Monday, February 27, 2017

Under the Whale, Under the Whale . . . .

I slept under the great blue whale on Saturday night!  The blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History, that is.  With my family and a few hundred others.  It was the museum’s famous sleepover, our own Night at the Museum.  And it was wonderful!  I don’t have an official bucket list, just an idea of things I’d like to do, including speak another language and play piano (check! check!), and this had been on it for a long time.  In fact, generally speaking, I’d wanted to sleep in some kind of museum ever since I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler.

We arrived with sleeping bags and stuff in tow, around 4 p.m., earlier than needed.  We were hungry and so headed to CPW where there were food carts.  We started with lovely Waffles&Dinges, including a waffle with ice cream, one with caramel apples, and one with speculoos cookie supreme.   We also got Nathan’s hot dogs and crinkle fries.

We didn’t know yet where exactly we would be sleeping.  In addition to the whale, guests also slept with North American mammals and the hall of minerals.  I wanted the whale and was thrilled that we got it (I think our crowd was below the 465 people maximum and so everyone slept under the whale!)  I was so excited.  We waited awhile as the guards quickly cleared the museum and then were escorted to the Hall of Biodiversity and Oceana, where we chose a spot on the edge, under the tail, near the polar bear.  Cots were provided and made a good sleeping spot.  But that was not for six hours!

In the meantime, we had almost free range of the museum.  We wandered the semi-dark and almost completely empty hallways.  A volunteer took our photo in the magnificint entry hall with the dinosaurs—with no one else around!  We were alone with the Moai—“dum dum, me want gum gum” if you know the Night at the Museum movie.  We saw the birds, the Plains Indians, the Asian peoples, mostly by ourselves.  It reminded me of my years working at museums, where I greatly enjoyed being alone when they were closed to the public.  This is as close as I’ll be able to share that with the kids. 

We saw an animal demonstration, with Barn Owl, Golden Eagle, alligator, opossum, black-throated monitor, and python.  We wandered the dinosaur halls during a flashlight fossil find, shining our lights on the stegosaurus, triceratops, titannicasaurus, and pterodactyls.  Mama, who took photos throughout the whole evening, had fun photographing the illuminated fossils.  We also stood in the darkened turret and looked out over the city.  And then we saw a movie on the wonders of the Arctic!  Plus a snack and a bedtime story. 

My favorite part, besides the experience of being in the museum after closing, was visiting the butterflies.  I love butterfly-ariums!  The one at AMNH is small, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.  I even had a few land on me—one on my hand, one on my shoulder, one of my skirt, and one on my forehead!  That last one, an owl butterfly, stayed put for 20 minutes even as I walked around; I finally had an attendant remove it so we could continue our explorations.  It felt so light, and tickly, like my own live butterfly headdress.  Sis had one land on her arm and Bud had one do a touch-and-go landing on him, too. 

And then we readied for bed under the whale, around midnight.  Many kids were riled up, running around screaming, but Bud was asleep before the bedtime story (Trenc’s original picture book Night at the Museum) and Sis was asleep right after I gave her one of my ear plugs and didn’t even hear me sing “Baby Beluga” to her.  I listened to the ruckus but mainly focused on the whale above me, flickering in the flashlight lights as if it were under the sea.  This effect was even stronger when they shut off all but emergency lights, but the sky lights behind the whale were swirled shades of blue.  Beautiful, mesmerizing.  I almost couldn’t sleep.

The view from my cot
But eventually I did, waking only once when Sis needed the restroom.  The hall of hundreds of people was very quiet, except two very loud almost caricaturish snorers, and that beautiful whale.  I loved sleeping "under the sea."

The next morning found us having a quick breakfast, picking up some pins and magnets at the shop, and heading home, talking about how this was tied for best sleepover ever with the 19th-century ship Conrad at Mystic.   It just occurred to me that both have connections to whale, though the latter’s is pretty gruesome.

