Monday, December 28, 2015

The Creative Life: Sparking Ideas for the New Year

As the new year rolls in, people reflect on goals. I'm always thinking about goals, although I hesitate to call them "New Year's resolutions." A resolution, to me, seems like something that can be broken. I never consider a goal to be broken, in those terms. A project can be shifted to the back burner. You can get off course with a particular goal, but you can always get back on it again, particularly a long-term goal that does not have an absolute deadline.

I am on vacation from my job for this week leading up to New Year's Day. During this "staycation" time, I plan to work towards several goals. Already, there seems to be too many projects for me to give equal attention. I guess you could say I have my fingers in many pies ...

Or a lot of irons in the fire ...

Or a lot of balls in the air.

I think you get the idea by now. :)

My birthday is quickly approaching, January 9th. For the past few years, I have planned a mystery dinner party for friends to celebrate my birthday.

The photo below is from my mystery party in 2013, a body outline my father made on the balcony. I had several members of my family involved in different ways.

Yes, you can buy mystery dinner party kits. I have considered this option in the past.

Here's a site that seems to be a good source for these, although I went a different route.

Perhaps, because I'm a bit creatively insane, I thought it would be fun to create my own version of the game. I believe mine works differently than most you would buy. The usual pattern seems to be that the guests act in the role of different suspects. In my game, the guests are all detectives, and I enlisted members of my family to be the suspects. I modeled mine on the English manor mystery. My brother Tim acted as the butler. My sister-in-law Melody acted as a maid one year and an opera singer, a guest at the manor, another year. My father played a professor, a manor guest, at one of these dinners. I even had my oldest nephew, Bill, involved one year.

I admit that my family are extremely good sports. Not only did my mother and Melody help me serve a multi-course meal Downton Abbey style, they also ate in the servants' quarters, aka the next room, instead of with the aristocracy and their detective guests.

This is a pre-dinner photo from 2013.

I'll give you the basic idea. I put my friends on teams of detectives. The first year, friends were assigned to teams according to famous mystery writers and given fictional detective identities and name tags. For instance, the Agatha Christie Team had an Hercule Poirot, a Miss Marple and a Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. The next year, I did something similar with detective TV shows and fictional TV detectives.

Teams were supplied with evidence folders. When the game started, teams drew cards which I had typed up ahead of time. The cards would either instruct them to go into a certain room of the house in search of a clue or into a certain room of the house to interrogate a particular suspect. Clues were labeled by number in the different rooms, objects with cards offering an explanation of the clue as to what evidence was found connected to this object. There was a card left for each team at that location which they could collect into their evidence folder. The interrogation of suspects was all scripted, both the questions that detectives could ask of a certain suspect and the suspect's answer to the question. These answers were also on cards that detective teams could collect into their evidence folders. Other bonus cards gave options like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Of course, I had to throw in some red herrings.

As I type this, I wonder if I could make a little joke with some more literal red herrings, some Swedish fish candies. I'm not really sure where this idea is going yet, if it is a workable idea or just a bit of goofiness.

Does this sound complicated? It was quite complicated to create but also very rewarding, as my guests had a blast. The game concept did not have to recreated, but each year, a different mystery was created. It's also a bit tricky that my birthday follows so closely after Christmas. I should be glad I have this week off to make progress in my planning.

While looking at a photo of my guests at the table from a previous year's party, I noticed a candy jar in the center of the table. For some inexplicable reason, this triggered a thought of fortune cookies and the idea of a clue tucked inside of a fortune cookie. I really don't know how the candy jar got my mind working along that track. I remembered there are ways to order custom fortune cookies with your own messages inside.

Then, my brain started thinking, "And aren't there such things as Chinese puzzle boxes?" An Internet search did not turn up Chinese puzzle boxes, but it did turn up Japanese puzzle boxes.

So now, my brain is dreaming up something along this line, and, of course, with this sort of theme, a Chinese meal. I will update you on my progress.

