Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Silliness and Sophistication: A Trip to Grounds for Sculpture

Here I am trying to get the attention of this highly preoccupied gentleman at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

"Pardon me, Sir. Do you have any Grey Poupon?"

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I traveled with three friends to Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. We actually made a weekend of it, spending Saturday in Seaside Heights, Sunday afternoon at Grounds for Sculpture and Monday at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden.

We had a little bit of difficulty at the outset. My friend Iris, our trip organizer, bought our four tickets online.  We traveled to the grounds in two separate vehicles. Iris and I were in one with all four of the tickets. Adrienne and Jeannie, who arrived first, discovered that they needed tickets to enter the gates at the parking lot, so they purchased two more tickets to enter the gates. Now, Iris had two extra tickets she had purchased. She read that the tickets were nonrefundable, but I had a feeling that, if they understood our blunder, they would make an exception in our case. Thankfully, they did, and the extra tickets were refunded. If you plan to visit with several others in different vehicles, don't make the mistake we did. 

At Grounds for Sculpture, our first stop was lunch at the Van Gogh Cafe. My friend Adrienne thought I would be enthused about this particular eating option, and she was right. I'm a fan of Van Gogh, and reading the biographical novel "Lust for Life" by Irving Stone, a few years ago, helped me appreciate him more. On a previous visit to Grounds for Sculpture, I had eaten at the Rat's Restaurant -- which seems like the last thing you should name a restaurant -- and that was special to me too for an entirely different reason. It's all themed around "The Wind in the Willows," one of my favorite books from childhood.

Adrienne and I enjoy our lunch in the Van Gogh Cafe.

At the cafe, I felt like I was inside Van Gogh's "Terrace at Night." On either side of the seating area are tiled roof lines. A yellow awning reminiscent of the painting overshadowed the cafeteria line area. The ceiling made one thing of "Starry Night."

I also had my favorite meal of the weekend here, a baguette sandwich with brie cheese, ham and Dijon mustard. This was particularly satisfying after trying a similar panini style sandwich at a different restaurant earlier. I had been a little disappointed since the mustard was skimpy and the brie, my favorite cheese, had been replaced by Swiss, my least favorite cheese.

My friends Iris and Jeannie both tried the bruschetta, and Jeannie was particularly enthusiastic about it.

Below Adrienne and I pose with one of the sculptures that was displayed indoors on the grounds. Adrienne thought we should mimic the figures' poses (and initiated a lot more silliness throughout the day.) This is a Boaz Vaadia sculpture, made up of layers of rock cut to shape. My favorite sculptures were more realistic figures, many based on famous paintings, but when you consider this unique method, this more simplistic figure is quite impressive.

Below is one of the first outdoor sculptures we saw.

Do you see a deep meaning in this odd piece of sculpture? Who knows what esoteric thing was in the mind of the sculptor. I like the cute and whimsical sheep and shepherd, but this loopy thing with a human head looks like some sort of cryptozoological creature. I'd like the sculpture much better without the Mt. Rushmore/snake hybrid, but the loops did give us fun frames for our faces.

This man in the yellow was just too rude. I mean, honestly, I know he has his girl there with him, but couldn't he pass the bread? Or say "Hello?"

This was outside one of the eating areas, the Peacock Cafe, at Grounds for Sculpture. Even the lacy green metal chairs look like pieces of sculpture. This sculpture of the dining couple makes me think of an Impressionist painting, but I can't place which. Many of the sculptures on the grounds are 3D models of famous paintings.

In this same area, a little ways from here, another sculpture of a nude woman was sprawled at our feet. I spoke to her, saying, "Are you in any distress? Do we need to administer CPR?" As I looked up, I saw another visitor to the grounds smiling comically at my comment. I don't always let out my humorous side so spontaneously, but it's nice to be with friends who know you well and still like you ... and who aren't afraid of some silliness themselves.

Adrienne poses like a fountain at a fountain in the Water Garden. We visited the grounds on an extremely hot day, so I was grateful for this cooler area and wanted to jump into every fountain we saw. Some misters did help cool us down.

We admired this lady in the mist, and then we saw that she is a fountain too. It may not be obvious from the photo, but there is a trickle coming out beneath her. When we saw that, we giggled and passed on.

Adrienne and I are both fans of C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," so she told me I must dance with this dryad which may belong in Narnia. So, I did.

