Sunday, April 29, 2007

Copying Beethoven

I missed this film when it hit the theaters back in November of 2006. I guess it wasn't a blockbuster and didn't last that long. I just saw the DVD thanks to Netflix. I watched it twice. It was so thrilling for me in parts that I was tempted to get my souvenir baton from the L.A. Phil and conduct it myself. (what a hair isn't quite long enough) I'm referring to Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

The story starts in 1824, in Vienna, Austria. This period is considered his "Late Period" of composition. He had already been stone deaf for more than 20 years. It was a form of tintinitis, a terrible ringing in the ears and it kept him from even talking to people. He had other odd habits like dunking his head in ice cold water to keep himself awake to compose. It is thought that it might also have been lead poisoning since there was no control of that element at the time and it was even used to sweeten wine. Ludwig had become a very sloppy liver and writer. He needed a copyist and maid, one who could endure his rages and temper tantrums. He probably had several but the film creates a purely ficticious character patterned after a rare, Italian, female composer who did visit him during this time. She is called Anna Holtz (Holst) in the film and she is young and beautiful...which always helps. She wants to compose like Ludwig (who is wonderfully played by Ed Harris)and, through his publisher, Herr Schlemmer, arranges to be Ludwig's copyist. This is quite a feat since there were only sharpened quills and ink wells, no Xerox at the time. The professional musicians of the court's orchestra couldn't begin to read his chicken scratches.

Beethoven was one of the first major composers to "free-lance" and not be tied to a court, a patron or a church. He was also considered a transition composer between "Classical and Romantic" periods. He was quite an innovator in all genres of instrumental and choral music. He was one of the first composers to systematically and consistently use interlocking thematic devices, or "germ-motiffs", to achieve inter-movement unity in long compositions. Equally remarkable was his use of "source motives" which recurred in many different compositions and lent some unity to his life's work. His Ninth Symphony was the first to use Choral Crescendos in the final movement. He was a risk-taker in this regard. As the story unfolds, it is apparent that if he is to conduct his latest symphony, the 9th, which he insisted on doing, he would need help with the down beats and timing. It was a 2-hour performance and the only one who could visually help him with that was young Anna Holtz(Holst)
and she pulled it off brilliantly...hidden from view of the audience and the Arch Duke. Thunderous applause was not heard by him until she came up and turned him around to see the standing O.

One of his last compositions, "Der Grosse Fugue", was not well received when played in court; by this time most of the Venetians thought him to be a crazy old coot. Even Anna had trouble understanding it when she had to copy it. It was done verbally from his death bed. He insisted on no key signature, which was also unheard of in that day. It was prophetically one of his major transitional works which instructed and frightened many a young composer in the late 19th Century. It was beautifully depicted in a photo-montage at the beginning of the film when Anna was frantically riding in a stagecoach to his death bed. She suddenly got it as the scenes flashed before her eyes and she realized the "fugue-like journey" that his life had taken. (and hers too) Then cut to "flashback".

The concept of "Copying Beethoven" speaks to me on several levels. There is that very personal response to his music, his Soul and the "Ode to Joy" theme of the Ninth's Chorus. I just can't help wanting to lead it, sing it, feel it, all over again. There is the empathetic response to his tortured existence, the on-going melodies in his head, that he could never hear anymore in our world...only the vibrations. His over-riding compulsion to bridge the gap between "His God" and "Man" with what he thought was "God's language" - "Music". (Much like Mozart, with whom he wished to train)
Then there is my realization that this happens to many an Artist/Musician. They are in between "worlds" and don't really make it in either realm. It drives their Art, their creativity and their passion, which may allienate them from their everyday world and it's problems of survival. Late in the film-story his young nephew, Karl van Beethoven, greatly loved by Ludwig, poses this key questions: Can you force someone to be an Artist/Musician? And, of course, the opposite: Can you force someone to not be an Artist/Musician? Unfortuately, Life has a way of doing just that...tragically. Bob!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Vitruvian Man

"Cosmografia del minor mondo"

In 1492, Leonardo da Vinci recorded this drawing in one of his journals. At the time he envisaged this picture chart of the human body as an analogy for the workings of the universe. The symbolism of the square within the circle meant that he believed the material existence (the square) was within the spiritual existence (the circle). The proportions shown were originally from a treatise by the Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, hence the name. He observed, at the time, that:

  • a palm was the width of four fingers
  • a foot was the width of four palms
  • a man's height was 24 palms
  • the length of a man's outspread arms was equal to his height
  • the width of the shoulders was a quarter of his height
  • the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand was 1/5th his height
  • the distance form the elbow to the armpit was 1/8th his height
  • the length of his hand was 1/10th his height

He also made more refined observations about a man's face. These statements by Viruvius may be taken as average proportions. Leonardo knew this and also commented, "The navel is naturally in the centre of the human body, and , if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square."

