Ghosts of Christmas Past…

Hello my dear friends…a holiday update!

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On Sunday, December 3rd, at Storrowton Village in Springfield, Massachusetts, I shall perform a holiday reading from Charles Dicken’s, The Christmas Carol as part of their annual Yuletide Festivities. I have chosen to read the chapter, The Ghost of Christmas Past.

Did someone just ask why I chose this chapter? Thank you. I was hoping someone would.

This is not to say I have anything against the present. I don’t. The present is filled with wonders. Sitting at my computer composing this missile…absolutely marvelous.

The wonder that I can put thought to page makes the present brilliant. In the present I am clothed, fed and sheltered. Fantastic!

So why not choose The Ghost of Christmas Present? Well, honey-bun, because I would have to wait until Christmas. But most of all because at this stage of my life, thoughts about Christmas from my past waft in and out of my present and I remember.

What a sentence. I remember.

Oh, yes, how great is that. In the present, I put one foot in front of another. In the past, I sit back and I remember. And this is what I remember…

A very long, long, time ago, I grew up in Boro Park, Brooklyn. It was a very mixed neighborhood. There were Christmas lights on one house and next door there were Chanukah candles.

I was raised in the Jewish faith. My family celebrated Christmas and Chanukah. Do not ask me why. I do not know. When I was younger, I thought everyone celebrated everything. Why not? I wanted to be on whatever line there was that was giving out the presents. Wouldn’t you?

Family Christmas

And then, one year, I received a rude awakening. I think I was in 6th or 7th grade. Before the holiday school break, the class Christmas tree was raffled off. I won! I was so excited.

I remember pulling the tree behind me from school all the way to my house. I ran up the stairs. Yelling for my mother to come and see what I had won. I dragged the tree into the living room. I should have known something was wrong. My mother was sitting in a chair. My mother never sat down in any chair. I was the seventh of eight and believe me when I tell you I never saw my mother sitting down…including meal times.

But there she was sitting in a chair in the living room. Our Rabbi sat in another chair.

That was the year I discovered Jews don’t have Christmas trees. To save face, my mother asked me to throw the tree into the garbage. Heartbroken, I did as she asked. The Rabbi left.

My mother went out to the garbage and rescued the tree. Brought it back into the house and into the living room. I was loaded down with many of the mixed messages parents impart to their children. This was one mixed message that did not add to my growing list of neurotic complexes.

Along with so many of my memories of Christmas past, this one is favorite. It is right next to the vision I have of Christmas mornings…

On the staircase, all eight of us lined up one behind the other, according to age, the youngest first waiting for Santa to call us onto his lap to take us to our nest of gifts.

Kimono Blue
Santa Claus, aka my father, 6 foot 2 inches tall (how did he make it down the chimney!?) dressed with a Santa mask that had seen better days, and a gorgeous blue silk embroidered Chinese kimono… did I say CHINESE kimono?… I did say CHINESE kimono. That was his Santa Suit.

Did I believe this 6-foot 2-inch kimonoed vision was Santa Claus? You bet I did! Like I said before if he was the keeper of my presents, I was a believer.

In the present and the approaching season to be jolly, I want to tell you that the world of possibilities still exists for me. Though, a 6-foot 2-inch kimonoed Santa might strain my credulity. But what is a belief about if it is not about being tested?

I believe. Now, where are my presents?

Love, Sally-Jane

YULETIDE AT STORROWTON – Sunday, December 3 at 2:30pm

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Humanity Doesn’t Mix with Politics (so far)

As I watch the leaves change and fall, mostly fall without changing this year, I hear two questions consistently from friends, relatives, and passers-by:

  1. How did this happen?
  2. Are people ever going to be nice again?

There are plenty of pundits that give chapter and verse concerning both of these questions. Answers are about economics, racism, politics as given reasons for the way the vote went and for the lack of civility. Yes, I think they are connected… somewhat. But that is not all of it.

Alright already, so what happened??? Phew! I never thought you’d ask.

Sub-CMS_VietnamV2The following thoughts were provoked by my viewing the PBS series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick – The Vietnam War. And over the course of very intense viewing, my thoughts began to brew and now they are spilling over. Ready or not, I want to share because I believe we can be better and nicer, no matter who we voted for.

