After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dog food review site leads me to Blue Buffalo

Molly and Meggie as puppies.  They are now 7 years old.
I really don't know how I ended up looking at dog food reviews today but I found a website that I thought was very helpful, Pet Care Education's Dog Food Reviews.  My little miniature dachshunds, Molly and Meggie, love chicken, preferably the real thing, so I have always fed them Authority brand chicken mini chunks since they were puppies after it was recommended by a sales person at PetSmart.  They seem to eat it fairly well, although, to be honest, my husband insists on cutting up real meat scraps for them when we eat so they only fill in with dry dog food, it is not their primary food source.

Anyway, I looked up Authority mini chunk chicken on the Review site and found that it rated fairly well for a store brand, 6.7.  Then I saw the link for best dog foods and saw the really high ratings for Blue Buffalo, especially their Wilderness products (9.2).  I noticed their Wilderness line had a chicken version so I checked their company website and used their distributor search tool to find that their dog food is sold at McKenzie Feed not far from my house.

My husband always insists on getting them something for Christmas so I think I will swing by McKenzie Feed on my next trip to town and pick up a small bag to see if they like it.  It's about $5 more per bag but if they really like it perhaps I can try to wean them off of most of the table scraps and they'll be healthier in the long run.  I see Blue Buffalo also makes chicken jerky dog treats so maybe I'll pick up some of them too.  After all, it is Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mark Twain the anti-imperialist

mark twain Category:Mark Twain images
Samuel Clemens, aka "Mark Twain" Image via Wikipedia
A couple of weeks ago I subscribed to a new free series called The Intellectual Devotional on Daily Lit.

"... a collection of daily lessons taken from The Devoted Intellect blog that will inspire and invigorate the reader on a daily basis. Each nugget of wisdom is drawn from one of seven fields of knowledge: History, Literature, Philosophy, Mathematics & Science, Religion, Visual Arts, and Music." - DailyLit 

Today's nugget of wisdom was about some of the anti-imperialist activities of Mark Twain.  I knew Mark Twain was a satirist but didn't realize he was involved so deeply in the politics of foreign affairs.  I attempted to read Huckleberry Finn in high school and simply didn't like it so I had dismissed Mark Twain as another one of the "classic" authors writing for people in another century whose work, though critically acclaimed, did not resonate with me.  Twain is in good company in that respect though.  I tried to read Tolstoy's War and Peace and couldn't get through the first few chapters of it and didn't find Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe written in a very appealing narrative either, even though I later loved the television mini-series, "Ivanhoe" starring  James Mason and Sam Neill (I was really bummed that Sam Neill's Brian de Bois-Guilbert was killed in the end - I thought he was far more attractive than Anthony Andrew's Ivanhoe and Rebecca's heart should have melted!)

Anyway, when I read the short "devotional" about Mark Twain I was totally intrigued by his late-in-life rabble-rousing contributions like King Leopold's Soliloquy, a stinging satirical denunciation of Belgium's brutal colonial activities in the Congo, and Incident in the Philippines, about the American massacre of 600 Moros in the Moro Crater Massacre.  Apparently, this was a complete reversal from his earlier support of such U.S. imperialistic acquisitions as the Hawaiian Islands.  Twain explains his change of heart in a article published by the New York Herald on October 15, 1900.

I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific ...Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? ... I said to myself, Here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American Constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves. But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris [which ended the Spanish-American War], and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

I obviously need to resurrect Samuel Clemens from my mental "Trash folder" and give him the attention he deserves.
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beautypedia makes choosing moisturizers a snap

Hands of Joan of Arc at Domrémy by 
Henri Chapu 1872 CE.  Photographed at the 
Musee d'Orsay in Paris by Mary Harrsch.
Today I read an article about saving money on cosmetics and skin care products.  Essentially, it said the vast majority of cosmetics claims are pretty much bogus.  It said the single most important thing you can do for your skin to prevent wrinkles or skin damage is to mitigate sun exposure with protective clothing and sunscreen. But once wrinkles appear, little can be done to erase them (short of surgery) although skin moisturizers may help a little.  But trying to choose a moisturizer from the thousands of products available can be daunting so the author recommended the website Beautypedia sponsored by "Cosmetic Cop" Paula Begoun:


I had never heard of it so I thought I would check it out.  It is a comprehensive database of cosmetics and skin care product reviews and clearly shows a rating to point out product effectiveness and which products are grossly overpriced.  I couldn't find the face cream I'm using at the moment (Seacret that is supposedly formulated from minerals from the Dead Sea - it's as close to ancient cosmetics as I could get!).  Then, I was surprised to note that the Cetaphil the doctor recommended for my feet doesn't have a decent rating unless you select a particular formulation (she only told me Cetaphil so I've just been buying their generic body lotion - although I must admit when I get a crack in my heel it heals up within a day with the generic lotion) and was shocked to see it on the list of companies that tests its product on animals.  I have had nightmares where I have seen animals in laboratories connected to instruments by tubes sprouting from their bodies so I would never want to do anything that would encourage that type of activity!

According to Paula's rating system you should basically look for a product with no $ signs, a check mark and a happy face icon although you should also look at the price and the number of ounces of product the quoted price buys you too. There seems to be quite a wide price range that garner a happy face and check mark indicating a product that exceeds expectations and goes beyond the criteria for a product in its category with minimal to no concerns For example, CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM at $12.99 for 3 oz. is rated equally with Estee Lauder Nutritious Vita-Mineral Moisture Lotion at $38.00 for 1.7 oz. If you click on the rating column heading twice to make it sort in ascending order by rating putting the best products with no $ signs at the top, it makes it easier to select the best most economical product although "Paula" does not give you unit pricing which would make this exercise a total no brainer.  Perhaps she doesn't wish to have her own line of products, priced in the mid-range with her Skin Recovery Moisturizer, for Normal to Very Dry Skin priced at $19.95 for 2 oz., farther down the list.  Although I didn't do the math precisely, it looks like, of all the skin moisturizers without sunscreen available, CeraVe is the most economical and effective and a quick check of the animal testing report card shows it doesn't test its products on animals - a clear winner for me!  Now I just have to figure out where to get it.  A quick web search shows me I can get it from Amazon for even less than is quoted in the database.  I noticed that CeraVe makes a lot of different skin care products so I searched Beautypedia for just that brand name and was pleased to note that all of their different formulations rated a "Paul's pick" and were vastly more economical than many of their competitors.

 Anyway, I thought if you have found trying to choose a skin moisturizer as challenging as I have you might find this website helpful too.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Feel the Love - Dancers Flash Mob at Dubai Airport

What I love about joyous flash mobs where people share dancing or singing is that they almost invariably make everyone smile.  Here you see people even in conservative clothing begin to smile (well, everybody except one guy!) especially when some young children join the dance troupe.  You even see a pair of pilots come down the escalator and immediately begin to smile instead of stressing out about possibly being late to the next checkin on their schedule - a much more humane environment than the typical high stress experience you usually encounter at an airport.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Great food and beautiful handcrafts highlight Latvian Center holiday bazaar

Traditional Latvian dress worn for
festivals and special occasions 
displayed at the Oregon Latvian
Center, 5500 SW Dosch Road,
Portland, Oregon.
Seven years ago my brother married a lady from Riga, Latvia.  It's especially wonderful when we get to welcome a new family member from another culture because it gives us an opportunity to learn about new customs and sample ethnic dishes we may not have ever tried before.

To help Gunta feel more at home here in the states, my brother found a website for a Latvian Center in Portland, Oregon and soon they were shuttling back and forth between Pendleton, where they lived, to various activities at the Latvian Center.  Then this year, my brother and Gunta moved to the Portland area so they could be closer to other members of the Portland Latvian community.  When I was visiting them in their new home in Columbia City, Gunta mentioned they were eagerly anticipating the annual holiday bazaar that would be held on Thanksgiving weekend at the Latvian Center and I asked if I could go with them.

