It’s been a busy two weeks and we have plenty to get to; an essay, a closing exercise in cloudology (yes Scooter…I made up my own word), two prayers that I like, a book recommendation, a musical offering and our regular feature Passages noting those who left us better than we were. Places to go, people to see…let’s get started.
I have a cirrus problem of nimbostratus proportions when it comes to the conundrum of all things cumulus. With you kind reader, reeling in awe for having just watched me spend a buck-and-a quarter out of the vocabulary budget here at dan4kent, let me put it another way.
Clouds puzzle me.
The more I wandered through the idea of clouds for this week’s offering, I realized two things:
One. I didn’t know where my ride was going to take me (on purpose and always fun as a writing exercise).
And Two. My fascination and/or perplexity about our billowy overhead friends has been a constant since I was a little guy, knee-high to just about everything. While some of my friends would wait to count box cars on the Illinois Central line running through our part of agricultural Nirvana, I was out back, lying on top of a picnic table, watching the clouds going by and wondering if they could see me too? See. I was goofy even way back then.
Similarly, I remember feeling sorry for the cowboy. Home, home on the range? True. And yes, he had deer and antelope to play with, but no clouds – not ever — all day. It may be the state song of Kansas, but I still say he was robbed. Bummer.
I speculated on the mechanics of exactly how one went about getting clouds in their coffee. While letting that perk on another burner, my oh so literal 7 or 8-year old brain was marveling at just how tall someone would need to be to have their heads in them! ‘I betcha they play basketball’. But even then, the logic didn’t sit right. The person my grown-ups were talking about wasn’t even close to being tall enough to play ball. Pondering the question for another moment, the thought was replaced with something really important, ‘Oh good, time for cartoons.’
As I got a little bit older, I knew farmers (a lot of them) and mariners – all of them sharing my respect for clouds. Why? Because if you are paying attention to them, they can tell you things. As a teenager with a foot in both camps, I knew it to be true. Maybe I was on to something after all?
Back then, my summers were divided between mowing grass and weeding corn, beans, tomatoes…whatever growing thing a grown-up felt required cheap child labor. Picking blueberries was another perennial favorite. And truth be told, I actually came to enjoy most of it. But the best parts of the summer were the ones when I was out on the water, tooling around the Great Lakes in my sail boat. I might have thought I was all that and a bag of chips as captain of a mighty sixteen-footer, but when your sails suddenly empty when the wind goes silent during pretty much the same minute you see an anvil top rising to well over 20-25,000 feet like a missile? It’s a good idea to pay attention when menacing skies telegraph their threat. It reminds you how very small you really are out in the middle of very large water.
Technically, the sudden formation was ‘cumulonimbus’, but functionally, it meant rain, a lot of it – and soon. With lightning right behind and serious wind shifts charging towards you like Ben Hur’s horses, even a budding sea captain like myself realized it could be trouble to have an aluminum mast sticking up into the sky as if raising its hand to say, ‘oooh, oooh, pick me!’
After consulting with my other crew members (Myself and I), the three of us opted to hightail our fine selves to the closest safe anything…bay, harbor, beach. At that point, working on our tan had pretty much sunk to the bottom of the to-do list. ‘Hunker down maties ‘cause here she comes’…and she would. There was more than once when I found myself huddled under a tarp and pushed up tight against the beached boat’s hull, breathing a huge prayer of thanks as the squall blew through. ‘Whew, that was close!’ You do not mess with Mother Nature and you start by paying attention to her messengers, the clouds.
A lot of things changed as I entered young adulthood, but not my fascination for all things cloud. Hiking high up into the Tetons or even the Appalachians, I felt so extraordinarily blessed to be able to find their clouds and walk among them. But try as I might, never once, not once, was I able to hold a cloud in my hand. Yeah, yeah, I know, you saw Bill Nye, the Science Guy and he told you clouds are ‘a visible mass of particles of condensed vapor (as water or ice) suspended in the atmosphere of a planet (as the earth) or moon.’
‘Thank you for that…you can go back to Science Club now, they’re missing two geeks and I’m not finished here.’
All I knew was my pack was wet, my jacket dripping and not because of any rain…just thick clouds refusing to be caught in something as limited as the palm of my hand. They did much better living in a larger place and for me, my imagination worked just fine.
