Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Nashville Symphony presents Gustav Holst's The Planets

I forget where and when I first saw an advertisement for the Nashville Symphony's presentation of Gustav Holst's The Planets but I do know as soon as I saw it I wanted to go! I wish I could say I knew the music or even Gustav Holst's name, before that advertisement popped up but I would be lying. . . I feel long ago in a high school music class maybe I had heard the name, but if I did it didn't get saved into my memory. What I knew was that the Nashville Symphony (the Grammy-Nominated Symphony I should add) was going to be playing classical music while photos, images, videos, and recreations provided by NASA would play on a large screen.

To start the show they treated us to two pieces of music rather than jumping straight into playing Holst. The first was Music of the Spheres by Josef Strauss. This piece was originally composed in 1868 for the Medical Association Ball in Vienna. This was another piece that I wasn't familiar with but at least this time I knew the name. As you can imagine being composed for a ball it is meant to be danced to and it actually demands being danced to. For example I am listening to it now on Spotify and I was just dancing in my kitchen while getting my dog water especially around the 2:20 mark. If you don't start dancing, at least a harmless sway or something, I would be shocked. I definitely feel like this piece is taking me on a grand trip. At times the music sounds epic in proportion and than at times the melody takes over and becomes more small scale and personal in my mind.

Next was Philip Glass's Violin Concerto No 1. This one had a haunting melody that continued through the different movements and at times the solo violinist and the orchestra seemed to be interacting with each other as if having a conversation. It made me want to look up more of Glass's work. I definitely felt like the piece was telling a story and I think the conversation between the different instruments helped convey that as well. Also the soloist, Jun Iwasaki, was phenomenal to listen to and to watch as he played.

Following these two pieces was a brief intermission during which we stepped outside to enjoy the fact that it is January and the temperatures were in the mid 60s. Also we got to see a beautiful view of the At&T building A.K.A. Batman building.

Once everyone was seated again the Symphony began to play and now the large screen began to show images and videos.

The first movement was "Mars, the Bringer of War". There is a constant repetition of three notes that makes the piece feel like a march. The images that made me smile the most was a recreation of Curiosity, the Mars Rover, reaching Mars, hatching, and beginning to explore. The video showed amazing actual footage taken from the Rover of the Martian landscape including the sand dunes and terrain.

The second movement is called "Venus, the Bringer of Peace." The musical piece certainly has a calming effect moving away from the three note repetition of Mars. This movement has slower more drawn out notes. Unlike Mars, which seems to be pushing at the listener this piece invites the listener in like a kind host.  The image that really stuck with me from Venus were the multi-colored views from the Magellan mission showing the topography of Venus.

Without the topography Venus still looks like a beautiful planet and makes me think of a pearl because of the swirling pattern.

Next up was "Mercury, the Winged Messenger." This is the shortest piece in the set and is very light hearted and a little playful: basically what I expect from Mercury. As a result it didn't give much time for images of Mercury. The images focused on what I imagine are the result of impacts from comets against the surface.

After Mercury the rest of the musical pieces follow the order of the planets getting further from the sun. Holst skips Earth since it is from Earth that we perceive all the other planets. Also in a sad side note there is no movement for Pluto since Pluto had not been discovered yet. The composition was completed between 1916-1918 and Pluto was not discovered until 1930. I however was feeling super nerdy and instead of dressing up like some may do to go to the Symphony I wore my "Revolve in Peace" tee shirt with an image of Pluto on it and the years 1930-2006.

Next up was Jupiter, which was my favorite both musically and visually! At the  half-minute mark or close to it woodwinds begin playing a real playful melody, which quickly got my attention. Then at 1:35 or so starts a progression where more and more instruments are introduced as the movement builds for about a minute until it reaches a climax and then slows and calms again.  At around the 3-minute mark a very slow and majestic melody begins to play and again that melody builds over the next roughly 2 minutes before returning to the joyful and playful melody from the beginning.

Visually Jupiter was stunning. First off this picture made me laugh:

I don't know why, there is just something about poor tiny (not actually so tiny) Io against the massive background of Jupiter. Actually Io is not that different in size from Earth's moon and is larger than Mercury. I believe this photo was taken by the Galileo in 1999, fitting since the four largest moons  of Jupiter (called the Galilean Moons) Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto are among the earliest objects observed by Galileo around 1610.

