carpeting in the family room of the house on Mt. Vernon Drive. While my mom, dad, and brothers lounge comfortably on the sectional couch behind me, I zealously guard the channel and volume dials of the console color television like it’s my job. My fingers are poised over the play and record buttons of the cassette recorder. As the clock strikes eight, I press down.

I am living in a time long ago and far away, before the proliferation of remote control devices or video cassette recorders or cable television. The likelihood of a member of my family storming the TV to change the channel from ABC to one of the three other options is unlikely. But I am not taking any chances.

There are six days and 23 hours between now and when the next Donny and Marie Show episode will air. By that time, I will have memorized the script and the songs of this one—and every shushing sound I make. From the opening musical number and ice-skating routine through the corny skits to the farewell strains of “May tomorrow be a perfect day,” I will have replayed in my head the images on the screen over and over. And over.


It’s August 1984, and nearly 18-year-old me is crouched on the shag carpeting next to the stereo system in my bedroom. This state-of-the-art piece of technology allows me to play a vinyl record or an eight-track or cassette tape. It also gives me the option to record from LP to cassette without the interference of outside noise.

mix-tapeI unwrap a blank cassette and click it into the front-loading slot. I press the play and record buttons just before dropping the needle into the groove of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America LP. I hum along with “The Logical Song” and “Goodbye Stranger” as I clutch my blue ballpoint pen and painstakingly copy the playlist from the record jacket to the lined cassette cover.

A growing stack of freshly recorded tapes is piling up on the floor next to the radio/cassette “boom box” I will be taking with me for my freshman year of college. My dorm room will not be large enough to hold my growing record collection, let alone a turntable.

There is a token Donny and Marie Show tape at the bottom of the stack, beneath Prince’s Purple Rain, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., and Tina Turner’s Private Dancer. I will listen to that one when my roommate is not around.


It’s late June afternoon in 2006, and I have set up my laptop computer on my parents’ kitchen table, where I can enjoy the breeze wafting through the screen door. Mom is napping in her bedroom, recovering from her latest chemo treatment. Dad is on the golf course, taking a break from his nursing duties, and my brother and niece will be joining us for dinner in a little while. I am taking a break from laundry and food prep.

My iTunes library is displayed on the laptop screen, and I make a selection from the stack of compact discs from my parents’ collection—greatest hits compilations from Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Anne Murray, Kris Kristofferson, Helen Reddy, and Tom Jones. These are the CDs my brothers and I have given to my mom and dad for Christmas over the years, meant to replace worn vinyl LPs with their scratches and skips. This music—in addition to Supertramp, Culture Club, Billy Joel, and my extensive Osmond discography—is the soundtrack of my childhood.

I click a Carpenters disc into the CD drive of my computer and select “yes” to begin importing the tracks.

I walk over to the refrigerator, pulling out the makings for a salad. I chop cucumbers and tomatoes to the accompaniment of Karen Carpenter’s soothing voice. I shred lettuce to the melancholy strains of “Yesterday Once More.”


Amy bio YAH

Chicken Show-and-Tell

It’s not every day you get to make a chicken this mad. She puffs out her black feathers, doubling her size, which is a big problem in the tiny dirt-packed chicken run–you don’t have much room to work. Careful now! Watch your soft hands as you scoop up the chicks! She is coming for you with that menacing strut, and her sharp ‘bwoks’ mean one thing:

Don’t say I didn’t warn you, human.

The month-old chicks, meanwhile, are disorganized in retreat, a flurry of peeping and fluff. You track them–one at a time–until they corner themselves by the fence. Each successful grab sets off that chick’s top-level alarm cry, so you set it in the box and close the lid quickly, trying to muffle the sound. This doesn’t really work. The chicken mama is at your heels, but you’ve got the three you came for, so you brush past her sharp beak and get out.

Clang! The chain link gate bangs on its frame, just in time, and her indignant clucks are now futile. “Sorry Mama,” you say, pulling the cheeping cardboard box into your chest, “today is show-and-tell. I’ll bring them back in a few hours.”

IMG_4477And you do, after three unwilling chicken ambassadors have educated hordes of squealing children. “Two fingers, gentle please!” you instruct, again and again. The poor chicks call for their mama, but she is several miles away, so you stroke their soft backs. “Shh…” you tell the kids, “they’re just babies.”

A few hours later, you bring the box back into the run, and the chicks know where they are before you open the lid. They scramble out, peeping their tale of survival. Is that right? Mama replies, Oh poor babies. She clucks over them like, well, like a mother hen. With her beak she breaks up crumbles of corn into dust, pointing to it with an emphatic ‘tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck.’