My thoughts before viewing: I was a 30-year-old unpolitical wife, mother of 3 babies, and a professional actor, singer, dancer living in Washington, D.C., a city that had no rights and an 80 percent black population. In this city of political shenanigans, I was innocent, which is another word for dumb. I read newspaper headlines and scripts. Viewing this series  began my late education of Vietnam. My passion for movies gave me somewhat of a head start.

Two films. Indochine, a French movie starring Catherine Deneuve and an American cult classic, Medium Cool. The French film gave me a history of Vietnam – brilliant and devastating. The second was shock treatment for this American, thinking it couldn’t happen here – the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago with the world watching as Mayor Daly’s storm troopers beat the anti-war demonstrators. I remember running around the house screaming “This can’t be happening! This can’t… someone is going to stop it… Isn’t someone, please, going to stop it?!” I was awakened from a deep sleep. And it wasn’t by anything as gentle as a sweet kiss. It was the rudest awakening ever!

To begin with, I began my viewing with one chapter (2 hours) a night. However, after the first five chapters, I had difficulty sleeping. I also noticed I was holding onto my chair like I was being sent to the moon. Such tension! And though at this point I knew what was happening and what was going to happen, I kept talking to the television and telling it, “No, don’t let it happen, please, don’t!”

I fell in love with all the foot soldiers – American, North and South Vietnamese – that were interviewed so many years later. Every one of the grunts, airmen, seamen… and all the others who, as Westmoreland and Lyndon Johnson kept increasing the draft, were being sent to Vietnam and I wondered how Ken Burns had found them. They came to do what their fathers did in World War II and when they got to Vietnam, recognized this wasn’t Europe or even Japanese occupied islands… this was a Political Swamp... Having nothing to do with helping anyone except politicians in their quest for elected office. Sound familiar???

And that’s when I decided I had to pace myself. From number 6 to the last of the series, I watched one every three days. Not only was I able to sleep, but I was able to think through each one I had seen and slowly, as I said at the beginning, my thoughts took me to new places that connected dots in a way I had not previously been aware of.

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As Nixon became the spokesperson of The Silent Majority, (I had forgotten that one), everything I believed in, all the brilliant history of The Founding Fathers, our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, were being used as kindling for a fire that is still raging.

Then there was Kent State. The National Guard and State troopers shot and killed college students on their own campus during an anti-war demonstration. I don’t think I was the only one who walked around afterward in a disbelieving daze. But did you know that in a poll 58 percent of the American people approved of the shooting?

All of this and more came out in this series. And I am thinking, “This is not new.”

Here’s what I need to know…  how do these beautiful soldiers, sailors, airmen, POWs on all sides… how do they make sense of a war where so many died, were wounded and when they returned were shunned and shamed. These are the true poets of this series.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in the last installment, throw us a life raft. And if you choose to, you can climb into it with me… It involves the selection and building of the Vietnam Memorial.  The meaning of it to the veterans who make a constant stream of visits to touch a name, to say a prayer, to be where a buddy they lost can for the moment be found. And even more thrilling, the story of the many Vietnam veterans who returned to Vietnam to redeem and reconcile their tours of duty to help rebuild a destroyed country.

Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu created an environment in South Africa of reconciliation and truth-telling.

The first President of the first all-German Parliament after World War II, Richard  von Weizsäcker had this to say,

“The desire to forget prolongs the exile, and the secret of salvation is remembrance. We cannot save ourselves, nor can we undo what has been done. We have lived through unfathomable and abysmal events and take part in them. But one thing we can and must do. Look at our past steadily, recognize its truth. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations.”

OK guys… all praise to PBS, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and all who made it possible to help us look at our past without punishment or judgment.  Yes, you can disagree with various points in this series, but you cannot disagree that it is time to look at this most divisive war and how it ruptured the country.  With the direction our country is moving, along with the lack of civility I referred to at the start of this blog, it’s worth looking at…

Do not look away.

Do not say that was then.

Do not say now is now.

Because, my dear friends, now is then.