I have tried this in my classroom as a "scientific investigation". Even though the kids were not full grown there was a "sense of proportion" in these measurements. I would ask them if they were a "square" or a "rectangle"? Artistically, we then proceeded to draw ourselves in/within these shapes. Great fun.

This "sense of proportion" in life is essential I believe...not just for design purposes. Our center is actually not the navel, but moves up and down throughout our lives. Some of us are more "well balanced" to begin with. Some of us achieve it later. Some of us, sadly, never attain it. As good ol' Dr. Seuss says, "Life's a balancing act..." (from "Oh the Places You'll Go") I think he might've been referring, like Leonardo, to balancing the square within the circle...the physical/material within the spiritual/emotional. Much depends on where you locate your center. If it centers in your "gut", your appetites, instead of your "heart", your soul, then you are going to have a whole different "balancing act".

The ancient Vedic beliefs from India further define "health" this same way - "A Balance" They believe there are "doshas" that have to be in balance for optimal health. They are, (roughly) Vata...Pitta...Kapha in name and refer (again roughly) to the body types: Ectomorph...Mesomorph...Endomorph. They have distinct habits and ways of dealing with stress/life because of their approach to life which is dependent on their "shape". I'm, for example, a "pitta-kapha" right now. I haven't alway been. At certain times in my life I've been more "Vata". To me, the shape of a pure vata is more an elongated rectangle. The shape of a pure kapha is more of a horizontal rectangle. So, pitta is in the middle as a square. None are ideal, but they can all be better, if they are in balance with each other and no one "dosha" is over powering. What we eat and drink can greatly effect/affect our balance and proportions. Moderation is always the best. (especially with drugs and alcohol) Too much of a "good thing" can be just as bad for our balance. (except chocolate).

Can we help someone else maintain or restore balance?....Probably not...only by example...and prayer. Bob!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Saca's Mediterranean Cuisine

This will be a first in my blogging. Whenever I'm back in Claremont, CA, I try to have lunch at Saca's. They have the best falafels I've ever tasted. I've had them in Iowa and at the Farmer's Market in West L.A. and in Istanbul, Turkey. Saca's, for my money, are the best. It may be the extra gourmet sesame sauce on the side. Every bite has to have extra until it drips down my hand.

We go way back with Mr. and Mrs. Saca. Their original restaurant was in "lower Claremont" in a shopping center near my workplace, Vista School. I got in the habit of visiting them at least once a week for their falafel sandwich. We have been vegetarians for a long time now and chick peas or garbanzos are a staple for protein. They are also great sprinkled over salads. Mr. Saca always had an encouraging comment as he worked and managed the "helpers" he currently employed. His son, at the time in high school, was usually at the cash register. He was bound for college and papa was proud of that. He liked to employ local college students and was just concerned that he couldn't keep the "good ones" very long.

I remember when he made the risky decision to move to "The Village" in Claremont. He was worried because of the increased rent, but he knew that was where the future of his growing business would be. It was closer to the college campuses, walking distance for most. He and his wife are always there. That is part of it. He has built his business not only on good food but personal contact and care. It is usually very busy at meal times and his only lament is that he can't get away, say to visit his homeland. He was very interested in our cruise. He would have to close up for a couple weeks or so and he just can't do that now.

Other treats on his menu for me are: Hummus, Tabouleh and Baklava. Hummus is, again, made from garbanzos and spices topped with paprika and olive oil. Tabouleh is a salad of freshly chopped parsley, diced tomatoes, green onions, cracked wheat and blended herbs. Baklava is made with baked filo dough, walnuts and pistachios and honey. Very sweet. I'm sure most people who keep coming back there have his combo plates of Chicken, Beef or Lamb Shawerma which are flame skewered on a rotating vertical spit. He has rotisserie chicken and pita sandwiches galore. I've tried the Dolma and Baba-ghanouj but not as much. Dolma is vegetarian grape leaves, rice and spices. Baba-ghanouj is a dip of roasted eggplant flavored with olive oil and spices. Tables are small and it is crowded. Not much ambiance but that is just fine for a busy lunch crowd. It can get noisey. It is alway clean and neat.

Bob! gives this restaurant in downtown Claremont, Ca "A Full - 5 Life Preservers" our highest rating. Visit it soon, for your health. Bob!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Stressed? Try Desserts

This has actually worked for me for years. Yes, and I think I'm going back to it very soon. I've been stressed lately. Palindromically, stressed is desserts backwards. The desserts I'm referring to here are not the calorie laden ones however; they are what I have always considered desserts...SINGING... of all kinds. I'm sure desserts come in many forms as do stresses. How we handle the two are the key to our success. What we physically and mentally/emotionally interpret as stress for us personally can make or break us, our lives, our careers, our families and our loved ones. What we subsequently do or refuse to do to relieve that stress can also do the same. Some stress reducers are very temporary and eventually destructive. i.e. fattening desserts, sugar highs, frantic hyperactivity, compulsive behaviors and escapist alternatives. Not good. Won't work.