Comforting noises and beak-sized nibbles. The chicks are glad to be home.

And you settle into the green plastic chair on the far side of the run, needing a rest after the school visit. In the background are city noises you barely hear anymore–sirens, traffic rumbles, and a truck backing up somewhere in the wide valley. Still closer is the chatter of birds, calling from treetop to telephone wire. If you isolate one call, in one tree, you can hear the response from across the street.

You close your eyes and listen to the flying birds.

And soon there is a light scuffle, and the flightless birds are near your feet, settling in for a nap on the warm earth. Mama calls insistently at first, then reducing her volume to a gentle scold. She spreads her wings and sits, and the chicks disappear under her feathers. Her trill, low and steady, sounds like a kitten’s purr. The peeping subsides. Hush, she reassures them, I won’t let that big mean lady take you away from me again.

You smile, and sigh. Show-and-tell number two is scheduled for next Tuesday. “Sorry Mama,” you whisper, “but I have chicks too.”

* * * * *

jen bio YAH

Making A More Joyful Noise

We were probably one of many rural Baptist Churches that passed around a metal bucket in order to buy a new piano. The song leader called it the “Joyful Noise” fund. While dollar bills were encouraged children delighted in slamming handfuls of change into the bucket.


It was one of the more unscripted moments in our rather reserved and tightly controlled order of service. One worship leading consultant called our style: “4 hymns and punt.”

The offering was also the last exciting thing before THE SERMON. It was my chance to let loose my considerable pre-teen energy that could hardly handle sitting still for 45-60 minutes with my sole consolation a highlighter and pen for scribbling in my Bible. No one had to tell me that I’d be in deep trouble if I started wandering around the sanctuary during the sermon. I fidgeted, scribbled, and underlined when every muscle in my anxious little body screamed for activity and a noise other than the pastor droning on and on.

piano-churchAs bad as the sermon could be, the music had the potential to more than make up for it. If you asked me why I went to church, music landed right below a pretty girl named Sarah in Sunday School class that every guy had a crush on. So yeah, music was a really big deal for me.

Years later, those old hymns stuck with me, rattling around in my mind in the middle of the night while rocking a fussy baby or distracting a squirming child during a diaper change.

“Victory in Jesus,” “Come Thou Fount,” and “Be Thou My Vision” crossed my lips many late evenings, and as I continued to sing these old songs at night, they crossed into the rest of my day as well. I catch myself singing hymns while doing the dishes, weeding the garden, or taking a walk.

Music is also a vital part of church for our oldest son. We have a drum-driven, rock style of worship. He calls it the “drums and cymbals.” Naturally, he’s crestfallen if the drums take a Sunday off.

Each Sunday our otherwise shy little boy who isn’t quite four, runs down to the front of the auditorium where our congregation meets, so he can run around while the music plays. He jumps over the power cords running along the floor and claps his hands, only pausing to spy on the drummer.  

I suppose you would call our music a blend of the old and new, with a few hymns dropped in with a majority of contemporary worship songs. I have mixed emotions about our son growing up with this kind of music as his backdrop to faith. While I’m a firm believer of writing new songs and still honoring the music of our past, I can’t see him singing most of these songs 25 years from now while cradling his own child in the middle of the night.

I know that I have now become the stereotype of all stereotypes for old timer Christians who gripe about the new worship songs that aren’t as good as the old hymns.

I certainly don’t want to limit him to the old hymns, and let’s be honest, there were plenty of dull songs at my old Baptist church with their fair share of meandering melodies. Even the promise of the change bucket couldn’t save those Sundays.

For all of my reservations about the music written for the church today, I like to hope that my son has something better for his Sunday morning experience. Church is legitimately fun for him. He can fully be himself throughout the service these days rather than waiting for the “excitement” of a change bucket. Perhaps the songs imprinted on his mind from his early days won’t be the same caliber as the old time hymns. I can live with that. At the very least, I can take on the responsibility of teaching him my favorite hymns.

Most importantly, I hope that he will learn how to tell the difference between a church where he is free and able to fully be himself, rather than staying buttoned up and waiting desperately for that one moment when he can let himself come to life. No matter what the band is playing, I’ll take the smile on his face as he runs with complete freedom and abandon.


Ed bio YAH

Hearing The World Breathe

 Daylight has a different sound than night does. Not the usual distinctions, like birdsong, crickets, traffic. When the sun rises, I hear a difference in the world, a tone—very, very subtle—with more vibrancy in sunlight than the velvety sound of night.

