Thursday, December 15, 2011

sounds of the season

Being  a music nut, I have to admit that the music is a big part of my Christmas.  There are songs I enjoy, and then there are songs that need to be expunged from America's radio waves forever.  Christmas music (and music that I associate with Christmas) can be sorted into several categories.

First and perhaps foremost, there are the old favorites, the carols that we sang as children and many of us still carry on with, relying on the old hymnal for those sixth and seventh verses that no one really knows or cares to remember.  I still love the old songs.  I think my favorite over the years, and still today, is "Silent Night".  One of the best features of this song is that there are a gazillion ways to play the song with oddball chords.  We practiced a homemade (by our drummer, the music major) version tonight with all these crazy minor sevenths and such - if you sing right over it with the normal tune, it sounds just right.

I used to pretend to be a purist, claiming to prefer Adeste Fidelis - in Latin.  I am not much of a singer, but I have also always harbored a secret desire to crash one of these all-community Handel's Messiah Sing-Alongs and get in on the Hallelujahs.  Perhaps it would not be the best idea.  Anyhow, I am not quite this old school today, but I does like me some carols.

The second category of Christmas tune would be the "contemporary Christian" take on Christmas.  These songs are not classics yet, and some should never attain that status.  But some are, in my humble opinion, very good, and some even quite moving.  A couple that our band is doing over the coming couple of weeks are "Mary Did You know?" and "One King".  I like 'em both a lot.

The third category is probably the best-known lot of tunes out there.  These are the "secular", if you will, pop culture Christmas tunes from past and present.  These are the songs that, frankly, I tire of quickly.  Some should never be heard.  Some should be retired forever and dropped in a flaming pit.  My son wrote on Facebook today that he wished to never. ever. hear the song, "Santa Baby".  I am not sure I am familiar with that ditty, but based on the wretched title alone, it should be banished. 

Some in this category are quite decent and I enjoy hearing them for, say, the first twenty times each year.  I like it when John Lennon sings in that fine, nasal voice that can only be his, "and so this is Christmas" and I have even come around to like the McCartney song with the really, REALLY cheesy synth.  I am on the verge of being annoyed by Elvis and his Blue Christmas, and some of the novelty numbers (Alvin, Grandma's unfortunate reindeer incident) are losing their luster over time.  I have an issue with the concept of having yourself a "merry little Christmas".  That seems condescending and limiting.  Why not go for a humongous Christmas? 

I could go on, because there are a zillion of these songs.  Even songs that we all associate with Christmas but which really have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, or Santa Claus, or even world peace.  I present as exhibit a: Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron by the Royal Guardsmen.  Exactly where does an aerial dogfight involving an actual dog have a place in Christmas lore?   

This leads, sorta, to my final category: music that has no connection to Christmas except in my head.  For example, I received, as did a friend or two, a copy of the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" one Christmas, so this, for me, has become Christmas music.  I played it today, in fact, and it helped put me in the holiday spirit.  I am sure the psychologists would drone on about transference or some concept, but, hey, it works for me.  I also recall the year that my friend Gerald showed up to join me on campus over Thanksgiving, and seeing as how my college was out in the middle of nowhere and essentially shut down for Thanksgiving, he brought me four albums I had requested (and paid for upon delivery). So since I played them a lot between that white Thanksgiving in rural Ohio and Christmas, I think of each of them as holiday or seasonal, if not Christmas, music.  These include LPs by Harry Chapin, Dan Fogelberg, the Genesis epic, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway", and the one that I still bust out and play at Christmas because it somehow works for me as a little Christmas season drama, the Electric Light Orchestra's "Eldorado".  Someone on one of the B-grade cable networks should commission a holiday movie making "Eldorado" into a fine little musical.  It would be great!

