Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blizzard Baby...Filled with Sunshine

Spencer...loving the sunshine
Today is the 29th anniversary of the great Blizzard of "82 here in St. Louis. At our house in St. Charles County we received 22 inches of snow in less than one day. January 31st also happens to be the 29th anniversary of my son, Spencer's, birth. Uh-huh. That fact is responsible for the most incredible day of my life, and for one of the funniest stories in which I've ever had the pleasure to play a role. I wrote the story of Spencer's birthday last year, and have decided to share it once again here on Smiling Heart this year. Truth be told, I'll probably run it every year hence, it's just that special to me.

I hope you enjoy it, too.

My twin remembers that day with me sitting calmly on the bed "like a Madonna," unperturbed by the events transpiring around me. I remember it as some sort of cross between "Touched by an Angel" and "Keystone Kops Deliver a Baby." The cast of characters were as follows:

Leading Lady: Me, pregnant for the third time, experienced at this "home birth thing", and excited that my parents were in town and might possibly be around for this birth (having missed the first two).

Spencer & Daddy, 2nd Birthday

Leading Man:
David, my husband, incredulous when I woke him at around 5 am to tell him that I was in labor. (I'd only been through it twice could I be sure?)

Snow that started falling...well, make that dumping on St. Louis on the evening of Saturday, Jan. 30, 1982, and didn't stop until late in the day on Sunday, January 31 (despite the predictions by the weather forecasters that assured the skittish St. Louisans that we would get 1-2 inches at most).


Dr. Duhart

The Doctor: A gentle soul of a man, Fred Duhart, D.O., who had delivered our first two children (along with hundreds of other families' children), and would also express doubt ("Are you absolutely sure you're in labor?") when he was called at 7:30 that infamous Sunday morning.

Bob - My Dad

The Father/Grandfather: My dad, Bob Floyd, who, upon realizing he was trapped in St. Louis, began to pace the floor brandishing his pocket knife, and proclaiming it to be "the sharpest knife in the house."

Elly - My Mom, Joyce - center, Me - on right

The Mother/Grandmother: My mom, Elly, whom I suspect (though she was one of twelve children born at home to her own mother) was more nervous about this "home birth thing" than she would let on.

The Sister/Aunt: My twin sister, Joyce (an M.D.), who somehow, through the grace of God, was with us that weekend, the knowledge of which gave me great comfort and courage, even though she kept repeating, "I'm your SISTER, not your DOCTOR."
Court and Tony

The Little Tots: Our two sons, Tony and Court, who were born just 18 months apart, and were just 4 and 2 1/2 yrs. old, and oblivious to the excitement about to occur. A baby brother or sister was about as interesting as watching paint dry to these two active little best friends. Little did they know just how much fun they would have that day!

The baby: My precious third son, Spencer, who decided he was going to distinguish himself from his brothers right from the very beginning!

Angels: Played by themselves:


I woke up to use the bathroom at around 3 am and realized I was having contractions. Not the kind of contractions that scream, "Your time is now!", just the kind that makes you wince and say, "Ohhhh, I remember you." Standing in the dark, I looked out the window to see snow falling, gently, beautifully, outside. I remember thinking, "Maybe Mom and Dad will stay and get to see the baby come."

I got up quietly every half hour or so, and went again to the window to watch the snowfall in the stillness of the early morning. It was a special kind of solitude. I felt alone...but WITH my baby, who I knew would be born the following day. I cherished these final few hours with just the two of us. Each time I arose, I could tell, through the darkness, that the snow was picking up in intensity, along with my contractions. By 5:30 or so, I couldn't wait any longer. I woke David and the excitement began.

Bless his heart, David has never had a very good poker face. When I told him that I was in labor, I could tell he was alarmed, and a little frightened (given what was going on outside), but I was certain I could see excitement on his face as well. After reassuring him that I was fine, but that we should call the doctor to give him plenty of time to traverse the snowy roads, David clicked into his "action" mode.

Mom and Dad woke shortly after, and came into the kitchen dressed and ready to hit the road to escape the storm. There was nothing I could say to deter them...their minds were made up. they didn't want to get snowed in, they didn't want to make me nervous (haha!), and they were leaving as soon as possible. Uh-huh.

Joyce heard the conversations in the kitchen and came out to join us. She doesn't have a good poker face, either. The shock and concern on her face were obvious.

By around 7 am, the contractions were becoming stronger, but still weren't alarmingly bad. I was easily distracted by the activity around me...little boys wondering why Mommy wasn't fixing their breakfast, my father stubbornly loading his car with suitcases, and my sister looking forlornly at me, wondering, "Why does she always put me in these predicaments?"