I haven’t found an explanation for this. I wasn’t aware of it in my noisy childhood home, or in my many years of getting up via alarm clock to start my day. But, once I had the leisure of waking up on my own time, and in a quiet place, I was able to hear the difference. It both delights and mystifies me. The universe has its own music, available to us if we quiet ourselves enough to hear it.

In an RV park in Moose Pass, Alaska, a neighbor told me that there was a room in Fairbanks called The Place Where You Go to Listen, with music composed to reflect a constant stream of information from instruments measuring seismic shifts, geomagnetic changes, and the flow of time and weather.  I hadn’t planned on including Fairbanks in the trip. But when she followed up, still wide-eyed about it, with “I heard an earthquake while I was there,” I instantly decided to go.

The Place Where You Go to Listen is named for Naalagiagvik, on the Arctic coast, home to a legend about an Inupiak woman who went there to listen to the earth speaking, through birds, whaMatanuska-glacier-Alaska-by-Betsey-Crawford copyles, water, wind. It’s a small room, with a single bench in the center, in the Museum of the North. On one wall are five glass panels in a row, glowing with light, whose depth and color depend on the time of day. Because I went in the well-lit evening of an Alaskan August, the panels were still bright yellow and blue. Music, created by John Luther Adams, surrounded me with a range of ever-changing, vibrant, light tones, the Daylight Choir. It was infinitely more vivid than the tiny changes I naturally hear, and startlingly lovely to listen to.

Underneath the daylight music were resonant bass tones, and these changed, minute by minute, with seismic activity in the earth. There were no earthquakes while I was there, but the bass swelled and ebbed as the world below me went about the business of being the earth. At a couple of points the sound was strong enough to make the details in the walls—speakers, vents, frames—vibrate into noise themselves. The aurora borealis, invisible in the daylight, was just strong enough to send occasional, delicate bell tones across the ceiling.

Alone in the room, I lay down on the bench and gave myself completely to the singing of the earth. It lulled me into a trance, though the swelling bass would lure me out of it, then settle me back as the sound calmed. It was one of the most profound meditations I’ve ever experienced.

What made it so moviCook-Inlet-from-Captain-Cook-State-Park-Kenai-Alaska-by-Betsey-Crawford copyng, in addition to the beauty of the glittering, swirling tones, was the feeling that the music was being played by the living earth itself. I could listen as the subtlest of moves under my back changed the resonance around me. I am used to hearing the many wonderful sounds on the earth’s surface—thunder, rain, crickets, birdsong, rushing water, wild wind, the icy whisper of snow—but this was the planet itself swelling human notes in real time. This was the grace of the best of art, taking apart the texture of life and piecing it back together in a way that changes perceptions forever.

I stayed a long time, often alone, sometimes not. At the end I was joined by a young couple. The woman, quiet and graceful, came out right after me, and we talked about our experience. She had just graduated from art school, and had come all the way from Oregon to be in that spot. “I’d heard that there was a place in Fairbanks where you could hear the world breathe,” she said.

Lying in that room, held by the subtly shifting music of daylight and the sonorous sounds of the ground deep under me—recording its stretching, contracting, breathing, living—I knew that we and the earth around and under us are one. We grew out of its waters, rocks and mud.  This is the great gift, and challenge, of hearing the earth breathe: to know it’s alive, a being in its own right, that its seas and mountains, forests and plains, its atmosphere and the great plates floating over its surface, its unfathomable depths, are all manifestations of the same creative energy that continually brings us all into being. This isn’t a planet we are on, it’s the planet that we are.


Betsey Crawford spent her first 60 years in New York, and then took off in an RV to have adventures. A landscape designer and environmental activist, she now roams the west, from the Mexican border to Alaska, hiking and taking photographs, especially of wildflowers. She posts photos and celebrates beauty, wildness and spirit on her website, The Soul of the Earth (www.thesouloftheearth.com.)

Whistle Stop

When I was seven, my family moved from California to Washington State. At that age, you don’t question why the palm trees are turning to evergreens, or why there is suddenly snow. You accept it. Sometimes I miss the days of taking the hand of change willingly and giving it a squeeze, already thinking about the fun in store for us together.

I’d always shared a room with my younger brother, but in the new house, we had our own rooms. Mine had red carpet and two closets. From time to time, I would rig one of them up as a cave or outer spaces, using my trusty tape recorder and a few well chosen props. Tights from the clothes bar were stalactites and I always included a flashlight for closer examination. Mostly though, I would count on my audience to picture the asteroid fields, or the underground rivers. Once ready, I would send my mom or brother into the closet, turn on the tape recorder and wait expectantly for their reactions. During the day, I loved the idea of a room all my own, with a lock on the door. Still, at night, I wanted someone to talk to, I hated being alone.

