Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pot Luck City

Two pot luck meals in one weekend. Saturday was the annual family reunion - my wife's mother's clan. People from as far away as Georgia and Indiana, converging on a picnic shelter in a park in Marion, Ohio, bearing food. People hung around to talk for some time; that was nice. We spent some time with a long lost...I have no idea what the proper term is...half-brother's daughter...and her husband. Driving down, a huge blast of rainfall. Driving back home, a beautiful sunset, and that interesting cloud formation up at the top of the post.

Then today, the Assistant Pastor at our church has accomplished a major milestone on the way to becoming a full Pastor, so there was a potluck dinner to celebrate his success.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, my semi-annual checkup will begin on a sour note as I step onto the scale...

A couple pictures snapped today around the yard:

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Bear with me. This is my brief review of the eight-act NEARFest (Northeast Art Rock Festival ) X (10th one) held last weekend in Bethlehem, PA, on the campus of Lehigh University. I have family connections to the place, as my father taught math here many years ago, met my mom through a mutual friend, the rest being history, etc. There was a two-act Friday night show, but we find that eight acts over two days is enough music for one weekend, thank you.

OK, NF X was kicked off with an odd little band from Japan named Koenji Hyakkei. Lineup was keys, bass, drums, tenor sax, and a very impressive vocalist. Music is hard to describe. Odds are the term, Zeuhl, does not mean much to the casual reader. Anyhow, this was not straight up 4/4 rock and roll.
Second act was much more familiar to me; I had seen them once in a dive in Hamtramck. They are the band, Discipline, hailing from Royal Oak, Michigan. They have evolved into specializing in long, 20 minute plus epics. I like the voice and keys of music writer Matthew Parmenter, and John Preston Bouda has a great style of playing on his Les Paul guitar.
Third up was Living Legend (to some of us) Peter Hammill, a solo artist who also plays/sings/writes for a band called Van der Graaf Generator that has been around since the 1970's. Hammill's playing is relatively simple but incredibly heartfelt, and he does a lot around the topic of the foibles of relationships, among other things. He is one of those people I am glad to get the opportunity to hear/see. The concert grand piano he got to play had a gorgeous sound.
Saturday's headliner was Liquid Tension Experiment, consisting of the guitarist, keyboardist, and drummer from the "prog metal" band Dream Theater, plus journeyman bass and "stick" player Tony Levin. These guys are tight, fast, and bursting with chops. Some find them so technically proficient as to be lacking in "heart"; I'm not so sure. I enjoy the rapid-fire delivery and the quality of the tunes they put out there; including a rather amazing rendition of "Rhapsody in Blue".
Day Two began with an amazing French fusion trio (guitar, bass, drums) named Morglbl (don't attempt to pronounce it) headed by surprise shredder guitarist Christophe Godin, who also won the award for stage presence with his easy and humorous patter about the audience, the lovely palm tree provided for his set, and how they needed to shortly catch a train for Paris. They took the place by surprise and happily provided two encores.
Radio Massacre International presented an interesting mix of "real instruments" (with a guitarist, drums, some keys, and a bass) with dial-twirling electronics, a theremin, and a Tangerine Dream sort of sound. They brought out a violinist and reeds/sax player to round out the sound.
One of my old faves, echolyn, from close by in the PA/NJ area, played next, and I thought they did a gorgeous job with a good survey of their work. Their mix was especially good, which is a good thing as they rely on quite a bit of harmonizing.
The fest closed with a return from Italy of the band, Banco. These guys (or at least three of them; they have some young dudes in the current incarnation) have been around since the 1970's. The singer is one of those incredible Italian tenors that seem to grow on trees over there, and he sings it in Italian. But, music being an international language and all, the audience really doesn't care. Banco served up some wonderful music, lead mainly by keyboards.
All in all, the best overall lineup I have witnessed among the eight Nearfests I have attended. It was a lot of fun for someone who does not tire of music easily. My home-town buddy and I were joined this year by my brother in law and nephew from Maryland who know good guitar chops when they hear it, and they heard some over the course of the fest. We got away to a local Italian restaurant for dinner, and my friend and I took a hike aorund the campus, which is on a rather formidable hillside, and came upon this campus infiltrator:

I'm already looking forward to NF XI, although I have doubts they will be able to top this year's roster.

