Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Walk On The Creative Side

Back on my birthday in December, when I asked all of you to send me questions, I had no idea that it would take me so long to get them all answered. Life has intervened. I realize that it has been nearly a week since I last posted; another thing I never intended. I made a deal with myself that I would not skip more than a day, maybe two. Why did this happen? I have come to realize that when I am in a bad mood, I don't write. In fact, I really don't do anything that amounts to much.

In an effort to move myself from this not so happy place, I thought it might be good to answer the following question from Lynn.

As a creative person, you have no doubt produced many items due to your creative actions. Can you tell us about one moment of creation which gave you much joy, and describe enough about it for us to enjoy that experience with you?

This should have been fairly easy because by profession I am a musician, a career that is generally considered to be one of the creative arts. However, I engage in many other things that I also think address my creative side. As I searched the depths of my memory for a single moment that gave me much joy, I finally settled on the following. Truthfully, I surprised myself by focusing on a musical moment. This is not because I don't find music a creative endeavor, but because recently that is not where I see my creativity at work. So, the moment I am thinking of dates from the early 80's. Don't worry, my creative juices have been flowing over the past 25 years. It just happens that this moment from way back when is still very special to me.

As an undergraduate in school in North Carolina, I majored in music theory and composition. Though I had many wonderful composition professors, it was Dr. Henry, who taught electronic music composition, that I see as my true mentor as a young composer. Electronic music in 1982 was a whole different ballgame from that of today. My career as a composer of electronic music began in the analog era on a Moog synthesizer that required you to actually understand the physics of sound. Every parameter of every sound was made by creating a web of patch cords that controlled everything from the pitch to the amount of reverberation to rate of attack and decay. The many hours that I spent in the electronic music studio experimenting with the infinite possibilities are times that I will always treasure. The punching of buttons and moving of sliders of thedigital age of today is no comparison.

While I was still in school, the academic side of digital music was emerging. I feel really old saying this, but I was a practicing composer when the mainstream digital age was born. It was the composing of my first digital piece that sticks out in my mind as a most creative moment.

Early digital music assumed more familiarity with the intmate working of a computer than does digital musiv of today. Every note, with all of its parameters, had to be entered in hexadecimal code. The theorist in me loved the process almost as much as the final outcome. However, it is -the outcome here that is very special to me.

As music majors, much time, from the wee hours of the morning to the late hours of the night, was spent making music - alone in the practice room and in various ensembles with friends. Great friendships were formed when that much time is spent together and when you join together to make music. These were wonderful times. We were all young; we were all doing exactly what we wanted to be doing; we thought we were invincible.

This reality was shattered when during our senior year, one of my closests friends was diagnosed with a tumor, thankfully benign, on his kidney. The kidney had to be removed. At age 20 you don't expect this kind of thing to happen to your friends. Rusty played the saxophone. we all wondered, as did he, how long his recovery would be. Would he be able to give his senior recital? Would he graduate wuth us? Because youth doesn't really understand its own mortality, Rusty never saw any option other than that he would get better and life would go on as he had planned. And, it did. He was on track to give his recital and graduate with the rest of us.

One afternoon after he had had a saxophone lesson, he came to me and said that he had decided on the repetoire for his recital, except for the final piece. He then asked me if I would write that piece for him.. I was both flattered and terrified. I first asked if this was okay with his saxophone teacher and then asked if he was still taking mind altering drugs left from his surgery. He said yes to the first question and no to the second. After I calmed down, I told him that I would be honored to write a piece for him. I asked what he wanted and he said that he didn't care; he just wanted me to write something.

As I am sure you have realized by this point, I used the opportunty to put my newly acquired digital composition skills to the test. I wrote a piece for alto saxophone and computer entitled Permutaions. The title refers to the fact that the entire piece uses only six pitches though they are found in various octaves. For those of you that are musically inclined, you know that an octave contains twelve chromatic pitches. The fact that I used only six was a nod to the fact the Rusty was now living with half of his kidneys. Until this very moment, that was a secret known only to the two of us.

I must say that I was more nervous the night of his recital than I was on the night of my own. I also wrote a piece for my recital but the emotion behind it could not compare to that of Permutations. Because technology changed so quickly, the ability to perform this piece did not last very long. I suspect that is how it was supposed to be.

I'm not sure this counts as a "moment", but it is the event that comes to mind when thinking about Lynn's question. Thanks for making me take time to remember.

These days I do not take the time to compose much. I used to say that I didin't have the time to write music anymore. Really, I don't take the time. I still write short examples to use in my eartraining classes, but this definitely don't fall into the category of creativity. I find my creative self now being expressed through knitting and photography and writing (though many of you may disagree here) and cooking. I feel blessed that I have a number of creative outlets. When one road is blocked, I switch gears to find another that is open. This may not be the best approach, but it is effective for me. I have also come to realize that creativity is not reserved for "artists"; it is available to everyone and is applicable to any and every facet of our lives no matter how mundane the task at hand may seem.

