Sampson napping on his favorite rug

Sampson napping on  his favorite rug
happy, happy, happy

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Card Of The Mind --

Yesterday, for a little while, I took the nostalgia trip down the lane of Christmas Past. When I was very young, my paternal grandmother played a prominent role in things festive. She was a wonderful pal and playmate and really enjoyed talking and drawing and glueing and cutting out paper shapes at the kitchen table. She had a nice smile that made her eyes twinkle. Her eyes were kind of almond-shaped (like mine are). Living in Connecticut, we usually had snow for the holidays; in fact, we often had a lot of snow ... and in Connecticut, it can hang around into mid-April, in layers of old, crusty re-frozen, and new snow. Anyway, my mother had a great sense of humor when it came to what Santa would put in the "stockings hung by the (pretend) chimney (we didn’t have a fireplace) with care". Every Christmas, there would be an apple, an orange, a "book" of Lifesaver candies, and a tube of toothpaste, among other little trinkets! Sometimes on Christmas Eve, my father would walk around the outside of the house, jingling bells, especially as he passed my bedroom window. He did it mostly to have fun, though it was under the guise of cautioning me that Santa was approaching and all should be quiet in the house. So I would always comment, the next day, that I’d heard Santa, and I know my father was delighted. My mother would cook a big dinner on Christmas. Actually, I remember thinking of the season that ran from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Day as "The Big Three" in terms of her dinners. We always stayed home for these holidays and our house was like a train station – with friends and relatives trudging up the hill by foot or, occasionally, driving up the hill if there wasn’t fresh snow or ice on it. It was a different time then, unhurried, and not very commercial in those days preceding malls and discount stores. Memories of Christmas Past bring a mix of feelings, especially as we recall the people, things, ways, that have exited – and smile at those that now grace ... our lives. It all makes a colorful, picturesque, and mindful holiday card.



The Leaf-Blower's Concert --

Don’t you just love the sound of a leaf-blower during dinner? The man across the street has, what I’ve long-ago decided, a fetish for his leaf-blower. Blowing his real and imaginary leaves is something he does recreationally in all seasons, as well as when the trees actually are shedding. Yesterday, our holiday dinner was accompanied by the loud, monotonous drone (non-lilting strains) of the leaf machine. Well, his yard is always tidy, so I look on that bright side...and turn on a music CD.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Greetings~~

As you may know (if you've been following my blog), this has been an especially different kind of year for me and has provided me with new and major opportunities for growth, introspection, enlightened perspective, and even humor!

Escaping the church shootings with traumatic, yet minor injuries (compared to the severe injuries and deaths of other people), I've realized more than ever, during the months since that day in July, that the cadence of time keeps rolling along and we need to make the most of every minute of every hour of every day of our lives. Each moment is special and precious, even those moments that seem, on the surface, to be quite ordinary.

I wish you a joyous, merry, awesome holiday season and a new year of peace, health, love and light ...

Celebrate life!




Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just Thinking ...

At this time of the year, regardless of one’s religious or spiritual persuasion, it’s a tough time for people who have experienced or are going through the throes of loss – whether loss of a loved one through death or other separation, loss of a job, or in these troubled economic times – loss of their home or their retirement funds. It’s also a hard time to be dealing with illness. I’ve heard from two very dear people recently that they’ve been sick with shingles, that grown-up off-shoot of chickenpox. Another friend just lost his job. Job loss means not only lost income, but also a lost part of one’s identity; I remember that well, when I had that experience five years ago. Changing horses, career paths, and philosophies can follow on the heels of a lost job; happily, my friend has plans for training in a new and wonderful career! However we approach the festivities of the holiday season, there will be, for most of us, that thread of seriousness as we look back, look forward, and touch base with our values. Our values – maybe that’s what it’s really all about.

Just Wondering ...

Remember when (long ago and far away), during December, kids would say "Jingle Bells, Santa smells, Easter’s on the way"? Can anyone tell me: Do they still do that?

OK ...

A while ago I asked Jerry if there was anything he’d like me to write about in my blog. I added, "it can be silly, it can be serious, it can be outrageous". That last one was meant to be a joke but he honed in on it and said, "Yup"! He tends to be more conservative than I am. I gingerly use the word "conservative" because I’ve grown allergic to it, though I’m not using the word here in a political or religious sense. I don’t know (and I've often wondered) if he considers me to be fool-hardy or very brave. There is, after all, a thin, fuzzy line between those attributes!

The Cars Go By, Splish-Splash –

Well, this a perfect day for the Rainy Day Blues in east Tennessee. My backyard has become Lake Landau, with little islands of grass sticking up, here and there. My dog looks at me quizzically when I call her to go outside. "Why don’t you turn this stuff off"? I can read her thoughts. I gaze across the street at the huge oak trees on the hillside and hope that their roots have a very firm grip, deep into the earth (which is becoming very soggy).

As the song suggests, I did have my "cup of tea", though, and "sit by the window and let my thoughts drift quietly", for a little while -- but not long enough. There is something that feels very romantic and dreamy about a gray, rainy day ... it’s always been that way for me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

No Justification For This Craziness –

The entire concept of stores promoting early morning opening "door-busters" to "shoppers" who wait for hours in parking lots and then stampede like a herd of panicked cattle on the day after Thanksgiving, has been repugnant to me for years. It points to the epitome of crassness that people can exhibit in the name of holiday shopping. That an innocent maintenance worker from a temporary agency could be trampled and killed by people smashing in the Wal-Mart door, is unconscionable and disgusting. Apparently, it will take far more than a failing economy to halt these crazed shoppers and the stores that feed their frenzy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Curtain Call --

A recent evening spent at Songwriters Recording Studio with William (Sandy) Garrett in Knoxville, reminded me not only of how talented this studio owner-engineer-musician-artist is, but also how fortunate I am to have him as a friend.

Probably everyone who knows me or has been reading my blog for a period of time, is aware that my life, path, and health took some unanticipated turns with the events of this past summer. And, just for the record, I’m doing everything I can to regain/attain balance in all those life departments. One of the constants in my life – music – greatly helped carry me through those difficult weeks; I wrote a spiritual-styled blues called "Give Me A Warm Shoulder To Lean On" two days after the shootings and a rhythmic, uplifting latinesque song called "I Feel Like Singing Again", during September. Surprising me completely, a ballad called "Make (Time For) Love" drifted into my mind early this month. This newest is a techy song with intriguing and challenging modulations, patterns, and passages; in fact, learning and memorizing the arrangement took some real effort, though it was a labor of love.

So, at Songwriters, I recorded the three tunes named above, along with a song I’d composed during early July, called "Rainy Day Blues". RDB is an 8-bar blues that speaks to the supreme joy I (and, I’m sure, others) felt here in East Tennessee when rain would appear on the drought-scorched summer horizon. Though out of season right now, the song deserves to be heard and will be on hand for summer of 2009!

Anyway, when I went to the studio this time, I really felt more than a bit unsteady, as I’d not done any singing and playing anywhere except in my home studio, since the shootings; also, except for my students, none of my non-church friends had even seen me in the interim (though we’d talked on the phone and via e-mail). But all went well and I’m really proud of the project, which turned out beautifully.

In all, I did five songs, including a public domain tune I love called "Rose Room" (written by two gentlemen in 1917). I decided to put the songs on a CD and call it "Curtain Call", since that phrase loosely translates to mean the bow at the end of a performance, which acknowledges audience applause and brings that delicious moment of connection. The Curtain Call concept flew into my head when I got home from the studio that evening. By nature, the term suggests brevity (only five songs are on the CD but they are extraordinary) with a savored and fleeting quality. Curtain Call will be available soon by contacting me directly (I won’t be putting it in stores). Similarly, my earlier CD "Is She Calling You?" can also be burned-to-order; I have a limited quantity of my earlier CDs, "Wild Lady" and "Solo Flight". Please call or e-mail me at (865) 522-0204, claralandau@comcast.net, if you would like to own any of these.