Friday, June 27, 2008


There's a story behind this one. Evidently, when I was young, I took ill (probably a cold and sore throat - I had my fill of those), to the extent that my sister was a bit worried about me. So, my Dad told her they needed to take action to make me well - they needed to construct a witch doctor to ward off my evil germs. So they did, and this is the guy they made from ordinary household materials.

Dad told my sister that they needed something special to put atop that spear. She had just the right item in mind, and ran out into the back yard, where she had previously uncovered the little plastic skull, buried somewhere in the ground.

I guess the witch doctor worked, as I got better. And that's my W.O.F. story for this week!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Long Weekend Back East

I just returned yesterday from four days back in the old stomping grounds, visiting my dad and sister in the East Coast megalopolis. It is always great to get back home to the land of my people. The heart of the weekend was spent attending my eighth NEARFest (Northeast Art Rock Festival) - eight obscure but great musical acts over two days, in Bethlehem PA, with an old friend (attending his ninth) and, for the first time, brother in law and nephew, who appear to have immensely enjoyed the guitar shredding and such that went on over the weekend.

I will review the events of NEARFest in a future post, and stick to the rest of the trip here... On the way East, I departed from the usual PA Turnpike boredom at the Somerset exit and dropped south on US 119 (I think) south to I-68. Along the way, there are large numbers of windmills planted along the mountain range, catching the winds wafting along up there above the mountain tops. My understanding is that this installation is the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi. I also read somewhere that the power from these windmills, which can light 8,200 homes, is lighting the torch of the Statue of liberty.
Moving on along I-68, I came to a familiar (to me) sight, Sideling Hill, an incredible feat that involved cutting and blasting a notch into a mountain to let the highway pass through. I can remember when what was then U.S. 40 (the National Road), had to traverse way up one side and down the other of this elevation. Now you can breeze right through or stop at the traveler's center and gaze at formations that date back, according to what I've read, 340 million years or so. For the geologically inclined, there is more on Sideling Hill , which is actually pretty interesting, at this URL.
I was happy to be eastbound, as it appeared that the entire East Coast was westbound. I suspect it is like this every Friday night. Have these people come to terms with the fact that gas is up to four bucks a gallon?
Once at my destination, I stayed with my dad in a fascinatingly large community of senior citizens. There are multiple large apartment buildings connected by glassed-in bridges - you can walk all over the place without ever going outside. But if you want to venture into the elements, there is a nifty nature trail. I didn't get the time to check it out, but I would like to some time.
My sister sprang (sprung?) for dinner at a local diner that is a family favorite and a tradition. Usually, I bring half the meal home in a styrofoam box. Somehow I ate all the moukassa they could throw at me, plus we split this key lime pie (and this is how it was presented to me by my loving sister).
I also got to spend some time with her family out at their house. She is known throughout the blogosphere for her love of frogs, and here is one of her froggy residents, basking pondside - followed by one flower picture from her nearby garden.
And, yeah, here's that pug of hers named Bella. Frankly, she's almost as crazy as my daughter's dog, but that's just part of their puppylike charm. It's only a phase... (I did not get as good a shot of Athena, the Boston that lives in the same place).
As previously reported by my sister, while we were eating at her house, someone hollered that there was a rainbow outside. We scrambled out and, of course, both Sis and I fumbled for our Canons. Here is one of my shots. I liked the bird up there.
Here's the thing, to me, about us and rainbows: Several days after my mother died about 12 years ago, as we were preparing to take off back to Ohio, there was a vivid rainbow. We all stood out on the road and stared at that spectrum of color as our next door neighbor (actually, my NEARFest buddy's mother) exclaimed that "It has significance!", and it felt as if indeed it did have significance at that moment. So here we were, nearly twelve years later, my dad, sister, her family, and me, out there, again, staring at a rainbow. As I thought about it while driving back home on the PA Turnpike the next day, it seemed like just a coincidence, maybe, but it helped trigger a powerful memory of my Mom right there in the context of her family.
Anyhow, the trip home was accomplished with speed and efficiency, shooting through the tunnel, and taking another look at those Somerset windmills (this shot below was taken without really checking the camera, as I felt it better to keep my eyes on the road while squeezing the shutter button at random, pointing the camera in the general direction of the windmills...)
All in all, a great road trip, a good time for some out-of-context thinking, checking up on the kinfolk, and clearing the brain for a few brief days. And good to get home, too!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

