HOW OFTEN DO PLAGUES HIT OUR WORLD? – Marilyn Armstrong

Epidemics happen and they happen regularly and surprisingly often. Humans have a funny way of forgetting anything that happened more than 10 years ago. Not studying history is bad enough, but not remembering what you actually lived through is pathetic.

This is an article about plagues: when they occurred and where. We don’t know much about ancient plagues except for two in China, about 5,000 years ago. But since the 14th century, there have become more common. The nearer we get to “now,” the more frequent plagues become.

This is the article if you care to do a little historical reading:
https://www.livescience.com/worst-epidemics-and-pandemics-in-history.html

Many folks assume people dealt better with plagues back when we were more in tune with the earth and our environment. Nice theory, but not true. We didn’t deal with them any better. We died by the millions. If we hadn’t, we probably would have despoiled the earth even sooner.

There were fewer people in the world in the 14th century,  but following the Black Plague, entire cities disappeared. Provinces were wiped out. Nobody has the exact numbers, but it’s likely more than half — and possible more like 70% and above — died in that plague. It changed Europe, it changed world history.

There were no peasants left to till the soil leading to starvation. There was no medicine. There were areas in England where literally no one survived the plague. From the youngest baby to the oldest man or woman, everyone died. There was little communication and no one knew what was coming until it arrived.

The 14th century has been much written about because those have always been considered the worst years the human race ever experienced. The Plague hit in 1347 and returned three times during that century and several times in later centuries. It is still around today, but massive amounts of antibiotics keep most people alive. It’s still a killer.

In the 14th century, without antibiotics, hospitals, central government, and grueling poverty, it killed everyone it touched. Poverty was nearly universal. The Crusades had gutted the nobility. Between constant war and Plague, more than half of the nobles in England descended into peasantry or if they were lucky, the emerging middle class.

Some good came out of it, but the good part was the direct result of the millions of deaths. After the number of people was hugely reduced, survivors were able to improve their living conditions. Great manors were desperate for workers which gave serfs an opportunity to move up in the world. Though serfs were tied to the land, with many lords and ladies dead of plague or warfare, serfs could sell their services. It was the end of serfdom.

Closeness to the land didn’t help anyone. What helped was cleanliness, hygiene, and a minimum of rats. Jews who were “locked up” anyway survived better because they were cleaner than their neighbors and lived in areas with walls and didn’t go out into the community. They also had better doctors.

Plagues hit. Regularly and with the world so crowded, more often.

How much damage a plague does has everything to do with how contagious it is and who it kills. This one is less lethal than the Spanish Flu of 100-years ago, but it is more contagious. Thus far, it hasn’t mutated, which means that if and when they find a vaccine, it’s likely to be a long-term vaccine. Unlike the flu, you won’t need annual inoculations.

Covid 19 is less a killer than other plagues, but it kills. Despite medical advances, it responds to no known medications.

There are far too many morons in charge of other countries, but in the U.S. with all our power, this is a tragedy. Regardless of who wins the election in November, this is a terrible time in our history. We knew — anyone with a brain knew — this disease was coming. Our government did nothing. It’s not a failure to be in touch with the earth, though that is another major issue. We are paying a heavy price for allowing and encouraging bad government.

Did you not think having an ignorant, bigoted president who has probably never read a book would fail to come back to haunt you? Some chickens always come home to roost.

CELEBRATING WW3 SINCE WE WON’T HAVE TIME LATER – Marilyn Armstrong

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO NATIONAL BROTHERHOOD WEEK? LET’S START CELEBRATING WORLD WAR THREE TODAY SINCE WE WON ‘T HAVE TIME, LATER.


Way back in the dark ages, the third week in February (an otherwise dreary and neglected month) was designated National Brotherhood Week. As designated special weeks go, it was never a big hit with the general public. In the 1980s, it disappeared. Probably because it failed to sell greeting cards which is probably the point of such created events.

