Harry Potter Jazz

From a fun son: Drew Nichols, “Harry Potter Jazz” 

Drew Nichols as Drewlius Lumblelore
Drew Nichols as Drewlius Lumblelore

Friday Flick: Music with Shining Eyes

If you’ve never loved classical music before, give Ben Zander twenty-one minutes to change your heart. If you’ve loved it already, share this with someone who could use a little healing. Ben conducts the Boston Philharmonic and speaks about his transformative experience with Landmark Education–a beautiful combination. This is Benjamin Zander’s TED talk.

Benjamin Zander at TED: Music with Shining Eyes
Benjamin Zander at TED: Music with Shining Eyes


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

Image YouTube screenshot

Most Beautiful Words

A reposting of a list of 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language has me wondering what my own favorites would be.

For example, bucolic doesn’t make my list. Its meaning, in a lovely rural setting, certainly qualifies, and that definition chimes beautifully in the ear, but bucolic’s cacophonous sound suggests it would mean sick cow.

Nor do I care for long latinate words when a more accessible word will do. I prefer cat lover to ailurophile.

I  concur on onomatopeia and panacea, but my favorite word has to be lullaby.

Remember when Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street sang the L song? Bert had “light bulb and lamp post,” while Ernie advocated the “lilting and lovely ones” like “laughter, lullaby, lollypop.” So Bert the boring came up with “linoleum!” The humor came in juxtaposing a melodic word with its pedestrian meaning.

For me, the most beautiful word captures the precise meaning you’re looking for, its phonetic symbolism matches its meaning, and its cadence fits the prosody of your passage. Good thing we can rummage around in this language with the largest vocabulary available; with a half million words to choose from, sometimes we can have it all.

What would you nominate as a most beautiful word?

Rhyme Time

Children’s book editors conventionally whine about rhyme. It’s so hard to write tight in rhythm and rhyme, they’d rather not brave it. Then they have children of their own, and discover how much fun great rhyming can be. And any elementary school teacher could tell you how important rhyme is for reading readiness.

Editor Allyn Johnston said, “My feelings about rhyming picture books really did change after our son was born. I used to be a complete pill about how much I disliked them, and then my husband and I spent endless hours reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Dr. Seuss books and The Seven Silly Eaters and Time for Bed and Hattie and the Fox (and other young Mem Fox books), and I saw how much fun it was to laugh and cuddle and repeat goofy stanzas with Eamon–and I became a convert. We still have rhymes we say to each other in silly moments from those early years. So now I feel that when rhyme is great, there’s nothing like it to engage very young children with books. (Mem’s adult book Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children will Change Their Lives Forever includes lots of great info on this topic.)” (More with Barb Odanaka’s SkateboardMom.com interview.)

So there are times to rhyme. The summer between high school and college, I hadn’t received an acceptance from my university’s honor’s program so I could register for classes. To nag politely and humorously, I inquired about it in several stanzas of verse. And as soon as I mailed it, I about died. What a stupid freshman thing to do. Now they’d change their minds and reject me for sure.

The reply must have been sent by return mail. It was an apology, acceptance, and welcome, all in verse, saying that even if I hadn’t already deserved a place in the program, my verse would have won the appeal. Better yet, when I arrived on campus, I was interviewed by the author of that reply, the president of the honors students and a handsome, single, senior guy majoring in economics. If I hadn’t felt so young by comparison, I’d have had a crush.

I do side with the editors who cringe when the rhythm or rhyme is forced and overthrows all sense. It’s usually a hard-won skill to do it well, but anyone can play with it. So try rhyme sometime. There are plenty of rhyming dictionaries to aid and abet you, but I love Mathew Healy’s simple and elegant rhyme sublime tool at WriteRhymes.com:

WriteRhymes screenshot


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

College Endeavor

NASA Chuck Tintera Endeavor final landing 05 31 2011
For NASA by Chuck Tintera: Endeavor final landing 05 31 2011

With the final landing of Endeavor, this shuttle chapter of space exploration will be closing soon. At the moment, I’m closing a college quarter and identifying with NASA. I have advantages over NASA: my physical life in adjunct teaching is only occasionally at risk, and I do know where I’m working for the summer.