W.O.F. (pronounced "WOOF") 17

Had to post the W.O.F. a bit early this week. Hittin' the road tomorrow morning for a long weekend, leaving the family behind, headin' to my Homeland (Maryland) and up to NEARFest, a progressive music festival on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. Heading up with a hometown bud who shares my weird music taste, and this year, with a brother-in-law and nephew who share a love of music. Should be a good time and - I hope - plenty of material for one or more future posts.

But for now --- this little fella has been out in our garden for MONTHS. You'd think he'd be tired of burying his head. Talk about perseverence...I hope he finds what he's looking for in there....

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

June Blooms

I was way down in southern Ohio two days ago. As far as you can go, watching a tug push eight barges with thousands of tons of coal on them up the river, and wishing I had pocketed my Sony back home for a shot of the action. All I have is the memory.

Another staffer and I were down in Meigs County, where the village of Pomeroy, with less than 2,000 people, is the county seat and center of commerce (OK, the Wal Mart across the river is the real center of commerce, I'm guessing, but the shops lining the north side of the main street looked much more inviting than any Big Box). We talked with the economic development director and a couple County Commissioners about how the county was hoping to prepare for some big things. It seems AMP-Ohio, a conglomerate of municipalities, is ready to build a coal plant. It will take up to 1,600 construction workers a couple years to get it done. Where do 1,600 construction workers stay? Then there will be maybe 170 new employees, coupled with another couple hundred working in a new coal mine about to be started up.

We toured the Villages that line the riverbank in Meigs: there's Middleport, Pomeroy, Syracuse, Racine, each a pretty small town, but it's Meigs County's megalopolis. I got interested as they mentioned the Fur Peace Ranch, where Jorma Kakaunen of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame hangs out, holds guitar playing workshops and camps, and invites folks like Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and Chris Smither in to jam and put on clinics and shows.

Anyhow, I didn't have my camera, so there are only words and memories of that day, including a very good lunch in the Wild Horse Cafe, watching a thunderstorm race down the river past us and conveniently conclude as we were preparing to leave.

So, in place of pictures of lovely southern Ohio, I will have to settle for some more macro shots of flowers and flower parts found in our yard this week:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

This Week's Boarder

Last weekend we put up ten people as we had quite a few visitors. This weekend, not so many. We just took in one - a miniature schnauzer named Auggie. His family is busy picking up their son at college, so we graciously extended the doggy welcome mat.
As sometimes happens, we invoked the doggy double standard - our dog does not get up on much furniture, but as the trained eye can discern, Auggie knows of no such rule.
He's a well-behaved canine, and little trouble. Funny story about boarding Auggie: They once took him to a kennel for a weekend, came back at the end of the weekend, and took the dog home. They noticed the dog was behaving strangely and quite differently. They went back to the kennel to inquire, and found out they took the wrong dog home!
That should not be an issue this weekend. Our spaniel is considerably different. So that's it for the "Auggie Doggy Blog".
While on the topic of pets, I may not have mentioned that we (and by we, I mean my wife) have a couple parakeets. They are five to six years old now, and my theory is that because there are two of them to talk parakeet chatter to each other, they do not have the faintest interest in picking up any English. Should you ever want to take in these birds, you may find, as we did, that Slinkys make fine roosts.