Let me share one such moment. For eleven years, my kids attended a private school. It was not one of those ritcy private schools; they did not even have a cafeteria from which to serve hot lunches. So nearly every day for those eleven years, I packed lunches. For the most part I enjoyed doing so. But, there were those mornings when there was only one apple and two kids, or the peanut butter was all gone, or the sliced green pepper had joined the other side, or the worst possible scenario . . .the only bread left was the heels. Though I personally love the heels, neither of my children thought that a sandwich on the dregs of the bread loaf was acceptable. Enter creativity. If you spread the peanut butter and jelly on the outside of the heels and place them together on the inside of the sandwich, no one can tell that the sandwich is made on the heels. From the outside, the sandwich looks perfectly normal. You have to admit it beats sending the kid to school with Pop-tarts and potato chips for lunch! And when they go to therapy as adults, it will give them something to talk about.

Today my creative energies were focused on graphic design, an area where I have little knowledge and no expertise. The task was to create a poster for our church theater company's production of the musical Godspell. The catch here is that we can all see in our heads the poster for the Broadway production of this show. The problem is that we (the director) chose not to pay the liscensing fee to use that particular logo design so I had to create a completely new design, something that the public might associate with the show but different enough that it is not a violation of copyright. For me, this was not an easy task. Here is the final product.

I have two more of your questions to address and I think that can be done in a single post. I hope to do that over the weekend. Weber and Offspring #2, you have not been forgotten.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Last Look At The City

On Monday morning, we all got up early and carried our packed bags down to the hotel lobby so that the concierge would look after them while we made a last quick trip into the city.

We rode the train to the World Trade Center stop. This was the best view of Ground Zero, which right now just looks like a busy construction zone. If you realize that the train station where we arrived used to be in the towers themselves, the magnitude of the 9/11 events can still be felt. If you never saw the World Trade Center, it is hard to imagine the great void that now exists.

We rode the escalator up to the street. I expected to see the large photographs and written tributes of the heroes from that day almost seven years ago. They were gone. All the memorabilia that lined the construction fences last June had been removed. Perhaps the city really has moved past that terrible day. I stood on the platform above the subway and took a picture of St. Paul's Chapel, the place that served as a haven of respite for those many days during the aftermath of 9/11.
When we visited New York in June, the chapel was still filled with pictures, gifts, letters, pieces of the 9/11 story. I wanted Liz and Gerald to see this place and feel all that was still therebut we were not able to go inside the building. I don't know if the chapel was closed for the holiday observance of MLK day or if they were preparing for a celebration that was to occur later in the day. Whatever the reason, we were unable to go inside. There is a part of me that fears that all the physical evidence of 9/11 is now gone. I admire NYC for being able to move forward, but there is still much healing that needs to happen. Having these tangible places where people could come to grieve and remember and touch the terror and then strive to move on is ian mportant process to growing stronger through those horrendous events. . Though it will mean always feeling at least a twinge of pain, I hope we never forget entirely..

We then took a quick trip to Central Park. The icy edged pond surrounded by the brown of winter was a marked contrast to the life that fills this areas in the summer.

I was surprised by the ducks that seem not to migrate.

A last look . . .
We then headed back to the hotel for our departure. After four wonderful days together, we all went our separate ways. Liz, Gerald and Erin headed back to Dallas where BK was waiting for them. Brooke went back to the negative temperatures in Chicago, and Mike and I made the five hour drive from New Jersey to northern Virginia for his sister's memorial service.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

NYC: Day 3

In a state of grogginess, I reached for the remote and turned on the TV. It was strange to see the people screaming and waving from Rockefeller Center on the Today show knowing that if we had gotten our lazy butts up, we could have been there too. My guilty feeling disappeared at the moment I heard the newscaster announce that it was 19 degrees in the city and that the temperature would continue to fall throughout the day. My first inclination was to crawl back in bed and see if tomorrow was any warmer. If I had had my dogs to cuddle with, there would have been no discussion about this. Since they were at home, I got up.

I began putting on the layers - running tights under my jeans, several layers of shirts, a sweater, handknit wool socks and my cowboy boots. Then my "marshmallow" coat, gloves, hat, and my polar fleece scarf that I got on clearance at Old Navy for 99 cents the day before we left. I know, I should have had a handknit scarf, but we all know that there is no way, even if I were willing to use Red Heart yarn (and I'm not) that I could make one for 99 cents. This almost a dollar scarf may be the most important buy of my life. Rather pathetic, huh.

As we emerged from the warmth of the hotel into the frigid morning air, I waited for that moment when the wind hit me and all I could say was "damn , it's cold." Much to my surprise, I was plenty warm. Granted, we only had to walk about twenty steps to the train station, but the fact that we did not freeze in that little time was encouraging.

We really did not have a game plan for today. Should we see another show? Shop? Visit Central Park? Once we were off the train and began walking through the city, it became clear quickly that walking the streets just to sight see was a very cold and undesirable option. We voted unanimously to see an afternoon matinee. We already had tickets for the evening performance of Avenue Q.