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The National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ) came up with the idea of National Brotherhood Week in 1934. Given the current political climate, maybe we can agree more brotherhood year-round would be an improvement. Sadly, we no longer have even that one, measly week.

February is Black History Month these days. Movie channels run films featuring non-white stars.

The guy who took it seriously — even way back in the old days — was Tom Lehrer. He taught math at Hahvid (Harvard, if you aren’t from around here). He didn’t write a lot of songs since he, till his dying day (which hasn’t occurred yet — he’s alive and living in California), thought of himself as a math teacher who wrote silly songs rather than as an entertainer.

Despite this unfair self-assessment, I’ve always felt Tom got this particular holiday dead to rights. Ya’ think?

He got a lot of stuff right. Check him out on YouTube. He only wrote about 50 songs and most of them are posted in some video or other. Me? I own the CDs.

And because the news has been so … fraught … I thought I’d add a couple  more shockingly relevant songs.

My, how times have not really changed — except we really do have colored TV pretty much everywhere! Facebook and Twitter too.

BRAIN SNOBS – Marilyn Armstrong

It isn’t just culture that divides us into classes. What we watch on television, see in the movies, and read also puts us into a category, often unfairly by people who don’t “get” why we like what we like.

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I read a post about how dreadful — yet gripping — romance novels can be. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that anyone who reads them is probably not too bright. While it’s true that romance novels are the potato chips of the literary world (bet you can’t eat just one) that’s not the point.

double dip in bookcase

As a former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I assure you that research showed readers of romance novels are better educated than most readers.

They read romance novels because they are pulp. Those readers aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down, and forget. If life gets in the way, they can just never finish the story — without regret.

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I read each 3-book volume, every month. Three romances: 2 modern manuscripts with a Gothic novel sandwiched in between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would prefer people to read, many people (including me!) don’t necessarily want to read “good” books. I void “good” books. I don’t want to go where that book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it. Don’t enjoy the subject matter. Don’t need to be further depressed by the ugly realities of life or history.

Good books can be too intense, too serious, or for too educational for this moment in time. Too close to reality. I read to be entertained. I’m not seeking enlightenment through literature. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment through literature. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

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The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many. Enough genres, themes, and styles for everyone. An infinity of literature. No matter what your taste — low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

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I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too.

Snobs suck the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s okay with me. I love reading about vampires and witches. I’d be more than a hypocrite to act as if your taste is inferior to mine.

old favorite books

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for anything serious — except maybe a conversation. Tastes change over time. Life has been a very serious business for too many years. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I want to escape, Reality will still be there when I get back.

Finally, my favorite professor at the university I attended — a man I believe was profound and wise — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was much truth in those books. I believe for him, there was.

JEWELRY AS FAMILY HISTORY, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Whenever my daughter, Sarah, comes to visit from LA, we always take a trip down memory lane together – in my jewelry drawers. I used to have all the jewelry I kept from my grandmother and my mom and my earlier years in shoe boxes and Tupperware containers that were stashed away in a closet. Then one year Sarah decided that we should organize all the old jewelry and display it in easy to access drawers, which we did. We discovered many pieces that I can still wear and those got transferred into my personal jewelry collection.

Now every year, Sarah and I go through our neatly organized drawers, reminiscing and trying on pieces of our family history. Here is a sampling of our favorite ‘historical’ treasures.

The two necklaces below belonged to my grandmother and I believe came with her to the US from Russia around 1908. I remember her wearing the one on the right and I always felt that they had a ‘European’ look to them.

My grandmother’s primary, go to piece of jewelry was the pin. She never wore earrings,  bracelets or rings. But she wore pins in may ways, like at her neck with a high collared dress, to hold a scarf in place (she loved scarves) and on her chest, on their own. She was very conservative in her taste but liked good quality, well designed pieces.

In the ‘olden’ days, no woman’s wardrobe was complete without a collection of pearl necklaces. Below is Grandma’s three strand, ‘evening’ pearl necklace but she also had single and double strands of varying sizes.

