what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever.¬†Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

{source}

III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. ūüėČ

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

C√©line, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?

mid-week meditation

Hello, beautiful friends! Hope you’re having a lovely day! I’m off in a few hours to teach and then head to the airport to catch a flight home for my cousin Julie’s bachelorette party and wedding this weekend… I can’t wait!

Last night I went to an insightful meeting at church, and as always our minister began with a brief reading and a couple minutes for quiet reflection. Later on, as I drove home¬†from the meeting, I thought about¬†how comforting and nurturing even those brief periods of meditation are in my life. That gave me the idea to start a new series here on the blog: mid-week meditations! Each week, I’ll try to post a quote or question to think about as you go about your busy day. I hope it brings you solace and gratitude as it does for me!

Today, I’m thinking about joy and abundance, and these lovely words I came across from Sarah Ban Breathnach:

abundance meditation.jpg

If you’re looking for more meditation, I love Heather Waxman’s blog posts and her amazing meditation album Soul Sessions. I’m a newbie to meditation, and Heather has been a gentle guide as I nurture my own budding practice.

Question of the day:

  • Where in your life are you feeling a sense of abundance and joy?

saturday upsides & healthy apple oatmeal muffins

Hi everyone! Hope you had a wonderful week and are gearing up for a lovely autumn weekend. I am pretty much over my nasty head cold, but am still feeling a little low-energy. As mentioned, I was {un}kind enough to share my cold germs with Mike, who has been battling the bug as well this week. I took him to the doctor yesterday, which was a good thing because he had a build-up of fluid in his ears that easily could have turned into a bad ear infection! He is currently on a regimen of steroids & antibiotics to clear up any infection and woke up this morning feeling much better.  It will be nice for both of us to get some rest this weekend and {fingers crossed} I will be feeling all better and will have an energetic Marvelous Monday post for you in a couple of days!

In the meantime, I was inspired by my blogging friend Bonnie over at Recipes Happen who has created a series called Saturday Upsides in which she posts each Saturday about looking at the bright side of things. {Check out her post today about the upsides of a busy Saturday!}

My Saturday Upsides today are numerous: both Mike and I are feeling on the mend; we get to see his family this weekend; fun pumpkin carving and Halloween activities are planned. And one bright side of struggling through a few miserable days while your body is battling a cold or flu bug is that it makes you more aware of what a blessing it is to normally be feeling healthy!

Before I sign off for the day, I wanted to share this recipe that I made earlier this week for healthy apple oatmeal muffins. I made a big batch of these on Tuesday evening and ate them for breakfast and snacks all week long. They are full of fiber and heart-healthy oats, plus double-apple goodness thanks to the apple pieces and applesauce. A perfect autumn treat! And they are easy to whip up {which was a requirement for me this week! This cold has seriously knocked me flat!}

I adapted this recipe from one I found on Frugal Homemaking for oatmeal chocolate-chip muffins. Hope you enjoy!

healthy apple oatmeal muffins

– 3/4 cup oatmeal
– 1 and 1/3) cups whole-wheat flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp. baking powder
– 1 tsp. baking soda
– 1/4 tsp. salt
– 2 tsps cinnamon
– 1 egg, beaten
– 3/4 cup milk {I used nonfat}
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
– 1 large apple, peeled and cut into pieces {I used a honeycrisp, my all-time favorite apple, but you could use any kind you want}

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a muffin tin with paper cups.

2. Blend together dry ingredients: oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients: egg, milk, applesauce, and vanilla.

4. Create a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well. Mix together.

5. Stir in the apple pieces. Batter will be lumpy and thick.

6. Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 of the way to the top.

7. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until golden brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

And that’s it! These muffins are like apple-cinnamon oatmeal in baked form. Warm, filling, healthy comfort food.

What are your plans for this weekend? Any autumn-inspired recipes you’re trying out?

Stay happy & healthy,
Dallas

————————-

– Time spent: 40 minutes {including bake time}
– Cost: less than $5.00

marvelous monday: creating rituals with those you love

Tomorrow, I head back to Indiana to get ready for the new semester which starts up a week from today. These past ten days I’ve been home with my family in California, and it’s been wonderful to get to visit with my parents, brother, Gramps, and friends from high school. Don’t get me wrong — I love my grad program at Purdue and I love all my friends there!¬†But, as a California girl who spent my undergrad years just a a short drive down the 101 freeway from where I grew up, it is hard being so far from my family for months at a time. We text and talk often on the phone and Skype, but I still miss them. I guess that is just part of having such a loving, supportive, and special family — I miss them when I’m gone!

My younger brother Greg {check out his website giverunning.org to get an idea of the amazing things he’s up to!} has always been one of my best friends. Greg adds so much sunshine to my life! He can make me burst out laughing with a single silly look, and we can meet eyes across the dinner table and know exactly what the other is thinking. He’s three years behind me in school and it was really hard for both of us when I graduated high school and moved off to college.

The morning I left for college, Greg and I went out to breakfast just the two of us to this cute restaurant we’ve always loved, Allison’s Country Cafe. {They make the BEST Belgian waffles topped with hot cinnamon apples — I’m determined to try to recreate them at home this fall, though I know they won’t ever be as good as the ones at Allison’s.} We talked and laughed and it was wonderful just to be enjoying each other’s company as friends. I remember driving home, pulling the car into the driveway, and bursting into tears. I knew I would miss him so much.

Even now, a decade later, I can never say goodbye to Greg without crying. But something that always makes goodbyes easier is the ritual we’ve established: every morning before I leave, we go out to breakfast just the two of us to Allison’s Country Cafe. I get the waffle or pancake with hot cinnamon apples; Greg usually gets the banana nut French toast. We talk and laugh and reminisce and plan for the future. Sometimes, Greg makes me laugh so hard I have trouble swallowing my mouthful of water or orange juice.

Our ritual is something I treasure. It turns the sadness of having to say goodbye into something comforting and special.

What rituals or traditions do you have with those you love?

Have a marvelous week!
-Dallas