I leave you with what has lately been one of my favorite holiday records, although I cannot vouch for its theology, but I just enjoy it.  That is, Jethro Tull's Christmas Album. The cover is even pretty nifty, and there, down in the lower left-hand corner, is a little Ian Anderson, still doing the one-legged flautist thing.  This is, in fact, Jethro Tull's last studio album, and late word is that the band is "on ice", which means they are skating away on the thin ice of a new day, so this may be Tull's swan song (or songs), I fear.  

Anyhow, whatever your preferences, I hope you are hearing or making the sounds you like this "holiday season".


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Neighborhood Band

Tonight was one of those perfect evenings to walk the dogs. A bit of cold creeping in, rain subsided but giving way to a lively wind that played the trees and sent the scattered clouds up across the crescent moon. The dogs didn't take much note of the weather, which I believe is immaterial to them. They were out walking and that was good enough.

We took the usual path, down to the neighborhood park, back by another road. All the popular trees were properly sniffed; olfactory news was obtained, and Ollie made his frequent entries in the discourse; a dog's version of a tweet, I suppose.

When I am alone with the dogs, the pace is about as brisk as the dogs allow. Of course, they break my stride to explore or cross paths or do what dogs do on walks. But they have gotten better as a team; Ollie in the left and Chloe on the right seems to suit them, and they resume that formation after straying.

On the way back, we passed a house that, as I understand it, is home to a working band, known as the Womack Family Band. I like the name, especially since no one in the band is named Womack. I know they tend to go out on tours, reaching far-off towns. They recently took along another local talented guy named Chris Castle on what they called the "Drenched Earth Tour", perhaps a play on Bob Dylan's '60s Scorched Earth Tour which, if I am not mistaken, included members of The Band, a fairly generic-sounding outfit that included Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, and some others.

The Band lived and recorded in a somewhat famous house that became known as Big Pink. I guess the house by the park is the Womack's Big Pink, although, thankfully, it is not pink. Regardless, I think bands, especially fairly mellow ones like this, make good and interesting neighbors, and I wish them success. Should you want to check them out, they have several pretty neat videos on Youtube; a more artful one that was partially shot at our local reservoir (which appears fairly frequently on this URL), can be accessed by clicking here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Kick at the Finish

When I used to run the half-mile in track, there was always supposed to be that "kick" at the finish where everyone sped up and gave it their all. I believe 2011 is taking a lesson from the world of track, because there seems to be a "kick" at the end of it as well, speeding toward the finish. Kind of a shame, really, because there are parts of this season to really savor.

A plus, from my viewpoint, is that Christmas shopping does not hold the place of prominence it once did. I mean, it is still important to get nice things for various loved ones, but it gets easier when you realize you cannot even hope to buy acceptable clothes for the kids who are now twenty-somethings. Gift cards become great options for those who really want them - and it seems that many do.

Here are a handful of pictures representing the blur that has been the past couple of weeks.
My wife's work carving the Halloween pumpkin featuring our two dogs.
Fall scene.
This was the view through the skylight at a friend's house in Michigan.
Our Ollie got attacked by a killer bee-gle on Halloween.
And below, I am pretty sure it was one of a pair of cormorants out at the Conservation Club a while ago.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It was meant for Squirrels

We had an Occupy Squirrel Feeder movement going on in the back yard this morning. I guess the birds figure they are the other 99 percent. So I say, "have at it!"

Monday, October 24, 2011


About ten miles from home tonight, the ol' Impala's odometer hit 100,000 miles. Funny; I still think of it as the "new car". And it is not that old; I probably put upwards of 30K on it every year.

The most recent repair was a minor one, but a small victory nonetheless. It needed a new low beam headlamp. I decided this was low enough on the mechanic aptitude scale that I could take on the challenge myself. Bought the bulb and got out the manual. Made the requisite three to five trips into the house to get the right tools (I overthought it, bringing out the entire socket set, two Phillips screwdrivers and three or four "regulars"). The project went quite well, as projects go, and I got the new lamp in the socket and put the assembly back in place with no spare parts sitting around.

