Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, the cranberry sauce is in the fridge and the plans are written down for the oven-baked stuffing and the green bean casserole to be made tomorrow. One friend is finishing up the baking tonight: pumpkin pie, lemon tarts, and custard tarts. Other friends will be getting up early tomorrow to put in the turkey. The squash soup was made a few days ago and frozen. The sweet potatoes are ready for re-heating tomorrow as well. Some sort of apple chutney has been mentioned, maybe fruit salad, and olives to start. It should be a fine feast. This is the first time we've divided all the cooking up three ways, and I'm very grateful for it. Many times I've done the whole job myself, but it's getting to be a bit too much for me! (I am, thankfully, over my head cold, but my back is still not healed up.) It will be so nice to have friends with us tomorrow.

I hope all of you have a nice day, a pleasant meal at home or with others, and a chance to think about all the incredible things in our lives we have to be thankful for!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Earrings

A while back, a friend asked me if I was planning to do anything special on my Etsy site  for the upcoming holidays. Well, I'm no humbug about Christmas, but I'm not crazy about how commercial the holiday has become. And I didn't want to make "special earrings" in the shapes of snowmen, trees, or angels. 

This fall at a bead show, I saw a lot of pretty funky lampwork glass beads in these kinds of shapes and beaders were buying them to use for Christmas crafting. I've also recently seen for sale in bead catalogues Austrian crystals cut to make up the layers in a Xmas tree. So I guess these special holiday earrings are actually quite popular. I have nothing against them if people like them, but that's just not what I want to make when I design earrings.

But I do like the idea of making some beautiful earrings that would look great for a holiday party or get together and yet would be perfectly suitable for wearing any other time of the year as well.

So I looked through my big online inventory of nearly three hundred earrings (which is still less than half of my non-virtual inventory) and identified a few pairs that seemed to fit that description.

So, if you are browsing in my Etsy shop, check out the new section option called "Holiday Earrings" and see what some of the possibilities are. Earrings do make great gifts as well as ways to dress up your own holiday outfits. Enjoy!
Also, for your locals, we will be in the Illini Union for the Holiday Bazaar on Wednesday and Thursday of the week AFTER Thanksgiving (Dec. 1 and 2) from 10-5 pm. I'll have the entire inventory available there. Drop by and see us!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November Winding Down ...

The weather has turned definitively autumnal around here, as the leaves drift down from the trees and November moves ever closer to the end. It makes me think of the words to that old song "and the days dwindle down ... to a precious few." Unfortunately, the last couple of those "precious few" days have been fairly miserable chez moi because of sore throat, fever, and clogged sinuses. Today is a bit better, but now I seem to have messed up my lower back from being in bed so long!

But before the recent misery, there was fun to be had, and we had some of it. I knew that it was going to be a great day for weather on Friday (and a cold snap coming after that), so I put myself into high gear and finished up the book I was copyediting a bit in advance of the deadline to free up the day. We went to Heron Park, an area of wetland, just north of Danville, with a lovely boardwalk, observation tower, and benches. We'd been there a few weeks ago, but it was a cold and windy day and we arrived late in the day, so the birdwatching was limited.

This time, the weather was perfect and we had lots of time, but the wetlands had dried up! Most of the area under the boardwalk was just left with puddles and animal footprints (racoon, muskrat, possum, shore birds) in the mud. We did see a few kildeer, so pretty with their brown-and-white stripes and distinctive call, but most of the birds must have gone to deeper waters. There were a few quick little birds (swamp sparrow?) flitting around in the brush. They are what my mom used to call ELBs (elusive little bastards), so we couldn't really see them well enough for clear identification. The "real" birders, of course, are willing to get up at the crack of dawn (or before), able to keep quiet the whole time ("hey, guys, look at this!!!), and know the sounds of the birds so they can identify those they can't actually see.

Nonetheless, a good time was had by all. On the way over, we'd taken the scenic route on some lovely curving road that Abraham Lincoln once traveled through hilly areas and ravines, a rare treat for us flatlanders. On the way home, we stopped at O'Leary's for a bite to eat.

Saturday included the usual brunch and library trip, nice and relaxing as always (I even got the New Yorker this time). Home to feed the five famished felines and then off to the Iron Post for Desafinado! As I think I've mentioned in an early post, we've been following this Brazilian samba and bossa nova band for about ten years now. Over that time, the change in players has resulted in the sound of the band evolving and changing.

One of the original founders, Connie Johnson, vibraphone player, moved to Portland, Oregon this summer. Connie is certainly missed -- the vibes are a mellow instrument for the music. Greg Jahiel (vocals in Portuguese and guitar) was the other co-founder, I believe. He's still part of the band, but he is temporarily busy with some important and exciting family activities. So George Turner on guitar and Karim Yengsep on acoustic bass have added their considerable talents to the mix.