According to Susan Brink, an L.A. Times Staff Writer, "a simple tune can boost mood, memory and the immune system - it can ease stress." Her article in the Health Section yesterday summarized these truths for me. She went to a retreat for amateur singers in Oregon called "How to Sing in the Shower". What a wonderful discovery she had. She, like many students I've known, was afraid to sing in public or where anyone else could hear her. Problems with pitch, tone, volume plague many needlessly. Karaoke Bars have jokingly pointed that out. Church choirs have been the haven for many a "closet singer" audition, no pressure, come on, you're praising the Lord. Who could criticize that? Well, I've been there. No, I've never had problems with my singing voice but I've worked with many who just refused to sing because of peer rejections or ridicule. It can be a problem in a music class. You can't force someone to sing. They have to want to. I'd get around that by including instruments of all kinds, rhythmic in nature so that they could participate somehow. It usually worked.

Susan's article goes on to point out lots of recent research on the effectiveness of singing as a stress reliever and immune system strengthener. Oxytocin is a hormone that courses through us when we are having a good time i.e. new mothers nursing, having sex, and when we sing in groups as teenagers and so on. according to Walter J Freeman, a neurobiologist at U.C. Berkeley. Music is mainly "right brain" and language (lyrics) is mainly "left brain". How they get together through the corpus colossum, the pathways, can be very robust. Some of us can remember songs and words from our childhood. How do most of us learn the alphabet? The ABC song.

Yesterday I taught a song I pulled out of my memory to my kindergarteners and they loved it. Of course, I didn't remember it exactly and I added some gestures and teaching points, but we had fun. I used it as a vehicle to teach/review the Seasons and their knowledge of them and their sequence. Do you remember?..."Its gona be a cold winter...and what will da birdies do den?...the poor tings." It was silly, used baby talk but it got to its purpose. It also taught rhyming words, barn - warm, fly - sky - dry, pool - cool, etc. I added: school - stool and book - rook for Fall. See if you can figure it out.

My barbershop group meets tomorrow. Our quartet, The Shakers, hasn't had any time alone to practice so we are somewhat frustrated. We have fun when we do sing in front of the group but we can't get past a certain point of improvement...and that's the point. Maybe, if we tried harder we wouldn't enjoy it as much. This is probably one of the reasons many of these old guys are still going strong: they sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong...don't worry if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear, just sing!
Inhale...and phonate...don't just exhale. Bob! (too, while you're at it)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Days in America 1607 to 2007

Today is EarthDay. I've been commemorating it since 1970 when it officially started. It was such a great thing to teach in my classrooms. We went to fairs and gatherings all about ecology. We even had a giant "Earth Ball" that we used for P.E. There was a whole list of "non-competitive games" we taught to emphasize the same then i.e. get along with each other and the environment, everything doesn't have to be a competition. We envisioned our world as it should be, like the picture above, all fuzzy, warm and sunflowery. Now, since Mr. Gore and the "global warming issue" it is like we are starting over again with the same basic themes. It is almost a "new religion" and very evangelical. Well, we've been there...and, sadly, done that. It is truly hard to get all hyped again about these same issues thirty years later. i.e. we went from paper shopping bags to plastic and now to cloth. We recycle all our aluminum and glass (originally sorted by color) I can remember many a trip to the recycling trailers in San Dimas with my trunk full. Excuse me if I'm just not as eager to jump on this latest bandwagon.

The latest issue of the National Geographic has a very interesting cover story about the beginnings of our country in Jamestown. It is not the one I taught for so many years in 5th grade about colonization and settlement. Strangely, it is about an invasion and upsetting of a well-established ecosystem of the indigenous Indians at the time. Yes, 400 years ago, 1607, to the year, the old profit motive was rearing its ugly head to start the process over here, in what is now South Carolina,(then Virginia) Although originally sent to find "gold" or a "northwest passage" to the orient and spices, the new settlers and representatives came equipped like English farmers to set up their kind of farms. They totally ignored the land management techniques and systems that had been successful for the native Indians (Powhattans) Of course their immediate motivation was to avoid starvation. The Indian ways just weren't workin' for them fast enough. The tobacco plants they brought totally devastated the local soils within two seasons robbing the nutrients for other crops that were successful (corn, beans etc.) The honeybees were brought for honey because they didn't know that much then about cross pollination and the English bees went wild, as did the pigs they brought. They soon were feral and competing for the same food as the people. The Indians had no domestic animals and therefore didn't need fences to pen them in. They didn't have the same sense of "ownership of plots of land" as the English did. They rotated crops and land burning the underbrush. The settlers themselves were mainly from the marshy parts of England where they weren't making it and so they came to the Jamestown area which was also marshy. They brought in their blood the parasites of malaria mosquitoes. Those were dormant until they found fresh blood of animals and Indians. So diseases like this and small pox nearly wiped out the native population and most of the colonizing one too. The investors just sent more and more boats of desperate settlers. These diseases, if they didn't kill you, zapped your energy and pioneering spriit/resolve. So the Indians couldn't get it together to kick them out once and for all, nor could the colonist fight back effectively. In later years, defending the area, Cornwallis' troups were nearly wiped out by these diseases, not by the vicious fighting of the patriots. So, we, as a culture/people have been in the business of unbalancing ecosystems, environments for hundreds of years...and we haven't learned our lessons yet. We consume. We use up. We don't replace or recycle. It isn't in our nature.