But, I was a big girl. I was old enough to have my own room. It was something prized by all of the little girls in the books I loved to read. It signaled that they were their own people, and as they grew up, more exciting things were going to start happening to them. In those days, everything was linear. I fully expected that I would go from my own room to becoming a babysitter, driving my own car, and spending evenings with a high school boyfriend who called on my landline and kissed me at the movies.

At night, I tried to focus on the plan. I needed to stay in bed, there was nothing to be scared of. The girls in my books didn’t get scared for no reason, they weren’t afraid to be alone in the dark. I couldn’t see my beautiful red carpet, or take comfort in my brother’s even breathing. The normally inaudible sound of the living room clock sounded ominous, and every creak signaled an intruder.

My fears were not helped by the fact that someone did break into that first Spokane house. We weren’t home at the time, but when we returned from the store and found the door open, the smell of cigarette smoke still hung in the air. It seemed perilously close to danger, to what I’d always feared would happen. My parents kept saying that they were thankful that the thief had only taken things, that we were all safe, but they took more than things, they took away my ability to whisper in the middle of the night: “Nothing bad will happen.” The red carpet did not stop calamity.

Whistle StopIn that house, we lived close to a set of train tracks. At first, I noticed every time they sounded their whistle, but after a while, it became part of the soundtrack of my life, so woven into the texture of my days that I would never have mentioned it. It would have been like mentioning that my eyes were green.

It was different at night. There were few sounds in our neighborhood, but I would strain to listen for an intruder or an animal. I contemplated which of my closets to hide in, should the worst happen. I wondered how expensive it would be to turn one of them into an elevator that could take me to the roof in times of trouble. Then a train would go by.

When the whistle danced into the night, it felt like a secret message for me. The blasts were long and shrill, sometimes they almost sounded hoarse. The tension in my chest would ease and I would start breathing normally again. No matter how fast my thoughts were running, they would slow, settling into a comfortable rhythm.

When we moved from that house, away from the train tracks, I worried about the quiet nights. What would I do in the new house, the new room, to combat my fear? I put on my pajamas and settled in to sleep, apprehensive. The whistle blew, more faintly, but I could still hear it. It filled my ears with an audible warmth. This whistle was lower, a closer cousin to a foghorn than my wooden train whistle. I still can’t tell you where the train tracks were near that house, but they were close enough. I fell asleep, lulled by the familiar sound in a new place.

Once I started treating my anxiety, my therapist and I quickly realized that I’m quick to jump to the worst case scenario. I wanted, I still want, to go back and comfort that little girl, but sometimes I’m not sure what I’d tell her. “I made it this far,” I could say. “I’m still scared sometimes.” I’ve learned that life isn’t linear, that the job and the boyfriend don’t follow having your own room. That sometimes the thing you feared the most happens, and you survive. I’ve learned that even if you pride yourself on being deeply logical, you can be calmed by something that has nothing to do with you, something that never promised to keep you safe. Even now, in bed with my lights out, when I hear a train whistle, the tension drains from my body. I accept that I am safe, and go to sleep.

cara YAH bio


My home is a green spot amidst the brown barrenness of the desert. The wildlife is drawn into the coolness of the non-native trees, to the drip of the water faucet left barely on.

The birds add their notes, twittering and chirping, above the white noise of the wind moving throughout the property. Together, they are an omnipresent sound. At times, whispering. At others, roaring.

Drawn to the sprouts of new plants, the birds bounce around the garden plot, a fact my mother bemoans every year when her vegetables start budding. But she doesn’t leave them defenseless. A system of wooden boxes and rusty metal screens  protect the vulnerable plants in their first weeks.

Tap, tap-tap!  Insistently knocking on the window as if to rouse me from sleep, a roadrunner greeted me the other day. They aren’t know for flight. His appearance on the roof of the second story struck me as curious. And, the pair of swallows have returned to their mud nest on the front porch. They are a sight that comforts my heart, the promise that “the swallow herself finds a home.”

Every morning, my father pours bird seed into the feeder outside the kitchen window and we have the pleasure of watching the large and the small, the colorful and the plain eat together at the base of apricot tree.

Loudest among the music of our property is the bass call of the owl, “Whoooooo, whooooo.” Watching over it all, he lives in the tallest of pine trees on the fence line.