We headed to TKTS. By the time we got there, cold was not strong enough to describe the temperature. Mike and Liz went to stand in line. Gerald, Erin and I had been assigned to make the Starbucks run. We all got hot drinks in the biggest cups possible - not because we were that thirsty, but because holding the steaming hot cups was the only way to keep our hands warm. The line for tickets was longer today than it had been yesterday and it was much colder. At the point Erin was about to be mistaken for an ice sculpture, Mike and Liz came with tickets to Rent, a show that we were all happy to see. We could not get tickets together but this didn't matter as long as the theater was heated.

An interesting aside: In Texas, where we have no idea what cold really is, the public buildings are always freezing during the winter months. In New York, where one assumes that the locals can tolerate cooler temperatures better than we southerners, the public buildings are incredibly warm. It is unbearable to wear a coat inside, especially if you have on four shirts, three pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, and a partridge in a pear tree. Somewhere along the way, I missed learning about the laws of thermostat regulation.

We had a nice lunch at a real restaurant and then headed to theater for a 2 pm show. This was an awesome performance. Rent is a powerful show that requires the emotional, as well as the physical energy levels of the actors to be at 110% for the entire show. The cast did not disappoint. The fact that we all knew all of the words to every song allowed us to dbe rawn in so quickly. It is hard to believe that Rent has been on Broadway for 14 years and that it will be closing in June.

As we were leaving the theater, Erin's fairy tale trip to the city got even better. She met the actor who played Mark.

And Tom Collins.
All of the actors that we met were so talented and friendly as well. Though I'm sure they were tired and wanted to be someplace warm before they had to return for their evening call, they took time to chat and take pictures with members of the audience.

We had a few hours before Avenue Q. We did a little souvenir shopping and again found warmth in a Starbucks cup. Then we were off to the show.

This was the moment I had been waiting for. I had hoped to see this show when we were in the city over the summer, but during the only slot we had to see an extra show, Avenue Q was dark. This is another show to which we all know all the words, even the dirty ones! I sat mesmerized from the first note of the overture to the last note of the finale. What an amazing piece of art. The actors were taxed nearly to their acting limits and the audiences was forced to really think. During this show I realized that I no longer can look at a show purely as entertainment. I see everything now through the eyes of a techie. This is not all bad; it just makes for a different experience.

Again we headed to Ellen's Diner. Erin and Gerald were still looking for eligible guys.

High on all of the day's experiences, at nearly 11 we headed back to the hotel. Though our flights were not leaving until the late afternoon on Moday, we had to have out bags packed first thing in the morning so that we could check out of our rooms. It was hard to believe that the fun was coming to end so soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

NYC: Day 2

After our rather late night on Friday, we opted to not begin Saturday at the crack of dawn. We all got a good night's sleep and were ready to tackle the new day. Our hotel was on the New Jersey side so we headed to the train to take us into the city. After a change to the subway for a short ride, we emerged from the train in the midst of Times Square. Watching the expression on Gerald's face was like watching that of a small child on Christmas morning. Even at 11 in the morning, the city is bustling. We had decided to go to TKTS to get matinee tickets. At the suggestion of a friend, our first choice was Spelling Bee. Without a long wait in line, we were able to get six tickets together for the afternoon performance. Though we were all well caffeinated having visited Starbuck's, the consensus was that a real meal was a must before we headed to the theater. I firmly believe that a hot dog from a street vendor is a "must do" in the city; however, the vegan amongst us nixed this as a lunch idea. Instead we opted for a small cafe that had a nice selection for both carnivores and herbivores. Carnegie Deli had been an option we entertained, but the lined stretched out the door and down the street. None of us wanted salami that badly!

After finishing lunch, we took a leisurely walk to the theater. We knew that for the performance of Spelling Bee, they chose four members of the audience to participate on stage. Erin was determined to be one of the four. She got in line and answered the few questions that were part of the screening process. One of the questions was, "Are you a good speller?" She answered, "Yes." As it turned out, that was the wrong answer. She was not chosen to appear on stage. After seeing the show, it became clear that tenuous spelling made for a better resume. Nonetheless, the show was amazing. This was a great first Broadway experience for Liz and Gerald. At one point during the performance, a member of the cast asked the members of the audience who we planned to vote for in the upcoming presidential election. Our row was the only vocal row in the theater. Nobody booed us or threatened to beat us up so I guess our choice was acceptable.

After the show, we walked and walked and walked around the city. Brooke and Mike visited a comic book store and the rest of us went to the Drama Book Shop, a shop that is wall to wall scripts. Very cool! We had agreed to meet on a corner by the street vendor selling those awesome pretzels; you know the ones. Of course we indulged! After our snack it was on to 5th Avenue for some shopping.

Erin was on a quest to find a very specific style of boots that had eluded her in Dallas. She looked in what seemed like twenty shoe stores (I'm sure this is a slight exaggeration) with no success. Her shopping experience left her empty handed but her wallet was still full. As we made our way back to Broadway for a planned dinner at Ellen's Stardust Diner, Gerald and Erin took a few minutes to ride the Merry-Go-Round along the way.

