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Magnolia Trees at sunset in the Arboretum Longnecker Garden, Madison, WI.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Make a Memory

A few days ago I posted a poem titled Make a Memory and promised I would tell the story behind it. My sister-in-law, Tiz, asked me not to be too long about getting it up, especially after I told her that she and my brother, Mike are part of the story and Mike was a prime player in “the memory.”

Mike and Tiz live in Australia and last September, they visited us in Wisconsin for the very first time. I hadn’t seen my brother in far too many years and had never even met Tiz so this was a big occasion. A wonderful time was had by all but one incident stands out to me above all the others. It was a simple thing really but rich and very complex in meaning to me on several different levels.

We had gathered on the porch in the late afternoon just talking about this and that, enjoying each other’s company and my Gr-son Gabe was sort of lurking around the edges of the adults, listening to our conversation (I think we were discussing politics or something) and he had come up and leaned against me. I could see that he was trying to get closer but there was nowhere for him to sit so I invited him to sit on my lap.

Now Gabe had formed somewhat of a huge boy crush on my brother Mike and I had noticed he was trying to impress him so I wasn’t surprised when he informed me rather scornfully “I don’t sit on peoples’ laps anymore, Gramma.” To which I replied that I guessed he WAS getting a little too grown up for that but I sure wished I had known the last time he sat on my lap that it was going to be the last time. He asked me why and I said because I would have made a memory about it since I loved it so much when he sat on my lap when he was little.

At that point Mike chimed in with a comment about how important living in the present and being mindful of what is precious to you when you are with your loved ones is because you never know when the last time is going to be. We had a short discussion about that. That was probably the best–most meaningful–conversation Mike and I had that whole weekend. There was a whole lot that was left unspoken but was said nonetheless, in my opinion.

The conversation moved on and awhile later Gabe came up and nonchalantly sat on my lap. I didn’t say anything, just gave him a little hug but I knew what he was doing. After a few moments, he leaned in close and whispered in my ear “This is the last time, Gramma. Make a memory.” 

When they got home, Tiz sent me some pictures of their visit. One of them is the picture of Gabe and Daryn playing with some kangaroo boxer toys and there is Gabe, sitting on my lap. Occasionally I would look at that picture and think about sweet Gabe saying “This is the last time; make a memory” and think about writing a poem. Eventually that poem pretty much just wrote itself early one morning. I changed very little after the first draft. Mostly just line breaks and punctuation and one word.

So, Thanks Mike and Tiz.  You both helped make a special memory.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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I’m excited because today I am meeting a Korean student from WESLI to see if we will be a fit as English conversation partners. Her Korean name is Jeong Sun (first and middle) but when she replied to my contact Email, me she told me her English name is Alice. She’s 27 years old.

I wonder if she chose an English name to make it easy for us Wisconsinites to talk to her or if she really prefers to use that name. If it is the former, I hope we can just drop it soon and use her Korean name because it is very pretty and I THINK I can pronounce it OK. I found the meaning of the name online. Jeong  means “virtuous and chaste.”  Sun means “goodness”

We’re meeting at the Fair Trade Coffee House on State Street which is a short walk from my house. I can’t remember the last time I went out for coffee so this will be a treat.

I’ve written up a list of questions I hope will be good conversation starters for this initial meeting. I’m curious about:

Why did she choose the English name Alice? Does it have any special significance for her?

Why did she come to the US and Wisconsin, in particular, to study English?

How long has she been here? When will she go back to Korea?

What does she like most and least about Madison?

Does she have brothers and sisters? Are they older or younger than she is?

Does she enjoy Korean Television Dramas and comedies? (This one is important because I am absolutely hooked on them and would like very much to find someone to watch them with me who understands the language and can explain the nuances that I think are there but don’t understand. They are subtitled so she doesn’t have to translate them for me. I just want her to explain the cultural things that are happening.)

My interest in Korean Dramas is what prompted me to contact WESLI and become a volunteer English conversation partner. I think they are wonderful morality tales and probably a reflection, albeit imperfect, of Korean culture just like American television is an imperfect reflection of American culture. On the other hand, the Korean television dramas are far better than anything I have seen lately on free American television. I don’t have cable so I may be missing some really good stuff on American TV but I doubt it if what is being talked about in the forums online is any indication.