In church life, I am known as "the puppet lady." I lead a puppet ministry team and write my own material. We have performed for various functions in the church to provide an uplifting Bible message in a fun and, often, funny way. I have been working on a script on a "fruit of the spirit" theme from Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

My puppet presentation, which, at this point, is just a concept and a partial script, is inspired by old variety shows. Some of the confused puppet characters want to demonstrate literal fruits and pop in with little bits of various fruit referencing well-known songs: "The Lime in the Coconut", "I Heard It Through the Grape Vine", "The Banana Boat Song", etc.  I thought it would be fun to have a puppet dressed as Carmen Miranda.

Aside from some association with this lady and some crazy fruity turban, I did not know much about her until I began to look up old movie clips on Youtube.  What an interesting, colorful vision, a kind of entertainment that is now passe.

I mention this loony idea to my creative partner, Betty, my interim pastor's wife. I suppose she is as loony as I am, because some days later, she sends me the photo below. I have sometimes called Betty the Edith Head of Puppetry.

In addition to these ideas, I still want to work on the next "Action Men" novel and also do some other less fun but necessary tasks.

I once read a description of my personality type, INFP in the Myers Brigg system, that says my type tends to take on too much but somehow gets it done. This seems to be fairly accurate.

So, these are some of the things I intend to make progress on this week. I once worked in a child care program the director described as "loosely structured." I suppose that could also describe my organization style. I am making plans but flexible plans.

Creative types, do you find yourself juggling several projects at once?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Eve with the Bishop, Bailey and the Band

December 24th,

Christmas Eve was spent doing a bunch of little last minute preparations. We did not make it to our church Christmas Eve service. It was an early five o'clock service. I had to work and, as I was having some car trouble, Dad picked me up. We stopped to do some shopping for a few things for Christmas dinner and my stocking stuffer chocolates. All of this put us behind schedule.

I did sing a solo in church on Sunday, December 20th, Amy Grant's "Breath of Heaven". The music director saw that I was having some stage nerves during rehearsals, and, at first, she was suggesting I should sing from behind the piano. I might not have minded being the mysterious voice from off-stage, but my mother would have minded. In the end, I was situated on the platform near the piano. With sheet music in front of me, I felt like I had an excuse not to look at the audience. I guess it went all right, because the music director's husband said it was "mellow and sweet" and our greeter said I sounded like "a songbird from the south", whatever that means, but I think it's a good thing. I tried to keep in mind that the lyrics are a prayer asking the "breath of heaven", (Holy Spirit) to "help me be strong." It seemed fitting.

Mom wanted to make oyster stew, a Christmas Eve tradition, but we were busy and tired this year. We did the next best thing and got some store-made lobster bisque from Kings Supermarket

 with some other specialties ...

and ... 

and ...

Dad bought some red and white roses for our Christmas table -- his idea! -- and I put them in water and trimmed their stems. Mom crimped two Pillsbury pie crusts, and I made two pumpkin pies. We just use the recipe on the Libby's canned pumpkin label, but we alter the spice measurements, one tablespoon of cinnamon instead of two teaspoons and one half teaspoon of ginger instead of one teaspoon. (I realize now that this is the first time I have written down Mom's spice adjustments, which shall now be preserved for next time.) While I was doing this, I caught bits and pieces of the West Point Holiday Special featuring the West Point Band, West Point Hellcats (buglers and drummers) and West Point Glee Club.

I also had some last minute wrapping to do, but not a lot, since my family draws names for our gift giving. I drew my nephew Justin's name. He is a twenty-four year old autistic man -- although I still think of him as a kid -- and a bit tricky to shop for. He does love music, so I got him some Disney music CDs:

and ...

The first has Disney movie songs sung by current artists like Gwen Stefani and Fall Out Boy, and the other has original movie soundtrack songs including "Bare Necessities" from Jungle Book, a favorite of mine, and "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story, another favorite. This gift was easy to wrap since I could just tuck it into a gift bag.

My gift to Mom and Dad was a Time Life collection of Bob Hope comedy.

One late night, while channel surfing, I came across this Time Life infomercial, and we were all laughing at it. I began to think it would be a good gift for them.