But clouds aren’t just fluffy or wet. They’re good businessmen too. Case in point is the cotton ball industry. Not one of the cotton ball kids or the Q-Tip clan would have gone to Ivy League schools without the help of grade school kids like me gluing bags worth of their fluffy product to our art projects. For decades, the American grade school experience has been marked by billowy masterpieces, each rendered in tempera on construction paper and subsequently displayed on refrigerator fronts and in all the better galleries. I get it. The match between the medium and the real thing was effortless. What dried up bit of macaroni could ever resemble a fluffy cloud?
Coming home with her masterwork, you would think no one would have to ask little Sally Sue what those fluffy white things were? The ‘Sally Sue’ I know (and secretly suspect may be related to another famous you know Who) came bounding into the house with her art work flapping like a flag. She couldn’t wait to show her mom. I being the ‘company’, decided to be the cool grown-up and make conversation with the little person. What could go wrong? Being enlightened and sitting down to be more at her height, I began complimenting her on the outdoor scene when I heard myself asking that very one and condescending question. Warning Will Robinson! But too late. I couldn’t stop in time and now the question hung out there for her to claim.
“They’re clouds, silly. Don’t you know anything?”
Great. I had just been served by a 9-year old less than half my size.
Now that I’m working downtown again, one rite of passage among the many accompanying me as the new kid in a new school has been exploring the ‘ins and outs’ of the few blocks surrounding my new gig’s address. Finding good places to sit outside and munch on lunch is important. After all, it is Chicago and Winter is coming. Anywho, I’ve found a spot and have since begun to notice some of the same faces…you know, the regulars. I don’t really know any them, but at least we’ve progressed to nodding, officially acknowledging the entry of my face into their database and theirs into mine.
“What amazes me about clouds is you can always find a face on one of them.”
The elder gentlemen making the face comment is as puzzling to me as the clouds above us both. He could easily be in his late 60’s or maybe even older. An old world shine to his shoes and a well-tailored everything else has me placing him in any one of the fancy bistros and eateries surrounding our building…you know, eating with colleagues and such. But no, there he is…sandwich in a Ziploc bag, a bottle of water and a bit of fruit.
And another thing about him. His choice of bench spots makes me wonder if sitting alone isn’t by design. Like clockwork and finished with his lunch, I’ve watched him sit back on the bench, put a hand on each knee, palms up, and look up…straight up.
From my own experience, I’m guessing he’s meditating. But what I find really funny is as he does, what do the others around him do? You got it. We begin looking up too. It is like some kind of Punked or Candid Camera thing.
Thursday, it was my turn. He caught me. “Any faces?”
A little red-faced, I nodded to to the negative. “No. No faces, but I do think I see Big Bird…or maybe it’s an eagle or something…”
“Or it could be a dragon…you never know what’s flying over us. Sometimes, if they see you, they’ll circle around and ask if you want a ride.”
A dragon? Really? Dressed to the Nines or not, maybe this guy was nuts after all, but no matter because now I’m both charmed and irrevocably hooked so I ask a follow-up of my elder sky king:
“Have you always been into clouds?”
Laughingly, he responded, “No. My wife has accused me of having my head in them at one time or another [I’m nodding knowingly – been there, done that], but it was my daughter that showed them to me. She teaches 3rd grade.”
“Oh, simple really. 3rd graders are old enough to be thinking for themselves, but they’re young enough to not really believe everything we tell them. One of her lesson plans is taking the class outside. Finding a good grassy spot, she has all the kids lay down on their backs so they can all see the sky.”
“For the first part, she’ll call out something and ask the kids to raise their hands when they think they’ve spotted it. It could be a horse, a flower…a face (he smiles). Then she asks the student who spotted the image to point it out to the rest of the class, describing it as they go.”
“Why? What’s she doing?”
“You know, teacher things. Teaching them observation, pattern recognition and being able to verbalize what they see to others…standard developmental check boxes. But then she throws them a curve ball and it really gets good. In part 2, she doesn’t make any suggestions at all as to what to look for. She simply walks around the group, watching for any kid who sees something to raise their hand. And then, like before, has them point out whatever they’ve spotted out to the rest of the class, describing it as they go.”
“OK, but what is that doing?”
“Couple of things. It’s a way for her to get a read on where each kid’s head is at…are the shapes scary ones? Silly ones? Does the child find any shapes at all? All those kinds of indicators give her a fix on what that student might be needing by way of directed attention in the classroom, things that might be going on at home…she never knows what she’ll find, but she’s very good at it. The kids love her.”