Now onto my mother, who was born in 1916 and started her jewelry collection around the 1930s, as a teenager. Her early pieces were primarily Bohemian in style, with many Beaus Arts/Art Deco touches. Her style changed dramatically as she got older and she later favored large, bold, ‘funkier’ statement pieces. So looking back at her early collection is always odd for me because I never knew the woman who would wear these pieces.

I love this Beaux-Arts/ Art Deco bracelet and I still wear it all the time.

My mother’s style-evolution can be seen, to some extent, in her two wedding rings. She married her first husband in 1936 with a small but interesting band. The wedding ring she wore after she married my father, in 1949, was big and flashy and not really a wedding band at all. She had a large collection of big rings which I gave to her friends when she died because neither Sarah nor I wanted to wear anything that big.

The mother I remember, and the grandmother Sarah knew, loved chunky, big necklaces. She was short but very busty and broad-shouldered, so she wanted her chest to make a style statement. It’s hard to tell how big her pieces actually were since I gave away the bigger ones to her friends after she died.

The green and gold piece below is only HALF of a two-tiered necklace that I deconstructed because I couldn’t wear it in its original state. The second tier was also gold balls with green stones, so you can imagine how bulky it was. Even as it is, it’s a bit too large for me but I do wear it every once in a while. I mostly keep it for sentimental reasons.

A sample of the big and ‘clunky’ neckpieces my mother favored.

My mother rarely bought any ‘real’ jewelry because she favored the larger costume pieces. But she did like sparkle for the evening, so she had some crystal/glass pieces in her wardrobe for dressing to the nines, which people often did in the fifties and sixties. She wore ‘evening’ clothes, often long dresses, at least once or twice a month. As a child, I used to love helping her decide what clothes and jewelry to wear when she went out at night. Maybe that’s why I’m so attached to her jewelry.

In her later years, I introduced my mom to the Craft Show and she ended up buying a lot of her costume jewelry there. At that point, our tastes had grown together and we both liked interesting, unusual, pieces that people would notice and comment on. So often she and I would buy from some of the same craft artists. The glass jewelry below is an example of something we both bought and wore. She bought the necklaces but I wear them now. The earrings are mine because she never pierced her ears.

My mother only wore clip on earrings and I couldn’t tolerate clips, so I gave away all of her earrings, which were as big and full of personality as all her other jewelry. I did keep one pair though because it was one of the last pieces of jewelry that I bought for her and because it represents the bright, fun, spunky spirit that characterized her and endeared her to everyone who knew her.

 

THE CONCERT: FEBRUARY 5, 2020 – DR. ANTON ARMSTRONG AND THE ST. OLAF CHOIR – Marilyn Armstrong

I wish I could play you the music and listen to Anton speak. But I took pictures of the performance at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was built in 1857 and has that beautiful sound that only halls built before we tried improving them have.

The Choir Bus!

Photo: Owen Kraus

I probably should mention that Anton is Garry’s youngest brother. It’s always a delight when he is in town.

Brothers!

The beginning …

The choir was, as always wonderful. Even more important for Garry and me was the Anton stepped up. He talked about the climate, injustice, slavery. He made the concert not merely beautiful, but relevant.

It was a very good evening at the end of a very bad day.

VISIT TO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM, PART 3 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

This is the third installment of photos from my trip to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. We only covered the furniture and decorative arts section of the American Wing. Here are more photos, this time of miscellaneous things that caught my eye.

Ceramics from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century

I loved this early 20th century piece

Very contemporary looking vase

An assortment of old clocks

Early American doll and doll accessories. I love the coach!

More doll furniture and an adorable toy horse for the dolls!

Painted wood chest from colonial times

Another example of a painted wood chest

Plates painted in the American style

Plates painted in a more typical Oriental Style

Ceiling from the recreated Frank Lloyd Wright room

Door and wall lamp designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in the Frank Lloyd Wright room

Ornate street lamp just outside the American Wing of the Met

Silver vase with gemstones

Odd work desk with bag hanging underneath to store work materials, like for sewing.