I closed the folding doors between the family room and dining room, so I could wrap in privacy. Mom and Dad heard strange noises coming from the dining room. I shrieked twice, once when I nearly hit my head on the chandelier and once when I actually hit it. (We had moved the dining room table, and I kept forgetting to duck.) I also referenced an earlier conversation I had with a professor friend, a college classmate's father, on Facebook. He had posted that he wanted to start a support group for those unskilled in wrapping. I told him that I would join his support group. The Bob Hope DVDs, the way they came packaged, were shrink wrapped to cardboard in two side by side stacks. I thought they were well disguised that way, and when I brought the wrapped package to Mom, she felt it, remarked about it being soft and was mystified.

I put my chocolates in the stockings, including two cute Lindt chocolate bears for nephews Justin and Matthew.

When my work was done, I again watched the original "The Bishop's Wife" on TCM. As I was watching it, I was thinking the movie has a bit of a humanistic message for a story involving a bishop and an angel. Still, there are aspects of it that I find charming even if it is not so completely theologically correct.

The bishop says in his final sermon:
All the stockings are filled -- all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most, and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.
It's true that Christ would desire these things from us, but it is not true, as the movie suggests elsewhere, that man is naturally good. It's not faith in humanity that we need to restore. He is, however; able to make us good. I was reminded of this quote.

I caught the last half of "It's a Wonderful Life", another favorite Christmas classic. I love this scene with George Bailey and Mary at the phone. You see George's resolve to follow a certain plan for his life melt away while in close proximity to Mary.

Earlier this season, I watched two different movie versions of "A Christmas Carol", both the 1984 and 1999 editions. I found myself drawing a parallel between "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol." In both stories, a supernatural being shows the main character an alternate reality of his life. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge how his life will unfold if he does not repent.

The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.
"Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of things that Will be or the shadows of things that May be, only?"
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, then the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me?"
Of course, Scrooge gets to evade this fate pointed out to him by the final spirit. Clarence, the angel who has not yet earned his wings -- another strange theological concept -- shows George Bailey what the world would be like if he had never been born, how circumstances would change in the world and for people he loves if his life had not impacted them.

Scrooge gets a chance at a new reformed life to do good, and George gets a second chance to continue to do good with hope.

As I watched, I wondered what the world would be like if there had never been a me. A strange thought. Would it make as dramatic a difference as it seems to be in the case of George Bailey? I don't know, but I am sure I am here for a reason and to fulfill a purpose.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Big Band Holidays at Lincoln Center

Jazz at Lincoln Center is located in the Frederick P. Rose Hall complex within the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. The Jazz at Lincoln Center sign is obvious from the street.

When my friends and I entered the building, however; what we noticed first was The Shops at Columbus Circle, as we walked past several storefronts. Our Big Band performance was in the Rose Theater in the building. We took an elevator to the sixth floor where we had a private box. This was my first time -- in my memory -- having a box seat. Stephan called them "cheap seats," and I suppose they were comparatively, $38 per ticket, but I did not at all mind this perspective. Our box was directly above the stage, and, I think, I probably noticed things from this bird's eye view that I would not have seen even in a front row seat. It was also a comfortable spot for a migraineur. I suffered no discomfort from either the volume of the music or any lighting effects. White lights in snowflake shapes were projected onto the boxes above the band, and this was a pleasant, festive touch. I later told my friends that, as much as I enjoy the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, it probably would not suit my migraine brain to attend one of their live concerts with all of their dizzying colored light effects. (Migraine aura gives me enough of a disco light effect without any outside help.)

The photo below is not mine and doesn't show quite the perspective I had from where we were seated but should give you some idea.

Wynton Marsalis, the band leader, was the only band member previously familiar to me, mostly for his classical trumpet recordings. I heard his voice making the introduction to the performance, and, at first, I did not spot him and thought he was off to the side of the stage where I could not see him. No, he was tucked away in the third row next to the drummer and with the rest of the trumpet section. When I heard his trumpet solo in "Jingle Bells", their opening song, I spotted him and heard the beautiful, sonorous sound he made with his instrument.

