Monday, June 23, 2014

Perfectly Pleasant

I'm sitting on the sun porch. The screens are all open and the birds are making their usual evening racket. The air is filled with the scent of the herbs in pots hanging from the deck railing.  Yes, I actually use them for cooking. The temperature is just right: not too hot, not too cool, just perfectly pleasant. The kind of evening you read about in books by Willa Cather or F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Too early for the frog and the toad sex chorus, but they'll join in soon enough. They make the strangest racket when they get started. Used to scare the kids when they were little. 

Speaking of toads, while I was mowing this afternoon, an enormous brown hoppy guy jumped up right in front the tractor then scooted under the air conditioner. It was a big ol' thing, a classic American toad, all puffed up and it splayed its legs out when it jumped. Kinda cool, actually. There were also more baby bunnies than I want to know about. At least a dozen jumped outta my way between the front, the back, and the side hills. They are so cute, but then they grow up to be big PITA rabbits who eat my flowers and that does not make me a happy person. 

And speaking of flowers, there is not exactly a bumper crop this year; the trees need serious trimming and I hate the thought of what it's gonna cost to get the tree surgeon and his elves out here. Last time, it was a serious chunk of change all so that a little ray of sun can reach the front garden which more closely resembles a rain forest than a perennial garden it's supposed to be.

And speaking of serious chunks of change, I have to replace the throne in the "powder room." That's the first floor guest bathroom for those of you who don't live in an over-sized barn like this one. It's the only not-white throne in the house. It's Innocent Blush. As is the sink. So the question rose, if I cannot get the same color, as it is being phased out, and have to change the color of the throne, do I have to change the sink...and if I'm doing that, why not bite the bullet and do the counter (it's only like 4' long) with a drop basin? Well, Home Depot to the rescue....they have the toilet in stock. Did you know the toilet seat is separate and costs like thirty bucks???????? I'm gonna see if the old one will fit. 

And speaking of things that need replacing, after 26 long, hard, disgusted years, the kitchen floor that Armstrong declared defective the first month we lived in the house, refused to replace, and subsequently destroyed by removing the top layer of acrylic in at attempt to convince me all I had to do was wax the damn finally going away. That's 77 square yards of floor including the laundry room that I have to figure out what to do with all by myself. (Apologies to Busy Timmy)

And speaking of other things I have to do all by myself, the window guy who is replacing the windows on the sun porch where I am sitting, mentioned the front right tire of the tractor was low. No prob! Just whip out the ol' air compressor.....only I cannot for the life of me remember how to turn it on, so I leave a message for Junior Son who knows all things mechanical, being a mechanical engineer and all, and gee, isn't this why we sent him to college? Nuthin. No response. Then I remembered he doesn't do phone any more, so I sent the following IM:

He called. He walked me through it and I now can turn on the air compressor all by myself. With a newly filled tire, I mowed the lawn and whilst doing so, disposed of half-eaten gosling in middle of back yard. No, I didn't chop it up with the blades. I got a shovel and delicately deposited the headless-footless carcass  in the weeds near the pond where the appropriate wildlife might handle it in a natural, yet discreet manner. 

If you haven't figured it out, I'm not complaining. I'm relishing the fact that I am upright and taking oxygen. Five years ago, this stuff woulda put me under. I never could have dealt with the toilet and the trees and the tires. But now, it's simply what I do. It's not special. it's not grand, it's living. It's getting up, going to work, putting food on the table and electricity in the sockets. It is what it is.

And while all this is going on, I am counting my blessings. I have a job, a house, a father-in-law who keeps me grounded, parents who even over 90 are there for me when I think I'm losing my way. I have a bro who makes me laugh, kids that think I'm just weird, and a couple of seriously close friends and relatives who discreetly prop me up when I am falling over. And I do occasionally want to fall over. Believe me when I tell you I know just how lucky, fortunate, blessed...if you must, and thankful I am. Seriously. Everyone should have the opportunities I have had. 
  • Everyone should have good parents....and if you don't, you should have the opportunity to overcome the set back by having good mentors and teachers. 
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to get the best education possible. That doesn't necessarily mean means learning to do what you love so you can love what you do and make a living wage at it. 
  • Everyone should be able to access decent health care, be able to make informed choices about their own bodies, and then have access to health facilities to act on those choices. 
  • Everyone should have a roof overhead. Children should be safe in their own beds.
  • Everyone who is a citizen of these here United States should have easy access to a polling place. 
  • Everyone who wants to come to America to participate in this grand experiment should have access to a route to make that happen. 
There is a reason lots of people want to sign on, and it's not to bomb the subways and the airports; it's to give themselves and their families a better life. And why not? They look out or up and see America as a place so different from their own that it's like a beacon. Of course, the gold is always shinier on the other side of the fence, but......