Nature's Lid --

That’s what the descent from Autumn into Winter seems to be, to me. I often think in terms of analogy and images. Imagine now (this will sound kind of wild) that we inhabitants of this hemisphere are in some sort of a vessel or dish on which the lidded top has been moved aside for many months; now, some giant hand is sliding the lid back over us, allowing light to only enter in sidewards, at an angle. We can call it S.A.D. We can call it "closed lid syndrome"! But it is here, folks, cold and sort of claustrophobic. From a lyrical perspective, it’s cozy and kind of nice to find creature comfort in the warmth (be it ever so expensive) of our homes. Venturing outdoors on a cold, blustery day can be stimulating or unpleasant, but Nature is always there for us to observe and appreciate. Each day, as the hands of the clock turn, we are reminded of how persistently and stealthily the lid closes over our horizon, finally covering us in the cloak of winter’s night. Just as mysteriously and wonderfully, the lid will begin to be lifted ... the giant hand will titillate us with widening angles of light at just around the date when we are feeling desperate for it to do so. The cadence of time moves along.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Thrilling And Inspiring Event!

"It truly was remarkable to me, more than anything else, to watch the world celebrating with us and welcoming us back into the global community's embrace. It was like 'ding dong, the witch is dead' all over again. I never felt so good about my vote as I did this time. I knew I'd really participated in a very historically significant event." Those are the words of my friend, Sanman, a person I consider to be most wise.

Election night numbers felt like a miracle unfolding – at long-last, the eight-year pall was lifting and hope was becoming a reality; and then came that wonderful, defining moment when Obama was declared the president-elect! What an inspiring way to, at last, unite all Americans ... with pride and honor! It feels good.

There is an incredibly huge cauldron full of Bushist wrong-doing that now needs to be tackled, dumped out, fixed, renovated, reversed, cleansed, healed. The reeling and sinking economy, the chasm between the rich and the poor, the fractured health care "system", the ill-conceived war, the pulverized environment, the jobs that need to be brought back to the U.S.; all these are in the emergency zone, crying out for help. Obama has the intelligence, courage, leadership, and ethics to meet the challenge. It is monumental in size and scope. He deserves and needs the full support of each and all of us. Think about it. I am thinking about it. I’m very thankful our country now has a chance to save itself. Thanksgiving has, for me, renewed significance this year!



Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why the U.S. Needs Obama as President --

I encourage you to vote and to vote early, avoid the election-day lines. I voted for Obama. I voted for Obama because I feel that those of us who didn’t put Bush into office deserve an intelligent and caring president who will try his utmost to give us a chance for economic, ethical, environmental, and health-care respite, restoration, and renewal. We need him to help us rise out of the quagmire (actually a hellish cesspool) that the present administration has sunk us into; eight years of horrible damage in every category. Actually, at this point, probably almost everybody in our country deserves a respite, restoration, and renewal. I say "almost" because I still see vehicles with the "W" bumper stickers on them. These next eleven days will probably see a lot of dirt flying out of the McCain camp, more phony stunts like Joe the plumber. It is sad that a significant number of our citizens seem to fall in line behind such gimmicks to manipulate the rank and file. It would be nice (and healthy) if each of us, as Americans, could and would raise his/her self-image as a person (and realize our individual and collective potential to be part of the process of making things better). If enough of us do that, together we really can have the vision of a better country and a better world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

About My Music ...

On and off, over the past year or so, I’ve wondered (and I’ve done a bit of posting about this) whether, regarding some personal circumstances, I’d continue public music performances. At the same time, I’d added an awesome, new original ("Rainy Day Blues") and several cover songs to my list, so I was really at odds with myself. I was thrashing this out during the weeks immediately preceding the July 27 shooting attack. For a while after that event, my head and ear pain was not conducive to playing piano or singing.Little by little, and beginning with the creation of new song "Give Me A Warm Shoulder To Lean On", I began working with my music again, cherishing every moment of it. Soon my newest song, "I Feel Like Singing Again", came into being. I realize that my "work" isn’t over. I'm defining my work as teaching, performing, and carrying forth the concept of musical healing. A good amount of thought and deliberation and struggle brought me to a place in my heart and mind where I've made a decision -- the decision that I will do venue and event performances only in response to invitations to do so (will not be soliciting dates). I'm thinking now, with a smile, of something I often said in years past when promoting my humane education program: "Invite us, we'll come"! And ... my cozy home studio's musical welcome mat is forever extended to one and all, where I will always enjoy playing and singing jazz, blues, latinesque, torch, and light classical for fans and friends.



Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cellular Level (not about phones) –

One of the three excellent post-trauma one-on-one counselors who met with me in recent weeks, raised the question of belief systems, God, and spirituality. We had an awesome conversation about our mutual feeling (more like "a knowing"), of being connected with other people, animals, and plants at a cellular level – that is, truly being bonded with, interconnected with them – in a very real, spiritual way. I enjoyed speaking with someone who so obviously understood my description of what I call the Universal Spirit or Energy. It is my awareness of that cellular level connection that fuels my immense affection for animals and plants and my caring about other people.

I used to tell the kids in my humane education classes and audiences, that all people and creatures in our world are The Earth Family. Most of the children seemed to really relate to that phrase and its meaning. My hope is that some of them (now teens and young adults) will hold it in their minds and hearts as they become adults and take leadership roles in our world.

Over the ten years that I did those speaking engagements, I did get an angry telephone call from a child's father who accused me of "preaching a new religion" and demanding "I want you to stop it"! But I didn't.

Just as one cell of an individual body knows and is affected by what is happening to another cell we each are part of an intricately-woven tapestry ... at a cellular level.

Musical Treasure –

This man’s music career was blossoming and thriving before I was even born!

His quartet (he on clarinet, Teddy Wilson on piano, Lionel Hampton on vibraphone, and Gene Krupa on drums) was the first racially-integrated U.S. band – and this was in the early and mid 1930s! His "big bands" were great, but his quartet was phenomenal.

As a lead-in for this post, I’ll begin with this little digression that may not, at first, seem relevant to my opening paragraph. But it lends light to what I say a little farther along in the post. It is this: An internet search of my name produces all kinds of web references, many of which are sites that have pirated my music (I’m sort of beyond caring that they did that), some that have nice U.S. reviews, some others that have great foreign reviews, one that has a weirdly-done "bio" that has just enough true facts to be eerily fascinating to me, and one that has a critic’s review, comparing me and my music to "the Benny Goodman era". That last one is clearly worded so that the reader knows the reviewer is expressing his utter disdain (and his coolness). When that review first appeared, about five or six years ago, my feelings were a bit hurt. Of course, I’d heard of Benny Goodman – part of his life had taken place during part of my life and I’d probably accidentally heard some of his music when I was a young child, but not with "listening ears". When I read the disdaining critic’s review, I figured BG music must be uninviting, or at least, uncool.


This summer, I became intrigued by a song title I found on a public domain website; the title is "When Buddha Smiles". Those of you who are well-acquainted with me know that I love the teachings of the Buddha and I greatly admire his ability to keep smiling. So I started searching for sheet music and a CD of the out-of-date song, recorded by the BG orchestra. Strangely, I rather easily found the sheet music (a fully orchestrated booklet that includes parts for many, many instruments, even drums) on the Internet at a place called Book Nook. I wanted the song in any format, so I could learn it. I did find the CD at Disk Exchange South in Knoxville, after a disappointing, unfulfilled order I’d placed with an online "oldies" CD marketplace that had claimed to have it.

I listened to the song, then to the rest of the CD. Wham! I was swiftly transported to a place that truly was thrilling, blissful, and refreshingly "new".

A subsequent visit to a local used books and CDs store found me, of course, in the CD section, where I picked up a Robert Cray blues album and then came across a small group of BG CDs in the jazz section. There was a vibe that seemed to be emanating from these plastic-clad disks. I bought several of them.

These Benny Goodman recordings have amazing musical tech, inspiration, endurance and are so healing and happy. I love them. Listening to them, I almost dance on my treadmill! The music is mesmerizing. And exciting. And cool! Very.