Back at the beginning, Chad Dunn was the drummer and percussion experimenter, and there was a cello (Margo?) and her husband (Don?) on flute from time to time. Matt Plaskota was drummer for a while, succeeded by Joel Caracci. For quite a while, Tom Paynter has been with the group, on flute, melodica, and other interesting sound-makers. Giraldo Rosales on congas is also a steady feature of the band. I recently found out that he used to play congas for Sandunga. I love the conga sound, and it is absolutely essential to the kind of music that Desafinado plays.

There have been a couple of singers for Desafinado, one of whom, Simone da Silva, also moved to Oregon (do people really like that much rain?). But starting about three years ago, the singer has been the incomparable Elis Artz. Elis has the ability to express all the feelings in the lyrics and all the movement in the beat in a wonderfully natural and radiant way. It doesn't matter whether the listening audience understands the meaning of the Portuguese lyrics because Elis pours out the meaning in her voice.

This evening's performance was especially delightful for a couple of reasons. The Iron Post has a real piano, a Baldwin grand, and Tom Paynter played! This was quite a treat. Tom is so perfect with the flute and melodica in those haunting Brazilian melodies that those who haven't heard him on keyboards in other bands may not realize what they are missing! I'm really curious now about how and when Tom got interested in jazz because there is clearly some classical background as well. Tom is modest and rarely blows his own horn, but he is an extraordinarily talented musician (and loves to do experimental things like reaching into the piano to pluck a string!). Another cool note was the wonderful bowing work (there's probably a technical term for it) on the bass from Karim in a couple of numbers, including the beautiful "Quiet Night of Quiet Stars." And a third treat was that Mikael Templeton on saxophone joined the group for one number. His sound is so smooth! We'd like to hear more from him!

The place wasn't really crowded (I wish more people would come out for this great band!), but there was a nice audience of appreciate folks. Shelley Masar was doing some kind of dance and yoga performance in the wings during the second set, so I promised to mention her in my blog. She's very flexible and graceful. I usually think of yoga as sort of private and meditative rather than performance-oriented.

Too bad I forgot (again!) to bring the camera for pics. I'll try to catch them the next time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Full Weekend

Well, it's Sunday night and I've just been thinking over our weekend activities. A pretty full and fun weekend, all in all. It continues to be a dry and fairly colorful fall, with leaves still partially on the trees and partially on the ground. On Friday, the crew from LetUsGetDirty4You came over and did a little leaf raking, tree seedling removal, and pulling up more of those unending starts of trumpet vine. We'll have to wait for some cold nights (we had one that night at 19 degrees) and some rain to knock all the leaves down so they can come back and clean the gutters.

Then later we had some leftovers from the freezer (corn casserole and turkey, yum) and watched an excellent but rather heavy DVD, a Polish film about the massacre of most of the Polish educated class by the Soviets in 1940 in Katyn Forest. The shootings were blamed on the Germans and the repressive Soviet regime was able to keep the truth hidden for a long time.

So then we needed something to lighten up with and went over to the Iron Post for Samba Soul!
Vivian Feliciano was singing in Brazilian Portuguese and doing a bit of samba dancing as she sang. George Turner provided some cool guitar work beside her, with Brent Jordan on drums in back and Karim Yengsep on bass on the other side.

Carlos Vega on saxophone joined in the fun and Lara Driscoll on the piano. They did a number of the Brazilian samba and bossa nova favorites that we were familiar with from Desafinado (with singer Elis Artz, Greg Jahiel on guitar, Tom Paynter on flute and melodica, Giraldo Gonzales on congas, and Joel Carracci on drums).

Because it was a later set than we usually go to (starting at 9), the audience was a young crowd, lively and busy talking with each other, but everyone seemed to enjoy the upbeat sound and enthusiasm of the band.

Saturday's fun followed some of our favorite routines -- brunch at Original Pancake House with Frank the Supergardener. I think we discussed the difficulties of growing good tomatoes anymore, along with our complete dismay about election results, over bacon and eggs.

The next stop was the Urbana library. This time, some selfish person had grabbed the copy of the latest New Yorker so I was unable to read this issue's short story while sipping my caramel latte. (I only indulge in caffeine twice a week -- during Monday evening grocery shopping and Saturday afternoon book browsing.) David's Newsweek was out too, so he had to content himself with the New York Review of Books and a mango smoothie. Of course, I checked out the new fiction shelves as always, but this time I've already got too many piled up, having just finished a huge book of Deborah Eisenberg's collected short stories. I did pick up three CDs, however, by a Cuban pianist that Tom Paynter recommended.

After a quick trip home so the five felines could have their delicious premium canned food served on real china saucers, we left for another gig. This was also at the Iron Post. It's close to home, has music nearly every night, and good but reasonably priced cheeseburgers.

