A special blood connection with my dad


So that’s what they look like…

My dad and I shared a blood connection that goes beyond the ordinary. Not only was he my natural father and blood relative, but we also shared mosquito repellent blood. They didn’t like him and they don’t like me. If you showed me a picture of a mosquito and asked me to identify the insect, I’d fail the test every time. The little blood-suckers would eat my mom and sister alive, while displaying an odd aversion to me and my dad.


Me & Daddy before one of my band concerts

Being invincible in a swarm of mosquitoes wasn’t the only connection I shared with my dad. We also connected through music. He was a very talented musician, and helped me hone my talents vocally and instrumentally. I’ve enjoyed that part of my life immensely, and still sing and play the piano. It’s been a great connection between me and my son, as well.


Me & Daddy after Christmas church services

We connected through faith. My dad was quiet and reserved about his faith, but he lived it every day in the way he was devoted to my mother, dedicated to me and my siblings, and how he treated those around him. As a result, I am a devout person of faith, and I’ve done my best to pass along that heritage to my children and grandchildren.

We connected through humor. If daddy liked you, he teased you. He had a great wit, and his eyes disappeared (as do mine) when laughing at a good prank or just a highly humorous situation. I really appreciate that I can take a joke, tease and giggle like a five-year-old at my own jokes. Life is too short to be overly serious.


My biggest fear was that my dad would die of a heart attack before he was able to walk me down the aisle.

Life for my dad was extremely short. I visited his grave a few days ago. His headstone reveals the year of his birth, 1933, and the year of his death, 1985. The dash between those dates stands for 52 well-lived, short years full of music, church, camping, water skiing, and lots of teasing and laughter.

He’s been gone so long and so much has happened in his absence that I occasionally feel disconnected from him. That is until someone complains about those pesky mosquitoes.

Mom’s 80th

I’m not a professional event planner, but I know some very talented event planners and have worked on some pretty large scale events. So it’s not surprising that when it came time to plan my mom’s 80th birthday party, I was thinking large scale. Nothing elaborate, but something more than our usual family barbeque.

My sister was perfectly happy to stick with the usual and add in a few of mom’s closest friends, but our mother isn’t the type of person to only have a few close friends. Logically, she’s going to have a lot of friends just because she’s been accumulating them for 80 years, but her ability to make and keep friends goes well beyond the logical. She has friends from childhood, high school, work and church. She has family – LOTS of family! She genuinely loves all her friends and family, and does her best to stay in contact with them all.

It became apparent in the early planning process that the guest list could get out of control, and quickly.

“Mom, only invite those who legitimately call you Grandma Dee, not those who only do so out of respect.”

“Really, Mom? When was the last time you spoke to that person?”

Several invitees had to decline due to weddings, family reunions, etc., but we still had close to 100 people present to celebrate mom’s milestone birthday. All three of us kids were there with our spouses, five of her six grandchildren, nine of her 13 great-grandchildren, her two siblings and many of their children and grandchildren.

Her relationship with God is the most important thing in her life, but following a close second is family and coming in third is music. She was thrilled to have all three rolled into one, as my siblings and I sang “Until Then.” We also got her on video playing her signature songs, “Meeting in the Air” and “Goodbye, World, Goodbye.” Boy, those 80-year-old fingers can still run up and down the ivories fast and flawlessly! We also got an impromptu group of family to sing a somewhat less than perfect rendition of “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.”

Her party is not what I want for my 80th birthday, however, it’s exactly what she wanted (okay, she would have liked every single family member present, but that just wasn’t possible). She’s still overwhelmed with the notes and cards, and just that people took time out of their busy lives to be part of her special celebration.

To still hear her talk warmly about the day nearly three weeks later makes us happy. She’s done so much for all of us through the years, it’s the least we could do for her.


Perfect harmony

Music has always been part of my life. My mom and dad started singing together as teenagers in church – long before they were ever romantically involved. They passed down their love of music and talent to me and my two siblings.

We were all involved in band and choir in school, and continued to be involved with music as adults. My brother was a music minister before becoming a senior pastor. My sister is a music teacher and has sung with the Oregon Repertory Singers and performed in the Mikado. I’ve sung professionally and played the piano in a small church.

We decided a great gift for our mother’s 80thbirthday would be the three of us singing at the party. We sang together as children, but to the best of my recollection, we’ve not sung together in more than 25 years. We got together yesterday to practice. Even with our musical background, it took us a while to find our musical equilibrium. However, after 15-20 minutes, we were blending and making adjustments with *finesse.

Me with my parents and siblings at my cousins wedding – the last time I recall singing with my siblings. (1984)

Maybe it’s because we’re siblings and were raised with the same musical influences, but it’s surprising that we sound as good as we do and are still in sync with each other after all these years. Regardless of how we sound at the party, it will be perfect harmony to our mother, and that’s what matters.*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Using music to educate

It’s summer and many parents wonder how to keep their children engaged in learning during the school break. One answer is simple and fun – Music! This week’s Friend with *Finesse is a music teacher, musician, wife, mother, grandmother to Sienna (7), Hannah (5), Marissa (3), Jacob (almost 3) and Micah (1 ½), and my sister, Nancy Ridgeway.

Q: Why is it important for children to appreciate music?

A: Music is a universal language that relates to all subject matter, including math, science, literature, dance and visual art. For example, rhythm relates to math as each note has a value and assists children in addition, subtraction and even fractions. Additionally, some studies have shown that music may build connections between the right and left brain.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about music education?

A: Many people believe music is a frill, and although some students may learn to appreciate music, it’s not a necessary part of the education or development of children. However, music engages children in subject matter they may otherwise find difficult or uninteresting. While students may not be interested in history, they many times are receptive to songs about history. I created an entire program on the three branches of government, which included songs like The Ride of Paul Revere. I doubt any of those students will forget that musical history lesson. While I haven’t used it in the classroom, Schoolhouse Rock is an example of using music to learn concepts in various subjects.

Q: What are your top three tips parents (or grandparents) can use to enhance their children’s musical appreciation?


1) Summer is a great time to take your children to concerts in the park or parades that include marching bands.
2) Purchase music you can listen to and sing with your children.
3) A small set of rhythm instruments should be included in toddlers toys. They will naturally make a drum out of anything available, so why not introduce them to the real thing!

My musical finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert   

What’s your musical finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)