Monthly Archives: February 2013

Earring storage, practical and pretty

Earrings are one of my favorite forms of self-expression. They help me show off my silly, funky side, and they can be great conversation starters. I match my earrings to my mood, and sometimes to my outfit. When I was younger, I was particularly drawn to big, dangling earrings. Most of them were silver, to match the bangles I was also collecting. As I got older, I added more color to my collection and eventually even some gem stones.  I have a lot of earrings. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to keep track of them all.

My mother invented the perfect solution. She bought a flat, plastic box, with rows segmented into squares, probably intended to hold fishing tackle, and turned it into a jewelry box. She put a layer of foam in each square to raise the floor, and then cut pieces of felt to fit on top to give it a more finished look. Since the box was clear plastic, I could peruse my collection and choose the pair I wanted to wear before I opened it. To accommodate the larger earrings, she gave the same treatment to a box with a different layout, and when the original two boxes ran out of space, she made me yet another one. I loved those boxes.

moms jewelry boxes

Then I met Andrew. We’ve been married almost twenty years, and for most of that time he has been on the prowl for a “proper” jewelry box. My unique storage system never appealed to his more sophisticated aesthetic sense. However, he knew that convincing me to abandon my mother’s boxes would be difficult, and he was nervous about committing to a new one without my express approval. He continued to look and offer alternatives, but I never saw one that I liked more than what I already had.

This past birthday, Andrew stopped seeking my approval and presented me with a new jewelry box made by Heartwood Creations in Illinois. I readily acknowledged that it was a beautiful piece, but even so, I was stunned that he’d finally gone through with it, and I was secretly pleased to discover that the artful, handmade box presented a couple of unforeseen challenges. My bureau is tall, and with the box on top, I couldn’t see into the drawers. And although it was big, it was not big enough to hold my entire collection of earrings.

The first problem was easily solved; the new jewelry box would live on Andrew’s bureau, which is considerably lower than mine. The next problem was much more difficult. I had tried to cull my earring collection once before, but only got as far as moving some into yet another box and hiding it away under never-worn-lingerie. I forced myself to try again.

new jewelry box

Each day, I moved a few pairs of earrings into the new jewelry box, setting aside any that I knew I’d never wear again. I added those to the box that lived under the lingerie, until that box could hold no more, and still I squished them in. After a while, I began to appreciate how handsome the new jewelry box was, how grown-up it looked, and how much fun it was to open the drawers to choose my earrings for the day.

Full of resolve, I put all the earrings that were not making the move to the new box into a big, plastic bag and brought it down to the kitchen counter—where it still sits. But I assure you, it’s only a matter of time, because nothing dims nostalgia like the loss of counter space.


I’d miss you if I knew you were gone

When I was three, we drove from California where we had been living, to Massachusetts where my dad was going to begin his medical practice. The story goes that my parents had promised us that we could have a cat “when we saw a house we liked.” After a long stretch of not much of anything, somewhere in Texas, my older sister called excitedly, “There’s a house! Do you like it? Can we get a cat now?” Alas, we had to wait until my parents settled us in our own house in Lexington, MA.

Sugar, which my father claims was short for meshuga (Yiddish for crazy), was a big tiger cat. I don’t know how he got his name since I remember him as long-suffering, placid and forgiving. He was the only male in the family besides my dad, and he was the apple of Dad’s eye. My father kept a picture of his daughters on his office bookcase, frozen in time, faded by the sun, confusing patients who would occasionally send home knitted slippers and other homemade presents for his “little girls.” The framed photo of Sugar, however, hung in a place of pride on his office wall and never faded.

Then along came Alvin Wickersham, our parakeet. Alvin lived in a hanging bird-cage, like the one pictured below, so he wouldn’t be a constant temptation to Sugar. It didn’t work very well, and it kept Alvin too high to entertain little girls unless they climbed a chair to look in.


