Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Susan Joy and Friends: Love Your Weird Neighbor

I uploaded my first sound file to Soundcloud today, the audio for a little skit with me and my Bird puppet, pictured above. I may do this again from time to time. This skit is part of what I'm planning for a potentially longer program with various characters on a kindness and love theme. I noticed a while back that schools were open to "anti-bullying" presentations, only put in more positive terms than "anti-bullying." This is where my thoughts and imagination took me when I thought on that theme.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Slice of Life: More Absentmindedness, Frozen Yogurt, Funny Dreams, Creativity and Insomnia

September 17, 2017

Lately, I've been feeling very energized to pursue various creative goals, puppetry-related things in part but also some other projects. All of this creative energy is having an interesting effect on me, including more absentmindedness ... which was previously mentioned in a recent post of mine.

In one recent incident, Dad and I were headed to church for our second choir rehearsal of the year. Dad has joined as a baritone who might shift between bass and tenor, and I'm in the soprano section. As Dad is driving us, I began to share with him some of the crazy puppetry ideas buzzing around in my head. I am not the only absent-minded one in the family, and I ended up distracting him. Dad drove past one of our usual turns, and the driving mistake probably added about 10 minutes to our trip. We turned up late, not for choir rehearsal, but for the prayer meeting that precedes it.

Then, just last night, Dad and I went out together again to pick up some yummy cold stuff from a frozen dessert place near us. (I guess they call themselves a frozen dessert place, since they sell soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt, gelato, sorbet, etc.) This place is part of a little strip mall, and, most always, when we go to this strip mall, we are headed to the grocery store. I was in mental writing mode, and my feet, once out of the car, were programmed by automatic pilot to go to the grocery store entrance. Dad said something to me before I actually went through the door, and then I turned around and saw some pumpkins on display just outside the entrance. I started patting the pumpkins affectionately, because they reminded me of my A. Morris Pumpkin puppet character. Then, I followed Dad to get our frozen yogurt, and I don't think I ever explained to him why I was patting the pumpkins with such affection.

Me with A. Morris Pumpkin

Mom didn't accompany us but put in an order for "something vanilla or something citrus-y and fruity." So, I fixed her up a Creamsicle bowl with vanilla ice cream and orange sorbet, then topped it with some little fruity candies called mango stars and strawberry boba, raspberries and blueberries. I like Creamsicle too, but I chose different flavors for myself, Nutella gelato and caramel macchiato frozen yogurt. With all of that chocolatey and mocha stuff, I did give myself some fruit too, some Bing cherries and blackberries.

These recent absent-minded incidents are not as embarrassing as something that happened one or two years ago. When I was working for the newspaper, I would walk down from my office to the 7Eleven for my lunch and pick up a sandwich and some fruit and a drink. I was such a frequent customer there that I had a pretty friendly relationship with one of the workers, and he bought my first mystery book, Action Men with Silly Putty, for Kindle. Still, it wasn't the only business in the area I frequented. There were one or two other businesses nearby where I might go for lunch.

One day, I was in full blast mental creative writing mode during my lunch break, and I walked down to the 7Eleven on automatic pilot. I had really intended to go some place else. As soon as I walked in the door, I paused and thought, "Why am I here?" My friend there saw me pausing and probably looking confused, so then, I made my situation worse, and, after making eye contact with him, told him that I didn't mean to come here! This, I thought afterwards, was bordering on rudeness. How can you tell a business, especially one where you're on good relations, that you didn't mean to come there or buy anything? So then, of course, I felt obliged to buy my lunch there.

When I went to the counter to pay for it, he asked, laughing a little bit, "So, you didn't mean to come here?" I tried to explain, and, with his next words, he made me feel much, much better. "You," he said, "are an artist. Your mind can be in two places at the same time."

The other effect this recent burst of creative energy has had on me is getting my brain wired up late at night. I've been trying to get enough sleep, but it's a struggle. Ideas want to come to mind after I'm already in bed and trying to sleep, even when I know I'm exhausted. It doesn't feel like an entirely negative thing. I like myself like this rather than the me who is too overwhelmed with other concerns in life to be creative. I hope I can get a balance between working hard at my creative goals and also sleeping well at night.

I suppose I'm not alone. I mentioned in a recent post that I've read Jim Henson's biography. As I was reading it, I kept feeling like this man was a lot like me. It's not just the puppetry connection that I felt, and it wasn't thinking that our creative ideas or particular gifts were all that similar. It was the description of his basic temperament and personality that sounded a lot like me. He was described as quiet, calm, not easily ruffled, all words or phrases that friends and family use to describe me. There was even an interesting scenario in the book where he was in a position where he needed to fire someone from The Muppet Show, but when the person was sent to his office, Henson just couldn't do it and ended up giving him a bear hug. I thought, "Yeah, I can see myself doing something similar." I would have a hard time firing someone too. Another thing that I learned from the book is that his creative drive sometimes robbed him of sleep too.

By the way, at the time that I was reading the book, I kept thinking Henson must be, according to the Myers Brigg system, an INFP like I am, and later found a personality site that agreed with my assessment. Rather than explaining the significance of the four letters for those who might not know the system, I'll just include this little summary of the type from Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Brigg Type by Myers & McCaulley.

