Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Z is for Zarkana, Cirque du Soleil

To celebrate the end of the A to Z Blog Challenge, I plan to see Zarkana!

Zarkana, “a fantastically twisted acrobatic extravaganza,” will begin its second season in New York City at the Radio City Music Hall on June 6, 2012. It is an “operatic rock opera that blends circus acts with the surreal.”

Zark has lost his true love along with his magical powers. He wants to regain both. Through chaos and craziness, Zark struggles to find his love, and when he does, Joy-filled festivities break out. Incredibly choreographed, the story unfolds through  gravity-defying acrobatics, flying trapeze acts,  gymnastics stunts, and elaborate dance.

See the video clip at the end of this post to catch a glimpse of the special effects in this magical kaleidoscope of lights, sounds, colors, (outlandish) costumes, and actions.

Many words have been used to capture the essence of Zarkana (and other Cirque du Soleil performances): extravagant, surreal, mesmerizing, extraordinary, spectacular, flamboyant, fantastic, but none of these words adequately describes these truly indescribable events. One simply has to experience one of these shows to understand why describing it is so difficult. So much occurs on stage at all times that your head will swivel throughout the performance.

The stage set for Zarkana has a reported weight of 800,000 pounds. With a working budget of $50 million, the show must fill 6,000 seats a night. But don’t worry, Cirque du Soleil has sold 100 million tickets since its opening in 1984.

I saw my first Cirque du Soleil performance, La Nouba, in Orlando. It was so incredible, I had to see it again.

Other Cirque du Soleil shows can be seen in Los Angeles,  Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and in Canada and Europe. If you have a chance, go see a Cirque performance. Take your children, too. They will love it.


Y is for Yowling on Any and Every Occasion

Cats are endearing creatures, but one of their less endearing habits is yowling.

Presenting The Lady Ginger, champion yowler. She yowls on any and every occasion!


Check out The Lady Ginger’s Metro Goldwyn Ginger Yowl!


X is for X is a Tough Letter

X is a tough letter.

Even Webster’s New World Dictionary can’t post more than a page and a half or so of X-words. Eliminate proper nouns, and you have just slightly over one page of X-words.

Most of these X-words are not very common: xanthein, Xanthippe (she sounds like an interesting character!), xebec, xenon, xeroderma, xylold, and xyster. How many of these words did you recognize?

Here’s a xenops (the bird) and a xiaosaurus (the dinosaur). You do recognize these, don’t you?

X-ray and xylophone seem to be the big winners for being the most known X-words, with both of them hitting the big time on alphabet charts for kids. (Hey, a few alphabet chart makers tried to be different by using fox and eXhale for the letter X. Try drawing eXhale so a child can understand what the heck it’s supposed to be!)

Look for middle and ending Xs, and maybe you can find a few more: axe, saxophone, Texas, taxes, New Mexico, six, mix, Kix,  fox, box, ox, Xerox, addax, calyx, kexes, zaxes. . . .

Let’s not forget the U.S. Government. It has a very special use for X as seen in Taxes from A to Z.  X is a substitute for a signature in certain cases. Now that’s a pretty important use of X!


How many words can you think of that have Xs? (And no fair checking a Scrabble dictionary or Internet list.)

W is for Wild Walker Woman Wowsem!

Check out  94-year-old Mathilda. She was 26 during World War II and danced during the Big Band Era. But what can she do now?


Hope I will be still walking at that age!

V is for Va-ca-tion in Italy

The other day I mentioned that serendipity is one of my favorite words. Here is another word I love: vacation. Say it slowly and listen to all of its sounds: va–ca–tion. Lovely.

It sounds even better when you say,”Va-ca-tion be-gins on Fri-day.”

Of course, one could say that I am on vacation all the time since I am retired. But no, that’s not true. Time gets filled up with the essentials of living after you get your official AARP card! How did we do all this before we retired?

This Saturday in Florence, I will meet my sister-in-law, Carol; my niece, Christine; and her friend, Inger. Then we are off to our villa in Positano, Tuscany for a week. The villa is close to San Gimignano, a well-preserved medieval town. We hope to visit  San Gimignano at sunset before we retire to recover from jet lag, then visit it again on Sunday.

From Positano we will make day trips to visit various small towns in the region. On one long day trip from our villa, we will explore the Italian Riviera, Pisa, Livorno, and Volterra.

