Sunday, September 12, 2010

Act? Care? Envision? Think? -- Follow the herd?

"I chose "Care", but don't always do it," one friend emailed me.

Another wrote on my Facebook page, "Perhaps we are sorted by the occupation we choose. I bet most accountants would fall into the detail ["Think"] section."

Another friend noted that because the original discussion had been about the need for a common vision, she, normally a "Think" person, "likely would have been inspired to choose "Envision!"

Huh? Let me bring our new readers up to speed.

In a previous post, I described a meeting where the people were asked to stand by one of four signs--with no in-betweens allowed--that best described them:

Act! Plunge in and try things.
Care. Make sure everyone has a say before acting.
Envision. See the big picture and possibilities before acting.
Think. Figure out the details before acting.

Here's how the group responded:

Twenty-two of the people stood by two statements. Three people stood by one statement. No one stood by one statement.

The "Think" friend, in the middle of master's level counseling courses, also pointed out that because people could see where other people were moving, a herd mentality might have influenced the outcome.

And, good counselor/student that she is, she also provided other options to help me derive my own conclusion: Even distribution across the sample population OR Act-15, Think-7, Envision-3, Care-0.

A fourth friend suggested the opposite: "Guessing no one in that group chose Act!. 22 took #2 or #4. three chose #3. I would have to say #1 for myself, though only in most general and relative to what I observe in others sense. So, what happened next?"

Good question.

Time for an answer.

Twenty two of the people not only clustered around "Act" and "Envision," they positively swarmed to get there. Two people stood by "Think." No one stood by "Care."

Wait, wait wait!

Hold the horses here.

What happened to the third person who was supposed to be standing by "Think?!?"

Well, the third person was me. I was a bit caught in the crush of people trying to get to the "Act!" and "Envision" side of the room. Before I could move, the leader had positioned herself in front of the "Care" sign, and had begun speaking. I would have had to walk right in front of her to get to the other side.

At least, that's one way to look at it.

Another way, of course, is that I was still "Think"-ing about it and didn't "Act!" quickly enough.

But the distribution concerned me. 

I see too many half-baked ideas being rushed into policy or production without enough thought being given to the ramifications and consequences. I also people abandon brilliant, creative concepts when they can't immediately understand them and put them into action. We love our ruts, no matter how inefficient and counterproductive.

Being a "Think details" person, I know how tedious the work of preparation can be. Translating a "Vision" into "Act"-ion takes time and effort. It's easier just to write off the idea, than it is to make it work.

The irony was that this was a group of educators operating in an ostensibly Dewey-based system. The same John Dewey, who wrote extensively about Democracy And Education, where everyone's voice is part of the process. Only no one, apparently, "Cares" enough to listen. Or maybe we just didn't "Think" before we "Act"-ed. Or maybe we need some to "Envision," others to "Think," others to "Care" before we all "Act."

Or maybe the underlying truth is that we aren't truly made to function in a pure democracy.

You didn't really "herd" that idea here first, did you? :-)

Friday, September 3, 2010

What Type Are You?

Recently, I sat in on a meeting. The person running the meeting spoke about the need for common vision among the group, which numbered about 25 people, then had us perform a simple exercise.

Posted at four points in the room, were statements that went something like this:

Act! Plunge in and try things.
Care. Make sure everyone has a say before acting.
Envision. See the big picture and possibilities before acting.
Think. Figure out the details before acting.

We were asked to stand by the statement that we felt best described us -- with no in-between's allowed.

It's important to note that we weren't given specific scenarios. This was an "in general" sort of response, so -- as commercials say -- results may vary.

But on this day, the response went like this:

Twenty-two of the people stood by two statements. Three people stood by one statement. No one stood by one statement.

Guesses as to how we defined/divided ourselves? Where would you have stood?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Giving to airy nothing a local habitation . . .

"Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
Are of imagination all compact;
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is the madman; the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt;
The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."
Thesesus -- Act V, Scene 1 -- A Midsummer Night's Dream

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Of Gifts and Talents and Proclivities

Left: Our granddaughter's interpretation of Michael Jackson's Thriller. Photo and stylization courtesy of Jane Cato Studio. What you can't see is the makeup and tousled hair of her zombie princess alter ego.

Years ago, I read one of those how-to-live-a-blessed-life kind of books in which the author spoke of the time-released capsules she believes God builds into each of our lives. Sudden discoveries and realigning of circumstances had released new and unexpected creative energies in her own life. God doesn't give everything to us all at once, she wrote. He lets us discover, in His time and as we go along, the gifts He planted in us from the beginning.

I have thought about the phenomena of implanted time-released capsules often these last few years. My husband touched clay for the first time three-and-a-half years ago, and one of those extra-fast-acting time-released capsules burst open.

For me, however, the first sense I had that I could be a "real" writer came in my 20s. But circumstances didn't align themselves for me to explore that in all of its fullness until I was in my 50s -- a slower-acting capsule, as it were.

One of our responsibilities as parents, says Proverbs 22:6,  is to "Train up a child in the way he (she) should go." Most people interpret that in terms of religious teaching. But it also speaks to paying attention to the individual personality, abilities, and talents each child has -- and to the times they are released in their lives.

One of our sons was assigned in seventh grade to write a computer program for a game. This was in the Commodore 64 era when we played Atari's Pong at home and kids played that newfangled game, Pac-Man, in arcades. I don't even have the vocabulary to describe the game he created, but it was intricate enough that we had to buy additional external memory to hold it all -- and even then I think he only scratched the surface of what he had in his mind. Today he's the IT guy at a Colorado ski resort -- where he can also make the most of another time-released capsule called snowboarding that exploded in his life a couple of decades later.

Another son absorbed everything he could learn about fishing and hunting from his father and from other people and from books. Beginning when he was about eight years old, he often fished the neighborhood ponds after school when the other kids rode bikes and played kickball. One day when he was 13 or so, my husband and I were visiting my parents in Spring Hill when he called to tell us he had snagged a barbed treble hook in the top of his foot while fishing from a bridge not far from our house in Seminole. My husband walked him through the process of backing the hook out, which he did successfully -- and then went back to fishing. He explored the professional fishing tournament circuit for a time before circumstances limited his time. Today he's our go-to guy when we have questions about Florida flora and fauna . . . and fish, of course.

A third son would spend days in character -- Huck Finn was a favorite, corn cob pipe and all -- and he also learned to love the physical labor of building things. His second grade teachers commented on his "showmanship" when they filmed him doing a science experiment. When he played the Jack of Hearts in a fifth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland, the advisor suggested he consider a theater program  in high school. He did, but turned to building sets and running lights and sound in the technical theater program instead. Today he's the go-to guy at a major corporation, responsible for maintaining much of their physical infrastructure and equipment. And he's a backstage dad for his children.

Of course, our sons explored other interests along the way. They played baseball and soccer in the local leagues. They each learned to play more than one musical instrument -- one still plays around with music quite a bit. One has learned the art of selling. Two of them still enjoy reading books. All three are good writers, when they have a use for writing. They all learned how to cook and to use hammers and saws and wrenches and what not. Sometimes they still call their dad for a how-to walk through, but sometimes he calls them for the same.

Now our children watch their children walk in particular paths, or -- for three of our grandchildren, at least -- dance down particular paths.

Our oldest grandson was two, maybe three, when he started asking to wear my "clap shoes" when he came to visit. They were just my wear-to-the-office 1-inch heeled pumps . . . but he liked the clapping sound they made on our tiled entry way and on our concrete kitchen floor. By the time he was four, all he wanted for his birthday was a pair of tap shoes. His mom, a dancer herself and married to our theater son, enrolled him in tap lessons. From his first lessons, he exhibited an innate ability to follow the steps -- and, when he made a mistake, to correct himself back into the rhythm. Last night, I got teary-eyed watching him rat-a-tat-tat across the stage . . . and also perform a very sensitively danced lyrical number.