Full of enthusiasms and loyalties, but seldom talk of these until they know you well. Care about learning, ideas, language, and independent projects of their own. Tend to undertake too much, then somehow get it done. Friendly, but often too absorbed in what they are doing to be sociable. Little concerned with possessions or physical surroundings.
I have some insomniac tendencies. I've been listening to the Book of Psalms on audio via YouTube to help me sleep, and last night, the last Psalm I remember hearing was 39, so, obviously, I didn't just pop right off to sleep. On Saturday, I know I napped, which is good, and I was dreaming of Cavalier King Charles spaniels. I think I know what inspired it. I had been watching a movie recently where a dog of that breed made an appearance, and I was admiring how pretty it was. It amazes me, and also strikes me funny, how often I dream of animals. It makes me think I'm more of an animal enthusiast than I claim to be. I even had a "celebrity" animal visit me in my dreams recently. I follow a clever, trained bunny called Bini on YouTube. In one of my recent dreams, I met Bini the Bunny, and I was so happy.

I suppose I should tell you about my weird Ambien experience. I find it funny now. In fact, as early as the following day, it became a source of laughs. Some years back, I went with some friends to a camp called Camp of the Woods. We did some work projects there such as boarding up cabins for the winter season, or, as I remember one year, folding up a lot of fitted sheets, and, in return, we got to use the camp facilities in our down time.

I was taking Ambien for sleep at the time and was stupid enough to think that I could sit up casually drinking my chamomile tea in the lounge with my friends after taking my pill. I would go to bed after I drank my tea. I started to get double vision and announced, just as casually, that everyone had two heads and that it was probably due to the Ambien. I got up to go to bed, and my roommate for the weekend and one of our other friends got worried about me and led me back to my room. I had another weird visual phenomenon, where the pattern on the hallway carpet seemed to be floating at my waist level. They told me not to look at it, but that seemed hard to avoid. The next day, one of my friends was teasing me that the moose head in the lounge must have been talking to me that night, and I told all my friends that they all looked much, much better that morning.

I don't mean to discourage anyone from taking Ambien temporarily if it's needed. I think it did me more good than harm, and I could have avoided the visual effects if I had gone to bed promptly after taking it. Ah well. Fiction writers wonder about strange medical "what if" situations, and I have been known to ask my doctor and nurse friends bizarre questions about what would happen to somebody in different medical situations, including "What would happen if someone was shot with a tranquilizer dart?" In part, this experience of mine gave me some inspiration for that scenario in the first Action Men.

What about you? Are you a creative type? Do ideas keep you awake at night sometimes?

Wouldn't it be nice if we could work out our ideas during sleep in our dreams and had the technology to note it all down without the need of waking up?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Church Picnic and Puppet Show

Me with Professor Votshisname and his guitar

Sunday, September 10, was a fun and eventful day for me. The entire weekend, in fact, was a flurry of activity.

I've been attending a new church, Grace Bible Church in North Haledon, New Jersey, for only about three months. I had recently emailed the pastor there that I had puppets and some background in puppetry and might be able to use it in the church. I didn't hear back from him immediately, but I figured the pastor has a lot of other things to think about besides me and my puppets. Three days before Promotion Sunday, September 10th, when the children would be promoted up to new Sunday school classes, I get a call from the Sunday school superintendent, whom I had already befriended. "Would I be able to do a puppet show during the Sunday school hour?" I was so excited at the opportunity that I could not refuse.

She thought I might have some old skits in my repertoire that I could use. It's true that I had files of material -- I write my own -- but it was not entirely true that I had one particular thing that seemed to me ideal for the situation. I asked her about themes, and she said there was none other than Sunday school and studying the Bible. That night was my first night of choir rehearsal at the new church, and there was about a half hour drive there. Somehow, during the drive from home to the church, I had mentally put together my program. It's sometimes difficult to explain my creative process, but I started with some songs I had, and from there, picked a theme, and then recycled some running jokes with some characters I've used in "solo shows," adding in some new material and putting in some ideas I had meant to use in the past but hadn't yet. It was probably the speediest script writing I had ever done. In fact, it was almost memorized mentally before it ended up on paper. Maybe, we creative types need deadlines to kick ourselves into high gear!

I gave Dad, who has often served as my assistant prop maker, the job of making a guitar for my Professor Votshisname character. I had a guitar song in mind, "Standing on the Promises" from Mark Bradford's Happenin' Hymns album, but the guitar I had was designed for my smaller half body puppets. I thought at first we could get one of those cheap inflatable sort from a party supply store, but I was able to check online and saw that there were none in stock at my local Party City. I could order one, but the rush shipping I'd have to use to get it on time would be much more costly than the one or two dollar item. Still, honestly, when I gave Dad his prop-making task, I was imagining something much simpler than what he did, a foamboard thing that was colorful and whimsical like the inflatable sort that first came to mind. I should know by now that Dad is a perfectionist.

This guitar is foamboard, but the design is from a photo he enlarged and printed over several sheets. There are two foamboard layers which he glued together and cut out the shape with a jigsaw. (We'd always used Xacto knives previously.) Even the guitar strap is more realistic than I imagined with all sorts of wire gizmo fasteners he crafted himself from some coils of wire he had in his shop. It turns out this more realistic guitar strap may also be practical in being easier to put on and remove.