The men and women in this film give new meaning to forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation.

If they can make nice, what’s your problem?

Love, Sally-Jane

 

To Go or Not To Go?

I was afraid.

I am not embarrassed to admit it.  I wanted to make the trip, but I didn’t want to make the trip. How could I not want to travel? I have always wanted to travel and I always have. As often possible and to destinations around the world. I got so good at it that I could actually make a trip with just a carry-on.

What happened?

Why did this opportunity to travel to France and England feel like I was being asked to climb the Matterhorn in heels? I broke through an age barrier. I was over 80 and I was going off on my own. That’s what happened.

Oh, sure, I would be meeting with friends and family.  But basically, I was going on my own.  I would not have a group identification number. No one would be handling my baggage… and my friends, gone are the days when I could travel with just a carry-on. I have to make room for all possibilities and my exercising and stretching equipment.

Yes, age definitely demanded a different kind of attention to the details of travel. Is this what Bette Davis meant when she said, “Growing old is not for sissies”?

Let’s get one thing clear. I want to grow old. I want to grow very old.  I want to be the oldest old lady on the planet. But I  was having difficulty with that wish and desire coming together with the reality of what I could and couldn’t do.

Let me tell you what always got me into trouble.  For too long my bywords were, “I COULD DO THAT”.  And every time I did do that which I thought I could do and couldn’t, I paid the price.  Here’s how I think… there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.  Well, my consequences forced me into a new set of bywords, “I USED TO DO THAT”.

If I took this trip, would I be able to “keep up” and not “try to keep up”, or pretend I was still 60 and could climb and leap over rivers and streams?  The fear and the challenge were palpable.

Well, my friends… I did it!

I left on August 17th, traveled with family to southern France, to see the most wonderful exhibit,  Annie Leibovitz: The Early Years: 1970-1983 at the Luma Arles.  It is a brilliant exhibit offering the early years of her work, once more proving she is the Cassandra of photography.

While there,  the sights and sounds of Provence and the Camargue and their crazy version of bull fights.  Here’s a fun video showing what the bulls think of all this…

It was in Arles as I was walking in the town that I realized how good I felt.  I wasn’t afraid of what might happen.  I was thrilled with what was happening.  I landed.  And I landed on both feet and they were carrying me to new places and new peoples. I was challenged each day by deciding what I could or couldn’t do… and after a very short while it became easier and easier to know, “I can do this” or “I cannot do that”.  Freedom, my friends. New found freedom. A different kind of freedom.  Hooray!

It was then onto my friends in Gascony, Mary and Barry, who bought a derelict chicken house 30 years ago and turned it into a provincial French/English country house and something I think Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II would approve (after all this is the part of France that did belong to England for many years).

From there I journeyed into the small medieval fortified village of Lectoure (this area is part of the 100 years war and so many other wars) where I met my new best friends, Thierry and Marc who own a fantastic hotel, L’Hôtel Particulier Guilhon,  in which my room belonged in two different centuries, one of the past…

Hotel Past

and one of the future…

Through them, I met another new best friend, Pascale, who gives new meaning to eclectic vintage clothing… no one does chic like the French.

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For me, the best reasons to travel belong to the cultures you breathe and the people you meet.  And once I decided that it was all right to not do it all… to do what I could do… it all fell into place.

I left France full of canard (duck), cream, butter, pate (we drank it all day), and of course, le pain (bread)… not to say my insides didn’t beg for relief but once I arrived in London and could eat a simple sandwich and some unadorned meats and chicken, all was well.

In London, I met up with friends, whom I had met when my over 50-year-old daughters were 7, 9, and 11.

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And the coup de grace was visiting my gifted friend Helaine Blumenfeld and her husband Yorick (doesn’t look anything like Hamlet’s friend) at their home in Grantchester (love the series), en route stopping to see her brilliant sculpture in Canary Wharf in London.

I must say by the time I came to London just knowing I was 3 days away from flying home, I was ready.

Yes, growing old may not be for sissies… but growing old has its advantages… list your own… because believe me, those advantages are to be celebrated.

And with all that I have enumerated in this testament of aging travel… I leave you with the best advantage of the whole trip.

