Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Put The Bowl Out

These are the words spoken at our house whenever it starts snowing. Usually it's one of the kids who sound the alarm and rush a bowl outside. There is good reason for the urgency. The more snow they collect, the more snow ice cream they'll be able to eat.

When it started snowing last night, Lilah put our big green plastic bowl in the front yard. This morning the bowl was nearly full, so we had snow ice cream for breakfast. A little pancake syrup, milk and vanilla turns snow into a yummy frozen treat.

It started snowing again around midday, so once more Lilah put the bowl out. But this time the snow was too wet to accumulate, and all that filled the bowl were melted snowflakes.

But all the snow was making our street a slippery challenge. The Deffenbaugh trash truck got stuck going up our hill. One of the men had to go buy rock salt to put around the tires. We passed by them trying to dig out while we were walking Cheri. I asked one of the men how it was going. He thought they just about had the truck free. We walked on, and kept looking back to see the trash truck still parked, all crooked and quiet on our hill. Halfway through our walk the liberated truck finally caught up with us and gave a honk as it went on its way to pick up more garbage.

It was still lightly snowing around 3:00, when we left to go sledding on Suicide Hill, between Brookside and the Plaza. Sledding crowds are the best --people feel good being outside, gulping fresh gobs of winter air, and zooming downhill. Folks take the hill on every type of sled, they're wiping out, eating snow... and loving it. We had a blast. We even stayed after dark. But my butt is really sore. And my noggin' feels like it's been through the tumble-dryer.

I had a bit of an accident. I went down a hill that had a punishing succession of bumps. The impact of each bump felt like a terrific sledgehammer on my skull, and I yelled out, "I shouldn't be doing this!" But I was on a saucer sled, spinning like mad, and the momentum from each bump made it impossible for me to stop. Suddenly, I hit the hardest bump of all. It felt like my head would pop off, and I heard something snap. As I finally slowed to a stop, I grabbed my head and held it, waiting to see if my neck was broken or I was paralyzed. After I determined that nothing was broken and I could see straight, I carefully got up.

Lilah walked with me and started talking about some teenager on the hill, and how foolish he had been. I said, "It's not his fault. Those hills were really tough. " As we both continued to review what had happened, it came to light that it wasn't a big hill I had hit at the bottom---it was that kid. Lilah was like, "You didn't know you had run into him?" I had had no idea. It was a case of literally not knowing what had hit me. All I had known was speed, more speed, and being slammed over and over again until the grand finale of slams produced stars and the obliteration of all my senses, except my sense of pain.

I went to the kid to apologize. Fortunately he was young and tough. He was still sledding. He was tall and lanky. Lilah thought he was six feet tall. Now the fact is I had waited and waited for him to get out of my way before going down. He was having a hard time climbing up the slippery hill with his sled. Finally, I figured he could see me and would step out of my way, so I pushed off and proceeded on my torturous trip down. But Lilah said that as I descended he turned around and stood with his back to me, so he didn't see me coming. Which is why Lilah thought he was foolish. Both Lilah and Annabelle screamed at him to get out of the way, but he didn't hear, and so I plowed right into him from behind. Apparently his feet were knocked out from under him and he fell on his back.

As I was climbing back up the hill, he was at the bottom again, having sledded down, and he asked if I would help him carry up his sled. I said it was the least I could do, and he acted like getting plowed into was no big deal.

Before the hill from hell, we had been sledding another bumpy slope, that had also sent me flying, but where the pounding had been less severe. But after my head-knocking and butt-breaking ride, I was ready for the bunny slopes. So we went over to the far southern corner of Suicide Hill, where the descent was more gradual and the grade was smooth.

It grew dark and the crowd thinned considerably, but not having exhausted the possibilities of our new slope, we stayed. The sky was grey and misty, but in the distance the lights from downtown Kansas City gave off a pretty glow.

I saw a couple of tiny tots on a sled with their dad, getting ready to take off. The little girl was worried. "What if we run into a tree, " she asked. Her father said glibly, "Just jump off before." We saw them go down. Their sled followed the slant of the hill, which naturally aims the unsuspecting sledder right for the aforementioned tree. We watched as the father put his arms out to gain control, to steer away from the tree, which he barely avoided.

