Archive | February 2014

An English Adonis, A Nice Jewish Guy from Queens, One Night of Music Perfection

courtesy of Billboard
courtesy of Billboard

courtesy of Billboard

Back in the 80’s who would have ever thought that musicians with egos as big as Sting and Paul Simon would share a stage?

Back in the 80’s who ever thought the music of Sting and Paul Simon could ever blend so well? Sting and his Police band mates were ska and punk and then pop and Paul Simon, well, he is the master of folk and later global and world music.

But there they were, halfway through their tour at Detroit’s Palace at Auburn Hills, making beautiful music together for 2 hours and 40 minutes and most of the audience – some of us who were moved DOWN a section closer to the magic because the show didn’t sell out (Detroit, you missed a good show if you didn’t get a ticket) – we couldn’t get enough.

Both artists admitted that this was the perfect juncture in their tour, where their bands were really starting to come together as they learned each other’s styles. It was a bit of an adjustment for me to hear Sting sing some lines from Boy in the Bubble or Simon to add his voice to Fields of Gold, but it added a different dimension to each song and worked in the end.

For those of you who are curious about the play list, here it is, courtesy of the Sting fan page. I have to also mention that a friend who was also at the concert, who was close enough to the stage to see the roadies reading from their Kindles between sets, also took notes on the order of the playlist. But her playlist was not made available to me at “press time.”

Setlist 26 February 2014

At one point, Sing took the stage alone and told the audience that songs have a way of taking us back to the times in our lives when we first heard them.  He recalled traveling across the United States in a station wagon with the Police during their first tour before singing  Simon & Garfunkel‘s America.

The audience went wild when he sang “Michigan seems like a dream to me now…”

To demonstrate my true transplanteness, I alone went wild when he sang “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

I know that each song carried a memory for everyone who was there that frigid night. I’d love to hear about what memories these songs bring to you.  Here are some of mine.

Of all the songs that WEREN’T played, I really wanted to hear Cecilia. Like, dying to hear it. Wished the concert would have closed to it.

My earliest musical memories were nursed on Bridge Over Troubled Water.

My parents playing the album constantly and my Dad belting the song for which the album was named at the top of his lungs in the shower. He could give Art Garfunkel a run for his money. But just in the shower.

I think I was three or four, kneeling  by my parent’s ancient stereo speakers as it played  (and that’s on a turn table, you young whipper snappers!). As the last bars of El Condor Pasa finished, I knew it was coming.   I’d start jumping before the music even started.  I couldn’t wait. And then the unmistakably joyful drumming of Cecila would play and I’d dance all over the living room. Sang the words  at the top of my lungs. I guess my parents thought it was good thing I had no idea what I was singing. Really, they are nasty lyrics.

Later, much later, I can recall a perfect summer night in 1991 when Paul Simon played a free concert in Central Park. The music from Rhythm of the Saints mixed perfectly with the humid air. You know who you were who were there. I don’t know how we all successfully met up to enjoy the concert – about a mile away from the stage – in the days before our cell phones.

The Police and Sting dominated the air waves during high school. We all sang Every Breath you Take, thinking it was a song about love but later realized it was a song about obsession. High school was the time we began to figure out for ourselves the difference between the two.

The music of the Police affirmed to me that, no dad, musicians were not all stupid junkies. Yes, musicians are intelligent people. Sting was an English teacher after all. Classmates had conversation in the hall about Don’t Stand So Close to Me, after we learned the song was written about an inappropriate interest Sting took to one of his students.

Later, the album Nothing Like the Sun defined my college years. The scorching summer of 1988 and a fall weekend road trip to Boston.

But getting back to the present….

Perhaps even more impressive than Sting and Simon collaborating on each other’s songs was the collaboration and depth of their bands. Members of each band effortlessly switched from instrument to instrument. From drums to guitar. From guitar to electric violin.  From cello to piccolo. From the accordion sounds of Zydeco to the bass riff in Call Me Al.

Since my son has been obsessively playing his guitar, I have developed a greater appreciation for these musicians, who should not by any means be considered “backup” musicians. This is why, even though he hates it, I won’t let him quit his clarinet. Lots of musicians play guitar, but how many play guitar and clarinet?

Sing and Simon closed the night with “When Will I Be Loved” It was a night I didn’t want to end and I’m still thinking about Sting in that perfectly fitted shirt and oh, it’s just not fair for a man to look that good at – 62!

…. but I digress.

What is the point of this long-winded blog post written on yet another frigid Michigan day?

Don’t miss out on a great show. Get tickets to this concert when it comes your way.

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Pothole City

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“She’s been training for this for years, and this course is as difficult as they come.”