We'll probably do it to Mars or the Moon if and when we get a chance to get there. This was one of my favorite blue book essay questions from my best History professor, Zenos Hawkinson at North Park College. "How will we colonize Mars?" Compare and contrast the way we did it to America. You can see all kinds of parallels between the two.

My belief is somehow the Earth will go on...Gaia. It will adapt with or without our species on it. Sooner or later we will get it. Hindsight is such a good teacher. It is probably already too late for many of the animal species...2 out of 5 are threatened. Passenger pigeons, Dodos, et al. we will follow in our time, because that is just our basic nature. No new tricks for us old dogs. Bob!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Consultant of Oz

My fascination with stagecrafts continues. Sad to say, I'm almost OCD about it. I did it for so many years and still feel I have something to share. So...I just finished consulting on our local Middle School's production of "The Wizard of Oz". It was fun to be backstage again and not having that performance pressure or the discipline of the hyper/excited students..."Places!"

My local elementary school's principal, Mrs. Kinney, suggested that I might be able to help since she knew I used to do "productions". Her school was providing the "Munchkin Chorus" and the auditorium. So...I went and volunteered with Mrs.Ropppelt, the Middle School teacher/director (brave soul). She immediately referred me to Lydia Sandecki, the Art Teacher/Stage Manager. She was very open to my "suggestions" and clearly needed some "help" backstage. Her students/classes had created some beautiful sets/scenes and she had "a ton" of props to manage. She also created the "special effects" i.e. black light, smoke, mirrors, prop "water" and all the minutia "Wizard" needs. Quite an undertaking for a Middle School with more than 70 kids involved, lots of parent volunteers who built the rolling sets, did the lighting and sound effects. What a wonderful way to bring the whole "school-community" together. Eleven performances were planned but there may be less due to a snag of "no permission slips" for the rest of the middleschoolers.

They thought that I was just going to "help" push scenery around in the dark...but, early on they found out that I had other objectives. (plus my artificial hip wouldn't let me do too much). No, I was more interested in "future productions" being better organized and run by the student/leaders. Parents and Teachers continue to do so much in these massive they are providing the "experience" for their kid/school that "they didn't have or did and wanted to reprise"

My first consulting was to suggest that there be a well-defined hierarchy of backstage "jobs" and "job descriptions/expectations" of students. i.e. "Student Stage Manager, Props Manager, costumes manager, scenery grips etc. They needed to be "empowered" and challenged to make it their production as the "calm" controllers of the show - backstage - dressed in black. They had "places" to be in also, cues, and responsibilities to make the show, their show, a success. (the actors are all too excited usually) So...I suggested a "prop checklist" stuck to the tables. A complete, in order, list of what it was (they were), who took them on stage, who took them off and where they were kept for future shows. I then watched and monitored to see if that was was, very capably, by a very "in charge" student/actor named Ainsley. (?). She was then promoted to Student Stage Manager/prop manager. Suggested grips were assigned to stage left and right and a curtain operator (automatic draw) could also be the "promptor". Mrs. Sandecki was already liking these suggestions because they ultimately gave her less to do frantically in the dark.

Next I suggested, in writing (all) a "spreadsheet" on what yet needed to be done, bought, scrounged, set, repaired etc. This is always a good tool just before "tech/dress rehearsals" It also contains a column for "who is responsible for what, where and when" It forces organization backstage. Luckily the Spring Break week came after the Dress Rehearsals and before the Final Performances. So hours and hours of work were donated during that week, mainly by, dedicated teachers on their own "vacation time" and by volunteer parents and grandparents...I know, I've been there too.