I stared down that same tree when I went down, putting my legs out to keep from piling into it. Those saucer sleds are notorious for spinning you around backwards, at the most crucial moments. What I learned today is that the best way to ride one of those saucers is head-first and on your belly.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Black Lab In The Snow

When we got back to KC yesterday afternoon, we had to shovel our way in. We couldn't even park our car, the driveway and curbs were buried. Luckily our neighbor wasn't home, so we swiped the bare spot in front of his house, and parked our car there long enough to shovel our driveway.

The snow was so high on our back deck, our dog could barely get out to go to the bathroom. She gamely climbed over the high snow, though, and then we shoveled a path for her. Roger also shoveled a patch for her on the ground so she wouldn't have to squat on the snow when she relieves herself, but she ignores the bare patch and chooses to squat on the snow anyway.

While we were out of town, Cheri had to stay at Tails R' Waggin. We picked her up yesterday just as other holiday travelers were arriving to pick up their dogs. It was quite a sight to see, these reunions. One little dog kept whining hysterically as its owners held it and tried to calm it. Another dog, very big and gangly, with black fur, gave a funny, mournful growl as he was released to his owners. Our dog didn't say a word. She's the quiet type. The boarding staff described her as "shy", saying she "tried to socialize" with the other dogs. She's a good 50 pounds, but they put her in with the small dogs, because bigger dogs freak her out.

When Cheri was handed over to us, she just lay on her back and let us scratch her belly, the same ritual by which she starts her day, and by which we put her to bed every night. When we got her home, she lay around on the rug a lot. Maybe she was worn out from the rigors of Tails R' Waggin, or maybe it was post-traumatic syndrome stress. But today she's back in puppy mode. She keeps asking to go outside, where she runs and jumps in the snow, even though it is six inches deep.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day After Christmas

Enjoyed tea in the morning with Aunt V. Finished off the turkey, dressing and mashed potato leftovers. Cracked some mixed nuts. Snow on the ground, but the sun is finally out. Still too cold to do anything but stay inside and eat. Will we finish the puzzle before we head back home? What I really wanted, but didn't get for Christmas, were Rock Em Sock Em Robots. You can still get them in the original packaging.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nutcracker Cast Party - A Collage

Funky little Wurl

A pre-war, three-story house in Westport. Owned by a traveling tango guru. House-sat by a musician. Members of the People's Liberation Big Band trickle in. Dump their coats behind the out-of-tune piano. An open bottle of Cabernet bathed in candlelight, waits just for me. A funky little vintage Wurlitzer sits in the corner. Someone gleefully plays 7o's tunes that were known for lots of Wurlitzer: "Mama told me not to come" by The Three Dog Night. "Getting Stronger Every day" by Chicago. Lilah and Annabelle give the Wurl a whirl. The creators of the show arrive, bearing lentils and tofu. In the kitchen: A sugar plum fairy without her pink wig and crown, traces of stage makeup on her face. A six-pack of Nutcracker Ale. A ginormous bottle of fish sauce. The chopping of garlic and promises of "thai tofu." An insanely cute 7 month old baby, held by a woman who is not the mother, who says whenever you see a mom with a baby you should offer to take it off her hands. I realize that I NEVER do this. Party guests wander around the house eating lentils from deep bowls. The guy who danced as the nutcracker stands in the livingroom, still wearing his coat, sipping a glass of red wine. Looking bookish in his plastic-frame glasses. My mouth is full of cheese and crackers as I am introduced to him.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nutcracker Sweet

Today is the final performance of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, by the Owen/Cox Dance Group and company.

The Friday and Saturday shows were sell-outs. Fortunately, I had my tickets ahead of time, and we got there way early so Annabelle and I had seats on the front row both nights. We were just a few yards from the stage. The dancers seemed close enough to touch at times.

Because the show was sold out, the start of the show was delayed as theater staff searched for empty seats and brought in extra chairs, trying to squeeze people in.