I much prefer the image of that giant blue whale above us.  I’ll treasure that for a long time to come.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Projects in Progress

I've been getting a lot of crocheting done recently, both because of the snow days and holiday and also the raffle prizes I volunteered to make.

I made a blanket for Sis's speedskating raffle, a blanket for their 6th-grade class fundraiser, a blanket for a raffle at Bud's kung fu anniversary celebration, and a blanket for a fundraiser at the historic house.  I had made blankets for their three main teachers for Christmas and also a blanket for my hospice patient.  Plus one for a friend.

Right now, I have my travel bag project--a blue-green rectangular granny square which might become a baby blanket for a teacher we know--and my couch project, which is a rainbow-y afghan in double crochet and granny clusters.

And, as we were purging the basement yesterday, I came across yarn for more projects.  Always good to have extra yarn in the house!

(I keep a collection of patterns I use here.)

Great Backyard Bird Count

It so happened that this year's Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) landed on a beautiful weekend here in CT.  At one point, temperatures reached over 60F--Bud was in shorts and we had all the windows open.  Lovely.  And so we went out at least once each day to participate in the GBBC.  I had written up a list of birds we were most likely to see and the kids were in charge of the tally marks.

Now I should say that I'm not very good at identifying birds smaller than hawks or owls; in fact, we call them all "tweetie birds."  And I definitely can't identify most birdsongs, except the mourning dove and the nasty blue jay.  And a woodpecker.   We heard more birds than we saw but couldn't count them.  So it was definitely a challenge, particularly because most were in flight.   I don't even know all the small backyard birds in still photos, much less in motion or at a distance!

Still, we managed to count dozens of house sparrows, 27 Canada geese, a turkey vulture, two woodpeckers, two blue jays, two chickadees, a few mourning dove, and several European starlings.  There were two birds we definitely saw but couldn't identify and many more we heard.  Not an impressive list--not even the local Monk Parakeets or a nice Red-tail Hawk--but it was a good first try.

And I think I can recognize the song of the house sparrow now.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Proud Mommy

The kiddos are in the school musical!  With speaking parts!  The show is Madagascar Jr.  And Bud is one of the penguins, Rico, who eats a lot and does martial arts.  Sound familiar?  Sis is Police Officer #1, which also makes some sense.  (She is a bus safety patrol, after all.)  We're excited for them and so proud that they auditioned--acapella in front of 4 adults in the big auditorium and then again at callbacks for Bud.  Not easy.  It'll be a lot of work from now til June, but they enjoy singing and being with their friends.  Besides, it's their last year at the school, their last musical.  Which makes it doubly special.  Here we go . . . .

On a side note:  Some kids who had larger parts before were very mad about the casting this year, going to the extent of stating that some who got parts don't have talent.  Talk about sour grapes.  A few are even threatening to quit already.  So we had to talk to Sis and Bud about attitude, good sportsmanship (so to speak), jealousy, and not to let it spoil their experiences.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ready for Her Close Up

I don't even know where to begin about our MARVELOUS weekend.

See, we saw Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard!!!  And she was amazing.  Really, I don't think I know enough positive adjectives to describe her performance.   The crowd cheered when she first appeared on the stage.  We went wild after "With One Look," stopping the show with clapping.  There were cheers and claps after her signature lines--"I am big.  It's the pictures that got small."  "I'm ready for my close up."  And we stopped the show with a standing ovation after "As If We Never Said Goodbye."  And I think there were 4 or 5 curtain calls!

I loved it.  I had seen her in it 22 years ago and I thought it was marvelous, too.  But this one is even better.  Sure the giant staircase and elaborate sets are gone; the lovely costumes are exactly the same. But her performance, I thought, was more human, intimate, vulnerable, and fragile, a little more wild and unhinged, less controlled and haughty, and honestly I think her singing was better.  It works that Glenn Close is not a Broadway belter because of course her character was a silent film star who didn't make it in the talkies.  But she has a lovely, expressive voice.  And such presence.  Like the line she says about her people in the dark wanting her in every scene-- I wanted her in every scene!