David called Dr. Duhart. "He wants to talk to you," he said, handing me the phone. We'd been through this before. It's Dr.Duhart's way of determining just how far along you are by listening to the tone of your voice. Uh-huh.

"Hello?" I said.

"You must be joking," Dr. Duhart replied. "Are you absolutely SURE you're in labor?"

"This is my third time...yes, I'm sure, " I said meekly, feeling a little flummoxed and a lot guilty.

"Have you looked outside?" he asked. Okay, maybe he wasn't trying to determine how far along I was.

I feigned a contraction, hoping to relocate some of my guilt onto him.

After a few minutes, I had convinced the good doctor that I was, indeed, in labor, and that I was also very well aware of the meteorological conditions outside. He had convinced me that he would leave his home immediately and TRY to make it to our house, which was, inconveniently, in another city, another county, and across a river, from him. Uh-huh.

Soon after this exchange, my parents got ready to leave, convinced that they could make their way from St. Louis to Kansas City, despite the now-intense news coverage relating all the car accidents on the roads, and despite the fact that we hadn't seen one snow plow anywhere yet that morning. I'm sure I get my optimism gene from both of them.

Their trip lasted all of about 10 minutes, the entirety of it spent in the driveway in a futile attempt to back out. My father was not happy to come back into the house...the house with the feral boys, the worried doctor/daughter, and the couple who were about to pop a baby out into his midst. Gamely, though, he took a look around and assessed the situation. He reached into his pocket and took out his treasured pocket knife...the one he had carried with him since before I was born, and which he carried with him till the day he died, and said in a hushed voice, "Now, just in case, this is the sharpest knife in the house." He said that to me.. Uh-huh.

While this was going on, my dear husband had received a phone call from Dr. Duhart telling him that his car had made it as far as the bridge going into St. Charles, and was stuck on the bridge in the snowdrifts. Dr. Duhart had trudged on foot to the quaint little Noah's Ark Hotel on the banks of the Missouri River, and was calling from the hotel (yes...before cell phones), where he expected he would wait. He suggested we call the Sheriff's Department to see if they could send someone to pick him up and bring him to our house. David agreed. I love it when guys have a plan.

David called the Sheriff, who politely explained that it was not a taxi service. No, a squad car would not go to the hotel to pick up Dr. Duhart, but if we wanted an ambulance to transport me to the hospital, that could be arranged. David, upset that his years of negotiating skills in the business world had gotten him nowhere, declined the offer and hung up. What we didn't realize was that the wheels of the emergency medical system were already in motion. Literally.

Evidently, the phone call alerted every emergency team in the St. Charles area that there was a crazy pregnant woman in labor at our address who did not want to go to the hospital. We heard sirens approaching. Lots of sirens.

Within minutes, a SWAT team of EMTs was swarming around our house. Fire engines, trucks, ambulances, and yes, the Sheriff's Department arrived, parking on the lawn, in the street, and anywhere else they could find a spot. Firefighters in full regalia stormed into the house, carrying medical kits the size of Rhode Island up the stairs.

"Where is she?" they demanded. A stunned family pointed down the hallway to the bedroom, where I was taking refuge, sitting on the bed.

Next came police officers of every variety, and all of them, police, firefighters, and EMTs alike, had the same idea..."Let's try to convince her to do the right thing and go to the hospital!" Uh-huh.

Now, my mother may not have been on board with the whole "home birth thing," but she was still a mother with decades of experience and a boatload of mother's instinct. When she heard that first siren off in the distance, her first thought was, "I don't want these little ones to be frightened." And so, she did what any good mother/grandmother would do. She got those boys downstairs and came up with an idea that would entertain them MORE than the appearance of fire engines. She covered the carpet with black trash bags, opened up the back door, and scooped the 6 ft. snowdrift right into the house, whereupon the two boys "helped" Grandma make an INDOOR snowman. Uh-huh.

Okay, so now, you're getting the picture. Firefighters with helmets, hatchets, and RI-sized medical kits, police officers wondering why in the world this insane woman wants to stay here, my mother building a snowman in the playroom, and my poor father fondling the knife in his pocket. David is still trying to obtain the good doctor with all the skill of a hostage negotioator, and my twin is reminding me that she has no intention of delivering this baby. What else was there to do but sit and smile at what was going on around me? One thing's for sure...I barely felt the contractions at this point.

