Category Archives: strange and wonderful ideas about life

Painting on the Rocks

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The Rowan Public Library has a storm sewer drain near the parking area on the west side of the building.   How do you prevent cars from parking on top of it and risking significant damage to two different things?  The librarian’s solution?  Make a rock garden around it so that only extremely stupid people would still consider parking there.  And what better summer activity than to invite kids and senior citizens to come in and paint the rocks for decoration’s sake.

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The goofy spotted frog and the Star Wars rebel flying goose are the rocks that I chose to paint.  You can see that I had more fun than I did artistic epiphanies.  But that is the thing about art.  Bob Ross says that it can bring good things to your heart.  And it does even more so when you share it with kids and other people.

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So I had a relatively good time just painting rocks for fun and cracking simple, stupid jokes to make little kids laugh.

Mom had fun painting flowers and smiling suns on a rock next to her good friend Annie and Annie’s great grandson.  You see them in this picture taken by the little boy’s grandmother.

And my daughter really got invested in the zen experience of putting paint on rocks.  She took the longest of anybody to finish her second rock.  And, of course, her little dragon-obsessed creation was easily the best one of the day.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, coloring, commentary, family, goofiness, homely art, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The County Fair 2018

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On the road to Eagle Grove, Iowa, site of the 2018 Wright County Fair

Yesterday we went to the Wright County Fair as it winds down on the last weekend.  My daughter and I went with my mother and father, all of us not ready to run any foot races, in fact, looking forward to viewing the small fair at a snail’s pace, two of us walking with canes.

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It has always been a small county fair.  But it has become almost depressing to see how much it has shrunk since I was a kid and competed there.  Of course the beneficent pumpkinhead that runs the country now has put a cloud over it all by cutting off farmers’ primary markets in the trade war with China.  Soon there may be no agriculture community at all to celebrate with a county fair.

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The Iowa Township Hawkeyes Club that I used to be a part of

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We toured the 4-H projects exhibit building and saw all the baking, woodworking, photography. and sewing projects that the kids in 4-H had worked on all year.  As always they were impressive in the way that enthusiastic kid-work inevitably is.  But it was depressing to see that there are only three 4-H clubs in Wright County now where once there were seven.  The elderly viewers of the goings-on outnumbered the kids about two to one.  Iowa’s farm community population is getting older and older.  Schools are shrinking.  People per county numbers are declining too.

 

But as depressing as the long-range view is, the County 4-H program is still giving kids a firm farm-kid grounding in the values that made America great.  It proves that pumpkinheads don’t need to try to make it great again.

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It is important to celebrate who we are and what we do.  Especially in a time when a tractor-and-cornfield way of life seems doomed.  And a county fair does that.  I helps us define who we are, what values we hold dear, and who we are determined to be for as long as we can be that.

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Filed under autobiography, Celebration, family, farming, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Iowa, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Evolution of the Sunflower

Apparently the seed was in the soil the demolition company used to fill the hole when the pool was removed.  It grew in the corner of the flower patch where I planted zinnias, and I decided to leave it, rather than treat it as a weed like I did with the other 14 sunflower plants that grew in the plot where the pool used to be.

You don’t even notice it in the first picture because it was in the back corner of the flower patch and only green.   But it began to stand out more as the yellow petals began to appear and it grew taller even than the gardener.

There is a certain metaphorical truth here that applies to being a teacher as well as it does to being the gardener in the flower garden.  Sometimes in the classroom you have to nurture the student other teachers have identified as the weed in the garden.  And don’t get me wrong when I say this, I pulled enough sunflowers out of the bean fields as a farm boy to know how aggressively obnoxious they are in their weediness.  But sometimes the classroom weed becomes the tallest, brightest, most beautiful flower in the patch.  It shows you clearly what a little patience, a little love, and accepting a lot of risk can accomplish.

I have begun to think of the sunflower as Clarissa, the valedictorian of the flower patch.

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Gingerbread Dragon

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Despite what it looks like, this is NOT a bowl full of dog poop.  It is actually gingerbread dough in the process of being mixed.  I had already folded in the one large egg, and already stirred it almost to readiness for the kneading process.