ORDER A WHEELCHAIR… and if the pusher is cute… ENJOY!!!!!

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What was I thinking?

What was I thinking?

My last blog post was about the books and articles I was reading…right?

Wrong!

It was about me putting on the persona of the “intellectual”.

As the minutes (and I do mean minutes) of a summer afternoon rush by, I needed somehow to prove to no one in particular (yeah, probably me in particular) how intellectually intelligent I am.

These last months, I have been feeling, particularly vulnerable. My age is not creeping up on me. It is galloping headlong toward oblivion. Well, my friends, I have an obvious not an oblivionesque personality. As a performer, I desire to be noticed and heard.

After a year of health pauses, I purposely slowed my schedule. It was not very busy to begin with, but enough to keep the obvious personality satisfied.

Now I read many, many books to compliment my many, many interests. I love both fiction and non-fiction. And a glorious day for me is burrowing in at the local bookstore and loading up with at least 7 or 8 books every 3 or 4 weeks. I enjoy buying books. It is my way to support the writer, especially a new author. I do not get to read them all, but depending on my mood I can always find something that intrigues me at any day of the week or any time of the day. I support the library by delivering the already read books to add to their shelves.

That’s my story.

So I thought the last blog I wrote was about sharing my thoughts on my most recent reads; but after seeing this clip from Portlandia and how it nails the need to be au courant and ahead of everyone in important readings, I think something else might have snuck into that last blog.

Plain and simple, it was some hubris, mixed with a soupcon phony intellectual, mixed with mostly, “now what to do with my life that it is almost over?”

“I know! I’ll be an intellectual. And tell other people what and how they should read!”

This is so not me. As I said, It is not about the books. I am a reader. That is one of my passions. The other passion is performing and continuing to make a fool of myself in front of an audience. That has been on the back burner until I figure a few things out.

Hey Guys… I am moving it to the front burner.

I don’t know what form it will take.

But didn’t someone say the fun is in not in the knowing but in the going.

Love, Sally-Jane

A July Weekend of Streaming Thoughts

My Friends,

  • Churchill and Orwell by Tom Ricks
  • Reckless Endangerment by Grethen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner (And old/new story of the 2008 Financial Debacle)
  • Texas in The New Yorker

What do these three subjects have in common?

My brainball!

These disparate topics indicate (and by the by, something I have always known but kept hidden from friends, family and passersby) that this mind of mine is a gathering place for wool, webs, and much flotsam on the jetsom.

It is also a repository of eclectic interests and sadly, there is no connective tissue.

~~~

First, let us look at the new book Churchill and Orwell by Tom Ricks. I must admit I stared at it on my coffee table for a good two weeks before I picked it up to read.

Talk about no connective tissue… Orwell… Churchill… The author was surely stretching the point by putting them together in one book. And yet, as I read further, it was there.

They were as distinctly different. Churchill was a public school, inherited wealth product and supporter of The Empire. Orwell, on the other hand went to fight along with the communists and Republicans against Franco’s Spain. They both almost got themselves killed. They were politically divided, but brilliant wordsmiths and extraordinary writers; they believed in freedom of expression, both of them willing to put their money where their mouths were.

It was interesting as I read the book, approving of Churchill and then disapproving. And following the same pattern with Orwell. The pages of the book came alive as Rick wrote their stories.

In this day and at this time, I don’t remember reading any modern writers equaling the passion and commitment of these two men. To make a difference and to persuade people to our way of thinking or allow others to persuade us, we might consider doing so not with loud words and name calling, but with arguments, reason and  most of all, WORDS.

Novel idea, isn’t it?

~~~

Reckless Endangerment

OK, in 2010, Michael Lewis wrote what I had thought was the defining book on the 2008 financial debacle, The Big Short. I barely understood the book and I loved the movie but I had to see it twice to only begin to understand how they did it. (They being the financial community…banks, investment houses, and everyone else from Wall Street to Washington to strip mall storefront financial entities.)

In 2011, Gretchen Morgenson – New York Times business reporter – and Joshua Rosner – expert on housing and mortgage – finance issues wrote Reckless Endangerment, a detailed report on the cast, characters and plot of the worst financial crisis of our time.