Last week, I pulled up the sandy drive and was greeted by the deep call of the owl as I made my way to the front door. “Whooooooo, whoooooo…”IMG_20160530_113911128

In my desire to respond to his welcome, I imitated the sound and sang back to him: “Whoooo, whooooooo.

To my delight, there was a response. “Whoooo, whooooooo…”   It made my heart flutter and my mind race with thoughts– Was I able to commune with nature?  Was I having a St. Francis moment?  I walked in the door filled with a deep awe at the moment that had passed between the owl and I.

A few minutes later, I heard the back door scrap against the tile. As his steps progressed into the house, my father called out, “Whoooooo, whoooooo...” It reverberated down the hallway and meet my ears.

A moment of realization flushed over my face. My St Francis nature moment had been nothing more than a long-distance communication with my dad, cleaning up for the day down at his shop.

Dad!!!  Was that you?!?!,” I yelled with a pretend accusation in my voice.

He laughed. I debated whether or not to tell him that I had been fancying myself a person with special animal communication abilities.

My parents have taken on the role of subduing the earth around our home. After his morning walk, my father reports on the tracks of animals and with a warning in his voice, evidence of snakes. From the high vantage point of the tractor, he moves dirt across the property, leveling and building up. My mother, when IMG_20160530_114020880_HDRshe has secured the garden’s defense, searches out the perfect combination of flowering plants to bloom on the patio and sweeps the blowing sand from the corners where it gathers.  

To celebrate their 40 years of marriage, my sister and I bought them a variety of plants. All have a red-colored leaf, blooming at different times throughout the year — a pomegranate bush, an elm tree, some others with fancy names that escape me.  Perpetual red; a sign of abiding love. But, really there is no need for the witness. Because doves, a staple of wedding and anniversary cards, eat breakfast outside the kitchen window and roost in the pine trees behind the house.


mary bio YAH

Cante Flamenco

I never took formal dance lessons or music lessons. Other little girls took their dancing shoes and leotards with them to school in their backpacks for lessons right after school. I merely tried to keep up with their tap routines on the blacktop at the playground when we played “dance class.”

When I went home, I got my scarves—two or three gauzy little things that needed a good wash—from under my bed and skipped down to the living room. I put on my favorite record, a 101 Strings Orchestra 33 from my parents’ record collection, entitled The Soul of Spain. My mom, who is from the north of Spain, from Barcelona, and doesn’t care very much for southern flamenco music, laughed and watched me dance.  The thrilling melodies, the sheer drama of classics like Malaguena, La Paloma, and El Relicario enthralled me. I danced my own flamenco all the way through elementary school.


In college, I studied Spanish literature. I learned to read (very slowly and with a dictionary under my hand) Old Castilian and Golden Age Spanish, and I immersed myself in the rich and prolific mix of Arabic and Jewish and Christian folklore and songs, the texts that inform modern Andalusian culture. In a later class I read parts of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Romancero gitano, a book of poetry capturing the essence of nineteenth and early twentieth century gypsy culture. The romantic verses electrified my imagination. My favorite movie at the time was Carlos Saura’s documentary Flamenco, a series of performances of different categories—or palos—of flamenco music, song, and dance, of which there are over fifty.

I spent my last semester of college at the University of Granada in southern Spain. I took a flamenco dance class and every opportunity to explore gypsy culture. Gypsies—Roma people—face a difficult problem in Spain. They are both reviled and revered—reviled for what many consider to be the unscrupulous lifestyle of swindlers, and revered for their artistic endeavors and accomplishments as musicians and dancers, practicing and renewing an ancient musical form.flamenco-1046485_960_720

Early on, my friend Melissa and I went to a tablao de flamenco, a cabaret performance in a dark, humid little bar in Seville. The singers and dancers and guitar players sat facing us on folding chairs in a semicircle, forming a miniature stage in front of them. The women wore traditional polka-dotted red and green dresses with sturdy-heeled shoes, heavily kohled eyes, and fringed shawls. The men all wore loose, double-breasted suits and had long, shaggy hair. The guitarists began to play, setting the rhythm by alternately tapping the soundboard and plucking the strings. The singers clapped in a series of complicated syncopations with the guitar, and a man stood up to perform the song.

The cante flamenco is the saddest, most mournful sound I have ever heard. The voice of the Gitano is one of despair and longing, of lost love and brokenness leading to death. The songs are lyrically simple, but the interpretation is not. In fact, a singer is freed by the power of his own interpretation. And when that happens, his fellow musicians cheer and cry out because the pain of his song radiates outward and pierces them.

Melissa turned to me and asked, “Why are they shouting and clapping? That’s so weird and interruptive for another performer to do. They’re literally cutting him off in the middle of his song.”