Carraway-flavored Jānu siers, a fresh-cooked cheese, is a 
traditional food prepared for the festival of Jāni celebrating
the summer solstice.  Photo courtesy of The Kitchen Mouse.
So, Saturday I had the chance to sample a little Latvian culture for myself.  Various members of the Latvian Center offered a variety of delicious homemade desserts like fruit and nut tortes and apple cakes.  They also displayed a wide assortment of savory breads including some of my brother's favorite pīrāgi, little crescent-shaped yeast rolls filled with chopped bacon and onion.  I also admired the intricately patterned knitted gloves, hats, scarves and hand-woven table linens along with books, photographs, glassware, jewelry and other mementos featuring pictures of Latvia and countrymen dressed in the various folk costumes of the different regions.  One of the ladies hurried over to tell my brother that there was only one wedge of Jāņu siers left so if he wanted any of the carraway seed-flavored fresh-cooked cheese he'd better hurry.  This exceptional cheese made from curds is one of the traditional foods prepared for the festival of Jāņi, originally a Latvian celebration of the summer solstice held on June 23.  

I bought a handmade knitted doll in a traditional Latvian costume, some fragrant soap with a picture of two women in Latvian dress on it and a braided loaf of sweet saffron bread with almonds and raisins called Klingeris that I will freeze then warm up for our family Christmas celebration.

At noon, lunch was announced and I indulged myself with some of the most delicious cabbage rolls I had ever eaten along with mashed potatoes and a specially seasoned gravy, salad and buttered peas served with Saldskabmaize, a sweet and sour rye bread.  Unlike the cabbage rolls I had eaten at a little Russian café in west Eugene that were simmered in a tomato sauce, these were simmered in the broth from the seasoned ground beef filling similar to these Polish golabki
Polish cabbage rolls known as golabki.  Photo courtesy
of About East European Food
Afterwards, Gunta and I shared a piece of hazelnut torte frosted with delicately sweetened whipped cream and finely ground hazelnuts. I found a recipe on the web for Latvian Hazelnut Torte but noticed it was frosted with a mocha buttercream frosting.  I'm sure I prefer the sweetened whipped cream as it is much less sugary and lets you enjoy the delicate flavor of the nuts.  Gunta told me that many desserts in Latvia are garnished with sweetened whipped cream rather than the heavier sugar-based frostings used so often here in the states.  

I also learned that hazelnuts grow wild in Latvia so hazelnut torte has been a festival dessert there for centuries.  Hazelnuts grow wild here in Oregon too but a more robust variety was commercially planted at Dorris Ranch here in Springfield in 1903.  That orchard was the foundation for today's thriving Oregon hazelnut industry. 

 Cake-like desserts made from ground nuts or nut flour have been documented as far back as the 17th century.  The Linzer torte, based on a recipe dating back to 1696 (or possibly an earlier recipe found in a 1653 codex), was originally made from almonds but almonds were so expensive that only wealthy nobles could afford dishes prepared with them. So the dessert was modified to use walnuts or hazelnuts that were more readily available.

Needless to say I enjoyed every bite of the delicious Latvian cuisine.  I look forward to going to Latvia with Joe Bill and Gunta one day.  They still maintain a flat in Riga and visit Latvia every couple of years so hopefully I won't have to wait too long!
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Network news needs to be more objective about Occupy Wall Street coverage

The Supreme Court of the United States. Washin...
The US Supreme Cout - another corrupted institution! Image via Wikipedia
Last night I was watching ABC World News and was really appalled by the story they presented in which they interviewed Occupy Wall Street protesters about why they were there.  It's as if they had purposefully selected dim wits that didn't have a clue.  There were a couple of people interviewed that did provide a valid reason but ABC seemed to quickly skip over them as if they didn't want anyone to think too hard about what they said.

So this morning I sent them the link to a song by Makana that pretty much says it all:

In case you can't catch all the lyrics here they are:

Ye come here, gather 'round the stage
The time has come for us to voice our rage
Against the ones who've trapped us in a cage
To steal from us the value of our wage

From underneath the vestiture of law
The lobbyists at Washington do gnaw
At liberty, the bureaucrats guffaw
And until they are purged, we won't withdraw

We'll occupy the streets
We'll occupy the courts
We'll occupy the offices of you
'Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

Our nation was built upon the right
Of every person to improve their plight
But laws of this Republic they rewrite
And now a few own everything in sight

They own it free of liability
They own, but they are not like you and me
Their influence dictates legality
And until they are stopped we are not free

We'll occupy the streets
We'll occupy the courts
We'll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

You enforce your monopolies with guns
While sacrificing our daughters and sons
But certain things belong to everyone