While Dad was busy "guitar building" on Saturday, Mom was busy making a Nutella mocha poke cake for the picnic that would follow the service, and I was busy in a cloud of puppet preparations.

I did get some last minute performance nerves! Even having as much experience under my belt as I do, I still get performance nerves. These were mostly related to my efforts to memorize my 20 minute or so spiel. I found my Sunday school superintendent friend, Isabel, in the foyer who hugged me and prayed for me.

Every so often, I come across YouTube video clips of America's Got Talent contestants who have some serious performance nerves. When I read the comments on the video, I find there are quite a few people with very little understanding of it. The assumption seems to be that a talented person who is aware of his talent would not have stage fright, and that if the person does express any stage nerves, they must be faking it or the whole scenario is staged for the drama of the show. First of all, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, a lot of introverts and shy people are artistic in nature and attracted to performance arts, myself included. Secondly, these same people hold themselves to high standards of excellence. Thirdly, a contest on the scale of America's Got Talent is different than a performance for one's friends and fans, and you can never tell how stiff the competition might be. Anyway, in my case, prayers helped me.

Professor Votshisname and I talked about our favorite Bible characters and verses. Then, he asked for his guitar, and a lady named Jane brought it to him, helping me to fasten it on him -- one arm was occupied! -- chatting to him all the while. After complaining about the arthritis in his hand and the arthritis in his knees, the professor was able to perform an energetic rendition of "Standing on the Promises" before having a fit of narcolepsy and promptly falling asleep. Again, Jane came to my assistance and took Professor Votshisname out of sight for his "nap."

By the way, I do not use proper ventriloquism techniques, but I've been told sometimes that I've fooled people that I do. Jim Henson was no ventriloquist either. I read his biography a few years ago. He said something along this line, perhaps not verbatim, "When the frog is speaking, nobody is paying any attention to me."

After the professor went down for his nap, I brought out my Bird and Flora characters and did a lesson on worrying and Matthew 6:28 - 34 with some humor worked into the script.

Bird has an identity crisis and doesn't know what kind of bird he is, but he likes to go down to the New Jersey shore and pretend he's a seagull. Although he seemed like an uncooperative object lesson, he became an example of how God provides for "the birds of the air" who "neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns," ... sometimes with French fries and bits of corn dog.

I asked Flora, "Do you ever have to worry about clothes?"

She said, "No, it just grows on me."

I answered, "Well, that's good, because someone gave me an ugly Christmas sweater one year, and someone said it would grow on me ... but it didn't."

After the service, we had more fun. (I don't mean to suggest that the service itself wasn't also pleasant.) We had a picnic there at the church right afterwards with all sorts of activity throughout the afternoon. A bouncy house and carnival games were set up on the church lawn, and we also had machines for popcorn and frozen custard.

Apparently, there was a game called "Human Foosball" set up in the gym which makes me incredibly curious, but I never did investigate it. I got involved with a much more sedate game of bingo indoors in the church basement and saw brother Tim win two prizes, a bag of Red Hots candy and a teriyaki pork jerky snack. I felt glad about that though, because at the last picnic in July, I won a box of Hot Tamales candy which made Tim mildly jealous as those are his favorite. Red Hots are almost equivalent. Dad also won one round and picked out a can of Pringles from the prize basket.

Some of our lunch table buddies, Linda and John, ran a "photo booth" and took photos of congregants in one of the Sunday school rooms that had a lighthouse scene mural and against another wall where there hung a beach boardwalk mural. Tim and I posed. (I'll insert those photos when I get them.)

The whole event was closed up with some singing and a short devotional by the pastor. All in all, it was a very good day.

Also, I was so very excited about puppets and so energized after the show that I bought a new character ... Katie. I figured I needed a kid character "with legs."

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Slice of Life: Personality Quirks, Strengths and Weaknesses, Collecting Old Bottles

Labor Day, Monday, September 4, 2017,

Mom made a creamy turkey rice soup for our lunch, and I didn't do as much sous-chef-ing, or as Dad would put it, Sue-chefing, as sometimes, but I did help fetch and carry ingredients. Mom sent me to the downstairs pantry and fridge for some white wine, chicken broth and kosher salt. I came up with these, and she noticed we had a lot of baking ingredients to be stowed back in the pantry. "I should have sent you down with these first," she said. Mom likes to double up on tasks.

I did store away the baking ingredients, but I tried to explain to Mom that telling myself to go downstairs with one thing and come back upstairs with another thing, most likely, would not work. It sounds simple enough, but as many times as I've tried this before, nearly always, I manage to do the first thing and forget the other. It's when I get to the top of the stairs that I remember, "Oh, right, I was going to get such and such," and then head back downstairs. It's not selective stupidity, although it certainly sounds like it. I know it's just a personality quirk, that, as a writer and a creative type, my mind is always filled with more things than the practical thing that's right at hand. I won't go into details about Myers Brigg personality types, but if you are an INFP, and you know it, you can probably understand. (The same goes for INTP and some other types.)