“Yeah,” I said. I did not know how to deal with the ache in my own heart as I watched the singer. I resorted to a sort of xenophobic explanation: “I think it’s ok, because it’s part of their culture to do that.”

Melissa looked unconvinced.


In the months afterward, I walked through the public parks of Granada, where there were performers in abundance. I looked for groups of Roma practicing palmas, the rhythmic clapping so essential to flamenco. Five, ten, or fifteen of them would set up a complex clapping rhythm and keep it up for a half hour at a time. One would lift his voice and sing about aloneness or a dead sweetheart. I sat nearby with a book, pretending to read but soaking up every bit of the energy of the performance.


When I was little, the dance was my favorite. Now it has become the song—the poetry. I listen to The Soul of Spain for sentimental reasons, but it no longer holds the same resonance. It is too polished, too symphonic. I prefer the harsh, energetic vocalizations of the singers who enter through song into the passion and pain of the Gypsy who is at the center—but always at the margins of Spanish culture.

I close my eyes and open my ears to a fandango de Huelva:

Mis lágrimas voy echando

En un vaso de cristal

Ahora las hecho en el suelo

Porque de tanto llora

el vaso lo tengo lleno


My tears were falling

Into a glass

But now my tears fall to the floor

Because I’ve cried so much

The glass is full

Elena bio YAH

Open Windows

“Do you want to go back to bed?!? DO YOU WANT TO GO BACK TO BED?!?”

“Yes!” I grumbly murmured as I rolled over in bed and turned my back to the open window letting in the cool 5 a.m. August-air.

photo-1447154705288-7175737fb73cI was a couple weeks into my new apartment near Philadelphia. By now I was used to the 6 a.m. physical training drills as platoons of teenagers from the military college across the street marched to their practice field about 100 yards from my window. Five a.m. was new though. Someone must have done something wrong.

I knew my body well enough to know my night was over. I slid out of bed, trying to be quiet in case my roommate had managed to sleep through the earlier-than-normal P.T. routine. She’d be up early enough when they marched back to campus singing their cadence song in an hour or so.

I wandered into the kitchen to start the coffee and curled into the soft cushions of our couch, staring out the window into the front yard of the apartment complex until I heard the young cadets marching home again.

Leased from a local military college, my graduate school housing was a 1930s era apartment. Its wood floors were charming, and the sweetest floral pattern was etched into the bathroom mirror. The 1930s was the era of the fuse box which meant no air-conditioning and no window unit. So, we left our windows open.

Aside from the hot-July months when I had to escape to wander the mall all day lest I roast, I didn’t really mind it so much. I’m a couple years removed from that apartment now, and I rather miss needing to have my windows open. The always-conditioned cool air of Georgia summers seem rather stuffy in comparison.

Much of my graduate school classes focused on peace and non-violence. The irony that I was living on a military campus where teenagers marched by and sang about war on a daily basis was not lost on me.

The apartment buildings was surrounded by the military college and their football field, the parking lot for a large church (that was also a school), and a golf course. The golf course was mostly quiet.  

On Friday evenings in the fall, the football field filled up with high school sports. A marching band walked past my window, drumline in full performance. For every touchdown that the home team cadets made, a cannon blast pierced the air.

The cadets began the daily symphony early every morning and by 9:00 am there were sounds coming in from every direction. Children’s laughter from the church’s playground bounced across the mostly empty parking lot straight into our windows. On the other side of the road the bells of the college chapel began to ring on the hour at 9 a.m. and went until 5 p.m. Sometimes the bells counted the hour, sometimes they played a hymn.

On days when I had no classes these became familiar time-keepers, keeping me focused and paced as I read book after book after book after book. You don’t need any sort of advanced intelligence to attend grad school. You just need lots of time to read.

More often than not, I read past the end of the daily bells and was still working when one lone bugle broke through the dark night sky and played Taps. It’s the sound for lights out. I know it most from movies where it’s played at military funerals. And so my night often ended on a somber note. Not that I minded, I’ve always had an odd love for sad movies or songs or books. 

Every once in awhile there was a special evening conclusion to my daily concert. On clear nights, after the sun had set, there would be the faintest sound of bagpipes. I’d close my book and sit and listen to the peaceful tune as the crickets outside joined the song. This final piece of the day’s symphony would often go on for hours.

