Another World

We are back from what can only be termed an exotic vacation by the seaside, and the old brain nudged me to look for something written on marine life a while ago, and I did. I had written this post a few months ago, and forgot to publish it.

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So, here is the old post while I marshal my thoughts from the vacation.

One evening over dinner, the husband asked in what he thought was a nonchalant tone whether we should go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium that week-end.

“Hmm…Did they send you the renewal plea for the annual pass?” I asked shrewdly.

He laughed and said that they had indeed.

We are as gullible as galloping oysters in fish sauce when it comes to the annual pass gab. We look and analyze the thing from all angles and figure that if we go just once more in the next year, it all makes sense and buy the annual passes. The year ahead seems to be sprawling with empty week-ends. Week-after-week, month-after-month: having nothing to do, we say why not set aside one week-end a month for the Science museum, one for the zoo, one for the natural history museum and another for ecological preservation?

Then, of course life unfolds, which in the nourish-n-cherish household has been established to be somewhat erratic, and hectic, and we are left wondering whether the weekdays with all its attendant worries is calmer than week-ends with all its hectic activity. Before we know it, the renewal plea arrives and we try our best to scramble in another visit before the annual pass expires.

“If we go straight to the Diwali party from the museum, we can work in that week-end.”, we say and scramble in a trip to the Aquarium.

Anyway, what I meant is that we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few months ago. The salty, tangy, eucalyptus-scented air ruffles your hair as you make your way towards the museum. The cawing of the seagulls and the faint smells of seals and seaweed greet you long before the wonders inside.

Observing marine life is as mesmerizing as it is mystical. Standing there in front of the large glass tanks and looking at sharks, turtles, fish of every color and variety, is magical.

There is one section where we can see jellyfish boink around. Jellyfish that are colored brilliantly, transparent jellyfish, and jellyfish that contain bioluminescent bacteria. As I was standing there marveling at the brilliance of nature, I noticed that there were patterns in the glowing bacteria. Some had patterns that if one squinted one’s eyes resembled constellations in the night sky. I don’t know whether the patterns in the jellyfish are unique to each one much like the Zebra’s stripes are, but it would definitely not surprise me if that were the case. Nature’s patterns are as varied as they are diverse.

We came home that night, reluctantly pulling ourselves away from the enthralling environs of teeming marine life, and sat around for a hastily thrown together dinner. The conversation drifted towards marine life, a topic that is dear to the daughter’s heart. The love started young as we know to our chagrin – we might have watched Finding Nemo five hundred times when she was growing up. Every little fish and piece of coral was much loved in the home. The conversation flitted dangerously close to the ‘I wish I could live in the sea’ theme. The husband watched us for a moment and said in a strangely ruminative tone: “It is a scary world out there isn’t it? A-fish-eats-fish world.”

I was reminded of a quote that floats up in my mind every so often when I am observing the world around us. A quote that is prominently placed in the Monterey Bay Aquarium too:

The sea is as near as we come to another world: Anne Stevenson

Yes, it is a fish-eats-fish world, but it is also the world of beauty, survival, co-existence, and a symbiosis of life.

Can Llamas Use Zebra’s Mascara?

‘What can I do to help you for your play? Can I help you rehearse or give you some tips on how to render your lines?’, I asked the daughter one night. She is starring in ‘The Lion King’ musical in her school and I wanted to show my support. An act she was quite keen to avoid. We were fiddling about when I offered help, and she bucked alarmingly at this train of thought. She can diagnose an enthusiastic helper when she sees one, and she did not like it one bit.

‘No! Thanks.’, she said. Frosty and a tad too vehement perhaps, but I let it go.

‘How about ..?’

‘Amma – no! How about this? Apparently, we need to put on some make-up for the play… ’

I tchah-ed her and said, ‘We already have stuff from past years – I am sure the powder and the lipstick can be used – so what if it is a year or two or three old?’

‘Amma – there is an expiry date!’

‘Fine – we’ll check it. What else?’

‘Apparently, we need mascara – I am a hyena this time remember, so why don’t you go to the store and get me mascara? That’s help right?’, she said, and I agreed. She will make a good robotic manager one day.

Please stop me if you have heard me babble about my demented fashion sense or crocodile-crocodile before. One of the things I would have said, had I been a cosmetologist going about designing these moistening creams and so on,  was that there were so many different shades of people in the world. I mean, how do you come up with a cream that suits every complexion type? That is why the great cosmetic industry has given me a miss thus far and has prospered without my help.

Drop me in a cosmetic store and I bumble famously. Mascara, unlike facial creams, is easy. One color – black. I strode into the store with confidence. I surveyed the area and located the cosmetics section. Once in there, I balked at the lipsticks and sneered at the nail polishes and went straight to the section that has eye-stuff. Golly beans!

