Put a bluegrass instrument in your child’s hand and become president

 I want to take a moment to present inarguable proof that Yale University stands head and shoulders above all other Ivy League schools.
I offer in evidence this picture of Yale President Peter Salovey presenting an honorary doctorate to Bluegrass music pioneer, Dr. Ralph Stanley, during Yale’s 2014 graduation ceremonies.

The picture is courtesy of photographer Michael Marsland and Yale University. Thanks for allowing me to use it.


I am a bluegrass music fan so the obvious first reason this news is cool is that Yale is honoring Stanley for his decades-long musical career. It’s not the first honorary doctorate that Stanley has received, but it’s special for another significant reason.
I have had the honor of seeing Stanley and the 2000s version of The Clinch Mountain Boys perform live at the annual Carter County Shriners Bluegrass Festival in Olive Hill.
But I have also had the pleasure of watching the guy on the left, Dr. Salovey, slap the stand-up bass with his bluegrass band, The Professors of Bluegrass, that he and an other Yale faculty member formed at Yale.
Though his advanced degrees are in psychology and sociology, combined with an obvious track record of outstanding leadership in higher education, I can personally attest that this man plays quite well on the bass.
The Professors perform frequently at the annual River of Music Party (ROMP) bluegrass festival at Yellow Creek Park in Owensboro, Kentucky. The event is sponsored by the International Bluegrass Music Museum, another of Kentucky’s great treasures.
Almost every year, the Professors makes the trek to Owensboro, Kentucky to perform.
That’s quite a powerful testament to Kentucky’s rich musical heritage.
If you’re curious, the Professors of Bluegrass have released their first collection of music called “Pick or Perish.”
There are also plenty of tickets available for ROMP in Owensboro. Check out rompfest.com for more information.
In the meantime, consider this an object lesson in proper child raising. Put a musical instrument in your child’s hands and maybe they’ll grow up to be President….OF YALE!!

Claire Muller: Finding beauty in paper colors

Claire Muller: Finding beauty in paper colors


The Maysville Community and Technical College – Licking Valley Campus (LVC) in Cynthiana, Kentucky has an art gallery in it. It shares space with the job placement center in a strip mall at the Harrison Square Shopping Center. For such a small space, though, it features a surprisingly wide variety of local artists and their works.
One such artist is Claire Muller, whose work in paper mosaics frequently captures the attention of gallery visitors.
One of her most striking works is a portrait of a white horse looking over its stable door. The entire image is made up of carefully chosen bits of  torn paper arranged in such a way as to convey the image of the horse.
This image, as it is with all of her work, is unique in that the paper she chose to create  the image was from maps.