His brother was barely two when he memorized the score and choreography from the Wizard of Oz. He couldn't articulate the words, but the on-pitch melodies and voice inflections were there. He couldn't match all the steps, but he had the timing of Scarecrow's loose moves down pat.  Before long, he followed his brother into dance classes. Last night, I lost count of the number of dances -- solos, duets, trios, group dances -- to which he had memorized the choreography and inserted his own personality.

Little sister was just four when she saw Michael Jackson's Thriller video and started teaching herself the choreography, including the moon walk. Her reaction when Michael Jackson died? "But he's still alive in Thriller." Last night, she performed a solo version (a 5-year-olds' recognizable rendition) of Thriller at the DanceMoves Studio's final program. She can turn respectable cartwheels and has a lovely toe point.

Their parents have poured lots of time and money into helping their children follow these paths to date. What does the future hold? None of us know. They could wow them on Broadway or a different time-released capsule could take them down new and unrelated paths. For now they have learned the disciplines of working hard at something, of working consistently at something, and of sharing what they have learned with others. I suspect they have learned to walk hard, walk long, walk joyfully in whatever way they find themselves down the road.

Everything else is icing on the proverbial cake.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Making a Joyful Noise! Part Two

From Haydn's The Creation and Lord Nelson Mass -- performed by the Eckerd College Concert Choir and Friends this past March.

It's a grand night for singing . . . 

The voice lessons I took in high school didn't turn me into an opera diva. Cosí fan tutte wasn't on my Top 20 and Lohengrin wasn't exactly easy listening.

Those were the days of the Beatles, Herman's Hermits, Marianne Faithful, Petula Clark, the Mamas and the Papas, the Lovin' Spoonful and others. Even now, phrases from "As Tears Go By," "Downtown," "Monday, Monday," and more drift through my mind at the oddest times.

Just listen to the rhythm of the gentle bossa nova . . . 

Playing tag in my brain with  the pop tunes and lyrics of the 60s, are the show songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, and others.

How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

Not opera, by any means. But my instructor was also the choir director at our church. And he encouraged me, a high school sophomore (freshman?), to sing in the adult choir.

I wonder if he knew what a gift that was.

For one thing, I was never quite youth group material. Most of the other kids at church went to the same high school, a different one than I went to. Most of the other kids played sports or were in band or were in other group activities.

Me? I was on the speech team.

The debate team.

Yes, I was on the drill team one year, and I did go on a youth group outing to play in the snow at Big Bear. And while I wasn't exactly a fish out of water, I felt a bit like a mountain-stream rainbow trout mixing it up with Coho salmon fresh from the ocean.

For another, my voice wasn't knock-'em-dead-powerhouse solo quality. Give me an acoustic guitar and a coffeehouse setting and I might be able to earn a few bucks. But belt it out on Broadway? Ain't gonna happen.


Except that somebody encouraged me to join the adult choir.

Chorus, choir, chorale -- the synergy of individual voices so yielded to and blended with each other creates more than just magnified sound. It creates a new voice, one that is more than the sum of its parts and that transcends parts all together.

We bring our puny voices to the group, offering them to the music, moving as one with the director, trusting -- as did a long ago little boy -- that our vocal loaves and fishes will be multiplied and divided to feed the multitudes more than just a picnic lunch.

And what of the loaf being multiplied? For me, my range extends, my volume expands, and my voice becomes a little less puny. I am taken out of myself and become more than myself.

Make a joyful noise, the Psalmist said.

He never said it had to be a solo.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making a Joyful Noise! In Memoriam Interlude: 5 . . . 6 . . . 5-6-7-8

 Susan Hartley in Ireland, 2005.