Throughout all of this – we grew skilled in making our own noise. Loud family dinners of neighbors and friends were rich with full-bellied laughter. We hooked a projector and speaker up to a laptop and watched movies or the latest episode of Sherlock in a volume that was probably too loud for the neighbors who didn’t join us. One summer, we streamed the World Cup games from the laptop and loudly cheered on the home teams among our group: Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and USA. Some nights we quietly listened to each other and shared our stories (to the soundtrack of bagpipes when we were lucky).

The golf course across the street had one noisy night a year – July 3rd – when they put on a fireworks show. The first year it surprised me and I ran to the window when my living room lit up bright red after a loud explosion. I had a perfect view from the second floor window. My last summer in that apartment the July 3rd show was rained out.

A few weeks later my roommate and I packed our cars and moving trucks full. All that was left in the apartment was the dorm-issued furniture and a small overnight bag. We were leaving bright and early the next morning.

As we prepared for bed, we heard a crack and boom and saw the flash of light outside. We moved one of the beds directly in front of the window, and sat next to each other as we leaned in towards the screen, listening and watching in delight as our neighborhood gave us a grand, thunderous, farewell.



Nicole bio YAH


Chicago’s Uptown

A fire engine shrieked through the stoplight, casting a light show in my room and spraying the bare white walls with color. Even through closed windows, the sound was deafening. Within minutes, an ambulance from the hospital in the other direction bayed and bounded through the intersection. I rubbed my eyes. The city had assaulted me through the night, pushing away any hope of restful sleep. The thought of coffee propelled me out of bed.  

As new college graduates, my two roommates and I were fresh from the sweetly singing suburbs. Having recently secured jobs in Chicago, we moved into a two bedroom apartment above a tuxedo shop doubling as a dry cleaner in Uptown, at the corner of Clark and Wilson. Our landlords owned the block. The father, an Arab from Palestine who worked tirelessly at the dry cleaner, was a large silver-haired man with bushy eyebrows and kind black eyes. He gave us a 10 percent discount for being his tenants. His burly son lived across the hall from us and owned the cell phone shop next door, which sold a variety of wares during our four years living there. The uncles worked across the street at the liquor store where we dropped off our rent.

My first Saturday morning, robed and ready for the sacred morning space I was used to, I cradled my mug and stared out the window. “Rayan’s Liquor” spread out in faded white letters and wrapped along the maroon awning across the street. A homeless man, gesturing and shouting expletives to the air, stood under a golden tree that had gingerly begun dropping its leaves. Car brakes squealed as they screeched to a stop at the light. Every other car speeding through the green would hit the edge of a loose manhole cover and send a loud pop ricocheting off the two-story buildings.

My father called from my childhood home in Florida later in the day. “What!?” I shouted into the phone, a chorus of sirens parading through our living room. “Hold on!” I said. When the noise subsided, I could hear him chuckling on the other end.

“That was the third one since we started talking ten minutes ago!” he said. “How is everything really?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said. “I love it here.”

WilsonctaredlineAnd I did. Everything about our situation was different from the life I had known. The city challenged my five senses to reinvent themselves as they began to adapt to a world of constant stimulation.

I went for a jog in the afternoon, heading down Wilson Street’s gum-stained sidewalk towards Lake Michigan, less than a mile down the road. Passing people of every color, shape, size and design, I weaved between trudging homeless, clean-cut men in skinny jeans and Hispanic mamas pushing strollers. The L train roared overhead as I ducked under the tracks, the dark urine-saturated street littered with trash and pigeon droppings. Pigeons scattered as I ran through, my blond ponytail wagging in rhythm with my steps. I would come to learn that this particular L station was known for crime, and that pedestrians saw the stoplights as arbitrary suggestions rather than accepted rules.

As I jogged in place at the intersection, a woman catty-corner from me was in a full-body leotard with her pink panties and bra on the outside of her clothes. Holding a juke box, she twisted, jived and swayed without reservation. A grimy MacDonald’s was across from mini-castle-like Uptown Baptist church, the sign “Christ Died for Our Sins” punctuating the sky. Next to it was a fried chicken shop, an African hair braiding salon, a wig shop and the Friendly Towers, home to a Christian commune called JPUSA. After passing a run-down middle school and more bundled homeless under the Lakeshore Drive underpass, I finally glimpsed gem-like Lake Michigan.

1024px-Chicago_skyline_from_Montrose_HarborArriving at the lake, I halted and took a breath. The vast open space and comparative silence were an abrupt change after the city chatter. The lake was a glassy emerald, swaying and shimmering. The cars on Lakeshore Drive were a soothing hum behind me. I couldn’t see the other side of the lake, which was a comforting reminder of the mighty ocean that had raised me as a child.