It is tempting to infer a meaning from the intentional use of maps in the portrait, but as with most of her paper mosaics, the images on the paper are incidental.
There are two noteworthy exceptions to this rule in her past work. One is portrait of Abraham Lincoln, a print of which is on display in the LVC art gallery. In that portrait, Lincoln’s face is made up of important figures in Lincoln’s life while the background is made up of events in his life.
The other is on display in the dental office of Dr. Neil Rush. It is a pastoral scene of a farm fence. Some of the papers she uses intentionally depict farm animals enclosed by the fence.
Most of time, though, the torn bits of magazine merely provide the color palette for her images, she said.
The portrait of the white horse presented her an unforeseen challenge, she said.
White magazine paper does not conceal the print or the color on the reverse side of a sheet. The colors “bleed” through the white.
In her search for opaque white paper, she found her answer in maps.
“I was surprised to discover the vivid colors used in printed maps,” Muller said.
Maps of the sea come in shades of sea-foam or turquoise. Road maps have patches of yellow to contrast populated urban areas from the countryside, which are in shades of white.
The black maps that provide such a vivid contrast to the horse’s face are all taken from star maps and charts, she said.
The only significance in the images are in her initials. In keeping with her medium, she “signs” her work with strips of paper.
For the white horse, the pieces of her name are from a map of Verdun, France, where Muller was born and where her father, now a retired lieutenant-colonel, was stationed for a time.
As an army brat, Muller said it is difficult to say that she is “from” anywhere. She has lived in several places in the U.S. and abroad, including a brief stint from eighth to ninth grade in Kentucky.
Muller is neither a native of Harrison County nor a lifelong resident of the Bluegrass state. But for all the places she has lived so far, there is no finer place on Earth to live than central Kentucky’s horse country, she said.
“Horses are one of my first loves. My parents told me that ‘le cheval’ was the first word I ever spoke,” Muller said. “I consider France my home and I love returning there from time to time. But I’ve always felt at home in Kentucky,” Muller said.
Describing herself as a very “right-brained” person with a passion for creativity, her parents enrolled her in classes at the Art Institute of Boston.
“It was sort of a hole in the wall place when I took classes there, but it gave me an outlet to express myself,” Muller said.
Her art is a part of her life, but it is not the only thing.
Until recently, she and her husband provided foster care for medically fragile children. They have six children, two of whom are theirs biologically. The others are adopted through the foster care program.
The Mullers also support missionaries and their work. They coordinate a program that provides missionaries with a car while visiting in this area of Kentucky.
But art is an important aspect of her life, one that is more than just a hobby or a means to simply pass the time.
She has only been working in paper mosaics since about 2010. Before then, she worked in other types of media such as pastels, oil painting and papier-mache.
She was inspired to experiment in paper mosaics when she saw a California artist’s work during the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“I knew instantly that I wanted to try this. Magazine paper offers an interesting and vivid pallette of colors in which to work,” she said.
Not certain if she wanted to commit her first work to an expensive canvas, her first piece, a portrait of her husband and grandson, was put together directly on a blank wall in her home in Kelat.
Pleased with the outcome, she went on to create several other works, each a bit different and presenting a new set of challenges, Muller said.
Most people are familiar with her larger portraits: the white horse, the elephant, the swans, the lion’s heads. They are titled according to lines of poetry that have inspired her, she said.
But some of her most accomplished pieces are these smaller pieces. One of them, a 5-inch by 5-inch portrait of an owl, was a painstaking process. She used an exacto knife to cut fine pieces of paper to capture details in the feathers, beak, and facial expression.
She received compliments from friends and family on her mosaics. However, it is another thing to receive artistic validation from others.
Muller got that validation when she donated a small horse portrait for an auction in support of Horse-Aid, an organization dedicated to providing shelter for aging and retired horses.
She didn’t anticipate it would bring much to the organization, but every little bit helps, she said.
At the Fasig-Tipton auction, Muller was stunned to find out that the portrait  was bought for $3,000 in fairly competitive bidding. She was delighted that her work had brought support to a cause she cared about. It was also some personal validation for her work in this medium.
“My husband [Tom] is incredibly patient with me when I work on these mosaics. There is just tons of paper pieces everywhere in the house and kitchen,” she said.  “It’s no wonder I’ve been insanely in love with him for 37 years.”
Muller has no idea how long she will work in this medium. For the time being, it is presenting her some new creative challenges. But she knows herself and there will come a time when some new form of expression fires her imagination.

What’s so “pure” about obsolete?


So last weekend, I drove eight hours north to watch movies at the drive-in.
The Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, Penn. sponsors two film festivals a year: The April Ghoul’s Monster Rama and the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, which happens in September.

Click this link. for more information about Drive-In Super Monster-Rama.
I’m a fan of schlock horror movies. The worse, the better … sometimes at least. It doesn’t matter to me if the movie comes from the silent era or in this age of digital graphics – if it has a monster in it, I will find time to see it on the big screen.
And if that big screen happens to be outdoors with a food counter that serves grilled hamburgers, deep-fried dill pickles and ice cream sandwiches – all the better. But the real appeal of the Riverside Monster-Rama festivals was the chance to see several relatively “classic” horror movies including the original “Halloween,” “Carrie,” “Phantasm,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Suspiria,” “The Beast Within,” and “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” Given the chance to see these movies on the big screen, well, eight hours is hardly what I’d call a major sacrifice.
But there was another unique feature to this festival that made the long distance trek to the drive-in appealing.
The Riverside was one of several dozen drive-in theaters to participate in a contest sponsored by Honda Motors last summer to buy digital projection equipment. The majority of movie studios are no longer going to make 35 mm film reels of their movies. Digital projection technology has taken over the landscape.
Unfortunately, Riverside was not one of the contest winners. They had to buy their own system.
One of the selling points for the April Ghoul’s Monster Rama is the chance to see classic monster movies in their native habitat – the drive-in theater. Another selling point is that most of the movies are original 35 mm prints.
Before I go on, let me explain that there are two types of people who attend events like the April Ghoul’s Monster Rama.
I go to see horror movies projected on a giant screen. I make fun of them a bit and try to one up my friends on our knowledge of obscure trivia about the movies on-screen. I could care less about the medium in which the movie is being projected.
Others go for the nostalgia of watching a 35 mm print projected on a big screen. They like the projector hiss, the clicking sound of the gears in the sprocket holes, the scratches and edits and jumps.
Emma, one of the Riverside owners, called them “purists.”
Having just purchased a new digital projection system, The Riverside decided to show off their exciting new investment by running a high resolution version of “Carrie” and “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” rather than the faded 35 mm print.
The movies looked beautiful onscreen.
The “purists” complained.