Not everyone sings with the voicebox. Not everyone makes melody with the mouth.

Susan Hartley made a joyful noise with her feet. Tap-e-ta, tap-e-ta, shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change, jump down, jump down, jump down, stomp! Only a whole lot faster and a whole lot more intricate.

She must have been something when she was younger. Her bio says she started dancing when she was five, and was a demonstrator for Paul Draper in his New York studio by the time she was 12. When she was 15, she was part of a group of precision acrobats called The Hurricane.

Tap, jazz, acrobatics, ballet -- Susan danced it all on concert hall and theater stages from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

And she shared what she knew. In 1988, Susan opened Dancemoves Studio in Seminole, Florida, where she taught countless girls and boys how to cartwheel, arabesque, and Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

Nine years ago, give or take a few months, I watched Susan take my then somewhat hesitant four-year-old grandson by the hand, lead him to the center of her studio dance floor, and walk him through a series of tap steps.  

Brush forward, brush back, step. Brush, brush, step. Fl-ap, heel; fl-ap heel. Fl-ap, fl-ap, fl-ap, flap.

Week after week, month after month, year after year. Tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical, hip hop, acrobatics. First one grandson, then another, then a cousin, then a granddaughter.

It was all about developing that innate itch that makes us sway, swing, and step to music. It wasn't about perfection. It was about the kind of professionalism that drives you to keep practicing until it's as perfect as you can make it. It was about the kind of professionalism that keeps the show moving regardless of what faux pas has just occurred onstage.

Miss Susan didn't go over and over and over a step. She expected her students to watch closely and remember complex combinations almost instantly. She expected daily practice between lessons. That was part of the training. Broadway directors would be culling wannabe's who needed coddling from professional dancers who had the mental acuity as well as the physical agility to handle two-hour's worth of demanding choreography.

There was no undeserved praise awarded and no slack given. Little miss in a huff off in a corner? Pick her up, bring her back into the circle, and tell her to save the hissy fit for later. Shut the door, shut out the distractions, and carry on.

Knowing that one teacher is never sufficient, she brought in Lane Napper and other professionals from the Broadway Dance Center and other studios to conduct master classes in dance, voice, and theater. Her daughter, Elizabeth, joined her in the studio teaching musical theater and voice. She took her students to New York, Ireland, Miami, and as many places as their parents were willing to let the children go. She taught them how to conduct themselves in an audition, how to occupy themselves when it was someone else's turn to practice, how to overcome the fear of doing a round off, how to be generous with each other.

One student ended up with a part in a Nickelodeon TV show because of the connections Hartley helped her make.

Her choreography reflected Draper's melding of ballet and tap and her own acrobatic and ensemble training. Her studio boasted the only precision lines  (think Rockettes kick lines) in Pinellas County.

It can be hard on kids when their mother works with other kids. Especially when you don't quite fit in to her world, their world. That's not an excuse. It's also hard when you know you're not quite the mother your child either needs or would like to have. Either way, there are choices to be made. Choices to let go of unrealistic expectations, to accept what is and not what we wish was, and to find the perfect path our Creator has prepared for us -- and no one else -- to walk in.

Susan's son struggled with that. Susan struggled with it, too. Maybe no one knew how much until it was too late. Ultimately it cost both of them -- and all of us -- big time.

There are no guarantees of how many days we each have in this world. Or of how we will pass from this world into the next.

All we have is today. How we choose to live today is what matters for today . . . and, oddly, for tomorrow, too. Today we can choose anger and bitterness over what we perceive as unfair. We can choose to sit in a huff in the corner because the music isn't to our liking.

Or we can choose to get up and make a joyful noise to the music that is playing -- one that echoes through eternity.

With our mouths.

Or with our feet.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Making a Joyful Noise! Part One

"Oh, dear! What can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Oh dear, what can the matter be? Johnny's so long at the fair."