We knew the show was finally about to start when the band filed in behind the stage and took their places. The People's Liberation Big Band features not only the expected brass and woodwinds, piano, bass and drums, but a toy piano, bongos, and a set of chimes from Bali known as a jublag. Brad Cox plays keyboard on some numbers, while Roger plays piano.

It is such a thrill when the theater goes dark and you know the show is about to begin. In that darkness stepped a figure--Brad Cox---lit by a spotlight, wearing an enormous, white, crazy-haired wig and a bizarre cape constructed of yellow and black balls. He banged on a cowbell and then stepped up to the band where he began directing them madly, as they exploded into a free jazz frenzy.

After a few minutes of this, they settled down and as they began playing something closer to Tchaikovsky, the first set of dancers came out.

The last number in the first act is Waltz of the Snowflakes. As the band launches into the music, I see the Narrator lowering his microphone, and I know he is putting it down to Lilah's height, which means she is about to come onstage.

During the Waltz of the Snowflakes, an abundance of dancers fill the stage, wearing shiny, tinsely metal sleeves, and moving so rapidly that they are as blinding and dizzying as a flurry of snow. There is a moment when they are as thick as a blizzard, and then they separate and leave more space between them, and it is then that Lilah suddenly appears from backstage in her shiny metal dress, and steps up the microphone. If that isn't a goose-bumpy, veclempting moment for a mother I don't know what is.

She sounded wonderful. She might have held back a little on the previous night, but last night her first night jitters were behind her and she sang confidently and beautifully, her delicate voice a charming backdrop to the dancer's graceful movements. I beamed with pride.

One of my favorite parts of the show, aside from Lilah's bit of course, is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the second act, danced by Jennifer Owen, who is also the dance director and choreographer. She evokes kind of a dancehall/saloon/vaudeville trampiness and the music is weird and off-kilter, sounding both boozy and dusty, as if the strains of some old player piano are being channelled. Roger said that Brad got that effect by playing the keyboard through an effects processor, which distorts the notes, while someone else played the toy piano.

After the show, we got to go backstage. I caught a glimpse of one of the male dancers, in only his black tights. The green room is really green. On the first night, I was amused to see three portable sewing machines sitting on the floor. The two costume designers were there, saying you never know when you have to make sudden repairs, and that Peggy had indeed been sewing during the show.

Peggy Noland and Peregrine Honig---the two designers ---I am in love with these women. The costumes they created were brilliant and original. Peregrine is an artist who has exhibited her artwork around the country. Peggy is a self-taught designer, who sells her own line of avante-garde clothing in a boutique in the Crossroads art district. Both women were both dressed in the most unique and creative ways. Peggy, who had designed most of the costumes, was wearing an outfit covered with polka dots.

It turns out that the silver dress Lilah wears for the show actually belongs to Peregrine. Peggy made it for her, along with the bunny ears hat, and Peregrine wears it, hat and all. Peregrine was laughing that when she wears the dress, it is quite a bit shorter on her, and looks a bit more improper than it does on Lilah. But it fits Lilah perfectly, though she opted not to wear the bunny/space alien hat. It was a struggle just getting her to let me photograph her in it.

Peregrine was in the green room the night of the first show as I was trying to coax Lilah into a picture. She agreed with me that Lilah would regret not having a record of it. For alas, we must give the silver dress and bunny hat back after the show. But Peregrine, who is a very nice person and was lovely to Lilah, said that Lilah could borrow it sometime if she wanted.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tips For Winter

It's bitterly cold, and the ground is white and frozen. Time for some helpful Winter Tips.

Seinfeldian Tip : Heat a towel in your dryer and wear that around your neck instead of a scarf. Someone was actually doing this yesterday, and he pointed it out to me, rather proudly.

Tip for Robbers: When there is snow on the ground, dispense with the malevolent black you usually wear (as seen on TV shows) and wear all-white coats instead, like Lilah's long puffer coat. That way you'll blend in with your surroundings more easily. Lilah contributed this handy winter tip.