I am asking you. Have you ever heard of the book? I never heard of the book. I was in a discussion with a friend… all right it was a heated discussion – about the 2008 debacle. Not to worry, we kissed and made up. But in response to our discussion, he sent me this book. Now I love Michael Lewis… great writer, interesting subjects, but Morgenson and Rosner…. they nailed it.

They started at the very beginning – 1995 – and probably even before that. You do not know the heroes and heroines of this saga. Why? Because they were unknown Government watch dogs that took their jobs seriously and had to pay the price for that dedication when they went against the big guys. Their work was buried. The shocking revelation of those who were supposed to be our heroes… Clinton, Barney Frank, and many more, were asleep at the wheel or were looking out a different window. Facts and shocking. Why? Because they got away with it.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find out about where Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Robert Rubin, and hundreds of others are in the world of finance today. None of them had to pay the price for their collusion and corruption.   Hey, guys, it’s 2017… if not now, when?!?!

~~~

Texas in the New Yorker

The latest New Yorker July 10-17 contained an article by Lawrence Wright titled, America’s Future is Texas. Many things, events, people and Presidents have been frightening me. I have been trying to bring my heart rate and blood pressure to normal levels. So I have devised different plans to hold back on the rhetoric and calm the spirit. As a reader of history I try to understand that nothing that is going on hasn’t already happened at one time or another in the very short history of this country. Different cast, different hair cuts, different inventions, but essentially naysayers, rumor and hate mongers. Bile is bile. That’s the truth of it. From the Old Testament to Twitter, nothing new.

And then I read the article. And I am thrown. So if you decide to read it…. (which I really recommend you do) you will understand why I am back being frightened again.

In 1961, I went to Houston, Texas to perform in a cabaret. Now, I’m a Brooklyn girl. And way back in 1961, I thought everyone thought the way I did. What can I tell you guys… I was young… very young. I had never been to Texas. I checked into the hotel where I was staying in the evening and when I awoke in the morning and looked out of the window of my room there was this big billboard with a huge sign that read, “IMPEACH EARL WARREN”.

At first I thought I must have taken a wrong turn and ended up across the border in some foreign land. Once it was established I actually was in Houston. I silenced my head and got to work rehearsing for the opening that night.

The show seemed to go well. There was an opening night party. I was talking to a very nice Houstonian and before long I just had to share what I saw that morning. I asked her if she saw the sign outside the hotel that said, “IMPEACH EARL WARREN”. She said she had. I asked her if it wasn’t illegal. She asked me why. And I said, it’s almost as if Texas isn’t part of the United States. She took another sip of her bottle from her paper bag and with a big Texas grin said, “It isn’t!”

My friends, that was 1961. It is now 2017. Nothing has changed. I mean nothing.

~~~

I am always telling my friends, “The human condition doesn’t change. History doesn’t repeat itself. People do.”

But secretly I want someone to tell me I am wrong. A leopard can change its spots. A human can change his or her mind.

I am trying to figure this one out!  It isn’t easy!

July Blog Pic

And I can’t afford to lose any more hair.  Any suggestions???!!!!

Love, Sally-Jane

Testing Congress

It’s happening! I am degenerating!

Right before mine and everyone else’s eyes. Bit by bit, piece by piece… slowly but surely falling apart. I thought there was time left to be a degenerate. There isn’t! Whatever time I have left is only for degeneration.

Am I blue?  You betcha.

Yesterday I had an MRI. Having an MRI is not about regeneration. It is about degeneration.

It’s amazing what I put myself through only to be told I am falling apart. Sliding into a metal tube that emits sounds that can be used in any horror film. You definitely don’t want to hear those sounds when your plane is taking off. No one would need to be ejected. We’d all be running for the exit.

What was I thinking as the MRI machined hummed and belched and screamed and roared its way up and down my spine?

I’ll tell you…

Get those recalcitrant Senators and Congressmen and women… you know the ones I mean.  The ones who support power, and their next re-election and party loyalty over justice and fairness and slide them one by one into one of those machines.  Yes, it would take a while but since we have 4 more years (oh, say it isn’t so) it would be worth it.