Your thievery has left the people none

So take heed of our notice to redress
We have little to lose, we must confess
Your empty words do leave us unimpressed
A growing number join us in protest

We occupy the streets
We occupy the courts
We occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

You can't divide us into sides
And from our gaze, you cannot hide
Denial serves to amplify
And our allegiance you can't buy

Our government is not for sale
The banks do not deserve a bail
We will not reward those who fail
We will not move till we prevail

We'll occupy the streets
We'll occupy the courts
We'll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

We'll occupy the streets
We'll occupy the courts
We'll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

We are the many
You are the few

The things I personally am particularly disturbed by are the inequitable tax structures that overwhelmingly favor the corporate and the rich, a Supreme Court who is obviously "for sale" or is at the least politically motivated rather than unbiased, rules that exempt Congressmen from laws that prohibit profit by insider trading and allow them to accept lobbyist favors in any form thereby making their job one of maximizing their own wealth rather than serving the vast majority of Americans who elected them, and being the victims of large corporations who are essentially thinly disguised monopolies who extract money from us like a blood bank who has no qualms about drawing out so much blood that a donor shrivels and dies!  
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Caregiver Village online community new approach to caregiver outreach

I'm one of the 60 million caregivers in the United States that spends a significant portion of my day caring for  a family member with chronic medical problems - in my case a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and medical complications resulting from exposure to Agent Orange.  After more than 40 years of this responsibility, caregiving is simply ingrained in my daily life and I have learned to cope with the stresses it creates by engaging in cultural enrichment through my study of the ancient world and by focusing on my writing and digital photography activities in my spare time.

But, as a retired technology professional, I also try to keep up with new uses of technology, especially for educational purposes so was intrigued to see that health care and counseling professionals along with a team of technology developers have reached out to family caregivers through a new online social network community called Caregiver Village.  In Caregiver Village, members who subscribe to the service for $4.95 per month (they do offer a free 30 day trial) can play an ongoing Sims-like mystery game called the "Village Chronicles".  Each episode offers players a chance to learn better self-care, stress management skills and positive attitudes while solving puzzles and earning achievements as they explore an episodic mystery surrounding a caregiving situation.

Members can also join book club discussion groups led by authors who have written books about caregiving for a variety of conditions and access resources for dealing with ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, autism, cancer, depression, diabetes, general aging, general caregiving needs, heart disease, mental and developmental delays, mental/emotional illness, Parkinson’s, physical disabilities, stroke, surgery, injury or wounds, and war-related injuries and are encouraged to share their own experiences through personal journals and interacting with other community members.

"People connect based on common needs and interests in a place that becomes their own village of support and encouragement," say site developers.  "Family caregivers are exhausted, stressed to the point of illness and frustrated by their isolation.Caregiver Village’s virtual village creates a close knit community where caregivers can discover a sense of deep personal satisfaction – and escape – from the hard, intense work of family caregiving; while simultaneously learning how to handle their stress and building online connections with people in exactly the same situation as them."

 So, if you have found yourself in a long-term caregiving role and would like to meet and interact with others in a similar situation, check out Caregiver Village.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Star Trek comes to Netflix Instant Streaming but may switch to VuDu for new releases and drop DVDs by mail

The U.S.S. Enterprise at Star Trek: The Experience, an
exhibit that was once the featured attraction at the Las Vegas
Hilton.  Photo by Mary Harrsch.
Wow!  Today I went up to Netflix to rank a DVD series we just completed and noticed that Netflix must have reached an awesome agreement with Paramount as I see that Start Trek and most of its spinoffs are now popping up on my suggested TV shows list for instant streaming.  Classic Trek, STNG, Voyager and Enterprise are now available to download instantly!  I'm so excited - especially about Enterprise as I never had the chance to watch more than one or two of the episodes.

For some reason Deep Space Nine is only available on Disc but I'm sure it will be added before too long.