Also the video created by the photos from the Cassini spacecraft in 2000 that showed the zonal winds of Jupiter, including Jupiter's red spot was engrossing. At one point at the melody was building with different instruments the screen repeated the same video but zoomed in and out further with each repetition.

This view shows a recreation as if  looking at the the north pole of Jupiter with east and west winds appearing as rotating circles.

This is also a string of images put together to show a video of how the zonal winds move around Jupiter.

This video uses data from the Hubble Telescope to show the winds around Jupiter. I was mesmerized by the different speeds that the bands traveled. And by Jupiter's red spot, basically a very large hurricane that is constantly traveling around the planet.

"Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age" followed Jupiter. Musically Holst returns to long drawn out notes that seem stately. I imagine an old and wise Saturn giving advice. I imagine the music telling stories and in the fourth and fifth minutes there is a building crescendo that ends with clanging bells which to me feels like a warning, like Saturn is watching mistakes of his past be remade and trying to stop them. The very end has a wistful tune intermixed with bells that makes me think of Saturn as reminiscing as the bells begin tolling for him, looking back on his life maybe sensing an ending soon. While the screen showed amazing images of Saturn my favorite is still something kind of close to this:

This is basically what Meg and I saw through our telescope last year. It was small and grainy but the rings where beautiful and clearly visible.

Next is "Uranus, the Magician" which immediately makes me think of spell casting and mischief. The beginning is a little startling coming from the calm end of Saturn. There is strong introduction by the wind instruments and then a drum beat signals silence before a note pattern begins to repeat getting louder with each repeat like witches over a cauldron.  The melody is at times playful but with a dark and mysterious undercurrent.

In the images we got to see the beautiful blue coloring of Uranus revealed in 1986 when Voyager 2 passed by the planet. Interesting note about Voyager 1 and 2 they both contain a record on them with a  message in case they are ever found by intelligent life. So if they are ever found by alien life then hopefully while developing space travel they also built a phonograph.

The last piece is "Neptune, the Mystic."

This image taken by Voyager shows Neptune's blue spot which is a storm that rotates counter clockwise.

Musically  this is another one that through building repetition I feel like it pulls in the audience. Looking at the beautiful deep blue of Neptune also, I think, has a mesmerizing quality to it. What struck me most was at the last two minutes when a chorus joins the instruments. Holst request that the chorus be unseen and I kind of wish that I hadn't read the program which mentioned the chorus. I feel like it would have been a real shock to all of a sudden hear disembodied voices chanting as the planet and the melody work together to create a feeling of other-worldliness.

It really did feel like a Space Odyssey. The images, videos, and music brought the audience on a journey across the universe starting with Earth's direct neighbors and then traveling away from the Sun in order getting further and further from Earth.

Speaking of the Sun we are now 211 days away from the Solar Eclipse on August 21st. Another spectacular celestial event to look forward to!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A quick trip: Kaskasia Dragon and Vandalia

A while ago I was thinking about making a road trip to Chicago and started looking at roadside attractions in Illinois that I could stop at as we weaved our way north. We didn't end up going on that trip yet but we did manage a quick night trip to Vandalia, IL on Monday to see one of the stand-outs.

The Land of Lincoln

The Kaskaskia Dragon is a metal dragon that breathes fire. It was built over the winter of 1995 by the Kaskaskia Hardware store. And was initially going to be part of a Halloween parade but with no clear plans after that. It wasn't until 2001 that it found a home a short walk from the hardware store right off Highway 40. Next to the dragon is a coin box where visitors can insert 'dragon coins' which gets you close to ten seconds of fire breathing fun. There are two options to get the tokens. Either you can head down the block to the Kaskaskia hardware store and get tokens for free or you can run next door to the Lomac Liquor store and pay $1 per token.  When we got there I tried the hardware store but it had closed at 6. So I walked back to the liquor store and got five tokens: 2 for during the day, 1 for night viewing, 1 for me to keep as a souvenir, and 1 for my sister to keep.

The statue is made of metal and is 35 feet long with a 16 foot neck. He wears a top hat in honor of Abe Lincoln. Facing off against him is a brave knight also made of metal and it is probably 6 feet tall. It has nothing to do with Don Quixote but the knight being so close to windmills made me laugh and brought the story to my mind.