My last major contribution/consultation in writing was for the importance, at this age (kid) for "Peer Recognition", and "Peer Evaluation" of what they had done individually and as a cohesive group/team backstage and on stage. I felt the need when concern was voiced about the lack of recognition/anticlimax of just the "lights and applause" of elementary students and parents. My vehicle for this was the "Wrap Party" with "Balloted Awards" (Tonis, Academy etc.) Call them the "Toto Awards" because they did have a live, well-behaved, dog on stage...and back stage being held. Have the kids consider the "values learned/taught" through productions like these in the "nomination process" of their peers (can't nominate self or best friend/popularity contest etc.) Define the nomination categories and criteria...i.e. Best Girl Supporting Actress, Best Stage Manager, Best Chorus Member etc. Then have them presented with "thankyou speeches" at the "Wrap Party with a keepsake certificate or trophy, cookie etc. This is where the learning takes place and where "fond memories" are made about school projects. Nothing wrong with mutual "stroking of egos" at this age.

We'll see if they follow my suggestions or some modified form of them. (not taking them all to a reward field trip to Universal Studios...they would be nice but, not really necessary) My opinion...but what do I know?...We took as many upper elementary kids on the longest bus trip ever after a production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" the Renaissance Faire from Claremont to Thousand Oaks area. It was not the adult fair of today, but one for students run by that old actor from "Walton's Mountain" Will ...(can't remember his name) The grandpa role...white hair, beard. The kids enjoyed all the "renaissance stage skills" i.e. sword fighting, costume making/wearing etc. Yes, this was the only time my wife went along because we had our oldest son in it. Never again...those school buses did serious damage to your kidneys and, no the temptation is there to "reward" the good, compliant kids with such an outing...not necessary. (in my, never to be humble, opinion. Bob!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Imperials Class of '57 to '07


We're known for our success

With our colors flying

We symbolize the best!

Persian Blue and Ivory

Forever may we stand

Ever true and loyal

And known throughout the land.

Yes, I can hardly believe it has been 50 years since we youthfully sang this song together on the "Sr.Quad". We had such hope and enthusiasm for our lives ahead. It now reminds me of that old Latin "Drinking Song?":
Gaudeamus igitur
Juvenes dum sumus
Post jucundum juventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus...
(roughly translated)
Let us now in youth rejoice
None can justly blame us...
For when golden youth has fled
And, in age, our joys are dead
Then the dust doth claim us...
Recapturing that youthful zest! That was my motivation as my wife and I attended our long awaited 50th Reunion. We hadn't been to more than one or two previous (20th, 25th?)so we didn't really know what to expect after half a century! As the Ides of April drew near I decided to try to remember some of my old high school friends and times so I'd be prepared. My wife keeps everything. She dug down in our old steamer trunk and found my old year books for 1955, '56 and, of course, '57. They were all still in black and white photos and just pages and pages of hand-written "well-wishes" and pledges of "friendship forever". What a kick to read them again and find the pictures signed. It truly had been 50 years or more. I realized that I had quite a few older and younger classmen as "friends" and acquaintenances. I had several teachers who also wished me well also. I knew I wouldn't be seeing them because they were not invited (not in our class) or had "passed on". My favorite teachers would be in their 80's or 90's. I was shocked by the large number of names in the "In Memorium" books; over 50 out of our class of 300+.
Mrs. Ruth Hill came to Eagle Rock in 1927 and was retiring in 1957. She was my Latin teacher. She wrote to me, "Puer melior hoc anno quam anno priore eras. Opus scriptum minus bonum quam opus aris. Vale." I'm afraid I don't know what that means anymore, but I'm sure she'd be proud of me referring to Gaudeamus Igitur above. She was ever challenging to impress and I remember Joyce Keen and Claudia from her classes...major distractions. Claudia was my "personal slave" (I bought her) at the "auction" at Our Roman Day Festivities. Joyce was quite a flirt/tease but always out of reach. We met many years later at a party in Pasadena that my wife's former boyfriend had .
There was Oliver Skanse, my first and favorite Choral Director/Coach. I was in his A Cappella Choir, Glee Club and Madrigals. I even got to sing my first requiem (Faure) with his church choir. I was wondering how many of the seniors in the Madrigals I'd get to see again. Tom Richardson signed above his picture and he was the second person I met at the reunion. He had grown a beard. He couldn't find my name tag. I think I also saw Vivian Maeno from a distance. I don't think she recognized me. I was looking for Bev Johnson, Gary Flanders, Herb Saunders and Judy Howard. They were all better known through my church. They were missing; as was Ron Ferguson. Alden Baker sat at my table and I recognized him right away. I think he was in music also. We didn't make the connection though.
Mr. Harada left a kind note and said he'd miss my "long essays" in English. I'm sure he was instrumental in my getting the English Dept. Award that year; a big Oxford Dictionary which I still have somewhere. I'm still not a very good speller. I remember Judy Redding in his classes. She could write "whole stories" with her eyes. I, of course, was only into "Pilgrim's Progress" and other seriously religious works. i.e. "Screwtape Letters"...I was planning on going to Seminary at North Park. I also remember Mr. Nance, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Friedman. They made good impressions. I wonder if I always did as a teacher?
Neil Johnson, our president, stopped by our table. He called me "Al"...which is just fine ala that Paul Simon song. I saw Wally Rados come in late. Diane Beal was the first classmate we met. My wife remembered her from one of her childhood birthday parties. Their mothers were friends. She didn't remember Betty. David Baken came up to me and shook my hand. He remembered me. He came all the way from Wisconsin and is a retired minister. He didn't really graduate with our class but was always so friendly and serious.
I was hoping to see Richard Paul, David Swan, Robin Webb, Priscilla Box and Eleanor Sloane. I think they are all deceased. Too bad. They were good friends.
Marilyn Carriger-Holst wasn't wearing her name tag and fooled me at first. She and I first met in third grade, her mother-in-law's classroom at Delevan Drive. Yes, she married her former teacher's son. I wish I could've met her husband. She and I have been keeping in touch by email this last year. She has quite a list of "emailees". She was my "tall" square dance partner. I asked her if she watched "Dancing with the Stars" on TV. She wanted to know, why? My wife and I both said, "Because it's fun!"
I kept looking around for Dennis Kemper. He was my main buddy at Eagle Rock. We had emailed this past year. He lives in San Dimas I think. I wish I could've seen him again and reminised. He might have elected to go to the dinner-dance later or maybe the cruise. We had to opt out of that because of my wife's health issues. The freeways were relatively clear Sunday. We made it back home by 3:P.M. We were tired.
I would've liked to meet and talk to more of my former "friends" in a different format. Our lives and families separated us early on and we never were able to keep our "promises" of "friendship". Now, telling about our "paths" almost felt like "bragging"...and I didn't want that. I was genuinely interested their lives and plans worked out? Did they realize any or all of their "dreams"? Did they "fall from Grace" as I may have? Or did they find other ways and means to be "fulfilled" and "loved"..."loving"? Are they still active and creatively growing? What has helped them survive thus far?
For me, it has to be my love of kids, my career centered on my grandchildren. My wife and I are well-matched in this mutual love. They have and do keep us "young". Monday, the day after our reunion, I taught my classroom kids where I volunteer now to "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold." We sang and learned the song from "Toy Story" "You've Got A Friend In Me". I told them that, just maybe, one or two of the "friends" they have now will still be their "friends" in 50 years. Bob!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Our Trip to Palindromia and The Huntington