Yes, I'm afraid all of you who thought I was this serious classical scholar will be disillusioned to discover that I'm an original Trekker going clear back to the first 1966 airing of the Star Trek episode "The Man Trap".  I've even dressed up in a Star Fleet captain's uniform that I fashioned myself (circa "The Wrath of Khan") and attended a number of Star Trek conventions.  I've had the thrill of meeting Worf (Michael Dorn), Sulu (George Takei), Chakotay (Robert Beltran), Quark (Armin Shimerman) and even Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew).  I've
Quark's business associates welcome me to
Quark's Bar at Star Trek: The Experience.
also been accosted by a Klingon down at Quark's Bar in Star Trek: The Experience that was once a featured attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton and I've sat in Captain Picard's command chair and "Made it so" down at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. (That was when the museum was first open and had only a handful of visitors.  I doubt if they let people do that now)  I even beamed myself down to an alien planet at the Star Trek: Federation Science exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. (Actually you stepped onto a "transporter" and watched yourself shimmer and disappear on a video screen in front of you then reappear in front of a backdrop of an alien world.  My husband and I stood in line for almost two hours to do it and my husband said afterward he can't believe we waited so long to only do that!  At that same exhibit I stepped up to a wax figure of Spock dressed in his Star fleet uniform that was protected by a cylindrical glass shield and pressed my hand formed into a Vulcan salute against the glass where his hand was positioned in the Vulcan salute and my husband asked me what on earth I was doing.  I told him it would probably be as close to Spock as I would ever get!

At one point Star Trek even inspired me to consider majoring in biochemistry so I could work at the Ames Research Center and search for extraterrestrial life.  But that was a lifetime ago.  Now I'm content to let my computer do the searching with the SETI at home software and just revisit the worlds of Star Trek via Netflix, especially since most of my Star Trek videos are old VHS tapes.  (Although two weeks ago I ordered the original collection of Star Trek movies on Blu-Ray that came up on Amazon as a Gold Box special for 60% off.)
The bust of a Cardassian at Star Trek:
The Experience

Today, though, I discovered this walk down memory lane was going to cost me twice as much as I thought.  I received an email from Netflix that informed me they were DOUBLING their subscription rates for people who subscribe to both streaming and DVDs by mail.

I watch far more movies via streaming than on DVD but I subscribe to both services (for $9.95/mo) because most new film releases don't make it to instant streaming for years.   Of course I must admit I have other choices.  Vudu only charges $2 per movie and have most new releases the day the DVD comes out.  With the pathetically few movies being produced that I find interesting nowdays, it would probably be far cheaper for me to just occasionally rent a new release from Vudu than to pay Netflix an additional $7.99 per month.  Dish Network also offered some new titles on PPV for only 99 cents this month.  If that is not just a flash in the pan but a regular new product offering, that could be another viable option as well.  I suppose I could also scale back my satellite channel package too since I hardly watch much on broadcast television anymore after the nightly news is over.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

A Girls' Day Out in Historical Philadelphia

While I was on a photoshoot in Philadelphia back in April, I took a day to explore the historical district with my daughter Margaret.  For her birthday today, I sent her the Smilebox card below with a short slideshow of our day together.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Surface" and "Jericho" series ended far too prematurely!

Just finished watching the 2005-2006 series Surface" on Netflix instant streaming (I've got to admit, I LOVE Netflix because I can see series that I missed on their first time around and watch foreign films that I would have never seen otherwise)  I really enjoyed this series about a sinister group of researchers who genetically engineer reptilian aquatic creatures that will eventually destroy the world.  I especially enjoyed the young character of Miles (played by Carter Jenkins) who is bitten by the creatures and begins to acquire some of their traits, and his cooly pragmatic but loyal sidekick played by Eddie Hassel.

Like IMDB  reviewer "noralee", I, too, was gratified that women played key roles, although I got a little irritated with some of the sappier scenes where the marine biologist, Dr. Laura Daughtery, snivels over not being able to spend more time with her son (her son was nicely portrayed by Bobby Coleman though!) and, like some academics I met in my 20 years at the University of Oregon, seems to be short-changed in the common sense department.  It's too bad that Martha Plimpton, who played a rather obsessed researcher with the evil "corporation" wasn't cast in the main role as Dr. Daugherty as she would have brought a lot more intensity to the part.  But, as usual, the producers wanted to appeal to the young male demographic by selecting someone with the typical "California girl" svelt appearance as the lead instead.

