Balestrand

Balestrand

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Box of Decorations

This weekend I will fly to Chicago to attend the annual Christmas party of friends of mine there.  I always make a half dozen Christmas tree decorations as a gift for them.  I have done this for several years, and it is getting difficult to remember just what designs I have done for them.  So, this year I did something different.  I bought some white paint pens, and entirely covered six dark blue bulbs with intricate curlicue patterns.

Last night I finished the last one, and here they are...


A little game that they can play is to try to find my initials on each bulb.  It is visible on one of the balls in this photo.  Can you find it?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Holiday Brunch

I have written several times here how I made contact a couple years ago with my cousin Gail... a cousin that I didn't know that I had.  It was all because of this blog. Gail stumbled upon it when she was searching the internet for pictures of our ancestral town in Switzerland.  We share the same great-great grandparents, making us third cousins.  And she lives less than ten minutes away from my house!  Best of all, she and her husband Wes are very nice people, and I am so happy to count them as part of my family!

We see each other on a regular basis.  In fact, in a few weeks, they are going with me to Mérida, Mexico, where I will be their tour guide.

Today Gail and Wes held their annual Christmas brunch.  I was invited last year, but unfortunately I was out of town that weekend.  This year I was able to attend, and I had a lovely time.

Here are the three of us...



The food was great.  Between the food that Gail prepared and the dishes that the guests brought we had quite a scrumptious feast.  I prepared a "tortilla española" and a batch of my cherry fudge. 

Even better was the company and the conversation.  Among Wes and Gail's friends there were several retired school teachers, and all of them have traveled extensively.  So we had plenty to talk about.

Gail and Wes have traveled a great deal, and their beautiful Christmas tree is decorated with dolls and flags from all the countries that they have visited.


Next Christmas they will be able to add a doll and flag from Mexico!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Holiday Greetings

Regular readers of my blog know that each year I do painting which I use for my annual homemade Christmas card.  My painting was finished and the cards printed before I left on my November trip to Mexico.  While I was in Mexico, I made out all the cards, and I sent them off around Thanksgiving after I returned home. 

This year I did a painting based on a photo from my trip to Norway this summer.  The photo is of one of the beautiful fjords of Norway, the Fjaerland Fjord.


I had to use a bit of guesswork as to how the scene would appear in wintertime.  I didn't know how much of the steep, rocky mountains are covered in snow.  However, I did know from talking to a Norwegian that the deep fjords do not freeze in the winter.

Here is the finished product...


Best wishes to all of my readers for a very happy holiday season!

Feliz Navidad


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Popo Blows Off Steam

I have long been fascinated by the volcano Popocatépetl (usually referred to as Popo).  The 17,800 foot high peak stands between Mexico City and the city of Puebla and is Mexico's second highest mountain. 

My first trip to Mexico, back in 1973, was to study at the University of the Americas in the town of Cholula near Puebla.  I arrived at the campus at night, and got settled into my dorm room.  The next morning I looked out my window... and there was Popo!  For a person from relatively flat northern Ohio, the snow capped peak made quite an impression.



A couple years later, I returned to Mexico with my father.  A friend from the University drove us to the Pass of Cortés, at the foot of the volcano.  We had a chance to see Popo up close.




Except for an occasional wisp of smoke, Popo had long been quiet.  Then, beginning in 1994 the volcano came to life, and has periodically spewed steam, gas and ash.  On one occasion when I was in Puebla in the 90s, automobiles parked on the streets were covered with a light dusting of ash.  Because of its activity, visitors are no longer allowed to get as close to the mountain as we were in the picture above. 

Earlier this month, on my latest trip to Mexico, I posted this picture of Popo, taken from the 'Estrella de Puebla", a Ferris wheel on the outskirts of Puebla.




Just last week, Popo was at it again.  On November 25th the volcano erupted for twenty minutes, sending a plume three miles into the sky.  My friend Alejandro who lives in Mexico City did not see the eruption.  The city's air pollution usually obscures the view of the mountain.  However I found these dramatic photos on the internet.