Unique piece pairing wood and stained glass

Recreated room with wallpaper on all the walls with different views of a single scene

Another wall of wallpaper with no repeat patterns, just a continual scene going around the room

Wall over the fireplace continuing the rustic scene

 

MY TRIP TO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently took a trip to New York City with my visiting daughter, to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We only visited one part of the museum, the American Wing. We focused on the furniture and decorative arts section. My daughter is studying Interior Design so this was her dream day in the city.

I took lots of photos of items that captured my imagination and I want to share them with you. I’ll start with the numerous Tiffany items that I particularly liked.

Tiffany stained glass landscape

Detail of the Tiffany landscape

Another Tiffany stained glass panel

An unusual Tiffany mosaic that was originally on a seafood restaurant facade!

Some Tiffany glass desk chatchkis

A Tiffany picture frame – one of my favorite pieces of the day.

Here’s a piece of Tiffany jewelry – an amazing brooch

A gorgeous grapevine themed Tiffany necklace that reminds me of the grapevine stained glass panel.

Another favorite piece – a Tiffany lamp.

Magnificent, large Tiffany vase

Here are some non Tiffany glass pieces.

Beautiful glass work

Some more elegant glass pieces

Two very cool decorative glass pieces!

Simple but beautiful lines.

THE MAVEN ANNOUNCES “IT’S MOVIE NIGHT AT THE UXBRIDGE SENIOR CENTER”! – Garry Armstrong

Hey, movie mavens!  Tomorrow night it’s “Roll Everything!” as I host “Rustlers’ Rhapsody” at the Uxbridge Senior Citizens Center on Main Street in downtown Uxbridge.

It starts at 5:30 pm with refreshments and trivia prep time.

At 6pm, it’s curtain time for “Rustlers’ Rhapsody,”  a wonderful 1985 spoof and homage to those wonderful “B” westerns of our childhood. Surely, you remember the Saturday matinees at your favorite neighborhood theater? You know, where the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black.

The plots were simple. Good versus evil. Good always won. The heroes had nice outfits. The villains usually wore dirty, ill-fitting garb you could smell from your front row seats as you chowed down popcorn, juji-fruits and hot dogs.

At 7:45 pm, it will be Q&A time as we swap trivia about favorite movies.  Maybe the featured film will sharpen your recall of those golden olden days.

“Rustler’s Rhapsody” fondly remembers heroes like Roy and Gene. There’s a nice bit of surprise casting that will leave you smiling. If you know who I’m talking about, mum’s the word.

You’ll find yourself singing along with the wonderful ballad at film’s end that definitely will have you recollecting your days of innocence, lost in the wild west where there was no doubt about law and order.

So, saddle up your cow pony and ride the high country to the Uxbridge Senior Citizens’ Center tomorrow night.  We’ll start the show at 7pm. We need your help to smoke out all those bad hombres.

That includes YOU, Pilgrim!

AN IMPRESSIONISTIC ARRAY OF PURPLE ORCHIDS – Marilyn Armstrong

THE DAY OF THE PURPLE ORCHID – 9-17-2019

I just felt like playing with the pictures. I have such a huge array of filters by now, but I rarely do anything playful with the pictures. All of these are definitely playful and mostly, impressionistic.

Mostly, I think I like them. Mostly.

FROM DUST WE COME, TO DUST WE RETURN – Marilyn Armstrong

A few nights ago, we watched one of the “Orville” episodes on Hulu. This episode was about finding a lost cell phone from a “time capsule” on earth and how someone recreated that world on the Holodeck. He fell in love with the girl on the phone, but of course, it couldn’t work. Past is past.

I love time-travel stories. In fact, Garry and I are quite addicted to them. The first movie he ever brought over to show me was “Somewhere in Time” which is a time-travel love story. I liked the movie so much I haven’t wanted to read the book. I want the images from the picture.