Watching the primaries in various states is not really lighting up the sky, is it? And Cantor's defeat in Virginia is not exactly a harbinger of good things to come. I'm not exactly buoyed by the idea they're running the same sponge cake against CongressClown Kline as last time. This is the guy who couldn't remember people in Mendota Heights knew how to color in the little ballot circles. 

Meanwhile, CongressClown Kline panders to the rural base out here, pretty much ignoring little ol' Mendota Heights with her manicured lawns and collection of SUVs. The clown likes to believe his entire district is rural.....dotted with giant tractors and combines., know, manly things

Speaking of tractors, while mowing today, I took a corner a teensy bit wide, knocked over the recycling bucket. All I could think was, "I've killed R2."

The joys of home ownership. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience them.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
See what happens when you're on the sun porch too long?
You ramble.

Monday, June 16, 2014

It's All Magic

Youthful director with belief suspended
In my previous life, I was a working theater person. I hold a Master of Fine Arts in directing, have been an artistic director of a small theater, coached singer/actors...specializing in opera, and spent some 20 years as a working children’s playwright. Although I left the active field a few years ago, I have close friends who remain in the business. The point of all this is to admit I am still a theater person. Not an actor, a theater person. I love the business of show much more than I love show business.

I love the stats and the numbers and the technical expertise it takes to get a show on the boards. I was a huge fan of the original ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT when they used to talk grosses and nets, who was casting, who was taking what where. When it became PEOPLE on tv, I was gone.

It should be no surprise, then, that I loved the Oscars more when the technical awards were presented on the telecast. Movies aren't just about pretty faces on a screen; movies are technology and science and art all rolled into one. Yes, you have to have actors, but a good director can make a bad actor look good, and a good cinematographer can make a lousy director look brilliant. It's all about the collaboration of sets, lights, costumes, sound, and then the actors. Without the consummate joining of artistic forces, you get Norma Jean Baker, not Marilyn Monroe. 

When offered California, I turned it down in favor of live theater. I wanted the real magic, the kind that’s about immediate suspension of belief. It's live, in person,...and on Broadway, 8 times a week. Sure, actors work hard to learn their lines and their movements, but tech people make magic. PETER PAN cannot fly without the flies guy. The entrancing uber-marionettes of  THE LION KING could not dance without the technowizards,  and I won’t even mention the dark magic of SPIDERMAN.

Straight plays need the magic of technical theater just as much to morph from the plush seat into whatever world the playwright creates. Without those magicians, it’s just a bunch of people reading stuff out loud.

Tech people know it’s their job is to be invisible. Nobody really wants to see the strings, the cables, and the trapdoor. The audience wants to be dazzled and it’s up to the tech folks to do that. Originally, only sets, lights, and costumes were recognized Tony categories, but The American Theater Wing and The Broadway League came to their senses and added Sound Design for a Play and Sound Design for a Musical to the list of Tony awards in 2008.

I remember that announcement, and how both Steve and I greeted it with cheers. Long had we felt sound was one of two missing award categories. We were thrilled to see sound designers finally recognized as the artistic contributors that they are. It was a huge milestone in recognizing the growth of technical expertise as art. Sound was more than placing a microphone. It was introducing the noise of the play, those sounds you need to hear in the back of your head to know you are where you are supposed to be….on a train….on a street… a hot flat with a fan whirring in the background. Our world is not silent; the stage should not be either. Honoring those achievements in sound is no less important than honoring achievements in sets, lights, and costumes.

And now, in a seemingly inexplicable move, The American Theater Wing announced they are discontinuing the sound category beginning with the 2014-2015 Tony season.

When I decided to write about this, I understood I would not be writing about the executions in Iraq this past week, or the kidnapping of teenagers in Israel, or even this week’s version of stupidity by the GOP. I know that a sound award is narishkeit in light of world events, and I fully understand that this may be deemed trivial.

