A Festival of Trees – Thankful for Community

Dinos in the Museum Christmas tree
Dinos on the tree? Perfect at a museum!
Dinos on the tree? Perfect at a museum!

Generally we have a house rule that the Christmas season doesn’t kick off until after Santa waves at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but this year, Chris and broke the rules. We’re going wild now that the kids are grown and out of the house 😉 Friday night (yes, almost an entire week before Thanksgiving) found us heading to the Berkshire Museum for a fundraiser highlighting a Festival of Trees.

Persuading me to go was not difficult. 🙂

As a newbie to the area, it was really cool seeing all the different business represented. And seeing community members themselves coming to support the museum.

Local businesses created trees based on songs. It was up to us to figure out while songs each tree represented. See that one on the left? It's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Local businesses created trees based on songs. It was up to us to figure out while songs each tree represented. See that one on the left? It’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” 
Ribbon Candy on the Cookies
Ribbon candy on the cookies
Holly Jollytini and snacks. So festive!
Holly Jollytini and snacks. So festive!
There's just something about seeing classic animations highlighted next to classic sculpture.
There’s just something about seeing classic animations highlighted next to classic sculpture. 
Funky tree toppers
Funky tree toppers
A “tree” made by musicians. 
Info about the musicians' tree.
Info about the musicians’ tree. 
Info about the musicians' tree.
Info about the musicians’ tree.
Chris enjoying the delicious hot chocolate and cookies.
Chris enjoying the delicious hot chocolate and cookies.
My favorite room - the ones with the trees from local daycare and child centers :)
My favorite room – the ones with the trees from local daycare and child centers 🙂
Chris took this pic of me by one of my favorite singers. There's nobody quite like Ella Fitzgerald, imho.
Chris took this pic of me by one of my favorite singers. There’s nobody quite like Ella Fitzgerald, imho.
So many creative trees!
So many creative trees!
See Chris in the tree in the corner? That one had woodsy sounds inside. Calming.
See Chris in the tree in the corner? That one had woodsy sounds inside. Calming.
Had to take this one for our Bri, who loves pugs. Great tree topper, and the list is what the animal shelter needed donation-wise. So smart.
Had to take this one for our Bri, who loves pugs. Great tree topper, and the list is what the animal shelter needed donation-wise. So smart.

The video above this paragraph gives a bit of the feel of the museum. Love how the art is surrounded by so many different trees. If you listen closely, you can hear the high school choir singing “Silent Night” in the background.

The video below is of a tree depicting “Stairway to Heaven.” It was created by our friend Mark and his team. I think they did a fabulous job.

Artists at Work

As we traipsed through MASS MoCA, we found ourselves in the children’s area. It was delightful. There was an art bar where kids could go to get lunchboxes filled with art supplies. They took them to a table and began creating. As I watched a man and girl twisting pipe cleaners together, I was reminded of the artists in my life, and how I’m super fortunate to have so many creative souls around me.

The little girl’s pipe-cleaner art reminded me of Mollie’s Christmas creation.

These artists have the ability to take basic elements and turn them into something beautiful!

Sometimes simply fun, too.

One of my favorite parts of my existence is living with an artist, and viewing the creation process as it evolves.

To see the final results of that 2017 Christmas present in motion, check out Chris’ posts on his site.

I think that artistic dna passed on to our sons as well. Zeb’s mountain board element designs are pretty awesome. I wrote about that a bit last summer. The elements are constructed from recycled materials.

And then there is the musical art. Our son CJ performs as DJ Nevermore for events. You can see him in action on Facebook.

CJ performing December 2017.

I think he must have gotten some of his musical ability from Mom Pollock. I love listening to her play the keyboard at home as she practices for playing in church each Sunday. Here she is, playing for the Easter service in 2018.

I could probably go on forever about the artistry I see in Lauren’s coffee-making, Hudi’s savory delights, etc. But it’s difficult to describe the perfection of taste. That will have to be a writing challenge for another day. But the art is still appreciated.

Let your creative and imaginative mind run freely; it will take you places you never dreamed of and provide breakthroughs that others once thought were impossible.

― Idowu Koyenikan, Wealth for All: Living a Life of Success at the Edge of Your Ability

Treasure in the Southern end of Appalachia

While those of us who work for Automattic, Inc. have an open vacation policy (no set number of days per year), we are encouraged to take at least 25 (paid) days off. Love that! And yet I realized that I have only taken about six of those days, and I’ve been here for a year on Sept. 15. Oops. Reflecting on this, Chris and I realized this was the perfect time to visit relatives we have been trying to get to for several years now.

