Over the Garden Wall

One of the great joys, and small sorrows, of parenting is revealing your favorite things to your children to be embraced or reviled. There’s the magic of having them fall in love with something you fell in love with too. There’s nothing like snuggling with them on the couch watching your favorite movie for the first time, or catching your youngest staying up too late reading a book you also stayed up too late reading. Of course, they don’t always love what you loved. There you just hope that maybe someday they’ll have better taste.

But every once in a while, they introduce you to something that means a lot to THEM and the process works in reverse.

Grey bought a Google Home Mini with the Christmas money his uncle gave him. I’d been reluctant to add that technology to our household mix, but then he put together a six slide presentation on why he should be allowed to keep it. So it stayed. Grey and I have, uh, different taste in music. He really likes rap. So I was very surprised, listening to one of his playlists, to hear him singing joyfully along to a simple piano and vocal piece with the refrain “Potatoes and Molasses“. Very weird.

I asked him what it was from, and he was horrified to discover that I hadn’t seen his possibly favorite ever show, Over the Garden Wall. So over the course of the next few evenings, we watched it together as a family.

You know what? It was really fantastic. The kids kept warning me every episode that it was “dark”. It was serious, with real emotions and important themes and the opportunity for real loss. But it was also silly, surreal, sweet and unexpected. It had beautiful pieces of music interspersed. I think my favorite moment was the Beast’s Song, which I recognized from Engelbird Humperdink’s opera Hansel und Gretel. Do you have any idea how few subtle references there are in popular culture to obscure Germanic operas? And that one was so spot on, thematically, that it pointed to an incredible attention and care that the makers of the show lavished on it. I so deeply appreciate discovering my children love something that has depth, meaning and craft to it. This is literature in cartoon form – nodding backwards as it walks new ground forward.

I also really liked how the show modeled being brothers. (Mild spoilers.) The two key characters are step brothers. The little brother is annoying, for sure. The older brother is supercilious. But the love the two of them have for each other is plain in every scene and interaction. They’re never cruel to each other, and are very patient even when the sunny, goofy character of the youngest puts them in true peril. It’s a lovely model for my two, as they think about how they want to deal with each other.

It was a lovely thing – to have my kids pleased and proud to show me something that they loved. We got to be together. We got to point out to each other things we’d missed – those small details that can tie together a complicated story.

What’s something the next generation has introduced you to that you’ve discovered you really like afterwards? What are some of those moments of reversal for you?

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Gone to Melville Castle

Last Saturday, our wheels cut through the early morning mists on a journey North through just-coloring leaves towards our summer haunts in Lincoln New Hampshire for the New Hampshire Scottish Highland Games. As we sped away, I turned on a playlist of ALL THINGS SCOTTISH, landing as I always do on “All the Best from Scotland v2“. (No, I do not have and have never heard volume 1.)

This album has been, uh, enjoyed by my family often, and Adam and I certainly know all the words. And as we passed red-limned swamps and yet-green-groves, Melville Castle came on. Since there’s an off chance that you are unfamiliar with this apex of Scottish accomplishment, here’s a version for you to listen to:

Anyway, as the song went on, a small – anonymous – voice from the back seat joined in the chorus. When the song ended, he asked for it again. And again. When the album was allowed to continue, a wistful voice said that it couldn’t wait until it could hear it again – a wish soon to be granted.

We arrived at the games – a chaotic and crowded enterprise with pipe bands to the right of you, Red Hot Chili Pipers to the left of you and Haggis straight ahead. (Yes, I did have haggis for lunch.)

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No one would dare make fun of these guys for wearing pink and skirts.
No one would dare make fun of these guys for wearing pink and skirts.

I explained my Scottish heritage to my sons. I told them the rated-G version of what it meant to be a Johnstone of Clan Johnstone. (“Now what’s your clan crest again?!”) Then I took them to the Clan Johnstone tent where their great-uncle was presiding as Clan President (US) over the annual Clan Gathering. Accidentally showing up just during the clan meeting, my eldest son (the one with the Johnstone in his name) proposed that there should be awards such as best video game player (he would win) and best pie maker (an apparent shoe-in for his mother).

The boys with their Great-Uncle
The boys with their Great-Uncle

We wandered the booths, bought shortbread, watched the world championship caber toss, and saw more people in tartans than I thought possible. (I mean, I don’t have a tartan skirt and I really want one and am a Johnstone of Clan Johnstone! How do so many people gear themselves up so well and so expensively?!) My sons did this super cool bungy jump flip thingy. And a few hours later, we left the buzz of the bagpipes behind and returned home.