Out Of The Mouths Of ..... Comedians –

Always pushing the satirical envelope in ways that make us laugh – sometimes uproariously – at unfunny politics, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert lately have been outdoing themselves. They are having a veritable feast on our country’s current political and economic fumbles, foibles, fakes, and fools. One recent scene that my mind still sees and hears is the Colbert Report’s observation that by "wearing these (a look-alike for the old cardboard-framed 3-D) eyeglasses, McCain almost seems to come to life". Well, it was hilarious the way Colbert delivered the line. Seeing and hearing the clip where Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says (regarding the economic crisis) that Americans "got put on the hook by the system we have, the system we all let happen, the system that Congress, the administration, future administrations let exist" pushed hilarity and outrageousness together as book-ends.

Truly, the arts (and comedy is certainly an art) can effectively convey the truth that other methods of communication can only struggle with. These guys and their writers are comedic and political geniuses.


The Wilmington (NC) Connection –

Stay tuned – I will say more about it in the coming months!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rainy Day Blues --

Drought-parched East Tennessee got three days of nice rain about two weeks ago. It reminded me of a week during early July when we’d had a day or so of rain and I’d written (the Comfort Of) Rainy Day Blues. Blues, of course, is the music that gives expression to a soulful state of being. I find blues music very comforting, reassuring, and empathetic, especially at a primal emotional level – that place where my innermost feelings reside.

I’ve got a Native American rain stick that, in times past, I’ve used to "call" the rain. Wouldn’t it be nice if the weather would "even out"; you know, re-distribute itself so there wouldn’t be floods or droughts? The concept is grinning mischievously at us at the moment; all those coastal storms and not a drop of rain here in these parts of East Tennessee. Well, in a Utopian world, it will all straighten out. I’ll borrow some lines from my song where it says "... I’ll sit here by the window, Let my thoughts drift quietly, With the Rainy Day Blues".



Earth, Sky & Everything In-between --

-- (namely, the Ocean). I’m forgoing the September beach trip this year, as I used the money for my February asthma month-long episode. For breathing. Damn -- it seemed so important at the time! Everything is a trade-off. Coming to that realization is helpful.

Blue and green and brown – the colors of nature. I rarely wear blue; I like it well enough, but I don’t usually wear it near my face, because my eyes are green. I know the two colors work beautifully in Nature, so why not on and around the human face? I should try it.

The Drama Of Life --

Two years ago, I completed a book of my musings and memoirs. The need to write an addendum has become obvious to me; I’ll work on that soon. Meanwhile ... I’ll dust the clouds, wink at the moon, and shake out the sequins! And what will that produce? I'm eager to discover the result!


Lance, The Allure Of ...

I’ve written a number of posts that feature or mention my truck, Lance. I’ve just posted his picture. Lance (named for the car dealership where I found him ... the only Chevy among many Fords), has been with me since 1996. Six or seven years ago, the E.D. of the non-profit organization for which I’d created an education and outreach program, remarked to me that I have a very sexy truck. She was describing all the ways that she considered me to be lucky – my music, my free spirit, one or two physical attributes, and my truck! Up until that moment, I hadn’t realized my truck had this quality. I was probably too close to the woods to see the tree, as the saying goes. A sexy truck! Anyway, feast your eyes on my pal, Lance.



Help Our Animal Friends --

They need us and our best efforts, folks. Locally, please support your animal shelter’s volunteer, spay-neuter, and pet adoption programs. These dogs and cats want loving homes, not euthanasia. Spay-neuter is the only humane way to reduce pet overpopulation and make unnecessary the sad and gut-wrenching job of putting these healthy companion animals to sleep.

And to help horses who have been abused and neglected, please support the rescue, volunteer, and adoption efforts of Horse Haven of Tennessee. Visit the HHT website at
www.horsehaven.net. You will love it!

And go to the "daily click" website that provides free food for shelter animals at
www.theanimalrescuesite.com.

Bad Politics --

With nothing of merit to contribute and with no class, Palin is the perfect complement to McCain’s phony, pasty-faced visage. A few days ago, someone remarked to me that Palin reminds her "of a bottom-feeder". Do the Republicans think that American women who supported Clinton could possibly be bamboozled, as a bloc vote, into supporting Palin?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Road Back --

"It’s a strange and rocky trail" is the way a lyric line goes, in the song I wrote during the week following the July 27th shotgun assault on TVUUC. I think I wrote it a day or two after the writing of my July 29th blog post. The song’s title is "Give Me A Warm Shoulder To Lean On". It will be on my playlist at my next gig. The song came from that place where my innermost feelings reside.

All in all, the aftermath of the tragic events of that Sunday truly is a roller-coaster. In the beginning I cried a lot; sometimes nothing at all would trigger the tears. Rather, they seemed like a safety valve letting loose. Some days I could convince myself that things felt normal again, but not for long; the scene would re-play itself in my mind and the reality of it sank in.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing a disturbing struggle with my (normally very keen) ability to focus. Often now, my thoughts seem to be on a conveyor belt, moving very fast. I find myself trying to grab my thoughts off that belt as they whiz by.

I’m reminded now of an old episode of the "I Love Lucy" television show, where Lucy had gotten herself a job on a production line in a candy factory. Does anyone beside me remember her standing there trying to pick up each piece of candy as it rode along on the conveyer? At first it was easy for her, but then the belt picked up increasing amounts of speed and she couldn’t keep up with it, and all the pieces of candy escaped whatever process she was supposed to be doing to them. I’ve been seeing that comical image in my mind over the past week or so.

Thankfully, trauma counselors have been and will again be at church. It’s helpful to be able to talk about the many turns and guide posts on this "road back".

Animals & Nature -- Natural Healers

Anyone who knows me and/or has read my blog over a period of time, knows I greatly love nature and animals and have the utmost feeling of spiritual connection with them. Many of my songs were written, or at least begun, while walking in the park or hiking on a trail.

On Thursday of this week, I went for my second visit to Horse Haven of Tennessee, this time as a volunteer. My initial scant knowledge about horses has been growing. Thanks in part to my internet searches about horse care and behavior, though much more directly to the volunteers at HHT (please see my July post about this wonderful rescue organization), I now don’t feel like such a rookie and I am gathering considerable practical horse skills. On Thursday, I was able to pet a beautiful but frightened horse, who is on her own road back ... from abuse, fear, and pain. The first couple of times I gently touched her, I could see and feel her shoulder muscle flinching. I followed the suggestions of volunteer Sue and, within minutes, this magnificent horse relaxed and enjoyed my gently stroking her shoulder. It was a rewarding, centering, and joyful moment for me.

Along with that experience, I just happen to have two pet-sitting gigs at the moment ... two dogs (Annie and Dusty) and one cat (Scout). Each of these animals is a delight in her/his own way.





Thank You ...

My very sincere thanks and loving appreciation to those of you who expressed your love and caring over the past few weeks. I appreciate you way more than my words can convey.

Flowers Of Late Summer --

It’s hard to believe that kids are back in school and summer is winding down. My black-eyed susans still seem at their peak; my purple iron weeds (scroll down and see picture of last year’s blooms) are again peeking in at me through the front and side windows; the phlox, echinacea, and orange lanterns are gem-like in their brilliance and clarity. A light sprinkling of early-fallen tree leaves dot the grass in my back yard. I guess I’m a flower of late summer. My birthday is September 1st.