Unbeknownst to any of us, an amazing thing was transpiring while chaos reigned. Dr. Duhart, stuck back at the old Noah's Ark Hotel and Restaurant on the Missouri River, was sitting in the hotel restaurant (no cell phones, remember), wondering what he should do. Should he continue to wait for the Sheriff? Should he try to find a tow truck for his car? Should he find an easier line of work?

At that moment, a young man walked in and saw the good doctor sitting there. "I recognize you," he said to Dr. Duhart. "You delivered the baby of some friends of mine."

"That may be," the good doctor replied. "I'm trying to get to a delivery right now, but my car is stuck on the bridge."

"No problem," said the, man. "I have a four-wheel-drive truck right outside. Hop in...I'll take you."

Back at home, Joyce had taken over the negotiations from my frustrated husband, and had procured a birthing kit from the group of emergency activists. They left us reluctantly, slightly depressed that they would not be media heroes after all. I relaxed a little, knowing that we had the supplies we'd need, the children were being cared for (my, they're being good...I wonder what they're doing), and my sister was capable of handling the birth, should it be necessary. Even though she REALLY didn't want to. We settled in to wait.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang, and I heard a bit of commotion downstairs. Suddenly, a beaming Dr. Duhart appeared at the door of the bedroom, removing his coat and setting down his own small bag. With all that had happened, I had almost convinced myself that quite possibly I wasn't in labor. After all, I wasn't in pain. I wasn't even terribly uncomfortable. I was just...happy. Was I going to be completely embarrassed to find that my labor had stopped and all this...this...hubub was in vain? "Well," said the good doctor, "Let's see what's going on now."

After a brief examination, he declared, "Okay, time to push." Uh-huh.

A mere forty-five minutes later, with my husband, two sons, twin sister, my parents (okay, my father was peeking in from the doorway), and the good doctor at my side, we brought Spencer into the world. We rejoiced and laughed that we had another boy..."A few more and you'll have a real team," my father had said proudly. I couldn't have possibly been any happier that day.

After things quieted down, I rested and cuddled the new baby and his brothers while Mom dished out homemade chili for the the family (when had she made that?), inlcuding Dr. Duhart, who proclaimed it to be the best chili he'd ever eaten. He was then able to recount the story of the man who had so generously driven him to our home then declined to come in, not wanting to "intrude." ( We never learned the name of the man who was our angel that day.) The doctor was able to leave later that day and retrieve his car, and I hope that when he left our house, he carried with him the love and gratitude of our entire family for going "above and beyond" any of our expectations that day.

My parents and sister left the next day. The snow had been plowed, the highways cleared, and the new baby had been welcomed in love. They each played a special role that day, and we never, never, never, could have gotten through it without them. Moreover, they each left me with the feeling that I was loved...really loved. And there is no better feeling than that.

We were suddenly back to our own little family being on its own. No more snow, no more fire engines, no more wonderfully quirky relatives. All that was left of the "Blizzard of '82" was a sweet, happy baby named Spencer, and a strange, as yet unexplained dampness on the carpet downstairs.

Postscript: When my father died a few years back, guess what Mom had set aside for me? Uh-huh...his pocketknife, which I will carry with me till the day I die.

2011 Postscript: Another "historic" snowstorm is occuring, and the St. Louis region is once again in a dither. I smile and wonder how many mothers-to-be are shaking their heads (as I did) and saying to themselves, "No, I surely won't go into labor tonight."

Spencer is a married man now, a high school teacher and coach. He and his lovely wife, Camille, make their home in Las Vegas. I'll bet he misses the snow.

Spencer and Camille

Calling on Isis

Isis ~ Tutankhamun Shrine, Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

My heart aches for the people of Egypt today. Reports this morning indicate that over one hundred people have died in the revolution there, over four thousand have been injured, and around five hundred people are missing, most of them, women. Why the women?

The American Embassy is advising U.S. citizens to evacuate immediately, and is now arranging for planes to be made available for that purpose.

As I sit here on a peaceful Sunday morning here in Weldon Spring, I pray for the people of the Middle East, for this uprising will certainly not end in Tunisia or Egypt, but will echo through the region, if not the world.

I pray, too, that the violence will spare the treasures of ancient Egypt housed in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. The artifacts of the very cradle of civilization are at stake.

Among them is the Tutankhamun Shrine, housing the above iconic etching of Isis. She is the only Egyptian diety to be portrayed with wings, which she is said to have used to fan breath into the dead. Her name means "throne" and all of the pharaohs claimed the right to rule as her son or daughter.

The text to this hymn, and ode to Isis,  was found in 3rd/4th century BCE (Before Christian/Common/Current Era) in Nag Hammadi, a city in upper Egypt on the west bank of the Nile.