So that’s my big event of the day. The week actually. Oh, and my daughter and son are both coming to see me this evening. We’re having a BLT salad and I am going to make them some of my spiced coffee. Sunday we’re having a family get together with everyone for my nephew, Greg’s birthday. He requested fried chicken and everyone in the family is super excited because we usually only fry chicken on the 4th of July because we’re all calorie and saturated fat conscious the rest of the year.

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God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.  ~James M. Barrie

 

This is the last time, whispered sweetly,
leaning in, close to my ear
so that only I would hear.
This is the last time, make a memory.
And so I did: wrapped
up in September’s sunshine, kept
safe, a treasure, this simple act,

an expression of love so strong
my heart longs
to hold you back
even as you walk away from me
towards tomorrows I will not see.

 

 

There is a story behind this poem—aren’t there always? I considered telling it in this post but I think I will let this poem stand alone for a few days before I write about what prompted the poem in order to let it become what it will for whoever takes the time to read it. I like to make some of my poems a bit ambiguous as to their subject and just try to capture the emotions that surround the situation. Do you think I have managed that with this one? Who do you think whispered this in my ear? What was “the last time?”  Why are they walking away?

The picture I used to illustrate this poem is one I took of the sun shining on the leaves in the courtyard of my building in September of 2008 when we had stellar fall colors. I titled it September’s Sunshine and thought it would be a good companion for this poem.  It even illustrates this weeks photo challenge “Through” since the sun is shining through the leaves.

Thanks for reading…

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.
Aristotle

Last week, a group of about 10 of us from The Capitol Center Apartments went on a little excursion (about 3 1/2 blocks) to visit one of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Art Department labs. TASS Matthew Piepenbrok and his students Kristine Karlen, Bao Thao, and Sean Everett gave us an exciting demonstration of glass blowing and patiently answered our questions. It was a lot of fun and very educational.  

The Universtiy of Wisconsin-Madison at the behest of Harvey Littleton was the first college to establish a glass blowing lab in the United States in the ’60s. Above is a view of the furnaces in the present-day lab.  There are four of them and they all have whimsical names because it is easier to tell someone to use Lucy than it is to say the second one from the left.  Lucy and Joe were the ones in use while we were there.


TASS Matthew Piepenbrok (pictured left) is studying to be a professor of art and if his presentation to our group is any indication, he’s going to be an excellent one. He’s a very engaging and personable young man with a great sense of humor and seems to have a profound love of teaching others about his craft.  Examples of his art work can be found at ARTQ.net

In this picture he is showing us the molten glass he has just poured into a cold mold from one of the furnaces. What a card! Wouldn’t it be fun to have a professor like this?


Here he is showing us the hollow stainless steel rod that the liquid glass will be “loaded” onto in preparation for blowing. It was very warm in this lab due to four furnaces that were keeping the molten glass at a temperature of around 2,400 to 2,000*.

The long sleeve on Matthew’s right arm is to protect him from burns as he loads up his glassblowing rod.  According to Matthew and his students glassblowing is a very risky business and not a day goes by when one of them doesn’t get burned as Bao Thao kindly demonstrated for us later in the session! They were very nonchalant about it, treating it as an ordinary part of their day in the lab although you could tell it hurt.

Above Matthew and Kristine Karlen are loading a glob of molten glass onto the rod. In the picture at the right, Matthew is showing us a closer view of the glass after a small amount of air has been blown into it. At right, he is using a pad made from many layers of newspaper to begin shaping the glass. Later on he showed us how the heat from the glass had burned through several layers. 

The whole time the glass is being worked the artist or glassmith must keep the rod turning in order for centrifugal force to keep the glass on the rod or gravity will take effect and the piece will slump and become disfigured.  That’s not so hard at this stage but as they continued to add glass, the piece became heavier and heavier.  We were given a sphere of cooled glass to examine and it is quite heavy. I’d guess between 10 and 15 pounds.

Little by little more molten glass is added to the piece and more air is blown in then more shaping is done to smooth the piece and achieve the desired size and contours. All the while the rod must be kept spinning to keep the glass attached to the rod. The work is painstaking and physically challenging.

The top picture  shows Matthew blowing more air into his  globe of glass. Bao Thao steps in to assist him and Matthew demonstrates other shaping tools glassmiths use to get the effects they want to produce.

