August 31, 2014

Checking Alice Off the Bucket List

While I don't really go to concerts anymore due to soaring ticket prices, there are a few classic musical artists who I have always said that I simply must see perform live at least once in my life. For the longest time, the very top spot on my list has been occupied by shock rock veteran, Alice Cooper. 

On Friday, August 29, Alice came to the Jones Beach Amphitheater as the opening act for Motley Crue's final tour. With a ticket in the upper deck going for a quasi-reasonable $25, I decided that I would seize the opportunity. Friday had been a rough day. While at work, I had the misfortune of witnessing a motorcycle accident that ended up in a fatality. The sight of such a horrible thing had shaken me up quite a bit and, by the time evening had rolled around, I was definitely looking for a little distraction. And Alice Cooper brought the goods! Playing most of his classic hits, Alice sounded great and put on a very entertaining show. It had all of those Funhouse-like elements that have made Alice Cooper such a unique name over the years. His concert gave me a wonderful feeling of nostalgia and it was exactly what I needed. I took great joy in singing along with every word.

Headlining the night was Motley Crue. After signing their "Cessation of Touring" agreement, this is to be their last tour ever and I could see why the decision is the right one. While they brought all of the grand-scale Rock & Roll glitz that one might expect, the pyrotechnics couldn't mask the fact that their music is stuck in a brief period of the 80s and just sounds stale in 2014. During any banter with the audience, the F-bomb was dropped multiple times, but, nowadays, the use of foul language from the stage just seems more trite that tough. At one point, a pair of scantily-clad, young girls appeared on stage to perform a pole-dancing act during "Girls, Girls, Girls," however, as I never lost sight of the fact that the band is now made up of middle-aged men, this came off as kinda weird and creepy. I have also never bought into the idea of "sex sells" in the arts. For me, half-naked girls on risers couldn't hide the fact that the band just sounded bad, and, as the name of the tour suggests: "All Bad Thing Must Come to an End." Whereas Alice Cooper brought a welcomed feeling of nostalgia, Motley Crue was just old hat. While I certainly respect them for signing their legally-binding agreement to never tour again, I was actually waiting for the concert to be over by the fourth song.

"All a man's ways seem right to him,
but the LORD weighs the heart."
~ Proverbs 21:2

August 21, 2014

Red Jalapenos and Other Hot Topics

I can hardly believe that the whole "Back To School" vibe is already here. To me, it feels like the summer was only just getting started, but now I'm noticing that the mornings have a trace of that autumnal nip in the air. Next Monday, the college is back in full swing and it almost doesn't seem possible. I definitely get that sense of newness at work these days, though, I have to confess that I didn't get to do as many things as I usually do during a summer and the thought of the approaching autumn is just a tad underwhelming. This weekend, we'll be having what is only our second Avant Garden Poetry Amphitheatre party for 2014; I really wanted to have a lot more. I guess we shall have to see what September and October will have in store weather-wise. With any luck, the warmth will stick around for a while longer. I do love the autumn, but, this time around, it kinda snuck up on me. One good thing that has come from this time of year is that I harvested my first batch of red jalapenos from the garden. For those of you that have ever only had the green ones that are found in supermarkets, the difference between ripe and green peppers is like night and day. Once red, jalapenos really turn up both the flavor and the heat. I sliced up several and pickled them in a jar. I love to cover my burgers in the little rings. They're so delicious and warming. All it takes is few pickled peppers and a dash of Sriracha sauce to make the burgers really sing. There is also something special about eating foods that one has grown at home. The taste is just a little bit nicer.

This past week, I did get to go on one of my djembe hikes. It is one of those trips in which I venture into the woods with my drum on my shoulder, find a log or boulder to sit on (preferably near a lake or stream), and ignite the landscape with African rhythms. I love to do it and it's one of those things that I wish I had done more of this summer. In October, I'm hoping to finally go on a leaf-peeping road trip to the mountains. I've been wanting to do it for a few autumns now and I think this year might be the one. I would definitely bring my djembe along on that adventure.

Also, with the exception of my trip to Chincoteague Island, I didn't make it to the beach at all this year. I love going for a wade in the ocean and I'm sad that opportunities to do it haven't come along more often. Oh, speaking of which, did you know that the Pacific Trash Vortex is now larger than the state of Texas and is visible from some places on the California coastline? I don't know who is using our ocean as their private garbage bin, but it is absolutely disgraceful. I can't believe that manufacturers are still pumping out disposable plastic bottles and packaging for the sake of profit. I denounce the entire practice and have vowed, for starters, to never purchase another plastic water bottle ever again. That is one industry that needs to disappear from the face of the planet right now.