Hymn to Isis
Ancient hymn of the Goddess Isis

For I am the first and the last
I am the venerated and the despised

I am the prostitute and the saint
I am the wife and the virgin

I am the mother and the daughter
I am the arms of my mother

I am barren and my children are many
I am the married woman and the spinster

I am the woman who gives birth and she who never procreated
I am the consolation for the pain of birth

I am the wife and the husband
And it was my man who created me

I am the mother of my father
I am the sister of my husband

And he is my rejected son

Always respect me
For I am the shameful and the magnificent one

Isis is considered to be the  power of love, loyalty, and creativity within the Divine. She is the powerful spirit of all women, the personification of the Divine Feminine.

I see her spirit alive in the women who know the true meaning of power.  True power is the strength to show kindness when others show violence. True power is the demonstration of love when others demonstrate hate.  True power is using a kiss when others use bullets.

I see her in the woman's face pictured below.  Isis, your people need you.

Today I wish you the strength to substitute love for hate.

The power of Isis - Egyptian protestor kisses the cheek of a riot police officer
Courtesy The Atlantic

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Sojourn ~ I-70 West to Kansas City

Come with me as I revisit some of the interesting and beauty-filled places I've been on my travels. Of course this means the actual trips I've taken, but it might also include trips of the virtual kind, from books, to movies, to great escapes through performances I've seen.

I love Saturday... a day of rest and ease and fun (usually) for me. I hope to share a bit of that feeling with you each week.

What a funny, funny winter we've had. Well, certainly not funny in the "oh, aren't we having a ball?" sense of the word, but very funny in the "my oh my isn't this some odd and crazy stuff?" sense.

I went to visit Mom yesterday in Kansas City, and was prepared for a nice drive. I was armed with my favorite CDs, a bag of almonds, and a travel mug full of steaming coffee. I had been gratified to read the weather forecast the night before, which assured me that I wouldn't be facing snow, sleet or ice during my drive across Missouri. In fact, it was predicting temperatures in the upper forties. Yes! Kansas City, here I come.

I left the little hamlet of Weldon Spring early in the morning, right before seven a.m. Although it wasn't exactly a sunny morning, it was pretty. The sky was like velvety gray flannel, soft and soothing. No sunglasses necessary, I thought, as I smiled to no one in particular.

I had only driven four or five miles down I-70 westbound when the soothing gray flannel sky draped down across the road. It appeared suddenly, and I thought it must be only a brief appearance of fog due to the warming sunrise on the wet roads.

About 120 miles later, I drank my coffee, which had long since grown cold,  and ate my almonds. One thing is certain. If you ever find yourself driving white-knuckled in the fog, I highly recommend doing so to the musical backdrop of Puccini's "Great Opera Arias". There is something beautiful and divinely poignant about viewing the shrouded landscape with " Un bel di"  from Madama Butterfly or "Se come voi piccina io fossi" from Le Villi playing along. It certainly adds something special to an otherwise stressful experience.

Heading into the fog

The shrouded landscape

Blanketed on a winter morning

Sleeping in this morning

A bold young tree among others hiding

The shy pine among friends

Maybe if you listen to the aria as you look at the pictures you'll get the idea. Maybe not. You may have to take my word for was unexpectedly beautiful.

Today, I wish for you an unexpectedly beautiful experience.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Heart's Quiet Home

 I'm gone for the day.
I'm on my way to Kansas City to visit Momsy.
I'll be back tomorrow, though.

While I'm away, I offer you a poem from one of my favorite poets:

Sonnets are Full of Love 
Christina Rossetti (1881)

 Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome

Has many sonnets: so here now shall be

One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me

To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,

To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee

I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;

Whose service is my special dignity,

And she my loadstar while I go and come

And so because you love me, and because

I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath

Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:

In you not fourscore years can dim the flame

Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws

Of time and change and mortal life and death.

And I offer you my favorite piece of music
Written by my favorite composer
Played by my (almost) favorite pianist.

Chopin's Valse L'adieu (Farewell Waltz)
Opus 69 No. 1in A-Flat Major
Tzvi Erez

Today, I hope you find your heart's quiet home.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another New Twist...Classic.

"Blue Dancers" ~ Edgar Degas, c.1889
Edgar Degas was...well, strange. He's one of the founding fathers of Impressionism and one of the most eminent painters of people in everyday life. He devoted his life to his work, but had an edge to his personality that alienated himself from polite society.