I was happy to see them smiling. Brooke and Mike were party poopers. They parked themselves on a bench and muttered about how ridiculous it was that these two were acting so juvenile. To me, letting go and doing something a little silly is a sign that one is able to find joy in life. What do I know?

The diner where we ate dinner is one in which all of the wait staff are aspiring actors and actresses. In addition to waiting tables, they also perform live, singing a mix of pop, country, and show tunes. Gerald spent the entire meal flirting with our waiter. Somewhere there is a picture of Gerald and poor Justin the waiter, but it does not seem to be on my camera. I guess it is on Gerald's camera. He may have already taken it to Kinkos to have it blown up to poster-size! Thank goodness Justin was a really good sport!

After dinner, which ended with a little disappointment for Erin because they had no more strawberry shortcake (I think Erin only wanted dessert so that we could stay longer and she too could flirt with the waiter. Someone here definitely was going to be disappointed!), we made our way to the subway to begin our trip back to the hotel.

As we stood on the platform waiting for the train, I noticed Erin staring at a group of people standing slightly behind us. Her fixed look also caught Gerald's attention. Erin said that the girl in the group looked like Logan, one of the characters in Spelling Bee. At that point we all turned to look. Standing there with us were indeed three members of the cast that we had seen perform earlier in the day. Not being shy, we asked for pictures and autographs. They were all friendly and willing to oblige us. While waiting for the train we talked with them about the outrageous price of Broadway show tickets. They told us that their friends could not afford to buy tickets to come see their performances. They also said that life on the Broadway stage was no where near as glamorous as we might think. As our train approached and we all prepared to go our separate ways, they asked us, "So, which candidate do you support?" We allowed as to how we were the ones who responded loudly during the performance. We went our separate ways in solidarity.

We had a great day - great show, good food, a little shopping, and one of a kind friends.

Here is a look at the city at night.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New York Trip: Day 1

As often is the case, I waited until the last minute to pack for this trip. Most often I do okay with this method except that for going to New York I needed warmer clothes than we ever need in Texas and I also needed to take appropriate clothes for Mike's sister's memorial service on Tuesday. I thought I had done pretty well. Erin and I left the house and were on our way to pick up Liz and Gerald, who were travelling with us. BK ran down the list of necessities; the only thing I had forgotten was my toothbrush. That was no big deal. I was sure I could buy one in the airport for somewhere between $10 and $20.

We made our way to DFW in no time at all. By 10;15 am we were checked in and at the gate for our 11:30 flight. Life was looking good . . .until about 10:30 when they announced that our flight had been cancelled. At the same time that the American Airlines representative was sharing this information in her most pleasant "don't kill the messenger voice", my phone was ringing. Mike was calling to tell us that he had just gotten the message from the airlines. (Just as an aside, when I got home tonight, there was also a message from American Airlines saying that our flight was cancelled. It was left at 10:35 am for an 11:30 flight. Does the airlines not remember that they require you to check in an hour before deoarture? This message was a bit misplaced.) The gate representative was telling us that we needed to get in line to reschedule. Fortunately, Mike had made our reservations through the Advantage desk and they had automatically re-booked us . . .on a flight that departed at 5:45 pm. We now had seven hours with which to amuse ourselves in the airport. Fortunately, I find airports to be frather ascinating places.

Though we were already re-booked, I still had to stand in line to get our boarding passes for the new flight. In line, I was behind a woman on her way to see her son who was having surgery the next day. He is a soldier who was injured in Iraq. As you might expect with a line of 75 people or so, progress was slow and we had quite a bit of time to talk. She told me that her son had come home on the Friday before Christmas for what he thought was six months. When he arrived back in the U.S., he was informed that he would be deploying again on the 26th. Six months, six days; its all the same to the government. He was allowed to visit his family for Christmas but only if he loaded all of his belongings on the plane heading back to Iraq before he left. I'm not sure how long after he returned that he was injured. He sustained a non-life threatening injury to his shoulder and was now home for medical attention. His mother was unsure how long this soldier would be home before he was sent back. This was his third tour in Iraq. She was confident that he was not home for good.

I didn't really know what to say to this woman. I told her that I would keep her and her son and all those fighting in Iraq in my prayers. At the moment the words came out of my mouth, I found myself wondering if there is any comfort or hope in them for her.

We both made our way to the front of the line, received our new boarding passes, and headed to our new respective gates. We were now departing from a different terminal so we had an adventure on the Skylink.

Knowing that we had much time to kill, we found a spot with an electrical outlet so that Erin and Gerald could watch a move on my computer and so that our Ipods and cell phones could be charged before we got on the plane. At this point, I began to realize my packing shortfalls.