I must have been three or four -- no more than five-and-a-half because that's when my long, wavy brown hair was chopped into a pixie cut -- when my dad sang that to me as my mom brushed my hair into submission. My first memory of someone singing. 

"He promised to buy me a trinket to please me; and then for a kiss oh, he vowed he would tease me. He promised to buy me a bunch of blue ribbons to tie up my bonny brown hair!"

My dad didn't sing much, even though he had a passable baritone voice. He could carry a tune and his voice, while not big and booming, was smooth. His choice of songs, however, didn't much meet with my mother's approval.

"My name is Yon Yonson. I come from Visconsin. I verk in de lumber yard dere. And I go down de street and de people I meet, dey say "Hey, dere! Vot's your name?" And I tell dem my name is Yon Yonson. I come from Visconsin. I verk . . . "

I don't remember my mother singing much at all. Although she had a cultured and expressive speaking and reading voice, her untrained soprano singing voice sounded forced -- maybe because her piano teachers through childhood and college directed her toward strictly classical music studies. Perhaps she would have been a great torch singer -- we'll never know because, to her, the epitome of a great singer was someone like Maria Callas .

I remember her wistful delight when my second cousin's mother took up voice lessons in her 30s? 40s? and joined a local opera group. My mother was thrilled when I took voice lessons for a couple of years during high school, first from our choir director and later from a prominent area vocal teacher.

But my first memory of my mother and singing was when I was six and sang in our church choir. Not a children's choir. A mixed ages choir because the tiny Episcopal church (see photo above) we attended in Mountain Home, Idaho, didn't have enough people to warrant both an adult and a children's choir. You wanted to sing, you sang -- regardless of how old you were.

Me? I got to sing because my mom was the choir director. I think she also played the organ? piano? for the services . . . but that part I don't remember.

What I do remember is holding the hymnal and rehearsing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" . . . and having the audacity to ask my mom if I could hear a particular passage again because I hadn't quite gotten it. I must have heard one of the grownups make a similar request and copied it, because I remember my mother being a bit annoyed with me and one of the other women kind of chuckling and saying, "It's OK. We have time."

My next memory is a little later. I was maybe seven or eight and sitting by her at the piano while she played (an octave higher than written) and sang this very delicate little ditty: "I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bear but a silver nutmeg and a golden pear. The king of Spain's daughter came to visit me, and all for the sake of my little nut tree. Her dress was made of crimson; coal black was her hair. She asked me for my nut tree and my golden pear. I said so fair a princess never did I see. I'll give to you the fruit of my little nut tree."

My dad on the other hand taught me this one:

"I went to the animal fair. The birds and the beasts were there. The old baboon by the light of moon was combing his silvery hair. The monkey, he got drunk. And sat on the elephant's trunk. The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees and that was the end of the monk, the monk, the monk."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Feth Fiada . . . The Lorica of St. Patrick

An Seamróg, is é seamair Éireannach. (The Shamrock, a typical Irish clover. Photo & caption courtesy of Wikipedia). 

 Many people become Irish for a day each March 17. Green beer miraculously flows from taps, pipes skirl, and people greet each other with "Erin go Bragh!" -- a bit of bastardized Irish loosely translated as "Ireland Forever." The day is named after St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, who is also the patron saint of Nigeria and of engineers, according to

No beer here, and not much in the way of pipes or patriotic platitudes.

Just a bit to share from The Wisdom of St. Patrick: Inspirations from the Patron Saint of Ireland by Greg Tobin. According to Tobin, legend has it that Patrick and his followers were hid from enemy soldiers by seeming to be only a herd of wild deer. One of Patrick's disciples, Benin, appeared as a young fawn and bleated out the prayer that became the Lorica (Latin for "breastplate") of St. Patrick. Feth Fiada means "Deer's Cry."

