On Opera, Tornadoes, and BBQ

I just looked back at my recent posts and was shocked at how obsessed I’ve been over the redecorating of Bookends Cottage. Enough already! Today, I’ll just make a sort of unbulleted bullet list of some of the other things that are going on around here.

Judging by the picture above, you probably can guess that we saw an opera. Man, did we ever! The Met live-streamed Mozart’s Idomeneo re di Creta to a large number of movie theaters across the country last Saturday and Nettl and I went to OKC to see it. We’ve both been to the Met and, sure, it’s wonderful to be in the actual hall, but sitting seventh row center in plush chairs with an unobstructed view and a box of Twizzlers was pretty cool, too. Oh, come on. In Mozart’s day people ate, drank, gossiped, played cards, flirted, snogged and shagged at the opera! Last time I was at the Met, I was up in one of the balconies and couldn’t see facial expressions at all, and I certainly didn’t have any Twizzlers. We’ll definitely do this again.

I was impressed with the cast, each artist fresh, unjaded, and flawless, but it was mezzo-soprano Alice Coote (Idamante) who totally rocked my world. I’ve long been partial to mezzos (hey, I married one!) and I confess I’ve had no favorite since Frederika von Stade retired. That certainly has changed now. It would be enough that Ms. Coote possesses a rich, emotional voice, and it’s almost too much to ask that she be an excellent actor as well, but she delivers, entirely, profoundly. I spent several hours in YouTube last night listening to her in other roles and in each she owned her character, spot on, fully engaged and strikingly believable. It’s a wonder to behold. Try this out. And then this. You won’t be sorry. The chorus, too was in great form; this opera is really chorus heavy and the Met chorus is phenomenal. After the opera we went to Guthrie to Stables, our favorite BBQ place. Opera and BBQ… culture in Oklahoma. Oh, how my life has changed since my active years as a composer and conductor! Meh, don’t listen to me. I’m much more relaxed about these things these days and I’m perfectly happy with that.

Apparently, we survived the season’s first tornado watch last night. I don’t worry about them as much as I did when I first moved here 17 years ago. Anymore, it’s the fracking earthquakes that get to me. As a native Californian you’d think I’d be better at that, but living in Quakenado Country has a way of keeping one on edge.

I’m still trying to get this house finished, but it’s slow. Also slow (but that’s my own fault) is getting back to my CD. There’s only so much energy to go around these days, and I have to choose my battles wisely.

Have a great week!

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Fake It Till You Make It

Nook & Cranny Mercantile, one of the shops I visited yesterday (click to visit webpage)

Since about 2005, Nettl and I have had one car between us and since she’s the one who works outside the home, I’m without wheels every day. Unless I have a doctor appointment or need to run some errands, I’m pretty housebound. That’s not a bad thing, though. I mean, where am I going to go? I used to walk a bit, but with knee surgery looming in the near future, that’s out.  I’m a bit of a homebody, anyway, so it really doesn’t bother me. Yesterday was different. Because Nettl’s supervisor picked her up to go to OKC on business, the car was left here, which didn’t really hit me until I went to the kitchen to get my coffee and I saw the car in the drive. The day was beautiful, warm, and sunny so why not go out?

I didn’t do much, really, but there are a couple of items I’m wanting for our new look in the living/music room (a combined space connected by a lovely Craftsman columned divider), and I decided to hit some antique and used furniture shops. We’re really tired of the cottage look and are now shifting to what I call a “well-traveled Woodstock hippy Zen” look. You know what I mean. Persian area rugs, steamer trunk coffee table, low-profile sofa, comfortable club chairs, tasteful art on the walls, tweed, leather, etc, and little things having to do with eastern philosophy. That. Soon, the lace curtains, the doilies, the hanging “grandma” plates, and the figurines will be stowed away in the garage; we’ve already picked out the new sofa and chair and will be ordering them in the next week or two. Yesterday, I located the rugs, drapes, and the trunk, and they’ll follow soon after.

Anyway, as I drove around town yesterday, the sun roof open and my favorite station playing hits from the Seventies, I felt free, alive, and grateful for the life I have. Yeah, I live with chronic illness and its unpredictable ups and downs every day, but so what? The more I focus on the world around me and feel grateful for all I have (and I’m not talking about possessions here, I’m talking about my family, my friends, and my creative projects), the less in focus illness becomes. I exercise a little Bradley Method over the pain and it all slips into the background. Soon, I’m not focusing on myself at all. I’m noticing other people. I open doors, I allow pedestrians to cross in front of me even when I have the right-of-way and, when asked by shopkeepers and clerks, “How’re you doing?” my answer is, “Actually, I’m having a great day!” Instead of the question being one about how I feel, it turns into one about my mindfulness of the day itself. The paradox is, the less I think about how I feel, the better I feel!