Sandunga, the Cuban guajira son band, was doing their "first Saturday" of every month concert. But that night they were more than a great band -- they were a phenomenon. The place was packed. The crowd tended to be fairly young and there were a lot of Latino folks from lots of interesting places who knew all the words to the songs.

William Hope played "tres" guitar and his wonderful 12-string laud. It's a Cuban instrument that sounds a bit like a cross between a guitar and a mandolin, and he plays it expertly and with great joy and spirit radiating out from him in all directions.

Andy Miller is one of three percussion players. He handles the bongos superbly and shakes the maracas and hits the bell-like instrument (a campana, I think it's called). He's young and lean and rather cool good looking with his big dreadlocks.

Adam Walton brought his three new beautiful congas and really heated them up with his quick hands!

And Tina Hope joins in on some vocals and keeps the beat lively with claves (wooden stick instruments) and the guacharaca (rasping metal along a wooden stick).

Julian Norato plays guitar and is lead singer; his soft and melodious voice is perfect for all those lyrics about the "corazon" (heart).

The music was so infectious, and how much this very together group obviously enjoys performing it came across big time to the audience. Part way into the second set, people got up and started dancing. And I mean really dancing! There were some couples, but a lot of them were women and girls and they were having a fantastic time! The energy was amazing. All these women, young and old alike, were swaying and wiggling and waving their arms about and singing along with this tremendously upbeat music from the Cuban countryside. Pretty soon every space between the tables was filled with dancers. (I took a photo at the very start before it got so crowded.)

They didn't ever want to music to end. In fact, I think the band wound up playing at least a half hour after their time while the next band waited to set up. The last encore was the most famous Cuban tune of all, Guantanamera, and the dancers and those sitting at the tables tapping feet and clapping hands went wild! It was such a fun and rejuvenating evening. It was cold outside going home, but we had such a warm feeling inside.

A nice personal note: when we had heard Sandunga some weeks back at the Illini Union Courtyard Cafe (see my prior post about "big night on campus"), David had forgotten his cozy warm old blue-and-black plaid flannel shirt-jacket. We'd called the Lost and Found and they put us "in their database," but we assumed it was lost for good. It turns out that Tina Hope found it and saved it for us and guessed that we might be coming to the Post, so she had it in her car!

Sunday turned out to be work day for me, a World Bank Report on Uganda was waiting to be copyedited. I'd had a long dry spell on freelance work lately and had almost forgotten why they call it "Work." Now I remember. But we later met up with Eleanore Brown, Etsy and Urbana library friend, for some tasty vittles at the Fiesta on First Street.

How was your weekend?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

This and That

I haven't done any new blog posts lately because I have been busy with "this and that" a lot and I keep forgetting to take my camera with me. Of course, some of my recent activities didn't lend themselves to sharing photographically, namely the colonoscopy, the removal and replacement of a large molar filling, and the recent upper GI and small bowel follow-through test. I suppose I could have taken a pic of the flu shot, but it was very brief. I have to say that I am grateful to the ability of modern medical technology to identify and diagnose (and sometimes even treat) important potential problems with my body. But I also have to say that the sadistic, cruel, unusual, and tedious preparations and procedures themselves are no fun.

* * *
In addition to invasive bodily tests, I have been busy attending a number of great local music gigs. Since we all know here in Illinois that the pleasant weather can't last (patchy frost a couple of nights), now's the time to get out and enjoy ourselves, especially before daylight savings disappears into the sunset.

So, after The Music of Djano Reinhart (posted here), we took in Bate Calado, a Brazilian group, at V. Picasso. They play sambas like Desafinado but with a little more contemporary (i.e., loud and fast) sound. They are fun though and we enjoyed the evening.

A cool thing happened actually. I had written on the wall of their Facebook Fan Page (BTW, if you haven't joined my page as a Fan, please do. The link is on the right-hand side listing of links on Susan's Blog) and so I guess a thumbnail pic of me was displayed. The singer for Bate Calado was a different one than I had seen when I saw the group last, this past winter, so I didn't know her. At a break, she came up to me and thanked me for coming and said she was glad to see me. I suppose I had a puzzled look on my face, so she added, "I recognized you from Facebook." Wow ... my physical reality and my virtual reality met! Such a world of technology we live in, I guess.

The next gig we attended was at the Iron Post. Kevin Hart was going to be there. He's a dynamite vibraphone player from Peoria who used to play around Champaign-Urbana from time to time. We found out once we were there and had ordered our cheeseburgers that he wasn't playing -- he was coaching some students who were playing.