And she joined me.

Iris had a wonderful look of anguish while posing with Edvard Munch's "The Scream." You'll notice that he is concave. We were inside a small structure here, and his convex form was visible on the other side of the wall.

Many of my favorite areas were indoors in the main building, the Seward Johnson Center for the Arts. Here is another tribute to Van Gogh in a 3D reproduction of "Bedroom in Arles." It was so interesting to be inside this painting with its bright colors, thick outlines and slightly skewed shapes. I felt like Mary Poppins who had hopped into a chalk pavement picture. "Chalk pavement pictures? I ask you, and highly questionable outings of every other kind!"

Jeannie posed very prettily with the "Mona Lisa," and Adrienne posed sweetly with Mona Lisa's guard.

Don't they make an adorable couple? Mona Lisa had a guard on either side of her. The other looked rather serious, but this one had such a lively gleam n his eye.

I posed with "The Girl with the Pearl Earring."

I said "Oh, pardon me," when I walked into a room and saw this lady, a replica of Eduouard Manet's "Olympia." Jeannie tried to point out the flowers that her servant offered, but she didn't seem very interested.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day. The Water Garden, a few trees, a trellised walkway and an ice cream break at the Gazebo made the heat more bearable. Be prepared with cash at the Gazebo. They can't take credit or debit cards.

I'd recommend a visit to Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey if you are in the area.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Love and Friendship: The Niece's Big Day

A few years ago, I met up with another book loving friend at Barnes & Noble for coffee and ... books. It was near Valentine's Day, and I didn't manage to leave the store without buying books: a collection of true love stories related to the Titanic and a collection of great historical love letters. It was in this second book that I read one man's opinion that marriage is just friendship on a more exalted level. I'm sure my newly married niece Amanda and my nephew-in-law -- I've decided he's my nephew-in-law -- Ben, would agree with that thought. They've known each other since preschool and dated for seven years while Ben earned a degree in pharmacology.

The wedding service was performed by Amanda's maternal uncle, a minister. He gave a short sermon to the couple with a message very similar to that expressed in an earlier blog, emphasizing patience, forgiveness and bearing with one another's faults. Some of his words were directed at Amanda and some at Ben. Once in a while, during the message to Amanda, I caught some comical looks on Ben's face, and if I can read body language like I think I can, his expressions seemed to say, teasingly, "Are you taking note of this, Amanda?"

I noticed my sister-in-law wiping some tears from her eyes, but I did not think that would be a problem for me. Later, at the reception, I saw my brother Dan dance with his daughter. Remembering what a Papa's girl Amanda is and how Dan longed for a little girl even before she was born, I felt a little emotional too.

Amanda had the perfect song choice, "I Loved Her First" by Heartland.

"But I loved her first and I held her first and a place in my heart will always be hers. From the first breath she breathed, when she first smiled at me, I knew the love of a father runs deep, and I prayed that she'd find you some day, but it's still hard to give her away. I loved her first."

It was also touching to see Amanda dance with her husband and witness how content and happy they were together.

They also had the perfect song for their childhood friendship turned to romance, "Lucky" by Jason Mraz.

"I'm lucky to be in love with my best friend, lucky to have been where I have been, lucky to be coming home again."

The wedding cake consisted of one small cake and lots of little airy white cupcakes frosted in purple and white. I sat by brother Tim at the reception who insisted that purple tasted better than white. Halfway through my little cake, I decided purple tasted like almond. There was a distinctive almond flavor in the frosting. (It turns out white tastes like almond too.) Tim also noted to the father of the bride that the little cakes were full of mini pearls (Minnie Pearls.) Clark men like their puns.

The cupcakes were circled with filigreed papers. The women at my table all noted this and enjoyed them. The filigreed papers matched our dinner plates, made of lightweight plastic but with an open lacework pattern in the rims. Tim joked that it was best to avoid getting any tomato sauce on that part of our plates or we'd make pretty stenciled patterns on the white tablecloth.

At the event's finale, just before the bride reemerged in her more casual lace sheath dress, I joined up with the father of the bride, standing beside him with my tube of bubbles, practicing in case I forgot how to do this childhood activity. Dan and I looked across the path left open for the bride and groom to our senior parents who looked they were having a second childhood and a little too much bubble fun.