I did pack my computer and the power cord except that the cord I brought was the old one that the dogs had chewed and thus no longer worked. I had replaced it, but the new one was in "the other bag"; no movies. I also discovered that I had packed the wall plug for my Ipod, but I had forgotten the USB cable to attach the plug and the actual Ipod. This was a minor screw up because either Mike or Brooke would have a cable that I could use once we all rendez-voused. And, unlike my computer, my Ipod was fully charged when I left home.

So we all settled into our little corner that would be home for many hours. Gerald did his homework. Liz read. I knit. Erin tried to beat CSI on her Nintendo DS. All was well for about an hour and a half at which point, Gerald and Erin got bored. What better to do in the face of boredom than sleep. They piled themselves up and had a respectable nap.

The big red blob is Erin trying to keep warm next to Gerald. Like most children, when they woke from their nap they were hungry so we made our way to Fridays for some lunch. On our way through the terminal, we noticed that our departure gate had been changed. This was no big surprise.

For all but Erin, lunch was good. She wanted chips and queso. When she ordered, the waiter told her that they did not have queso. At first I think that she thought he was teasing her. When she responded with a disgusted, "Seriously?", he apologized saying that the airport locations do not carry the full menu. It is understandable that they may not serve ribeyes or lobster, but queso? Go figure. After our leisurely meal, we again checked the monitors for our gate assignment. Imagine our surprise (not) when we saw that it again had been changed. We made our way to yet another gate; one at the opposite end of the terminal from where we had started.

The gate area was packed with people waiting for a flight that was departing before ours. Mind you at this point it is only 3:30 or so. We seated ourselves across from a family with two small children who were obviously very tired. Ascwe shared traavel woes, it was clear that theirs were definitely worse than ours. Their day had begun on a 6:30 am flight from California. After a brief layover in Dallas, they were to head for Orlando. They had actually boarded and been deplaned from two different planes for the final leg of the trip already. The first plane had pressurization problems and the second one was having problems being de-iced. At the point we were talking to them, the airline was "looking for equipment." I don't know how their saga ended because our gate again changed and we were on the move.

At 5:15 we finally boarded the plane and at 5:45 we were in the air and on our way. The only problem with our flight was that because of the re-booking, the four of us travelling together were not able to sit together. This really was not a big deal. By this point, we were all ready to be sitting in one place and making progress to NYC.

Mike met us at the airport and shuttled the four of us back to the hotel. He then turned around and went back to the airport to pick up Brooke who was flying in from Chicago on a flight that also was delayed but only about thirty minutes. She arrived shortly after 11 pm.

While Mike was playing airport shuttle, the rest of us ordered massive amounts of Chinese takeout from the only nearby restaurant that was still delivering. At midnight, we had all finally made it to the hotel and were stuffing our faces with mediocre Chinese food and thankful that we were all finally in one place together. We set a meeting time of 9;30 am the next morning and headed to bed for good night's sleep.

To be continued . . .

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Technical Difficulties

Due to various technical difficulties, the NYC Travelogue will not be posted until I return home.  It will run it its entirety beginning Tuesday night.  Complete text and photos will be included.

Thanks for your patience.  Tune in again Tuesday.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Planes, Trains, And Automobiles

First let me apologize for having not answered all of the questions that you guys posed to me. I promise that I will respond to each one and the prizes will be awarded. Right now, life around here has gotten a little crazy.

We are all back in school; soccer season has started; and, the ever-present rehearsal schedule continues. We are having one last Christmas fling over this long MLK weekend. This time tomorrow we will be in New York City. Hopefully TKTS will be good to us and we we'll have a great weekend of Broadway shows. Perhaps a little snow will fall on us as well.

The trip became a bit complicated when Mike's sister passed away earlier this week. He and I will be gone an extra day to attend the memorial service in northern Virginia before flying home Tuesday night. Because of school commitments, the girls will each return to their respective locations Monday evening. It has proven to be more difficult than we thought to get from New York to Washington D.C. As of this moment, we will be travelling by train for this leg of the journey. I have not ridden a train in this country since I was an undergraduate twenty five years ago. Riding the rails will be a bit of a treat.

I hope to be able to post while we are away. If not, I will definitely return on Wednesday.

Thanks to each of you for your continued interest and support.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fifteen Going On Sixteen Going On Seventeen

This is the face of a kid who thinks big and works hard to make her dreams come true. Erin has been acting since she was six. She has had some great opportunities on stage and she has had some peculiar ones. (Imagine above kid as Ito in Auntie Mame.) During the past six months she has played the gander (yes, the gander) in Honk!, an Angelette in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and was in the chorus of Big, the musical. None of these was a huge part but they were all learning experiences. Currently she is in a high school production of High School Musical. Even with all these credits, Erin is still waiting for that "first big role."

Monday night she auditioned for the Sound of Music; she and about twenty other girls auditioned for the role of Liesl. On Tuesday there was another full night of auditions. Though it was obvious that some of those who thought they were sixteen going on seventeen were more like twenty six going on twenty seven, there were many potential candidates for the role.