Which was a good thing, as I was driving in the wet darkness this morning on my way to run a 7:30 meeting about 45 minutes from home. The meeting went well, but I had hoped to take some pictures around that town after the meeting, to embellish a report I am writing for them, and, let's just say this morning would have gotten the Carpenters down, if you know their oeuvre.

Of course, I got back to the office and the sun popped out and stayed out for the rest of the day. It was so nice that when I pulled in the driveway tonight, I aimed the camera up at the old maple out by the street and she was lookin' good. I believe peak color has pretty much peaked, though, so I had better get back and get those pictures if I don't want things to look too bleak.

I am also perturbed by the conflicting weather forecasts I have been hearing. Yesterday, it was all "It's going to be 70 degrees by the end of the week". Now, today, they are invoking the "S" word. How does the weather forecast drop by 40 degrees that quickly?

On the other hand, I always get a laugh out of all of our reactions around here when we hear about s--- in the forecast. We are so astonished that such a forecast could possibly be bestowed upon us here in, oh yeah, Northern Ohio, near Lake Erie, which also borders, oh yeah, CANADA. Let's face it, this time of year, s--- happens. But for now, before all these leaves are knocked senseless and left to drift onto our lawns, to be raked or blown into piles and sent off to muncipal compost piles, let's enjoy what color is left.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On the Cusp of Recovery...Maybe?

My work has recently taken me down to the Ohio Valley in eastern Ohio. It is a different world from my comfort zone of the flat farmlands of northwest Ohio. For decades, the lure of the moving water and underground resources brought coal mining, steelmaking, and energy production to the once tranquil valley. In recent years, much of the industry that operated on such a grand scale has been downsized - scaled way back, leaving hulking, vacant monstrosities of buildings and countless Brownfields where thousands used to hold down grueling but relatively well-paying jobs.

So it was surprising to tune into the ABC news a couple nights ago and watch a piece on "Steubenville: Boomtown". I've gotten to know a few folks in Steubenville, and they are not expecting a miraculous turnaround anytime soon. What they do expect is a large number of temporary jobs, followed by a long period with modest gains over today's job scene. And they'll take it.

The catalyst? All that natural gas lurking underground, in amongst what they call the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. They have to inject high pressure fluids and chemicals down there to fracture the rocks and drive the gas out. They call it "fracking". It is somewhat controversial, and the industry types and environmentalists have been duking it out in New York and Pennsylvania for some time. Now Ohio's turn has come, and with a little trepidation, the Ohio Valley is excited to see the "next best thing".

Panacea for the Valley? Nah. Good jobs for a decent number of people? Yup. Drilling rights and steady income for landowners? Could be. More wealth to be spent in the Valley, at the corner deli, local restaurant, car dealer? Definitely. So, though I hug the occasional tree, I cannot scoff at this as a shot in the arm, not to mention the rock, of the region.

I was down in the area yesterday. I have visited twice during our usually-gorgeous Fall Foliage Season. Both days have been gloomy though, with too much pouring down rain. Despite the gloom, here are a handful of pictures from my day in the Valley.

Massive power plants coexist with the river valley, all along the Ohio border
from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati.
A pretty impressive church in Steubenville, from back in the day when they built 'em to impress man and God.
Scene along Route 7 - a pretty interesting ride.
I just wanted to document that I got to see some blue sky. Actually, this was just about it for the whole day, just as i was crossing the border into Jefferson County (where I was headed; note the welcoming sign). A good omen?
Driving along 7, sometimes I just pointed the camera out a side window and snapped a random shot. I like this one, with the houses dwarfed by the huge plant behind them. The size of so many installations along the river is amazingly immense.
And last, despite civilization's incursion into the Valley, not to mention cutting big pathways into the rock to route the traffic, there is plenty of beauty to be found.