Absent-mindedness doesn't really mean the mind isn't working. The mind is actually working very hard ... on more than one thing. I comfort myself that I have something in common with a lot of brilliant people who gained reputations as being absent-minded -- great inventors, great writers ... There's a reason why there is such an expression as the "absent-minded professor."

Even so, "absent-minded" seems like a negative trait, while creativity is considered a positive one. I've been thinking that a person's strengths and weaknesses are often very closely related. In fact, sometimes the same trait can be described in both negative and positive terms. For example, a person could be called stubborn, but the positive counterpart to "stubborn" is determined or persistent.

Well, I've described my character Jack Donegal, of Jack Donegal Mysteries, as absent-minded, and now you know I do not have to look far for inspiration.

In the afternoon, as I was putting away Saturday's picnic things, my lunch box and FreezPak, and so forth, I decided to save my pretty Blossom Water bottle. I am sometimes tempted to save pretty bottles, thinking they can be recycled as vases. This one, I think, with some flowers in it, would make a nice centerpiece for a girls' tea party.

I put it on my shelf of knick knacks where I already have a couple of other bottles saved, an Arizona green tea bottle and a unique bottle for some Japanese strawberry soda.

The handsome Air Force man in the central frame is my nephew Bill.

The strawberry soda bottle is a unique one. It holds a glass marble that drops down from the top when you open the soda and gets trapped in a narrow section of the bottle's neck. It can roll back and forth in a narrow little space but can not drop down any further. I don't think it serves any purpose other than to be novel. I bought it at a little Asian specialty store that sold bubble teas and Japanese snack foods. I suppose it's pretty useless as a vase, but it is interesting. Perhaps, I won't save it forever, but it's on my shelf for now.

I've saved bottles off and on, but, at one point, I felt I had a few too many of these and tossed a bunch. I did have some "limited edition" old-fashioned Coke bottles, and I think these may be among the ones that got discarded. I wish I had saved them now. For years, I held on to a bottle for China Cola, supposedly made from Chinese herbs, from a pizza place near my college. I eventually tossed it. I haven't come across the beverage since, but I did find an image online.

A few years ago, my parents and I stopped at a Cracker Barrel while on vacation, and we picked up some "retro" sodas at the shop there. I persuaded them to keep the bottles and put them on display in the den where we already had some antique bottles my cousin Kevin had given them.

The blue bottle is an antique and has "Merson's Drug Company" molded onto it.

I've been raised by a woman who is not a saver and has more of a Clean Sweep philosophy. Collections can get out of hand. Thank God for Pinterest where you can virtually collect all sorts of things without creating clutter.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Slice of Life: Book Discussion, Dad Puns, Funny Word Origins, Silly Songs, "Cool" Ukulele Players

This is an excerpt from my journal a few days back, but the lunch discussion was so interesting, I thought I would add it.

August 28, 2017

We had a simple hot dog lunch and some interesting discussion. I talked to Mom and Dad about Can You Forgive Her?, and I said it wouldn't suit every reader's tastes as the writer used quite a few lines to describe the green drawing room. “It wouldn't be everyone's tastes in movies either,” said Mom. It reminded me of my brother Bruce who can't appreciate some of the historical period movies I like. “All the scenes take place in one room!” he's said. I guess I still had “drawing room” on the brain, so I said, “With some of the period movies I like, they think everyone just sits in the drawing room.”

 Dad couldn't resist punning. “Yes,” he said, “and they don't even do any drawing!”

 I got into a silly mood as I took a hot dog from the platter and said, “Come along, little dogie.” We then had a discussion as to why cowboys said “Come along, little dogie” to cattle. From the sound of the word, it seems more appropriate for dogs. Mom thought it might have been influenced by a Spanish word. I looked it up later and had difficulty finding the information I wanted. I finally found a definition of dogie with a possible word origin. The Spanish influence was one theory, that it was taken from the Spanish word for lariat, dogal. Dogies, apparently, are orphaned calves. Ramon F. Adams, a writer on western Americana, had one explanation for it, that orphaned calves, weaned too soon, got swollen bellies and were called “dough-guts” which then became “dogies.”

 “Come along, little dogies,” was not the end of my silliness. For some reason, I began to sing, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” I tell people sometimes that my brain is a random jukebox. When I'm in a happy mood, my random jukebox can make some odd selections of very silly and stupid songs. This is one example. When I was a kid, my oldest brother Tim had an album of K-Tel novelty songs from the '60s and '70s called Looney Tunes. Tiny Tim's “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” was on it. My brother's record seemed like a kiddie album to me, and I played it plenty of times, but why this particular song popped into my head at lunch time, when I hadn't heard it recently, I can not explain.

 This brought up Tiny Tim and his falsetto voice in discussion, and we talked about what an odd character he was. The discussion then shifted to ukulele players, and I made the case that ukulele players are not considered as nerdy as they may have been at one time. I listed several “cool” modern ukulele players: Youtuber Dodie Clark, Grace Vanderwaal who won America's Got Talent and Iz Kamakowiwo'ole who had a hit with his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.” This then made me think of Disney's Moana, and in Saturday's quick walk-through of the Disney store, the “Lava Song” (which has a ukulele accompaniment) had been playing. Somehow, magically, and not unhappily, the “Lava Song” replaced “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” as the song stuck in my head.