After the couple boarded their getaway vehicle, brother Bruce and my father decided it would be fun to blow bubbles directly into the open passenger car window.

I don't think the happy couple minded.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"It's a Boont!" and Other Creative Gifting

I recently blogged about a letter I prepared for my niece to give to her at her wedding, a letter full of quotes on love. I also had a little fun with the gift I gave her, a Nordicware Bundt cake pan. I'm a big fan of cutesy bakeware, and when I'm browsing in the kitchen and cookware department of a store, these are the sorts of things that catch my eye.

Anyone who has seen the original "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" will remember the significance of Bundt cake in that movie. It's a movie I remember watching with my brothers and their families one Christmas, and even the men were laughing at this "chick flick." In the movie, when the parents of the groom meet the parents of the bride, there is some cultural clashing. The parents of the groom bring a Bundt cake, a novelty to Toula's family. When presented with the cake, Toula's mother goes through a variety of pronunciations before getting it right. "Boont. Bonk. Bunk," etc. Later, she notes that there's a hole in this cake, and when it is served, there are flowers in that hole in the center.

I printed out a photo from the movie with some humorous captions that I wrapped with the gift, instructing my niece to remember to put flowers in the center. I also wrapped with the pan another print-out that's both a tribute to the movie and practical, a recipe for Greek yogurt lemon Bundt cake from The Food Librarian. I also made note that this blogger has a collection of 29 other Bundt cake recipes.

It's fun to add these little touches, and it reminds me that some of my best memories were made with gifts where I spent less money but more time and thought. I know many crafters like to give hand-made gifts. I am an occasional crafter and have given hand-made gifts, but often, as a writer, I have had fun with words, either as the main gift or an addition to the gift.

When I was a college student, I often wrote short stories as gifts for friends or family for their birthdays. I'm beginning to think I need to revive this tradition. I also wrote poems in handmade cards to give on special occasions. These weren't usually Shakespearean style sonnets but light humorous ditties. One year, I made Valentines for several of my female friends. One girl's last name was Ballentine, so you can just imagine what sort of poetry fun I had with that.

 The best memory I have of giving anyone anything was in seventh grade. I took metal shop that year. It might surprise you that I took metal shop, but the elective courses were in cycles of three, a different class per semester. Whichever cycle I chose would have included one shop class and one home economics type class, either sewing or cooking. Seventh grade was the year most of my family received something I made in metal shop for Christmas. For my brother Dan, that year, I made a desk organizer with a letter file and a pencil can marked with a hammered initial D. It was the accompanying letter that created most of the fun with this memory, a letter supposedly from Santa.

In order for you to appreciate the content of this letter, it is necessary to give you some background. The previous summer, our family moved. It was not a big move, just a move from one town to a neighboring town, but it did require me to change school systems. My brother Dan, who was a college student at the time, and I spent much of the summer packing boxes for our move and, while we did, we listened to a mainstream rock radio station. I was always very conscious that our parents wouldn't want us listening to music with too many sex or drug references or other negativity. One of those days, packing boxes, I heard the song "Bang Your Head" by Quiet Riot for the first time. I thought it was the stupidest song imaginable.

Most people would agree it's not a deep song fraught with meaning, and, perhaps, that the lyrics are a bit strange. I don't know when "headbanger" or "headbanging" became terms, but I was unfamiliar with either at the time. I understood it quite literally as instruction to bang your head into something like a wall, which really would make it the stupidest song imaginable. I ran to find my college age brother and told him about the stupid song I'd heard. Dan, being the family clown, promptly came up with an impromptu song composition of his own, "Smash Your Face," and for the rest of that summer, there were many spontaneous performances of the "Smash Your Face" song.

Dan also had a habit at that time of sneaking up behind me and greeting me with a smack on the rear. I've noticed that men's signs of affection often resemble acts of violence ... chest bumps, fist bumps, arm punches, smacks ... My cousin's wife tells me that, growing up, she greeted her brothers with smacks to the belly.

So, that December in 1984, my "letter from Santa" to brother Dan went something like this, "Mrs.Claus, the reindeer and I had a conference and decided you deserve this ... " I then proceeded to weigh his good and bad deeds and listed the butt smacks and the singing of punk songs like "Smash Your Face" among his "bad behaviors."