  The eruption seen from Puebla

No damage was done, but it was certainly a spectacular show for the residents of Puebla.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

ta-ta-ta-DAAAH

How many of you saw the title of this post and immediately knew what is was about?  Yes, good ol' Ludwig von Beethoven, whose Fifth Symphony begins with the four most recognized notes in all of classical music.

(image from the web)

Last weekend a friend of mine asked me when I was going to return from my Thanksgiving trip to Columbus.  He said that the Cleveland Orchestra was going to perform Beethoven's Fifth this weekend.  He told me that he had always wanted to hear that symphony in a live performance but that he didn't want to go to the concert alone.  How could I refuse?  Besides, I had never heard it in a live performance either.  So I reserved two tickets for the Saturday night concert.

The opening movement of the Fifth Symphony is so familiar, and has been used and reworked in so many ways that it is... dare I say it... almost trite.  But imagine the impact it must have had when it was new and unfamiliar to the audience's ears.  The work premiered at a concert in Vienna on December 22nd and was conducted by the composer himself.  The debut was not auspicious.  The orchestra had not had time to thoroughly rehearse the piece, and at one point Beethoven had to stop the music and start over.  In addition, the concert, which included eight works by the composer, was excessively long... over four hours long!  And the concert hall was unheated and uncomfortably cold.  The weary audience was probably eager to go home to their warm beds, and did not realize that they were the first to hear one of the great works of musical history.  In subsequent performances, however, the symphony was quickly acclaimed as a masterpiece.

Our concert on Saturday night was not nearly that long, and the audience at Cleveland's Severance Hall was not shivering in their seats.  And of course the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra was impeccably prepared.

The concert began with a piece by the 20th century, English composer Benjamin Britten.  The Sinfonia da Requiem was written in 1939 on the brink of World War II.  I had never heard this work before, and I found it quite interesting.

The concert continued with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23.  I like Mozart, but, frankly, he is not my favorite composer.  I find his music to be lovely and beautifully crafted, but always restrained.  Mozart never gives me goose bumps.  (I prefer the unrestrained emotion of a symphony by Mahler, Tchaikovsky or Sibelius.  By the finale I sometimes experience what I jokingly refer to as a "musical orgasm".  I have tears in my eyes, and I am short of breath.)  The orchestra expertly performed the Mozart concerto, and the soloist, a young Russian pianist by the name of Daniil Trifonov is extremely talented.  He played the work with such heart and soul that it was a pleasure to watch him.  By the final movement with its familiar and lively theme I was tapping my foot.  But, sorry, no goose bumps.

After intermission the concert concluded with Beethoven's Fifth.  Our orchestra performed it superbly.  And there is so much more than that famous first movement.  The following movements are familiar but not that familiar.  I was eagerly following how the themes developed.  And then the finale... the joyous and rousing finale!  Beethoven's Fifth may be an old warhorse, but it hasn't lost its power.  And, yep, I had a "musical orgasm". 



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

The holiday season is upon us.  Tomorrow I will drive down to Columbus to spend Thanksgiving with family.

There is one thing that is making me dread family gatherings this year... that someone will start talking politics.  I have strong opinions about this year's election, and I have expressed them here on the blog.  I don't think I have ever felt such a level of stress and depression over a political campaign.  However I really don't want to listen to more discussion at Thanksgiving or Christmas... even if the others share my beliefs.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if in every household across the nation there would be a "NO POLITICS!" policy enforced at all holiday gatherings?

That is perhaps an impossible dream, but I hope that my U.S. readers all have a happy (and non-political) Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

What a Difference a Day Makes

I mentioned that on Thursday, when I returned to Ohio from Mexico, the temperature was unseasonably warm.  On Friday it was sunny and the high was 73 degrees Fahrenheit.  On Saturday morning it was raining.  The temperature fell into the 30s, and by afternoon the rain had turned to snow.  Fortunately we did not get the heavy snow that some parts of the country received, but by early evening the ground had a light coating of white.


The view from my window this morning

So, in just 24 hours we had gone from summer to winter.  Here in Ohio we joke about how changeable our weather is, but this time the change was extreme even for Ohio!