© 2017 Susan Joy Clark

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Slice of Life: Book Thoughts, Writer Gifts, Hiking with Friends, Wildflower Meadow, Picnic

September 2, 2017

Mom woke me up on the intercom this morning to tell me she was confused with her Kindle. She came across a word she didn't know and remembered about the dictionary feature on the Kindle, but when she looked up her word, she then lost her place in her book. It took me a while to crawl out of bed and then reach for the phone on the side of the desk furthest from the bed.

Where were you?” she asked, when I picked up the phone.

In bed.”

Why'd it take you so long?”

I had to get up.” I'm not sure if my explanation made sense to her, but it did to me.

Mom and I both recently finished reading Laddie by Gene Stratton-Porter, and now she is reading Her Father's Daughter by the same author. She thought it might be the same book she'd read as a girl, and now she's certain it is.

The dictionary feature on her older model of the Kindle is a little bit troublesome. On my newer model, I can look up words without leaving the page I'm reading.

She used the word bole for tree trunk,” Mom said of the author. “If she meant tree trunk, why didn't she just say tree trunk? I think the author's showing off her vocabulary.” Mom mentioned some of the plant vocabulary used. Gene Stratton-Porter is known for her "romantic outdoor stories" and knows a lot about botany and butterflies and birds, one of the things we like about her writing.

"She likes to write about characters who share her interest in nature," I said, but Mom thought there was more to it than that. 

Mom came across something even more objectionable later in Her Father's Daughter, and that is that the main character (and perhaps the author) has a strong prejudice against the Japanese, and the word "Jap" is used quite a few times. I didn't even know that term existed pre-World War II. That's disappointing, as I loved A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles and now Laddie. I hope it's an attitude the character comes to change in the story, but we'll see. It's things like this that remind me not to idolize authors or singers or other people I might have some reason to admire. They're not perfect in every way. 

Later in the morning, I made myself ready for a hike at South Mountain Reservation with friends, Adrienne and Iris. We planned to have a picnic in the woods. My friend Debra had given me a cute insulated lunchbox which I had not yet initiated. The printed design features a vintage typewriter and the paper scrolling out of it reads "Get Carried Away." Now that I work from home, I don't have an every day need for a lunch box. I knew it would still be stowed away in the box she had mailed it in from Florida, and as I looked through the box, I made an interesting discovery. There was another small Christmas gift in there ... which I had not yet opened! It was a cute Victorian folding fan. I wanted to show it to Adrienne when she came, because she is a "fan" of the fan. At one point, she had tried to organize a girls' outing to an exhibit of fans, but it hadn't worked out.

I didn't want to carry the lunch bag loosely in my hand while hiking, so I found another bag I hadn't yet initiated, a Zumba cross-body bag that was given to me in my reporting days after covering a Zumba fundraising event. So, the combination of these two bags worked, one inside the other, but I had to find the proper footwear and the tread on my sneakers is wearing thin. I have two pairs of dance shoes that look like sneakers but aren't suited for hiking. The soles on these are made to slide on the dance floor. I dug around in my closet and found an old pair of Timberland boots I forgot I even owned and put those on my feet. As the fall weather hit when the calendar flipped to September, I thought I might need something more than a T-shirt, and the sweatshirt I selected has a writer's theme as much as the typewriter lunchbox does, a purple hoodie that reads "Weapons of Mass Creation" and displays a row of pens and pencils.

I make myself sound semi-athletic with my mention of Zumba bags and two pairs of dancing shoes and Timberland boots, but I have had mysterious symptoms over several months and haven't had recreational exercise in just as long. Just as mysteriously, I've begun to feel better.

I knew we had a tempting chunk of brie in the refrigerator, but, other than that and some other less French cheeses, not very much for the makings of a sandwich. I went out to the grocery store and bought some sliced ham and a wonderful whole grain croissant full of sesame and other seeds for my sandwich. Because I was feeling adventurous and there are so many interesting things in the store near me, I decided to try a drink I've never had before and a snack I've never had before. I decided on something called Blossom Water with pomegranate geranium essence and was probably partly intrigued by the beautiful fruit and floral designs on the bottle. I also bought Dang sticky rice chips in a coconut flavor which came in a snack bag big enough to share with friends. I made my sandwich on the croissant with brie, ham, Dijon mustard and mayonnaise.

There was one more thing I had hoped to pack, and that was a book of poetry. In a Grace Darby Mystery in progress, my English professor sleuth goes hiking in the woods with a poetry book, and this part is somewhat autobiographical. In previous solo hikes, I've brought a book of poetry with me. I downloaded two free or cheap poetry books onto my Kindle, one of nonsense verses by Edward Lear and one of 100 Favorite Poems by Dover Thrift Publishing. The nonsense poem collection wasn't my first idea, but silly ones seemed fun for sharing with friends. In the end, between running late and some other confusion, I skipped the "poetry in the woods" idea.

At home, last night, I read the beginning of Lear's The Jumblies.

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
   In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
   In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, ‘You’ll all be drowned!’
They called aloud, ‘Our Sieve ain’t big,
But we don’t care a button! we don’t care a fig!
   In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!’