I mean, I had no idea, which just goes to prove that confident strides mean nothing if you don’t know the different types of eye make-up available in the eye cosmetic department. I stared limply at the multi-colored eyebrow pencils, eye pencils (they are different apparently, and I had no idea green eye liner was a thing), liquid eye liners, eye shadows, and I had not even touched the eyelid section. By the time I crawled to the eyelash section, my eyes looked like it could do with a dash of all the above to make it look peppy.

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Finally, I saw what I was looking for: extra voluminous mascara, the label screamed and one confident that mascara and eye lashes go together, picked up one number. Back in the confines of the home, I gave it to the daughter proudly, and we opened it.

‘Gee – thanks Amma – Good job!’, she said and patted me in a puppy-dog-good-doggie manner. We tore open the packaging like lions tearing their prey apart.

Something was amiss. The product we had in hand may have suited a zebra, but they certainly did not seem to be for the human eye. It was white. Do you know of any person whose eye lashes are white? So, why was this white?  Curious. Very Curious.

We pieced together the ripped apart packaging like piecing a puzzle together and it seemed that this white colored voluminizer was meant to fluff up your eyelashes till they look like a chihuahua’s tail, and then you put the actual mascara on top to get the real effect.

This of course led to an interesting discussion in which the daughter insisted that zebras have black eyelashes, while I said they could be white in one eye and black in the other. The zebra, wherever it was, decided it was better to meditate than listen to this hypothesis.

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It turns out that zebras have black eyelashes. Humble pie tastes marvelous.

Llamas, on the other hand, have beautiful white eye lashes. But the last time, a meditating zebra checked with a llama, it did not want our mascara. Plus, the Lion King play has no place for llamas, and it is too late to change the script.

I am heading back to the store. Let me know if you’d like anything.

An Elephant is Faithful 100%

“Ughhh! Amma, why is this boy so bright in the morning?” moaned the daughter. The daughter and I are slow to rise and shine. The eye first creeps open, the bath helps a little but not much. By the time, we muster the energy to throw our weight around, it is mid-morning. We are like sunbeams trying to break through a misty, foggy, cold morning. The husband and son, on the other hand, are like light bulbs. When they are up, the switch is on and they beam brightly with all the wattage available. The duo look indecently chirpy in the morning and bustle around with breakfast, cracking jokes and what-not. The daughter and I exchange dark looks and shudder a bit at this exuberance.

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One morning, the son looked at me, shook his head with pity and said, “I know what will wake you up! Let’s listen to Horton Hatches An Egg”, and we did. The toddler son was cracking up with hilarious laughter in the car and I don’t care what you say about speed of light being a constant and all that, I must confess that the sun beams broke through the misty morning fog a little faster. It is a marvelous book, and takes one through the most hilarious plot of an elephant hatching an egg.

I recently read Dr Seuss and Mr Geisel, by Judith & Neil Morgan, a biography of the beloved author, Dr Seuss. Ted Geisel confessed that he saw the world through the ‘wrong end of the telescope’ and  he seemed to have stayed in touch with his childlike curiosity and joy through life.

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Ted’s family was well-off. His father, after running the successful family business for several years, later worked for the public parks system with access to a zoo. He puts many of his influences down to the natural loafing around in the countryside with access to animals as a child. His mother, had a knack of reading things in verse to him in a way that stuck in his brain. Over his brilliant career, he would combine both these influences in a charming manner to enable an entire generation to love reading.

Reading about his foibles and his educational escapades gives a glimpse into the kind of endearing personality he must have been. Especially in the early part of the book, you see the boy and young man Geisel was not exactly a Grade-A student. From an early age, he exhibited a wonderful personality with humor, zest and curiosity.

His college sweetheart, and later, wife, Helen Palmer, was the first person to suggest to Ted that he may be better off drawing and writing than pursuing an academic career at Cambridge. He says this was around the time he realized that writing and drawing were like the Yin and Yang to his work.

One day she watched Ted undertake to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost; he drew the angel Uriel sliding down a sunbeam, oiling the beam as he went from a can that resembled a tuba.

“You’re crazy to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw.” she blurted out. She glanced at a cow he had drawn and said, “That is a beautiful cow!

Praise from one you love is truly lovely, and it set him on the course of his career.

Ted was used to taking brisk walks during frequent breaks from his studio in La Jolla, California. One time, he accidentally left a window near his desk open. When he came back, he saw that one transparent sketch had flown over the other, resulting in a strange juxtaposition of an elephant sitting on a tree. This set off a magnificent thought process in his head. What was the elephant doing on the tree, why, hatching an egg of course. Why is he there – what happened to the mother bird and so on. What resulted after months of mulling this train of thought and multiple revisions is the brilliant book, Horton Hatches The Egg.

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”

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Image Source: Wikipedia 

If you haven’t read it, please do so. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient to living: Dr Seuss.