Degas was trained in the style of the old masters and never lost his deep affinity for it must have surprised and disturbed him when he found himself morphing into a different sort of artist. Though he was accomplished at painting the elite--the structured portraits and formal still lifes filled with deep colors and chirascuro--he found himself haunting cafés and parks and salons, observing and sketching the ordinary.  Those sketches blossomed into a body of work seldom produced by any artist--sculptures, oils on canvas, and pastels of his subjects--fill museums and galleries around the world today.

And yet, he was...well, opinionated. Witty and handsome, he could have been the toast of Paris had it not been for his argumentative and prejudicial nature. A fundamental Roman Catholic, he was extremely anti-semitic, and once fired a model upon learning that she was a Protestant.  His friend and fellow painter, Auguste  Renoir, was quoted as saying, "What a creature he was, that Degas! All his friends had to leave him; I was one of the last to go, but even I couldn't stay till the end." He never married and reportedly spent the last ten years of his life nearly blind, wandering the streets of Paris alone.

Degas' largest body of work was his focus (some would say 'obsession') with ballet dancers. He sketched them in class, on the stage, and in the wings. Acknowledging the athleticism of ballet, Degas was one of the first painters to capture the quality of real movement in his work.  In his quest to portray the real qualities, in addition to the ethereal qualities, of ballet, he haunted the studios, the stages, and the theatre wings of the Paris Opera House. Can you imagine the dancers standing together, preparing to go on stage, and seeing that guy "over there" stalking them, staring at them...yet again?

Yes, Degas was...controversial.

But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding (or in this case, the painting), and his work stands as a testament to the beauty and hard work and dedication of a life in the ballet world.

There is a resurgence today of that testament. Long viewed in recent times as simply a 'girly' and 'pretty' endeavor, ballet is receiving new acknowledgement as an artistic endeavor which is also an athletic endeavor. Or an athletic endeavor which is also an artistic endeavor. Either way, ballet is receiving the attention of stage (Billy Eliot), screen (Black Swan), and now, song (Runaway), and I say "high time!".

The old with the new. A classical twist on a contemporary gentre. By an artist that many deem to be strange, opinionated, and controversial. Where have I heard that story before?

The video below is an excerpt from Kanye West's newest endeavor, a "full length" movie (or a very long music video) called "Runaway". WARNING: This excerpt is considered the "clean" version, but the subject matter and the lyrics are explicit. You decide if you want to share it with anyone under, oh, say...thirty. ;-)

The best thing about the movie is West's decision to devote nearly ten minutes of ballet to his thirty-five minute video . The moment I saw it, images of Degas' blue dancers (there is a whole series of them) came to mind. There is scant difference between the images of Degas' art, and those of West's dancers. While I was never a big fan of Kanye West (who can forget the Taylor Swift debacle?), I can now see him as an artist...albeit a different sort, probably not one I'd want to hang out with. That's okay. Art isn't always made by 'nice' guys...and he just may be viewed as a classic someday.What a wonderful tapestry can be woven when we dare to twist the new with the old.  Enjoy!

Today, dare to be unconventional.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Real Deal

Michael Caine and Shelley Winters in "Alfie" ~ 1966

Recent posts (and the discussions that followed them) have prompted more thought about the changes in technology we've experienced in the past few years. We've come light years from just two decades ago, when the word "digital" wasn't even in our vocabulary. Technology has given us tools of communication that we never dreamed possible, and those developments have spilled over into other areas of our lives, as well.

Today, technology affords music producers the ability to create a virtual orchestra from one keyboard. It can remove noise distortion and even correct the pitch of the human voice. It can consolidate separate sound tracks into one and allow a level of perfection never before attained in music  recording. I'm sure that's just the tip of the iceberg.  It's evident now that there is a very real difference between the digital world of music production and the world of live performances. As I learned yesterday, this fact is neither good nor bad. There is plenty of room in the world today for expertly crafted music, whether it be the "digital" product, or the "real" one. 

Have you seen the amazing and beautiful "Lux Aurumque" by Eric Whitacre and his Virtual Choir? Here's the link: . No one can argue that this composition isn't original, beautifully executed, and well performed.

It's thrilling to see today's technology being used so artistically. Yet, as wistfully as I wish for actual books to stay in the world, I wish the same for real music. Sometimes recorded, but sometimes lost to the world forever, live performances carry with them the element of surprise and improvisation that's just not present in the electronically perfected versions.

Enter Alfie.

I recently saw a gorgeous little video snippet of British singer Cilla Black recording the song "Alfie" and was mesmerized. A little bird-like wisp of a woman, standing gamely, confidently, in front of a studio filled with musicians, as well as a conductor who was also the composer of the music.  Her performance, and that of every other musician in the studio, was inspiring.  The energy in the studio was palpable, with each participant playing off the other's contribution to that energy. It was authentic. Real. It was special, and it made an impression on me because it was real.

