Thursday, December 25, 2008

An Unexpected Visit for Christmas

Merry Christmas To All!

The sweet face profiled above is that of an unexpected visitor who showed up at our house last week.

Our Christmas With The Celts schedule was jam-packed.  A Wednesday night rehearsal was followed by two Thursday performances, to be followed by a Friday night performance and, later Friday night, the cast party.  Sandwiched in between was a Friday morning breakfast with my friend Ray, who'd only be visiting in the area that one day.  Since I'd be out on Friday morning anyway, I scheduled a couple of other errands -- a recipe for exhaustion, I know, but somehow you do what you have to do ...

On Friday morning I went out to put my purse in the van when I ran into Candy (Matt's mom); they always park their RV at our house when we're doing performances in the area.  Candy and I wanted to visit for a bit, so we went back into the house for a few minutes, then returned  outside.  We heard a "meow."  Then "Meow, meow."  "Where are you, Kitty?" Candy softly called.  Out from under the van came a small gray cat.  Not shy, as most strays are; this one seemed to crave human company.  Candy scooped the kitty into her arms, and was immediately rewarded with loud purring and contented nuzzling.  This was definitely no feral cat, nor even a stray; it must be recently lost.

But lost from where?  I quickly reviewed the neighboring homes in my mind: one dog owner, one two-dog owner, one who owned no pets, one vacant home ... this cat had not simply wandered over for a visit.  Candy's brief examination of the kitty yielded a clue: the kitty was pregnant.

We were still pondering over the expectant momma cat when Ray came over.  I sent him off to The Bean On 41, saying I'd be along shortly, and then Candy and I began to consider the kitty's options in earnest.  We couldn't simply let her continue to wander: although our home is in a residential neighborhood, the traffic commission is not yet on board with that notion; the speed limit on our street is 40mph (meaning, of course, that people drive even faster).  Candy couldn't take the kitty, because Matt's deathly allergic to cats.  I couldn't take the kitty, either, because Maggie (our dog) isn't used to cats.  What to do?

Then I thought of my friend, Vicki, who's such an animal lover that she's on the board of our local Animal Welfare League.  Vicki would know what to do!  Candy -- still cradling the kitty -- and I piled into the van for the short trip to Vicki's house.  Even when the diesel engine revved up, the kitty continued to purr!  What a cat! -- as most of them hate riding in vehicles.  But this one was so happy to be around humans, that she seemed not to mind, but rather to actually enjoy the trip.  Vicki greeted us thoughtfully, immediately going into rescue mode.  With five dogs, she, too, would be unable to take the kitty, and it was too early in the morning for the shelter to be open yet.  But she lent us a small pet carrier, and the kitty slipped inside, still purring and rubbing against the carrier door to mark her new territory.  Vicki promised to investigate the possibility of a foster home, and, feeling that we'd done the best we could do for the time being, Candy and I returned home.

We set the kitty and her carrier in the main living area under the supervision of Greg, "Uncle" Jerry and Maggie, then I went on to my by now seriously-delayed breakfast with Ray.  Ray and I had a very nice visit, said our goodbyes, then I headed to the supermarket for the rest of my errands -- and to that list was added the purchase of cat food, kitty litter, and a makeshift litter pan.  Greg reported that the entire time I'd been gone, the kitty purred blissfully; Maggie had expressed only brief interest before going off to do her usual "routine."

That was all about to change, however, as I appropriated Maggie's large crate, out in the garage, for kitty's temporary home.  "I have only a few possessions," Maggie seemed to say, "and you're giving my crate away to a cat?  Woof!"  The kitty, however, reacted with only mild surprise before resuming her purring.  She devoured the first bowl of food that was set out for her, poked her nose about in the second bowl, then arched her back and started to rub to mark this newest territory.  What an absolutely sweet personality this cat had!

She was never far from my mind, as we did our concert preparations, the concert itself, and then the party.  It was funny -- during the party, I'd catch one person or another sneaking into the garage to check up on the kitty.  Same thing the next morning; each person, in his or her own time, arose and dressed for the day -- then checked up on the kitty.  And when Vicki called to announce that she'd found a foster home, then later came over to escort the kitty to her new -- albeit again temporary -- home, everyone took time to say goodbye to the furry little creature who'd lived with us for less than 24 hours, yet had so profoundly touched each of us.

I'm grateful to report that kitty is happily exploring her new home.  She sleeps with her "foster" owner every night, and delights him with her sunny disposition.  She's going to make someone a wonderful pet!  

As of this writing, there are no kittens yet.  But I've thought of a name for her: I'd name her after another expectant mother of 2000 years ago, who had no place to have her baby, yet displayed the same calm and serene trust that all of her needs would be met.