As the set went on, a bunch of local musicians were drifting in. I was amazed to see so many terrific professional musicians showing up just to support the efforts of these students. Then, to our surprise, the second set turned out to be a group headed up by Jordan Kaye, guitarist extraordinaire and leader of the Music of Django Reinhardt, called something like Early Jazz Group. Wow! Carl Johnson, incredible clarinet player and saxophonist; Barry the trombonist, also from the New Orleans Jazz Machine like Carl; Nick Schroeder, wonderful trumpeter (especially great with the bluesy mute); Paul Asaro, incomparable stride piano player who tours nationally and, it turns out, also plays horn (coronet, I think); William Hope, guitarist and player of the Cuban laud from the Sandunga band that plays guajira son; and a banjo player, tuba player, and bass drum plus singer whose names I didn't catch.

They were absolutely terrific. They did some great old tunes like Canal Street Blues, Frankie and Johnnie, Jazz Me, and, the last piece, St. Louis Blues ... a wonderful rendition that brought the house down. Thanks, guys! Although some of the musicians were fairly young people, maybe grad students at the U of I's famous music school, several were oldies like us, so it was nice to hear how several decades of musical experience ... coupled with skill and talent, of course ...  make a difference!

Then, after a quick trip home to feed the hungry five felines, we went on to V. Picasso to catch Desafinado, the Brazilian jazz group par excellence that we've been following for at least 10 years. They started late because of trying to fit onto a small stage, and the sound was a little different than usual because of some band members who were new and others who were not able to be there, but the music was great as always. Elis Artz's vocals are always so spirited, and she is so radiant, you can't help but get caught up in the music and the Portuguese lyrics. George Turner was sitting in for Greg Jahiel on guitar and gave a very impressive performance. As always, Tom Paynter's flute and melodica were a joy. Luciano Costa, Brazilian mandolin player from the Bate Caldo group, joined in. He was having some trouble with the electronics at first but got that straightened out and did some great work. Joel Caracci was on drums and Karim Yengsep from the Bossa Nuevo band was on bass.

Just before Desafinado came on that night, Lara Driscoll was finishing a set of jazz piano, and George Turner joined her for a couple of numbers. It was mellow and very good, so we decided to catch her playing again last night at V. Picasso. This time she was appearing with Carlos Vega, a wonderful saxophonist who played a few times with Desafinado some time back. For a few numbers, Chip O'Neill, U of I jazz director, joined in as well. Lara and Carlos did an especially nice version of "Moonglow" and "Bewitched" in honor of Halloween. I enjoyed the music a lot and, since the restaurant provides paper placemats and pencils, had a little fun doing a humorous drawing of the band and another more "surrealistic" style drawing as well.

* * *

In the realm of nature/outdoor/garden activities, we have been enjoying the fall color, both in our own yard and around town. We did a little tour of Urbana residential streets near us the other day, where many trees are changing leaf color gradually (and losing leaves as well), and the fruiting trees (like the red-berried hawthorns) are filled to the brim with bright round tiny berries. My guess is that it's been such a strange summer and fall weather-wise that those trees got a bit nervous about their survival and so decided to put out a lot of seed for future generations of their species (nature is so smart!).

We also had a bit of an out of town nature trip last week. We had been wanting to explore a new nature area over north of Danville, about 40 minutes away, called Heron Park. I had gotten directions for getting there from our dental hygienist who commutes from Danville and has two little boys who like the outdoors. Our friend Bob was in town and the three of us were going in his car. We loaded up my four-wheeled rollator (if folds) into the trunk and were ready to leave, even though it was windy (we had a wind advisory that day) and not very early. At the last minute, the intrepid Panther, our sweet black cat, managed a daring escape. I spent 20 or 30 anxiety-filled minutes trying to find him, calling his name pitifully, and waiting for him to reappear. Thankfully, he did, and we went on our way.

Heron Park is a fairly new place with a wonderful expanse of wooden boardwalk (wide enough for the rollator and with a rail to help steady David on his feet) all around the park over the shallow bottomland waters. There is an observation tower, and I could even go to the first level of it with the rollator! It was so cold and windy and late in the day, however, that most of the wildlife was probably hunkered down in the reeds and whatnot to stay cozy. But we did see a couple of mallards, a bunch of tiny birds on the muddy flats that I thought might be sanderlings, a lovely white swan, and -- big treat -- a pair of sandhill cranes! Nice show of foliage changing color along the interstate going back home.

In our yard, the Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa)  has changed color and the Japanese maples are gorgeous. This year the Fothergilia shrub has turned bright red, and several viburnums and hydrangeas have color on their leaves. The hostas have turned a cheerful yellow, but there's still lots of green and even blooming annuals still around. The crabapple is full of tiny orange fruit, and the firethorn (Pyracantha) bush is covered with berries. The chokecherry trees fruited a lot earlier this fall, and the robins feasted and then spattered my car windshield with the results (ugh!). But I have been quite surprised by the endurance of the annuals (and a few blooming perennials like the butterfly bush and the fall anemone). Frank the supergardener's hypothesis is that the dryness has made the plants tougher against the frost compared to the usual rainy fall here.