Here is the knight and the daunting view of the dragon from the knight's perspective.

As I walked around the dragon I saw a 20 pound propane tank attached to the left leg. Apparently one tank lasts about a month.

Here is the tank, a picture of the dragon tokens, and the warning sign about the fire! After watching and photographing the dragon with the setting sun in the background we headed into Vandalia to find one more attraction and to grab some dinner before coming back to see the dragon at night.

While researching Vandalia to see what we could do while waiting for the sun to go down I found information on a series of identical statues that stretch across the country. The Madonna of the Trails monuments honor the pioneer woman who had the courage to cross this country and explore new territories.

Each of the 12 monuments are identical. They are made primarily with Missouri granite which gives them a pink color. The mother
holds a baby in one arm and a gun in her other hand while a small child holds on to her. It was the Daughter's of The American Revolution, specifically Arlene B. Nichols Moss, who originally wanted the statues made. They had previously established a committee, National Old Trails Road Committee, to commemorate the old historic pioneer trails. And in 1927 a design was made for the statues and the Committee chair at the time, Harry Truman, a judge at that point in his career, guaranteed the funding.  The design was that of a German-American immigrant August Leimbach. August was quoted as saying he imagined the moment of the statue was the mother waiting for her husband to return home. When he is not back on time she takes the children and a gun to search for him. August also said that as a child the stories of the American pioneer captivated him and made a lasting impression. He imagined that these brave woman were just like the people form his own country who had left to travel to America in search of new life and opportunity.  August continues "[w]hen I came to America, I often saw these people of the pioneer type, strong and brave and always ready to protect themselves against any danger. Asked to make a sketch model for a monument of pioneer days, I was inspired by my own impression of these people I had met, and the Madonna of the Trails is the result."

On the base of the statue the East and West sides of all 12 are identical while the North and South sides are specific to the statues location.

Here are the Vandalia specific sides.

Nearby were several plaques with info about Vandalia and the Cumberland road which had gone through the town in the early days.

Here are a couple more pictures from downtown Vandalia. The paintings of people on the stairs of an old brick building grabbed my attention and made me laugh. And then the junction sign listing the roads that brought people here.

At this point we went to grab dinner and head back to the dragon for some night time fire viewing.

It was time to see what this cute fellow would look like against a night sky.

He looks sweet

As we pulled back in we could now see that his belly was lit up with green lights that blinked on and off. Well the cute dragon during the day was much more menacing at night!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Solar Eclipse 2017 Viewing party!

Alea iacta est!

As soon as we heard about the upcoming solar eclipse we began planning a party, we sent out invites and tried to request off from work- turns out we can't request a date that is over a year away. At some point while planning the party we began to discuss making a Go-Fund-Me page to help make this a super awesome party. We wanted to upgrade some night sky viewing equipment, which is not necessary for the party but would lead to a lot of fun for our guests and us.

Anyway we finally did it. It asks for money for several things like a new telescope, camera, and filter set. Also for the party we need #14 welder's glass. And we need a good amount because I want to make two viewing stations so that young children can safely view the whole event. Once the party is over I will definitely donate one of the view finders and possibly both to a local school or club.  And then other party supplies.

The main reason we did it was because in the final reward we semi-jokingly offered an invite to the party. I say semi-jokingly because for most people it is just a thank you pack but if you are actually Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steve Harvey, or Bill Nye then you were definitely invited!! Due to a limit on the description we could not include that Sheldon Cooper (the character-sorry Jim Parsons) would also be invited. I mean they have to watch it somewhere right? Why not try! Honestly if we don't get any donations it won't matter we are going to have the party no matter what but it would be awesome to get this invite all the way to Neil deGrasse Tyson. .  .seriously no donation needed but the invite still stands!

I don't know if anyone will donate. We have set rewards for certain amounts. Basically every donation will get a shout out here (for what that's worth). The next level was a personalized hand written thank you note from us. I don't know I just feel like the thank you is becoming a lost art and it is nice to receive them. And then there are different size pictures taken with the telescope and camera.

