June 26, 2014

Behind the Vines/Outside the Box

Last Sunday, I was asked to give a classical guitar performance at a poetry reading that took place at a vineyard in Stony Brook. The event was set in a grassy area "behind the vines," which gave the day its name. It was a beautiful atmosphere for the arts and a little exploring of the grounds lent an excellent view of a nearby observatory. For my part, I played guitar pieces in the Spanish and Baroque styles and also got to do some spoken word with classics by William Shakespeare and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. With it being a pristine day of blue skies, gentle breezes, and wispy clouds, I very much enjoyed the poetry reading.

Also during this past week, I paid a visit to the Mills Pond House Gallery, where focus on the arts shifted from "Behind the Vines" to "Outside the Box." For their latest exhibition, each of the house's four rooms was dedicated to the works of a different Long Island artist. The displays were quite multimedia and interactive and meant to explore new avenues of artistic expression. At the entrance of the first room, I was prompted to put on a pair of white gloves before opening a small cabinet with a skeleton key. Inside was a representation of a Michelangelo journal that was created by Kyle Blumenthal. As I stepped further into the room, I sensed colorful lighting, a video screen, and music, all of which enhanced the experience of the vibrant pieces that hung on the walls.

Upon entering the second room, the sounds of rolling ocean waves drifted on to my ears. This set a unique tone for the flowing, liquid images that would be represented by the works of JoAnne Dumas. These pieces absolutely shimmered before my eyes.

In the third room, I found a series of dollhouses created by one Paul Farinacci. Looking through the tiny windows, I unknowingly became privy to scenes of domestic violence, isolation, and eating disorders. I experienced an instant uneasy feeling. Very brilliant artwork indeed. Quite fascinating and poignant.

The last room on the tour transported me into floral world of Mary Ahern. Magnificent! Without question, these four artists made up one of the best displays that I've ever seen at the Mills Pond House Gallery. The exhibit will be on hand only until Saturday. If you'll be anywhere near the Stony Brook area in the next two days, I definitely suggest checking it out.

"The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD
lack no good thing."

~Psalm 34:10


June 15, 2014

Yay for Dads!

Happy Father's Day! To me, being a father is just about the most wonderful thing in life. Of all the hats that I wear from day to day -- husband, son, friend, employee, co-worker, writer, performance artist, musician, blogger, gardener, adventurer, etc. -- being called "Daddy" by my children trumps them all. In my eyes, the happiness of my kids far outweighs my own and it means everything. To see my son and daughter doing well is truly a blessing and I thank God for the privilege. It is because of them and the love that we share that this day is special for me. So, Dads, enjoy your barbeques and your breakfasts in bed, your trips to the beach, your hand-made cards, your new tie and after shave lotion, your afternoon relaxing in the lounge chair with the iced tea in the cup holder and the ball game on the radio. Enjoy it all. Yay Dads!

Well, thus far, late-Spring in NY has been made up of a series of rainy weeks with sunny weekends. Last week was no different, so, in order to enjoy the warmth, I took my kids for a ride over to Adventureland on Saturday morning. We went on a few rides, played Skeeball in the arcade, and had some snacks. My kids each won a slide whistle; I'll leave it up to your imagination to guess what the soundtrack of the day must have been like. Woo hoo!

In the afternoon, we headed over to Caumsett State Historic Park on Lloyd Harbor, a peninsula that juts out into the Long Island Sound. The park is English estate with European-inspired cottages, bathhouses, and a mansion. The grounds also feature polo stables with lots of horses, a walled garden, and a 3-mile paved loop through thick woods that is frequented by bicyclists and joggers. About halfway around the loop, an earthen path meanders off to a hill that gives an amazing vista of a fresh water pond and continues down the slope to a rocky beach. It is a beautiful, pastoral scene.

One other thing that we did this weekend was to go to the schoolyard to fly our kites. I once again took out the Red Baron, along with a few others that I have picked up in my travels. I love the sight of a kite when it is in flight high in the air, its tail stretched out on the breeze. It's very graceful. Cheers!

"My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in."

~Proverbs 3:11-12


June 8, 2014

Gettysburg Field Trip: Day 2

Thursday, May 29: As I lay in bed on the morning of the second day of this trip, I though about the 6:00am check out time and the continental breakfast that would be waiting for me in the dining room. It was a quiet morning, very unlike the evening before in which I spend quite a while laying in bed listening to some of the kids from the trip running through the hotel corridors engaged in some kind of game of Civil War-themed tag. The thought was a pleasant one. When breakfast time was finished, the last muffin eaten, and the last cup of orange juice drained, the entire group once again loaded on to the buses for the battlefield tour. My son and I had taken the battlefield tour during our previous visit to Gettysburg and both times now we have been extremely impressed by the tour guides. Very knowledgeable and passionate about the Civil War. It felt really good to be seeing all of the famous landmarks again: Little Roundtop, Culp's Hill, Cemetary Ridge, Peach Orchard, etc. The monuments that stand in all of these places are absolutely amazing to see. If you've never been there, a trip to Gettysburg is something that I highly recommend.