 Apparently Surface was canceled after only 15 episodes which was a real tragedy as I was on the edge of my seat by the season (and sadly series) finale.  If you don't have a Netflix subscription you can watch full episodes on IMDB for the next 13 days.

Image courtesy of IMDB
Another great series that was prematurely canceled was Jericho.  The action in Jericho centered around the nuclear bombings of 23 US cities by right-wing homegrown terrorists who then set about trying to rebuild the decapitated government in their own image.  They even had their own contract mercenaries, a firm called "Ravenwood", going around figuratively raping the countryside in overt attempts to eliminate any competing efforts to rebuild society.  I noticed that the series was produced in 2006 during the Bush administration and then wondered if the series was cancelled for marketing reasons or because the administration had leaned on the network.  It was definitely a ballsy move on the part of the producers to have the audacity to publicly declaim the administration's policies even if it was in a fictional context.

Now I've got to find another thoughtful series to fill our evenings.

It seems like most series requiring a little thought always seem to go wanting while trashy reality programs keep raking in the lion's share of production budgets.  That must be why my husband and I, despite paying for America's top 250 and three premium channels besides find ourselves on Netflix night after night!

Being able to watch a series on demand instead of spaced in weekly segments also gives you more of a chance to really connect with the characters and begin to really care what happens to them.  I've tried to follow segmented series and always end up thwarted.  The networks begin with a regular schedule then pretty soon they preempt a series for some event the networks perceive to be more lucrative for advertisers.  Then, those of us trying to follow a series lose track of what's going on and soon lose our connection to the characters.  That is what happened to me and Flash Forward.  Of course, unless the networks start including DVR time shifted recordings in their ratings, intelligent shows like Flash Forward, Jericho and Surface just get canceled anyway and the viewers as well as the cast end up the losers.

At present I'm trying to follow three miniseries in weekly installments, Showtime's Camelot, HBO's Game of Thrones and Showtime's The Borgias. I do have my DVR set this time in case I miss an episode but  I must admit having a full week (or longer) in between episodes is still frustrating as far as maintaining continuity with the characters goes.  I would prefer to have all series presented on demand but I suppose the premium networks must drag them out to try to wring every possible cent out of the viewers.

As soon as Game of Thrones and The Borgias end for this season, I'm turning off HBO and Showtime again though.  I should have just waited for the series to come out on Netflix but I'm so starved for historical entertainment I couldn't wait.

Surface: The Complete Series   Jericho - The Complete Series   FlashForward: The Complete Series

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Time traveling with tribute singers

In September 2009, I had the wonderful experience of attending a performance of Beatlemania, a Beatles tribute band, at the Three Rivers Casino in Florence.  Since then, I have kept an eye out for any similar concerts that might be equally enjoyable and just before Christmas I saw an advertisement for a concert by Elvis impersonator, Justin Shandor, also at Three Rivers, scheduled for January.

The concert announcement said the performance would be split up into three nights by decade with the 60s music performed on a Friday.  Although I spent most of the 60s listening to Beatles music along with a little Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Byrds and Herman's Hermits, I did remember some of Elvis' songs that I enjoyed as well.  So, I went online and purchased two tickets for the 60s concert and hoped my husband and I could also enjoy another great seafood buffet at the casino since the performance was scheduled on a Friday night.

Although Florence, Oregon is only about one and a half hours away from our home in Springfield and the concert wasn't going to begin until 8 p.m., we always get a little antsy and headed over to the coast in the morning, arriving in Florence about 11 o'clock.  First, we located our motel that I had found on the web, the Old Town Inn. I selected it because it was reasonably priced, within walking distance of the riverfront area with its restaurants and shops, and allowed small pets. Their pet fee is also really reasonable - only charging us $15 for our two doxies. They also have both a microwave and small refrigerator in your room for snacks and offer rolls, fruit and coffee for an "on the run" style of continental breakfast in the office after 7:30 a.m..  It's right off Highway 101 on the left heading south just before you cross the bridge so its was easy to find.