Nobody made a federal case out of it. A few simply expressed their wish that that all the movies would be shown in 35 mm – as they were meant to be seen.
This is the point at which the “purists” and I part ways.
On Saturday night, we were treated to an original 35 mm print of John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” The film debuted in 1978 and the print was original.
Now, I love John Carpenter’s work. He was raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and graduated from Western Kentucky University. As a big fan, I’ve made a personal study of his work. He works primarily in the horror and science fiction genre, nevertheless, Carpenter is an accomplished filmmaker. He intended his horror movie, which would be a ground-breaker, to be seen in stark seasonal colors of orange, black and white. Black and white, especially.
The 35 mm print, however, is over 35 years old. Color films fade over time. Halloween was also made at a time when studios used cheaper film stock The night time colors were no longer jet black. They had a reddish hue. The other colors in the movie had faded dramatically.
It looked like an aging 35 mm movie.

And where it belongs is on a shelf. What it is not is the movie Carpenter intended audiences to see.
It’s pointless to debate the subject with “purists.” They are in love with the idea of what movies used to be. But watching a gradually disintegrating image on antiquated technology for the sake of “purity” I think rather misses the point.
For me, though, the thrill of this genre is not watching a product in a sad state of decay.
The digital preserves the integrity of the director’s vision. That, for me, is a purer kind of “purity.”
Regardless of the debate, though, it was a great two nights of movie watching.

The Riverside Drive-In has only started sponsoring these festivals in the last three or four years, but it is paying off for them. People have traveled to April Ghoul’s from as far as Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska (friends of mine, actually), Michigan and Maryland (friends) hell, even New Jersey (more friends of mine.)
Emma said that each succeeding event has attracted a larger audience.

Cynthiana, Kentucky couple are Cubs fans to the core

Cynthiana, Kentucky couple are Cubs fans to the core


The four unmistakable signs of spring time in Cynthiana, Kentucky: The Cynthiana Democrat’s Home and Garden Show, the opening of the Farmer’s Market at Flat Run Veterans’ Park, dogwoods and tulips in full bloom, and the annual unfurling of the Chicago Cubs flags in the front yard of Jamie and Karan Russell’s home.

 The Kentucky Wildcats can boast all they want about the national appeal of the Big Blue Nation in NCAA basketball. In the world of major league baseball, at least as far as the Russells are concerned, there is only the Chicago Cubs. And they are as mad for the Cubs’ season-opening game as Wildcats’ fans are for Midnight Madness.
Any other time of the year, the Russells’ home is just as quietly dignified as any other family dwelling on Church Street. But on opening day, the Cub’s signature blue and red colors blossom all around the yard, along with images of the baseball team’s famous logo.
Pinstriped cards featuring the numbers and names of past Cubs’ hall of famers line the sidewalk leading to their front door.
In honor of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary celebration this year, the Russells had an image of the ballpark’s famous sign custom-painted to the rear window of their car.
Now, if they were just Chicago area residents, the level of the Russell’s Cubs fandom would barely register. They’d still be considered diehards, but they’d hardly be alone. Anyone who has visited Wrigley Field for a Cubs’ home game knows the extent to which the fans will express themselves.
But when fans live six hours south of the corner of W. Addison and N. Clark Streets, the Russell’s home is a Wrigleyville oasis that adds a unique note to their block in downtown Cynthiana.
The decorations don’t fail to make an impression on passers-by, especially those who are unfamiliar with the passion of the Cubs’ fanbase.
“Jamie had some friends who didn’t know that we were such huge Cubs fans. They were coming to our house and the woman saw our decorations and said, ‘now that’s tacky.’ I quickly owned up to them and said I aspire for the tastefully tacky,” Karan said.
Karan can’t help it. She and her husband love their Cubs.
“We have Braves’ fans in the neighborhood who threaten to sneak little tomahawks onto our lawn. Our friends who are Reds fans tease us every year we fall short in the playoffs. But someday…” Karan said with a prayerful gesture to the baseball gods.
Karan introduced her husband to the pleasures of wearing the red and blue.
She grew up in Rockford, Ill., which is still about two hours away from Chicago.  Her family got cable television in 1980, that ancient time when there weren’t 500 stations on the box.
When it came to baseball,  there was the so-called “America’s Team” on that Atlanta station, but Karan and her dad preferred to watch the Cubs on WGN.
That was the beginning of the one relationship that has lasted longer than her marriage. In fact, Karan said, she and Jamie planned their honeymoon vacation around Cubs games.
Just as some Kentucky boys realize that marrying a young girl meant marrying into her family, Jamie knew soon after he’d met Karan that the Cubs were going to be a part of his wedding vows.