[Tracking down information on "Alfie" proved to be interesting and a bit insane, as most worthwhile British entertainment is. Most recently (2004), it became a movie starring Jude Law as Alfie, but the movie itself is such a diluted version of the first movie version (1966) that it's just not worth seeing...and I'm usually up for anything with Jude Law in it.  Please, take my word for it and skip this one. Go back in time to the 1966 version with Michael Caine and Shelley Winters. 

Actually, the story exists in novel form too, but it was written by Alfie's creator, Bill Naughton, only after the 1966 movie was produced. Not only that, but, working backward on the timeline, we find that before the movie came two stage productions, first in Great Britain, then briefly on Broadway in the U.S.  Finally, we can see that "Alfie" originally dates back to 1962, when it was a program on BBC radio called "Alfie Elkins and His Little Life."  Who knew?]

"Alfie"--the radio show, the stage production, the movies or the novel, has fallen far short of masterpiece status. It is, at best, a provocative little film full of  promiscuity and pathos. At the end of the story, a crestfallen Alfie is simply left wondering, "What's it all about?"

Enter Burt Bacharach.

With painfully poignant lyrics by Hal David, Bacharach's music transformed this minor movie into something significant. With vocals by Cilla Black, it became an icon.

[Politicians, busines owners, parents, teachers, doctors...we all would do well to listen closely to these lyrics...Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we meant to be kind?]

"What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?"

This is the rare footage of the title song to "Alfie" being recorded in 1965 at Abbey Road studios in London. It's a perfect example of the extraordinary magic that can happen when a group of people perform together as one. This live element is what elevates a performance from great to sublime. In this video, it's incredible to see Bacharach conducting, absolutely inhabited by his music. You can hear the tiny scratches in the audio recording. This audio was digitally remastered in 2003, but I prefer the less-than-perfect original. The final shot showing the entire orchestra, including the huge harp on the left, is fascinating. What a collaboration. Enjoy.

Today I wish for you the thrill of a live performance.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


"Three Nudes and One Violin" - Pablo Picasso
Painted during his Blue Period

"Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands."

 ~  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Picasso was a classically trained painter who wasn't afraid to embrace new ideas. As is evident in his extensive body of work, he never abandoned his classical foundation. How could he? It was part of him. He simply coexisted with it as his work evolved.

After yesterday's question regarding the dilemma of real vs. virtual books, I realized that I'm not the only one who has experienced it. I'm just the one who made it difficult.

I have the most awesome, patient friends. As I learned from them, the considerations for the Kindle and its like are mostly practical. Using less precious paper. Using less precious shelf space. Traveling more lightly. I acknowledge the advantages, and will open my mind to them. Using one does not necessitate denying the other. Thank you for your wisdom, all!

Like everything else, the appearance of the e-reader in the world of books and libraries and end tables is nothing more than a continuation of the weaving of the tapestry of life. As Emerson says, there is no thread in this tapestry that is not a twist of old and new.

When looked at this way, I can let go of the notion that new will conquer old, or that either one will push the other out of existence. Each has its place in the tapestry. We can coexist.

I will not, ever, stop purchasing books, that I know.  But today, I find myself considering the possibility of including an e-reader to my library. As one friend put it, it's great for the "throw-aways."

Which only serves to bring up another touchy subject. Who, in their right mind, would EVER throw a book away?

George Gershwin was another artist who knew the value of twisting the old with the new. His genius may have been born, in part, from the serendipitous time of his birth. The composer and pianist was born at the dawn of the Jazz Age, but as a son of newly immigrated Russian parents, was trained in the European classical tradition. His work has appeared on the stages of every genre of music, on Broadway, in Hollywood, and in concert halls around the world.  

This piece, "Rhapsody in Blue," is certainly his signature composition. Many versions abound, but I selected this version, which brilliantly captures the idea of the melding of the disciplined passion of classical with the passionate abandon of jazz. Concert pianist Lang Lang joins jazz great Herbie Hancock for this delightful performance. It's hard to tell who's enjoying himself more, but one thing's for's contagious. Enjoy!

Today, let go of an old notion and find peace with the new.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Person of the Book?

"People of the Book," by Geraldine Brooks, is the fascinating story of one book's travel through history. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading it, I highly recommend it. Although fiction, the story is based on the "Sarajevo Haggadah" and how it came to rest at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.This haggadah, or prayer book, containing scripture and songs and rituals for Passover Seder, is said to have survived fire, war, Nazis, and museum thieves.