Sean Everett steps in to become Matthew’s assistant and things begin to get very dramatic! 

Protruberances were added to the sphere by dropping globs of glass from a rod. To keep the glass at the right temperature, a propane torch was used. Melted glass started dripping onto the cement floor!

At this point they began to let gravity take effect and elongate the round sphere in preparation for the cold mold that had cooled by now to be attached to the piece. It took 3 people to manage that task! Clearly glass art of any complexity is a collaborative effort.

Bao Thao brushes excess sand from the attached cold mold while Kristine Karlen stands by with the propane torch in case heat is needed to keep the glass at the right temperature. The glass can break or crack at any moment if the right temperature is not maintained and in fact, did during this demonstration but fortunately not badly enough to ruin the whole thing so they would have to start all over.

The cold mold has now been attached to a solid stainless steel rod and Matthew, Sean, and Kristine detach the former sphere from the hollow rod. They will begin pulling and twisting the piece into a an elongated horn shape after adding some colored pigment.

Bao and Sean hold the tip of the horn while the piece is being turned and pulled to shape it.

Kristine applies some heat to the tip to refine the shape just before it goes into the cooling tank.  She looks wicked cool with that propane torch!

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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I’ve been under the weather—literally—lately. With the advent of this early spring comes changing weather fronts moving rapidly across my state as the spring rains come and go with the barometric pressure rising and falling on an almost daily basis, especially at night. For whatever reason, that means my chronic illness flares and my pain level rises to the point I cannot sleep well. In addition, spring brings seasonal allergies that exacerbate my asthma. In short, I’m a mess.

 

I finally caved and called the Doctor to ask for a renewal of the one-step up from my regular pain medication that I take when things get bad but getting back to my baseline isn’t coming as easily as it usually does. I waited too long to cry uncle… Hence very little writing is getting done.

 

So I decided I would make a very short post about the pick-me-up beverage I “invented” yesterday which was inspired by some Chai Masala (Indian Spiced Tea) I had last week. I added some Chinese Five Spices mix made by Tone to some strong iced coffee, sweetened it with half a teaspoon of Stevia, and poured in some 2% milk. Holy Cow! That was some seriously good stuff! Even better than the Chai Masala.  I had another glass today and it made my tongue smile and improved my mood considerably.

 

Try it!  I think you’ll like it!  And it’s lowfat!

 

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn 

 

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I do have to earn a living, so I’m conscious of probable reactions from readers, but the most important one is still the awareness that if I’m not enjoying a story, the reader won’t either.
Thomas Perry

It’s really interesting, always educational, and sometimes amusing to check your blog statistics and note what gets the most hits on a blog. Up until recently, the two posts that got the most traffic on this blog were The Goblins will get Ya’! and Up, Up and Away! Maple Sugar Farm.

Both of them generate some traffic every day, often times the only traffic if I haven’t been posting. The James Whitcomb Riley poem, Little Orphan Annie quoted  in The Goblins will Get Ya! really resonates with people in a certain age group—MY age group. Around Halloween the hits really surge. People have a lot of fond memories of being read that poem as youngsters and have left comments about their 91 year old Moms or Grammas. In one case, a reader even posted a link of his mother reciting the poem. I’m really touched that people have shared their memories and gratified to know that that post has brought such pleasure to so many.

As for the Up Up and Away! post, it gets so many hits because of this picture of this cute little kitten I posted. There are a lot of people who enjoy looking at pictures of cute kittens. I suspect that some of them are little girls and maybe even some little boys. I wonder if they read the story I wrote for my Grandson, Gabe, so long ago and if they do, do they enjoy it? I wish I could watch them reading it.

Recently in the post titled To Be or Knot to Be I told a joke about a string tying itself into a knot and included a line drawing of a knot in the post. It is astonishing how many people have looked at that silly picture! Today there were 79 people who visited this blog. 60 of them were looking at the knot. LOL! Who knew? I hope they also read the joke.

Lesson learned? If you want traffic to your blog, put pictures of common things people are interested in in your posts, people. Blog about famous poems and stories you remember being read to you in your youth or some other popular culture thing that you have fond memories of. Relate, relate, relate!

 

 

 

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