It was interesting to me to see what mutual respect the band members had for one another. As different members had their improv solos, I would notice the body language and movements of the other members, noting their appreciative smiles, head bobbles, foot tapping and swaying.

Some of the thoughts that flitted through my mind during this performance may seem a little strange. The last previous live band performance I've seen is, most likely, that of a high school band. What a difference it makes when each of the band members are playing on this level of expertise and professionalism. I almost forgot that it is perfectly appropriate to applaud after instrumental solos in a jazz concert. (I suppose it has been a while since I've been to a live jazz performance.) I do know this is the expected etiquette, but I suppose I am thinking of classical concerts and other formal occasions, even some graduation ceremonies, where you are expected to hold your applause until the end. There were even some "woops" of appreciation from the audience members occasionally, and, once or twice, my little introverted self was among the "woopers."

At one point, Doug, a friend in our party, leans over and says, "It's amazing how they can make these horns 'talk.'" I thought that was an interesting observation of his.

I also enjoyed the vocals of Denzal Sinclaire on songs such as "Caroling, Caroling" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.)" He looks like a bit of a hipster dude, doesn't he? (This was not his attire on the night of the concert.)

"Smooth" is the first adjective that suggests itself for describing his voice. I want to compare him, and yet I don't want to compare him to Nat King Cole. I'm such a believer in individualism that it seems to detract from his individuality to make this comparison. I would not call him a carbon copy of anyone, but it is probably safe to say that Nat King Cole is likely one of his musical influences, and seeing, later on the Internet, that he has performed concerts of the Nat King Cole Songbook, seems to clinch this suspicion. Probably, he would find my comparison more complimentary than otherwise. At one point, while he was singing, my friend, Elizabeth, whispers to me, "He sounds like someone. Who does he sound like?" I whispered back, "Nat King Cole." She quickly agreed with me,  letting me know this was the thought she had in her mind too.

At the finale of "Caroling, Caroling", he did a little fancy scat singing and including the line, "If I were a bell, I'd go ding, dong, ding dong ding." The tune and lyric reference to "Guys and Dolls" almost felt like a private joke among music appreciators. I once saw a T-shirt on that said, "Yes, I know all the lyrics to every musical, so sue me, sue me, shoot bullets through me," the latter part of which, for those who might not be so familiar with the play, is also a "Guys and Dolls" reference.

Another song that stands out to me was the band's rendition of "Winter Wonderland", starring a different vocalist, Audrey Shakir. The photo below is not mine again (if the gettyimages watermark was not enough of a clue to this fact), but this is the exact sparkly blue gown she wore in the performance I saw. I love her expression here.

This was an interesting piece visually as well as auditorily. In the introduction to the piece, I noticed the front row saxophone section set aside their saxophones for a flute, bassoon and clarinets. Trumpets and trombones used mutes during this part also. There were switches back and forth from woodwinds to saxophone and from muted to unmuted as the musical mood fluctuated. Shakir also did some fun scat singing.

The closing piece, "Silent Night," might stand out as a favorite for me. It had a bit of a swing to it, and as I did a bit of a head and upper body waggle, Elizabeth turned to me and said with surprise, "I didn't think you had it in you." It had a swing to it and yet was mellow enough to fit with "a silent night." Yet, it was by no means a lullaby.

To read about my preshow dining experience, read A Delicious Thing Happened on the Way to Lincoln Center

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Delicious Thing Happened On the Way to Lincoln Center

This Dec. 19th, I had my first experience at Lincoln Center in New York City. I've lived in the suburbs of the city my entire life, but up until a few years ago, I had never been to a Broadway play either. I'm gradually building up my artsy experiences in the city. 

