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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankfulness



I woke up this morning thinking about the many people and things for which I am grateful. These are not in the order of importance but in the order they came to me.

I’m grateful for the first cup of coffee that tastes like a little drop of heaven. And the second cup that clicks on those centers of my brain that bring a feeling of satisfaction along with the bonus of alertness. And then I’m grateful recent studies suggest those two cups of coffee are actually pretty healthful. I can enjoy my coffee without concern my caffeine addiction is bad for me. How great is that?

I’m grateful for the warm sun on my face as I go outside to get the newspaper on this sunny day. And I’m grateful for the comfortable home that keeps me warm and dry on the not-so-pretty days. I’m sorry there are people who are homeless or refugees and do not have the comfort of a safe home.  I’m grateful there are good people in this city, state and country and others who are willing to take the risk to offer shelter to the less fortunate.

At the top of my list, I’m grateful for my loving family. I am so grateful for my husband and that we share our lives, that we have two beautiful sons, and they have wonderful families. I also am very grateful my husband now has finished treatments for an illness and that we not only have the wonders of modern medicine but the benefits of health insurance.

Our two grandchildren bring a smile to my face every time I speak to them, see them, or even just think of them. How much gratitude I feel that they are a part of our lives!

I am grateful I have a big brother who has always looked out for me. I wish we saw each other more often. But I am so happy we share thoughts, by email, phone or otherwise on a regular basis. I’m also grateful we are on the same track on so many levels. We don’t argue about politics, religion or even sports. How grateful I am that when we talk it’s like we are kids again: we always are on the same team, rooting for each other.

I am sorry we are not seeing the whole family this holiday but I am very grateful we will see most of them over the Christmas holidays.

I am very grateful for the rest of my family and many dear friends. Though I don’t always see them as often as I would like, they are there with an encouraging word and helping hand when I need them. And I am grateful when I can do the same for them.

I am grateful for music: it brings joy to my heart. I am grateful for books, amusing TV shows and entertaining movies. I’m grateful for email which brings me easy communication with far-flung family and friends. And I’m grateful for the internet which brings me a wealth of information without ever leaving home.

I could not have imagined these amazing research and communication tools when I was young. I don’t think there ever has been a time where it was easier to gain knowledge or find the answer to questions. I hope we continue to realize, expand and protect the truly astonishing possibilities of this world, not just sit entranced by cute cat videos. Though I have gratitude for them too and the amusement they provide.

There are so many things for which I am grateful I could just go on and on. You may be grateful I am not going to list them all and am starting to wind down. Just now I readily found multiple recipes for gluten-free sweet potato pie. I plan to make that pie shortly and then be very grateful when I eat it.


I hope you also have many true people and things in your life for which you are grateful. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Foreign Languages and Aging Brains

My husband and I have started taking a Spanish class. Why you might ask? Several reasons. First, and most importantly, our son and his fiancé are planning a wedding in the Dominican Republic where some of her family lives. We thought it would be nice to be able to communicate with some of the bride’s family in their native language. And a little Spanish might be helpful on the trip, ordering food and drink, and so forth.

Second, we thought learning another language could be good for our brains.  And finally, how hard can it be? Everyone says Spanish is one of the easier languages to learn and we already know a lot of Spanish words: “queso”, “vino” and “gracias”. Food, drink, and thanks—I’m thinking all we need to know is how do you say, “Check, please?”

So why is it so hard to learn the rest of the language? Regular and irregular verbs, matching the genders and number of adjectives and nouns.  And what’s with all the inanimate objects having to be masculine or feminine? Seems in English we are removing gender even from words that refer to people. Police officer instead of policeman or woman. How gauche to call a flight attendant a steward or stewardess. So why in Spanish do I have to learn whether the table and chairs are masculine or feminine? No one answers that question.

I suppose my disgruntlement with the difficulties of learning another language stems in part from the fact that I was never very good at learning another language, at least not a spoken language. I was never all that good at memorizing anything. Maybe I should just acknowledge I’m happy to be sort of fluent in English.  

Studying Spanish verbs at my age is at least as hard as when I was trying to memorize spelling words and multiplication tables back when I was in grammar school. I was so slow to memorize those things my mother in her exasperation would hit me in the head with the vocabulary and multiplication cards. It didn’t help me to remember but it did make me dislike studying.

In four years of high school Latin, I eventually learned to translate the written word. Not too surprisingly, there wasn’t much call for speaking Latin, a dead language. And to top it off, the nuns who taught us Latin, taught us to speak based on what some expert believed was Cicero’s pronunciation. Incidentally, this Ciceronian pronunciation does not correspond with Church Latin, legal Latin or any other known pronunciation. Whatever the pronunciation, I did not excel at spoken Latin. And I remember very little of it now. Thank goodness, I haven’t run into Cicero and had to try to say whatever the Latin equivalent is for “Hola”. 