Erin is at an awkward age for an actress-too old to play a child and too young to play an adult. Surprisingly, not many parts exist for teen aged girls. Though she is only fifteen, she thought perhaps she could pass for the sixteen year old Liesl von Trapp.

Erin was not feeling terribly confident after her audition though she honestly believed that she had done her best. The question was whether or not her best was good enough. Then began the waiting game.

Tonight her dream came true. Meet DCT's Liesl von Trapp.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another Question

I apologize for taking so long to answer your questions. I guess it is a good thing that I did not get very many. Truthfully, I would rather have been catering to those of you with inquiring minds than cleaning my house, but the cleaning thing was an absolute necessity. I won't go into the details; trust me on this one! I had house guests this weekend and they deserved clean sheets and a bathtub that was not full of dog hair from where I had to give Adidas a bath the other day because he had been romping in the pasture and found the remains of some critter and promptly rolled in it. And, well, Eau de decompose is not the best scent for him or any other dog for that matter. See what I mean? The details are ugly. Suffice it to say that we had a lovely weekend visit with out of town friends and except for a few closets and a basket or two of laundry (the sheets from the guest bed don't count) Martha might almost be proud of me.

On to the question. This one came to me from Ikkinlala.

What is your favorite kind of skiing?
I must say, this is not a question that Texans get very often though I can honestly say that I have been snow skiing but not in this country. On two different occasions, I had the good fortune to visit Banff and Lake Louise in Canada for week long ski trips. All we tried was downhill and I loved it. There is something about the sound of the whooshing wind as you glide down the mountainside. The only part of the experience that I was not too keen on was the ski lifts. I am afraid of heights, especially when I feel exposed. For example, airplanes don't bother me and skyscrapers, as long as I am inside don't bother me. Ski lifts and the top of the Eiffel Tower, they bother me. So, my skiing is limited not so much by my ability to steer clear of trees and other inanimate objects, but by how high I am willing to go and for how long I can ride on the lift before the urge to jump kicks in. I am fairly certain that Ski Patrol would not be too happy to come scoop up the idiot who could not wait to get to the top of the run before disembarking from the lift. Now helicopter skiing . . .I would like to try that!

Does water skiing count? I love that too. No lifts. The only downfall to water skiing is swim suits. The good thing about snow skiing is that everyone looks like a marshmallow. Not so with water skiing.

I have not done any kind a skiing in about ten years. Erin keeps hinting at a ski trip to the mountains of New Mexico. Perhaps that should be added to the 2008 "To Do" list.

Thanks for the question! It brought back for me some wonderful memories of my experiences in Canada. Those days seem so long ago. I think that I could still get myself down the mountain on skis though I might have to resist the temptation to sit in the warm lodge with hot chocolate and my knitting and where no ski lifts are necessary!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Scam Artist Or Genius?

Though three of the four people who inhabit my house live by an academic calendar, we all find ourselves in different places with regard to that calendar right now. Brooke is back at school and nearly a week into the winter quarter. I am still enjoying my semester break for a few more days. Erin is back at school as well though because of the way the Texas legislature has played with the school schedules, she went back after Christmas break to finish two weeks of the "Fall" semester. This means that next week she has mid-year exams. It has been hard for both students and teachers to adjust to this new schedule. In years past, everyone enjoyed being at a point of closure, having already taken exams when the Christmas holidays began, and then going back to school in January ready to start a fresh semester.

So, Erin is busy finishing projects before the six weeks and the semester end as well as preparing for exams. Her calculus teacher is being a pal and allowing the class to use their notes for the exam. Here is the catch; the notes that can be used must be copied out on an index card, a commercially available index card - one index card per student and no sharing. If you are an office supply junkie like we all are, you know that index cards come in several sizes - the standard 3x5, 4x6, and the less standard but still fairly common 5x7. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the bigger your card the more notes you can cram onto it.

We have plenty of both 3x5 and 4x6 cards at home. Needless to say, neither were big enough for all of the necessary formulae and equations so we headed to the toy store, I mean the office supply store, to buy 5x7 index cards. The shelves were full of 3x5 cards with lines, without lines, in pastel colors, in neon colors, with a different color on each side, but 3x5 is still 3x5. There were not quite as many choices in the 4x6 size, though obviously they were bigger and that really is all that mattered. As Erin carefully examined all the possibilities in index cards, she finally made her selection. She found the biggest honest to goodness index card we had ever seen - 5x8! You can fit a lot of numbers on a 5x8 card, especially if you use two colors of ink and write in two different directions, as she plans to do.

Quite proud of her find at Office Max, and in keeping with her reputation as an over-achiever, she took her cards to class the next day and showed them to her teacher. The only restriction that he had placed on the cards was that they must be commercially produced and these were. Score one for Erin. After the initial unveiling of the steroid enhanced index cards, Erin's point count kept rising. Being the quick thinker that she is, she offered to sell these 5X8 cards to her classmates for 25 cents. Since she is allowed to use only one card herself, she had 49 extra cards. Her little entrepreneurial adventure netted her several dollars. This was a great deal for her considering I payed for the cards to begin with. She does well in calculus, but no one has told her that she needs to consider her capital investors once the business becomes successful.