He’s never regretted accepting the Cubs into his life, although early on he still had some learning to do about being a fan.
His first lesson came before they were even married.
“He [Jamie] suggested we just take off for Chicago one morning for a game. This was before we had kids, so we could do things like that. Or at least he thought so. I kept saying it wasn’t a good idea. But next thing I know, we were arriving at Wrigley Field at 3:15 in the afternoon,” she said.
Unfortunately, the game was sold out and scalper tickets were just out of their range.
They managed to make the best of it, Karan said, but from then on, they’ve made sure to get tickets before taking off to a game.
“I wasn’t all that into sports when we first met. But I keep up with them in my own way now,” Jamie said.
For Jamie, that means not only traveling to Cubs games, but also taking in games with the minor league affiliates like the Tennessee Smokies and the Daytona Cubs.
For the family, vacation planning often centers around Cubs games, even if their trips are to destinations down south to Georgia or Florida.
Their kids, Westin and Miranda, have shared the Cubs experience with their parents, but have not yet acquired the same level of appreciation for the team.
“We once asked Westin where he wanted to take a family vacation and he said anywhere where there wasn’t a ballpark nearby,” Jamie said.
The Russells acknowledge, grudgingly, that there exists a rival fanbase for some New York team. They have even heard rumor of another professional baseball team out of Chicago’s southside.
But the Cubs rule their household. And just as the spring season brings about all kinds of re-birth, so too do the Russells’ hopes, along with countless other fans across this country, that this year will be the year the Cubs make the Series.
Maybe they’ll even win it!
After all, it’s gotta happen sometime.

Teenagers can be sooo … infuriatingly generic sometimes

On the subject of one-man shows, I had the privilege of covering the “Mr. Mojo” talk at Harrison County High School last Monday.

There was a lot to admire about the anti-bullying message and Travis Brown’s high energy “talk.” The kids weren’t bored. He also made clear that he didn’t expect miracles to happen after his speech. Teenager cliques weren’t suddenly going to stop persecuting the socially awkward, shy and different among them. But after four suicides in a year among the student body in a school of just over 1,500 kids, any message that not only warns kids about being cruel but also their culpability in that cruelty by standing silently on the curb saying nothing, is important.

But I’ll tell you what I loved most about this presentation?  Seeing schools do exactly what I think schools do best. They put every kid in the system into that auditorium to hear Mr. Mojo speak. The “MojoUp” message probably didn’t reach every student. A good portion of them probably thought it was a hokey message, like all “good for you” messages can be. But at the very least, they were required to be in the auditorium to hear that message.

I was reminded of an episode of The Simpsons from one of the earliest seasons – where Marge Simpson led a parental movement against the violence of Itchy and Scratchy only to have the tables turned on her when concerned parents got outraged about Michaelangelo’s David on display at the local art museum.

At the very end, Marge, an art lover, laments that few kids will get to see this special display of the statue. Homer ends the episode by reminding Marge that every Springfield kid will see Michaelangelo’s David. Why? Because of the school field trip.

“They’re forcing them!” Homer exclaims.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the teenage mind. However, from five consecutive years of hosting a different teenager in the EF foreign exchange program, the similarities between American and foreign teenagers amaze and infuriate me.

Teenagers are so … generic.

One thing my wife and I like to do for our exchange students during the year is take trips to places that make Kentucky unique. Every year there is usually weekend trip to Cave City, a day at the races at Keeneland or Churchill Downs — which also involves a visit to the Louisville Slugger museum.
Last week, I bought four tickets and took my hostdaughter Lea and two other exchange students to Meadowgreen Park in Clay City, Kentucky to see the Grascals play a traditional bluegrass show. We’ve also taken them camping at a state park. A major highlight of their year was coming to the heart of Cynthiana, Kentucky for the second largest car show, The Cynthiana Rod Run, last August.
But we understand that the kids want to see more than just the Bluegrass state, so in different years we have taken them on trips to major US cities like Las Vegas, New Orleans, Nashville, Chicago, Orlando and Washington D.C.

The two sides of every city
As adults, we all know that major cities the world over have two sides.
There are those things that make every city unique.

Chicago, for example, has Wrigley Field and the Cubs (sorry, White Sox. You’re just not the same.) It has the Bears, of course, and the ugliest football stadium in the NFL. (Seriously, what’s been done to Soldier Field borders on the criminal.)