While I was at the store, things got a little crazy with our plan. Adrienne came to the door to pick me up, and Dad told her that I had gone out to buy a lunch, at least that's what I had told him to say. What Adrienne heard was that I had gone out for lunch, which must mean that I had gone out to meet them, and she left. After a bit of messaging back and forth and talking to Dad, he agreed to drive me over to the park and use the GPS feature on his new phone. It wasn't perfect in its navigation, and Dad wasn't always trusting it, so we took the scenic route and we passed a lot of the interesting recreational places in the area, the Turtle Back Zoo, the associated McCloone's Boathouse restaurant, mini golf and the zipline and ropes course. Finally, we met up with Adrienne and Iris. Dad rolled down his window and told them, "This GPS is good for two things, getting you lost and then getting you unlost."

We met at the dog park there, and Dad, who had looked over the map, advised us to look through the Meadow Sculpture Garden nearby. This was not my first time at South Mountain Reservation, but I had not been in this section and didn't know about a dog park or a wildflower meadow or a sculpture garden before today. There were a few sculptures near where we stood, but we were not terribly impressed by them. They were very modern. One looked like a column of lobster crates, and another looked like a teetering stack of pots. 

This one had "canoe" in the title, I think. 

We entered the fenced off area -- fenced to keep the dogs out -- and saw clearly marked signs for the Wildflower Meadow and a trail called the Lavender Loop. We went into the meadow first, and the path there was barely the width of a person with tall wildflowers on either side, sometimes swinging into the path. I wish I could identify as many plants as Gene Stratton-Porter, but we saw goldenrod and purple thistles and some daisy-like flowers. Some flowers we spotted by the path might have been a butterfly bush, I thought, and I noticed some little orange flowers that were somewhat bell-shaped and hollow inside that I could not identify. One impressive plant had dangling clusters of bright berries, but not of a variety we recognized or trusted to eat. The stem of this plant was just as fuschia as the berries, and Adrienne commented that this was my color and that I should grow some in the backyard and accessorize myself with it. 

Iris and Me
Adrienne at entrance to meadow

I really loved this area. Other things of interest were hidden away here and there among the flowers, a cozy little sculpted wooden bench, a birdhouse and a man-made station for pollinating insects. A central sculpture reminded me of a dress form. A second sculpture was called "Sunflowers." Adrienne called them "steel sunflowers," but we read "water bottles" among the materials in the identifying plaque, and then we saw the center of the sunflower was made up of clusters of water bottles. 

From here, we took the Lavender Loop and followed the lavender paint markings on the trees and occasional signs. Here and there were little informative signs on some plants or animals. One fun little part of the path was called a bog bridge, slightly raised planks that stretched on for quite a while. It all seems very dry at the moment, and one gulch we crossed is probably a creek at a wetter time of year. The bog bridge took us to the Aqua Loop, and here the trees were marked with an aqua green. Walking on the path, Iris shared one amusing incident in her life, the embarrassment of accidentally stumbling upon a nudist beach. Oh my!

I don't remember where along the path we were when we stopped for our lunch, but we found a nice boulder to lean or sit on, and my water bottle fit quite nicely into a little crevice in the rock. 

The girls and I (and this will include our friend Jin who is visiting her family in South Korea) hope to visit a couple of other parks in the near future, Verona Park for paddleboats and Anderson Park for an arts and crafts fair.

© 2017 Susan Joy Clark

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Slice of Life: Adventures with a Cricket, Friend Outing, In-House "Geek Squad," New Book

August 30, 2017

I was in a happy mood this morning, cooking eggs while dancing around the kitchen to music I was only hearing mentally. There was a noisy little cricket chirping away at our tea and coffee station. I couldn't quite locate him, but after Mom and Dad were up, I joked that he sounded very close and I almost wondered if he was having a spa bath in my coffee cup, although I can't imagine he'd be so comfortable to keep singing in so hot a bath.

I listened to some YouTube music recommendations this morning, in an album of retro easy listening from the '60s. Two notable discoveries were “A Swingin' Safari” by Bert Kaempfert and “Murder She Says” by Ron Goodwin, a theme song for an earlier Agatha Christie Miss Marple show than the one I've been catching on Netflix. I say that these were discoveries, even though they're old, because they're new to me. The second piece has more of a danceable beat than I would, at first, associate with Miss Marple, but it's classy and even has some old-timey harpsichord sound in it.

I arranged to meet my friend Lisa today to go to lunch and on a drive with her to an address in Secaucus as a practice run for a drive she needs to make on Thursday. She spoke rather then typed her text message into her phone, and Autocorrect made Secaucus into “C Caucus.”

This morning, I asked Dad to set up the Kindle for PC app on my laptop, so that I could review my ebook file for Action Men and the Great Zarelda. Dad, our resident “geek squad,” was dividing his attention between helping Mom with her computer and helping me with mine.

So, I made myself pretty for my lunch date with Lisa in the mean time, even polishing my nails with an OPI color called Princesses Rule, a pale pink iridescent polish. Working at home, I ordinarily don't fuss too much with my appearance. My friend Gretchen says that every day is a party and that you must dress for it, and this seems like a nice and perky outlook. Putting polish on encouraged me to accessorize a little with a charm bracelet featuring charms in the form of a purse, high heeled shoe, perfume bottle, hanger and other girly fashion items.