It is not surprising that she used this opportunity to make a few bucks. She is the same kid who, when she broke her leg at age six, sold advertising space on her cast. Erin was buddies with the girl who worked in the cafe at our local Borders Books. For a few free cups of coffee, Erin let the Borders employee fill a good portion of her cast (she was six so there was limited space as the leg of a six year old is rather short) with a Borders promotional. The same offer was extended to a favorite barbecue restaurant in town. In this case, I believe Erin got a free piece of pie in exchange for cast space. Her friends were allowed to sign free of charge once all of the business deals had been finalized.

Hopefully Erin's fine shopping skills and emerging business sense will be followed by success on her calculus midterm!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

10808 Blues And Oranges

Yesterday I mentioned my love of the colors blue and orange. When these two come together in the sky, they are especially beautiful. This evening I was moving through the house trying to get some chores done before going to a meeting. Something made me stop and gaze out the window. Yes, this is what I was trying to describe in words yesterday.

The changing shades of both the blues and the oranges over just a few minutes remind me how quickly time passes. As each second ticked away, a new canvas was created and another was lost. The only gallery in which these images will be preserved is called memory. Each moment that passes and that we don't take time to acknowledge is a lost work of art.
Take time to honor the artist.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Few Questions

I promised that today I would begin posting answers to the questions I received. I must say that I did not get the response that I had hoped for. I'm not sure if this means that I am boring or you are. A big thanks to those of you who did play along with me. You will all be rewarded for being such good sports. I will address all of the questions over the next week or so and will announce the winners and the prizes.

First up are two questions from "Anonymous". I'm not sure if they are both from the same person or if they both had parents with ADD who could not get past the "A's" in the baby name book.

The questions are:
"Why is the sky blue?" and "Why is the grass green?"

Ignore what they say about the grass being green because it contains chlorophyll, a sunlight-fixing pigment and the sky being blue because there are billions of tiny particles in the air that refract the sunlight. Here is the real explanation of the green grass and the blue sky. Simply stated, the sky is blue because blue, whether it be the cheerful blue of a Spring day or the harsh, cold blue of a winter storm, is my favorite color. Green is not my favorite color. I would always rather see blue than green. Therefore, the sky is blue to encourage me to always keep my head up. Also, blue is the color associated with the Democratic party, another favorite of mine. Looking up to see a lot of blue on the state map on election night in November will make me much happier than seeing red. Seeing too much red will make me turn green and I don't like green.

In case you are interested, orange is my second favorite color. It also is found by looking up to see magnificent sunrises and sunsets.

Friday, January 4, 2008

White Elephants

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am definitely not a party girl. I'm not a big fan of large groups of people, especially large groups of people who believe that the only way to socialize is in a state of inebriation. So was the way that I spent this evening - not under the influence myself, but in the midst of many who were. Generally speaking, I like all the people who were at the party. It was happening in honor of some friends who moved away but were in town for a visit. I also am not a fan of party games and that too was a part of the night's festivities. We were all asked to bring a white elephant gift.

What is the best approach to selecting a white elephant gift? I have been involved in this kind of gift exchange before where, in some cases, the gifts are pretty nice and at other times they are perfectly ridiculous. Personally, I like to fall somewhere in the middle of the two. Because the guests at tonight's event were both teenagers and adults, the gifts had to be appropriate for either - no bottles of wine. Although, this would have been the most coveted gift of many of the adults. Because my 15 year old was one of the party-goers, I tried to be sensitise to appropriateness. I actually put some serious thought into what I would take and what Erin might consider taking.

I finally decided that I would make a hat. Yesterday afternoon, I headed to the stash bin and found some washable yarn that was an acceptable color for both male and female (red with blue and yellow specks) and set to work knitting. At two this afternoon, it was finished.

The guests of honor at the party have moved from Texas to Michigan; hats are needed there. One of the teenagers is attending college in Minnesota; she too can use a hat. For those living in Texas, a hat was necessary yesterday, though it is supposed to be near 80 this weekend. As is the case with Texas weather, everything can change on a dime and it could be freezing again next week. A hand knit hat was a good gift don't you think? Erin took the collectors edition of 10 Pez candy dispensers of the Disney princesses. How appropriate was that for the Cinderella wanna' be?

Other gifts that people brought included various games and puzzles, gift cards to Starbucks and Target, calendars, a candle, and a small refrigerator that plugs into your car lighter. For the most part, nice stuff. What did I get you ask? A felt parrot. Yes, a felt parrot. It looks like one of those things you find in a Mexican market for a quarter, maybe a dime if your Spanish is good enough to bargain with the vendor. As the wrapping paper fell to the floor and the colorful felt bird lay in my hands, I thought, "What am I supposed to say about this?" The game was over for me. I was confident that no one would steal my prize possession and afford me the opportunity to choose another package. I could have taken a gift from someone else rather than choosing a wrapped package, but I don't like to do that. Though in this case, it would have been the better choice.

