Monday, April 26, 2010

The Beauty of Art and Music

This past Saturday I went to a local jazz and arts festival and it was amazing. I went with my sister, K, and her best friend, J. It's a huge event - three main stages where jazz groups are constantly playing, smaller stages around the fair grounds where soloists perform, and all sorts of art. There's paintings, jewelry, photography, metalwork, pottery, carvings ... so many types that I can't remember them all! This year was my third year to go to the festival and I plan to keep on returning as long as I live in this area. I might even have to travel out to see it if I live in a different city!

Even though I've been to the festival three times, I haven't bought any of the art until this year. There's this Scottish photographer whose booth I've visited every time and have drooled over the fantastic pictures he has. Most of his photos are from Ireland and Scotland, but he has pictures from Texas, Prague, and even some still life photos he's recently taken. These pictures make you want to jump onto the nearest plane to see the subjects with your own eyes. I was finally able to buy a couple of his photos this year. (Yay for having a job!) One of them is a still life of a violin and what I think is a mandolin in the background. It's in black and white and you're only able to see about half of each instrument. The other is this amazing shot of a few Celtic cross tombstones. The photographer shot it at just the right point in the day, so that the sun cast a shadow of one cross onto another behind it. It's so peaceful looking and beautiful. K ended up buying a picture of these cliffs in Ireland. We were all standing around admiring it when the photographer came up and started telling the story behind the picture. (He does that with any photo you ask about - it makes them so much more interesting.) He asked if we had seen "The Princess Bride" and then told us those were the Cliffs of Insanity from the movie! Well, that clinched it for K - she had to buy it, partially so she could tell people that she owned a picture of the Cliffs of Insanity.

After we ate lunch, we headed back to the convention center where what I guess are the artists who are famous enough to have their booths indoors. Don't get me wrong, there is some amazing art all over the fairgrounds but maybe not well known. Maybe they're inside because they've paid a little extra to be out of the sun and inevitable heat. Anyway, J wanted to go buy a print of a painting from this Russian artist - she has the most interesting paintings. She has a lot of paintings of actors and musicians like Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Audrey Hepburn for example. I was looking at some of her prints when I found this gorgeous painting of what looks like a tree in autumn. I stood there debating for a few minutes about whether I should buy it or not and I decided to go ahead and get it. I definitely do not regret it. I feel like I'm looking up at a clear blue sky through the branches of a tree. There's so much color and texture - I can't really put into words how this painting makes me feel. It's just simply ... beautiful.

After we finished looking around the booths at the convention center, we decided to go sit along this concrete ditch that's by one of the smaller stages and just listen to the music, which happened to be bagpipe music. Saturday was really the perfect day to do that - mid 70s, clear skies, a light breeze. It was relaxing to just sit there, listen and talk a little. The sound of the bagpipe mixed with the conversations that were happening all around us. It created this music that can only be described as that of creation or the world - people coming together and enjoying what's going on around them. I'm not sure if that made sense, but it was fascinating.

I cannot wait for next year's festival.

Friday, April 23, 2010


In the past few days, a little, no, make that a big controversy has sprung up in my family. To preface this, my brother and sister-in-law allow my niece (who is 3) to pick out what she wants to wear for the day. Before a few days ago, she loved to wear everything she owns - jeans, dresses, superhero t-shirts, butterfly t-shirts, Spiderman tennis shoes, and pink flip-flops. Unfortunately her friends at preschool have pressured her into not wearing her "boy" clothes anymore. My sister-in-law is upset with the parents who have taught their children that clothes are gender specific and that those children have forced that view on my niece.

Okay, so my sister-in-law made a comment on Facebook about it and a lot of her friends had a plenty of thoughts to add to the conversation, all of them extremely helpful. Then my stepfather decided to throw his two cents in, saying that, and I quote, "or maybe it's just your attempt to manipulate her to be gay isn't working. Maybe she WANTS to be a girl. Just sayin." And this is where my brother and sister-in-law decided to give him what-for. My brother also had a good conversation with our mom, who, if this had been four years ago, would have agreed with my stepfather. Anyway, my little sister (who is a lesbian and dresses androgynously) left a comment about how being a tomboy as a child did not make her gay, being gay led her to express herself as a tomboy.

All of this leads up to my stepfather, in a pique of childish fit, unfriended my brother, sister, and sister-in-law. This is honestly the online equivalent to him throwing a temper-tantrum.