Update On Contaminated Gasoline Experience --

Please see my July post about contaminated gasoline and my truck’s repair. I’m pleased to report that I have received financial reimbursement for Lance’s three-day repair process and a tank of new, clean gasoline, following his ingesting some very badly contaminated fuel. Nothing is included in the reimbursement for Lance’s near-death experience or my three days of anguish, but my truck is his old self again and I’ve got my $600 back. I’m satisfied.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Notes & Mind-Talk; July 27 Tragedy --

The following relates my personal experience on the morning of July 27, 2008, with every facet I saw, heard, thought, and felt (written in the days following the shooting):

"Annie Jr., the Summer Musical Theatre Workshop Production! A musical ... good ... that will re-energize me" and I feel a sense of excitement. I’ve been going through some personal reinvention recently and, you know how sometimes when you have a time of introspection, the process can seem to bog down; also I’d just handled a major mishap when my truck got contaminated gas and needed a huge repair. I usually turn to my own music as my comfort and meditation. I’m thinking: "I need a musical infusion. This will be good for me – this will be good! We have a lot of talent in our church family." I haven’t been to church in three weeks and today it is time.

It is July 27th and I am going to church today. I am wearing, for the first time, the new, green baby-doll style top my daughter gave me a week ago and a pair of carefully coordinated capri pants. I enter through the right side of the sanctuary (there are entry doors on both sides) as I have done every time I’ve ever attended TVUUC. I’m sitting on the very end seat of the first pew (as I always do); this seat gives me an easy exit if I feel claustrophobic or drink an extra cup of tea that morning and need to use the restroom; it guarantees me a hasty retreat, if need be. I’m always thinking of "if need be" in terms of almost anything. I’m working on that but I think it goes back to survival issues of my teens. This morning I again choose this seat. I feel fidgety. Moments later, for some inexplicable reason, I move back one row, to the seat directly behind my first choice. I soon hear the woman in back of me coughing, something I notice immediately as I'm wary about catching a cold. Well, all is well – I identify her cough as allergy-related ... so I don’t return to the front seat. I try to relax and settle in.

The sanctuary has filled completely...every seat appears to be occupied. I get out my writing pad, so I can make notes to send to my UUA-sponsored prison ministry prisoner pen-pal with whom I exchange letters, spiritual energy, and frivolous chit-chat. He’s a musician and he loves to talk about songs.

I always arrive at church and get seated a few minutes before most of the people populate the sanctuary. It gives me time to screw my head on, get on a spiritual plane, and glance around at the church that gives me so much. I’ve been missing minister Chris for months now (as he’s been on sabbatical); I’m sure everybody has been missing him, and I sit here and think about how wonderful it will be when he returns to the pulpit on August 10th. I feel good.

Greg is standing there a few feet away from me – an impressive-looking man, very large and with a friendly demeanor. He’s almost always standing there with his "order of service" church programs in hand, doling them out one by one as people enter his side of the sanctuary (there is another person doing the same thing on the opposite entranceway).

I can’t help but notice Greg’s beautiful shirt. Usually, I recall, he wears a plain, short-sleeved shirt. Today he has a handsome, festive dark green shirt (it looks sort of silky and flowing) with pictures of soda cans and food items on it (probably to be in party mode for the reception scheduled to take place right after the children’s performance.)

The congregation has heard the church announcements and Greg hands me the collection basket; I put my check in it and pass the basket to the next person in my row. The church is full but more people are straggling in now, looking for a place to sit. Greg hands each of them an order of service.

The actual play is about to begin and its introduction includes mention of several examples of the types of 1930s depression-days situations we will be seeing portrayed ... abandoned children, all kinds of extreme circumstances that we, in 2008, wouldn’t expect to occur. "OK, I think -- expect to see stuff about serious issues". I see parents with their cameras.

The actors march in through the door which is immediately to my left, walk past me and continue on to the front of the sanctuary. Their costumes and makeup are magnificent, perfect! This is no small potatoes production ... these kids really look and act professional. The characters of "Annie" begin to come to life! It is enthralling. I’m very glad I came to church this morning.

The kids do their first scene and song ... it is great! Now they’re doing their second song. Their stage presence is awesome. I do find myself wishing that the music sound track volume would be turned down a bit, as portions of the actors’ voices and words get drowned out by the music. Of course, in the sanctuary where the acoustics create a lot of reverb, perception of the sound quality depends on where you are sitting. Anyway, I’m concentrating on hearing the kids’ words and am sitting sort of twisted toward the right in order to get the best view of the performance.

Suddenly, a horrific bomb-like blast somewhere near and alongside me on the left blows out my hearing; my head is banging inside and has whistling, ringing sounds in it, then nothing. I lose momentary consciousness. "Ooh, here I am again and I’m staring straight ahead. My God ... Greg is on the floor in front of me. He’s lying too still". I'm scared and immobilized.

The play (or something) still seems to be going on, though I can’t really hear. I look to my right towards the performance area, but don’t see anything. Wait, there is a scuffle in front of the door immediately to my left. This is the door the kids had come through moments earlier. This is the door I always use to come and go. I see a man bending over Greg and touching him, then moving away. My head is ringing. Greg is really there. As a second blast takes place, I see a man with a gun and big streaks, like long orange tongues, shoot out about four or five feet in front of where I'm sitting, sort of semi-slumped in the pew. The noise of the 2nd blast accompanies a hard, concentrated feeling of blunt impact on my mid forehead, an inch or so above my eye (on that rounded part of the forehead bone). My head and ear are now majorly hurting and spinning and ringing. The loudness of the blasts is intensified by mics that are set up for the performance. "Please turn it off". My head and ears ache. This isn’t the play.

"What has become of Bill (my former guitar player who is the church’s sound engineer)? He's usually in what he calls "the cave", the sound room, located on one side of the rear of the sanctuary; that thought momentarily flashes across my mind.

My consciousness weaving, I remain immobilized and deafened, though struggling to focus. Suddenly, a male voice comes through loudly and clearly from somewhere that sounds like it's inside my head, "Get down! Get down!" At that moment, it seems weird to me that I am alive and able to move. There is a strong smell of gun powder. Around the time of the 3rd blast, I crouch behind the pew bench that's in front of me (remember I had moved from the original seat?) and make my way along the length of the sanctuary to that inviting sight – the wide open back door. I expect to feel another shot before I make it to the door. The rest of my pew which was jam-packed moments before, is completely empty ... no one is there. It is so weird and I'm really scared. I fly through the door and take a deep breath of the outdoor air; it is heavy, humid, smoggy, and hot, and I thankfully gulp it in! I climb up the grassy hillside toward the woods. I want to run into the woods and hide, but I see one man standing on the grassy hill and I go to him.


*********************************************************
In retrospect: I spent the next two days in tearful, humble gratitude to those who protected me with their heroism; I’d been in very close proximity to the gunman. It is amazing that I am alive. A number of times, I pinched my arm to reassure myself that I was actually alive. I will be eternally grateful to Greg for giving me and others our initial chance to continue living, to the men of the congregation who subdued the gunman and further enabled me to escape, and to the mysterious male voice that told me to "get down" even when I couldn't hear.

My sincere gratitude, always, to the dear man who held me in his arms after I reached the grassy hill outside of the back door.

The source of my head pain was the middle of my forehead slightly to the left; the doctor said that it looked like pellets, "projectiles" had hit me and penetrated ... I had a red, bruised, diveted bump there and, when I could gingerly wash the area, the odd little markings of blood near my hairline washed off. The hospital staff did not lift the bangs of my hair to look at my forehead and, instead, concentrated on my ear and fragmented emotional state. While waiting in the hospital's treatment room, I overheard an EMT loudly and graphically announce to the nurses at the desk, the details of the victims' injuries that he had seen while transporting the two fatally- wounded people to another hospital. It made me even more upset to hear this and I was eager to get out of that emergency room and go home to heal myself. I did not want to be a victim. I absolutely did not want to be named as a victim. I wanted my wound to go away. Thankfully, my hearing returned within the second week and I was able to play my music. During subsequent months, the pellet fragments migrated to the soft tissue of my right sinus cavity and I had an eye hemorrhage that took a month to clear up. At that point, I had a C-T scan, which documented the reality of what had happened. I took earnest measures to heal myself.


The news of the shootings had been carried around the world and much love and support was shown to the TVUUC and Westside UUC congregations.