It seems appropriate to share the Lorica in these last few minutes of St. Patrick's Day, 2010:


I arise today:
  vast in might, invocation of the Tirnity;
  belief in a Threeness;
  confession of a Oneness;
  meeting in the Creator.


I arise today:
  in the might of Christ's Birth and His Baptism;
  in the might of His Crucifixion and Burial;
  in the might of His Resurrection and Ascension;
  in the might of His Descent to the Judgment of Doom.


I arise today:
  in the might of the Cherubim;
  in obedience of the Angels;
  in ministration of Archangels;
  in hope of resurrection through merit;
  in prayers of Patriarchs;
  in predictions of Prophets;
  in preaching of Apostles;
  in faiths of Confessors;
  in innocence of Holy Virgins;
  in deeds of good men.


I arise today:
  in the might of Heaven;
  Splendor of the Sun;
  whiteness of Snow;
  irresistibleness of Fire;
  the swiftness of Lightning;
  the speed of Wind;
  Absoluteness of the Deep'
  Earth's stability;
  Rock's durability.


I arise today:
  in the might of God for my piloting;
  in the power of God for my stability;
  in the wisdom of God for my guidance;
  in the eye of God for my foresight;
  in the ear of God for my hearing;
  in the word of God for my speaking;
  in the hand of God for my guard;
  in the path of God for my prevention;
  in the shield of God for my protection;
  in the host of God for my salvation;
     against every demon's snare;
     against all vices' lure;
     against concupiscence;
     against ill-wishes far and near.


I invoke all these forces:
  between me and every savage force that may come upon me,
     body and my soul;
  against incantations of false prophets;
  against black laws of paganism;
  against false laws of heresy;
  against idolatry;
  against spells of women and smiths and druids;
  against all knowledge that should not be known.


Christ for my guard today:
  against poison, against burning,
  against drowning, against wounding,
  that there may come to me merit;


Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ under me, Christ over me,
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me,
Christ in lying down, Christ in sitting, Christ in rising up.


Christ in all who may think of me!
Christ in the mouth of all who may speak to me!
Christ in the eye that may look on me!
Christ in the ear that may hear me!


I arise today:
  in vast might, of the Trinity prayed to:
  believing on a Threeness;
  confessing a Oneness;
  meeting in the Creator.
  Salvation is the Lord's, salvation is the Lord's
  Salvation is Christ's
  May Thy salvation, O Lord, be always with us.


Insiders' Guide to the Greater Tampa Bay Area

Yesterday was the official release date for my new book (how good it feels to say that!), Insiders' Guide to the Greater Tampa Bay Area: Including Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater.

Check out my new blog by the same name to keep tabs on IGTB and on the Tampa Bay area. There's also a Facebook page -- if you become a fan, you'll get an update most days as to what's happening around Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

Here, I'll put the answers to a few questions people have asked about the writing itself.

How long did it take you to write the book? From initial contact to release date was just over a year. From contract date to the finish of the text was a tad over ninety days. That's three pages-plus a day, seven days a week, of research, writing, and revising. After that, I also had to proofread/revise the entire text twice, plus help create the maps.

Is this a self-published book? No, the book is published by Globe Pequot Press, a subsidiary of Morris Communications, LLC. 

How did you get this job? Short answer: It was a fluke. A writing friend passed along an email she had received that included info about GPP looking for a writer from the Tampa Bay area to write an IG. I sent in my resume and clips, and they contacted me. Long answer: There are no flukes. Seven years before, I had quit my job as a business manager and devoted myself to writing -- childrens' stories, I thought -- full time. Six years before, I started freelancing for Tampa Bay Newspapers. Four years before, I went back to school and earned by B.F.A. in Creative Writing from Eckerd College, where I did more writing in 18 months than I think I had done in my whole life up to that time. Six months before, I had graduated from the University of Alabama with an M.A. in Community Journalism, where I doubled the amount of writing I did at Eckerd. As part of the program I spent a year in the newsroom of the Anniston Star and explored just about every facet of community life through a journalist's eyes. Having lived in this area for more than 30 years, I had the background. Having taken the writing journey I did over the last seven years, I was in shape to get the job done. Even longer answer: In the beginning, God . . . 