Earlier this year, we visited my parents and sister in Pennsylvania. In early June we visited cousins in Maryland. In July we checked in with my cousin and his wife in Boston. For August, we decided to take two weeks off and have some eclectic adventures. Our first stop was traveling south (after a golf game with my co-worker, Sam, and our friend Amy) to visit my aunt and uncle.IMG_20150829_153045315

I do believe I took the longest road trip I have ever been on last week. Certainly in my almost-24 years of marriage. Chris and I petted our car, told it what a great job its been doing over the last few years and encouraged it to keep that up as we journeyed from one end of Appalachia to another point in the mountain ranges of North Carolina. Whenever we have a trip that entails over 8 hrs of driving, we generally hit the skies. This time, we hit a hotel instead, breaking the 11.5 hr trip in two. It was a good idea, although we figure we might sleep in the back of the mini-van at a state park next time we do that.

It’s unusual for me to get sick, but I was nailed with a nasty cold after camp week, and my body was still dragging, although the cold had broken a week prior to this visit. When my aunt asked what we might want to do (museums, tourist attractions, etc), I commented that all we wanted to do was sit and relax and see their world at the other end of Appalachia (I always pronounced that as apple-long A-cha, but apparently it’s a short “a” such as “throw an apple at-cha.” The things I learn. To our great delight, this is exactly what happened. We arrived at their house around 4:30 pm on Sunday and sat and yakked until 1 am when we forced ourselves to go to bed only to wake up the next day and start the gabbing all over again until the wee hours of the next morning.

This chattering was only interrupted by occasional naps (I was so relaxed, I took TWO naps the first day I was there. Talk about luxury) and by the serving of amazing food. We had pulled pork with coleslaw on it the first night (with a side of fried okra) and we also had livermush and shrimp and grits (yum!!!). Aunt Anne served up a feast each morning. Her idea of a light breakfast is several cereals, some sort of cooked egg, livermush, sausages, bacon and some sort of toast/muffin/coffeecake. My idea of breakfast (coffee only) was tossed to the wind. Amazing. I might need to reconsider this breakfast concept.

Uncle John’s brain is a treasure trove of history just waiting to be tapped. I swear he saved me back in the fifth grade when he tutored me in history. He took me beyond the dates to the actual stories, making the human connection that fed the love I have for history to this day. That hasn’t changed a bit. He still has the knack and has passed on this gift to his son. My cousin John $ regaled us with fascinating tidbits of life in the hills and the history of the Cherokee. I am more familiar with the Seneca nation so it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences in the tribes from different parts of Appalachia.

Chris, $ and I met my uncle’s cousin as well. Peter was visiting from Illinois, coming back to the mountains where he grew up for a dulcimer meeting. He blogs about his music, and to our delight, he gave us a mini concert.

I think I will write a post about this in the future so I won’t go into too many details here, but the musical conversation was very interesting and inspirational. My aunt did a nice writeup on the visit on her blog page.

On our last full day there, $ took Chris and me off to play in the mountains. We hiked for several hours through incredible views. I saw fantastic fungus and fresh-ish bear scat in addition to tempting camping spots. My biggest regret was that we hadn’t packed sleeping bags and planned to stay longer. Now we know for next time.

We completed the perfect day by going to a fabulous Mexican restaurant then headed back to the tranquil house for more yakking before hitting the hay. Wednesday morning came all too soon, and we pushed off leaving as long as we could. Aunt Anne kindly played the piano and sang The Angel Gabriel at my request. If you ever want a glimpse of heaven, you need to hear her beautiful, clear voice singing that.

Topping off the trip, we stopped in PA on the way home and visited with my niece who is in college there. We had such a nice visit, but I forgot to take a picture 🙁 Next time… We also hit the Buffalo WordPress meetup as we journeyed homeward. Now I have one week left of my vacation. The car did great, and we are so proud of it. So much to see and do, and lots of relaxing with loved ones on the agenda. We are blessed.

Three Songs – My Favorites – What are Yours?

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

That’s today’s assignment. As a music-lover this should be easy-breezy right?

Bet you thought I would say it was difficult!

But actually, it was pretty easy for me.

I have eclectic taste in music. I enjoy the Disney channel on Pandora as much as I love Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis, Broadway tunes, Skrillex, Aerosmith, Rachmaninov and Pavarotti.

But I still know my three.

1. Edvard Grieg’s Wedding at Troldhaugen

Back when I was a little one, my mother played this while I played with my toys. Watching her hands fly across the keyboard was a true delight. When I was nine we went to Norway, and I got to see Grieg’s studio overlooking the fjord. It tugged at the very root of my Nordic ancestral soul. When I was in seventh or eighth grade (I can’t remember which), I was able to play this in a school performance, and my best friend played it at my wedding. She loved it so much, she had it at her wedding, too.