Dad was successful in installing Kindle for PC on my laptop computer, and I had to return the favor. Dad wears compression stockings now after getting some treatment for a venous ulcer on his ankle which has now healed. It's been my job now to help put them on him, and it is quite an exercise as they are so tight and require a bit of tugging to get them on right. Dad told me I now had to “install” his stockings … “and configure them.”

I met Lisa at her house at noon, got in her car and she drove to the address in Secaucus. I learned that she has a new job as a visiting nurse for children with medical issues. Her new assignment, Tristian, lived at the address we were trying to locate. I learned she is a lot like me and doesn't enjoy driving into cities or highway driving. It was a little surprising since I would guess she is the bolder and braver of the two of us. She expressed I would make a good companion for her driving adventure, since I have such a calm personality. Later, she told me that, although she noticed I would sometimes grip the car door, at least, I refrained from making little gasps and other panic noises.

I'm not going to like this,” Lisa told me, expressing her feelings on her future commute on more than one occasion. “No,” I said. “I wouldn't either.” I hope it will get easier for her. We did locate the apartment community where her little boy lives, and it is a fairly nice one with a central playground, and, apparently, indoor lap pool. “What is the good of that?” said Lisa, on the “indoor” part of that description which she picked up from a kind and helpful doorman.

We stopped at a Smashburger for lunch at Lisa's suggestion, which was ideal since I had a gift card here. Lisa ordered the basic burger and fries and a chocolate shake. I tried the New Jersey burger and Smashfries. The New Jersey burger has bacon, blue cheese, a combination of haystack onions (frizzled onions) and sauteed onions, lettuce and tomato on an onion roll. The Smashfries were flavored with rosemary, garlic and olive oil. Lisa told me she likes basics and doesn't like to “get too crazy” with food. I guess I like to get a little crazy.

Lisa and I prayed over our meal. I prayed for her new commute and new job assignment and for Tristian, and I thanked God for our friendship and time together. A very polite and friendly Smashburger worker hung by our table with a plate for one of us. “I saw you two praying and took a step back. You don't interrupt praying!” she said.

We smiled and thanked her and gave her some appreciative comments. I have a feeling the woman is a praying woman herself and was happy to see two others of a similar mind.

Lisa and I mostly got caught up on each other's life events. I talked mostly about my ghostwriting project, and Lisa gave me news about her husband who is in the hospital. Several times, Lisa had to remind me to eat, because I was doing more talking than eating.

We did a quick tour of Hobby Lobby after this, and Lisa found some miniature Christmas stockings for her cats and some fall fabric printed with scarecrows and pumpkins to cover her home desk. I didn't do any shopping but was happy to look around and have the company.

Once at home, I was able to review my ebook file for Action Men and theGreat Zarelda and uploaded it to Amazon. As before, I was told it might take 72 hours before it would go live on the Amazon site. I made an announcement it was coming soon on Facebook and got a few reactions from friends and fans, but before the evening was past, I learned it did go live.

I tried opening my file called Paloma's Story, for my ghostwriting project on Paloma Rambana, and it was in read-only format. I struggled, under Dad's instruction, to get it out of that format and into an editable one. I now have back-up files on the flash drive and some files Staples saved from the old hard drive on the laptop, and I'm guessing the latter are more up to date. I really didn't look it over to see if the file was up to date as I was so distracted by trying to change the format. I had to get Dad, the “geek squad,” to look at it, and he struggled too. It seemed to have something to do with the entire folder of files being in that read-only format and it affecting all of the subfolders. Dad was partly distracted by some other computer work, so we didn't get the issue resolved by the end of the day.

Paloma Rambana being awesome ... in spite of legal blindness.

At night, again, I heard the cricket in the area of our coffee and tea station and Keurig coffee maker. I moved each box of tea, asking, “Where are you, Cricket?” Dad added to this, saying, “We're coming for you, Cricket!” and immediately the chirping stopped as if the cricket was really intimidated by the sound of Dad's voice. It didn't stop for too long though. A little while later, he was chirping happily again.

I continued to move things around and when I moved a box filled with our refillable K-cups for the Keurig and held it to my ear, I was pretty certain the cricket was hiding in there. Dad came over, listened to it and agreed with me. “Be nice to him,” I said. Crickets don't seem as creepy to me as some other insects, and I actually like the sounds they make, even if I don't expect to hear them in the house. Dad picked up the whole box and carried it outside. I heard him tell the cricket, “We're giving you your freedom.” He sat on our front steps and removed the K-cups from the box one by one. When the cricket crawled up to the edge of the box, Dad gave him a little flick and said, “Goodbye.”

Later, Mom said that the cricket would probably find his way back to our garage and back into the house. “No,” I said. “He's going to find a girlfriend.” After all, isn't that why he was making so much noise, wooing a mate with his serenade? Somehow, I see a children's story in there somewhere and might come up with one if I thought on it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

German Americans in American Culture

I recently had a post about British vs. American English terminology. It was sparked by a YouTube video I watched where Irish people were taste testing different American sandwiches. Since then, YouTube made a few other recommendations for me, on stereotypes different countries or cultures have of one another and so forth. Though perhaps not directly related, this all sparked a memory of when I was a teenager on vacation in Orlando, Florida.