What hurts the most about this is how much he has disappointed my family. It's sad, but we should have expected this behavior from him. This is the man who emotionally and mentally abused my siblings and I, who delights in cutting people down while making himself look good. There are times when my sister and I are complaining about things he's done and my stepmom (a dear, dear woman) has to stop us to ask us what's good about him. Over time he's started to act better around us, treating us as if we had feelings and listening to what we have to say. But it seems that every time we start to trust him again, he does something that loses any respect we had for him. This time he screwed up royally. The total lack of respect he showed my sister-in-law, the backhanded comment aimed at my sister and my mom, and the sarcasm in his pathetic excuse of an apology - PassiveAgressiva, meet your emperor. I thought he was better than that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shakespeare Retold

So I just got Netflix and even though I'm only a couple of days into the free trial, I think I'm going to keep my subscription. For the past couple of days I've been watching a BBC series called "ShakespeaRe-Told," which I have been wanting to watch for several years now. It's a modern retelling of four of Shakespeare's plays: Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. They were so much fun to watch (well, Macbeth wasn't fun, but it was very interesting), especially when it came to the end of the play. The writers for the three comedies chose to end each play a little differently than Shakespeare did.

*Spoiler Alert*

In the original Much Ado About Nothing, Hero immediately forgives Claudio for accusing her of being unfaithful and ditching her at the altar and they go on to be happily married. The re-told version has Hero and Claude/Claudio having a serious discussion about what happened, which ends with Hero telling Claude that she doesn't want to be with him right then. Maybe in the future, but she doesn't trust him at the moment. Sometime in the future, at Beatrice and Benedict's wedding, the two see each other again and the audience is given a hint that they might give their relationship another try. I liked that Hero didn't rush back into Claudio/Claude's arms after he humiliated her in such a public way - I know that how people act today is extremely different from Shakespeare's time, but it was nice to see the woman stand up for herself. Even when Claude told Hero that he acted the way he did because he loved her, she shot him down and told him it was a poor excuse.

I also really liked the ending of the re-told A Midsummer Night's Dream. In it, Oberon realizes his mistake in punishing Titania for making him angry and jealous by tricking her into falling in love with a man (Bottom) who has a donkey's head. So when he wakes her up, it's not Titania who apologizes, but Oberon for acting like an idiot. When she first wakes up she says something along the lines of "I dreamed I was in love with an a**, then I woke up and look, I still am!" Oberon's response is "I love you. I'm sorry. You were right." and goes on to apologize for acting the way he has. The writer did a great job with wrapping up the Helena/Demetrius love story. Unlike in the play, Puck also gives Demetrius (or James as he's called in the episode) the cure to the love potion. So when James/Demetrius wakes up from his enchanted sleep, he's not under a spell when he realizes he loves Helena, not Hermia. I think that makes the story better - having Helena and Demetrius's love be a pure one, not a manufactured love.

Of course, as with all stories, I was left wondering what happened to each character and couple over time. Did Helena and James/Demetrius stay happy and in love? Did Oberon live up to his promise to not overreact anymore? Did Hero and Claude/Claudio get back together? That's the great thing about good literature and movies - they never tell you how the story finally ends, happily ever after or not, but they allow you to wonder and maybe create your own ending.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Early Days...

I was looking for a hook for the project I'm working on right now and found the one my grandmother gave me when she first taught me how to crochet. It made me think about how I started crocheting and how it's now a major part of my life.

My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was 9 or 10 years old. That was a transition period in my life - I had just moved to a new school and a new town, leaving behind a group of friends I would never forget. I hated it at first. Looking back, I feel very sorry for my mother - she was just trying to make sure that she did what was best for her kids and I did not make it easy for her in the beginning. Eventually, I made new friends and spent a lot of time hanging out with my brother and sister, running around my grandparent's yard like a maniac. Sometimes I think my grandmother decided to teach me how to crochet to get me to sit still for a little while and because I would be the easiest to convince to take the time to learn. Plus I was curious - I wanted to know how she made that cool blanket for my baby cousin.

She taught me how to chain and that was about it, except for one terrible attempt (my fault) at the single crochet stitch. But I was good at making chains and spent a year creating this massive crochet chain. My best friend and I were trying to make the longest one in the world and then we were going to be interviewed on Nickelodeon about it. It was going to be awesome ... until we gave up or something like that. Then I stopped crocheting for eight years.

So fast forward eight years and I'm a high school senior getting ready to graduate and head off for college. A couple of weeks before graduation, I was at my dad's house and digging around in a dresser drawer when I found an old project I had apparently hidden. It was an attempt at a scarf for my grandfather and I think it's the reason I gave up on the single stitch. I couldn't figure out how to stop the scarf from getting narrower as I worked on it, so I got frustrated and gave up. As I was looking at the pitiful scarf, I started to remember how much fun I had crocheting when I was younger and I decided I would try to do it again. I spent the afternoon pulling stitches out and trying to recreate them until I figured out how to do the single crochet again. I still had a few kinks to work out (I didn't know that then), but I had chosen my very first project that I would finish. My little sister was about to become the "lucky" owner of a blanket, which ended up being a lap blanket but that's a different story for another time. I was determined to finish it and then, if I didn't like crocheting, I would give it up.