Mama loved it, too.  She hadn't seen it 22 years ago with me, though I stayed with her in NYC when I came back to see it.  I'd purchased the ticket long before we met.  So, in many ways, seeing Sunset Boulevard together was a kind of touchstone for us.

The kids enjoyed it, too.  Though, they both thought there was too much kissing!

Glenn Close talking to Sis and Bud,
hidden behind the phone and programs
It got even better that they met Glenn Close afterwards!!!  Yep, we stage-doored afterwards and, being small, they squeezed up in front.  And both got her signature, as did Mama.  They said they thought she was great and admitted that they mainly knew her as Nova Prime in Guardians of the Galaxy, not as Cruella DeVille in 101 Dalmatians.  She was kind and friendly.  The kids also talked with a few of the chorus and the actors playing Joe (the writer-turned-gigolo) and Max (the butler-who-was-her-first-husband.)  It made the whole evening that much better.

We opted to stay in the city, thinking it would be easier to drive home in daylight after some sleep.  So we had a midnight supper from Junior's.  But the forecast changed and Mama drove us home safely through ice and snow on the unplowed highway.  We talked about the show the whole time.

Honestly, I rank it right up there with seeing the original cast of Hamilton as the ultimate Broadway experience.  If you can, go.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Affirmations Continued

Here's another update to my Affirmations list  (my original list of Affirmations is from March, AprilOctober 2015, then March and June 2016.) 

As you know, every now and then I need a confidence boost.  You have probably figured out that I often underestimate my abilities, am hard on myself, and get anxious about it all.  So here is my list of times I overcame all that, proof that I can do it again!  New bullet items are in bold.

I have not had severely debilitating back pain since 2010.  Two and a half years ago, Memorial Day 2014 when I had back pain, I still functioned and did things.

My surgery was almost two years ago and I am so much better.  
  • I can drive as far and more than I did before my surgery.
  • I can do so many things without my brace:  go on outings, play the piano, cook dinner, push the cart around the grocery store, fold the laundry, unload the dishwasher, watch tv from the couch, sit to meditate, sit at the dinner table, clean the litterboxes, meditating on my zafu/cushion, and do all of my stretches and exercises.  And I can do several of these in a row in one day without any problem, most days.  Some of these were hard before surgery; my PT thinks my core might be stronger than before.
  • I know what foods most upset my system and can work around them.
  • I am more skillful at staying in the present when I have pain or anxiety.