Spring Break Vacation time again and we were privileged to take care of our two oldest grandchildren, Layla and Stone. "Camp Gramma/pa", as it has become known, has grown, developed and gotten more and more elaborate. This time it started on Easter Sunday so we had to have an Easter Egg Hunt. We had to make it challenging because we knew they were "veterans" of many a "hunt". So we came up with the "Amazing Palindromic Hunt"...a spin-off of the "Amazing Race" on TV. We had to have a "Pit Stop, Detours, Road Blocks, Fast Forward" just like the show. So besides finding the 48 plastic eggs (they found 47) they had to complete 4 out of 5 tasks around the house to their liking. i.e. "Play it or Say it" (play a piano piece from memory or read a tongue twister) "Decorate it or shake it" (decorate eggs or shake and spray readywhip in your mouth) "Curl it or Crop it" (pretend to curl your hair or cut it) "D.S. or B.S. or G.S. or A.S." (play Nintendo D.S., a Barbershop CD, lead dad in singing a Gilbert and Sullivan Patter Song or Find an Art Selection) "Fast-Forward" Torture Chamber (listen to Gramps sing Barbershop oldies with an hourglass timer) They chose this tortuous task rather than the D.S. task. (unpredicted)
They then had to open all the found eggs at the Pit Stop and spread out the palindromes and other key words in them. They had help from parents puttting together key sentences of palindromes and the secret coded location(s) of the "Fabulous Prizes" hidden around the house. "Kool pu" "X or O Marks the Spot" (X meaning kiss, O meaning hug) They then had to go hunting for those wrapped prizes, jump ropes, pencil boxes, special candies etc. Lots of fun...especially for us grandparents who, through them, are growing younger...a choice you can have living, as we do, in Palindromia.
On Tuesday, we had reservations for tea at The Huntington Tea Room. We had been looking forward to this ever since we took "Flat Stanley" there last year. (See previous post on this Blog) We had a long car trip but the kids were excellent. We played car-games alphabetically. I also brought the D.S. (Big Brain Academy, Brain Boost and Brain Age) Being members, we got in early, before the general public. We enjoyed seeing the Japanese and Zen Gardens first without the throngs. We fed the koi with the resident gardener. We each chose our favorite bonsai tree. We went to the Visual Garden and touched all the "Stones" (Stone liked that) We then hiked through the sub-tropical gardens and the desert gardens and took pix. We were already tired and hungry when we hit the crowded tea room. We had a special table next to the fireplace, the lion gargoyles and golden hyppogryphs. Our grandchildren have been well trained and have "impeccable manners" we had one rule..."Take and eat only what you like" They could try new finger sandwiches, scones, salads, pettifors, mini desserts, fruits, cheese, even caviar. They let them use their tea cups for their milk...they each tried a "spot of tea" in their milk and quickly rejected that option. They could go back to the buffet table as many times as they wanted and take anything if they would actually try it. We have been practicing "teas" at home, with each other and with "American Girl Dolls Molly and Kirsten". We were well practiced and so...polite.
We then went to the conservatory and looked at all the exotic plants and hands-on experiments in the Rain Forest, the Cloud Forest where the humidity was intense. It was hard to get them to leave this magnificent, teaching structure. Of special fascination were the carnivorous plants i.e. venus fly traps and pitcher plants. Stones fascination with bugs reigned supreme. We checked out bogs and pond scum. We looked through microscopes, magnifying glasses and performed tests with galvinometers and litmus-ometers. They are such smart and inquisitive kids.
We then collapsed in the childrens' garden while they ran around and explored all the wonders there. Their favorites were the cloud and rain forest circles, the rainbow tunnel and volcano and gigantic magnet. The weather was perfect, not too hot or too cold or windy. We took some nature trail back through the camelia forests and elected not to see the indoor galleries this trip...just too tired. We had to stop at the gift shop and get them each a remembrance gift. Stone, of course, picked a Fly-Trap Garden in miniature and Layla picked a miniature Tea Set.
On the way back we stopped and had a brief visit with their cousins Soren and Xavier in Claremont. They also enjoyed the dogs Sancho and Bongo. They saw Amy's kitchen garden and her roaming chickens. What a Day! Perfect for us. Memories are made of this. Bob!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