In college I studied two years of German. By my second year I could read Herman Hesse in the original German without needing to translate. Not too surprising since again my language classes had focused on the written rather than the spoken word.

My verbal skills in German lagged far behind. This was despite the fact my grandparents and my father were native German speakers. Probably though, hearing German at a young age resulted in my ability to reproduce German sounds fairly easily. But other than a very few memorized words and phrases, (“Guten Tag, mein herr” for example) which sound fairly authentic, I am clueless in German. When push comes to shove, I’m quickly revealed as a Deutsche-fraud.

On a European trip when we changed planes in Munich I said a few words in German to a TSA-type official who was digging through the gestalt-like mess in my luggage. The Frau-in-Charge, unlike her French counterpart in Paris, did not politely switch to English as I mangled her language. Instead, the Frau-meister gave me a stern lecture in German about German grammar. At least that’s what I think she was doing. I didn’t really understand anything she said.


So what folly is it to think that now, as a senior citizen by most calculations, I will be successful in understanding and learning to speak Spanish? I’m tempted to engage in a slight digression as to whether I’m actually a senior citizen. But I will try to save that detour in our journey to Spanish language land for another post.

Maybe my problem in memorizing is I take too many mental side- trips down the discount aisles. So, anyway, back to learning Spanish with an old brain. We all believe what we’ve been told, that learning a second language is a good challenge to the brain as you get older. Just as we’ve been told lifting weights and running is good for an older person’s physical well being.  Unless you drop dead of a heart attack first.

And no one talks about how damn hard it is to learn new words in a language you’d never even heard until you were middle aged. Or how painful it is to walk around the track, let alone run, when you’re in your 60’s and have bursitis in your hips and arthritis in your knees. I must be in the senior citizen category and entitled to some of those discounts if the exercise, mental or physical, is that painful.

Now that I’m sort of a senior citizen, everything makes my brain hurt. I’ve long since solved the problem of not remembering spelling words and multiplication tables with Spellcheck and a calculator on my cell phone. So now I’ve also downloaded iTranslate. Who needs a smart, young brain when you have a smart phone? Too bad there isn’t a smart phone App that replaces exercise.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The David Wax Museum: A New Sound


WFPK’s (91.9) first Winter Wednesday of the season opened at the Clifton Center with two very different musical groups and sounds.

Daniel Martin Moore’s excellent voice on the mostly low-key, laid-back songs was largely drowned out by the too-heavy percussion of the first set. Like the title of Moore’s album, “How It Fades”, my eyelids and I were fast fading.  In fairness, the audience seemed to appreciate Moore and his back-up band more than I did so maybe my reaction had something to do with the sound at our second-row seats. But my expectations were particularly low for the next group about whom I knew nothing.

Then the David Wax Museum burst onto the stage and their sound knocked the sleep out of my eyes. I had gone to the concert a blank slate. I came away wowed.

They brought a variety of instruments, riotous appearances and a sound totally unexpected. Wax, with earthy vocals, played guitar and a small, guitar-shaped instrument that looked a little like a ukulele. He also channeled Jerry Lee Lewis on keyboard. On “Guesthouse”, also the name of their latest album, Wax seemed to channel Paul Simon’s vocals and rhythms.

Slezak played everything from accordion to keyboard, fiddle, bells, and a donkey jaw. She also has a fine voice. Together they and their band which included an upright base, percussion and what appeared to be a mandolin, performed a range of music with strong Hispanic roots, gospel and dance music. Will Oldham contributed one strong guest song. By the time the set was ending the audience was on its feet dancing and calling for more.

After the concert, a little research revealed that David Wax, and Sue Slezak  combined Mexican-American and American and Irish folk music to produce a mind-bending genre of Mexo-Americana music.

The apparel choices of the band demand mention. Wax wore two toned-pants—the front aqua and the back black--with a wide, off-white belt and a short sleeve shirt with epaulet-type treatments. Slezak graced black jeggings and a floral, tropical-print bustier. And guitarist Charles Rivera wore what could have passed for a mechanic’s jumpsuit in royal blue with matching headband. By comparison, the other musicians’ clothing was not memorable.

The husband-wife team of Wax and Slezak credited not only WFPK, the Clifton Center, and the band’s on-site support team, but also an aunt and uncle back at their hotel who were caring for the couple’s two-year old son. Our thanks also to all, including that aunt and uncle for making this first Winter Wednesday concert most memorable.

This morning we enjoyed hearing “Guesthouse”, the album, with breakfast. The David Wax Museum’s web site shows an extensive touring schedule. If they are playing at a venue near you do yourself a favor and see them. If not, listen to at least one of their albums. You won’t fade away.