Years ago, I went with my parents to Carnegie Hall to see a cousin perform with her choir. Some years back, I went to see an off off Broadway -- or was it three offs? -- production of C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters", a kind of one man play by Max McLean. I don't remember what year that was. My ticket, which I kept, yields no such information, only the day and month, February 27th. I do know it predates by a few years my experience of two Disney Broadway plays in 2009. My friend Debra used points accumulated on her Disney credit card for play discounts, and she and I saw both "The Lion King" and "Mary Poppins" that year. In 2011, I had the interesting experience of seeing The Metropolitan Opera on film in the city. So, I did not see a live performance. Instead, a friend and I sat in outdoor seats just outside the opera house and saw a free showing of Puccini's "La Rondine", projected on a large screen. I have seen several of their other films on PBS on TV, and the large screen showing so close to the opera house does have a different feel than watching the TV at home. Now, in 2015, I experience Big Band jazz at Lincoln Center.

I went with my married friends, Stephan and Elizabeth. (The names have been changed to protect the lives of the innocent.) Suffice it to say, that when I asked my friends if they minded being mentioned in my blog, these are the names they picked out for themselves. After meeting them at their home and setting off, Stephan picked up the fourth member of our party, a coworker. I think his anonymity will still be protected if I give his actual first name, Doug. Doug acted as Stephan's wing man and co-navigator.

When we arrived in the city, Stephan parked in the Time Warner parking garage, and we headed out on foot first to the Holiday Market at Columbus Circle, having a few hours to kill before our concert began.

The photos are not mine. This would have been a good time to take my own photos, I know, but my schedule has been so packed that I did not get myself quite organized. I did try to find photos elsewhere on the Internet that would help to give the appropriate visuals. For some details, you will have to let me paint a picture with my words.

We circulated among the outdoor tents and did what my friend Jin calls "eye shopping." A few impressions stood out to me from the different tents: Indian sculpture style Buddha heads that were like lanterns, illuminated all over with tiny lights sculpted into their shapes, hand carved wooden Christmas ornaments with some jointed Pinocchio marionettes among them, and some German specialty food products with a sign offering non-alcoholic früwine (spelling?) which, my Internet research seems to indicate, must be some sort of hot wine. Stephan and Doug, being gentlemanly, let the women lead the way. Elizabeth and I did stop at one tent to feel the texture of some silk velvet scarves. I love pattern, so I noticed some lovely burnout velvet. Other than that, we quickly made one circle through the tents and came back to our starting point. It didn't seem to make sense to jostle the crowd to more closely inspect things we had no intention of buying. I did notice something, which, to me, was probably the most interesting offering, as we made our exit, beautiful journals with hand-worked leather craft bindings. I love leather craft and books and, of course, writing.

We decided to have dinner, and Stephan led the way to The Smith on Broadway, which Stephan claims "attracts a hip crowd." We did not find a seat there. Stephan had tried but had been unable to make a reservation. We then went instead to the neighboring Cafe Fiorello, where the menus brag that it is a "Lincoln Center Institution." We did find seats here, although the place was well packed. Our host led us through a tight corridor between small tables filled with eating patrons on either side. If a waiter was heading the opposite direction, I turned myself sideways.

This is a view of the interior of the restaurant. We sat at a table at the right side. From my perspective, I saw those two paintings on the left wall reflected in the mirror on the opposite wall.

I ordered a personal sized hen of the woods mushroom pizza from the list of pizza blanche or white, sauceless pizzas. The menu listed the ingredients, aside from mushrooms, as parmesan cream, braised leeks and burrata mozzarella. At first, I thought "hen of the woods" was a poetic name for the dish, and then I thought, more correctly, that it was a poetic name for the variety of wild mushroom. I found a photo of it growing in the wild.

Cooked, they appeared frilly and fan-shaped.

Our waiter spoke the Queen's English, that is to say, he had a pleasant British accent. "Ah, that is a very aromatic and savory pie," he told me, when I put in my order.