So She Dances...

A waltz when she walks in the room
She pulls back the hair from her face
She turns to the window
To sway in the moonlight
Even her shadow has grace.
Asher Lenz and Adam Crossley are credited with the Music and Lyric for this beautifully moving Josh Groban song on his latest album "Awake". It starts in his low register and gradually soars into his highest voice, even falsetto. For me, it is the best song on his new album because it gives my current feelings about the love of my life...words and melody.
A waltz for the girl out of reach
She lifts her hands up to the sky
She moves with the music
The song is her lover
The melody's making her cry.
We got the album about the same time of the new season of "Dancing With The Stars". We have enjoyed that show, the professional dancers, the guest performers etc. We like the fast dances but we are really enamored by the slower ones. i.e. the waltz. It, in some ways, is just as difficult with the measured, 3/4 beat, held frame, rise and fall, and sweeping turns all under the utmost muscular control and restraint. "This would be the perfect song to dance to," I said to myself. That's when I wrote to Josh (his website) and the show (chatroom) and suggested Josh sing it on "DWTS" as one of the guest soloist like last season they had Rod Stewart. Immediately it got alot of "hits" and comments in the chat room...mostly positive. One person complained that since the program was on a Disney owned station they would probably favor Disney-type entertainers. I got no direct email answers from Josh or DWTS but, lo and behold, three weeks later, there he was surrounded by spotlights singing a shortened version of "So She Dances". They used their newest female professional, youngest too, (Apolo Ono's partner) and Leeza Gibbon's pro-partner to dance to it on the darkened floor with thrilling choreographic lifts and carries. It was amazing and got an on-going standing ovation. This next week now several of the remaining couples will have to dance the waltz without the lifts. It ought to be inspiring and fun to watch.
So she dances
In and out of the crowd like a glance
This romance is from afar calling me, silently.
A waltz for the chance I should take
But how will I know where to start
She's spinning between constellations and dreams
Her rhythm is my beating heart.
Our first date, after our meeting at Jr. Hi. Church camp, came after we met again as members of a mutual friend's wedding party. We were paired going down the aisle as bridesmaid and groomsman. I called her very soon after and set up a "date" but not a dance then. It was a "tennis date". She looked so hot in her white tennis togs, short skirt, tan...I was totally distracted and she beat me. She said she enjoyed winning. That's when I knew...we would continue the "match". We both belonged to a church that didn't "promote" dancing but we easily found ways to dance...very intimately. Since then, we have been dancing many times usually as part of a wedding party or a dinner celebration with a band. Neither of us have what you'd call "dancing talent". We feel the music together but I'm about a foot taller. A drink or two really helps us loosen up, and not step on toes.
So she dances...
I can't keep on watching forever
I'd give up this view just to tell her
When I close my eyes I can see
The spotlights are bright on you and me
We've got the floor
And you're in my arms
How could I ask for more?
I could. A few more years would be nice. Our time together now is even more precious. We have so many wonderful memories and we want to still make more. We are both getting alittle more forgetful lately and we have to remind each other when we slip up. (Like I just forgot my doctor's apt.) Do young couples even think about "growing old together" anymore? I hope so. It is sweet.
So she dances...
And I'm giving up this view just to tell her.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Jocular Jaguars and Jackalopes