Monday, November 9, 2015

Electronic Babysitters—Then and Now


I saw on the news and read in the New York Times the shocking news: many kids under the age of 5 are often left to be entertained by a digital device instead of spending quality time on a parent’s or caregiver’s lap.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/02/health/many-children-under-5-are-left-to-their-mobile-devices-survey-finds.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad

Experts said a small, self-reported survey added to evidence that the unsupervised use of mobile screens is deeply woven into childhood experiences by age 4.


Keeping in mind this was a very small study, experts nonetheless say they think this result not only is surprising but probably also representative of the dangers many young children are exposed to today.

The horror.  Not like us lucky children of the golden age of parenting. We, who grew up in the 1950’s with stay-at-home moms and non-stop parental nurturing, were, like the TV families of yore, the last generation raised in idyllic days when all things were better. Or at least we are led to believe.

Return with me for a moment to those thrilling days of yesteryear. My brother and I would creep from our beds in the early morning hours while our exhausted parents slept. You may think we were reading great children’s literature, imagining wonderfully creative inventions. Or building make-believe castles and rocket ships to the moon. Only the last item has some truth. We tried to build our own rocket ships. But they always crashed, sometimes burned, and on occasion, created fire hazards.

And if truth be told, which I intend to do as I lift the covers of those idyllic times, most of the early morning hours were spent in more mundane, passive, and dare I say it—unsupervised electronic diversions.

There was nothing creative or interesting about it. In those early morning hours, before the sun or our parents were up, what we actually were doing was watching the TV while waiting for programming to come on. For those of you born after 1980 I have a big revelation. Unlike today, there wasn’t 24-hour television. So we would watch the Test Pattern. On our black-and-white TV.

If you are too young to know what a Test Pattern is, you can take my word for it—the Pattern had no educational benefit, no socially redeeming value. In fact, one Pattern was a Native American head so it was not even politically correct. But the few TV stations that existed back then ran some type of Pattern before programming began. And they were even more boring if you did not have a color TV.

We would sit, huddled under a blanket, watching that Pattern until some type of program came on. Then we sat as close to the TV as we wanted. Remember our parents were still sleeping. Once a program came on, no matter how moronic--we watched, totally entranced, as we were passively entertained by the then latest technology.

You may say--but, once our parents were awake we had the benefit of “one-on-one” attention from at least one parent. No, not so much. It’s true--while our dad worked at least two jobs to support us, our mom was a stay-at-home parent. Unless dad was laid off one of those jobs. Then mom also had to find a job and dad cooked. Not a particularly good solution on either count. Dad couldn’t cook and mom had few job skills so earned very little.

We lived in the suburbs in those early years. Again that sounds pretty idyllic. But it was miles from libraries, parks, or playgrounds. Also a long distance from places where one might take music or dance lessons, play organized sports or participate in group activities.

Since we had only one car and lived several miles past the bus line we were stuck in our neighborhood unless we walked. Mom shopped by riding the bus, then taking a several-mile hike, all the while carrying groceries with two young kids in tow. Similarly she did the household chores with old-fashioned appliances. An educational project for me was placing clothes’ pins on the side of a bucket while mom washed clothes in an old-fashioned wringer-washing machine and then hung them on a line to dry.

There was very little time for parental attention even if that had been the norm. And direct parental attention was not the norm. Adults in the 1950’s and even into the 1960’s engaged in adult activities.  Children found their own activities. They were supposed to be seen and not heard. So as long as we were relatively quiet we were on our own.

Maybe it was a plus that we had much more freedom than subsequent generations. My brother enjoyed riding his bike within his one-mile boundaries of the neighborhood. I was never adventurous enough to ask what my boundaries were, especially after I badly sprained my ankle while executing a turn on gravel. Instead I spent that summer learning a new mode of transportation--hopping on one foot.

We had the occasional idyllic days constructing forts in the nearby woods. Unfortunately, since we had no readily available transportation, we hadn’t joined any scouting programs where we might have learned to recognize poison plants. Nor had we heard that jingle about “Leaves of three, let them be.” So those adventures were inevitably followed by month-long bouts where my brother and I were covered with poison ivy welts. One particularly bad case resulted in my brother’s eyes swelling shut. All in a typical 1950’s perfect summer.

Because of distance and money issues, going to the doctor’s was rare. An illness had to be life threatening (high fever and / or lots of blood were the criteria) to require medical attention.

While some things for children today may be better than they were in my recollections of growing up in the suburban baby boom era, I do not advocate the latest digital devices to babysit infants and young children. With or without scientific support I believe the attention of parents, grandparents or other committed caregivers is superior in most respects. But I also do not advocate a return to the Donna Reed method of child-rearing.  While we baby boomers were not exposed to digital screen devices, nevertheless, we did the best we could to entrance ourselves with the technology available.