When Dan read that letter, which he did aloud, he laughed until tears rolled down his face, and that is the best memory I have of giving anyone anything.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Quotes on Love from Thoughtful People

This weekend, I will be traveling from New Jersey to Maine for my niece Amanda's wedding. She will be marrying her childhood friend, Ben, and I believe that their long friendship will give them a great foundation for a long "til death do us part" and happy marriage.

I bought her a Bundt cake pan as a wedding gift (more on that later,) but wanted to do something more creative in lieu of a traditional card. What I decided to do was type up some quotes on love that I have collected and put them in a letter to her and her groom. So, now I share these with you.

I almost titled this post, "Quotes on Love from Great Thinkers," and that fits a few of them. One is from Paul Newman. Was he a great thinker? Well, he seems to have some wisdom on relationships, and his marriage to Joanne Woodward shines out among Hollywood marriages as being particularly long, faithful and happy. On the lighter side, I've added some cute quotes from children. Some of these will seem cute and funny in a "Kids Say the Darndest Things" sort of way, but there are bits of wisdom in these too.

C.S. Lewis with his wife, Joy Davidman

"Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last, but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called 'being in love' usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending 'They lived happily ever after" is taken to mean "They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,' then it says what probably never was nor ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense -- love as distinct from 'being in love' -- is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other, as you can love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be 'in love' with someone else. 'Being in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run; being in love was the explosion that started it."
-- C.S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity"
 "If we love someone but do not love God, we demand total perfection and righteousness from that person, and when we do not get it, we become cruel and vindictive, yet we are demanding of a human being something which he or she cannot possibly give. There is only one Being who can completely satisfy to the absolute depth of the hurting human heart and that is the Lord Jesus Christ."
-- Oswald Chambers

Amanda and Ben
"The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you'll see their flaws. That's just the way it is. This is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don't last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they act when they're out of money or under pressure or hungry, for goodness' sake. Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone  and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient and kind; love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice; it's seeing the darkness in someone and defying the impulse to jump ship."
-- Internet personality known as the Great Kamryn

"Happiness in marriage is not something that just happens. A good marriage must be created. In the Art of Marriage, the little things are the big things. It is never being too old to hold hands. It is remembering to say 'I love you' at least once a day. It is never going to sleep angry. It is at no time taking the other for granted; the courtship should not end with the marriage. It should continue through all the years. It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives. It is standing together facing the world. It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family. It is doing things for each other, not in the attitude of sacrifice or duty, but in the spirit of joy. It is expressing words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways. It is not expecting the husband to wear a halo or the wife the wings of an angel. It is not looking for perfection in each other. It is cultivating flexibility, patience, understanding and a sense of humor. It is having the capacity to forgive and forget. It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow. It is finding rooms for things of the spirit. It is a common search for the good and the beautiful. It is establishing a relationship in which the independence is equal, dependence is mutual and obligation is reciprocal. It is not only marrying the right partner. It is being the right partner."
 -- Paul Newman to his wife on their wedding day
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward

 And on the lighter side ...

Actual Children's Answers to the Question "What is Love?"

 "Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give any of theirs." -- Chrissy, age 6.

"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired." -- Terri, age 4.

 "Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK." -- Danny, age 7.

"Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My mommy and daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss." -- Emily, age 8.

"Love is what is in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen." -- Bobby, age 8.

"If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend you hate." -- Nikka, age 6.

"Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day." -- Noelle, age 7.

"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well." -- Tommy, age 6

"During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy was waving and smiling. Nobody else was doing that. I wasn't scared anymore." -- Cindy, age 8.

"My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night." -- Clare, age 6.

"Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken." -- Elaine, age 5.

"Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he's handsomer than Brad Pitt." -- Chris, age 7.

"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you've left him alone all day." -- Mary Ann, age 4.

"I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones." -- Lauren, age 4.

 "When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even though his hands got arthritis too. That's love." -- Rebecca, age 8.

"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you." -- Karen, age 7.

"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget." -- Jessica, age 8.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When a Fly is Harder to Kill Than Rasputin

This morning, I tried to kill a large fly that found itself in my bathroom, and he was harder to kill than Rasputin. Have you read about Rasputin and his manner of dying? I learned all about him a few years ago when I read the non-fiction book, "Nicholas and Alexandra" by Robert K. Massie. It seemed he had a goat-like stench and yet attracted women. How he managed this is a mystery to me, and so is his death.