Not Scottish, but fun!
Not Scottish, but fun!

My son demanded “Melville Castle” on his DS. While I was at it, could I please add the depression era anthem “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound”:

These two songs have been ringing through my house ever since. Two young voices in my backseat, this morning, were arguing through the lyrics of Melville Castle (is it ‘what will all the lassies dae‘ or ‘what will all the lassies say’? and singing together.


So music, this folk music – the kind sung by people you know who are like you – has been much on my mind lately. On Wednesday, word came through my Facebook feed (is it heretical of me to admit that I really love Facebook, and how it has helped me preserve relationships that otherwise would have long since withered?) that one of my old Tacoma Youth Symphony alumn friends was in the region, and playing house concerts.

Ryan McKasson was a violist when we played through Sibelius and Rimsky-Korsakov together in the first flowering of youth. We probably played together for four or five years. So when my Friday was inexplicably free, and my babysitter (God bless having a babysitter!) was available, and … I found myself in a house in Lexington with the lights on, original art on the walls, an expensive grand piano and cheap folding chairs. Ryan recognized me, remembering my instrument if nothing else. We chatted briefly, and then the sparks flew.

Is there a better way to listen to music than in a small group of music lovers, in the aging house of retiring patrons of the arts? I watched the shy boy I once kind of knew strike like flint against the steel of his pianist friend, challenging with fiery eyes to go one farther and one better. Physics cannot explain how fast those 20 fingers flew across string and ivory. I was rapt, and entranced. (As an aside, Ryan is one of the best all-over performers I’ve seen. If you ever have a chance to watch him play, do so. And try to figure out a way to stay late for the after-concert-session that is apparently an inevitability.)

Ryan's skill was only exceeded by his passion
Ryan’s skill was only exceeded by his passion

There were a few moments, in this modern-day-salon, where I thought about the choices of my life. I come from a corporate job, a skilled craftsman in the new economy. I sit in a cube from 9 am to 5 pm writing emails and connecting threads of different thoughts to weave into a complete cloth of strategic understanding. But perhaps I could have been a musician, an artist. Perhaps I could have chosen to write books or perform trumpet, or teach. I did not. Even in the rosin-dusted air, although I am wistful for my choices, I do not regret them. While there is no art without the artist, there must also be an audience or there will be neither art nor artist. The Tacoma Youth Symphony made my high school years joyous, but it also taught me to be the audience and patron. I gladly and cheerfully accept my role, and would love to practice it even more actively!


You can see pictures from the Highland Games, plus a few more fall pictures here.

Grey’s art

About the time your child is two, you desperately long for the day when they want to talk to you and what they have to talk about is *interesting*. Rumor has it this is a short phase, between the obsessive talk of the preschooler and the reticence of the older kid.

Grey has definitely entered the time of life where he has things to tell me that I want to know, don’t know, and don’t have anything to do with the how long he’d have to save his allowance to afford Ghost Roaster. We have some really good and really interesting conversations now.

Not only is Grey fun to talk to, but he’s started creating art that is interesting to me. Now, I’m his mom so I’m sure that threshold of interest is lower. But he brought home his “Goal for Second Grade” paper this year. What do you think his goal is?

Snarf and Arf? Really?
2nd grade goals

You know what? I think his goal is AWESOME. And I think he might be able to do it. He draws constantly. He has a box of index cards he uses to create card games with his friends. (Think Pokemon.) His homework is full of doodles. Every day he comes home with pages of drawings. I’ve always tried to be careful to edit the boys’ papers, and only keep a few from each age and stage. But I’m having real trouble throwing anything of his away. So instead, I’m scanning and saving many of them.

I have the inevitable blogger’s challenge of the imperatives of content. So I thought I’d share some of Grey’s recent drawings with you (with his permission – I asked). I’m curious whether you enjoy seeing these, or whether I should just keep these on the kitchen bulletin board.

Grey and his brother invented caffeinated "Moo Coo Milk" - chocolate milk with caffeine. Grey's working on branding here.
Grey and his brother invented caffeinated “Moo Cool Milk” – chocolate milk. Grey’s working on branding here.
I like the dramatic tension of this. I just need to inform Grey that tacos are rarely what is left to accidentally burn.
I like the dramatic tension of this. I just need to inform Grey that tacos are rarely what is left to accidentally burn.
Grey has been playing some light Fate RPGs with his dad. He's branched out in to some dungeon design of his own.
Grey has been playing some light Fate RPGs with his dad. He’s branched out in to some dungeon design of his own.
This is a rare story where he writes, then he shows. I love how meta it is!
This is a rare story where he writes, then he shows. I love how meta it is!