My wife and I recently visited an old Arabian Restaurant. We were all set for some mighty fine vegetarian cuisine. i.e a bit of humus, pita, dahl, etc. Serrendipitiously, the site had been revamped to be a performance venue for "Tales of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves". Suddenly, out of the gaping maw of this jaguar, or maybe it was a leopard, (seen above) appeared "Jafarr"; after the cloud of smoke/fog cleared and the eyes stopped glowing red. What proceeded was the "Story Theater" version of "Aladin and the Magic Lamp". The kids down in front, on the "magic carpets" loved it. They were allowed to perform and get involved in the "story" as it unfolded as told by the actors themselves. Certain "special effects" made it all the more fun. i.e.everytime the name "Jaffar" was spoken, everyone had to audibly gasp...everytime a "wish" was granted, the audience had to come up with a special "sound effect" (this time a "meow") The cutest, tiniest pre-schooler from the front row became the "evil Jafarr" with the help of a mask and lots of imagination.

The first time I actually saw "Story Theater" on stage was many years ago when our Indian Guide Tribe went into L.A. (Music Center I think) and saw a popular production of "The Goose that Laid The Golden Egg" and other similar "fables" It was so creatively mounted with a blank, background scrim on which silhouettes and the like could be projected along with vibrant colors. "Here Comes the Sun" from the Beatles was the theme song. We all enjoyed the show, at least the "little braves" did. I remember a little "disagreement" with one of the "big braves" when I, in my "teacher voice", was telling the kids to "be quiet" since we didn't have the "talking stick" out. Later, in the park next to the La Brea Tar Pits, we met and got an autograph from one of the actors in that show. He was on his bike (motor). He was later cast as one of the stars in "The Bob Newhart Show", a dentist, I think.

The first time I took my boys to visit my sister in Santa Fe on the Train, we had some new and different experiences. We were dropped off at the nearest railroad station to be picked up by my sister later. The name of the the station was "Lay-me". Boy did I have fun explaining the meaning of that name to them. i.e. my dad, being a railroad man, originally working on a "signal crew" of men who went from station to station, fixing the electric signals and had to "sleep-over" once in awhile. As we waited, we found several 4-leaf clovers and thought ourselves very lucky. I think it was also then that we saw our first "jack-a-lope". It had gotten its antlers caught in the bushes just above its rabbit hole. I think Brooks wanted to chase after it but I told him that we planned to do that later with my sister outside her home on the hill at "Laughing Sky". We later turned it into a "Snipe Hunt" in the dark where we left him, holding the gunny sack waiting to snag a snipe coming through the bushes.

On our daily morning walk today we caught a glimpse of our first Easter Gander. You know, the ones, with their goose wives, that lay the Easter Eggs out here in Sun Lakes. These geese were poking around in the bushes in front of one of the homes with their rabbit-ears firmly attached...listening for the rare grandkids who visit around this time and hunt their they can color them. We had just gotten our annual telephone call from Clark. He can be counted on to call on April 1st, yes, April Fools Day, to try, once again, to fool mom. Today, his new wife, Vi, was fed up and heading back to Utah with their new son, X. He was so "distraught". It didn't work of course. It hasn't since he tried, successfully to fool mom, using the neighbors up the street with one of his "many" run-in stories.

I just looked up "April Fools' Day on Google and went to Wikipedia. After reading the "disclaimer" at the top of the articles, I waded through the stories and wondered how many were "fluff" (which I think alot of Wiki's are) It appears that the day probably got started when they switched the first day of the year from April 1st (March 32nd) to January 1st. and people kept forgetting because there were certain things you always did, rituals on the first day of the year. Then it proceeded to go through all the "hoaxes" that have been perpetrated on the radio, television, media, and, yes, the internet. Some of them were/are pretty famous. i.e. "War of the Worlds" etc. There are ancient roots of this day set asside for foolery i.e "Saturnalia" and "Festus Fatuorum". In England, it was the mythical town of Gotham, in Nottinghamshire, where the whole town tried to act like lunatics to fool King John and his planned visit. It worked and they were not punished.

I must confess that I have, at times, been a "spinner of tales" i.e. made up definitions and interpretations of unknown things and events. This increased after our trip to the British Isles. We were there, touring with our choir and took a side trip to Ireland and the Blarney know the rest. As a teacher, we even had a weekly "Liar's Club" named after the popular TV show one year. Kids would bring in odd objects on Fridays and try to explain what they were and what they were used for. Then a chosen panel would vote on "truth or lie"(?) My best was a "mechanical dog dropping" (an extruded glob of shiny metal) Some believed it.

The above post of this blog is filled with the same "blarney". Can you detect which are true tales and which are made up? It seems only appropriate as an activity on this April Fools' Day don't you think? Bob!