Which reminds me of another hot topic. I also denounce the making and selling of any ivory products. Ivory belongs on the faces of elephants and rhinos, not on tchotchke shelves and certainly not in the warehouses of poachers. Sources say that the world's wild elephant population has decreased by 70% in the last ten years at the hands of poachers who sell the tusks illegally. That is an unsustainable rate to be certain. Just think about it -- elephants could be extinct before this decade is through and for no other reason than to satisfy the despicable demands of human selfishness and greed. I could write an entire blog post on that subject alone, but I think you get the picture. I guess I'll just end this blog post now, before I move on to the subject of Shark Fin Soup...

"Let those who love the Lord hate evil,
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones
and delivers them from the hand
of the wicked."

~Psalm 97:10


August 14, 2014

Free Week: Chair, Coat Rack, and More...

Well, I had last week off from work. I didn't have any road trips planned, so this was more of a stay-cation, though the days were quite full anyway. First off, I tackled a few projects. I refinished two pieces of antique furniture (a chair and a coat rack) that someone had painted over at some point in time. It was a bit of a messy job (stripping, sanding, staining, and applying the polyurethane), but I'm pretty happy with the way the pieces came out. I'm probably going to use the chair when I perform on the classical guitar. It definitely has the proper look.

Last Saturday kicked the week off with my street's annual Block Party. The block was closed off from end to end and all of the cars taken off the road. Instead of the normal daily traffic, for this day, my street had a jazz band, a water slide, cotton candy and Italian Ice stands, a DJ spinning songs from the 80s, at one point a fire truck paid a visit allowing the kids to spray the hose. It's so much fun seeing my same street in a completely different light. The party started at 11:00 AM with bagels at one of the houses. It was raining hard at that point and I wasn't sure if the party would have to be cancelled, but it quickly cleared up into a beautiful day. As it is a pretty long road, I also got to know a few neighbors that I hadn't met yet. Now, when they see me in my front yard, they stop to say "Hello." It's nice.

Wednesday evening was my town's annual Fireman's Parade and Fair. We always like to walk up to the main street to watch the fire engines and the marching bands go by. Saturday was the annual Jack Kerouac Poetry Softball game. I never miss an opportunity to lace up my cleats and play a few innings. It was a really fun game this year.

My week off from work came to a climax on Saturday night when saw a free concert at Heckscher Park on the band shell. It was the Long Island Philharmonic performing a program called "Music Under the Stars." This concert included a pair of selections that featured the playing of an instrument called the "musical saw" (literally a saw played with a bow) and many intense pieces of music by composers such as Gounod, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak. It was a spectacular evening and I really enjoyed sitting on my blanket listening to the music. Very inspiring.

"And we, who with unveiled faces
all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed
into his likeness with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit."

~2 Corinthians 3:18


August 10, 2014

Delmarva; Day 6: "Blue Rocks"

Friday, July 11, 2014: The story of the Hagley Museum located in Wilmington, Delaware, begins in 1802, when French immigrant, Eleuthere Irenee du Pont, sets up a series of black powder mills along the banks of the Brandywine Creek. With such an auspicious location for harnessing the water flow's natural energy, setting up shipping routes for sulfur and saltpeter, and tapping into the seemingly endless supply of local timber and building materials, DuPont would become the largest powder manufacturer in the world. Operations at the mills would continue until its closing in 1921; then, the grounds would reopen in 1957 as a museum and library to showcase early American industry.

The Hagley stretches across 235 acres of the Brandywine Valley. It is misleading to view it from outside visitor center. Stepping in, I had no idea that it was such a huge complex with so many buildings. I really enjoyed seeing the machine shop in motion and strolling through the ruined structures of the powder yard. At one of the mills, we were even treated to a powder blast demonstration. Very loud and exciting!

At the one-room school house, I tried my hand at writing with a quill and an ink well in the penmanship of the time. It was kinda cool and I started to get the hang of it. I think that my signature came out pretty good.

As the grounds are so vast, we also got to take a refreshing open-air shuttle ride (my kids' favorite part of the experience) to Eleutherian Hills, a Georgian-style mansion that was the DuPont family's first residence in America. Here, we got a private tour of the residence, office, and gardens. It is all very beautiful.

With so much to see and do at the Hagley, our visit occupied pretty much all of the morning and a big chunk of the afternoon. From there, we checked into our final hotel room of the trip to rest for a while. We had one last item to cross off of our to-do list -- a evening visit to Frawley Stadium to see the Wilmington Blue Rocks play a game against the Salem Red Sox. The Blue Rocks are a Single-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.