Rasputin was a Russian mystic and an advisor to Alexandra, wife of Nicholas II, the last czar before the Russian Revolution. Alexandra felt he could heal her son, the young Tsarevich Alexei, from hemophilia. Rasputin was assassinated but not easily. Supposedly, he was given poisoned food, and when that didn't kill him, was shot in the back, after which he tried to counterattack. He was then chased and shot once more in the back and again in the head. He continued to live, so he was beaten with a truncheon and eventually drowned in the River Neva.

This giant fly sat in my bathroom sink. I thought it would be a simple thing to drown him. I ran water and, though the drain wasn't closed, enough water rose to submerge him. I did this again and again, letting the water rise, splashing it over him as he tried crawling out of his watery grave. Several times, he disappeared with the receding water under the metal cap over the drain, and I thought, "Good. He's going down." He didn't go down. He'd come back up with a lop-sided crawl like Lazarus emerging from the grave. To reference a favorite movie of mine, he was only mostly dead but not all dead, and there is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.

At last, I gave up, because the exercise seemed to be futile. There was no hope unless I changed my method of execution. I could smack him with a hard object. (It was Miss Clark in the bathroom with the lead pipe. Well, probably a shoe would do.) Alternately, I could squash him in a bit of tissue. Both methods repulsed me. He was a large fly, and I was sure he would make a large squished mess. So, I turned off the bathroom light as if to say nighty night and went off in pursuit of breakfast.

A little while later I returned to, er, use the facilities, and the large black half-dead thing had painstakingly crawled out of the bowl of the sink and was now perched on the side ... the toilet side, all wriggling and wiggling. I knew then I had to finish the job. I would have to be bold and carry through with it if I was going to have any peace in the bathroom while using the aforementioned bathroom fixture

I went and got two Bounty brand paper napkins, the thickest, cushiest napkins I've ever seen. As I did, I said aloud, "Sorry Fly. Your doom is nigh." Then I laughed aloud at my unintentional rhyme. Bounty napkins are good, because, I guess, a large fly needs something extra absorbent? Actually, I was hoping that the thicker the towel the more I would be shielding myself from that repulsive squish. On first squish, Rasputin the fly, actually hopped out of my towel, still wriggling. On second squish, I got him ... I think.

I tossed the paper in the wastebasket and waited. I half expected to see him crawl out like Rasputin on the attack after the first shot, like Wesley and Princess Buttercup rising out of the lightning sand with one collective and exaggerated intake of air. If flies could talk -- and thank God they can't -- I imagine his labored speech would go like this, "You ... have  ... not ... defeated ... ME!" as he crawled out from the wastebasket. Perhaps, he still will.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

My Dad, My Hero, My Helper

My father's a unique man. Father's Day cards are often centered on certain themes: sports, golf, fishing, hunting ... None of these themes seem to suit my father. My father seems nonchalant about sports. He'd rather watch Discovery Channel than watch a football game. He is full of fishing stories from his youth, but this is not a hobby he's pursued in recent years. I found a perfect Father's Day card for Dad several years ago. The overall print of the card was like a green circuit board. How suitable for my father, the retired electrical engineer.

I had a vague notion -- albeit very vague -- of circuit boards early on in life. Back in the '70s, a long time before personal computers became so common, Dad built his first computer from a kit. I remember trying to help him by putting the keys in the keyboard, only I was putting them in alphabetical order.

Dad earned 44 patents over his career at ITT. What exactly did he invent? Well, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

I jest, but actually that is not too far from the truth. Many of the projects Dad worked on he could not even tell his own family. I do know that he worked on a secure phone used by Ronald Reagan. Here is how Dad sums up his career in one of his online bios.

I worked for ITT for 43 years before retiring, getting about as many patents. Highlights would include designing one of the first computers specializing in voice processing, and designing the navigation computer system used in the GPS satellites. In addition to designing computer and communications hardware, I've written lots of software, including tools for hardware and software design.

Dad may not be a sports enthusiast, but he does have his hobbies. He lists his hobbies on one site as "recreational math." I never found math to be recreational, have you? I'm not entirely sure what that means, but he does sudoku puzzles, so I suppose they might be considered as recreational math. He also began selling these math art T-shirts on Zazzle. Here's an example, the crystal goblet T-shirt.