“All that from clouds? Very impressive. Wished I’d had a few more teachers like her…”
“Me too. You seem like a good guy and I’m an old man, so take this for what it’s worth:
I think we get in Life what we can see in the sky.
Change what you’re looking for and you’ll change what is coming to you.
If we think the world has wronged us, guess what we see everywhere we look? If we think we’re lucky to be alive, then we find things to be grateful for. Either way – it changes you.”
Looking at his watch, he continued, “It’s been good talking with you. Your face is new to me which tells me maybe you’ve started in a new job somewhere around here. Good for you. I hope it’s everything it needs to be.”
So there you have it, fellow Sky Riders. This just in. Really smart people are going out of their way to temporarily forget most of what they thought was practical and are instead, looking up at the clouds, creating new stories for themselves out of what they see up there.
Wow! How cool is that? I still really don’t know clouds at all, but maybe we’re not supposed to as much as we’re being asked to accept what we see in them. And the, build from there.
Do something radical this week and take a few minutes to look up, straight up.
I have it on very good authority that if we’re lucky, a dragon just might circle back around and ask us if we want to go for a ride. Please say ‘Yes’.
I’ll be up there too. I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be the one with a big grin on my face and clouds in my teeth.
Have a good week.
And now, as promised, here are two passage I’ve run across in the last two weeks that struck such a chord with me they’ve become prayers for me. Now, they’re with you.
The second is a poster in the reception area of the Peoples Resource Center in Wheaton, IL. I visited recently and was absolutely blown away with their mission and the effectiveness with which they go about it. They do an amazing job with literacy, clothing, hunger prevention, computer classes…language classes. I think if you could name it, they probably teach a class in it. Anyway, I saw it. I liked it. And now, I share it with you. I think what they’ve got hanging on the wall of their reception area has got the makings of a pretty good prayer, all by itself. http://www.peoplesrc.org/
Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky
June 8, 1933 – September 4, 2014
“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers. She passed peacefully at 1:17pm surrounded by family and close friends. My son and I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital for the amazing care they provided for my mother.
Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world. They have been heard and appreciated.
My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”
Sources: Wikipedia and http://joanrivers.com/
LeRoy Stewart Leonard
January 19, 1931 – September 4, 2014
Roy Leonard, beloved WGN Radio personality, is dead at 83
“Roy Leonard, a courtly, erudite New Englander who became one of Chicago radio’s biggest and most durable stars, a celebrity interviewer of national stature, and a trusted and thus highly influential critic of Chicago-area arts and entertainment, died Thursday at Evanston Hospital, following a short illness according to his son, Kelly. He was 83.
For more than 30 years, Leonard was a beloved midday presence on WGN radio. Warm, friendly and intimate, “The Roy Leonard Show” on weekdays had an especially devoted following among retirees, stay-at-home moms and others who welcomed a work-day visitor to the radios in their homes. On Saturday mornings, he reached an even broader swath of the listening public. In 1985, Leonard became the host of “Family Classics” on WGN-TV, and he also appeared on television reviewing shows and movies. In later years, he would lead popular American Automobile Association theater tours to London and New York.
“A person who was born curious, [he] passed on the idea that you must be curious in life,” said Kelly Leonard. “It was a privilege growing up in his home.”
Roy Leonard brought to his fans a mix of easy-listening music, imaginative contests and lively conversation, often with major celebrities; many show-business personalities passing through Chicago came to his studio and were surprised to discover how much Leonard, a sophisticated analyst for all his bonhomie, knew about their work and, often, their trials and tribulations.
His interviews with bold-faced names typically were respectful and were never confrontational, civility being a core Leonard value, but they were also both probing and revealing. And for his many young producers over the years, he was a mentor.
“Roy’s Saturday ratings were huge, second only to Wally Phillip’s weekday morning program,” said Peter Marino, his longtime WGN-Radio producer. “I remember many Saturday mornings when I would drag in about 10 minutes to airtime. I would walk into the radio studio and he would be sitting at the mic, smiling, full of energy and ready to go.
“As much as he enjoyed his five hours on Saturdays, he could not wait until noon when he would tear out of the studio and head to one of his kids soccer or little league games,” Marino said. “With six boys, often, Roy would go to one game and Sheila would go to another. Roy and Sheila were a team whose No. 1 goal was to raise six wonderful boys. They more than succeeded.”