First, I would place them all on their back in the machine.  Right there, we have a great alternative news story…

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Then, I would set up a movie camera that would play back to back Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Meet John Doe.

Hey, someone has to remember what it was supposed to be like. It’s not as if we haven’t had congresses that played only by their own party rules…of course we did. But there was always someone who would listen… someone you could talk to… someone you could have a dialogue with. And not by digging up dirt or threatening to reveal secrets.  Someone or someones who would break the log jam of ego and party bigotry.

Hello!  This applies to both parties.  Please get out of your own selfish way to make room for a better world.

Oh, how the mind doth progress and regress… I began this by writing about my degeneration… in short, known as aging.  Well, I think my aging, my degeneration, my being blue is being helped by this Congress’s lack of responsibility to the citizens of this country.

No matter what my party affiliation is, I do not see anyone of either party moving towards (here comes the dirty word) compromise or meeting to work out solutions instead of creating more problems.

I do not expect this reconciliation to come from an executive with the lack of experience and comprehension that exists in his administration. After all, his entire career is based on creating conflict.  His name and reputation were made because he shouted and… Oh, yes, almost sounding like the sounds of the MRI.

I don’t know how I did it.  But I am ending this blog how I began it  with my journey to get an MRI…

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Sense or nonsense!  I’m glad I am still here to try and make a difference.

Love, Sally-Jane

ANTIDOTE FOR THE BLUES

Lately I have noticed a “blue” state of mind.  I have always known I was susceptible.  Hey, I even cry at supermarket openings.

I know much of what causes me to be blue are all the electronics… for the most part the computer and the cell.  Land lines are almost obsolete so I don’t count them.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t turn any of them on without being bombarded by explosive negativity.  Words and phrases like EMERGENCY, URGENT, DISASTER, IT’S OVER, WE ARE FINISHED… pound my susceptible nature and I find myself thinking about building a bomb shelter like they did in the ‘50’s.  The worst thing about this happening is  that I don’t even recognize how profoundly I am being affected by all this negativity.  So, how did I discover that I was depressed, blue, anxious and negatively affected?

I went to a high school music concert.

All right, I shall admit it wasn’t an ordinary high school.  It was the Interlochen Arts Academy in the woods of Interlochen, Michigan.  A school well known for its music program, as well as for its dance, drama and art programs.
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The siren call for me was my granddaughter, Kiri.  Kiri is a fine French Horn player and she is graduating the high school this May and this past weekend was a weekend of final concerts.  I had to puddle hop to get there, which if I was only a little depressed before getting on those tin cans called planes sunk me even lower.

The first concert was Friday night and I watched and heard over an hundred young musicians play some very difficult music and fill the concert hall with such a gift of passion and talent…straight from the Bible my friends it was a “…joyful noise.”

After the concert I noticed a spring in my step that wasn’t there before.

The six horns she plays and studies with gave their concert Saturday afternoon.  One after the other played their solos and some horn concertos.  The spring in my step was by now almost a leap.  Who says Nanas can’t  jump!
Sunday was the piece de resistence.  Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Combining the Traverse City Symphony with the Interlochen Choir, 100 musicians and 100 choristers. Climaxing with the last movement of the Symphony, Ode To Joy, the rafters of the concert hall shook not just from the instruments and the chorus but from the emotions the music provoked from the audience as we followed every note in rapture, leading to a thousand people standing and screaming bravo, stamping their feet.  And suddenly the classical music hall morphed into a rock concert with music by Beethoven.

IMG_5066Now I didn’t spring, I didn’t leap, I didn’t jump, I flew out of the hall.  And that’s when I discovered I had been depressed.  And I wasn’t anymore.

And that lift came from high school students disciplined and enthralled by what they do .

OK SJ, get with the program.  Yes, I can either go back to my electronic mood swinging instruments (computer, cell) which carries with it so much negativity or I can find my own Ode To Joy.

Hey, guys, if 14 to 18  year olds can give such joy and pleasure and here is the most important word, HOPE, then THIS is my antidote for the blues.

Love ~ SJ