I could spend hours wandering around Lincoln Park and there is a perfectly wonderful hole-in-the-wall bourbon bar in the center of town called Delilah’s (I do not take my teenagers to Delilah’s, but they will have sampled a good bourbon before they leave for Europe.) Then there’s the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, The Best Hot Dogs in the entire universe, especially at the Superdawg just south of Niles, and Chicago-style pizza … is okay, I guess. (To those of you who just gasped, I’m sorry. I’m not a deep dish pizza fan.)

Chicago is the birthplace of Second City improv comedy, the Blue Man Group and the Steppenwolf Theater and a whole bunch of other stuff that I don’t have the space to list.

But there is also the generic stuff: the national chains common to every metro area and none of them bearing anything at all distinctive of the city that hosts them, except at the bottom of their marketing signature, which might as well have a dotted line beneath it.

It is consistent with every teenager I have ever hosted. We arrive in New York or Washington DC or Chicago and where do they ask to go first? The FUCKING Hard Rock Cafe or, worse, The Cheesecake Factory that’s not even downtown. It’s out in the suburbs. Michigan Avenue shopping is choked with all these national chain stores whose interiors are exactly the same as when I see them at Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati. I’m sorry. I did not travel the entire, interminable length of Indiana to visit the Kenwood Mall.

But this is how the teenage mind works — it gravitates to the generic because it fears new experiences. It fears the “new,” which goes a long way toward explaining the bullying.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of just convincing a teen to try new foods.

“Can’t I just order chicken fingers?”

It was no different at that age. All I wanted to do is hang out where the big crowds gathered. It was safe and I associated the mass of humanity  — and the 45-minute wait times for a restaurant table — as somehow cool.

I’ve forgotten why. Thank goodness we get older and learn that the really good stuff is where the crowds are thinner. Not where there are no crowds at all, mind you. An empty city street usually means nothing’s there, or worse, you’ve wandered into a dangerous neighborhood.

But, as a hostparent, I sometimes see that my job is to do exactly like the schools do.

I buy tickets to the plays, tours, games and the restaurants and let them know that we’re going to do this stuff. I’ve learned that exposing kids to “this stuff” will not result in a sudden change in attitude. Or, in the case of your own kids, even gratitude. But that’s okay. After they reach their 20s, the brain releases chemicals that cause young people to become adults and the things they appreciate are the unique experiences they had growing up.

Teachers are frequent witnesses to this phenomena.

Let me suggest a good way to start. Get tickets to a local live show – doesn’t matter what – this weekend and tell your teenagers that “we’re all going to go.”

It doesn’t have to be all the time. But in the name of Homer and Marge Simpson, I suggest that once in frequent while you “force’em.”

Extra stuff

I was going to upload video of the Grascals playing at Meadowview at the show I took my hostdaughter to see, but I somehow managed to record video on my I-Phone without sound. So I’ll just link to a Grascals You Tube video that works.


Also, continuing with the theme from my last column, I am linking to “The Beer Poem” from the IndieFeed Performance Poetry podcast. What can be a better subject for a poem than BEER!


Last Night I Experienced Something New……


“There are times when a journalist truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the ‘new.’ The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new….” – Screenwriter Brad Bird, Ratatouille  

I have taken a slight liberty with the above quote which is from an animated feature film by Pixar. Though the quote addresses critics specifically, I think it has a profound application to my work as a journalist.  

There is very little that I don’t love about this work, but the opportunity to experience and convey the “new” to readers is high on my list of professional perks.  

However, in context to this column, I am applying a flexible definition to the word “new.”   

Confession time: I had no idea that James Baker Hall was a Harrison County resident until I learned of his induction into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame last week. He and his wife, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, as many local people know, lived on the Harrison side of Dividing Ridge Road for over 35 years.   

Taylor-Hall still lives there, in fact. It’s a lovely home and she was a very accommodating host, taking considerable time to introduce me to her husband’s work and showed me a number of rare, handcrafted poetry collections from a wonderful little place called Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky.  

This unique publishing company in rural Owen County has been in operation since 1973. In my lifetime, I have traveled through the town of Monterey hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of times. I didn’t know a thing about Larkspur until last week.  

I don’t know if the average resident appreciates just how rich is the literary heritage of north central Kentucky.  Mind that I am casting a wider net than Harrison County when I say that. I include myself among the “average residents” by the way. Most writers in this area I know more by name than by a familiarity with their works.   

There was a time when I would be uncomfortable with this admission, but I’ve grown old enough, I guess, to realize that its just flat impossible to be familiar with everything. Besides, despite what the young and immature may say, even the old can be new. Especially to those who are receptive to it.  