Lately, I've been finding that I enjoy minor league baseball games much more than the majors. It's affordable family fun with none of the pretense. I'm a lifelong Yankees fan, but I have to admit that the cost of one of their games is just too much to bear. The least expensive ticket that I've seen at Yankee Stadium is $27.00; other seats go for up to $1,000.00. Now, multiply that by an entire family and factor in the exorbitant prices for the parking garage, hot dogs, french fries, sodas, and souvenirs. Just for a little perspective, the price of one Yankees game tallies up to more than I spent in three days on Chincoteague Island. That's way too steep. Perhaps, just perhaps, Major League clubs should stop paying hundreds of millions of dollars to ego-maniacal athletes for playing a kids' game and stop expecting the fans to absorb the difference, especially in light of the rampant steroid controversies that surround the sport. It's definitely disenchanting, to say the least. It offends me to know that my love of the sport could in any way contribute to the bloated salaries of cheaters and frauds. After all, by artificially enhancing themselves, aren't these players basically admitting that their natural skills aren't worthy of such massive contracts and attention? That's exactly how I see it. Baseball is still a great game with an amazing history, but, unfortunately, the MLB has glued a multi-billion-dollar price sticker to its forehead that desperately needs to be scraped off. While I enjoy baseball, it is NOT a necessity and I can certainly find better uses for such money. A ticket for a Wilmington Blue Rocks game is $6 and the baseball is every bit as entertaining. In fact, my family enjoyed watching the Blue Rocks more than the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals two nights before (both 1st place teams, mind you). Just saying...

Anyway, after the game was over, there was a beautiful fireworks display just beyond the center field wall. We were happy to sit back on the bleachers and watch the evening sky erupt with colorful flowers of light. This was it, the last moments of our Delmarva-inspired road trip. As the last rocket echoed red into the night and the crowd cheered with all of its collective might, I was happy to know that our trip was ending with a bang...

"Toward the scorners
he is scornful,
but to the humble
he gives favor."

~Proverbs 3:34


August 4, 2014

Delmarva; Day 5: "Blue Crabs"

Thursday, July 10, 2014: For the 5th day of this trip and our 2nd day in Baltimore, we began the morning with a leisurely walk from our hotel, down Charles Street, and through the Inner Harbor. I enjoy looking at all of the architecture and buildings in the morning just as a city is beginning to wake up. The feeling in the air is one that is perhaps hopeful. In the Inner Harbor, the brick promenade that runs along the water, with its fancy street lamps and many shops and vendors, is truly an active and lively place to be. There are lots of things to see and do.

So, what would happen if we tried to move water using only the power of sound waves or to ring a bell inside of a vacuum? What happens when lights of different colors get blended together? How much electricity can be generated using bicycle pedals? I found the answers to all of these question and more at the day's first destination, the Maryland Science Center. This place features multiple floors of hands-on experiments and activities, as well as exhibits dedicated to topic such as dinosaurs, outer space, electricity, and human cells. There is also an IMAX Theater and a Planetarium on site. It was a fun place to start off the day and, being that we had arrived 10 minutes prior to opening, the kids got to play with the center's unofficial mascot, a little dog named Peaches.

Just down the road from the Science Center is the American Visionary Art Museum. The museum is made up of two buildings and an outdoor display area that are filled with all kinds of outsider art pieces, often very large in scale. An aluminum foil gorilla. A wall of flatulence. A giant silver egg. A septet of colorful robots. A hot air balloon. The artwork here definitely resides outside of the box. I enjoyed it very much.

For a late lunch/early dinner (which we dubbed "dunch"), we stopped off at a restaurant called the Rusty Scupper. Our friendly waiter gave us a window table with a view that overlooked the Patapsco River. While in Baltimore, I simply had to try the Maryland Blue Crab Cake and the Rusty Scupper makes a good one. About halfway through dunch, the skies turned gray and started pouring bucket-loads of rain on the window. Seeing the surface of the river erupt with ripples was a cool sight. We stayed at the restaurant until it started to let up a little. Then, we put on our ponchos (always in the backpack) and stepped back out into the damp city. This was the only rain that we would experience during the whole trip and it made for a nice moment. Walking Baltimore's Inner Harbor in the rain is fun!

Through the raindrops, we made our way across town to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Being a baseball fan, I really enjoyed touring the early home of one of history's most beloved players. Lots of great photographs and memorabilia, including the Babe's boyhood glove.

While on our way back to the hotel, I made sure to plot a route on the map that would take us by Baltimore's famous Lexington Market. Operating since 1782 and referred to as the "Tastiest Place In the World," Lexington Market features aisles and aisles of the most amazing food stalls. Included among these is Faidleys Seafood, known for having what many believe is the world's best crab cake. Lexington Market is a true Baltimore tradition and a must-see on any trip to Maryland.

After getting back to our hotel room, cleaning up, and resting for a little while, we had one last place to visit in Baltimore for the evening, the Walters Art Museum. Located just two blocks from our hotel, it was only about a four minute walk. I was also astounded to find out that admission into the building is absolutely free. There was so much to see here. Medieval arts and armor. Statues from Ancient Greece, Egypt, and the Roman Empire. Asian sculptures from India, Tibet, China, and Nepal. Old-World manuscripts, jewelry, textiles, and coins. Paintings from Renaissance Europe and the 18th and 19th Centuries. This was perhaps my favorite attraction in all of Baltimore. Definitely a great way to close out the Maryland leg of our Delmarva-inspired journey...

"He who dwells
in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD,
"He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."

~Psalm 91:1-2