I'll let him describe it in his own words.
This design began as two data-flow diagrams to show the dispersal of data by a random permutation device (an application of U.S. patent 5,734,721). One diagram looked like the top of a goblet, and the other like the bottom, so the two diagrams were joined. Both parts show the same data-flow network (flow is downward). The bottom part traces where two data bits can go (starting at the top of the stem of the goblet), and the top part traces where two data bits can come from.
If you happen to share Dad's enthusiasm for math or know someone else who does, you can order this and other math design shirts at

Dad also has his own art hobby ... origami. He has even created and published a few of his own origami designs, like the origami waterlily design below.

If you would like to create your own origami waterlilies, he has blogged his own origami tutorial for the waterlily design here.

Perhaps, this is beginning to sound more like a portfolio than a personal tribute, but I look up to my father, and growing up, I felt like my father could do anything.

Dad could and still can be goofy too!

Today, that opinion hasn't changed much, which is why I don't hesitate to ask him to help me in my hare-brained schemes.

A couple of years ago, I put on an Oktoberfest puppet show at my home church with the help of the puppetry team I lead.

I can't take credit for the beautiful liederhosen and dirndl costumes. Betty, my right hand woman, did that. One of the songs we used in our performance is this completely insane song, "The Chicken Yodel."

As I was listening to the music, my insane imagination came up with the idea that a chicken puppet would be on the top standing tier of my stage laying eggs, actually ping pong balls, which would fall down to the bottom kneeling tier where a little girl puppet, one of the cuties pictured, would try and catch them in her frying pan. I talked to Dad about this and wondered how to accomplish this ping pong ball craziness, and he came up with his design, a henhouse prop that would perch on the top tier of the stage and dispense the ping pong balls when the chicken roosted and hit a lever.

Above each nest is a wire trigger to release,, on each depression, an egg from the storage bin to a hole through the nest so that it looks like the chicken is laying an egg that drops out the bottom of the nest.

The gate mechanism lets one egg roll toward the hole, while stopping the next egg from advancing.
I had something simpler in mind, but Dad had come up with a rather complex contraption. He kept testing it, tweaking it and perfecting it. Dad spent hours and hours on this prop, and in the end, it was very successful, with children sitting front row during showtime, laughing and excited over the escapee ping pong balls rolling their way.

This is the origami folding, puppet prop making, sudoku puzzling dad I adore. It would take many more pages to express just how much he means to me.

To read about one of my favorite childhood memories with Dad, click here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Parsley, Sage and an Herbaceous Tribute to Brit Crime TV

Dad's herb garden
"Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme ..." The first time I heard this song was in an elementary school music class. I wasn't too impressed with it at the time. Maybe the melody seemed slow and melancholy. Maybe the lyrics seemed a little bit odd. I wasn't sure what parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme had to do with going to Scarborough Fair, and I wasn't sure why the first person narrator, if he wanted a true love, demanded she make him a cambric shirt. That is certainly an odd wooing ritual. "My fair lady, I feel you are my true love. If you want to be my true love ..." Snap! "Make me a shirt." It seems like the ritual should be reversed, and the wooer should be doing kind deeds for the woman he is trying to win. "My fair lady, please accept these wildflowers as a token of my admiration."

All these years later, I am still not enlightened about the connection between herbs and Scarborough Fair or any of the other enigmatic lyrics, but I've gained some appreciation for it. That may have changed when I heard this version of it by Hayley Westenra of Celtic Woman.

A bit of this musical theme is worked into the theme song of one of my favorite TV mystery series, "Rosemary and Thyme."

It's a good cozy mystery for those who like a good mystery that won't show graphic violence or close-ups of bodies and their various injuries at the medical examiner's table. The show's heroines are two friends named Rosemary Boxer (Felicity Kendal) and Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris) who are in the gardening business together. The coincidence of two friends with such names who also happen to be gardeners doesn't seem too probable, but it's charming. The two also have detective/sleuthing skills however. Laura is a former policewoman, and Rosemary is a plant pathologist. Rosemary's plant expertise is useful in unraveling each mystery, often but not always involving toxic plants. It's also a visually beautiful show, because each episode is in some different fantastic garden somewhere. There's some mild humor woven into the stories too, which I enjoy. So, if you'd rather see roses than bullet wounds, this is the mystery show for you.