“Wow, look how she swerves and still can maintain that SPEED and control!!”

“Oh, she is really fighting to stay on the course as she goes around that curve, it’s so difficult but she makes it look so easy.”

Have I just returned from Sochi, competing in the giant slalom?

No.

I’ve just returned from grocery shopping.  In suburban Detroit. And there is a pothole that could accommodate  a baby elephant on the road between my house and the dairy aisle.

To say that Michigan’s roads have a pothole problem is an understatement.  We don’t really have roads here anymore. Neglect of Michigan’s roads have been decades in the making and it’s more like Michigan has miles of potholes with some bits of road holding them together.

Now, I know many of you living in other states also have pothole bragging rights. But  a recent article in the March issue of HOUR Detroit Magazine offered the following factoids to set the record straight: when it comes to a pothole problem, Michigan wins, hands down:

  • At $124, Michigan spends the least amount on roads per person per year than any other state. Yes, we have low taxes, but the cost of maintaining a car on these roads – (an average of $320 per year per motorist) – makes up for the low taxes.
  • 29% of Michigan’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
  • 35% of Detroit’s paved roads are rated in poor condition
  • The average additional vehicle operating cost for Detroit’s roads is $536 per motorist
  • Michigan drivers lose a total of $7.7 billion annually because of deteriorated, traffic congested roads.

Cross into neighboring states dealing with the same rough winters the roads are much better. That’s because Ohio invests in its roads $234 per motorist and in Wisconsin, $231 per motorist. In these states, politicians did the right thing and raised taxes to fix their roads. Now, in an election year, Michigan politicians hoping to be re-elected most likely will not want to be associated with any sort of tax increase, even to fix the road they drive on to get to work. Or maybe they have special  smooth roads for politicians.

You get what you pay for. Or you don’t get what you don’t pay for, but in the end, you pay for it anyway.

Between the bumpy rides in the back seat and no one to take care of him at school when he complained of pink eye – because Michigan politicians also doesn’t want to waste taxpayer dollars on school nurses –  my youngest child said he actually wants to move to a state with higher taxes when he grows up.

Last night, as I was driving my kids home, my daughter thought she could give me instructions about my driving technique. After all, she has been a driver’s ed student for about 2 1/2 weeks.

“Mom, why are you going over so much to the right?

Mom, don’t you see that pothole coming up? Why are you headed straight for it?”

It’s because, my dear, that pothole is in the very same place of where the road should be. To avoid one of these potholes, I would have had to cross over a double yellow line into oncoming traffic, or drive straight through the even more potholed and gravelly shoulder.

Sometimes, there is no choice but to go through a pothole and just pray you make it to the other side.

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Still Cold, Still Snowy in Detroit

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scholasticawards 025About a week ago, a friend back in Rochester asked how the weather has been in Michigan. It’s really not that much different than the winters spent in Rochester. Except this winter, there really has not been much of a break from the frigid cold. In Rochester, I remember weeks of cold, but broken up with weeks (or at least a few days) in the upper 30’s and 40’s.

This winter, we long for a day just in the 20’s.

But extreme cold does have beauty.

 

Last week I got a call from my son at school. He said his eye was “goopy.” Now, his eyes weren’t nearly as bad as fellow conjunctivitis sufferer Bob Costas,

Bob Costas Benched Due to Pink Eye

but it was enough to spring him out of school for a day.

The night before, temperatures plummeted again below zero and created this phenomenon known as freezing fog. The result was a frosty ice-coated world, if only for a few hours:

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The Last Mommy Crafty Thing I’ll Probably Ever Do

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This is it.

The night before my youngest child’s last classroom Valentine’s Day party.

What with all the snow, and my high school kids’ Forensics meets and driver’s ed classes, I had almost forgotten I had signed up to make a “healthy” Valentine’s Day treat for the class.

In years past, February was a great time of the year to get crafty. I helped my kids make homemade Valentine’s Day Valentines cards, the works: doily lace, lots of stickers and red construction paper. We made animals and creatures out of pink and red pom poms or cut out construction paper hearts in varying sizes. One ambitious year, I taught my kids how to peel bucketfuls of broken crayons, break up the pieces, and press and iron them between pieces of waxed paper for irridesent heart-shaped window hangings. I was thick into the preschool years and read a lot of Martha Stewart Living, let’s just say.

No more.

So this is it. My last, Pinterest-get-the-attention-of-the-other-cliquey-classroom-mommies-worthy class project I will do for any of my children.

So I went all out. I actually found this cute Valentine’s Day snack idea on Pinterest.