One day, after Sugar had managed to knock over the cage yet again, the door popped open and a terrified Alvin went zooming around the kitchen. In his panic, he hit his head on the wood valance over the kitchen sink. I have a vague memory of the poor little parakeet with blood on his head, but I may have painted the blood on in my mind. If he’d been a parrot, maybe we could have asked him questions like, “Who is the current president of the United States,” or, “What year is it?” to assess the damage. Lacking that diagnostic tool, my father made the best guess he could and declared Alvin not much the worse for wear, despite the bang on the head.

We three girls wandered off to continue living the life of little girls, torturing Sugar, and each other, and paying scant attention to our precious parakeet. Time passed, and I decided to check in with Alvin. I dragged the black, molded-plastic kitchen chair to the cage and clambered up to look inside. Alvin Wickersham was gone.

Before you blame my father for misdiagnosing Alvin, let me reassure you that for a people doctor, Dad made a pretty good vet. But that’s not really the point, because the fact is, I don’t know how much time passed between Alvin’s misadventure and his passing. It could have been days, weeks, or even months. The operative part of the story is that he was gone for several days before any of the sisters noticed.

Sugar probably noticed immediately, and may even have mourned the passing of his nemesis. I’m sure we girls were sad, too, for a while, until the birdcage was removed from the kitchen and then it was, again, out of sight, out of mind.

Sugar lived a good, long life. The day he died, we all cried, but no one more than Dad.

The best darn piano teacher in Arlington… VA

When Hannah was a little girl, we enrolled her in Keys for Kids, a group piano class. The program, created by a marvelous, innovative woman named Inga Magid, requires that each child be accompanied by a parent who sits with them at one of the electronic keyboards and works with them at home. For years, Andrew and Hannah participated in the program, moving through the entire curriculum from Mini Keys, to Kinder Keys to Super Keys. When Hannah began individual lessons with Miss Inga her enthusiasm waned. I suggested we get a new teacher and Andrew wailed, “But I love Miss Inga.”

“Then you should take lessons with her,” I replied. He did, and that’s a story for another time, but it left us without a piano teacher for Hannah. Then, in one of those rare coincidences that makes you believe in angels, I found a business card stuck in our screen door. On it was a picture of a piano with local contact information for a teacher of same. I called, and a few days later we met Candace Cleary.

Inga trained in the classical Russian tradition. She is an exuberant, out-going Latvian, who scolds and cajoles in equal parts. Candace is from Canada and got her music degree at a university there. I do not know what her own training was like, but she developed a teaching style that is warm and encouraging. She is gentle, and earnest, and soft-spoken.

Candace lived in the center of town, and taught in her apartment. At our first meeting she served us lemonade and cookies in her impeccably clean, simply decorated living room. She had us at hello.

New to the area, Candace was just beginning to build her clientele. Before long I had recommended her to my sister and a friend, each of whom brought two new students to her, and it wasn’t long before Candace had a schedule full of dedicated students, and grateful parents. She found music that appealed to each individual, teaching some popular music, others classical or jazz. Under her guidance, the students developed confidence as well as skill. She encouraged Hannah’s interest in improvisation and another student’s interest in composing. There was nothing cookie-cutter about Candace.

For years Hannah had been happily taking lessons from Candace and we were thrilled. Many kids give up on music once they enter high school, but here we were, in Hannah’s junior year, and she was still going strong. And then, Candace told us that her husband had gotten a job in Washington and they were moving to Arlington, VA. I was devastated, as we all were.

It was such a joy to introduce people who were searching for a piano teacher to Candace. I’m hoping that residents of Arlington, VA will google for “piano teacher, Arlington, VA” and find this blog post. It would give me great pleasure to help Candace find students in her new home. But she only needs one to get the ball rolling; after that word will spread fast because a good piano teacher is hard to find. And now the best darn piano teacher in Arlington is in Arlington, VA. You can contact her at

I’m sure I speak for all of Candace Cleary’s former students and their families when I say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.