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You see, my daughter and I have been staying at home in Texas while my wife and son are off on a trip I couldn’t manage for health reasons.  So, since the Princess and I have some bonding time, we decided to have a gingerbread cookie contest that we ended up putting off too long last December.

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We decided to make just two cookies.  I suggested unicorns, she wanted to do a dragon.  So we each took half of the dough and started sculpting.  We didn’t make the cookies mobile once cooked.  The plan was to make them, decorate them, photograph them, and eat them.

The Dragon is the Princess’s entry and the unicorn mine in the fantasy critter cookie contest.  In the previous pictures they are in raw dough form.  In the next set of pictures they are cooked cookies.

The en-fattened cooked cookies didn’t look quite as fine as our original sculpted conceptions.  We were hoping to improve their artistic merits by decorating them.  I had frosting left over from the gingerbread house we did in December.

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The chocolate frosting, though, had congealed in a strange, barely spreadable manner.  To deal with this, had to warm it and melt it slightly to get it to spread.  The Princess chose to forego using chocolate frosting.  Like an idiot, I forged ahead with the tasty goo.

Unfortunately, the warm chocolate had a tendency to melt all the other decorative frosting.

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So, I tried my best to be artsy creative and rescue the look of my unicorn cookie.  I failed.  I turned it into a fire-tailed ugly dog with a bleeding white stick stuck in its forehead.

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The Princess was, however, much more successful.

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And fortunately, both cookies were delicious when it came time to clean up our respective messes.

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Clown Business

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This is a 4-minute free-hand doodle in pen and ink on white drawing paper. I drew it fast. I actually put less planning and thought into creating it than the clown president has put into tariffs and trade wars.

I confess to rarely doing things without a plan and considerable preparation. It is as much a teacher thing as it is an artist thing.  But it is not really a clown thing.  Clown things tend to be spontaneous, unrehearsed, improvised, and free-flowing.

I think, though, that my doodle, though done fast and directly from the idea machine to paper, shows how my constant preparing and work on careful planning leads to certain features of talent and skill showing through.

I believe I have revealed before that as a writer and an artist I am a formalist.  I believe in the rules and proper forms.  I know the proper forms and the rules very well.  And therefore, I feel qualified to break the rules whenever necessary.

And clowns must break the rules.  You have push outside the borders.  You have to twist things at unnatural angles.  You have to turn things upside down.   You have to portray a clown with only the face and hands.

Of course you can see a definite difference in quality between clowns.  The Cheeto-head who runs our country does not exhibit practiced skill when he free-hands it and tweets his comedy on Twitter.  He creates mainly chaos.  Robin Williams, on the other hand, rapid fires incredible lines off the top of his head.  But he can do that because he has practiced brewing gallons of funny foam up in his insane brain and grabbing off the amazing lines that fizz out of his brain and tosses them out to create comedy.

Chaos is easy to create.  Comedy, especially thoughtful comedy, is hard.

So, I will continue to do clown stuff.  And I will continue to doodle.  But I will also continue to plan and practice, because clown stuff is seriously important, and has to be done correctly.

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Singing Rock and Soul

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Yes, this is a picture of a rock.  But it is no ordinary rock.  Okay, that’s not precisely true.  It is a gray metamorphic rock roughly square in shape with numerous flecks of white and a white strip along the top.  As rocks go, it probably couldn’t be more ordinary, more rocky in its soul.  But, as with all things in this life, the importance and true meaning lies in the context.  This is a pocket rock.  It spent a quarter of a century riding around in my pants pocket.  I have held it in my hand millions of times.

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The Rowan Community Center, seen in this picture I used for the cover of Magical Miss Morgan, is the last part of the old Rowan school still standing.

In 1980, my Great Grandma Hinckley died.  That was also the year my folks had to move to Texas because of the transfer my Dad’s seedcorn company gave him to its cotton seed division.  It was one year before I got my teaching degree.  And it was the year they tore down the building where I went to school for grades 1 through 6.  That summer, as I walked around the demolition site, I found the homely gray rock that was nearly as square as I was, and because I was already feeling homesick before I actually left home, I picked it up  and stuck it in my pocket.  It was a little square piece of home.