Photo from Acorn TV

Photo from Acorn TV
My father has been keeping an herb garden for quite a few years now in his retirement, and this garden has all four of the herbs mentioned in the song plus chives, tarragon, basil, marjoram, lavender and peppermint. How nice this will be for any cooking this season. I love the taste of fresh herbs but particularly basil and rosemary. Mom read about how feverfew might help migraine headaches, so for my sake, they added this to the herb garden. See my earlier post on migraine and music therapy.

Dad recently emailed me photos of his herb garden, mainly to show me this ...

And this ...

which were side by side in the garden.

Cute, Dad. Very cute.

Not to tire you with too many different renditions of "Scarborough Fair," the Gothard Sisters have a nice harmonic version and are interesting to watch with their graceful movement and different instruments.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Disco Lights in My Head: Migraine and Music Therapy

This psychedelic header did not come out as clearly as I had hoped, but if it seems a little straining on the eye, it is perhaps more illustrative of what it is meant to represent -- migraine visual aura. This was the first clue of my illness back in high school, migraine visual aura. It would not be until many years later that I actually learned the term for it. I was getting strange headaches where I would see flickering lights. Sometimes, the illusion of flickering flights, becomes even wilder, and becomes more like viewing the world through a kaleidoscope or disco lights only I can see.

Years ago, before my own diagnosis, when I heard the word "migraine," I understood it to simply be a bad headache. Now, I understand that migraine is a much more complicated illness and is more than just a headache. It's considered a neurological disease. It can have all sorts of variations, some of which mimic a stroke really well. A hemiplegeic migraine causes temporary partial paralysis. It's also possible to have a migraine attack that involves other symptoms but no headache at all, known as a "silent migraine." Migraine is thought to be related to epilepsy with similar triggers.

So, I was fascinated when I read an article about a scene in one of the "Twilight" movies triggering epileptic seizures in different movie theaters due to a flashing strobe light effect. Migraineurs can be photo-sensitive too, so I found that somewhat relatable. This is why as much as I enjoy Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I probably wouldn't go to one of their live concerts.

I found the video a little difficult to watch, but if I was actually in that live performance atmosphere, the volume of the music and the intense light effects, I'm sure, would all be conspiring against me, and I would be having one massive migraine attack. 

I have discovered, somewhat recently, that, for me, music can also have a therapeutic soothing effect during a migraine attack. I was at work during a migraine, and I put on some headphones and some music, and, instantly, my pain level was cut almost in half. What was the magical piece? Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," the first movement. I don't know that this piece will always have that exact effect, but calming music does seem to help. Migraineurs are also noise-sensitive, so, very likely, black death metal (whatever that is) would not have the same effect.

I tried journaling my migraine attack this last time. I have read advice, some coming from pharmaceutical companies , that migraineurs should keep a migraine journal. I hope to show this to my doctor when I see him, and it should be better than saying simply, "I have a migraine." It could be helpful to me too. I don't know if I had, before now, ever logged the progress of an attack. Journaling can help you keep track of when the attacks happen, how they progress and might help you learn the first signs of an attack. You could also learn the different factors that helped aggravate it or improve it.

Oddly, mine started in my knee, some odd numb sensations in my left leg. Some time later, I scratched my head and found it painful to touch, with pain shooting through my teeth on the left side. While covering a Board of Education meeting for the newspaper that night, the disco lights began. In the middle of that night, I woke up with a throbbing head, with pains and tingling sensations shooting down through my legs and arms. So, in the middle of the night, in order to get some peace and sleep, I brought up my laptop, went to Youtube and tried some music therapy. This is the first video I tried, a Disney mashup by Youtuber Grant Woolard.

Nice, right? And, if you aren't using it as music to sleep by, the animation is interesting, to see how the different movie melodies are interwoven.

From here, Youtube went off into a long list of pieces by the Piano Guys. And it worked. I went off back to sleep, and the next morning, the headache was not gone but better than it had been in the night. This is the Piano Guys video that was playing when I woke up in the morning. Play all the way until the end when the "cello guy" of the Piano Guys is goofing around. It sounds a bit like a hypnosis video. That is the exact bit that was playing when I was waking, so if I have a sudden compulsion to play a cello at the sound of a beep, I'll know why.

If you're a migraineur, perhaps music therapy would help you. It would not surprise me to learn that music is helpful with other sorts of pain and medical issues as well. Here's an article that suggests Mozart can help epileptics.

How has music been therapeutic in your life?