Therefore, it has been a gift to read Hall’s poetry for the first time and I sincerely appreciate his wife sharing a small piece of his legacy with me.  

It is an irony that when I embarked on my research into Hall that I was more familiar with his wife’s novels. I have long been a fan her novel Come and Go, Molly Snow because I love bluegrass music and because I am a woefully amateur fiddle bower. (Note, please, that I didn’t say “player.”)   

I have long been an avid reader. Novels, short works, essays, articles — I am not inclined to favor one form over the other. But it has not been the same with me toward poetry. I have no explanation, rational or irrational, to justify why it should be … it certainly has not been for lack of exposure. My parents are long-time fans of Wendell Berry’s poetry and I remember listening to the works of Robert Frost being read aloud at home.  

But my past appreciation, and interest, in poetry can be best described as lukewarm. And really, that is no way to be toward anything, particularly to things that I consider to be an essential part of the spirit.   

Define that however you wish.  

Pertinent to the general subject of this column though, just as Hall said in a 2001 interview that “he had his eyes opened” by T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, I have had my enthusiasm for poetry sparked by something “new,” relatively speaking.   

I cannot recall the circumstances that led me to the IndieFeed: Performance Poetry podcast on I-tunes, but I have never once regretted subscribing to it.  

The oral tradition in poetry goes back centuries. Contemporary “Spoken Word” or “Performance Poetry”  has its primary roots in the groundbreaking work of the Beat poets of the late 1950s and 60s.  

It’s nothing really new.  

But it feels very new. A branch of contemporary poets are using web-based media to reach a huge audience of listeners.It is a new frontier and I believe that IndieFeed is the leading internet resource to showcase the work of these new and established poets.

Three times a week, the site features a broad sample of poets from around the globe.  

Some merely read their works before a live audience. Others utilize music to enhance their performance. But the web is inspiring them to craft a new branch of poetry and its reviving interest in poetry among a large audience, but it is a form of verse that relies as much on the sound studio and the performer as it does the page.  

Recently, I was entranced by a piece from an African poet, M. Ayodele Heath, entitled Of Ash and Dust.  

It is an elegy to the astronauts killed in the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters. Heath uses every tool of the written word and the sound board to create an emotionally affecting listening experience. 

Below are links to four podcasts from the IndieFeed: Performance Poetry website

These four contain nothing offensive, but that is not true of every poem on the website. And, as is true of all things, none of the poems on the podcast will appeal to all tastes. But I invite you to listen to these and other works that appear there and on other sites, if you choose to explore this genre further.  

 Let me know if you find them as new and fresh as I did the words of our own late poet laureate who has only now become new to me. 


Of bad weather prophets and the quest for the perfect sled hill

ImageWhen city salt trucks skid and slide to the curb on the less steep side of Bridge Street hill, you know that the winter storms have taken it to a whole new level.
I suppose it was inevitable that brutal winters would re-assert themselves in this area. Two years of relatively mild cold seasons is about all we can expect.
There is only one person I can imagine enjoying this recent dip into the deep freeze. There are several in every town: the prophets of the bad-weather-to-come people. Like the person carrying the sign declaring that the “End is Near,” these are the people who predict on the first unusually cool fall day that it’s going to be a bad winter coming.
“Mark my word – we’ve had it too easy up until now,” they say.
A friend of mine in Nicholas County, who does this frequently, has some difficulty masking his personal pride over the fact that his dire prediction has come true. Anyone complaining about how cold it is outside is an invitation to remind people that he predicted it.
“I knew it was coming. I’m telling you, it was bound to happen. Bound to happen.”
Still, Tuesday morning was a first for me. I’ve never seen road ice so slick that it forced a salt truck to lose traction. Usually, when I am traveling snow-covered roads, I get a feeling of reassurance when I find myself in a line of cars behind those things.
But from what I gather from everyone else I’ve talked with about Cynthiana winters, the Bridge Street hill is a notoriously difficult stretch to climb in snow and ice.
While looking for photos to demonstrate just how bad things got during last Friday and Tuesday, more than one person suggested I just park along that hill and wait. And they were right, too. I lost count of the number of cars that were forced to turn around because they simply could not make the climb. I also held my breath a bit for folks descending the hill toward the intersection with Church.
It’s too bad that the hill leads into such a busy downtown intersection.
I was born too late to have this kind of experience, but a long time ago it was a common practice during snowstorms for towns to block off a road for sleigh riding.
I grew up in a neighborhood outside town called Indian Hills. I don’t know why it was plural, because we only had the one hill, but that hill provided the perfect spot for kids to grab a sled or plastic saucer – or garbage bag or whatever could be found – and slide down that hill.
As my friends and I got older and more daring, we were able to convert one of the natural dips in the hillside into an effective ice jump. At its peak, that jump would send us airborne about two or three feet and crashing into the flat at the bottom of the hill.
We’d run back up the hill to do it again, completely unaware about how good for us that was. Had we known it was exercise, we would probably have figured out a way not to do it.
Our ramp, though, was strictly amateur-land. For the kids in downtown Carrollton, the place to go was the side hill next to the mansion at General Butler State Park. About halfway down was “The Hump.”
I distinctly remember “The Hump.” On a winter’s evening, my mother took me and my sister out the park. The park sold coffee at the mansion while the kids enjoyed themselves.
The hill side was dark. Kids would take a running start down the hill and you would hear the scrape of their sled on the snow, then silence and a thrilled scream, followed by a rather heavy-sounding “THUD” as the sled re-joined Mother Earth on the hillside below.
Just asking some people around the Cynthiana Democrat office where local kids like to go tubing – or whatever new way toymakers have devised to hurtle kids down snow-covered hills at blinding speeds – I got stories about a city street being blocked off or makeshift ice bridges being built over creeks.
Someone told me that kids don’t sled down hills much anymore, which I know is wrong.
There are kid activities that are timeless and taking a saucer or some other plastic gizmo down a hill is beyond timeless. If kids are in a place where snow falls with any level of accumulation, they will find a way to slide down it at seemingly dangerous speeds.
But it was sure frustrating to try and find those places Tuesday morning. I’d love to have had a picture to go with this column.
But if there is a next time, which the way this winter is going, there will be, I sure would appreciate it if some informed reader could drop me some top secret info about where the kids are going.
At least, I hope there is somewhere that they are going.