It survived because of the people who protected it.

The "Sarajevo Haggadah"

I am not a Luddite. Or rather, I've worked hard to avoid being labeled as one. I text my children and friends. I know how to use my cell phone camera to send pictures around cyberspace. I use computers and facebook and digital cameras and apps and programs and such. For heaven's sake, I'm even "Linkedin". What's more, I'm here in Blogland, right? Right. I am NOT a Luddite.

Sarajevo Haggadah Illumination

Then why am I so conflicted? Well, I'm a paper crazy, page sniffing, tactile book lover, that's why.
Many of my friends have gotten electronic readers recently. The Kindle, to be exact.  And I'm not on board with it.  

My resistance has nothing to do with technology. In fact, many of these friends who now have Kindles have trouble navigating facebook.  I'm light years ahead of them when it comes to using the 21st Century tools of communication. Something is wrong with this picture.

I don't want to tote stone tablets around. I don't care for papyrus, or wish to write with a quill pen. I don't even remember the last time I needed a postage stamp or wrote a paper check.

I just want my books. Is that okay? 

When we were little girls, my twin sister was obsessed with books. She carried her favorites with her at all times, tucked under her little arm like a schoolgirl, which we were as yet too young to be. As we got older, she would share with me what she found fascinating about choosing books. The stories, yes, to be sure, but it was about more than the words on the page. It was the entire experience. The size of the book mattered. The spine mattered. The size of the print mattered. But more than anything else, it was the paper on which the words were printed that mattered the most.

Joyce taught me to be a paper snob. Through her, I learned to choose the books that would end up on my shelves wisely. To pick them up and feel their heft in my hands. To open the front cover and determine if it were a first edition. To notice the shade of white, cream, or ivory the paper might be. To run my fingers down the page and feel it. Yes, to smell it, too. I suppose that what I learned from Joyce was a reverence of books, and of the process of creating them.

That reverence has never left me. Among my love for digital cameras, facebook, electronic banking, and all the other wonderful tools of our time, sits my love for actual honest-to-goodness books. What's to become of me?

Will I ever be able to tuck a Kindle into my carry-on bag before a trip with the same excitement I feel for selecting the book/s that will accompany me? Will I ever approach a Kindle with the same feeling of warmth and love as I approach my book shelves?

Mark Twain may have said it best (as he often did) when he said, "In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them." Oh, yeah. Wisdom by osmosis. Does wisdom by Kindle osmosis exist?

 I'm on board the technology train, I really am. I just can't bring myself to want a Kindle. Does anyone else struggle with this? 

The Amazon Kindle

Today, I wish you a pleasant read from a great book.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Stopping by the Woods

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Morning
Weldon Spring, Missouri

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening

 by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow...

Let me acknowledge here and now that I revere poets and poetry. 

My father used to read and recite poetry regularly to his six offspring, and his passion for it was obvious. It spilled from him like a fountain when he spoke, and it soaked into the pores of my soul.. He called poetry the "distillation of language into its purest form."  I love that definition.

I also love the fact that men and women through the ages, from Rumi to Dickenson to Ginsberg, have sought to distill language into its purest form. They continue today, those poets, trying and sometimes succeeding in distilling our thoughts, our dreams, our observations, and our love into its purest form. I am in awe of poets.

(I have a favortite poet in Blogland if you're interested. I know him only as Steven, and I know that he lives in Ontario, Canada. As many of the most esteemed poets have been, he seems an introspective person, a lover of nature, and a person with a keen sense of observation. He can see the significance in the most insignificant things. You can catch the refreshing rivulets of his poetry here; But I digress...)

We are blessed with poets great and small from the Ancients to the Contemporaries if we have the ears to hear and eyes to read. And Robert Frost? Well, he's an icon of American poetry, isn't he? So who am I to judge? Well, no one. But I came away from my window this morning with the distinct impression that he had it wrong in his description of his ride through the woods on a snowy evening.

As I looked out my back window this snowy morning, I saw this deer. He's a fine young buck, a yearling, I suppose, and he was beautiful as he quietly but surely made his way through the drifts. He was in the company of a girlfriend, I think, who gingerly followed him into the woods. If you look closely at the photo, you can see the profile of her face behind the tree right next to her beau.

As I observed the pair, I had the feeling that I was intruding. They were at home here, meandering along the trees and underbrush, walking toward the pond downhill, much as I would meander into the kitchen to make the coffee early each morning.

I thought, too, as Frost expressed, that they would not see me here. I stood "to watch their woods fill up with snow..."