2. Little Brown Church in the Vale by William Pitts

This one’s a bit hokey, but that’s part of why I love it so much. My in-law’s have some cabins at a little tiny church campground. My mother-in-law has been going there for over 80 years. For ten days every summer, a group of families gather for worship, singing, games and general relaxation.

Our tabernacle is a building in the center of the campgrounds, and the sides of the building are propped open when the weather is nice. At night when we gather, we are generally tired from doing crafts and classes in the morning, walking through the woods and swimming at Little Falls where we also hunt for crawfish. We sing together, and often wind up belting out a hearty off-key rendition of this song. Although tired, we leave this place to have ice cream and yak with our friends.

It ain’t fancy, but that little tabernacle in the camp is a haven for my family and me.

3. And finally…Brokedown Palace by the Grateful Dead

This will hopefully be played a my funeral someday.

Let me be frank. I want no pomp and circumstance when I go. I’m cool with taking the next step in my journey and look forward to heaven. I don’t need a tombstone, and I don’t want people to spend $ they don’t have for travel unless they really feel they need to.

That said, if I could plan my own ideal send-off, it would be aweseome if my loved ones had an all-night party, celebrating life. Goodbyes are important, I know. So tossing my ashes into some body of water as the sun rises and this song plays would, imho, be the perfect way to part. The rising sun symbolizing a new beginning for my loved ones in a world without me, and for myself as I embrace paradise.

Mama, Mama, many worlds I’ve come
since I first left home …

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
to rock my soul

If you had to name your three favorite songs, what would they be?

Sometimes It's Okay to Just Have Fun

Drawing of a film reel
Image via Wikipedia

One of our most enjoyable family pastimes is sharing our favorite YouTube clips with each other. Whether it promotes discussion or just a good laugh, the clips always add to family dinner conversation. Here are some of the clips our kids shared with us this week.
Just Have Fun With Funky Music
Hudi (12) really enjoyed Techno Jeep from JulianSmith.TV. I can see why. The ingenious young people who filmed this short clip created a song with great rhythm and sound…and they did it all using a Jeep as an instrument. How creative is that?
Find Out How Neat Nature Is
Zeb (14) introduced us to Neature Walk (no, I didn’t spell that wrong). It’s all about how neat nature it, and frankly, it’s just plain goofy. I dare you to watch it without rolling your eyes and chuckling at least once. My favorite part was @1:10. What’s your favorite part?
Getting Serious With Music
CJ (18) shared an incredible piece of music with us entitled Jon Schmidt & Steven Sharp Nelson – Love Story Meets Viva la Vida. Yup, that’s right, Taylor Swift meets Coldplay in this awesome arrangement by Jon Schmidt. It’s totally cool seeing two grown men having so much fun with classical instruments. It gets even better – the true greatness is in the sound of the instruments (piano, cello, and voice). Gotta tell you. We’ll be looking for more talent from this duo in our household!
So what about you? Are there any clips you particularly enjoy sharing with your family? Let me know so we can check it out.

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Save Money on Music Lessons

Last week, our son became a pianist thanks to the Internet (the video of him playing is at the end of this article). We didn’t have to pay for lessons, and we didn’t have to nag him about practicing. All we did was offer him an Internet connection, and he did the rest on his own.

Before our kids were even born, we decided to constantly surround them with music and art. We offered them lessons, but didn’t force anything. CJ became a clarinetist then taught himself piano, Hudi took to the trombone, and Zeb? Well, for several years now Zeb has excelled in Rock Band (drums and guitar). I’ll tell the tale of how our family has bonded over Rock Band another day. Today, I’m going to write about YouTube.
YouTube Rocks
That’s right. YouTube.
Zeb found a tutorial online that showed how to play a Chiodos song he enjoyed (Lindsey Quit Lolligagging). It demonstrated how to play note-for-note.
Within a few hours, Zeb was playing an identifiable song on the piano, an instrument he had never been drawn to before. That’s no replacement for lessons, you might point out, and you are right to some extent. I get it. I was a keyboard (piano) minor in college. I guess the real question comes down to why you want to learn music.

  • Enjoyment? Zeb certainly had that.
  • Structure and discipline? He plays for hours on a daily basis now.
  • Music theory? Ah, that might be the catch, but Zeb naturally found a way around that, too.

Learn Music Theory Unconventionally
Zeb was so interested in his music that he found the sheet music online and printed it out. He laboriously went through and labeled all the notes. He researched key signatures, time signatures, and brushed up on his rhythm.
It was way cool.
Now Zeb set his iPod touch to blast through the speakers, and he plays along. Check it out in the recording. This was after he had been playing a few days. Yes, there are some rough patches, but I figured that’s good because it shows that it really is he who is playing the keyboard.
I love hearing that boy play. Watch him play and let us know what you think.

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