That rock went with me to college.  It went with me to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida.  It has been to Washington D.C.  It has been in the depths of caves in Kentucky and Missouri and Texas.  It has been high in the sky in my pocket in an airplane.  It has been to beaches on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the U.S.  It has visited both Mexico and Canada.  It his been to Las Vegas.  And it even rode in the subways of New York City.

And possibly the most interesting part of this pocket rock’s career happened in Texas schools.  It was with me in my pocket constantly from 1980 to 2004.  I finally took it out of my pocket and placed it in an old cigar box that once belonged to my grandfather and I have kept keepsakes in since I was a kid.

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And I have thought a lot about this ordinary rock that isn’t really ordinary on closer inspection.  At one point or another I thought about using it as a skipping stone at both the Atlantic and the Pacific.  In 2004 when I was considering the pocket watch broken by it and the car key accidentally bent against it, it almost wound up in Lake Superior.  I put in my cigar box and it has remained exiled there since.  Will I have it buried with me, in my pocket?  No, probably not.  My wife plans to have me cremated.  Hopefully, though, not until I am already dead.  This rock has pretty much been a symbol of my soul, travelling with me, teaching with me, jingling the pocket change when I walk…  And it will continue to exist when the thinking and writing parts of Mickey are gone.

But even rocks are not immortal.  Sometime in the future something will happen to it.  It will end up someplace unexpected or changed by grinding, melting, or chemical reaction into some other form.  But no matter what happens to it ultimately, the meaning of it, the context, the places it has been and the things that it has done will still be true, still have happened to it.  And, ultimately, it will still be just like me.

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O Mio Babbino Caro

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This beautiful song, an operatic aria by Puccini, is from the comic opera Gianni Schicchi.  But, more important than that is what the song actually means in context.

In the opera, Gianni Schicchi is a con man intent on swindling a family out of their inheritance and knowing all along that he will be destined to go to hell when he dies.  The family is gathered for the reading of the rich man’s will, which is, because this is a comic opera, lost for the time being.  Their main concern is for the money, which rumor has it has all been willed to the church.  But one among them is actually worthy of inheriting the money, Rinuccio the son of the rich man’s cousin.  And, as luck would have it, as it always does in comedies, Rinuccio is the one who, during the manic and desperate search for the will, actually finds it.  And assuming he comes out well in the will, he secures a promise from his mother that if he inherits money, he can marry Schicchi’s beautiful daughter Laurretta whom he truly loves.

But when he reads the will, he is devastated.  The money all goes to a monastery.  He begs Schicchi to help him convince the family that he should marry Laurretta anyway.  This Gianni Schicchi tries and finds it harder than turning water into wine.  So Schicchi is about to give up when Lauretta finally speaks up for herself through the song,

O Mio Babbino Caro (My Beloved Father)

At this point Schicchi is moved by the beautiful song and even more beautiful love his daughter has surprised him with.  He not only agrees to help, but executes a bizarre plan, hiding the rich man’s body and pretending to be him come back to life to rewrite the will.  Now the will favors Rinuccio, and over the protests of the family, he inherits the money and marries his true love, Schicchi’s daughter.  The opera ends with Schicchi singing his case to the audience, telling them in song that going to hell is worth it to aid true love.

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And this, then, is the truth of O Mio Babbino Caro.

Love, expressed through the surprise of hidden talent suddenly revealed, is the most persuasive argument there is.

Whether it is the love in the music suddenly discovered in the overwhelming voice of a little girl like Jackie Evancho or Amira Willighagen, or the late great Maria Callas who also sang the role, or even the singer of Puccini’s greatest work who is yet to perform it and make silly old men like me weep for beauty’s sake, the song is the most persuasive argument there is in favor of true love.

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That is a thing I desperately want to capture in the novel I am writing now, Sing Sad Songs.  Love expressed in music.  Love that reverses loss.  Love that heals all things.  And Love that moves all people.  The love that is masterfully sung in O Mio Babbino Caro.

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