Other towns we plan to visit: Siena, Lucca, Chianti, Montepulciano, and of course, more time in Florence.

In Florence, we will do a bike tour to get our orientation to the city, before spending time over two days to visit the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, the Ponte Vecchio, Galleria dell’Academia to see the statue of David, and any other sites we can work into the schedule. Of course, cafes, market places, and trattorias are on the schedule, too. I’m afraid we will be typical tourists in the sense that we will try to cram in as much as we can see in a short visit.

On Saturday, Carol and I will leave for Rome by train. Christine and Inger will head back to their homes in Norway.

In Rome, we’ll take the hop-on, hop-off bus to get a general orientation to the city, then over the week’s time, we’ll visit the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. We will take a day trip to Pompeii later in the week. Our hotel in Rome, the Hotel Navona, is centrally located in the Piazza Navona.

I am sure we will run out of time before we run out of things to see, but we will do our best to see as much as possible. This will be my third trip to Rome, but I still plan to see all of these sights as a first-timer, with wide eyes and an eagerness to learn everything. I plan to take a lot of pictures for future posts so I can share my experiences with you.

So for now, Ciao. I leave on Friday, April 27. Don’t worry, my posts for X, Y, and Z for the rest of April are ready almost ready to go. Early May will feature some leftover A to Z posts.

U is for Urchins, Not the Kid Kind

One of the hazards experiences of travel, is the serendipitous connection you make with food.

When I lived in Alaska and was principal at North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, our school developed a sister school relationship with a school in Toyoura-cho, Hokkaido, Japan. After several years of sending giant poster letters, student artwork, and photos back and forth between the two schools, Toyoura Elementary School officially invited me to visit.

I had a wonderful time on the trip. I stayed with a host family, ate Japanese food, visited classrooms in this wonderful school, learned some Japanese words, tried my hand at ink painting, dressed in a kimono, made sesame rice balls and seaweed-wrapped sushi, and in general experienced everyday life in a small Japanese town.

One special event for the week was participating in Toyoura’s annual picnic in the park. This event, much like our holiday events, had food and crafts tents set up all around the perimeter of the park. I recognized a lot of the food, but some of it bewildered me I had never seen before.

As the official representative of North Star Elementary and honored guest, I was offered a Japanese delicacy: a spiny sea urchin.

What do you do when you are surrounded by hundreds of Japanese friends, and you are offered one of their favorite delicacies? Ummmmm. Someone handed me a pair of hashi (Japanese chopsticks) and showed me how to eat an urchin. Just dip your hashi into the center and pull out a tasty bite. Of course, the tasty bite is sea urchin ovaries, but no matter.

After a little hemming and hawing, I pulled a bit of the orangish sea urchin out of its shell and ate it. I honestly can’t remember what it tasted like; I just tried to swallow it as fast as I could.

Fortunately, there were only a few bits of urchin in the spiny shell, so I didn’t have to eat much. And I politely refused any additional sea urchins, magnanimously offering to share them with my travel mate.

Of course, I have traveled to many other countries after that trip and have tried other weird unusual foods, but that sea urchin lives in my memory as a stomach-churning tasty delicacy.


What is the weirdest food you have eaten?

T is for Taylor and Gabi’s Sign Language Cooking School

When teens get together, there’s always fun in store.

Watch Taylor and Gabi make rainbow cupcakes–giving directions in sign language.

Gabi is my very talented granddaughter, and Taylor is her very talented friend.

And of course, there has to be a cat or two in there somewhere. Clue: watch the bloopers, and you will see two black cats!

Enjoy the video that the kids made themselves.


S is for Serendipity-Doo-Dah

    Serendipity-doo-dah, serendipity-day,

My, oh my, what a wonderful day!

   Plenty of sunshine heading my way.

        Serendipity-doo-dah, serendipity-day.

Okay, so I changed the words to this song a bit, but doesn’t it make you feel happy just to sing it?

Serendipity is one of my favorite words. It not only sounds good, it has a wonderful meaning: making fortunate or accidental discoveries while searching for other things.

Although Horace Walpole (c. 1754) reportedly coined the word serendipity from a Persian fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip,” the story actually comes from a long oral tradition in India. Serendip (or Sarandip) is the former Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, an island off the southeastern coast of India.