Broadway sound board
But it is not. Our nation needs art and people who produce art, especially the ones whose faces are not on the marquees of this world. We need the men and women who work behind the scenes to give us the entertaining experience we’ve paid to have. Recognizing those artists whose work contributes to the gestalt of the show is crucial to our understanding of how that production gets to be on any stage. It doesn’t matter if it’s Broadway or the Elk River Community Theater; designers design wherever there is a production to be mounted. If reaching Broadway is a pinnacle of success in one’s field, then sound cannot and must not be excluded from recognition. Recognition is not to be underrated. Everyone needs it...especially the people who work on behind the curtain, in the dark, out of sight. Everyone wants to feel their work counts. 

American Theater Wing and Broadway League: taking away the award is a terrible slap in the face to all of technical theater. Don’t do it.

Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Day

I mentioned there were two categories we thought were missing from Tony recognition. The second is Production Stage Management for both a play and a musical. Anyone who has ever worked the boards knows this is the single most unsung, under-appreciated, underrated, and absolutely essential position behind the scenes.
They need a couple of Tonys BIG time. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

What Comes Around

That first, grass-less spring - 1989
When we moved into the house we built 25 years ago, it was the biggest tar paper and chicken wire shack you could imagine. When the snow melted and the stucco went up, our property boundaries were pretty clear...we had no grass and everyone around us did. It was easy for Asta the Wonder Springer to figure out her patrol perimeter without ever needing a leash or a tether.

Sometime during that first summer, Asta encountered the great blue heron. Oh, he was magnificent! Our neighbor explained the bird had had a mate, but the summer before she hadn't returned to the pond with him. Seems herons mate for life, and this guy was a widower. He hung out all summer near the house, watching with interest as the sod was laid and Asta patrolled. One really hot day, Asta made her way through the weeds and out onto the promontory into the pond. The heron, who had been standing there, immediately took off. Asta parked her butt on the mud and just sat there. Thus began a beautiful friendship.

Every year the heron came back and and every year they inched closer and closer together until they were spending many a companionable dusk hour side by side; Asta sat and the heron stood on one leg. After a few years, the heron took to announcing his arrival by standing in the middle of the backyard staring at the house...until Asta came out. The summer after Asta died, the heron came into the yard day after day after day...until the puppy arrived. Big Blue had no interest in meeting this white bundle of trouble. Still, it isn’t really spring until Big Blue shows up in the yard and stares at the house until one of us sees him.

the new kid on the block
This spring, however, I was worried. Very worried. I'd seen a heron, a young one not quite as big as our old guy, but not our heron. A couple of days ago, I spotted a new fellow hanging out in a tree over the culvert that feeds into our pond. It was a black crowned night heron. I'd seen them before, but this guy was taking up residence in the tree. Since he never moved while Peri was running around the yard, I thought I might be able to get a picture. Slowly, I crept down there and had just taken the first shot when a duck started quacking and the heron took off.  I was about to walk away when suddenly there was this flapping noise.

Big Blue rose straight up from the culvert where he must have been fishing. It was just like when the Enterprise rises from the water in INTO THE DARKNESS. Turning as he came up, he saw me. He paused for just a second or two and we stared at each other. It was as though he said, "Oh, it's you. No prob." And he dropped back down into the culvert.

I was so relieved to see him. Deliriously so. One more thing in my world had not changed when so many others had.

This past Saturday came and went the way all days come and go. But in my world, it was on June 7th five years ago that Ziggy shuffled off his mortal coil and slipped the surly bonds of this world. But next Friday night at sundown, the 16th of Sivan will begin and we mark his passing on the Jewish calendar. We’ll light yahrzeit candles before lighting Shabbat candles, and we will say kaddish for him in shul. And when the sun goes down and the day ends, we will begin another year without him.

So where does Big Blue fit? Well, it’s like this. The year after Asta died, spring was really late and so was the heron. I asked Ziggy if he thought the heron wasn’t coming back. Ziggy shook his head. “Nah, I think the weather has slowed things down,” he said. “He knows the fishing is good here and no on will bother him. I think he’ll come back because this is his home.” Then he looked out over the yard and added, “Besides, I can’t imagine summer without him hanging out. He’s a part of our landscape.”