After completing the tour and dropping the guides back off at the Visitor's Center, the buses once again hit the highway for the long ride to New Jersey. Once crossing over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge at Philadelphia, the buses stopped for a mediocre lunch at a buffet place, and then it was on to the Adventure Aquarium. This is also a place that my son and I have visited in the past, though we definitely found new things that grabbed our attention. I liked the hippopotami in particular. For such immense creatures, they can glide through the water as if they were birds in flight. It's fascinating to see. I also really enjoyed the shark tunnel and the jellyfish tanks. My son and his friends got caught up watching a wrestling match that erupted between two lobsters. If these crustaceans only knew that they had a captive audience...

It was another 3-hour drive back to New York and it was after 8:00pm when the bus wheels finally touched down in the school parking lot. As I unloaded the bags from under the bus, I glanced around at all of the kids. During one of the school meetings, the teachers said that the students would come back from this trip a little bit different from when they left and I could definitely see what they meant. These children went off to Gettysburg as elementary schoolers and returned as young people ready for the experience of Middle School. It was a beautiful thing to see. Love & light!

"Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth. 
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness."

~Psalm 96:11-13


June 3, 2014

Gettysburg Field Trip: Day 1

Wednesday, May 28: This was it. All of the cookie dough sales and fund raising events that my family had been involved in over the last six months were about to pay off. This was the morning of the Fifth Grade field trip to Gettysburg that I would be taking with my son. This would be his last hurrah with all of his friends before they move up to the Middle School in the Fall. I was really looking forward to it. The journey began in front of the school at 4:30am. All of the kids, parents, and teachers (over 120 people in all) loaded on to three large tour buses for the 5-hour drive. It's kinda funny, as the bus drove by the neighborhoods and shopping centers of my home town, it all somehow looked a little different to me. It was as if the excitement of the journey made all of the familiar sights new again. After the long drive through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the bus finally arrived at the Gettysburg Visitor's Center to the sound of cheers from all of the kids on the bus. As a family trip, my son and I had already visited Gettysburg a few years ago, though I was happy to see that the school's itinerary had many different stops on it than the ones we had already seen, the first of which was the Gettysburg Cyclorama.

The Cyclorama is a 360-degree cylindrical painting that is 22 feet high and 279 feet in circumference. It was painted by French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux and depicts images from a Confederate infantry attack on Union soldiers called "Picket's Charge" which occurred on July 3, 1863. The experience of the Cyclorama is further enhanced with surround sound effects and dramatic lighting. One could actually see the sparks of cannon fire on the walls. The deep sounds shook the floor beneath my feet and rumbled in my chest. It was quite awe-inspiring. The Visitor's Center also boasts a museum that houses all kinds of artifacts from the Civil War. I was very excited to find a piece of yellowed paper that bears the signature of Abraham Lincoln.

The next stop of the trip was at the Jennie Wade House. Jennie Wade has the distinction of being the only civilian to be killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. The hole made by the fatal errant bullet can still be found in the front door of the house exactly where it was made 151 years before as an unsuspecting 20-year-old Jennie Wade stood at her oven baking bread.

Next on the itinerary was the Eisenhower Farm. This was the dwelling that would be the permenent home of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower in 1961 after they would leave the White House. As the decor of the house remains unchanged with all original furnishings, a jaunt to this farm is like a step into a time capsule.

From the Eisenhower Farm, the buses finally brought us to the hotel for check-in and dinner. As we were eating our pizza, the group was regaled with Civil War stories by a guest speaker, Abraham Lincoln. I must say, I was very excited to see and hear the Gettysburg Address performed so well. The actor did a really terrific job of portraying Honest Abe.

The evening would have one more treat in store for us, a ghost tour! At 9:00pm, everyone met in front of the hotel to be broken up into groups. Each group got to walk with a guide by lantern light. It had been raining during dinner and the streets were damp which added to the spookiness of the proceedings. As we walked, we were entertained with some of the ghostly stories and sightings of Gettysburg. The tour brought us through a haunted museum and into the eerie confines of a dungeon. Of course, we didn't witness anything remotely supernatural or scary and we knew that the walk was more about humbuggery than history, but it was still a fun way to end the evening!

"For thou hast girded me
with strength unto the battle:
thou hast subdued under me those
that rose up against me."

~Psalms 18:39