The story goes something like this: The King of Serendip had three already well-educated sons, but he wanted them to have even more experiences so they would be wise leaders over the kingdom in the future. After a feigned disagreement, the King sent the princes away from Serendip, presumably to explore and learn more about the neighboring countries.

Out in the world, the three princes showed remarkable propensity for making seemingly wild, but educated guesses, that led to the recovery of a lame, one-eyed camel that had been recently stolen by a pregnant maiden. At first, the princes were accused of stealing the camel themselves since they knew so much about it, but the missing camel soon turned up wandering in the desert. After a short time of celebrating the camel’s return, the princes continued their world explorations.

The serendipity in this blog post is that it started out going in a totally different direction but soon took a turn of its own. In the process, I learned more about a very beautiful island whose theme, “One island. Many worlds.” can be seen in these photos. And now, I still have the first topic for another blog post. Serendipity!


Have you had a blog post that started out in one direction, then ended up somewhere else? What other serendipity discoveries have your made in your blog posts and in your life?

R is for Ruff (as in No Ruff Days)

One of my daily favorites is the email announcing a new #dogpic on the NoRuffDays blog.

The tag line for NoRuffDays is, “I hope to make a good day better and a ruff day good.”

It’s a bit of cheer that arrives in my inbox, a message I open as soon as I see it.

Now doesn’t today’s picture of an Australian Terrier just make you smile?

An inspiration thought or amusing comment for the day appears along with the promised dog picture. Today’s comment:

 And the sign said, “Long-haired freaky people need not apply.”- FIVE MAN ELECTRICAL BAND.

Klout says that I am influential in dogs and cats. I guess you can see why. I retweet NoRuffDays on a regular basis. Just trying to spread the cheer!

Have a great day.


Do you have a dog? What does your dog do that makes you smile?

Q is for (Eleven) Questions and Lonely Eleven

A to Z Blog Challenge: Letter Q       Blog Game: Eleven Questions       

Bonus at the end of this post: Lonely Eleven

I was just tagged by justjacqui2 in a bit of foolishness game called Eleven Questions. And as luck would have it, I have been tagged a second time by Mike Schulenberg. His questions are different than Jacqui’s, so I will answer his as the *drum roll* Second Eleven.

How handy. The letter Q in A to Z Blog Challenge is coming up here. I can check off two three birds challenges with one post.

And that also gives me one more item to add to my blog post on “10 Best Procrastination Techniques for Writers” (which I am putting off until May): get trapped tagged in one more blog challenge.

This Eleven Questions challenge requires three things:

  1. Answer the proposed set of questions. (Okay, but short answers they will be. I’m not seeking literary prizes!)
  2. Ask 11 new questions. (Easy. Guaranteed.)
  3. Identify 11 friends former friends blogger acquaintances bloggers who might will might answer the questions. (Okay: Sue, Mary, Ellen, George, Sabrina, Sarah, Lola, Henry, Tina, Angie, Robert. If your name is on this list, you are tagged!)

Seriously, this is sorta fun. And it did give me an idea for the A to Z letter of the day: Q for Questions.

First, I have to answer Jacqui’s questions.

1. Would you rather be trapped in a sanitarium or a Stephen King novel?

I understand that a sanitarium is a quiet resort in the mountains or by a beach where people go to rest. That sounds good to me. The beach would be fine. You think I am crazy enough to be trapped in a Stephen King novel? No way!

2. What’s the one thing that makes you smile no matter what?

Kittens, half-grown kittens, cats, YouTube videos of kitties, Simon’s Cat cartoon books….whatever, kitties always, always, always make me smile. (I wonder how my poor, non-cat-loving friend, Mo, puts up with me!)

3. What do you like most about yourself?

Do I have to answer that? Really, I don’t want to embarrass myself with the length of my list compendium catalog.

4. What is your greatest fear?

That I will get inundated with tags in the 1000 Quickie Question Quiz. I hear it’s going viral. Watch out, it might get you, too.

5. How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered when my friends make plans for their next trip or cruise. I’ll be ready to go when you are. Anytime. Anywhere.

6. Where do you want to be five years from now? Ten years?

Five years: At a nice beach anywhere in the world. Ten years: At a nice beach anywhere in the world. I just need to make sure I can plug in my computer somewhere.