Well, that's about it for now. I will try to remember to bring my camera with me next time I do something that might be sufficiently interesting to share because I know my readers like photos. Write a comment and let me know what the autumn is bringing your way.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

About town

We've been very fortunate with the weather here in Champaign-Urbana lately. It's been sunny and cool, with low humidity, for a number of days in a row. The trees are starting to change color, but we haven't really had a killing frost here in town. We took advantage with a trip to the University of Illinois Arboretum, the Idea Garden (sponsored by the Master Gardeners' program), and Homer Lake, part of the Forest Preserve District.

In the afternoon on Sunday we enjoyed some time indoors in the sunny lovely space of the Urbana library, listening to Mean Lids' delightful performance of Irish music for the violin and flute. Then in the evening, we went to hear a group called "The Music of Django Reinhardt" at the Iron Post.
We have enjoyed this group before, several times. The composition of the band is pretty fluid. One time there was a super trumpet player and a clarinet player and a drummer. Another time a fantastic stride piano player named Paul Asaro joined the group for the evening. Often Ben Smith (also in Mean Lids) plays fiddle. Tonight a guy from Nashville, Paul Kramer, was in town with his fiddle. Jordan Kaye on guitar and Josh Houchin on bass seem to be the regulars.

What kind of music do they play? Well, it's always spirited, often nostalgic or poignant, and frequently toe-tapping. Jean "Django" Reinhardt was a Gypsy jazz guitarist who started playing jazz in Paris in the 1930s. Despite playing with two fingers as a result of an injury in a fire, he was an incredible guitarist and a formidable composer. He teamed up with Stephane Grappelli on violin for quite a while and the music was amazing. His influence has been considerable, both on jazz musicians of the past and present and on a number of musicians who don't primarily play jazz.

The local band plays a lot of Django originals, of course, but also some good old songs from the thirties and forties, such as "Stardust" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" and so on. There was a pretty good sized audience there, many with white hair, who knew these tunes pretty well. We had a fine time.

I took several photos, but I'm having some upload problems right now in Blogger. Maybe I can add the other pics later. Tomorrow night, we go to hear Bate Calado, a Brazilian samba group.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Big Night Out on Campus

Saturday night on campus ... and David and Susan were there! At the Courtyard Cafe in the Illini Union, two great bands were playing: Desafinado for Brazilian samba and Sandunga for guajira and Cuban son. Here's the fascinating backstory:

Despite the fact that David and I both spent an embarrassingly major portion of our adult lives on the campus of the University of Illinois (as graduate students and academic staff in various jobs over the years), we were no longer in the habit of going up to campus very often. Frankly, things on campus had changed a bit since I came to Champaign-Urbana in 1963 (what a surprise!).

Time was, for example, when I had taken or taught a class in almost every building around. French was actually a popular language in U.S. universities once and before the Foreign Language Building was erected (during my two-year absence teaching at Drake in Iowa), the classrooms were spread all over. Since then the demand for la belle langue has, regretfully, diminished considerably, and the campus has expanded and spread out very far in all directions with tons of brand-new science and technology labs that I have never had occasion to set foot in!

Campus town, the area of stores, restaurants, bars, and apartments near the student union, has changed as well. It used to be a couple of blocks of one- and two-storey places serving some typical campus needs -- a malt shop, bookstore, barber, florist, and a few bars. In the sixties, there were coffeehouses, import boutiques, and head shops. Now it looks like just another chunk of suburban Chicago: towering high rise apartments, ethnic fast-food chains of all sorts, fitness centers, hair salons, tatoo and piercing parlors, smoothie stands, and tons of bars.

The automobile traffic has quadrupled in the past twenty years alone (ah! the perspective of age ... maybe the only good thing about it?). Believe it or not, students didn't used to be allowed (imagine a word like that even!) to have cars on campus; freshman couldn't live in apartments rather than dorms (which had curfews and rules and weren't coed!). Now every apartment with four students includes four cars, as well as numerous and sundry other vehicles: bikes of all types, skateboards, rollerblades, scooters, etc. It requires grim concentration on the part of conscientious drivers to survive in campus town these days. Meanwhile, the pedestrians are usually concentrating too -- on their phones, texting, iPods, etc. as they cross the street totally clueless of traffic.

If the traffic sounds bad, consider the parking options. Okay, getting back to our own story a bit too, we were running late (a regular occurrence for us). I was afraid we wouldn't be able to still get tickets, figuring they might be sold out in advance. We tried to find a handicapped spot near the Illini Union Building but couldn't find any. There was a metered place, however, that cost a quarter for every 20 minutes. But it was enforced 24/7 with a two-hour limit (it wasn't yet eight o'clock and the concert went until eleven), so that didn't work either. Finally, we found a free handicapped parking place several blocks away in a municipal lot. I got my four-wheeled rollator/walker out of the van and we headed through the crowds of scantily clad girls and boisterous boys with backward baseball caps.