The pizza had a cracker thin crust. In addition to the liberal sprinklings of frilly wild mushrooms, it had intermittent mounds of the burrata mozzarella and halved fresh grape tomatoes. I'm sure I tasted the leeks but did not find them visible. I had to agree with our waiter's assessment. It was very savory and delicious. Comparing it to a mushroom pizza I like at California Pizza Kitchen, I thought I detected some truffle oil or, perhaps, I was detecting some olive oil that, soaking in the mushroom juices, had become "truffle-like." It was a wonderful blend of flavors, and I was only sorry that I could not quite finish the whole thing. I might have done so, if I had not ordered dessert.

Doug had also ordered a personal white pizza, a sausage pizza with fennel sausage, cotechino, nduja and pepperoni. I asked him what he thought of his. I think Doug would have been satisfied with a more traditional New Jersey/New York style pizza. He did not care too much for the super thin crust. He admitted it was tasty but "like eating tacos." In order to make a comparison, here is a more traditional New Jersey/New York style pizza.

And here is a Fiorello's thin crust pizza ...

I like our traditional pizza too, but I'm also open to some of its modern, gourmet manifestations.

Stephan ordered a calzone, and Elizabeth ordered the salmon which came with lentils and an organic avocado and mint puree.

At one point, Elizabeth asked our waiter if he was "an actor acting as a waiter." He admitted he was doing mostly voice acting.

"You have a wonderful voice," I told him. "I did notice that."

Our waiter's face glowed as he answered, "Well, thank you." I think I made the man's evening.

He told us he was currently working on narrating an audio book. I wanted to ask him which book but didn't.

I even joked with Elizabeth about commissioning him to narrate my novel. I'm not sure that fits in my budget, but it's a pleasant thought.

Elizabeth decided to get the dessert which persuaded me to do the same. She ordered the chocolate mousse, and I ordered the tartufo, chocolate and vanilla gelato encrusted with chocolate chips and hiding a cherry inside.

Confusion ensued when a different server arrived at our table with our desserts. This waiter put the tartufo at Elizabeth's place. In his hands, he held an empty plate and twin side by side buckets attached with one handle. One bucket was filled with mousse, and one was filled with whipped cream. Elizabeth thought the waiter was teasing her, perhaps thinking that there was more than one serving's worth in those ample buckets and also assuming the tartufo in front of her was already a serving of chocolate mousse. Remembering the menu said that the mousse would be served table side and also recognizing the tartufo by the chocolate chip coating, I helped to straighten out the confusion. The waiter moved the plate with the tartufo to my place, gave the empty plate to Elizabeth and served the mousse and whipped cream from the buckets onto her plate.

Elizabeth and I both loved our desserts. The men's desserts consisted of refills of coffee, but they did not begrudge us our indulgence. Elizabeth rolled her eyes with enjoyment at the first bite. I offered to exchange bites with her, and she allowed me a bite of her mousse. Caution for her tree nut allergy prevented her from sampling mine. She asked me if mine had nuts, and I told her it didn't but I did not know if the chocolate chips had been processed with nuts.

Stay tuned for Part Two, the concert.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The ABCs of My Favorite Things (A)

 Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens ...

At first, I thought I would blog on my favorite things in an alphabetized list, with one item per letter of the alphabet. I pondered the types of things that I pin on Pinterest. Then, I realized I wanted to name more than one thing per letter, so I thought I would do a series, with maybe A through F in the first post. The interesting A items in my mind continued to accumulate, so here we are with just a list for A, but I still hope to do a series.

Action Men

I wanted to introduce myself as an author before I began my A list, but this actually fits right in. In my mystery comedy novel, "Action Men with Silly Putty", the "action men" are Jack Donegal and Andy Westin, my main characters. Jack Donegal is a toy inventor and the head of his own toy company who becomes an amateur sleuth when he just happens to stumble into a mystery after buying an antique teddy bear at an auction. Andy Westin is Jack's marketing manager and best buddy as well as the story's narrator.

Here is my explanation of the crazy title. In the process of writing my mystery, I learned that "action men" is the Britspeak equivalent of the toys Americans call "action figures." (Some time after writing it, perusing the toy section of an old antique store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I actually saw some action figures labeled as action men.) One of the chapters in the book features both this kind of action men and Silly Putty in a scene. I thought "action men" could also represent my main characters as men of action or men having an adventure, and the Silly Putty in the title would give readers a clue there was some silliness and comedy involved. I plan that "Action Men" will continue in ensuing titles in the series.