Gasoline Contamination --

Please be mindful of where you buy gasoline. On Tuesday, July 22nd, I pumped about 1/3 tank of premium 93 octane gasoline, at $4.15 a gallon, into my truck, Lance, to top off his tank. Lance, as many of my readers know, is my ‘91 meticulously cared-for and very loved vehicle. I can’t tell you the station or brand name because I’m trying to get restitution. I can tell you it is not any of the very familiar, locally prominent, or popular brands. When I attempted to drive out of the station parking lot, my heretofore optimally running truck bucked, gasped, stalled, and went down for the count; he needed to be towed to the repair shop. He was there for three days during which I travailed almost like a woman in labor. I didn’t know if his engine had been ruined. The techs at National Auto worked miracles. They carefully and thoroughly drained and cleaned his tank and injectors, replaced the fuel filter and pump,which the contaminant had completely torn and gunked up (fortunately, the gunk-up blocked the tainted fuel from getting farther into the system). A sample of the contaminated fuel reveals a jellyfish-like substance that separates from the liquid in the fuel.
The good news is that Lance is healthy again!

My major thanks to National Auto (Clinton Highway, Knoxville) for their expertise, courtesy, empathy, and affordability.

My advice to all ... buy gasoline from a known, reputable dealer and get a receipt for each and every gasoline purchase.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Spirit Of Life

Dear Readers,
The chronicles of two happenings during the past week -- one that was disturbing and the other which occurred yesterday, horrific and life-altering -- beg to be told on my blog. And they will be told. But, for the moment, I must wait. As soon as the time is prudent and it feels appropriate, I will write about them on this blog.

In the meantime, I want to express my heartfelt love for my fellow congregants at TVUUC, my deepest condolences to the families of the fatally wounded; my prayers for all who were injured, all who survived, the beautiful children, and for all of us who witnessed and were touched forever by yesterday's tragic events. Spirit Of Life, come unto me ... and you.

Clara

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ruby, The Horse Who Captured My Heart --

Yes, I will tell you about her. Also, I want to tell you about a wonderful local organization that rescues and rehabilitates neglected and abused horses. It was my major pleasure to visit their facility this past Saturday, which was their monthly adoption and visiting day. First, though, I’ll preface the details of what brought me there at that particular moment in time, with a bit of background.

One of the very noticeable phases the teenage girls of my time experienced was a strong interest in horses. I remember well the excitement of my high school girlfriends about "going horse-back riding" one or more times a week; I remember their descriptions of horses and I remember the sincerity of their passion about horses. I’m thinking that maybe the interest young women have in horses transcends generations and was not specific to the days of my youth. Anyway, those years, for me, were a time of dealing with survival issues, so I was not able to become involved with or think about horses then. Later on (years later), I became a strong animal advocate and have remained so, over the years, working on behalf of marine, farm, wild, and companion animals (dogs & cats). In fact, humane education and animal advocacy are a big part of my identity. But I never championed horses ... not until now.

A couple of years ago, I began writing legislative letters, urging enactment of laws to protect American wild horses and horses in general, from being sent to slaughterhouses. Eventually, a law was passed to ban horse slaughter in the U.S., though these magnificent animals are now shipped, under horrendous conditions, across Canadian and Mexican borders, to be killed there for European and Asian "delicacy" markets. Please read some of my earlier posts that urge letter-writing to legislators to protect our horses from this cruel fate.

Well, that’s enough preface. About two months ago, I was flooded with a deep, spiritual desire to make the acquaintance of horses in a hands-on way, no small wish for someone whose horse experience was limited to feeding Jake, the milk wagon horse, an occasional sugar cube when I was a tiny tyke ... and on one occasion, having a "pony ride" on a poor, patient horse at an amusement park when I was nine years old. As an aside (you know I frequently do asides), Jake faithfully toted his milk wagon around town for daily deliveries and would, occasionally, get disgusted with his toting job and just begin running wild, all over the place, until he either became tired or felt satisfied – with his wagon driver hanging on for dear life.

Anyway, my recent desire to get to know horses led me to Horse Haven of Tennessee. I was welcomed there by Nina, who founded and heads the effort there. A number of capable, cheerful volunteers were on hand and three of them tutored me on various things I needed to know. I took it all in. Remembering my few up-front meetings with Jake (and the driver’s instructions to "hold your hand flat") I asked if I could feed a treat carrot to a horse. Most of the horses were outside, but two were still in the barn. I felt drawn to one of them, softly called to her, and she responded by affectionately nuzzling my neck and then kissing the side of my face, much like Dixie (my dog) often does. So I held a carrot on one of my very "flattened" piano-playing hands and darling Ruby gently and carefully took the treat, and then another, and then another. I fell totally in love with this wonderful horse. On my drive home, the hauntingly beautiful song "Ruby" (from the 50s or 60s) floated into my head and I've played it on the piano many times since. Ruby is available for adoption, as are several other nice horses at Horse Haven.

Horse Haven needs financial contributions to help with the costs of caring for the horses who are there and with the expenses involved with rescuing others. Check out the HHT website at
www.horsehavenoftn.com. to read their news and see the horses. You will love it!

My Bike Has A Name!

I had several excellent suggestions: Annie, Ella (for the jazz icon), Spike, and Zelda ... and I thank you for these great names. The name that fits best is Zelda.

So Zelda it is! Zelda and I will be out coasting along when I locate a very safe "re-entering bike-riding status" sidewalk. I’m looking :)

Kids & Obesity --

I’ve been reading magazine articles lately and saw the introduction of a television report this evening about overweight U.S. kids and their health problems.

I know there are no simple answers to remedy the dangerous trend of children who weigh way too much; in fact, I think to find answers, quite a few of today’s ways of living would need to be adjusted or overhauled. I may be dating myself with what I’m about to say ... but I clearly remember that there was only one overweight child in my entire elementary school ... and I think her weight was due to family genetics. Sitting here recounting memories of my childhood, I realize the myriad of things that are missing, different, or negative in the lives of today's children in our country.

There are now too many cars in the streets. Years ago, kids were relatively safe in most streets and car drivers knew that kids had the right-of-way. We used to bike ride for miles all day, literally all day.

The girls had two time and energy-consuming outdoor activities that we did almost daily: hop scotch (hopping, tossing a small stone, bending to pick it up, and balancing on one foot on squares we would draw on the sidewalk, street, or in the dirt) and jump-rope (a twirler on each end while we’d each take turns jumping in, jumping in time to one of several chants until we’d miss a step or jump out ... or maybe ‘double-dutch’, with two ropes going at the same time in opposite directions).

Tag – We enjoyed this running, hiding, and chasing game for girls and boys that we did constantly in our neighborhood yards.

Red Light, Giant Steps, and Red Rover were three more outdoor yard games.

Climbing Trees – Yes, I did that and a few other girls did, too, although it was an activity mostly enjoyed by boys. I did much of my childhood reading while sitting in a favorite tree. What a great feeling of connection to Nature, too!

Boys had their own games: the concentration skills of Marbles, played in the dirt or on the sidewalk almost anyplace and Fist-Fighting. I’m serious ... they worked off a lot of energy in playground fisticuffs, boxing-style.

We expended a lot of energy in walking and running, just as a way of getting from one place to another.

I’ve noticed that there are many, many organized athletic, competitive activities for kids; but, that’s just the rub – they are very organized and competitive and, therefore, stressful – and only attempted by kids who don’t mind dealing with stress (or whose parents enjoy cheering on their child’s team). Children's physical games, in the past, were done in situations where the kids were able to create their own "stakes" (of win/lose) among friends; that was very different than competing successfully in front of the general public.

Another factor that is glaring is the lack of open, uncultivated places where kids can play anything freestyle. Except for the few parks (which also, necessarily and properly, serve as a mini-habitat for dwindling wildlife fauna and flora) where such activities are possible, everyone everywhere is concerned with liability. Liability has become big business, so it definitely is a concern if kids are playing or skateboarding on business property (and, let’s face it – almost everything’s paved over as business property or roadway). Schools now are monitored like fortresses, with video cameras and rules galore. When I was a child, you could tell if it was OK to use the playground during non-school hours, by observing whether the swings were attached to the swing frame. And years ago, when we fell or a big kid beat us up, another kid would rush to our home and alert our mother so that she could come to our aid ... nobody got sued. So the issue of liability has changed a lot of things for kids.