I used our abundant supply of Duck Duct Tape – again a purchase made in hopes one of my children would sit down and do a craft with me like in the old days – to make the colorful body of the clothes pin butterfly. My son designed all the butterfly faces. Then I filled snack-sized zip-lock bags with colored Goldfish and Craisins. Viola! A crafty Valentine’s Day snack for all my son’s classmates.

While I worked on this in my dining room my oldest graced me with her presence to show me how she can become eligible for a scholarship drawing if she joined an online, virtual college fair. Before I could say, that’s great ambition, and maybe you want to look at Mason Gross School of the Arts at R-U-T —” she had cut me off and said “that’s all I have time for this conversation, mom, gotta go upstairs and work on my econ.” And she was gone.

So that’s it. The last crafty project I’ll do with my kids. The college application process, and all the stress that goes with it, beckons.  Maybe, and I really am planning on this, I’ll make that birth to senior year scrapbook before she heads to college. I have about 18 months to go.

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The Payoff of Pencil Shavings: The 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

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jolie11th

Parents of athletes get to whoop and cheer from the sidelines of courts, fields and hockey arenas.

Score a basket, and parents go “YEAHHHHH!”

A kid slams a hockey puck past the goalie and parents get to yell “whooo hooo, GOAL!!”

I guess parents of artists need a place to cheer for their kids too. They found it last night at the Detroit Film Theater at the Detroit Institute of Arts, as hundreds of students in grades 7-12 received accolades at the 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Southeast Michigan Inductees ceremony.

The College for Creative Studies sponsors the Southeastern Michigan Art Region, which received over 4,000 works of art and almost 300 portfolios last year from 7-12 grade students in Wayne and Oakland Counties.  Over 1,100 individual category works and 90 Portfolios were selected to receive Gold Keys, Silver Keys and Honorable Mention Awards. Winners of this award are in the company of other great artists like Andy Warhol and Richard Avedon. They won these awards in high school too.

Artists, friends and family members and teachers filled the theater to nearly standing room capacity. That is a lot of art supporters. Before the ceremony began, a huge projection screen looped images of the award-winning art, from photography to painting, to drawing, ceramics and jewelry design.

And if parents, or other fans in the room were lucky to look up and spot their child’s work, a huge “YEAH” could be heard. Just like at a sporting event.

Looking at the art, I cannot understand how some school districts see it as a frivolous subject that can be cut from a budget.  Each work allowed the audience a glimpse of the world from inside another’s perspective. Think how many eyes have set sight on the world and still, there are so many unique ways of looking at the world around us, and to have the gift to express what they see and reflect it back to the rest of us, and to have schools that have maintained their budget for the arts, indeed a gift.

Again, I thought how fortunate we are to be able to live in a part of Michigan that values and has kept a strong visual art program. Again, my mind wandered to think about the districts which have shed the classes where students get to express themselves in their own unique way. Think of what they could express artistically if given the opportunity.

My daughter, in the throes of her Junior Year, at first could not be bothered with going to an award ceremony. After all, it was a Tuesday night at the beginning of the semester. She had hours of homework waiting for her. But we told her, no, getting recognized like this is what people LIVE for, and some things trump even doing homework.

When she was in Kindergarten, I took a book out the library about how to create art with pencils. It had different shading and cross-hatching techniques which I thought maybe a bit above her wee head, but I showed it to her anyway. We must have renewed that book three times. She sat with it and carefully copied the pictures for weeks.

Years and many boxes of pencils have passed. And with that, lots of pencil shavings. Some make it to the garbage, some don’t as evidenced by a mound of pencil shavings I recently found in the basement:

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Competitions like the Scholastic Art & Writing program confirmed for my family what we’ve known for years: My daughter has been given a great talent to create art.

Attending the award ceremony confirmed there are lots of lots of kids with equal and greater talent also creating amazing art.

As each kid crossed the stage to accept their awards: some in conservative suits, others in the standard garb of an artist: black and more black with matching black combat boots, my heart soared with pride for them all.  At the same time, it sank, and I wondered if my daughter, seated in a sea of this talent, felt the same weight of the competition. It is these same kids who she will be competing for scholarships, grants, and jobs in an economy which values and employs those pursuing the arts less and less each year.

I hope the world of art and design widens enough to absorb all of them and lucratively so.

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France Can Take A Lesson in Religious Tolerance from Detroit’s Interfaith Council

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On these snowy days I admit I have done way too much trolling on my Facebook news feed. One alarming video clip that came across my newsfeed was a very disturbing video of Fascists in France waving a red swastika flag, shouting Jews Out! Jews Out!