Is it strange to list my own fictional characters among my favorite things? I imagine all writers and creators feel this way about their creations. They feel like real people to me, like a couple of my buddies.

Jack is highly intelligent, dreamy and inventive, but like other brainiacs and creative types, has a poor sense of time and seems, on the surface, to be totally disorganized. He's an electrical engineer with a specialty in robotics. He surprises Andy with his knowledge of strange and obscure facts, often in areas outside of his official fields of study. Much to Andy's embarrassment, he also likes to dress like a children's entertainer or a walking gimmick for their toy business. In his trench coat pockets, he carries all sorts of electronic gadgets, toy parts, and other miscellany which he puts to interesting uses in tracking down the criminals.

Andy is almost Jack's polar opposite. He is down to earth, practical and time efficient as well as compulsively neat and organized. His genius might not be so obvious, and Jack loses him in the areas of his technical expertise, but he's not quite a dummy either. He's a good partner who contributes in his own way to the investigation. He balances Jack out. He's fashionable, but his ties don't have to announce his line of business, thank you very much. Andy's too reserved to do anything goofy (intentionally,) but that does not mean he's the unfunny one. In his narration, he often sees Jack and the rest of the world in a humorous way. He's also a bit of a wit who likes to use verbal irony and exchange playful insults with his waitress friend at the Salvador Deli.

Alice in Wonderland

The story of "Alice in Wonderland" is special to me. One Christmas, when I was a child, my brother Dan gave me two of these Big Golden Books like the one above. One was "Alice in Wonderland," and the other was "Peter Pan." I loved both, but I especially loved "Alice in Wonderland." I begged my mother and my three older brothers to read this book to me over and over again. Mom was quite dramatic when she read aloud! I had it read to me so many times that I eventually memorized it and could "read" it to myself.

Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" is also one of the few movies that I saw in the theater as a child. I remember watching a TV commercial for the movie one night, and, suddenly, Mom announces, "Let's go see it right now!" I was accustomed to not always having my wishes met, and I was so surprised by the treat and Mom's spontaneity.


It wasn't until I was in high school that I read the full Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" novel. I've read many odd theories about Carroll's inspiration behind the book, that he was inspired by opium or by his migraine attacks. There is even a variation of migraine named Alice in Wonderland Syndrome that affects your perception, say, of your size. Migraine is my "thorn in the flesh," but I'm very glad I don't get this more rare variety. "Alice in Wonderland" is a fantastic story, but why do critics assume that an imaginative story had to be inspired either by drugs or some other mind altering experience? Children have wonderful imaginations and are not limited by adults' knowledge and sense of logic. My theory is that Carroll simply maintained this child-like imagination into adulthood. 


Above -- Lewis Carroll's handwritten page with his own illustrations.

Art Nouveau

This particular taste of mine became more apparent when I curated a board on "art I like" on Pinterest. More and more, I began pinning works by Alphonse Mucha.

It may be partly the romanticism and extreme femininity that appeals to me, but I think my eye is attracted to pattern and ornate detail. I love the shapes and patterns in their hair ornaments and the shapes behind them -- I want to call them halos -- adorned with their highly ornate designs.Perhaps, it's also the nature themes in this art movement that I like, flowers, birds, dragonflies, moths, etc.

It's not just Mucha illustrations that I like. I've also collected images of art nouveau art objects and jewelry.

In an "Action Men" story in progress, the stolen object is an antique art nouveau ring by Lalique.

 Audrey Hepburn


The first Audrey Hepburn film I ever saw was "My Fair Lady", which is still one of my very favorites. (Musical theater will have to be listed under favorite things for M when I get to that.) Musical theater, in particular musical comedy, combines a lot of the artistic elements I like into one art form: beautiful music, extravagant and often colorful costumes, dance, comedy and storytelling. It engages all of your senses, and, I think, has the ability to give me a "high." If I'm in a very good mood, it is often Broadway music that comes to mind.