In my nine years living in Chicago, this water would become my serenity in the noise. It would be my Sabbath rest after the six previous days of rush and motion. Coming here would provide the margins I needed to stand aside and make sense of the jumbled words on the page—the scribblings, run-on sentences, and scratched out thoughts of my 20s. Here, my senses would reconvene. I paused a moment more before turning back to the throbbing metropolis.

(Photo of the Wilson L station by Graham Garfield; Lake Michigan view from Montrose Harbor by John Picken.)

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Leslie Verner“Chicago’s Uptown” is by Leslie Verner, a goer who is learning how to stay. She has her BA in elementary education and MA in intercultural studies. She has traveled all over the world and lived in northwest China for five years before an unexpected U-turn brought her back to the U.S. to get married. Leslie currently resides at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado with her husband (an audio book narrator) and two devious yet delightful children. She writes regularly about faith, family and cross-cultural issues at www.scrapingraisins.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter at Scraping Raisins@leslie_verner and on Facebook as Leslie Verner.


Waking Up

I am three, and I’m waking up from my afternoon nap in the right way: Slowly. Contentedly. In my own time and space.

I’m in no hurry to open my eyes. The bedroom is dim from the pulled curtains, anyway, and I’ve memorized every sight I would see from my place on the bottom bunk.

6259167128_a64b881939_bAn airplane flies overhead. In our house, below a well-traveled flight path to the airport, it’s a sound as common as a truck roaring by on our busy inner-city street. Whenever the house is quiet and I’m quiet, it seems there’s the sound of a plane somewhere in the sky.

The window is open in the bedroom I share with my brother, who, at almost-six, is too old for naps. I can hear the neighborhood kids playing outside. Laughter and shrieking, then protests, complaints.

Now the sound of a hose as more water is added to the plastic wading pool in the yard next door. I can picture the blue pool, the grass clippings floating on the glistening water.

There’s the voice of the bossiest girl, who is not the oldest but is the most sure of what she wants and how to get it. Just the tone of her voice conjures a snapshot of her hands on her hips, one hip jutted out to the side.  

My eyes are awake now, primed by scenes my ears have fashioned. I get up, my pigtails lopsided from their time on the pillow, and leave my bottom bunk to follow the sound of humming to my mother.

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We lived on the ground floor of the house on Walnut Street until I was five. It was my first home. There are photographs to inform my visual sense of that place, but I can’t really claim them as memories. What I truly remember, from deep in some audio file my mind, are sounds.

Like the sound of my mom humming.

Our living space was small, making it easy for sounds to travel from one room to the next. My mom loves silence, but sometimes I think she loves it because it’s like a blank canvas—an open space for her to hum or whistle into as she folds laundry or chops vegetables. In the house on Walnut Street, her humming was my homing beacon as I navigated the waters between independence and security.

Sometimes upon waking from a nap I could hear my grandmother’s musical voice coming from the kitchen—a one-way, joyful conversation that meant an “audio letter” had arrived in that day’s mail. With my grandparents far away in California and long distance phone rates too costly for either household’s budget, my mom and grandma regularly recorded newsy updates on small, table-top cassette players. The tapes were mailed back and forth in padded manila envelopes.

If Mom was recording a letter to Grandma rather than listening to one, she would announce my appearance into the small microphone, inviting me to talk. “Oh, here’s Krissy! She just woke up from her nap. Krissy, say hi to Grandma and Grandpa! Tell them what kind of cookies we baked this morning.”

My dad’s arrival home each evening was inevitably announced through the stereo speakers: the pop-and-crackle of the needle touching an album. When Dad was home, there was always music playing. Aaron Copeland, Miles Davis, Stephen Sondheim, Bela Bartok, the Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary—their electrifying, silky, surprising, earthy, and complex notes were the soundtrack of my childhood (the volume always a bit too high for my mom’s taste).

During warmer months, the sounds in our home mingled with the sounds of the world outside. In 1970s Michigan, no one had air conditioning—certainly not those of us renting old houses divided into duplexes in the city’s core. We opened windows, turned on noisy box fans, and spent as much time as possible playing outside with water, or sitting on shady stoops. Private lives were aired to the neighborhood: Everyone’s music and arguments, their clattering pots and pans and crying babies, were heard alongside the passing boom of car stereos, loud mufflers, and barking dogs.

After being tucked into my bottom bunk each night, the sounds of Walnut Street played on, each sound telling me a story. Some were as comforting and present as the hum of my mom’s sewing machine on the kitchen table; others were as mysterious and distant as another plane in the night sky, its seats filled with strangers traveling who knows where. 

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Kristin bio YAH