So, here I sit with my felt parrot. Others are drinking Starbucks coffee and enjoying some crossword puzzles. Trying to get a grasp on this whole white elephant thing, I decided to do some research to see if I could find the real meaning behind this kind of game. Like any scholar, I turned to Wikipedia. This is the entry for white elephant.

A white elephant is a supposedly valuable possession whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) exceeds its usefulness, and it is therefore a liability. The term derives from the sacred white elephants kept by traditional Southeast Asian monarchs in Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. To possess a white elephant was regarded (and still is regarded, in Thailand and Burma) as a sign that the monarch was ruling with justice and the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity The tradition derives from tales in the scriptures which associate a white elephant with the birth of Buddha, as his mother was reputed to have dreamed of a white elephant presenting her with a lotus flower, a symbol of wisdom and purity, on the eve of giving birth. Because the animals were considered sacred and laws protected them from labor, receiving a “gift” of a white elephant from a monarch was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because of the animal’s sacred nature and a curse because the animal could be put to no practical use.

It seems to me that the modern day interpretation of white elephant gift exchanges has come to focus primarily on the "no practical use" aspect. There is definitely no practical use for a felt parrot. What about the sacred nature of the gift? Doesn't that mean that there should be some meaning attached to the gift? I don't expect that anyone will wrap the family jewels for such a party game, but there has to be some happy median.

I am not sure that the person who received the hat was thrilled by their gift, but at least it is useful though I guess technically this breaks the rules of the game. Erin's Pez dispensers, absolutely nothing but impractical, were one of the most popular gifts. They were stolen by three people and were eventually frozen, much to the dismay of several others who wanted them.

Maybe I take these things too seriously. Maybe I should have had some wine or a few Cosmopolitans. The whole thing may have looked a little better to me with a little change of perspective.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Love At First Sight

Being that this is my first post of the new year, I should probably write some profound statement about all the resolutions I have made to ensure that 2008 is the best year yet. There should be resolve to be neater, to be more organized, to exercise more, to eat healthy, to be a better mother, to be a better teacher, and so on. But, I am not one to make New Year's resolutions. My philosophy is to live each day to its fullest. In doing this, none of those resolutions are necessary. Living one day to its fullest may mean a five mile jog followed by a nice green salad and cleaning the bathroom. The potential of another day may best be realized in chocolate cake for breakfast (with a diet Coke, of course) and laying on the coach all day doing crossword puzzles and reading magazines about how one could eat more healthy and be more organized if one really wanted so to do .

Part of living today, January 2, 2008, to its fullest meant considering a friend for our llama, Serena. Until recently, she shared a pasture with two sheep. Sadly, we lost the sheep during the fall. Because llamas are pack animals, she really needs to have a pasture mate. This does not have to be another llama; it just needs to be someone with whom she gets along. After doing some research, we decided that perhaps a donkey would be a good friend for Serena. As it turns out, the family of a friend of ours raises miniature donkeys. We went to look at them today. That is where the love at first sight thing come into play.

How can anyone resist this beautiful creature?

When we entered the pen, the entire herd of donkeys came to greet us, much in the same way the dogs congregate at our feet for attention. In fact, this gal was laying in the dirt possibly pretending that she was a dog.

These critters have great personalities. They each have their own identities. And, they are extremely intelligent. I wandered through the pasture for an hour in awe of the essence of life that they exhibited.

I'm sure this one was saying, "I don't want to live in the wild or anything, but how do you think I look with antlers? Perhaps I could be a deer for next Halloween??"

This one borrowed BK's cane to try his hand, or is that hoof, at a little soft shoe.

After we oohed and aahed at all of the beautiful animals, we spent some time with the one we actually came to see. He is a baby jack who was born on September 8th. Not yet weaned, he is never too far from his mama. He is being sold as "pet quality" rather than show or breeding stock because of his coloring.

See that precious little face on the left? He will soon be our baby! Notice that he has a dark nose rather than the characteristic white muzzle that you expect on a donkey. But he is sooo cute! His mama, who is looking on, agrees with me whole-heartedly.

Here is baby's front side and mama's back side. (The stripes are not their attempt to work on a zebra costume for Halloween; they are the result of bad positioning of the photographer and a barbed wire fence.)

Like llamas, donkeys are also herd animals. They are usually sold in pairs. You mean we HAVE to have more than one? What a shame. With twenty faces like these looking at us, they become like Riffles potato chips . . .Nobody can have just one.

At this point, we have only committed to purchasing the little dark nosed male. When he is ready to leave his mama in a month or two, we may have to bring another one with us. For now, I will just stare at the pictures and remember what love at first sight feels like.

As I begin 2008, we welcome a new four-legged member into our family. This year is off to a great start. In approaching each day with the intention of living it to its fullest, I trust that all shall be well.

May each day of 2008 be a day that you remember and cherish.