We will really appreciate anything people choose to give us. There are so many pages out there for serious needs and this is a fun and frivolous one. If you decide to donate thank you. If you don't want to then please consider sharing it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Six evenly tempered individuals

The other day I started reminiscing about my experience on jury duty. Now ever since I was 13 or so I have been interested in juries. I couldn't wait to be called to jury duty. I just found it very interesting: the idea of hearing all the details of a case and coming to an impartial decision. The fact that twelve individuals with varied backgrounds, experiences, and opinions had to put that aside and come to one decision.

I love watching courtroom movies like 12 Angry Men, A Few Good Men, and Runaway Jury. When 12 Angry Men opened on Broadway (put on by the Roundabout Theater Company) I knew I had to go see this production. I also found a Russian version of 12 Angry Men on the IFC channel (more on that at another time).

It took a long time for me to finally be called for jury duty but it was worth the wait. I went in on a Tuesday and spent the entire morning kind of bored waiting in a large room. I had brought a book with me but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. I feel like it might of been Camus The Stranger but I'm not certain. Anyway eventually I was called to for a voire dire session. The details of the case were given very vaguely- all we really knew was that it somehow involved a road rage incident between two cars. Then the prosecutor and defense attorney began asking each of us questions. Now as they were asking questions of the others I was thinking about the little bit that I knew about the case I as much as I wanted to be on a jury a thought crossed my mind. I didn't think I could be impartial. Meg's accident (a totally different scenario) boiled down to a very basic fact that someone used an automobile recklessly and she was hurt. So as I sat looking at the defendant I felt like I couldn't be impartial because to me his reckless behavior was just as dangerous as the old man who recklessly backed up and hurt my sister. Feelings of anger and fear were still fresh in my mind. So when the defense attorney asked me if I could be fair and impartial I answered honestly. I said "No." He asked me to explain. And I did. I told him that because of my sister being a pedestrian in a car accident due to negligent behavior I felt I couldn't be impartial. I didn't think I could see past someone being irresponsible in a car. The judge also rephrased the question and re-asked it but I repeated my answer to her that I felt I could not be impartial. I was mad. I thought this was it. I had missed my chance and it would be years before I would be called to jury duty again. But then to my surprise I was not one of the people dismissed. Despite my saying out right that I felt I could not be impartial they had left me on the jury.

Now the people who were dropped were all people who mentioned that they knew or had law enforcement members in their family. But at that point I didn't know why that mattered to the case. But somehow my outright admission that I didn't think I could be impartial made me more appealing than people who had connections to law enforcement. Maybe they thought I was just saying that to get off the jury. I wasn't. And had I wanted to get off the jury I suppose all I would have had to do was mention the summer I spent working at the FBI office in Manhattan. Whatever their thinking was I went home a little mad that they had picked me. Maybe mad is the wrong word more like disappointed that a potential juror who said they couldn't be impartial was selected. Wasn't my reasoning that I couldn't be impartial more of a reason to dismiss me then just knowing a law enforcement agent?

The next day I returned to the court in order to hear the details of the case. Now the saying goes there are three sides to every story. In this case: the defendant, the prosecutor, and then somewhere in between is the truth. The prosecution's version was that the defendant was driving his cement truck. After being passed by a man in a red sports car he yelled racial slurs and then pulled up so close to the open convertible that the cement shoot above his truck was hanging over the trunk and seats of the open convertible car.  So that the driver of the sports car was afraid for his life as he was followed by the massive truck for several blocks.

The defense told a different story. The  driver of the sports car had been honking at the cement truck driver for not starting fast enough after a light turned green. Then the driver of the sports car pulled around to the left of the cement truck, despite the fact that this was a single lane road, and cut the cement truck driver off after driving into the oncoming traffic lane at an intersection and nearly causing an accident. He had yelled but not racial slurs and he did not drive right up behind the car. He did stop near the car but that was the result of a large truck needing time to stop.

Once both sides had finished presenting it was up to us to debate and find the truth. There were six of us and one alternate. We went back and forth over the different details. What did the road look like?  How many lanes? What time was it? What was traffic like at that hour on that day? How long did the whole event actually take?

What about the vehicles? How much time would a truck that size need to start and stop? What roads was a truck that size allowed to take? What about the convertible how was it's speed and handling?