In my mind, she will always be -- Mary.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas With The Celts

Pictured above is the setting for one of our Christmas With The Celts concerts.  The series was abbreviated, due to Matt (our fiddler)'s college schedule.  But it was power-packed, nonetheless, and full of memorable moments!  We just finished the series yesterday -- here's a synopsis:

Matt, Robin (the piper) and I kicked off the season by playing for the Punta Gorda Kiwanis luncheon last Thursday.  What fun -- the Kiwanians love to sing, and what a terrific meal they served!  We then headed over to Arcadia and met up with Don (vocalist), Ann and Cal (dancers) for a performance at First Presbyterian Church.  This one's special to me, as I'm performing for my home town; and despite a couple of "flies in the ointment" -- I forgot to bring Santa (the official mascot of Christmas With The Celts) and we had to make a change in one of the dance numbers because the piano was locked! -- it was an energetic and fun evening.  Matt made his first-ever guitar performance, accompanying Don (on flute) and me (on dulcimer) in a medley of I Saw Three Ships and the Sussex Carol.  Ann and Cal also debuted a new strathspey that they'd choreographed; it was flowing and very beautiful.  Robin cracked us all up with a silly bit of schtick in his rendering of O Come All Ye Faithful, as he told one section of the audience that they had to sing along -- in Latin.  "Yeah, right!" they seemed to say, though I heard a few voices gamely playing along.

The next night we returned to the Congregational United Church of Christ, Punta Gorda, the birthplace of Christmas With The Celts.  The church was absolutely packed to capacity; we knew, from the number of ticket orders we'd taken over the phone, that response was very strong, but I was still surprised to learn that every available chair was taken -- the only chair left was Pastor Bill Klossner's chair from his study, and I'm pretty sure that if one more person had shown up needing a seat, they'd have been given that chair!

Elly Gilmore made a cameo appearance at this performance, delighting the audience with her set-ups of the Wassail Song and Auld Lang Syne, and singing of Auld Lang Syne

We were able to perform our dance number using the piano, as rehearsed: an Irish reel played "Cape Breton" style.  As to Santa ... well ... I did manage to remember to bring him, and set him up in his usual place on stage, but he suffered a minor accident: as Ann was making a sweeping dance move, her dress caught Santa and flung him to the dance floor.  Ann and Cal tried to avoid Santa while continuing their dance, but alas, they weren't quite successful; poor Santa was kicked and subsequently trampled.  At one point Cal bent down to retrieve Santa and set him into place again, but realizing that he'd bent over with his back to the audience -- while wearing a kilt -- Cal hastily stood up before properly securing Santa; Santa toppled again, to be kicked and trampled again.  Matt finally stopped fiddling and picked Santa up, taking time to place him so that he'd fall no more.  Don and I kept the music playing the whole time.  I'd like for you to think that I was applying the "show must go on" philosophy, but the truth is, I was too helpless with a mixture of horror and laughter to be of much service to the unfortunate Santa.  He stood looking rather disheveled and forlorn the rest of the evening.

Robin's charge to the audience to sing in Latin was put right back at him, as a significant number of this evening's crowd actually knew, correctly pronounced, and loudly sang the entire verse in that ancient language!  Another funny incident occurred during the set-up of the Ballad Of St. Anne's Reel (a song about a magical evening on Prince Edward Island (PEI)), when Don asked, as is his habit, if anyone in the audience was from PEI.  This night, a couple actually raised their hands and Don was rather taken aback, completely psyching himself out, as he wondered if the couple knew the song or ... actually, I'm not sure what was going through his mind, but I am pretty sure that the words to the song weren't going through his mind, because he fumbled around for a few short but agonizing seconds, then regained his composure and appealed for a "do-over."  It was one of the most professional and graceful responses to an obvious "flub" that I've ever seen -- and far more graceful than my own goof later in the evening, when I completely forgot how to play the Swallowtail Jig.  Matt, grinning fiendishly all the while, "pulled my fat out of the fire" on that one, keeping the tune going while I desperately tried to pull the correct notes out of the chord progression that, miraculously, I somehow correctly played.  Greg did his part from the sound board, "fading" the amplification of the dulcimer to near zero.  But I know for a fact that a few people left the concert that night, scratching their heads over the strangest rendition of an Irish jig they'd ever heard!