I understand, as a generation, we will disappear rather faster than previous generations simply because so much of the material we’ve created is electronic. Our things have no physical structure. We can’t store them except on our devices. When we pass, our computers will pass too if not immediately, then eventually. Time will make our computers useless anyway because technology is everchanging.

Dawn in Vineyard Haven.

Our photographs will largely disappear when we die. As we vanish, our memories will vanish unless we wrote them down somewhere in a book that isn’t immediately forgotten. It is a rare family (usually a wealthy one) where the past is saved through centuries. Even those ultimately disappear because time goes on beyond remembering.

Vineyard art

I’ve visited a few castles of great lords of Egypt (there are a few in Israel, including Lachish), plus of course Canaan, England, Ireland, and Wales. The oldest ones are rocks and ruin. What didn’t disintegrate through time was destroyed by earthquakes or other natural events. Many great monuments remain, but no one knows who built them or when. Personal belongings have long turned to dust so we can but imagine what the lives of those people might have been. I’m sure we are more wrong than right in what we want to believe.

Assuming we find a way out of today’s current mess and build a kinder, better world, bits and pieces of us will hang around, no doubt transferred to some new medium. It will be less than previous generations left.

Giant Rose Famille Ginger jar

I thought about all the photographs. Almost all will be lost because they were never printed. They have no physical reality. I even wondered (briefly) if I should print some — even tiny versions — just so there would be a physical record they existed. Then I realized no one would want the pictures anyway.

Let me rephrase that. They might want them, but they have nowhere to put them. That’s why when Garry was cleaning out his parent’s house, I was afraid he’d bring back stuff. It wasn’t that the material was not important. It was that we have no room for it.

Little things

Our walls and cabinets, closets and shelves — everything is full. The attic hasn’t much in it because it’s not really an attic. It’s full of fiberglass to keep heat in the house.

Funny how insulation was a big issue when we moved here. Now, I wish we had better ways to move air around so it wouldn’t be so hot!

More little things

Times change. Hopefully, enough of our world will be saved somehow and somewhere. For all I know, some planet in the great out-there has all our TV shows, music, books, and photographs. Maybe they are building a new world based on what they see in our old stories and pictures.

EVALUATING ART – Marilyn Armstrong

In the course of time, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. Much of the stuff is old Asian art — mostly  Chinese and some Japanese porcelain from Han to Qing dynasties.

I have no idea what it’s worth.

I think Tibetan – Hard to know dates on bronze pieces

Buddha, Tibet, probably 18th or 19th century

I didn’t buy it from major art houses and much of it has no provenance, so I have no way to prove where I got it … with a few exceptions that I got through the Chinese government agency and it has a number and a label. But these are small pieces and not worth huge amounts of money, or at least I don’t think they are.

Lots of pieces, many Chinese, some modern artist

Crica 1965 Wedgewood

But it has been years since I got them and prices have changed dramatically. I also have some nice original paintings – watercolors and oils. These, except for one which was a wedding gift, were bought from galleries. Again, all were bought at least 20 (or more) years ago, so I have no idea what they are worth or if they are worth anything. I didn’t buy them for their art value. I just liked them.

Cast iron Scotties (1880ish?)

1800s cast iron elephant

I guess what I need is an art evaluator to come to this house and look at all the pieces and give me an estimate of their worth. I know that places like Sotheby’s do this, but they tend to be low-ball estimators because they are looking for pieces that can resell and the less they pay you, the better for them. On the plus side, if you can reach an agreement, they take the stuff away and you aren’t left with figuring out what to do with some really fragile, delicate artwork.

Japanese pre-WWII tea set — I think

Even my son pointed out that I have some pretty nice art hanging on the walls and I said I didn’t think it was worth much since with a few exceptions, none of the artists was or is famous.

Qing dynasty rice bowl, typically used by field workers. The blue chicken is a cultural thing. The bowl is almost 200 years old — and it isn’t even close to my oldest pieces of pottery.