We were nearly all the way to the student union when we decided to sit for a minute on a bench at the intersection to catch our breath. A young man came up to me and made an unusual request: it was his birthday, he said, and he had to have a birthday spanking and wanted me to provide it. I ascertained that nothing more was involved than giving him a quick slap on each buttock while his girlfriend took a digital photo. Then she asked to stand in a slow-dance pose with my white-haired and bearded 69-year-old husband while her boyfriend took another photo. They seemed immensely pleased that we had cooperated. I suppose somebody's Facebook wall will display the results of this odd encounter!

Next was a quick stop with the bored ticket taker on her laptop doing homework; she had to charge us eight bucks instead of four because we were no longer students or staff and were retired from the university, but the sponsoring student organization hadn't given her any change. Fortunately, I found eight ones in my wallet.

We were the first to buy tickets that night. And, except for a table of friends of the bands, we were amazingly the only audience! It's a nice venue with a raised stage, good lighting, plenty of tables and chairs, and a coffee place nearby. I think there were a lot of events going on that night and maybe the student group sponsoring the show didn't get the word out as well as they might have. That must have been the explanation for the poor turnout. We've been following the first band, Desafinado, for about 10 years now, and they are truly terrific -- all extremely good musicians who play wonderful, interesting, and upbeat music from Brazil. They really play together, compose original pieces, and seem to enjoy what they are doing.

But, from our point of view, it was pretty great to be sitting right up front and feeling as though the concert was being performed especially for us. The group was terrific. Elis Artz, the singer from Brazil, is phenomenal. She is lovely and lively and radiant, with a tremendous voice filled with emotion that comes across big time, despite my inability to understand the literal meaning of  the Portuguese lyrics.

Greg Jahiel on guitar also sings in Portuguese in beautifully harmonized duets with Elis and provides fantastic guitar accompaniement to all the numbers. He's a talented composer as well; one of his originals was performed that night -- a song so poignant it brings tears to the eyes.

Giraldo Rosales keeps that wonderful conga beat going that is so important to the Latin jazz, samba, bossa nova, and MPB sound. It makes me play my hands on the table in time to his drumming. Joel Caracci is new on percussion, replacing Matt Plaskota, who replaced Chad Dunn. (According to the old spoof movie, Spinal Tap, drummers change about often because they are victims of spontaneous combustion!)

Tom Paynter is well-known in a number of local bands as a musician extraordinaire. I'm not sure if there are any instruments in a band or orchestra that he can't play. And he plays several "things" that are certainly musical but maybe not officially instruments. He is an extremely talented composer and pianist and wild maniac with a synthesizer, but in this group he plays an amazing flute (maybe a separate blog post about that in the future -- there's quite a story there) as well as a melodica, sort of a "wind-powered piano/accordion in a package" kind of instrument. He is able to create the most beautiful and surprising sounds from these instruments that lend so much atmosphere to the music.

We all miss Connie Johnson, one of the founders of the band, and her delightful vibraphone work and compositions. She recently moved to the West Coast, but her hit number "Sea Breeze" was performed at the concert. Sitting in tonight was Karim Yengsep, a musician from Almaty, Kazakhstan, on electric bass.

After a great performance by Desafinado, there was a short break during which I discovered that a huge tango dancing contest of some sort was going on the large ballroom down the hall. There were interestingly costumed dancers standing in the hall catching their breath as I rolled by in my walker on the way to the restrooms.

The next group was Sandunga, a band that has been around these parts a long time but which we heard for the first time only a few weeks ago at an Urbana jazz club.  They play Cuban son and guajira music, and it's a lot of fun. The two lead vocalists and players of guitar and other interesting Cuban string instruments are William Hope and Julian Norato. They sing in Spanish (of course) and harmonize beautifully with each other. Their virtuosity with the guitar and laud and tres (Cuban string instruments) is something to see and hear!
Tina Hope sings as well and keeps a terrific beat with an intriguing instrument involving a wooden rod hit against another piece of wood. I've also heard her play a cool drawing and scratching kind of instrument that's hard to describe but provides just the right sound.
Adam Walton kept the beat as well with three great congas. Later in the set, he was joined by a terrific bongo player whose name (I think) is Andrew Miller. He also plays a bell-type instrument and shakers.
When they played in Urbana, there was also an electric bass player named Eduardo Herrera, but he wasn't with the group on Saturday. The music is lively and infectious. Like Desafinado, they are all very clearly accomplished musicians and friends and they play with a sense of genuine joy that the audience can't resist. Even though there were still very few other people in the room, one of the young women was dancing, which was fun to see. Again, a superior performance by an excellent band.
On our way out of the student union, we passed through the South Lounge area of this massive Georgian Colonial building and I stopped to wait for David to use the restroom. There was a grand piano at the end of the vast room near a gas fire in a lovely marble fireplace. A sofa was next to the fire and a young man who looked very intent on what he was doing was working through some incredible pieces of Beethoven. He was probably a graduate student in the famous school of music here and he was clearly practicing. It was thrilling. We sat and listened for another half hour or more.