Have questions about the writing process? Ask! In the meantime, help me celebrate! Ready?? 1-2-3 . . . WAHOOOOOOO!!!

Now available in bookstores and at,, etc. 326 pages. Softcover. ISBN: 978-0-7627-5347-5

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I Remember . . . When Eco-Awareness Meant Not Littering

Above: Trash left by festival goers the day after a March 2007 event in Clearwater. The entire park area behind the chain link fence was covered with cups, bottles, plates, napkins, and other garbage.

My first official speaking engagement came when, as a high school junior, I was invited to speak about environmental awareness at a Southern California civic club meeting.

My biology teacher had formed an Ecology Club -- a somewhat radical idea during that 1969-1970 academic year that straddled two decades and bridged the uneasy era between all-out support for American involvement in Vietnam and the country's eventual about face.

As president of the new club, and as a member of our school’s forensics (debate) team, I was a natural choice for this teacher to suggest for a speaker at a local Rotary? Lions? meeting.

Air, water, and land pollution were somewhat new rallying cries for us back then. Smog in the L.A. basin often spilled into Orange County, obscuring Saddleback Mountain with a greasy haze. Various water quality acts and other legislation had just been passed -- with the goal of eliminating industrial pollution by 1985.

Anti-littering campaigns were in full swing.

A few weeks ago, I attended a private screening of a newly released motion picture at a local theater. As an alumna of the same college as the author of the book on which the movie was based, I received an invitation exclusive to those affiliated with the college.

We went and we watched, including all of the credits -- a quirk of ours. Then we stood up to leave, and we surveyed the half-eaten bags of popcorn, drink cups, napkins, candy wrappers, and other trash left on the floor at more than half the seats of this college-affiliated crowd, many of whom profess concern about the problems of carbon emissions and global warming.

I was ashamed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Did You Try the Door? Like . . . duh!

My 13-year-old grandson and I sit in my van in front of his dance studio this past Thursday waiting for his teacher to arrive.

His lesson begins at 4 p.m. and -- miracle of miracles, as they sing in Fiddler on the Roof -- we're a tad early. Usually his teacher is at the studio before we arrive. The last couple of weeks, however, she has pulled up a minute or two after us.

Today, her van isn't in front of the studio. So we continue our discussion of Lord of the Flies, which he has just finished reading, and the fourth (?) Harry Potter book, which he is currently reading.

Periodically, I check the time on my cell phone.

"Do you think the class time was changed?" I ask around 4:11. Occasionally the 4 o'clock class is canceled, and he doesn't have to be there until 4:30. "Should we call your mom to see if your teacher called?"

Around 4:20 I call my daughter-in-law and explain that the teacher apparently hasn't arrived and had there been any message about the class time changing?

"Did you try the door?" she asks.

"Her van isn't here," I answer, motioning my grandson to go check the door.

Tactful person that she is, she doesn't come back with what I would have said to her husband or his brothers not so many years ago. Namely, "Is that what I asked? Did I ask if her van was there? Answer me! What did I ask?!"

[Truth to tell, however, she might have used the same teaching tactics I used to use if it were her son placing the call! :-) ]

Instead, she merely says maybe the teacher's son dropped her off at the studio and that perhaps we should try the door. Which my grandson does and which, of course, is unlocked and just waiting for him to pull on the handle.

Like . . . duh!

How many times do we assume a door is closed to us without ever even pulling on the handle? Worse, how much time do we spend sitting in front of doors we assume are closed, locked, barred to us . . . without ever pulling on the handle?