Following a refreshing Saturday off, during which time Santa received plenty of TLC, we headed to Orlando on Sunday, for a pair of performances at Westminster Towers (WT).  WT is a graduated-care facility for seniors, with accommodations ranging from apartment-style living for those able to live independently, to complete nursing care.  We played for the "Health Care Center" residents first.  Here, Robin was at his absolute finest and most charming, as he passed out a variety of hand percussion instruments to members of the audience, encouraging them to keep time to the music, make lots of noise and have lots of fun, and they certainly did.  We then went down to the main floor to play for the "Independent Living" residents.  It's that venue that you see pictured, above.  (You also see Santa perched atop the piano, looking his old self again and safely out of harm's way.)  The stage was set for an old-fashioned, Dickens sort of Christmas, a perfect and cozy setting for our show.  I think we're always at our most relaxed at WT -- this gig usually occurs near the end of the run, so everyone's really in a groove; plus, the venue's smaller and more intimate, so there's less probability of crowd-size-induced jitters.  The audience couldn't be any more receptive or appreciative, and it seems that our entire cast lingers just a few extra minutes after each WT performance, to visit and swap stories with the residents.

The final night of our Christmas With The Celts run was in the Church On The Square, in The Villages.  For the past few years, this has been an SRO crowd, but I do believe that I saw more people standing than ever before -- the church "officially" holds about 800 people, more or less, but an "unofficial" count reported to me a few minutes prior to the concert had the tally at 850, and I did notice even more people coming in after we were already under way.  Quite a setting in which to introduce the newest member of "Marcille Wallis & Friends," Dallas Albritton.  Dallas will play fiddle during our St. Paddy's run, so we thought it would be a good idea to initiate him, and introduce him to The Villages, via a "fiddle duel" with Matt.  In Robin's words, "That fiddle duel was epic!" as Matt opened with a lively bluegrass tune, to be answered by Dallas on a contemporary Celtic reel.  Matt came back with an inspired, and inspiring, interpretation of Bill Monroe's Big Mon; Dallas responded with a blistering version of Paddy On The Landfill.  They then traded back and forth on parts of the Red Haired Boy, before joining together to make that Boy's hair a little Redder -- and more electrifying -- than ever before.  The audience responded with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

Matt received two other "standing O's" that evening: one for his Teetotaler medley; the other, for his wicked improvisation on the Orange Blossom Special -- which even included the opening measures of Freebird!  On that last night, Matt's fiddling was just a touch more masterful ... Don's singing, particularly on Wild Mountain Thyme, just a touch more beautiful ... Robin's piping just a touch more majestic ... Ann & Cal's dancing just a touch more elegant ... what a way to end the season!  

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From March Madness to Matlacha

Those who know me well know that while music is my passion, as well as my livelihood, it's far from my only interest.  I'm also keenly interested in sports: baseball, at any level; football, both college and professional; and basketball -- college hoops.  Those who know me extremely well know that our household gets viciously competitive with the approach of "March Madness" (for the uninitiated, that's the playoffs for the NCAA Men's Division I title).

On a Sunday evening in mid-March, as the tournament selection committee starts seeding the brackets, we are glued to the television.  Once the seeding's completed, we hover near the computer, waiting for the official tournament brackets to be posted to the various websites, such as  We then print out the brackets: one for each member of the household.  The next two days are spent in study, as we make our picks for the tournament's 64 games; the days are also spent trying to secure our picks from the prying eyes of others in the household.  Though no one would dream of trying to cheat -- mainly because each of us is too convinced of his/her superior knowledge and winning strategy! -- we still eye each other suspiciously as we go about our business.

At the appointed hour, all picks are turned in -- and then the needling begins.  "You picked that team for the Final 4?  You're goin' down!"  The prize at stake is dinner at the winner's choice of restaurant, paid for by the losers, so other trash talk may include, "Yeah, while you were studying the ratings index, I was studying menus."

This last year, the banter was conducted mostly over the phone or via Internet, since Greg and I were in Dollywood; "Uncle" Jerry was at home in Port Charlotte, while Greg's sister and brother-in-law were at home in Belleair Beach.  And though, for the whatevereth straight year in a row, I did not win the bracket competition, I still got to eat at my chosen restaurant, because my brother-in-law's choice of restaurant was the same as mine.  (The only catch was, I had to pay for my meal, as well as pay for a share of John's.)

John's choice was Bert's Bar & Grill, in Matlacha, Florida.  As they say on the back of their menu, "Most of Florida's tiny fishing towns are disappearing and giving way to McDonald's, high rises and hotel chains.  But not Matlacha.  Here you still find cozy cottages, bed & breakfasts, fishermen tending their nets, bait shops and shrimp boats."

The five of us finally got around to paying off the "bet" last Tuesday.  It was a fun day!  We sat out on the deck, enjoying the view of Matlacha Pass and San Carlos Bay.  Crows and other feathered friends squawked and begged for a handout.  Seated next to a long dock as we were, there was the occasional whiff of marine fuel, but the gentle breeze quickly dissipated it.  We enjoyed fish dip on flatbread crackers, "beach bread," and fish and chips ... and one of us enjoyed the "best bar pizza" to be found in the area.

The NCAA men's basketball season is just now getting into full swing.  When I win -- finally win -- the 2009 pool, we'll be going back to Bert's!