But like NASA, this is also a career more celebrated than funded. Our institutions depend on our intelligence, passion, tolerance for uncertainty, and ability to make course corrections. Our circadian rhythms are rarely consistent, and even off-duty, our creative and critical thinking processes never end. When the project ends, evaluations are only beginning. Like NASA, we reclaim spare parts, including engines, for future study, and possible reuse.

And this time, some of my students are graduating. May they be happily and successfully launched.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © NASA by Chuck Tintera: Endeavor final landing 05 31 2011

Time Out

My computer has requested a break. It did break.

Bad news: my three years of Apple Care have recently expired, and it’s a defective logic board. “Sounds expensive,” I say.

“Very,” says Zane the Genius. Good news: it’s covered by the supplier NVIDIA because it’s under a recall.

Bad news: Apple and NVIDIA have known this was a bad batch. I even got one of the last of this model. Neither company thought I had a need to know.

Good news for them: they didn’t have to replace all of them, and only if and when our computers suddenly died. The expense to NVIDIA and trouble to Apple got spread out over several years. Very clever.

Bad news for them: I prefer to schedule recall replacements at my convenience, not without warning, so I’m griping about it online!

Good news for them: Zane was actually happy to have his suspicions confirmed by all the testing so he could help me. I suspect he’d find a way to make buying a new computer sound like a happy outcome. Great customer service skills.

Good news:  They had the logic board in stock.

Bad news: If I want the the lower case replaced (just for the defective latch) that part shipment adds a few days.

Good news: They discontinued that latching mechanism on newer models.

Good news: My computer is not dead. I get it back soon.

Good news: I have my data backed up–I think.

Good news: I’ll do more of those handwritten drafts I recently reminded you about.

Good news: I get to laugh about the irony of that.

Good news: The symbolism of having a defective logic board is not lost on me. (Does the one in my head need a replacement, a repair, or only a reinstall?)

Good news: My problems are minor.

Good news: I’ve been one diligent blogger and I’ve earned a few days off. See you around sometime.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All rights reserved.

My Secret Recipe

Cookies copyright Lauri Patterson iStock_000008692571
Photo copyright Lauri Patterson iStockPhoto #8692571

Yesterday, I was spinning with so many demands, I had to remind myself to stop and write my Morning Pages. (Thank you, Julia Cameron.) I’ve learned to think on paper so well, it’s surprising I manage to think anywhere else.

It turned out I was eager to bake cookies–and first thing, too. I had agreed to bake cookies (white chocolate, macadamia was the request) to thank a college musical ensemble for performing my son’s piece at the composer’s concert. I planned to bake that afternoon, after about four professional tasks, but Morning Pages ordered me to start now.

Morning Pages tend to know things I haven’t guessed–like how I was almost out of my favorite (gluten-free-but-you’d-never-know-it) baking mix. And did Morning Pages know it would take four stores to find it in stock?

The cookies turned out so well, they made Facebook headlines. 😀 (They were almost as good as the concert.)

I could have gone to the bakery–and I reserve the right to do that without notice. But this particular day, Morning Pages gave me permission to claim that luxury to make them myself, to serve my family in that way. Later I learned how stressed my son had been feeling, and I was glad I had been sending him some love. And other son was also in need of support. My mother heart was putting them first. Morning Pages know when to do that.

By the way, cookie-baking can be controversial in these modern times. Remember the press putting Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton through a First Lady cookie recipe contest? (Mine would have won.)

It’s tempting to become the hoarder of a secret recipe, but why? So I’ll be too busy baking cookies to write? Don’t think so. I’ll share; you bake the cookies.

Simply follow the recipe on the back of the giant bag of Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix, measuring precisely, using real butter and extra love–except I use pecans instead of walnuts in the chocolate chip version, and I made another batch with white chocolate and macadamias. I use a 1-1/2″ cookie scoop to form each ball and leave them rounded, baking on parchment paper. They turn out perfectly after only 12 minutes in my oven.

Full disclosure: nobody has done a thing for this unsolicited endorsement except create an exceptional product. Pamela’s features brown rice flour and almonds, and makes such good pancakes I was using this mix before our gluten diagnosis. (No wonder we felt great after eating them!) I can also rave about their corporate communications; their website and newsletters are outstanding examples of each. Additional disclosure: if Pamela’s finds this post and chooses to send me presents, I will greedily accept.

This might be a good time to add my own post script to Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Cookies books: “Writing. Telling friends and strangers how to bake your delicious cookies.”


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © Lauri Patterson iStockPhoto®  #8692571