Do they have the right to march peacefully and express their views in a democratic society? Maybe. Have these French citizens forgotten the history of WWII when the Nazis themselves goose-stepped through the streets of Paris shouting the same hatred? Absolutely. 

Today’s Germany would not stand for such hate marches, free speech or not. In fact, it is illegal to fly the Nazi Flag anywhere in Germany or have a Nazi rally. 

I wonder, in this country which proposes to ban the wearing of any religious symbol or clothing, what they teach their children about religious tolerance. 

A few weeks back, I had the honor of attending and covering a “Face to Faith” Journey to Judaism sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Greater Detroit. Sitting in the massive sanctuary of Temple Israel of West Bloomfield with 150 seventh graders, I felt right at home. And you know something, so did the kids. Even if they never set foot in a Jewish house of worship. Even if they never had a Jewish friend. 

Cynics might wonder if such interfaith explorations organized by Detroit’s Interfaith Council really teach tolerance. But, after you watch the disturbing and disgusting video of Fascists marching down a street of what is supposed to be the world’s most civilized city shouting “Jews Out!” consider the alternatives.

Here is the article which ran in the Detroit Jewish News

What does a rabbi look like?  To the uninitiated, a rabbi wears a long black coat, grows a long beard, and therefore must always be a man.

Temple Israel rabbis, teachers, and other volunteers at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield helped to dispel this and many other misconceptions about Judaism as they guided a diverse group of 150 seventh graders from six school districts through a “Jewish Religious Diversity Journey.” The trip was part of a series of explorations into different religions created by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.

According to the council’s administrator Meredith Skowronski, Religious Diversity Journeys for the past 11 years has taken young leaders  – 25 handpicked students from each school district – on six trips to a different house of worship to foster understanding and a celebration of cultural differences.  Participating school districts include Berkeley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clarkston, West Bloomfield, and Walled Lake.

Gail Katz, a retired Berkeley teacher and the director of Religious Diversity Journeys, explained that the program fits in perfectly with the World Religions unit of the seventh Grade curriculum.

“The Journey only extends what they are learning beyond the textbook and the classroom,” said Katz as she mingled with the students during a morning icebreaker. “We strive to increase respect and understanding among all students.”

Rabbi Josh Bennett – who is clean-shaven and does not wear a long black coat –  kicked off the formal component of the day of learning in the temple’s large sanctuary. Students, impressed by the large golden ark on the bimah, learned about the three different branches of Judaism and the belief in one God, learning Torah and the connection to Israel, which unites Jews across every level of observance

Later in the morning, groups of students took turns touring the building and listening to Rabbi Ariana Gordon explain the cycle of Jewish holidays, the complexity of having a Hebrew calendar that is both lunar and solar, and the odd phenomena this year that was “Thanksgivingkah.”

The students also visited the building’s mikvah and viewed an open Torah Scroll with Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny.

“These trips are an invaluable lesson where kids get a hands-on learning experience and are made to feel welcome in different houses of worship,” said Kaluzny after teaching a group about how a Torah scroll is made and written.

Over a Mediterranean vegetarian lunch prepared by Mezza of West Bloomfield and sponsored by Temple Israel, students expressed their appreciation for the program, which allows them to explore other traditions and pose questions that would seem inappropriate or uncomfortable in a classroom setting.

Ben Johnston of West Hills Middle School came away from the program with a better understanding of the different branches of Judaism and the customs and holidays his Jewish friends celebrate.

“This program is important to me because we have a diverse society,” Johnston said. “We go to school with different kinds of kids, and as we get older, these are the people we’ll go to college and work with. We must have the knowledge of their backgrounds so we can be more tolerant and understanding.”

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Ben Johnston, a student at West Hills Middle school, learns about the role of a mikvah in Jewish life during a Religious Diversity Journey.

Ashley Liles and Maddy Merritt, both of Sashabaw Middle School in Clarkston, do not go to school with many Jewish kids.  The program allowed them to peer into a Siddur and not feel embarrassed to ask why it opens up backwards or why the letters look different than English.

templeisrael 008Maddy Merritt left, and Ashley Liles, right, seventh graders from Clarkston’s Sashabaw Middle school, examine Hebrew letters in the sanctuary at Temple Israel at during a Religious Diversity Journey.

The “journey” gave them a better perspective of the history and origins of the Jewish people.  Not only did it widen their understanding of Jewish holidays beyond Chanukkah, but the lesson with Rabbi Gordon also gave them a broader understanding of a holiday they would otherwise only know as a “Jewish Christmas.”

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Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny of Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, displays a Torah scroll to seventh graders on a Religious Diversity Journey with the help of parent volunteer Janet Cummins of Birmingham.

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