Tips for Consuming Chocolate: When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, chocolate calories begin to diminish, at the rate of five calories per degree. Below 20 degrees, this rate of decline accelerates, at a whopping 10 calories per degree. So a 150 calorie chocolate bar consumed at 30 degrees would be only 140 calories. Eat it at 19 degrees, and you save 70 calories!! If you hold out until the mercury drops to 11 degrees, you consume NO calories. The colder it gets, the sweeter the deal. When the temperature drops below ten, you can eat as much chocolate as you want. And if the temperature plunges to zero, it is imperative that you eat chocolate to safeguard your health and stave off illness.

Winterizing Tip For Petites: Buy an outdoorsy jacket at the big and tall men's shop. You can wear two or three coats underneath it, no fooling. You can wear your favorite couch throw, and no one will know. They'll shiver and chatter, as you say, "What's the matter?"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Last night I walked into the rehearsal for the Owen/Cox Nutcracker show and saw dancers in bright costumes, bending and leaping about the stage. It was an unexpected explosion of physical and creative energy amid the hushed mood of a cold, winter's night.

Annabelle and I had just driven across town through the snow to get to Union Station, where the rehearsal was. The streets were slippery and traffic moved slowly. We had entered the mammoth building from the back end, which seemed ghostly and deserted. The glass door to the City Stage theater was propped open with a door-stop. We let ourselves in and wound our way through the foyer. I could hear the music to Dance of the Snowflakes, which was the part Lilah sang. It had taken so long for us to get there that I was sure Lilah would be waiting impatiently for us to pick her up. But instead she was still at the mike, singing as we entered the auditorium.

And then I saw the dancers.

Jennifer Owen was yelling out corrections. They were too close together, they needed to create more space. One dancer was letting his arms hang down while he was running. He was urged to maintain proper form. Dancers fascinate me, and usually appear so weightless, that to catch them in the act of cleaning up their moves was more interesting than any performance.

I’m hoping to watch them again tonight. There are two more rehearsals, and I'll be picking Lilah up early both times, since she is only in the first act and doesn’t need to stay for the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Wine Advisory

They've been saying it could storm today. So last night I went out and bought a bottle of wine. The only sensible thing to do.

Here is today’s forecast, exactly as it appeared in the Kansas City Star:

"Snow, rain, sleet, then snow and blowing snow tonight."

I think I better get more supplies, like ingredients for chili and dumpling soup. Am I running low on tea? Will our half-gallon of milk be enough to get us through? The threat of bad weather gets the mind racing.

What if we're stranded? Will we be stranded without chocolate? We have a box of brownie mix in the cupboard, and a container of Nestle's hot chocolate, so I guess we'll be okay.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Beautiful Mind

This is cosmic. Give yourself a break from all the holiday madness and take a quiet ride through outer space. The music transports you, and the images provide the scenery.

I am awestruck by the images at the Hubble telescope website. Don't miss out on them. The nebulae are my favorite. It is incredible what is out there, unseen by human eyes. Meanwhile, we wage war and destroy each other, as if we were central to the universe.

The song "Beautiful Mind" was recorded by the Verve in 1993, on their CD "A Storm in Heaven". The shimmering layers of guitar create a hypnotic soundscape.

Friday, December 4, 2009

All I Want For Christmas

Is time to read.

I want to read this book, Sanderson's Lunch. It's about this diner in Kansas City, that no longer exists. I found out about the book from a friend, who wrote about the diner on her blog.

It would be a good companion to On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, which I still HAVE NOT FINISHED! I started On the Road and Dharma Bums, also by Kerouac, in August, when my family was in Vermont. I had every expectation I'd finish both books in a matter of weeks. And then school started. And my classes started. And my reading time was shot to hell. All I've been able to manage is a few New Yorker articles here and there while grabbing a bite to eat. I still hung on to my copy of On the Road and renewed it as many times as the library would let me. And then I let it get overdue. I finally gave up and returned it shortly before Thanksgiving. Too many articles to read for class, too many papers to write.