I spent the next two weeks crocheting whenever I had the time. I remember being at a friend's house after my baccalaureate, watching a movie and working on the blanket. Without realizing it, I had sat down in the only rocking chair in her living room and was unconsciously rocking back and forth. My friends did notice and also saw that I had pulled my hair up into a bun. My best friend walked over to me, told me to look at her, balanced a pair of glasses on the edge of my nose, and then asked me to rock. Everyone died laughing because I looked like a little old granny - I didn't think it was that funny at the time. It took me a while to accept my "old lady" moments, as my family has so loving dubbed them.

By the time I left for college that fall, I was addicted to crocheting. However, my projects were limited to scarves and block-designed blankets, things I could easily make with a single crochet stitch. It was the only stitch I knew! I wanted to be able to make more creative things, so I bought new books and new crochet hooks. My first roommate introduced me to a new yarn which led to the discovery of other types of yarn - it turned out that Red Heart was not the only yarn brand in the world! I slowly started to learn the other crochet stitches - the half-double, the double, the treble, slip stitch, going around the front/back post, bobbles, ect. I even taught one of my new, and now closest, friends how to crochet. This is something we still share almost four years later. I can't tell you how many times we have stayed up late talking about projects that we're working on or hope to start soon, about yarn, and teaching (she's student teaching right now). We both want to somehow include crocheting in our future classrooms or even start a club at whatever school we end up at.

I feel like I've come a long way from that first blanket. I just recently crocheted my first article of clothing, a jacket! Woo! Crocheting is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life and it's something that I hope to pass on to other people in my life. A couple of my cousins have already asked me to teach them how to crochet and the first few lessons remind me of my early days. Hopefully, next time I see them, we'll go get them their own hooks and yarn and maybe finally get through the single crochet stitch.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Yesterday was Easter, which probably everyone in the world knows - unless they live under a rock or something like that, and I have to say it didn't really feel like Easter. Maybe it's because I didn't hide eggs for my niece to find or go to the annual church party that my dad's church hosts. Maybe it's because I'm older and a bit of a cynic, so it doesn't hold the same magic it did when I was a child. Anyway, I went to my dad's church for the Easter service and as I was singing the second hymn it hit me that because I didn't go to the Good Friday service, I missed out on one of my favorite hymns. I absolutely love "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)." The lyrics are sad but if sung well, it's hauntingly beautiful. A few years ago, the choir director at the church did an amazing arrangement of this song that I think everyone should be able to hear at least once in their life.

To set this up, my dad's church is built like a Catholic cathedral (which is kind of funny since it's a Baptist church) and at the back of the sanctuary is a balcony.

That year, the choir sat in that balcony for the Good Friday service, so that during the entire service it felt like the music was surrounding you. When they sang "Were You There," it started off with a baritone soloist singing the first verse a cappella. As he finished and began the verse again, a soprano or alto soloist started the second verse. Then a tenor sang the third and a soprano/alto sang the last verse. The song was going in a round and then the sections joined the soloists in singing their verses. Soon the entire choir was singing the song in a round. I remember the song becoming quiet as a verse finished and then growing again as each section sang "Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble." The music was echoing throughout the entire sanctuary, the words rising and falling. During the last round, all of the sections sang their verses at the same time, so there was this mixture where you could understand maybe one or two words at a time, but never the same verse all at once. Then when they reached "Oh, sometimes ..." their voices joined together and the song rose up, then slowly disappeared as they broke off into singing their own verses again. It was honestly the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard. Every time I sing this song, I remember that arrangement and it makes me tear up a little.

The director who arranged it has been gone from the church for a couple of years now - I hope that wherever he is, he has another choir perform "Were You There" on Good Friday.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Three Day Weekend

Really, I'm just posting right now to say Thank God it's the weekend. It's been a very long week and I'm really looking forward to being able to relax for a few days. Actually, now I remember that I'm getting up early tomorrow to go see my family in the City to the South (stole that from my stepmom). It's family, so it's worth it or at least I'll try to remember that as I'm driving down the highway tomorrow. I really am excited to see them - my aunt and cousin from Virginia are down here visiting and my aunt and uncle and their family are driving down tomorrow too. Good food, company, and plenty of games - it's going to be a good day!