Welcome to the new year

I am hesitant to talk about my personal goals for 2014 largely because I know my parents read this column. They have a most irritating habit of holding me accountable to my word.
As the year goes on, and my resolutions recede into the softer and more manageable world of complacency, my mother will call me on Saturday morning with the inevitable questions:

“How’s that weight loss thing going, huh?”
“You doing that longer writing project you said you wanted to pursue?”
“Playing that fiddle any better, are you?”
“Are you challenging yourself this year?”

Of course, now that I casually mention these things in the most public of all forums — the public blog — I am aware that I have armed you readers with a set of personal jabs you can lob at me at will. These will be especially coveted by those of you who, on occasion, won’t be pleased about the content of an article I write sometime during the year.
However, though many of us joke about how fast we lose sight of our personal new year’s resolutions, I still think it’s an important and healthy practice to set annual goals.
I found myself thinking about larger goals a lot while gathering information for the 2014 edition of the Harrison County Answer Book.
The 2014 Answer Book, by the way, will be available as an insert in the Jan. 30 edition of the Democrat. It’s a fantastic resource and, seriously, every home should have more than one copy.
Local businesses and organizations whose function is to promote this area should have multiple copies ready to hand out to anyone.
In an age where even the phone book is no longer a reliable resource for contact information for all community resources, the Answer Book is indispensible.

You can find bites of information faster in that single publication than it takes to run a Google or Bing search for all that info.
But while I was in the process of putting my assignments for the book together, it reminded me of an important, historical function of the local newspaper.
It is a routine function of successful companies to require their managers to set annual goals that will help the organization achieve a larger vision. They’re evaluations are often based on how successfully they achieved these goals.
In a similar fashion, the community newspaper is the public’s information and evaluation resource on the annual success of local government, regional development districts, school systems, and other public service organizations.
These organizations are tasked with moving this area forward, whether that be Cynthiana, the other communities and residential areas that make up Harrison County, or Harrison County as a whole.
There is even a reasonable notion that this county has a leadership role to perform in moving the entire region forward.
Just like my parents hold me accountable for my annual resolutions, the Democrat has a responsiblity tp publish the stated goals of our organizations and report on their progress.
Based on the conversations and decisions made in the last four months of 2013, there are some projects coming up that, in our opinion, should be well underway by 2015.

Renovation of the Harrison County Courthouse.
The fiscal court has moved cautiously forward every month in anticipation of renovating the Harrison County Courthouse. While there are still some bureaucratic hoops the court is required to jump through, actual renovation work should be well underway by December.
The courthouse should be more than an aging and deteriorating shell in the center of town. It should be a functioning hub for all county activity and the center of life in a rejuvenated downtown. Under that kind of a vision, the courthouse renovation takes on a much greater significance, reflecting the general health of community.

Development of After School Programs for Teens.
After all the November community forums focusing on the incidence of teen suicide and drug abuse across the board, conversations should be leading toward action plans and some experimental programs.
Even if they don’t work the first time, it will give us insights into ideas that will work.