Monday, October 10, 2011

fall, that fleeting blur of color on the way to something else

If autumn would hang around and just be like it was this past weekend, all would be well. But we know what follows, which makes it all the more precious, and we watch the leaves fall like sand in the hourglass (sounds like an old soap, dunnit?). It's not "peak color" around here yet, but it is getting close. We had a chance to get out in the weather and the leaves on Saturday. Then on Sunday we drove down to Columbus to see (a) an old college friend; (b) our son, hanging out with us at a coffee shop; (c) a friend who had some furniture she wanted to part with, and which our daughter could use; and (d) Linda's mom, on the way home. Pretty good, jam-packed itenerary. The sunset on the way home as we traveled up Route 23 was spectacular; the camera only caught a portion of the entire show.
Before we took in all this autumnal beauty, Linda did her annual gig giving away books at a "fall fun fair" put on by our County Soil and Water Conservation Service. The book give-away was courtesy of a thing called "First Book", which strives to put books into the hands of kids, many of whom I suspect may not have any otherwise. A sad comment, but I would bank on it being true in many cases.

Oh, and there was a petting zoo. With a llama. And a horse-drawn wagon side.
I hope you are enjoying your fall - while you can!!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

If You Have To Be At A Work-Related Training Event All Weekend... can hope it is at a place like the one I just spent my last weekend, from Friday at dinner time until Monday at noon. The venue was the 2,500 acre home base of the Edward Lowe Foundation near Cassopolis, Michigan. Evidently Mr. Lowe made a significant pile of money in his time, and generously spent it developing this treasure. It seems he was the inventor of Kitty Litter, and there was big money resulting from purveying the stuff to the world's cat owners.

The sleeping accommodations are a little off the beaten track. Boxcars. But cleverly converted ones, each able to sleep eight, with a nice bathroom and a central sitting room. I guess the designing hand of Mr. and Mrs. Lowe are all over the place. Here are the boxcars, inside and out.

There was a nice fire pit in the middle of the boxcars, and those in charge had a nice fire going every night I was there. The first night involved making s'mores.

On the way from the boxcars to the conference building is Billieville, a simulation of a small downtown from the turn of the century. I guess Mrs. Lowe's middle name is Billie... This is what Billieville looks like.

Then there is the "cabin" that overlooks a valley and pond. I could happily spend a week here with binoculars, enough books, and it wouldn't hurt to have the food service that spoiled us this weekend...

The foundation is serious about good environmental practices, and their 2,500 acres and its plant and animal inhabitants are well cared for. They follow several best practices in maintaining the environmental integrity, and I only wish I had more time to explore the place.

That last picture is for my sis.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Another Circle Closing

You have probably heard about how Glen Campbell recently made public that he has been diagnosed as being in early stage Alzheimer's. As a result, he has released a "final" studio album, depicted above, and is embarking on what is likely to be a final tour.

Glen is one of those icons of my youth. He was pounding out the hits, several of which were artfully penned by Jimmy Webb, who was one of those 60's "hit factories". I can still recall Glen's boisterous intro to his variety TV show: "Hello, I'm Glen Campbell and this is the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour!!!"

His voice was eminently distinguishable - and still is. I just sampled the new album, "Ghost on the Canvas", and it is unmistakable Glen (and on a few tracks, if I am on target here, unmistakable Jimmy Webb, too.)

It is interesting watching the lauded artists of my youth aging. It is amazing how many are still hanging in there. for example, 69-year-old Paul Simon put out a wonderful collection of songs last spring, and rendered an unforgettable, solemn reading of "The Sound of Silence" in his beloved NYC on 9/11.