There was an "ole swimming hole" at Nesbitt’s in the town where I grew up. It was frequented by many of the boys in town; I think I was the only girl who went there and, when I did, I was escorted by my father and his fishing pole. The swimming hole had a jagged-shaped dirt bank around it; I would say the circumference of the swimming area was about equivalent to a 30-foot pool, by today’s standards. The water was untreated and totally natural, with a few fish swimming in it; it was fed by a large creek surrounded by skunk cabbages. It was very picturesque. Can you imagine such a place existing now ... unfenced, unpatrolled? It was owned property. My guess is that was owned by someone named Nesbitt. The mindset of that day and time was different.

Another large factor that influences the many things that have changed for children (and everybody) is population growth. There were way fewer people a few short years ago ... and there was way more space in any given town.


Too, now there is fast-food. Fast, fat-laden, easily accessible food; kids' school lunches are loaded with unhealthy, processed foods (some of which were unrecognizable last time I looked).

Kids’ recreational choices currently are organized sports, television, video games and (thankfully still existing) reading. I think a lot of kids choose video games. I can sit here today and remember all the things I’ve just written about. The memories are vivid -- some good, some bad. Will today’s kids, many years from now as they think back, remember fondly their activities? Maybe, will they say "yeah and I used to play such and such video game...it was great!" How can we be puzzled about today’s childhood obesity? To me, it’s easy to understand the dilemma kids are in.




Please Stick To The Real Issues ...

What I want to hear from presidential candidates and Congress is an emphasis on:

The economy and a sincere, sound plan to fix it;


Universal healthcare for all U.S. citizens, to replace our fragmented, non-system;

Getting out of the business of war (yes, I said "business");

Ethics (non-religious), truth, and humanitarianism.

Those are the things that matter to me and, I believe, to the survival of our country.




Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Let's Try To Keep Our Sense Of Humor :)

I’m thinking now of the economy. What – you say it’s not funny? Well OK ... I know, I know. In truth, it’s exceedingly troubling. The only remedies I can think of are to vote non-republican, meditate/pray/dance/sing (not at the same time), and laugh uproariously! Laughing won't keep us from going broke, but it may help keep us healthier and saner so we can stretch our dollars a bit further without having to buy extra meds and stress-related services.

Because my last two SS digits are in the government’s very last group of scheduled tax rebate mail-outs, I haven’t seen hide or hair of my rebate. I would say that maybe they’re running out of money, except that they were out of money way before the mail-out concept was even conceived.


I’ve heard that the hot line (for rebate inquiries) is not being answered (!) I wonder what that means. More reasons for therapeutic laughter in whatever uproarious style you prefer :)


Precious Special Art Work

I want to share with my readers an awesome pencil drawing recently created by Dennis, my (prison ministry) prison pen-pal. I was delighted to receive his drawing of a G-(treble) clef sign carefully clad in ivy leaves. Jerry provided the lovely frame for it. Dennis is a musician. On the reverse (hidden) side of the drawing, are printed inmate names and system numbers ... as the somewhat ragged piece of paper he used is actually a prison form. The framed piece now proudly sits on my piano!

Our Status As Consumers --

Hellbender Press is a pro-environmental journal, published here in East Tennessee; it is a project of The Foundation For Global Sustainability, located in Knoxville. The current issue (Vol. 10 Issue 2) has a lively and truly relevant article which assesses the role-switching we "customers" have undergone, while being transformed (by the corporate world) into "consumers".

Written by John Lynn, who lives in California, the article is entitled "Endless Waffles". Mr. Lynn very artfully and effectively connects the title with his important message, the bottom line of which is that the customer-turned-consumer is now actually "the Consumed". This is a timely and compelling piece of writing. To subscribe to Hellbenders or obtain a copy, please contact Hellbender Press, Box 1101, Knoxville, TN 37901; (865) 524-4771. Locally, you can pick up a free copy at Carpe Librum (my favorite bookstore) or a number of other regional locations.

Pet-Lovers' Easy Way To Help Animals --

Each day, go to www.theanimalrescuesite.com and click on the purple "click here to give" button. For each click, the website sponsors donate food and care for rescued homeless companion animals who are in animal shelters. It’s so easy for us feel good about helping in this way and it costs us nothing, except a few seconds of time.

Treasure Hunt --

Yesterday, I bought a drop-leaf dining table for $10 at Earl’s Used Furniture. It’s just the right size for my dining area. I love looking for items at Goodwill and second-hand stores ... it’s like a treasure hunt. I actually found a perfect-for-me, light-weight jacket/blazer (soft material, long length, vented sides) recently at GW. It’s brand label is "New York" and it is made in the USA. How about that? On the same trip, I bought a lovely teal color wine glass for 40 cents. Now I’m inspired to drink wine. Not to worry ... I won’t go overboard.

More About My Old Bike --

Yesterday, I bought a gel-padded seat cover for my bike. The seat, in its natural state, is harder than a brick and hurts after even five seconds. Regarding possible names for the bike, one person has suggested the name "Annie" and another person has seconded that choice. My neighbor’s dog’s name is Annie. She’s an adorable dog and loves to visit with me. Anyway, imagine the confusion in case I’d be outside calling my bike! Seriously, I love the name, but it doesn’t feel like the one for my bike. I'm not even sure of my bike's "gender". So I’m still taking suggestions. Names for my bike, please? I’ll try and get him/her to pose for a picture, to post.

Rainy Day Blues --

Not a complaint at all. Very recently, we had a gray, rainy day here. For the most part, the rain was gentle with a few wispy winds. It was nice. I couldn’t fight the urge to write a song; it was irresistible. And so "(The Comfort Of The) Rainy Day Blues" was born!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Religion and U.S. Politics --

In a recent post I wrote "the truth will speak for itself" and now I add, "I hope it will have more than a few who will listen".

As a person who leans away from corporate and conglomerate power, dogma, and narrow-mindedness...and toward tolerance, compassion, the freedoms of the individual, and diversity, I take strong exception to the (predictable) slurs currently being perpetrated about Senator Obama and his family of origin – and intended to put him on the defensive about religion. To begin with, he says he’s Christian and there is every reason to believe that he is. It is very disheartening that a candidate could be harassed on the basis of religion, by persons who are opportunists with an agenda.

But I’m just getting started. Has a sizable portion of the critical mass of our country drifted away from or allowed itself to be hoodwinked away from the freedoms cited in our Constitution? I hope not. The authors of that fair-minded document carefully worded it so we would understand that a person of any religion ... Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Unitarian-Universalist, Baha~i, Mormon, Wiccan, even Atheist, and any I may have left out ... can be elected president of our country if he/she is deemed to have the good judgement, ethics, intelligence, fair-mindedness, conscience, compassion, reasoning skills, courage, and statesmanship to effectively lead our country and be our talking head to the rest of the world. That a candidate now could be expected, indeed required, to produce acceptable religious credentials (acceptable to right-wing zealots and media) denotes danger to the freedoms of the entire U.S. population, not just non-Christians.

Currently, the struggle for religious supremacy between extreme Christians and extreme Muslims is mucking up the whole of life for everybody and, in unvarnished truth, is driven by the lust for power. In its extreme, dogma is dangerous. Our Constitution calls for separation of church and state for very sound reasons!



Success And Its Meaning --


So very often, bits of past conversations between me and my precious friend and kindred spirit, the late Philip Knight, come back to me. Sometimes they boldly march across my mind, almost with fanfare; at other times, they gently float into my consciousness. How wise he was about so many things. How I miss him. He was a songwriter, musician, architect, and, in his own way, a philosopher. During the months preceding his death, his perception and ability to articulate important thoughts and put them into the framework of what I call the "bottom line" of an issue or concept ... had been honed to perfection. Or, as close to perfection as any human’s thought processes can get.