We talked about what we would have done in that situation. Putting ourselves in both drivers places. We tried our hand at profiling trying to figure out what is the personality of someone driving a sports car or someone driving a truck for a living.

We asked for clarification about what was needed to give a guilty decision on the charges, parsing the language. We seriously discussed the instructions given by the judge and how that effected what decisions we could come too. We voted a couple of times.

We didn't come to a decision on the first day of deliberating and had to return on Friday. One of the jurors knew the area where the incident had taken place and another had driven by there after we left for the day.

We looked at the behavior of both drivers. And in the end we found the defendant not guilty of the charge. The defendant may have gotten mad. But the driver of the sports car had driven in to oncoming traffic to pass the large truck on the left because a concrete truck just can't start as fast as a sports car. We definitely believed that the concrete driver got mad and yelled. But we didn't believe the race of the sports car driver caused his anger. Finally there was the claim that the truck driver harassed the sports car by following him for blocks. However with the weight of the truck and the restrictions in the area the concrete truck had nowhere else to go. That was the road he was allowed to drive on. There was no evidence that said he went out of his way to follow the sports car and he most likely would have driven the same exact route whether he had met the sports car or not.

We returned to the court and our foreman read the not guilty decision. Then we returned to the jury room before leaving. As we left the prosecutor and defense attorney were waiting for us in the hall. They asked us what took us so long in deliberations. I don't know if that was normal or if they just thought it wasn't that hard a case. But I do know that big or small if I were ever in need of a trial I would want a jury like mine. We took the matter seriously and our duty seriously. We voted and debated methodically and reasonably. We didn't need to call each other names or disparage each other even though we didn't agree. Each side presented their opinions and we came to a unanimous decision.

As for me I started on that Tuesday thinking I couldn't be impartial. By Friday I knew I could. And I am glad for it. I mean it helped that both drivers were reckless at one point or another. But during the details of the case it came out that victim was a FBI agent. Now I knew why those who had family in law enforcement were removed. And now I knew that had I thought of mentioning the summer at the FBI I probably would have been removed for sure. But I got the chance to prove to myself I could look at facts of a particular circumstance and come to a decision regardless of outside details.

Overall it was all I could have hoped for from being on a jury and I look forward to the next time I am summoned.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Schultzy is my thirteen year old German Shepherd Dog (GSD)- I'm leaving the dog because on a lot of official sites discussing German Shepherds they add dog at the end and I think it's funny and wonder why the need to clarify . . .  in case we get confused with other German Shepherd species? I have never seen a Poodle called a Poodle Dog it always just seems to be assumed.

Anyway . . .  Last vet visit she was around 80 lbs. Which means thirteen short years ago I brought home a 10 lb wrecking ball and she has mutated to 8x that size. And by wrecking ball . .. . I mean WRECKING BALL!

Here she is as a young dog probably close to two years old. I know she is very young because she hadn't grown into her tail yet. For some reason though I don't have any baby baby pictures of her.

Schultzy at Montauk enjoying the ocean
Shortly after bringing her home Schultzy ate a brand new linoleum floor. A trainer we had hired for some behavior classes told us the unsurprising news that she had a very powerful jaw. We had already learned that several times. The dog can chew, bite, and eat through anything she wants. Add that on top of the fact that she is high anxiety (including separation anxiety) and literally too smart for her own good.

For the most part her destructiveness, we realize, was our fault. She was left alone too long and got bored. When she got bored she got anxious; when she got anxious floors got eaten. It's a circle. Besides the floor her greatest act of destruction was my laundry room door. The previous owners had a cat door into the laundry room which is where I assume they kept the litter box... that is the only reason I can think of for having a cat door there. At first she would stick her nose out of the cat door (that is all that would fit) and we thought it was adorable.

Hey I can't fit!

But then she realized with a little work she could fix her door.

All better!

Car trip!
That being said we call her the Baby and constantly tell her she is the best "bad dog" ever!  She knows her commands and follows them when she chooses- thankfully it is most the time. And there are definitely times where we want to kill her. But then you look at her loving face and brown eyes and realize all she wants is our attention and to be with us doing something. Well, now that she is thirteen she just wants to be with us at our feet sleeping but up until eleven she wanted to do something! Constantly! I remember when she was nine at one of her last vet visits in NY the vet said if not for the fact they had been seeing her since she was a puppy they wouldn't believe her age. She acted more like two than nine.  I feel like we have finally entered the good dog phase. Sometimes she gets up slowly and her face has much more white in it than she once did but other than that I don't think anyone meeting her would guess her age.