Then, we made the rounds of the local antique stores.  Although I've gotten to the point that I don't have any more display space available, I still enjoy browsing the stores for the possibility that I might find that special something.  Joe spotted a great buy on a grandfather clock but I couldn't imagine where we would put it so we didn't make an offer on it.  One shop right on Highway 101 had incorporated a pastry shop into their antique displays and their pastries looked very mouth watering but it was too close to lunch to indulge.  It reminded me of one of my favorite lunch spots here in Springfield called Ruthie B's that used to serve great salads and sandwiches as well as a totally decadent bread pudding made with light flaky croissants and fresh bananas topped with mounds of whipped cream.  Unfortunately, Ruthie retired at the end of December 2010 and closed up shop.  Now my sister Jane and I will have to find some other place to enjoy on one of our sisters' days out.  Maybe we'll be in Florence together sometime and can try out the place I found there.

A sailboat on the Siuslaw River.Image via Wikipedia
A sailboat on the Siuslaw River, Florence, Oregon.
When it was almost noon we drove down to "Old Town", along the Siuslaw river frontage to my husband's favorite "fish and chips" place, "Mo's".  I pointed out to him that there were a lot of other interesting looking restaurants we could sample but he's a creature of habit and insisted on Mo's. I must admit Mo's did a good job on my combo order of bay scallops, clam strips and cod fillets and I enjoy looking out over the river, although there weren't any fishing boats going out fishing in the winter.

The carnivorous Darlingtonia
Californica.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
After lunch we drove north of town because I wanted to see the carnivorous plants that proliferate in a small wayside just off the highway. The little botanical garden is named Darlingtonia because the scientific name of the plants in it is Darlingtonia Californica.  The little wayside has a nice elevated walking platform and, although the day was cool, it was a pleasant stroll and my two dachshunds enjoyed the break from riding in the car.

On the way back to town we turned and drove around the "beach loop" to the North Jetty since I can't drive all the way to the coast and not spend a little time gazing at the ocean.

It was finally time to check in to our room so we did and enjoyed a bit of a rest before dinner.  Finally, we headed on over to the casino and picked up our concert tickets along with $10 in gambling credits that were part of the ticket package.  Neither of us is much into gambling but I didn't want to waste the gambling credits.  However, I couldn't remember how to use the player's club card so had to get a little instruction first.  After a briefing by one of the floor managers, I managed to win enough cash to convert the $10 club card into cash.  Joe said we needed to kill a little more time, though, so he wanted me to keep going.  I tried to caution him that the slots were computerized to pay out only so much so the odds against winning get greater and greater the longer you play. But Joe said it was only $10 so I kept going.  As I predicted the machine almost immediately began paying less and less.  I managed to kill another hour before we needed to go eat and still had $4 left so I guess that was okay as far as just wasting time was concerned.

Shark reef eels5 at Mandalay BayImage by mharrsch via Flickr
Colorful eels at the Shark Reef aquarium in
the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
When I used to attend Comdex, a huge technology trade show, in Las Vegas, I used to hear the casino personnel complain about all of us Comdex attendees because so few of us were interested in gambling.  As most of us had training in computer programming and understood the basics of how the slots were programmed to guarantee a profit for the casinos, most of us didn't want to throw our money away like that.  I always enjoy attending shows in Las Vegas, though, and visiting some of the attractions like Madame Tussaud's, Star Trek the Experience (sadly, now closed), and the Shark Reef aquarium.  I've navigated the canals in a gondola at the Venetian and eaten a delicious French lunch at the Paris Hotel (and I had just visited the real Paris a few months before so I did have a frame of reference!)  So, I've always managed to enjoy myself there, even though in four visits I have never gambled a nickel!

The buffet at Three Rivers did not have the variety of dishes that the buffet at The Mill casino down in Coos Bay, Oregon did, but the food was tasty, especially the Mongolian grill.  Of course I also liked the desserts, particularly the small chocolate eclairs made with cream puff pastry and filled with vanilla pudding.  The key lime pie was not too shabby either!

At last it was time for the concert.  We didn't realize they allowed people to be seated more than 1/2 hour before the performance was scheduled to start so we didn't get quite as good of a seat as we did for the Beatlemania show.  Unfortunately, this meant that Joe couldn't understand the words since his hearing aids could not distinguish the singing  from the surrounding crowd noise.  Next time we'll need to get in line much sooner.