Philip was a steadfast and strongly vocal supporter of my music. As songwriters and musicians who, except for our devoted local and geographically remote friends and fans, remained largely unable to tap into the local music industry machinations, we were often frustrated and we often consoled one another.

In the midst of one such conversation, he remarked that people pursue success, thinking that they will chase it, track it down and catch it, or it will arrive (in some glorious, triumphant moment and grand fashion). The thought could follow, I suppose, "and then what"? But, not if one goes farther along with Philip’s definition of success: What if a person’s measure of success is really based on his feelings of happiness with the works he has created? What if, rather than by being in the public’s limelight or accumulating vast wealth, success really is defined by the ability to feel complete as a person and to be at peace with oneself? To be in love with one’s own handiwork and sense of beauty ... to know that you have done what you were destined to do!

It’s so easy to subscribe to the more superficial "success" orientation. I have done so, at many times in my life. But not today. Today I am grateful for the truth of Philip’s words and, I’m especially grateful that he had the courage to say them to me. They make all the difference in the world.

My At-Home Music Performance --

This concept flew into my head about five or six weeks ago. Precipitated by the emotional and practical adjustments one needs to make when a working musical relationship ends, combined with a rather long-standing question in my mind as to how long is long enough for me to be soliciting gigs via the rounds of venues (which, in Knoxville, can be a tough row to hoe due to cliques and gatekeepers). Well, I had/have so many conflicting thoughts and feelings about it all. I love to play and sing music; I particularly love to do my own songs; additionally, I have been unable to turn off the creative processes that cause me to write new songs. I’ve tried. When is a person too "old" to remain an "active" songwriter and musical performer? Maybe more to the point, when is a woman too far past the blossom of youth to sing about romance, passion, love, and all the mundane and ethereal offshoots of those things? Well, since I still feel those things, I still write and sing about them!

The at-home performance idea evolved through several spasms as it morphed, finally, into a simple invitation to a few friends and students to come over to my home studio to catch my performance with my own beloved grand piano, Buddy, here in my own "digs" ! Also on the scene, of course, would be my fine keyboard friend, Yamaha, and my old, dependable Shure mic and Roland amps. The mic and amps have made a gazillion trips along bumpy roads and in and out of venues and have never once complained. But that is an aside ... and I’m often guilty of asides.

The days went on and I had a few flashbacks to my childhood and our household that was as busy as a train station, full of visitors – visitors who would always ask or insist that I play the piano and sing for them (and I would always be required to comply); I remember it was partly annoying and partly titillating and sometimes I would hide in my closet. No matter, though – someone would march into my room, retrieve me and escort me to the piano in the living room.

Well, fast-forward to June 2008. As the performance date grew nearer, I began to wonder if the whole idea was hokey and if people could enjoy it. With the price of gasoline over the $4 mark, we need to get choosy about what event is worth the drive. So was it fair to expect people to come? I couldn’t decide. Then the date rolled around. When several of my friends and students showed up, I was very happy and got the performance into gear. They enjoyed it, as did I! In addition to many of the blues songs people are accustomed to hearing me do, I took the opportunity to play and sing some of my most intricate torch ballads and jazz renderings, and ended the evening with one of my very seldom performed classical originals.

Now the question is sort of whether I will perform anywhere again. Yes, if I’m asked to (but no more calls to venues). But there is probably no question that I will continue to color outside the lines (I think that’s more extreme than thinking outside the box). And next, who knows?



Road Work --

Here in Knoxville, there are currently some major highway and interstate rebuilding and enlargement projects in-process. The idea is to accommodate more cars. Meanwhile, the secondary roads become worse each day with inadequately filled potholes, ditches that have been dug up for utilities and then roughly patched with tar ... in ridge, ditch, and divot fashion. At the same time, gasoline prices are soaring heavenward, though it feels far from being heavenly. Also, we’re painfully aware that the overpopulation of people and cars is wreaking havoc on our environment. Our lifestyles definitely seem poised for a big change. Has anyone besides me been wondering: Perhaps, should we be preparing many additional bike lanes instead?

My old road bike will be in the shop as of tomorrow to be made road-ready (see earlier post about antique bicycle). Between that and my soon-to-be tilled garden spot (see earlier post about "from the ground up"), it may be back to some exciting basics for me!




Animals Need Help --

Wolves and Horses

They are very much in need of letters to legislators. To help the U.S. wolves who are now being exterminated due to Bush’s unconscionable removal of them from the Endangered Species List, please visit the websites of Defenders Of Wildlife at
www.defenders.org and Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund at www.callofftheguns.org for complete information on where to write, how to help.

To help U.S. horses who are are bought up at auctions and shipped under inhumane, crowded conditions without food and water, across the borders into Mexico and Canada, where they are grossly mis-handled and barbarically slaughtered for an Asian and European market, please write to your U.S. congressman and senator asking them to support S.311 and H.R. 503 the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Get names and addresses at
http://www..senate.gov and http://www.house.gov . Visit http://www.frontrangeequinerescue.org for more information. It's important for us to get involved on behalf of the animals, for their sake and for our own; they are a vital part of the natural ecological tapestry and heritage of our country.

On the Home Scene –

The economy isn’t doing any good for the dog and cat overpopulation problem, but there are low-cost spay/neuter clinics in almost every locale, including here in Knoxville. The only humane way to reduce the huge number of shelter euthanasias is to have your cat and dog spayed or neutered. Additionally, he or she will be a better, more home-loving pet, often cleaner, too. It’s the right thing to do. Every dog and cat deserves a loving home, so we need to put the brakes on letting pets produce litters and patronizing back yard breeders and pet shops (every litter born takes away potential homes for animals who are waiting out their "time" in shelters, hoping to be adopted ... hoping not to be taken to that room in the back). I worked for three years as a hands-on volunteer at a local shelter. It was gut-wrenching, yet rewarding, too, to be able to offer whatever help I could to the shelter animals -- walking them, cleaning their cages, refilling their water bowls, talking to prospective adopters.

Please spay and neuter so that shelter personnel can stop killing abandoned and surrendered healthy dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens. It’s the biggest and best way we can show our love for our pets.



Fireflies, Lightning Bugs --

The following is reprinted from the August, 1998 edition of Janna Publications, a humanitarian and environmental newsletter that I wrote, illustrated, and published twice each year from 1995 to 2001.

During the month of June, the annual ritual is begun by those innocuous little creatures – the lightning bugs, or fireflies, as they are called in some parts of the country. At dusk, their blinking lights emerge from grass and garden. As the evening wears on, they rise in a great twinkling wave, higher and higher from the ground. Then, just before midnight, they are among the treetops, where they signal to each other in a spectacular, quietly-frenzied display!

Would you want them to disappear? Would you wish them harmed? No, neither would I. Nor do I want to know the mechanical intricacies of their lighting apparatus. But, this summer, a more elaborate version of last year’s newspaper ad appeared in print, urging people to catch these insects, freeze them, and cash them in for payment by the ounce; the ad also said to "avoid thawing or they will become worthless". Worthless? This strikes me as crass, crude, cruel, and ridiculous. I think that their aesthetic worth is singularly phenomenal.

One of the verses of a children’s song I wrote several years ago goes like this: "Firefly, lightning bug, shine your light. On and off in the summer night". Should we now add "May your magic somehow manage to stay with us and may you avoid the laboratory’s collection jar? You’re safe in my yard.

Shine on!

Enjoy their night-show.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dixie Lee's Baseball

One of my dog’s favorite places to walk is in the North Winston park in West Knoxville. On a recent visit there, we came upon a bunch of empty water and soda bottles that had been tossed over a fairly large area in back of the baseball diamond. I’m tempted here to say some choice words about people who litter, but quite honestly, people who litter don’t have the intelligence, curiosity, and ambition to read a blog, much less a liberal blog, so I’ll just continue with my story. Standing aghast at the sight of the bottle mess, I mumbled an apology to Dixie Lee and we started to walk past the area. Then my gaze fell upon a yellowed, dirty but otherwise fine, baseball. Apparently, it had been left in the fervor of exiting the baseball game. I picked it up and stuffed it into my jacket pocket. "We’ll take this home as a souvenir of our walk today, Dixie", I said. (I’m a great sentimentalist, as you probably know if you’ve been reading other portions of my blog).