7. Ninja or Samurai?

Ninjas are turtles. They like beaches. So I guess I’ll go with the turtles ninjas. One problem though. I posted a video of an attack turtle giving a passel of kitties a very hard time. My ninjas have to be pacifists. No fighting with my kitties! Or else!

8. Pick two: happy, humble, famous, rich.

Happy and humble. They both start with the letter H. Happy, Humble Heck has a nice alliterative ring. (I’ll add those qualities to my catalog in question 3.) Famous and rich don’t rhyme, and they are not alliterative words. They just wouldn’t go with my personality.

9. What is your favorite piece of music? 

Recently I have been singing the Hallelujah Chorus a lot–at church, in the shower, in the car. So that must be my favorite piece of music for now. Next week, I will be singing something else.

10. If you were a fictional character, what would be your fatal flaw?

Like Colombo, being enough of a smart alec that people won’t take me seriously. Really!

11. Telekinesis or pyrokinesis? Why?

I rather like the idea of telekinesis. Maybe I could get someone (my husband?) to pick up the broom and sweep the floor or open the dishwasher and empty it.

Now for Mike’s Eleven:

1. If you could live in a fiction world, where would that be?

A world where I would have to learn a new culture and language. I would prefer to live in a nonfiction world and learn a new culture and language in Italy, Spain, or France. I’d like a little kitty there, please.

2. Fiction or non-fiction?

I prefer nonfiction (memoirs, history, travelogs), but I also read a lot of fiction (mystery, suspense, crime, historical fiction). I read a lot, but I wish I had even more time to read. My TBR pile is enormous. And even my Kindle is getting heavier with all of my selections.

3. Do you read in noisy or quiet places?

I can read anywhere. I can read and carry on a conversation. Of course, I won’t remember what you say, but no matter.

4. Do reviews influence your choice of reads?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A good review will make me go and buy the book. For nonfiction, intriguing titles catch my attention. I recently read Indigo, In Search of the Color that Seduced the World by Catherine E. McKinley and loved it. I found it on the New Books shelf at the local library.

5. Audio books or paperbacks?

Both. I like audio books in the car. Paperbacks at the beach. My Kindle the rest of the time.

6. What was the first book you remember reading?

I remember reading all the stories in my basal reader in school–before the class read them round-robbin. Yes, I went to school a long time ago. And I loved the stories in the basal readers. Well, except for the Dick and Jane stuff.

7. Favorite author?

Poet T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

8. Classic or Modern Novels?

Probably classic novels.

9. Have you ever met your favorite author?

When I was in college, I went to Boston to an event where T.S.Eliot read his work. That’s where I met Old Possum and his Practical Cats. There was a big crowd, so I didn’t meet him personally.

10. Book groups or solitary reading?

Both. I belong to a book group in my church, and we meet once a month. I also read a wide variety of material on my own, mostly nonfiction.

11. If you could read only one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Something timeless, that encourages strong values, with memorable selections, some poetry, some prose, some biography, some history, some intrigue, maybe a few murders, maybe some philosophy, religion… Hmmm, that sound remarkably like the Bible.

Now for eleven questions to be answered.   This means you: Sue, Mary, Ellen, George, Sabrina, Sarah, Lola, Henry, Tina, Angie, Robert. Anyone else, feel free to answer! I need some new people to pick on in challenges friends.

Really, I would like to get to know you. Seriously.

  1. What is the name of your blog?
  2. What is the address of your blog?
  3. What is the logline of your blog?
  4. What is the theme of your blog?
  5. How long have you been blogging?
  6. WordPress, Blogger,Technorati, Weebly, or Hub?
  7. What do you love about your blog host? What do you hate?
  8. Which blogger challenges have you been hit with bombarded tagged with?
  9. Do you like mayonnaise or mustard with your blog?
  10. What do you wish you could do over with your blog?
  11. What was your biggest mistake on your blog?


Now, for those of you who have hung in there this far, here is a little treat: one of my favorite Sesame Street cartoons: “Lonely Eleven,”  by Amanda Heck and Mari Jaye Blanchard.

Mari Jaye did the illustrations and Mandy (my step-daughter) wrote and sang the lyrics. Heck, it’s a good cartoon, even without cats. Really. Seriously.


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