But finally, this semester is lifting its chokehold on me and winding down. I turned in my last big assignment, a 14 page (double-spaced) research paper last night, a few minutes after midnight. I wrote about designing online tutorials to teach users how to use library resources. Did you know that "users" is oft-used in the library science lingo to refer to patrons? I guess the term user is big in computer lingo too---end-user, user-friendly... but it cracks me up how we're always talking about how to reach the "users."

I'm still not off the hook, school-wise. I have a take-home final with essays the week of the 14th, dang it, which really drags things out, and some pesky discussions I have to contribute to for participation points. But the worst is behind me, and I'm hoping that soon I'll be able to check out On the Road and Dharma bums and get both of them read over the Christmas break.

Next semester is my last semester. And then I will be done. I can't say that enough times.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Shocker

I nearly crapped my pants when I heard that Bob Dylan has put out a Christmas album. Bob Dylan. Christmas album. Traditional holiday favorites, sung by Bob Dylan.

And then there is the packaging. I can't tell whether that's an album cover or a Currier & Ives collector's plate. But Dylan leaves no doubt that this is a straight up Christmas outing. I haven't been this astonished since I saw David Bowie singing duets with Bing. And man, that was a jaw-dropper.

It's weird to see Dylan venturing into Perry Como territory. Will he now join the holiday line-up played endlessly on Star 102 and 98.1, two local radio stations that broadcast Christmas music through the entire month of November and December? My kids entreat me to switch back and forth between the two stations when we're riding in the car. They get filled with the Christmas spirit EARLY, God bless 'em, and want to be surrounded by jingling bells and trumpets, on the way to the store, on the way to school. When both stations are playing nothing but commercials, I merrily and triumphantly switch over to the alternative rock station for a breath of fresh air that isn't frosty or chestnutty.

But I would gladly sit through Mannheim Steamroller and George Michael if it meant I could eventually hear Dylan croaking out, "Do you hear what I hear?" over the air. And how fun it would be to point out to my kids, who are mystified by my love of Bob Dylan, that they have yet another opportunity to hear him, in their beloved genre no less.

When I learned that Dylan is donating 100% of the proceeds from this CD to charities that help the homeless and the hungry, the album made sense to me. Sales of the CD in the United States will go to Feeding America. So I will buy this album! And I will revel in hearing "Here comes Santa Claus" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" sung in Dylan's inimitable style.

I am picturing a candlelit scene on Christmas Eve. "Let's hear some Christmas music!" I say, waving the Currier and Ives cover. I pop in the CD , and soon the dulcet tones of Dylan are ringing through the house. Memories my girls will cherish for years to come.

Update: I just checked out Bob Dylan's web site. All the web pages show the young Dylan. Maybe like me, he can't believe he's getting old. Anyway, you can view his music video of "Must be Santa" on the site. The reason to watch: Dylan in a long-hair wig and a Santa hat. Halfway through, the wig is like, blonde. I'm serious. The disappointment: The background singers are drowning out Dylan's voice. I hope the whole CD isn't that way!

Oh, and if this don't beat all: You can now follow Bob Dylan on Twitter. "If you are so inclined."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

One December Night In The Puppet Studio


There I was, in this fabulous puppet studio last night. The puppet-handlers in these photos weren't there. Just puppets like these. When I entered the studio, it was like stepping into a trippy dream. Puppets hung from the walls, from the ceiling, and the loopy, romping music of the People's Liberation Big Band was blasting freely. The Paul Mesner puppet studio is their rehearsal space. I had arrived to pick up Lilah, who was there to practice the small singing part she has in the PLBB's unconventional, whacked out version of the Nutcracker.

I got to see Brad Cox leading the band, and putting it all together. His musical directions are always pushing for more imagination and color : "That sounded too together. We need someone to play in the wrong place"....... "Here the sound should be full --not ugly, but full, big"...... "The snow needs to sound more sinister." He uses a toy piano in one section, which perfectly nails that tinkly feeling of being a kid at Christmas. Roger will be playing the real piano.

The upcoming performance, which will be Lilah's third time out doing the Nutcracker with the PLBB, is a bigger production than ever, bringing together the big band with the Owen/Cox Dance Group, led by Brad Cox's wife, and students from the Paseo Academy of the Performing Arts.