That evening, Dixie picked up the baseball and carried it up the stairs to the loft where she likes to hang out and play. She has a collection of favorite toys there. I was very surprised that she could carry the heavy ball in her mouth. Suddenly, there was a loud noise ... once, twice, many times ... as she’d pick up the baseball and hurl it into the air, letting it land with a loud thud on the wood floor upstairs. Since that evening, it’s become a nightly ritual to do that and she’s all but abandoned her other toys. I’ve become accustomed to and even delighted by the happy noise of her play. So far, the floor has been forgiving. Well, this is an old house and well-constructed. And Dixie Lee loves her baseball!



Nature's Church

Last Friday, Dixie and I went to the greenway in back of my church for our walk. The scene changes, of course, with the seasons. Right now, there are acres and acres of coreopsis flowers -- a stretch of blazing gold color that is almost too beautiful to take in. That day, I promised myself I would bring my camera and walking shoes on Sunday and re-visit the flowers after church.

I did. As I walked and gazed and took pictures, a man and woman were approaching from the opposite direction, with their camera. We exchanged a greeting and when I told them how I'd promised myself to return after church with my camera, the man smiled and remarked "This is church". He was right. It was as spiritual as anything could possibly be -- glorious, magnificent!

Panhandlers

Panhandlers! No, I’m not referring to those valiant, dedicated hospital workers who handle the bedpan brigade. I don’t know if this is the case in other locales, but here in Knoxville, there are ever-increasing numbers of people who have taken the old-fashioned "Buddy, can you spare a dime" thing to several levels beyond.

A month or so ago, Metro Pulse had a good article about the "panhandlers" who pester people for money on the downtown streets. The article’s writer may not have been aware that scammers have strayed far from the downtown streets, as I’ve encountered them during the past 10 to 12 months in front of a north Knoxville post office, in the parking lot of an upscale store, in a restaurant parking lot in West Knoxville, and on at least six occasions knocking at the front door of my home or approaching me in my driveway. The door-to-door types ask for a specific amount of money ... $40 usually. They have scripted, very rehearsed and high drama stories ... their children are stuck "up on the highway" (the script almost always involves children), their car needs "a new alternator" or someone is "bringing a tire" to their stricken vehicle on the highway, so they can make it home to their children in some distant town. Tires and alternators are mentioned most often. In fact, there was a duo, last year, who I saw in various shopping center parking lots ... each time they had the hood of the car raised, a little "repair" light hanging there, and the man and woman both approached shoppers with their alternator story. I saw them over a period of about three months in several locations, doing the same thing.

The Metro Pulse article mentioned that some of the "panhandlers" get irate when a person refuses to give them money. Two of the people who approached me (both were women) gave surly responses when I didn’t give them money. Anyway, "panhandling" or whatever one would call this activity (at least here), has blossomed into scamming. I guess it pays well.




Mirror, Mirror On The Wall ...

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall ...
Who is the luckiest of them all?
Sometimes I think I am. When I was in my mid-twenties, an old fortune-teller (she read a regular deck of playing cards) told me "You will always have enough for the day and the way". Although her words obviously stuck in my mind and I never forgot them, at the time they weren’t what I was hoping to hear, as I was keenly interested in a possible love conquest. Not that my interests have shifted dramatically in that respect, but nowadays the "day and the way" thing is what matters most. I believe it ... and the belief, itself, makes me lucky – and ever hopeful. I think it’s fortunate to be able to remain hopeful. And that’s the reflection I want to see in my mirror.


Sand Castles

Words strung together to make a rhyme,
Music swelling, reaching and drawing in,
Love stories honoring endless time.
Castles all,
Structures of life,
Weathering...
The tides of yang and yin.



Ethanol -- And Our Fuel Ailments

Gasoline mileage declines with the use of ethanol-mix gasolines, with the decline being proportionate to the extent of the mix. The currently common mix is 10%, which someone has calculated to bring a loss of about a mile per gallon, compared to gasoline without ethanol. That loss will increase though, as more ethanol is put into the equation. The biggest ethanol threat, though, is beginning to be seen in car repair shops, where parts of engines are requiring major work to de-gunk their fuel intakes. I’m thankful I’ve got an old truck that has a carburetor; not that carburetors can’t become clogged, but fuel injectors clog more easily and require more work to fix.

Aside from our vehicles, there are lawn mowers, weed whackers and other gasoline-driven tools that may choke on the ethanol mix.

There is a lot of discussion going on that questions the feasibility and wisdom of turning food farms and other lands into corn fields for ethanol production. One of the immediate results is the twin problem of a rise in food prices and reduced food production. Also, the new excuse for the clearing of trees – and the accompanying impact on air quality, along with the aesthetic loss – are and will increasingly be a serious result of the push to grow enough ethanol-producing crops to fuel the gazillion cars that are on the road.

I see a major change in our lifestyles on the horizon. Industry is going to need to be honest with us soon. Or, maybe not. The truth will speak for itself.



Shifting Sand

There’s a lyric line in the inspirational song "Arms Of Love" that says "it’s hard to walk in shifting sand". Shifting sand! That seems to be descriptive in both a figurative and literal sense in our world of today. Whether a catastrophic earthquake, the tragedy of war, or the devastating effects of collapsing economics, the element of future shock undermines our sense of balance.



Sunday, May 11, 2008

National Politics

The Democratic contest has gone on long enough. It’s time to nail it, name the nominee, and prepare for the change our country desperately needs (no McBushes, please). Obama has my vote.

Democracy Or Republic?

I’m looking now in my Oxford American Dictionary at the word "republic". It says "a country in which the supreme power is held by the people or their representatives, or by (emphasis is mine) an elected or nominated president". I’ve driven by a church in town that says "God Bless Our Republic" (on the building’s marquee). This is the wording, rather than saying "our country". This pushes a little red alert button in my mind.

Next I will look at the definition of the word "democracy": "government by the whole people of a country, especially through representatives whom they elect; a country governed in this way". Are we currently a democracy? I think not.

There is one additional word I want to look up now. It is "plutocracy": "rule of the wealthy; a nation ruled by the wealthy". Therefore, a "plutocrat" is "a person who is powerful because of his wealth". Bush and Cheney and their ilk come to mind.




Excursions

Remember the song lyric "In my mind, I’m goin’ to Carolina"? Lately, that one line of that song starts playing in my head once or twice a day. "In my mind I’m goin’ to" a relatively peaceful world where the environment is in balance, everybody has enough to eat, all people (including all Americans) have access to health care, people and industry have respect and compassion for animals, and politicians tell us about their ethics and their reasoning skills instead of how "conservative" their religion is (the word "conservative" has taken on ugly meaning over the past several years). In a more lyrical and frivolous sense, "In my mind I’m goin’ to" a beautiful island where sea oats and those lovely rose-colored flowers sway in the breeze; there is a lighthouse, too, and the lull of the turquoise surf. I could go on and on. That’s why I named this post "Excursions"!




Trucks & Over-The-Road

How many times have you heard someone complain about the trucks (semis and big rigs) on the roads? Probably often. Granted, there are dangers where cars and trucks co-exist on the highways, but I’ve found truck drivers to be very courteous, helpful, and expert drivers. The occasional risky driver is almost always behind the wheel of a car. But this post isn’t about manners or driving habits ... it is about necessity. Our food reaches the grocery stores and the restaurants via trucks and truck drivers. With the soaring fuel prices, the scenario could change. What will we all do if the truck driver can no longer make a living and pay his bills? What if he decides he needs to just park it? The thought is mind-boggling and scary.