Schultzy loves water in any form! Her favorite treat is ice! She gets excited whenever she hears the fridge ice maker and I am probably lucky she hasn't figured out how to dispense the ice herself.

A bowl of ice with frozen toys!

She also loves snow. 

Happy Baby!

Evil Baby!

And playing in water!

Baby in her pool.

In the ocean.

She has a favorite toy that she loves to chew on and brings everywhere with her. It is the first thing she grabs when it is time to go to bed. We call it her pacifier. A long time ago it was a smart toy that we would put treats into and as she chewed it the treats would fall out. It has been a long time since we actually used treats in it but she doesn't seem to mind. She loves it so much that we have bought them in bulk so that we have easy replacements for when one gets too chewed.

Baby and her pacifier

Look closely how she holds her pacifier with her paw. I love how she does this! She also sometimes balances the middle of the pacifier over her leg.

Holding tight.

And that's the Baby!


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Progression of a Fire Pit

Almost as soon as I bought my house I began planning different projects and how I wanted to use my .5 acre of space. One thing I knew I wanted to get done was a fire pit. At first I thought just about buying one from a store .. . and then I thought about one of the kits to build a stone fire pit. Then my neighbor who had built his own without a kit told me how he had done his and what he wished he had done differently. So taking his information and his tips for future fire pits I decided this was an easy enough DIY project that I didn't need a kit. I could buy my own landscape pavers and make the fire pit the size I wanted.

At first I was thinking I might want to make it small enough that I could put a grate over it and use it as a barbecue however seeing as how we have a charcoal grill, gas grill and two smokers- cooking was an unnecessary concern. All I needed to be able to do was roast the occasional marshmallows.

Side note: thanks to spell check this is the first time I have ever realized they are marshmAllows and not marshmEllows. . . . .Have I been saying it wrong my whole life? I'll blame dialect.

Back to the blog.

The first thing I had to do was pick the location of the fire pit. I wanted it away from the house enough that smoke wouldn't blow over but not so far that I couldn't watch it and easily get to it if I was doing a leaf/ lawn debris burn while multitasking inside.

I picked my spot towards the back corner of my house and set down some bush and tree clippings that my Uncle Greg and I had gathered from both our yards. And we lit them up.

This left us with the perfect spot for a fire pit. And no TN grass that refuses to die in our way.

The burn mark even came out somewhat round. Using that space I planned the height and width of my fire pit.

Then I went to my local Lowe's and looked for the wall blocks I thought would complement my brick house the best and settled on the Alleghany flagstone block.

Allegheny Flagstone

I used some landscape caulking on each block to hold them in place and let the weight of the blocks help set them. My neighbor had suggested leaving space between the blocks to allow for air flow since he felt his fire was restricted because his blocks were right against each other. So keeping that in mind I built mine layer by layer. (I actually built it twice since I laid it out to see the spacing and then re-did it with the caulking).

Two action shots of the fire :-)

While I don't know how much of a difference the spacing between the blocks makes I do know it allows for some nice shots.

When I had my first burn in my yard I was real worried because it is not something you would ever do in NY. But as I am adjusting to life in TN I have realized it is something you do all the time in TN. I have become very used to seeing smoke in the distance or a fire in a field.

Now we have had some nice nighttime burns and just hanging out by the fire pit watching the flames lick around the blocks. But there was some more work around the fire pit that I wanted to do.  I put down landscape fabric around the fire pit to help keep grass and weeds from growing up around it. Then I went back to Lowe's and got the matching Alleghany pavers and Meghan and I made a border around the fire pit. Finally we went to Bella's nursery in Springfield and got a half scoop of pink granite chips loaded into the back of my ford explorer sport trac.  Then with the help of my Uncle we spread them around the fire pit to give a finished landscape look.

The chips are gorgeous. I discovered them at Bella's last year while landscaping around the front of my driveway.

 I had extra pavers which is fine because I am going to use them to border around the three trees I have in my yard and also add more of the granite chips around those inside the border.

So that is one project done out of many more to come!