It is also sad when one of my favorites is struck down. I saw a piece with Glen and his wife on TV not long ago and his memory was definitely challenged while he tried to remember events from his past, words from his songs... But I give him high marks for taking it on the road one more time. And, even when he is forced to retire, with the collection of hits he has in the hopper, his voice will be aired on Oldies Radio for decades to come, evoking pleasant memories of his mention of places like Wichita, Galveston, Phoenix...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Comic Animal Relief

Wow. The east coast is taking intermission between the 5.9 temblor and the imminent Irene. Back here in the "peaceful" midwest, we had our own fun with a little event I like to call midnight tree topping. It seems a cool front packed a 70 mph wind burst punch and took out trees all over the west end of one town near here. In fact, we got to awaken around 1:30 to two ominous things: blinking lights from police cars and the sound of a chain saw. It seems a good portion of a neighbor's tree crashed down on the street and stopped traffic. The good news is there is basically NO TRAFFIC on our street at 1:30 a.m.

Anyhow, between that and the roller coaster ride our economy is taking, and the seesaw ride our national politics is taking, and all the rest of the drama and uncertainty, as a public service to you, the reader (and at this point, this blog may just be speaking to you, yeah, YOU, as "the reader"), we bring you some photos taken a handful of weeks back when, while on vacation, we again visited the African Wildlife Safari. Longtime readers of this site will recall previous such photo collections. Those who know their animals will wonder why the place is billed exclusively as "African".

Anyhow, here they are, providing you with some escape from the worries of the day.

The End

Saturday, August 6, 2011

An Evening's Escape: Lakeside

There's probably some neat name for this pavilion.
I don't know it, but I like the thing.

Still trying to keep the vacation vibe going, we escaped to nearby (45 minutes) Lakeside last evening. We had gotten some tickets to a concert up there, and took advantage of the opportunity.

Lakeside is this self-contained community, full of cottages and happy families. It is a "Chautauqua" community, based on the adult education, culture, and spiritual blend of the daddy of them all, Lake Chautauqua, NY. So, in other words, there is stuff going on all the time.

Last night was this performance by the Lakeside Orchestra, which a friend informs me is actually a decent group - lots of summering musicians from the likes of the Columbus and Cleveland Symphonies. So they know their scales.

The Lakeside Orchestra takes the stage.

It was a relatively light, "pops" type show - a history of Broadway tunes and such. But the music director - conductor tossed in a lot of history and made it interesting. It was a good show.

Just being in Lakeside for a while is quite entertaining. There are blocks and blocks of well-kept cottages. A central business district where we ate dinner on a patio. The historic Hotel Lakeside. I believe the rooms still do not have televisions - bravo to that, as it seems true to the spirit of the place. And then the waterfront.

The historic Hotel Lakeside. Or is it Lakeside Hotel?

There is a slow pace at Lakeside. I believe I could pass a whole summer there, reading books, hitting the various lectures and movies and concerts, meeting some people and maybe challenging them to a game of shuffleboard (a big hit at Lakeside - which tells you something about priorities and, to an extent, demographics - although there were a lot of young families on the streets.) Even pretending I was on set for an episode of the old Patrick McGoohan series, one of my favorites ever, "The Prisoner". (You'd have to know the show to get the connection.)

Out on the pier, enjoying a warm Friday evening.

There was a sort of funny out-of-context moment for me as I looked around at the greying crowd settling in for the concert, then noted that the very next night, the featured act was the band, "Starship", which you may know evolved from its interplanetary origins back in the 60's as Jefferson Airplane. Now, none of the original Airplane members are still on board the starship. Grace Slick, Jack Cassidy, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, and various vintage others have all moved on. And under the new ownership, the Starship is more prone to love ballads and such, as opposed to preaching revolution and alluding to Alice in Wonderland psychedelia. But at first, the concept amused me. Then it dawned on me that many of these "senior citizens" surrounding me were likely in their 20's and 30's when the Airplane took off, and could probably recite some Airplane hits. Hmm.

All in all, a wonderful escape for a Friday evening, and a third chance within a one-week span to enjoy one of the Great Lakes.

Well-kept properties in the high-rent district (good view of the lake, park, etc.)

If I were around for another day, I'd have one of those boats out on the water.