Recently, I have successfully navigated:
  • singing alone and acapella in front of 30 students and a voice coach;
  • Kripalu Yoga Dance
  • walking the Kripalu labyrinth without a brace; 
  • volunteering at an all-day speedskating event;
  • teaching a Zentangle class to 22 students;
  • attending the opera despite a mild stomach bug;
  • conflict and confrontation at a meeting;
  • hiked Sleeping Giant for 2+ hours, starting off without my brace;
  • hikes at the Appalachian Trail, Thundering Brook, Quechee Gorge, Webb Mountain, East Rock Park, Roosevelt Forest, and others;
  • riding in a wagon at a parade, waving to crowds, for more than an hour;
  • exploring the top of a mountain, Mt. Equinox;
  • extended walking on ice (in new great boots!);
  • Hawk Watch 2016 at Audubon Greenwich and elsewhere;
  • Snowy Owling walks;
  • Just Dance with Bud;
  • morning walks at the zoo without brace;
  • baking challah with hospice patient over two visits;
  • three-hour schooner ride in LI Sound;
  • walked the High Line;
  • our big Florida trip--Universal Studios Harry Potter World!!!!;
  • a long 5-day workshop to become a Certified Zentangle Teacher;
  • a retreat at Kripalu;
  • my piano recital of "Greensleeves";
  • explorations of Providence (before CZT), Philadelphia (before a friend's installation), Northampton/Western Mass (with Historic Deerfield, Magical Wings, and Webs Yarn Store!!);
  • a nighttime Owl Prowl and a hike up a mountain to see wolves; 
  • Gong's citizenship ceremony;
  • a Taize service;
  • volunteering and attending the school play for three days;
  • festival at historic house with games and activities;
  • giving several historic house tours;
  • filmed historic house video;
  • teaching my very first Zentangle class to adults and then my first class to students;
  • purchasing and riding a bicycle;
  • visiting Connecticut Hospice;
  • extra driving to and from play, to doctors' offices, etc;
  • gone to the movies;
  • pushed a cart at the store without my brace;
  • evening performances at Lincoln Center and Broadway;
  • the all-day rehearsal time and then performance of Bud's kung fu at Lincoln Center;
  • walking 10 blocks, eating in a restaurant, and walking back 10 blocks;
  • back-to-back museum exhibitions;
  • test driving and buying a new car;
  • conducting various GS meetings (including Bronze Award!) and standing at the GS cookie booth;
  • being in charge--rides, meals, chores, etc.--as the only adult for the whole weekend;
  • parented alone for a whole weekend, with all the driving and meals etc;
  • complete a huge crocheted blanket;
  • passing my CPR test, with 3+ minutes of demonstration of compressions, etc.;
  • driving Bud to a performance, staying to watch, and driving home;
  • walking the marsh and the beach to look for the Snowy Owl;
  • lightsaber sparring with Bud; 
  • cleaning the porch with Mama;
  • pick up dear Mr. P and carry him when he was ill;
  • walked on rocky/shelly beaches looking sea glass (home and Block Island);
  • attending a weekend knitting retreat (with lots of sitting!);
  • walking labyrinths (at retreat and Block Island);
  • walking on wooded paths, where I saw an owl (retreat);
  • attended several parties;
  • sat through SW7 three times (once followed by dinner!);
  • Chinese New Year, with several sessions of kneeling to pray;
  • regular doctors' appointments;
  • one word:  colonoscopy;
  • and more that I can't even remember.

Friday, February 10, 2017


There was a white flash.  I thought I had blinked funny, having stared at my crochet too long.  But then, a loud, long clap of thunder which shook the windows and rattled the house.  Thundersnow!  With a definite lightning flash.  I went outside on the porch where Mama was futzing around to see if she'd seen it.  Yes.  Amazing.  I'm not sure I've been in thundersnow since the blizzard of 1995, with Gommie at the Waldorf Astoria.  Soon my FB feed lit up as other friends along the CT coast confirmed that they, too, had experienced it.  We heard it at least one more time, about an hour later, but no more flashes.  It certainly made yesterday's snow storm more interesting.

As it was, we got a good amount of snow, though the exact amount is hard to determine with all the drifting--I'd say about 8" (I usually guess high.)  We had gusts up to 45 mph, so there is snow stuck to windows and making odd shapes on the cars and roof--at times are Tibetan flags were parallel with the ground and we couldn't see down the street for the drifting.  Because it was blowing so hard, we mostly stayed inside (the kids were off yesterday and also today, because the roads are a mess.)  Crochet, yummy Korean barbecue bulgogi lunch, an evening viewing of Frozen in honor of the snow, Minecraft, baking, just a very relaxed day.  Towards the end of the storm, when it was gusting but not snowing much, Sis did go out and play with the neighbor for a bit while Mama was clearing the snow.  Thankfully, our snow blower was working so it didn't take long.

All in all, weather-wise, it's been an odd few days, as demonstrated by these two photos.  People in New England like to say, if you don't like the weather, just wait because it will change.  (Actually, people everywhere I've lived say that and each place thinks it's unique to them.)  I think, though, for the next several days we have a few more storms, albeit smaller, coming through.  But I doubt we'll see thundersnow anytime soon.