 My mother's favorite movie in the world is Audrey Hepburn's "Sabrina" from 1954. She remembers seeing it when it was a new film. Back in the days when we did movie rentals from Blockbuster, we tried over and over again to find her favorite movie in the classics section. All she could remember was that it was the story of a girl who lived with her chauffeur father above the garage of a grand home. She confused it at first with "Gigi" and "Lili", both of which star Leslie Caron. It wasn't until the release of the "Sabrina" remake, starring Harrison Ford, in 1995 that we rediscovered this great movie. Well, Mom rediscovered it, and I discovered it for the first time, and I confess that I like the original best.


Now, I own several of the movies on DVD, and I like so many of them so well that it's hard to pick a top favorite. I love "Roman Holiday," the story of a princess who needs a break from her stresses to have some fun. I love "Charade," a suspense mystery story with another great star, Cary Grant. "Funny Face" is a wonderful entertaining story about a bookish girl who becomes a model. It features music by Gershwin. (He'll have to be listed again under G.)

 Aurora Borealis

I have been collecting beautiful nature images of all sorts on Pinterest. When I come across photos of the aurora borealis or Northern Lights, I collect it. It's truly an amazing phenomenon, and the assortment of colors and variety is astounding. I don't live in a part of the world where this is visible, but I did hear news rather recently that there was a chance it could be visible in my part of the world.


These are some of my favorite colors in the world here.



Have you had your beauty overload yet? Perhaps, you should see one more.


Isn't it wonderful that we can, through photography, enjoy beauty from various areas of the world you may never see?

  Jane Austen

Jane Austen really has quite a following of fans today. I wonder what she would have thought if she knew she'd have devoted fans in 2015? Maybe some of her popularity comes from the many film adaptations of her stories. I've enjoyed both the books and the movies. I didn't know of any Jane Austen fandom when I read my first Austen books. The only title of hers I had to read for a college literature class was "Northanger Abbey." As an English major, I always looked forward to getting my books for each quarter! My mother sent me two others in a college care package, "Pride and Prejudice" and "Sense and Sensibility."

They really are more than just romance novels. They take a satirical look at a lot of interesting characters and social conventions of the time. I'm not infatuated with Mr. Darcy as some of her fans are. (I'm not infatuated with any of the fictional characters.) I don't quite understand that, because you spend half of your reading of "Pride and Prejudice" believing he's not a good person, which, of course, he turns out to be. My favorite Austen heroes are Edward Ferrars from "Sense and Sensibility" ...

and Edmund Bertram from "Mansfield Park."

I guess I like the ministers ... the ones that aren't silly.




Avocado may seem like a strange addition to this list of mostly artsy things. I suppose alphabetization and "favorite" is the only thing tying rather random things together. When people ask me what my favorite food is, I can not, usually, come up with a quick answer. I like so many different types of foods and cuisine. However, my recipe boards on Pinterest certainly have a lot of recipes containing avocado. Apparently, I have decided that any recipe with avocado in it must, therefore, be delicious. Humorously enough, Pinterest, the website, caught onto this trend and began suggesting avocado recipes to me.

I live in the New York City area, a long way from where avocados grow. My first exposure to avocado probably happened no sooner than my high school days and, most likely, in the form of guacamole. Now, I like them in salads, on burgers, and almost any way ... I can eat them with a fox. I can eat them in a box. I like them, Sam I am.

How about a bacon, brie and avocado sandwich? I don't think this even needs a recipe.

How can this go wrong? Three of my favorite ingredients in one sandwich.

Maybe you'd like to try an avocado salsa. It would be a little like having your guacamole and salsa combined. I've tried this avocado and edamame salad and enjoyed it. It has so many interesting ingredients, radishes and green onions, ginger and parsley ... This chickpea, avocado and feta salad sounds delicious to me.

So, we've come to the end of A but not to the end of favorites. Stay tuned ...