The Technical Education Academy.
The idea, which originated from the EDA, has been endorsed by the Kentucky Tech Harrison ATC and the Licking Valley Campus of the Maysville Community and Technical School. Significant sources for funding of the project have been identified. By December, it would be great to see the conversation turn from locating funding to hiring builders for the project.

Handy House Preservation
It is fast becoming a make or break time for efforts to save the Handy House.
There is no doubt that the renovated home could serve an important and valuable function at Flat Run Veterans Park. But if no significant progress is made by the end of the year, either in terms of funding or permanent structural improvements, other options for that space should be considered.

There are plenty of other things to look forward to this year. In addition to the ambitious plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battle for Cynthiana at the park, according to the 2013 Answer Book, there is the upcoming Home and Garden Show, the Cynthiana Art Walk, the golf tournaments at the Cynthiana Country Club, The Longest Day of Play, Little Feet Big Feet Family Fun Walk, The Taste of Harrison County, The Farmer’s Market, and the third edition of the Cynthiana Rod Run.

And that’s barely half of what this area can look forward too in 2014.

Wishbone tug-of-war: Fighting over the holiday duck dinner

When I first heard the morning news reports regarding the A&E Networks’ decision to indefinitely suspend Phil Robertson, one of the stars of the smash hit reality television show “Duck  Dynasty,” for remarks he made in an interview for GQ magazine, my knee-jerk reaction was likely the same as many others.


Namely, that A&E had violated Robertson’s rights to free speech.
My social studies teacher from high school, Doug Smith, would have cringed at my mistake.
“Did you learn nothing from my class?!!” he would ask – and with good reason.
The right to Free Speech in the first amendment is meant to protect people from being imprisoned for criticizing our government. It is an important right, one that is still all too rare on this planet, but it still has nothing at all to do with Phil Robertson.
How do we know this?
Because following publication of the GQ article, nobody arrested Robertson and put him in jail! Especially not the US government.
The attention that this story has drawn from some conservative pundits amuses me. The same folks who are currently bashing A&E’s decision to  suspend Robertson for expressing his personal beliefs are exactly the same folks who pilloried Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks in 2003 for daring to criticize George W. Bush and the Iraq War.
She didn’t go to jail either. But that didn’t protect her, or her group, from suffering the commercial backlash that her comments would make to their fanbase.
Country radio stations exercised their option to cut the group from their playlists and they earned a very chilly reception from their former peers in the Academy of Country Music.
Which just goes to show that while we may be protected from being political prisoners because of our personal views, the exercise of free speech does not protect anyone from commercial consequences in a free market.
However, all the blather from news pundits on this issue obscures a far more interesting story — a power struggle that’s going on behind closed doors between A&E Networks and Gurney Productions, the company that owns “Duck Dynasty.”
I read Drew Magary’s article on the family patriarch of “Duck Dynasty” in GQ. Being somewhat familiar with the magazine, I was not surprised that Magary’s tone in the article is condescending toward his subject.
But I do have to wonder if Robertson was familiar with the magazine before he agreed to the interview?
I respect Robertson’s profession of Christian faith and I believe it’s genuine. But I have seen no news story that dismisses the GQ article as libelous and there are some quotes that put A&E in a difficult position with its advertisers.
A&E Television is under the joint ownership of two rather powerful media giants: Hearst Corporation and the Disney-ABC Television Group. Though “Duck Dynasty” caters to a very big audience, it is just a demographic.
Disney and Hearst look at a much bigger picture. They don’t want just one demographic. They want them all!
I have no idea how much the Robertson family owns of the “Duck Dynasty” show. However, it’s easily the most successful show that its production company, the amusingly named Gurney Productions, has ever produced.
Before “Duck,” Gurney’s main claim to fame was “I Was Bitten,” a series it produced for Animal Panet about people surviving being bitten by large animals.
It also produced the series “Hollywood Treasure,” a reality pawn shop series, and “Haunted Collector” – a ghost hunter series.
But I am certain this is a company that is trying to use the media stir as leverage for a larger piece of the “Duck Dynasty” marketing pie.
But who in this relationship created this marketing juggernaut? Gurney or Disney?
Robertson, himself, said in the GQ article that celebrity in a television series is a fleeting thing.
“Let’s face it,” he said. “Three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”
So the real debate – the one going on away from the cameras and the pundits – concerns where the Robertsons and their production company think they can profit most?
Do they honestly think a relationship with Rupert Murdoch and Fox would profit them more than Disney and Hearst?
It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.