I visited a lot of Orlando tourist sites at that time: Disney World and Epcot Center, Cypress Gardens and Sea World. My parents and I also ate at some novelty restaurants. One of them was a British fish and chips place. There are a couple of Irish pubs near me in New Jersey that serve excellent fish and chips. This place was different, with an indoor bright red double decker bus for seating and one of the famous London red phone booths for atmosphere. I wish I could remember the name of the place. I have a feeling it no longer exists. I tried Googling it but couldn't seem to find a restaurant of that description.

A British tourist sat alone at a table near us. While we were being adventurous and enjoying our French fries/"chips" with the traditional malt vinegar, the British tourist reached for the more American condiment on the table ... a bottle of ketchup. "Heinz?" he says as he grasps the ketchup bottle. "This isn't American! This is German!"

That moment has sparked quite a lot of thought since then, even some twenty some years later. If I had been bolder, I might have started a conversation with the tourist, and we could have had quite the discussion on German-Americans and their influence on American culture. My mother does remember telling him that Americans are made up of all sorts of people.

I have to wonder what the guy was thinking. Surely, he must know that America is a land of immigrants. He might make that observation by watching the people that surrounded him in Orlando, unless he assumed that half of them were foreign tourists just as he was. Orlando, and Disney World in particular, does attract a lot of foreign tourists as well as American ones. Maybe his British pride believed that the majority of us were of English heritage and have nice little English surnames or that an American ketchup company established as far back as 1869 surely must have an English sounding name. German-Americans have not been here as long as the English, who were, of course, our first settlers, but they have been here quite a while and have been influential on a lot of very American things, including ketchup.

My ketchup-eating friend might be surprised to learn that, these days, Americans of German heritage actually outnumber those of English heritage. According to a 2013 U.S. Census, there are more Americans of German roots, 46 million, than Irish, 33 million, or English, 25 million.  Personally, I'm a good mixture of both, with more or less equal parts German and English coming from both parents. It turns out, after one of my brothers took a DNA test through, that my heritage is a bit more complicated than that. Still, this is true.

What can be more American than a hot dog? Not only was America's chief ketchup company started by a German-American, but the foods that commonly accompany ketchup can be traced to German-Americans as well.

There are a few different origin stories of the hamburger and hot dog, so it doesn't seem to be completely settled. Think of the alternate names for the hot dog: frankfurter or weiner, both names relating to European cities, either Frankfurt, Germany or Vienna (Wien,) Austria. Some stories claim that these sausages began in these European cities, predating America. They were later introduced to America by immigrants. It could also be that the American hot dog is slightly different than either of these.

American hot dogs were first called "little dachshund sausages." There's one claim that a German immigrant sold them with sauerkraut and milk rolls from a push cart in New York City's Bowery in the 1860s. Charles Feltman, a German baker, began selling dachshund sausages at Coney Island in 1871.

German-Americans are the reason we sometimes accompany the American hot dog with this odd food with the very German sounding name.


The hamburger is another American food with a very German sounding name, hamburger as in from Hamburg. It likely started first as Hamburg steak, a steak made up of ground beef, a food familiar to German immigrants. It's not really clear who first had the idea to serve it in a roll as a sandwich.

The Hamburg America Line shipping company employed many German immigrants in the 1840s. Ships from Hamburg often came to New York City, and city restaurants began serving Hamburg steak to get business from the German sailors. The hamburger as a sandwich seems to come out of street vendors for major events such as amusement parks and fairs. There are a few different controversial ideas of who invented and/or popularized the sandwich.

Yes, Henry J. Heinz, the son of German immigrants, began his company in 1869, producing and bottling several food products, including ketchup. Heinz isn't the only German surname you will find in major American food companies (and other big companies besides.)

Henry J. Heinz

How about Oscar Meyer, a producer of hot dogs, bologna and other meats?

Oscar Mayer

How about Claussen pickles? Or many or our pretzel companies that have names like Utz, which sells Bachmann pretzels, Sturgis and Snyder of Hanover?

Just about every American beer brewer seems to be started by a German-American, with names like Anheuser-Busch (producer of Budweiser), Coors, Pabst and Schlitz. Although perhaps not as obvious, Wikipedia lists Frederick Miller, creator of Miller beer, as a German-American. Beer and pretzels. Should this be surprising?

As a nice little teetotaler personally, I'll just post a photo of these pretty Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales.

Also, Milton Hershey of Hershey Chocolate, was a German-American.

Milton Hershey

There are other German-Americans who gave their names to big American businesses, unrelated to foods. What about Boeing aircraft? Or Pfizer and Merck pharmaceuticals? There are many others.

Here are some other German-Americans who made great contributions in the arts.

Charles Schulz, the artist behind Peanuts and Snoopy.

Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel, (Dr. Seuss,) author of The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and many other beloved children's stories.

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz and Oz series books.

German-Americans have made a lot of contributions to American culture.