Unfortunately, David had forgotten his padded flannel shirt jacket on the back of the chair in the concert room. We hope it will show up at the lost and found tomorrow, but maybe not ... On the way to the car, Zorbas the gyros place was still open and we stopped for a quick bite. We made it through the throngs of students still milling about after midnight, some clearly intoxicated by now, and reached quiet southeast Urbana safely after our big night out on campus. What fun!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Annual Finale

We had a frost advisory the past two nights in east central Illinois, even though there wasn't frost in our yard here in tree-protected southeast Urbana. But it was a sure sign of things to come. We've taken in the houseplants now (much to the dismay of kitties who had gotten used to stretching out on the empty plant tables), and the neighborhood trees are starting to show early signs of leaf color. It's getting darker sooner now that the autumn equinox has passed, of course, and the angle of the sunlight has changed and yellowed. So far, there haven't been the usual fall rains, however, and some of these sunny cool days are quite a delight.
It's always interesting this time of year to see which annuals faired the best and the longest over a particular summer. So I thought I'd take a finale set of photos. The marigolds weren't as full-flowering this year as they have been in the past, so I was surprised to find them looking good this late.
The Victoria blue salvia, on the other hand, have been blooming their hearts out all summer long and show no signs of stopping anytime soon. Some annuals do keep going after the first light frosts. As far as the first to succumb, surely it will be the impatiens, but they've had a good long and full run this time, much to my surprise -- as long as they're watered faithfully, they can evidentally take a lot of heat.
The lantanas often take their time blooming well and don't really reach their full potential here, but this year they loved the heat advisories and high humidity. That reminded me that they were basically perennials (and almost weeds!) in my mother's garden in Tampa, Florida, years ago. There are so many nice two-tone varieties now -- very cheerful.

But it is the red salvia that have truly outdone themselves this year. I think I just put in one six-pack, three in each of the containers at the head of the front walk, but they look like a jungle of fire!
And yet another salvia, the blue and black from Brazil, has grown a lot from one small start in April, and its charming and unusual flowers continue attracting hummingbirds.

The easy and reliable "wave" petunias are still holding their own too, especially here in a slightly cooler and shadier area than the front pots.

There are still some perennials blooming too, although this isn't really a peak time for them. Sedums are undemanding and reliable plants that propagate easily from a single leaf, and they bloom and hold their color well as the nights cool. Here's a nice one:

The fall-blooming Japanese anemones are a lovely bunch. There are pink and white ones and a few doubles as well. They are tall and can spread a bit, but I like them anyway.

I don't happen to have any chrysanthemums (can never remember the "new" name for them) this year, but I have been enjoying the huge colorful pots of them at the local grocery stores. Besides mums and pumpkins, how could it be fall without fall asters?
There are a few other perennials on right now, including the toad lilies in the north yard, the purple dwarf butterfly bush, and some pink hydrangeas. But blue perennials aren't common in the fall, so I especially like the little leadwort with the long name, Cerastostigma plumbaginoides.
Well, that's about it for now. Next stop will probably be photos of fall leaf color around town ... and then snow pics! Had to happen ... What's still blooming in your yard?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Article Published

I've just had a new article published on Handmade Spark all about bead buying tips. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Few Recommendations

These cooler autumnal evenings (now that the equinox is past) are perfect for enjoying books and movies, so here are a few recommendations based on my recent experiences.

Two books: a book of short stories called Something Is Out There by Richard Bausch. They are separate stories about a range of characters, but each and every one pulls you in from the very beginning and they seem more like novels in terms of engagement with the characters and their situation. These are contemporary tales of interpersonal nuance, told with the keenest of psychological insights. I've read many stories and novels by Bausch and always admired his style, his directness, and his intelligence. He and his brother Robert (also an excellent novelist) are twins, perhaps the only twin novelists??

Also: a historical novel (not my usual) by Melissa Jones, sister of Sadie Jones, whose two novels I enjoyed thoroughly and discussed in an earlier post here. This one is called Emily Hudson. It's based somewhat on the life of Mary "Minnie" Temple, the cousin of Henry James. The book is partially told in letters and the rest in third-person narrative and is very well done and engrossing. Emily is a thoroughly admirable young woman of her time and very brave. The cousin character that presumably is Henry James is a cruel, despicable, and arrogant individual indeed.