No one knew at that time what the dangers were of allowing unsupervised youngsters to sit glued to a Test Pattern.  Lord knows we probably lost some IQ points. And while we had plenty of freedom to explore the unknown there were substantial dangers associated with our explorations. There probably always will be.



Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Keltricity Christmas is Coming to Town

It is with profound hesitation that I write and publish this post. We each have our favorite secrets. This is one of mine.

Keltricity is a treasure, a local musical group that regularly plays Celtic and related music, here in Louisville and other locations. 

Do you ever get that feeling of déjà vu? That’s what I have when I hear Keltricity play. There is a familiarity in the music--as if I know the sounds in my bones. Not so much in this lifetime, as I don’t trace my ancestry to Celtic roots. But then who really knows? Or perhaps, to quote another musician, Bob Dylan, “T’was in another lifetime…”

Henry Austin (guitar and vocals), Laurel Fuson (accordion), Joe Burch (mandolin) and Jannell Canerday (fiddle and vocals) blend a unique sound in their performances of  traditional Irish and Scottish music, songs from Cape Breton and French Canada, along with Cajun and newer Celtic music.  

You can hear the roots of bluegrass and country in a lot of the songs Keltricity performs, from the sweet and sad, “High on the Mountains”, the melancholy “Oh, the Dreadful Wind and Rain”, the romantic “Galway Girl”, to the lively Contra Dance tunes and Irish polkas. The last category I didn’t know existed until I found myself toe-tapping along.

Keltricity can be heard generally on at least one Friday night a month at The Bard’s Town, where you can listen, drink and enjoy better-than-average pub food. It’s great entertainment and a lovely evening. And would be a bargain at twice the $5 suggested cover or whatever contribution you feel inspired when the hat is passed between sets. 

Keltricity also plays at Contra Dances and recently performed at the Grand Ball for the Jane Austen Festival at The Galt House in Louisville. This year, as in past ones, they also were one of the bands at the Louisville Irish Festival at Bellarmine University.

As wonderful as this musical group is at any of these venues, something magical happens when they perform their very old-fashioned Christmas concert. This year it will be at the Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church across from Holiday Manor.

Here are some of Keltricity’s upcoming dates:
Cincinnati Contra Dancers, November 14
The Bard’s Town, November 20
Yule Y’All in Cincinnati, December 5, and
Yule Y’All in Louisville, December 12.

You can get more information online at http://www.keltricity.com/.

I wouldn’t have posted this blog if I minded your knowing about Keltricity and how good they are. But, please, don’t buy up all the tickets before I get mine.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Gauthier and Gilkyson: A Treat Not a Trick


There must be some meaning in which songs are still with you several days after a concert. On Halloween evening we heard Mary Gauthier (Pronounced: GO SHAY) and Eliza Gilkyson at the theater at Kentucky Country Day School.  The wonderful acoustics of the theater, the easy informality of the two singers and songwriters, as well as the comfortable surroundings gave us a feeling we were listening to two old friends singing in their living room to a group of friends.

Several days later I can still hear Gauthier’s warm voice in my head, no iPod necessary, singing “Mercy Now”. And Gilkyson’s there too, particularly singing the haunting song, “Greenfields”, written by her father, Terry Gilkyson. 

That song was made more poignant by her description of her conversation with her father about the song. She explained she had been putting together an album with music that had an environmental meaning. She told her father she thought “Greenfields” was the perfect metaphor for man’s callous relationship to Mother Earth. Her father’s response was: stop looking for hidden meaning. Instead, Terry Gilkyson said “Greenfields” was about Eliza’s mother who had been the love of his life but then left him. So much for hidden meanings.

Mary Gauthier and Eliza Gilkyson, engaging in gentle patter about songs and songwriting, and for the most part taking turns, sang lots of other memorable songs. Highlights included Gauthier on “Last of the Hobo Kings” and her particularly impeccable timing on “I Drink”.

Despite both women talking about how much easier it is to write a song about a break-up than about a happy romance, Gilkyson sang several happy songs, including “Roses at the End of the Day” and “Beauty Way”. She also performed a memorable song, “Jedediah 1777” so named for her eighth-generation ancestor, crediting a treasure trove of his letters written at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War as the basis for most of the lyrics.  

Gauthier and Gilkyson closed with “Touchstone”, asking the audience to join in as they converted Pete Seeger’s last name into a verb. On an encore, they “Seeger’ed" the audience once again into singing along on Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”

I’m still riding high from the concert. Hope you are too from whatever songs are swirling in your head.