Like . . . duh!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Totally Jazzed by "A Cinderella Story"

"The spoiled stepsisters learn to dance at an Arthur Murray studio, Handsome Hunk Charming swaggers ala The Fonz and the heroine is saved by her pet poodle? Wowza!"

That's the opening line of my review of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's A Cinderella Story, which entranced me this past Tuesday evening at Ruth Eckerd Hall. After I had decided -- twice -- that I really couldn't attend because of a previous obligation, my own fairy godmother, aka Sandy Huff, waved a free ticket in front of me and whisked me off to the ball.

I was mesmerized.

From the opening number danced by the Butler (Alexander Gamayunov) to an a cappella scat song sung by arranger and jazz band diretor Ron Paley to the poignant pas de deux near the end which featured Bob (Gael Lambiotte) and Nancy (Serena Sandford) dancing around and past each other but never touching or looking at each other, the performance was a creative melding of ballet, jazz, ballroom dancing, and theater.

Paley took Richard Rodgers' tunes from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s -- decades when he partnered with Lorenz Hart -- plus one or two later songs from his partnership with Oscar Hammerstein and turned these ballads into big band jazz arrangements that formed the score for the ballet, set in the 1950s and choreographed by Val Caniparoli. (See video below)

I hadn't a clue.

Rodgers & Hart was "before my time," after all. Even Elvis Presley was BMT. I grew up with the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Joan Baez. I loved (still do) Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, but they were soon supplanted by Andrew Lloyd Webber's and others' works.

So I didn't recognize any of the tunes -- not even "Blue Moon," which both Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis Presley covered. 

Neither did the little girl -- maybe six years old -- who sat, enthralled, on my left. Didn't matter to either of us. We enjoyed a well-told story, creatively presented.

Other, more senior or more musically-enlightened members of the audience must have experienced the thrill of recognizing old songs transformed by the magic touches of Paley, Caniparoli, and -- why not? -- Cinderella's fairy godmother.

If the RWB hasn't produced a CD of the score and a DVD of the performance, they should. Their funny, artistically satisfying, gorgeously-danced, inventive rendition of a familiar story that never grows old in the telling deserves a vastly wider audience than just the people of Winnipeg and those few souls who catch one of their half-dozen or so tour stops.

[Photos and video are courtesy of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. See more video interviews with cast members, choreographer Val Caniparoli, and even footware manager Krystal Comstock on their Web site or on YouTube.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get On With It!

OK -- here's the deal.

I had planned to write entries about our walk in the woods, the Great Christmas Camp Out, and First Night. All on January 2. Didn't get any of it done. Now these unwritten entries lie lodged in my brain, accusing me of overlooking them, and holding other, more necessary word tasks hostage.

So I'm giving in and meeting their demands.

Pics from hike in the wood are posted below:

Left: This condo tent features two roomy sleeping areas, walk-in closets with shelves, and skylight ceilings for real sleeping under the stars.

The Great Christmas Camp Out at Lakewood Retreat was a blast! Trying to sleep while shivering fully clothed in a sleeping bag in a tent at 33 degrees gives one new appreciation for modern comforts . . . and is good for the soul, as well. LR's game room is as much fun as it ever was, and we introduced grandkids to roller ball. They have a new disc golf course, a human foosball area (!), and playing teenaged ninja air hockey brings new dimension to the game. The lake is mostly dry, but we took a night walk--thank you, Jeremy--onto the lake bed to see the stars. Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a campfire beats any gourmet meal in any fancy, schmancy restaurant.

Not many pics 'cause my camera battery died, I had forgotten to recharge the other one, and neglected to bring my charger. I'm slipping . . .

New Year's Eve we broke tradition. Instead of falling asleep on the couch while watching some dumb old movie, we went to St. Petersburg's First Night celebration. Well done! We listened to a ragtime piano historian/performer, jazz combo, string quartet, opera selections, surfin' USA music, and more. Plus fireworks at midnight -- all for a very reasonable fee and no alcohol.

Now can I get back to work?