Movies: two DVDs this weekend of a very different nature but both good and worthwhile. Crazy Heart, with Jeff Bridges (I still remember his dad, Lloyd, from Sea Hunt), Maggie Gyllenhall, Robert Duvall, and Colin Farrell. It's the perfectly hearbreaking story of a worn-down hard-drinking country singer-songwriter and his attempt to save his own life. The music is fun as well, of course, even though country music isn't my top choice most of the time.

Second film is Adoration by the Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan. This was probably one of the best movies I've seen in a while in terms of serious cinema. It's a deep and complex exploration of a family's issues and their extension into global issues of terrorism and fear, the role of new technology in self-expression, self-discovery, and the pursuit of truth ... and many more serious and fascinating themes, beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted.

I rarely get comments on these blogs posts (too bad ... I would enjoy them), but if you have read or seen something good lately, please share that here. Thanks.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bead Buying Trip

What fun! We went on a one-day bead buying trip on Friday. Our good friend Bob drove us down to Collinsville Gateway Center for the International Gem and Jewelry Show exhibition and sale. The day started earlier than I'm used to and I was excited about the prospect of great new beads, so I overenthused on my morning stretches and managed to somehow pull that muscle in my lower back and buttocks that I hadn't pulled for a long time. Eek! I had a hard time just getting from the house to the car and getting out at Perkins for a quick omelet to get us started. But my back was resting on the trip down in the car of course.

It is about a 2 1/2 hour trip with a short rest area stop. It was beautiful weather, with blue sky and sunshine all the way. The traffic was pretty heavy and we went via interstate, but it was still great to get out in the country a bit. Many of the corn and soybean fields were already harvested (early this year?) and some were being taken down as we drove past. Once we got down past Effingham, our familiar flat landscape developed into a rolling terrain as we moved toward the Mississippi River valley. It was more wooded too, and you could see the beginnings of autumn adding a yellowish cast to the deciduous leaves. The quality of the light is different too in the fall, falling at a lower angle and with more yellow in the light itself.

We got to the show about 1 o'clock and Bob dropped us off until 5. I had my four-wheel rollator so that my back was supported and I had a seat to sit in, which helped immensely. David was pulling our handy two-wheeled tapestry tote bag for the bead purchases, so we were ready to roll.

The show was really crowded this time! We headed for the wholesale room first and one particular vendor at the back end who had terrific bargains. The tables were so mobbed with people that I had to wait to get my rollator into a small spot where I could see and look over the goods! But I found great deals on bags of plated pewter trim elements, strands of sparkling crystal, tiny glass pearls, and interestingly patterned stone. It was even a long wait in line to pay.

I found some neat striped stone in thin discs and ovals with matching small rounds at a booth in the retail section while David rested at one of the tables filled with bored husbands reading newspapers or dozing off while their overexcited wives had a blast looking at beads. Probably the opposite of a hardware or power tool show, as Bob remarked later.

To my delight, a vendor I had bought from at prior shows was there, with lots of new and intricate lampwork beads sold by the strand. It's hard work choosing and a great deal of fun as well! It's a big show, and there are lots of booths that I can skip, thank goodness, or I'd be totally exhausted within an hour! The whole center of the main room is booths with finished commercial jewelry like diamond rings, watches, etc. There are some booths with non-jewelry and non-bead items such as handbags, scarves, sheets, curios, etc. as well.

I also located some very nice twisted swirl glass discs in several colors that had been faceted so that they sparkled like crystal. This was the first time I had come across this particular bead and, of course, I had to get a number of strands, one in each color.

As I hovered over a booth, carefully deciding and inspecting each strand I chose, David sat nearby patiently waiting for me and taking care of the bag with our purchases already in it. Unfortunately, near the end of the time we were supposed to be out front waiting for Bob's car, we got our signals crossed a bit, and I returned to find that David wasn't in the chair I left him in. I panicked a bit and wound up walking all over the place while he was walking all over looking for me and Bob was waiting in the drop-off spot wondering what was going on!

We all found each other at last, although by then I had really messed up that back muscle (ouch!). We ate quickly at the nearby barbeque place and took off on the return trip. We had about one-third of the trip before dark, so another chance to enjoy scenery, and then dark the rest of the way.

Once we got home, we immediately fed the cats, who were ravenous. They had missed their 5 o'clock meal by about 4 hours, so they got two cans instead of one (they had two cans in the morning early) for the four of them and the rest of his one can to our boy who has prescription food. That calmed things down enough that I could sit with a microwave hot pad on my back while we looked over our purchases briefly before falling into bed.

Then last night I took the photos and we started the process of cutting apart the strands and figuring out which compartments to put which beads in -- always a fun thing to do. Today I will need to "reorganize" some bead trays, combining some beads, to make room for the rest of the new beads! It's an addiction, for sure, but at least it's not one that harms anybody. Now I'm looking forward to designing earrings with the new beads and putting them up on the website. I am thinking about writing any article for Handmade Spark about some tips for buying beads based on my own experiences over the years.