Friday, February 3, 2017

Happy Year of the Rooster!

It's Chinese (or Lunar) New Year time!  Like Christmas, it's celebrated for several weeks; though, new year is celebrated after the holiday more than before it.  Last weekend, Mama, Sis, and Bud went down for a glorious overnight with Ma, Gong, and Goo.  I stayed behind with Eris (whose tail--injured and infected so that she had stitches and a cone--is much improved), who is still separated from the other cats.  They went for a longer stay than usual because Sis wanted lessons in cooking all the special new year's food--duck, chicken, sweet taro paste, and more.  She had a wonderful time, making her own recipe book.  She brought some of the food home to me--so good!  As usual, Bud has several kung fu performances, including two this weekend.  His school is hosting a big 10th- anniversary celebration in a few weeks, also part of the new year.   Also this weekend, Sis has a Girl Scout Lunar New Year party, where they'll learn to make Vietnamese spring rolls.  It's a special year for the kiddos and Ma because they are Roosters, born in the year of the Rooster.  And though the kids are 12 this year by our reckoning, they turned 13 on new year's by Chinese reckoning (they're one year when born and then age on new year, not their birthdays.)

Which means they are already teenagers.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Music All Around

Between my vocal practices, the kids trying out for the school musical, and piano lessons, there is a lot of music in the house these days.

Every morning, I do my vocal exercises from the Natural Singer workshop with Claude Stein at Kripalu.  While I remember most of the techniques, I did sign up for the online lessons; I receive a new video or audio file each week for a year.  So there are a lot of "mmmm" and "ahh" and "nyawn" around here.  And more actual singing, too.  (Learn more about Stein and his workshops here.)  I haven't been to the musical Taize service recently, but I love the singing meditations we do.

Auditions for the school musical were last week.  Both kids tried out; neither wanted us to hear their practice song.  I was even helping out at auditions but didn't really hear them.  Sis sang Cohen's "Hallelujah," which they'd sung at the marvelous school music concert a few weeks ago.  Bud did "My Shot" from Hamilton.  The director said we should YouTube it and send it to Miranda, which was kind to say.  But Bud does remember a lot of lyrics and performs with gusto.  And both kids will be in the musical, though Sis just wants a background part.  Bud goes for callbacks today; he'd like something a little more.  And he moves well.  We'll see.  A little speaking part would thrill him.  From here, we have about four months of weekly rehearsals.  So, lots of music, lots of the time.

Bud and I still take piano, though Sis decided not to this year.  He's been playing "Memory" from Cats and "Winter Wind" by the Piano Guys, a long, lovely, and complicated piece.  I think the Cats song brings out his melancholy about dear Mo and Mr. P, who died a year ago.  He plays, is reflective for a bit, and then perks right up.  I'm practicing "The Entertainer" and it's coming along slowly; I'm also trying to put my favorite "Finlandia" into memory--that goes even more slowly, though I've been playing it for two years.

Sis has been focused on her violin, which she plays in her room.  As I mentioned, there was a concert a few weeks back, both choral and strings.  Sis is in the first violin group and Bud is one of the only cellos, both in the advanced (5th & 6th grades) orchestra.  They both plan to continue playing in junior high but are not sure if they will still be serious in high school.  See, only one high school in town has strings, so their interest becomes more broadly important.  Well, if we even still have public schools by then, with public-school enemy #1, DeVos, as Secretary of Education.

And we all like listening to music on our Sonos, a digital device which handles our music library.  I can call up any song we own while seated on the couch and choose where in the house to play it and how loud, creating my own playlists.  It's fantastic!  Hamilton has long been in the queue, sometimes current pop songs.  And I have been listening to the medieval chants of Hildegard von Bingen.  No doubt we'll put Sunset Boulevard into rotation soon.  We have tickets to see Glenn Close in a few weeks.

Then, who knows what, but you can bet there will still be song here.