I was a little confused when the announcer introduced one of the best John Denver tribute artists in the world.  I thought he was joking since our tickets did not mention anything about a John Denver tribute artist. But sure enough a young man named Ted Vigil in jeans, a brown felt cowboy hat and brown jacket, looking a lot like John Denver, strode out onto the stage and launched into "Take Me Home, Country Roads".

"Country Road" is one of my favorite country songs so soon I was singing along.  I continued singing along with the next songs he sang, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" (video clip), "Sunshine on My Shoulders" and even "Calypso", a great salute to Jacques Cousteau's famous flagship (for those of you who are too young to have watched Jacques Cousteau on Sunday nights) that includes some really high pitched yodeling that Ted hit just right:

Here's the original John Denver singing "Calypso". Ted came pretty close don't you think?

When I was looking for video clips up on YouTube to include with this blog post, I also noticed a clip of Ted Vigil singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane", another of John Denver's original compositions:

Although Ted did not sing this song at the concert, I couldn't help but include the clip because this song always catches at my heart. This song, written by John Denver in 1966, was still being played a lot on the radio in 1968, the summer I was engaged to be married, but had been awarded a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago. Although I was very much in love with my future husband, I didn't want to let my folks down, so I flew down to the Marine Corps base in 29 Palms where Joe was stationed after returning from Vietnam to spend a few days with him before I had to leave for Chicago. Finally, the dreaded departure date arrived and Joe took me to the small airport there. They called my flight and just like in the song Joe kissed me and told me to smile for him.  I asked him if he'd wait for me and held him (like I'd never let him go!) one last time. Also, just like in the song I didn't know when I'd be back again as I had only a one way ticket in my pocket. The gate attendant finally came over to me and said I had to go as everyone else was on the plane. So with tears streaming, I turned and was on my way with that song repeating in my head over and over.

But, back to the present. With a big smile and a wave of his cowboy hat, Ted Vigil bounded off the stage and the announcer let us know that we were now going to be transported from the Rockies to Memphis and introduced Justin Shandor.

Dressed in a tight black leather jacket and pants resembling the outfit Elvis wore in his 1968 "Comeback Special", Justin Shandor began belting out a medley of Elvis hits. I had never seen Elvis in person but I thought Justin looked very much like the Elvis I remembered from the movies in the 60s and he certainly sounded like him.

When I found a clip of Elvis performing "Blue Suede Shoes" at a concert in 1970 (the second song in the following clip), I thought it was interesting that when he began singing the song, he first referred to the color of his real shoes before switching to "blue suede" in the next stanza of the song. If you notice in Justin Shandor's clip above, he does the same thing and makes it all seem so spontaneous and natural.

Justin sang a mixture of songs from rock and roll to gospel. My favorite was "Memories" another song from Elvis' 1968 "Comeback Special". I was hoping to hear "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto" but those songs require female backup singers and there weren't any on stage with Justin at this performance. I would have also liked to have had Justin change costume as the decade of the 60s progressed, much like the Beatlemania band members did in their performance. I would have liked to have seen Elvis dressed in his Army uniform and singing "G.I. Blues" and "Wooden Heart", a nice little song Elvis sang in the movie to a German puppet.

I did notice that Shandor does this sometimes in his concerts and at the Elvis Museum in Las Vegas. Here Shandor sings "G.I. Blues" in uniform in a concert in Australia:

Although I didn't know all of the songs Shandor's Elvis sang (remember I was mostly a Beatles fan during the 60s), I still enjoyed myself immensely. I know some people scoff at tribute singers but I have found them to be a pleasant way to travel back to an earlier time, and once more infuse lost artists with youth and vitality so we can enjoy their musical gifts one more time.  I know we have recordings and videos of performers that have passed away but there is a magic generated between a performer and his/her audience at a live concert that just can't be captured by any existing form of media.   When a tribute singer (or band) is really talented, they can regenerate that magic of a shared human experience.   I doubt if technology will ever be able to replicate it.

I noticed a poster for another Beatlemania performance at Three Rivers (back by popular demand) scheduled for April 1 and 2, 2011. I hope I'll be able to indulge myself again - Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!!!

Elvis: '68 Comeback   Elvis on Tour   Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection (17 Films including Elvis on Tour / Jailhouse Rock / Viva Las Vegas / It Happened at the World's Fair and This Is Elvis)   Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii
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