"Whose woods these are I think I know."

They are not ours.

Peace to you today.

In honor of the beautiful duo I spied upon this morning, I'm posting this from another incredibly beautiful duo. Here are two of the most eminent violinists in the world, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, playing George Frideric Handel's "Passacaglia". This duet is sometimes called "The Impossible Duet" because of its difficulty. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Sojourn - Lake Tahoe

Come with me as I revisit some of the interesting and beauty-filled places I've been on my travels. Of course this means the actual trips I've taken, but it might also include trips of the virtual kind, from books, to movies, to great escapes through performances I've seen.

 I love Saturday... a day of rest and ease and fun (usually) for me. I hope to share a bit of that feeling with you each week.

We had two major snowfalls in Weldon Spring within the last week, and we're expecting yet another tomorrow night. For all but the Innocents, it has ceased to be fun.

Last night, my white-weary family found itself watching, of all things,  Meryl Streep's cinematic masterpiece, Mamma Mia!, filled with the vibrant colors of the Mediterranean. With its unbelievably trite story line, incredibly lame over acting, and astonishingly bad singing by Pierce Brosnan, the Mediterranean definitely stole the show. We laughed, we sang, we howled at Pierce. What a romp.

I'm remembering this morning that it's possible to have a good romp in the snow, too. We spent New Year's Eve of 2007 with extended family and friends in Lake Tahoe, NV, and had about the best time I've ever had surrounded by the pristine beauty of the snowy mountains. Skiing and snowboarding and tubing and exploring and eating and laughing and playing games filled the days and nights. The trip culminated in a New Year's Day run into the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe by the intrepid, though slightly crazy, son of friends, Andy. Now, THAT'S a romp!

Spring will come, and with her the vibrant colors that have the power to invigorate us. Hang on. It's coming.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a good romp today.


Cabins on the lake shore.


Rippling water on the [cold] lake

Lake Tahoe in Winter

Camille on top of the mountain

Spencer Snowboarding

Filming the New Year's Day Dip

Birches of Lake Tahoe

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bringing out the Cozy in Us

Famed British poet Edith Sitwell once said, "Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home."

Or, more succinctly as my friend, Pam, said yesterday, "Winter snows bring out the cozy in us."

So today I'm thinking of setting the fireplace ablaze, putting on my favorite moth-eaten (well, actually the big holes in it came from the puppy, who thought it was a wonderful, fluffy toy) cozy sweater, and make some great comfort food. Maybe something white, in honor of the color scheme of the week, and something spicy, to heat up the atmosphere.

Spicy White Chili seems like just the thing for a cold winter day. This recipe comes from Taste of Home, and feeds an army...just what I need:


2 pounds dried great northern beans
1-1/2 cups diced onion
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon ground oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4-1/2 quarts chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cubed
2 cans (4 ounces each) chopped green chilies


Sort beans and rinse with cold water. Place beans in a Dutch oven; add water to cover by 2 in. Bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; cover and let stand for 1 to 4 hours or until beans are softened. Drain and rinse beans, discarding liquid.

In a stockpot, saute onion in oil until tender. Combine seasonings; add half to onion mixture. Saute 1 minute. Add the beans, broth and garlic; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 2 hours.

Coat chicken with remaining seasoning mixture; place in 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink; add to beans. Stir in chilies. Cover and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until flavors are blended. Yield: 20 servings.

May I suggest a great (white) pinot grigio from Da Vinci Wines to go with this hearty meal?

We don't want to forget about mood music for the meal, either. I've chosen the "Sabre Dance" by Aram Khachaturian, played by Vanessa Mae. Vanessa is known as the "Spicy Violin Girl" for a reason. Just watch. Hey, just because you like classical music, it doesn't mean you don't like to spice it up occasionally. Enjoy!

I hope you have a cozy day...
                      with just enough spice to warm your soul.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Inside the Snow Globe

A quiet morning. A significant morning. I want to appreciate the stillness of this precious space in which I dwell today. I will remember this day. Let me remember it with love and gratitude.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Christina Rossetti
Excerpt from "In the Bleak Midwinter"

These images were made in 1885 by Wilson A. Bentley, and in
Present day by Kenneth G. Libbrecht 

 The music is by Giacomo Puccini's great opera, Madama Butterfly. This portion is called "The Humming Chorus. In this poignant scene at the end of Act II, Butterfly maintains a vigil through the night, waiting for her love to return. The chorus stands offstage singing this melancholy tune, foreshadowing the tragedy to come.

I wish you peace as chaste and gentle as the scene outside today.