I admit, all this friendliness and love of life is something I’ve had to learn to enact. “Fake it till you make it” and “Be mindful of the moment” have become my mantras over the past decade, and it hasn’t been easy. The secret, though, is that the more I “faked it” and the more I turned my awareness to life around me, the easier it became. Now I’m not faking it anymore. What it took was getting damned bored with myself and my private pity party. I had to stop being negative and start realizing that it’s my body that’s in rough shape, not me. It’s like having a tire that always goes flat and not having a spare or the means to buy a new tire. I can either sit on my ass and bemoan my situation, or I can keep a full can of StopLeak in the trunk. Yes, of course the tire is going to go flat again, but I can keep refilling it. I’m not the tire, damn it, and I’m not even the car. I’m the driver. That’s how I look at my body vehicle and, when this car wears out I’ll get a new one. Meantime, I keep a supply of StopLeak on hand.

Look, I know from my own experience that sometimes it’s nearly impossible to be so positive. I have my off days, too, but at last I’m learning that I am my own self-fulfilling prophecy: how I choose to perceive myself is exactly what I manifest for myself.

“You should feast regularly on the society of joyful minds.
Every day you should associate, if only for a little while,
with joy-instilled persons—those who meditate and feel
the joy of God as a reality. Seek them out and feast with
them on this most vitalising food of joy. Feast on laughter
in the company of these really joyful people. Steadfastly
continue your laughter diet once you have begun it,
and at the end of a month or two you will see the
change—your mind will be filled with sunshine…
Cheerfulness is very important to health.
It is the best antiseptic that you can have—plus
the thought that you are all right.”
Paramahansa Yogananda

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The First Gift of Christmas

The Polar Express from where I stood.

Last night the Polar Express went through Stillwater. Seems it’s moved from Bristow, OK and is here to stay. We’ve been hearing it go by all week as Santa’s elves rehearsed their parts and learned the fine art of serving hot cocoa and cookies on a moving train.

Because we live less than a block from the tracks (which I love as I’ve almost always lived near train tracks), we can hear the Polar Express’ whistle when it’s a mile away, and we feel its rumble when it’s two blocks away.


Last night my son Micah and I walked over to the tracks to greet it as it headed back to the Stillwater depot for its last run of the evening. I was able to get a pretty good video, too. I was surprised to see both of the General Class cars empty, but the First and Diamond Class cars were full and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Apparently, the train takes its pajama-wearing passengers to the North Pole and back again while Elves tell the story of the Polar Express. The highlight is when, at the North Pole depot, Santa gets on board and hands out silver bells to everyone. I imagine the train will be much fuller the closer we get to Christmas.


With all the ugliness and uncertainty that’s going on all around, the Polar Express will provide some much needed lightness and magic. Kudos to the folks at Eastern Flyer, and the City of Stillwater!

You can find more information at the official website of the Polar Express.


“The thing about trains… it doesn’t matter where they’re going.
What matters is deciding to get on.”
The Conductor of the Polar Express

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A Lazy Dragon Flew Over Tonight

Dave Deken
Tornado wall cloud north of the Stillwater airport (photo by Dave Deken)

When I moved from southern California to Tornado Alley in 2000, the prospect of tornadoes chilled me to the bone. I was assured time and again, however, that Stillwater usually escapes these annual monsters because it lies in a slight bowl, topographically; most storms split up about five miles west of town and then reform a few miles to the east. Once in while our tornado sirens come on, usually because a tornado has touched down somewhere in Payne County, which covers about 697 square miles. I’ve never seen a tornado, but I’ve learned to have a healthy respect for them while not allowing myself to fall into a fit of fear and panic when the sirens blow.

This evening, sometime around 6:00, I fixed myself a taco salad and sat down to enjoy it. The sirens came on, which surprised me because I didn’t know we’d been in a tornado watch all afternoon. Because the light outside was bright and clear—not the eerie yellow-green that accompanies a potentially dangerous storm—I carried on with my dinner while checking my usual weather sites and radar maps. The storm was north of town and blowing slowly eastward. No reason to herd the cats into the closet and get ourselves into the interior bathroom. At last, though, I gave in and went outside to have a look. Sure enough, a monstrous wall cloud was slowly passing north of us. This was a big one, and I finally saw what makes a tornado. It’s an odd feeling watching these things pass by. I noticed this while watching my first wall cloud move across the sky in 2001. It’s like watching a lazy dragon fly by, daring not to breathe in case it notices you and changes its course.

Watching the dragon pass by.

Fortunately, it passed by us without touching down, and after about 45 minutes of sirens and public announcements, we were given the All Clear.

Look at the size of that beast!

I’m actually rather proud of myself. This was the first tornado warning I’ve been through that didn’t send me into terror. Not bad considering it was the worst one I’ve experienced. Once everything was okay I went into the kitchen and baked several dozen chocolate chip cookies. Ah, life at Bookends Cottage.

Be safe!

Post-Tornado Cookies
Post-tornado cookies and Constant Comment tea.

Photo Credits: Thanks to Dave Deken for the title photo.

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