Ziggy’s the one who isn’t coming back, but he is very much still part of our landscape. It’s true, I’m changing some things in the house because it is, after all, my house now, and I feel only a little bit weird about making decisions without him. Five years into the process of moving on, I have my moments, but they’re fewer now, and no one but me ever really notices, and that’s okay.
One day, the heron won’t come back either. I will grieve for that big bird, and I will grieve for another ending. But until that time I will not dwell on the prospect. Besides, I have a new kitchen floor and counters to pick out.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Left to her own devices, Mother Nature's inclination is to grow stuff.
Always leave a buffer zone between you and the pond for her version of landscaping.

Monday, June 2, 2014

All This From An Illegal Alien

Seven weeks after Passover...and you can count 'em precisely on your own fingers...comes the holiday of Shavuot...which means "Weeks" in Hebrew... which comes from the Hebrew word shevah...which just happens to mean seven......getting the picture here? Seven is a magic number. It happens to be a prime number as well, but that's another story. In this story, we're talking about counting seven days of seven weeks for a total of 49 days of the counting of the Omer, the measure of barley brought to the Temple in Jerusalem each day between the two holidays. It's a harvest thing. And on the 49th day, we observe the moment we stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai and received the Torah...the Law.

I rather like Shavuot. It's a gentle holiday, it kinda comes with the start of summer and there's always a picnic on the lawn after shul lets out. When the kids were little, I always had a hamper full of enough good stuff to feed any and all comers. Cousin Bud used to always come for a bagel and lox. The rabbi always stopped for a bit of creamed herring (my personal secret recipe) on a Trisket. And cheesecake. Lots of cheesecake. There was t-ball, soccer, and softball. Volleyball sometimes, gaga always, and lots of good old fashioned running amok. 

There's also a tradition that comes down to us from the Kabbalists of the 16th century...the Tikkun Leil Shavuot. People stay up to study all night long. In our shul, people teach on different topics throughout the night. I've taught at several and it's just an amazing thing to do. It never hurts to learn a little bit more. 

Shavuot is also the holiday when we read the Book of Ruth. This is a terrific story, and just one more case where the book is sooooo much better than the movie. It's not very long, but right now, it's pretty timely.  The juxtaposition of receiving Torah and reading Ruth used to baffle me. Not so much any more. I see the books as necessary complements. Torah, with its 613 positive commandments gives us more than just law. It gives us a calendar, that thing which turns a ragtag group of people into a community. Reading Ruth on the same day we mark receiving Torah is a confirmation that we are more than just a bunch of laws. We are a living, breathing people who pay attention to not just the law, but to the cycles of our lives...the calendar, the life cycle, the agricultural cycle.... But back to the Book of Ruth.

The books begins with the end of Naomi's time as an immigrant in Moab with her husband and sons. Her sons married Moabite women. All three men have died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law with no way to earn a living. Naomi decides it's time for her to return to her own country.

The daughters-in-law want to follow, but Naomi tries to send them back to their families, telling the younger women to find new husbands and live a fulfilled life. Orpah goes, but Ruth refuses, and utters those oh, so famous words:
Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back from following you. Where you go,  I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G-d, my G-d. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.
And so they head to Bethlehem.  Naomi could return legally, but Ruth, a Moabite, was not exactly welcome in Judah since the countries were usually at war. 

In order to survive, Naomi sends Ruth to glean in the fields of her kinsman Boaz. Under Jewish law, the farmer must not cut the corners of his field, nor may he pick up any sheafs that have fallen. Those are left for the poor, the ones who need public assistance. In the scheme of things, her decision may not seem like much, but the world changes because of it. Ruth eventually marries Boaz because of the Levirate law that requires a kinsman to marry a widow. Boaz and Ruth have a son, Perez. Perez has a son, Jesse. And Jesse has a son.....David. Yes, that David. 

c. 2012 by Lee Prohofsky.
The one who would become King David was the great grandson of Ruth, a poor, illegal alien.

Ruth is the embodiment of why we have laws. It should be no surprise that we read her story on a holiday that celebrates the law and the harvest. Nope. No surprise at all. 

Naomi and Ruth probably would've liked the picnic part. Especially the kids running amok on the lawn. Moms and grandmas like that sort of thing. 

The Wifely Person' Tip o'the Week
A calendar is more than a place to mark birthdays and anniversaries;
it's a good place to chronicle the comings of your life