I could be wrong. I could be very wrong. I could also be absolutely right and what I’ve got are some pretty pieces that aren’t worth much. I have no idea.

I don’t even know enough to take a good guess. A lot of my Chinese stuff I can’t find out about because all the books about it are in Chinese. Asian art only became valuable recently.

Han pot (I had two, but I gave one away)

For years, it was considered junk by the Chinese who were convinced that anything old was worthless. Eventually, over the past 20 years, they have re-evaluated that opinion for which I was grateful because they were using crushed ancient Han pots to build roads.

Sui dynasty musicians. These are very old but have been restored. Restored pieces are much less valuable than originals

So here’s a question: do any of you know any art evaluators who I could enlist to help me figure out what I’ve got? Please, if anyone knows somebody who knows somebody who might be able to help me make some kind of estimate of what this stuff is worth, please be in touch.

Two Acoma seed pots

I’ve always been under the assumption that it isn’t worth much, but so many people have told me I’m wrong, I have to assume maybe they know something I don’t know.

IT’S A MASTERPIECE! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Masterpiece

They gasped at its originality. The family matron was bowled over by its original design and creative conceptual images. Even the family teenagers were completely awestruck by its astonishing combination of colors and textures.

They took pictures of it and sent them all over the internet.

The artist was unimpressed. She kept sucking on her dummy and gurgling for more fingerpaints. Her genius would not be fully discovered until at least kindergarten.

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

In 1987 I saw a play at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York City that stayed with me for over 30 years. It affected me so deeply that when it returned to Broadway this year, I felt compelled to see it again. It was called Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, was written by Terrance McNally and in 1987 it starred Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham.

Add for the original production I saw in 1987

The current production on Broadway stars Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon and it lived up to my glorified memories. It’s an artfully written character piece involving a waitress, Frankie, on a one-night stand/first date with Johnny, the new short-order cook at her low-end restaurant.

Headshots of the two stars today

Everything about the play is simple and sparse – just two people in Frankie’s small, shabby and depressing apartment in New York City. The costumes are also minimal – a nondescript robe, a plain white shirt.

The play is a study of contrasts. The characters begin the play physically exposed but emotionally unconnected and end the play clothed but emotionally exposed and beginning to connect. The actors are magnificent in their portrayal of these lonely people and their gradual movement toward each other.

Scenes from the play

Frankie starts out closed off and defensive, pathologically afraid of commitment and forcefully pushing Johnny away. Yet McDonald manages to make you understand her and even like her, despite the walls she puts up to protect herself. Johnny is a bull in a china shop, openly expressing his need for closeness, crashing into her emotional barriers in his clumsy but persistent and sincere attempts to break them down.

He wears his neediness on his sleeve and she is all resistance and rejection. He desperately and poignantly wants to connect with her and she is terrified, fighting tooth and nail against opening up to him.

Scene from the play

The piece is beautifully constructed as a will she or won’t she mystery – will she eventually let him in? The first act ends with the audience wondering, along with Frankie, whether or not Johnny is a deranged stalker. By the end of the play, Johnny’s acknowledgment of loneliness and his desire not to be, seem more ‘normal’ than Frankie’s insistence that she’s not lonely and doesn’t need people in her life.

A scene from the play

The emotional dance is accompanied by a well-timed, musical dance of words, often laugh out loud funny. At one point, my husband whispered to me that he didn’t realize that this was a comedy. McNally writes so skillfully that even while the audience is laughing, it is also emotionally engaged. It’s one of the few plays I’ve seen that I also want to read so I can savor the language and the verbal sparring.

Everything about this production meshed beautifully. It was one of the most all-around enjoyable and gratifying experiences I’ve had in the theater in a long time.

KARIN LAINE MCMILLEN AND SUMMERTIME – Marilyn Armstrong

Absolutely Not Cacophony

She has swans. She has a beloved dog and a pond for her swans. And she has a voice.

Cacophony is noise. This is a joyful noise.

Karin Laine McMillen and a song to go with the heat, humidity … and summertime.