In a public interview conducted by this writer during a 2011 tribute to his career, Leonard talked of coming up (along with Marino) with the idea for the best-selling duet by Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (Marino and Leonard had put the separately recorded versions together and played them on the air.)
Leonard was, in many ways, both a link to a former age of radio and an upbeat host very much in tune with the changing face of the medium in the 1980s and ’90s.
He also had an unusual passion for Chicago theater, delivering reviews and driving ticket buyers to shows he liked. Theater was one of his biggest interests and a prominent feature of his show.
After his retirement from WGN in 1998, Leonard continued to review shows and offer his thoughts on his blog, “Roy’s Ramblings,” which his fans could find on the Chicago Tribune Media Group’s ChicagoNow site.
Following the illness and death of his beloved wife Sheila in 2012, Roy devoted a section of his blog to advice for those caring for a loved one with dementia or other late-in-life difficulties.”
SOURCE: Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune (Sept. 5, 2014) http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/news/chi-roy-leonard-obituary-column.html
BOTH SIDES NOW by the Swingle Singers
Published on Dec. 4, 2009 – Live in the UK the Swingle Singers perform an amazing accapella rendition of Both Sides, Now (Joni Mitchell cover) from their album Ferris Wheel (2009). You can read a little more about them in the Credits and Attributions at the close. Wandering through them on Youtube is a fun walk in the sky.
“Too many of us feel trapped in stagnant romantic, family, or workplace relationships. Weighed down by toxic thoughts and emotions, we might be quick to judge and slow to pardon, and self-righteous about our feelings as we dwell on memories of what we or others did (or failed to do). In her, Iyanla Vanzant challenges us to liberate ourselves from the wounds of the past and to embrace the new power of forgiveness.”
Source Material on Ms. Vanzant and her work: http://www.essence.com/2013/12/08/exclusive-read-excerpt-iyanla-vanzants-new-book-forgiveness/; http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/forgiveness-iyanla-vanzant/1116823985?ean=9781401943615
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
Definition of Cloud (SOURCE: Merriam-Webster Dictionary): http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cloud; Clouds over Me by dan4kent;
Park Bench: Pimp 2.0 P r e pscei t e v Just a park bench, nothing more @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/48296676@N05/4617188951
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t credit Jimmy Allen of Abubilla Music who turned me on to a whole new way to listen to Joni Mitchell’s classic while pointing my gaze up into the clouds. http://www.abubillamusic.com/2012/ive-looked-at-clouds-from-both-sides-now/
Both Sides, Now by written and performed by Joni Mitchell from the album Clouds (1969) on Elektra. Produced by Mark Abramson. Lyrics © 1967 Gandalf Publishing Co. SOURCE PHOTO: http://www.aca.org.au/article/ive-looked-at-cloud-from-both-sides-now- by John Held (9 April 2014). Mr. Held is a director of Russell & Yelland and President of ACA – SA.
For half a century, the Swingle Singers have pushed the boundaries of what the human voice can achieve. Their vocal agility and blend, combined with captivating showmanship, have thrilled generations of audiences around the globe. Five decades on from their pioneering, Grammy-winning debut album Jazz Sébastien Bach in 1963, today’s Swingle Singers are an international a cappella phenomenon. These seven young and versatile voices deliver folk ballads, funk jams and fugues with equal precision and passion (SOURCE: http://www.swinglesingers.com/)
Clouds That Look Like Things: From the Cloud Appreciation Society Hardcover – 12 Apr 2012 by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1444728288/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=thecloudappre-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=14447282888; Chalkboard (Source): http://gtldstrategy.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/chalkboard.jpg; Text mod by dan4kent; Source Pic for laying down the weapons prayer: http://www.yoindia.com/shayariadab/pain-in-love-punjabi-poetry/dil-menu-puchdarajan-kondal-t115141.0.html; directed there by a really good blogger I’ve never run across before. Spiritual is as spiritual does – gay or straight. Nice job Jeremy. I’m a fan. You can jump to: My Side of the Street by Jeremiah Andrews at http://jeremiahaandrews.com/
Peoples Prayer. Peoples Resource Center, Wheaton, IL (pic by dan4kent): http://www.peoplesrc.org/; Faces in the Cloud by Denis Farmer: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2022006/Is-face-clouds-Footage-shows-spooky-shape-shifting-display-formed-Canadian-storm.html
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