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Coming up next:

Ted was a school going child when the First World War started. The Geisels were first generation German-Americans and though they were naturalized citizens at the time of war, it turns out the world around them did not treat them kindly.

Of Hailstones & Laundry Baskets

“I have a great idea! “, said the kindergartener. His face was shining with excitement. I braced myself and nodded for him to go on. I had between my teeth, a clip that threatened to tie my tongue together, my hands were yanking a large unruly mess of hair into a pony-tail for the daughter, and the stove was hissing ominously.

“Why don’t I wear the red laundry basket to school?” said the kindergartener. That tied my tongue, the daughter yelped because I pulled on the hair making her pony tail look like a sausage through a tree, and the stove boiled over.

The past week has been a whimsical one. It was ‘Read Across America’ week to honor Theodore Seuss Geisel’s birthday and the little world around us lit up. In Elementary schools, everyday of the week, it seemed, was a special one, and fliers exhorted all of us to jump in. I love the Elementary school age-group when the human mind is at its most creative, supple and fertile and is bursting at its seams with curiosity and enthusiasm.

Wear As Many Colors As You Can Day
Crazy Hat Day (the red laundry basket is always being worn as a hat by the toddler at home, and he thought it was a marvelous idea to go like that to school)
Favorite Story Book Character Day
What Do You Want To Become Day (What do you want to be?)
Mismatched Fox in Socks Day

Somewhere along the line, we lose that element of fun, and I admire how children can help us tap into it at times. The past week was a hectic one, but I must say that I enjoyed wearing mismatched socks on purpose just as much as the children did. There were times during the stern day when I smiled to myself thinking of my striped sock and my polka dotted mismatched socks that had resulted in so such mirth in the morning rush.

I had with all good intentions gotten a biography of Dr Seuss to read before his birthday, but in my typical feather brained inefficiency had not so much as moved past the Prelude to the Introduction (why do books do that?) So, the Dr Seuss post would just have to wait.

Dr Seuss was very much on our minds as we stepped out for a walk by a river to wrap up the week. There we were, ambling along a roaring river with the backdrop of the mountains in the distance. It was also a deceptively cold day(I am too cold), for there were patches of sun(I am too hot), patches of dark grey clouds scudded past the cumulonimbus clouds and the wind whooshing at times knocked off our hats (not laundry baskets.)

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Minutes into the walk, we were stringing together nonsense Seuss-ian style and cackling:
I am too cold
I am too hot
Why are you always too something?
I thought you were five
No I am not five cold
I am not five hot
I am too cold
I am not two but too
I thought you were five

And so it went….

You know how they tell you in these be-calm lessons not to do anything suddenly? Ignore it. For suddenly, the rain pelted down, and not just that, it pelted down with hail stones. Silly or not, being pelted with hailstones is amusing and annoying especially when the good intentioned mother did not bring an umbrella on a walk. But the toddler tackled the problem with a whining grace. He ducked under his jacket and we raced to a tree, and stood under the tree sticking our tongues and hands out to catch the hailstones.

“Eat it”, I said as I popped a hailstone into my mouth.
“What? No! Amma! You cannot do that. “
“Yes you can – you may like it. Try it Try it if you may.”
“Say! I like Green Eggs and Ham”, finished the toddler and popped in the hailstone looking amused.

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It is perfectly normal to be mistaken for normal if you wear laundry baskets and eat hailstones, thanks to Dr Seuss.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/29/what-pet-should-i-get-dr-seuss/

Nothing For Something

We were listening to the audio books of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy over the numerous trips we took during the holidays. There is a section where the Earthlings manage to meet the creative team that designed Earth. The designer walks out very proud of his latest fjords in a section resembling current-day Africa, and I remember being awed. How marvelous would it be to think up new concepts, new colors and new landscapes. What shades to give the acacia tree bark? How about the Palm tree bark? Rustic brown or brown acacia sparkle? How about hay? Should hay’s shade be different from the dried grass bundles?

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I suppose it will be a salutary task for everyone to create something beautiful from scratch just to see the myriad choices and decisions one is faced with. There is beauty in creationism. Much more than in consumerism.

Henry David Thoreau would have been pleased indeed that his words about the world being a canvas to the imagination, was taken to heart.

The activity we had chalked out for New Year was painting the daughter’s room, and talk of shades of colors was ripe. I never knew that this many shades of light blue existed with such exotic sounding names.

If somebody had given me the list of colors from the paint section of the hardware store, I could have stumped my audience in Crocodile-Crocodile. Those of you who have not had the pleasure of playing Crocodile-Crocodile should do so at least once to experience the joy of looking up new colors. “Crocodile Crocodile, may we cross the golden river?” is a stellar game in which the crocodile has to catch a person who is attempting to run across the river (strip of land) if they don’t have the color on their persons.

Crocodile, crocodile, may we cross the golden river?

Yes you may. If you have Turquoise Blue.

What is Turquoise Blue? Is it the color of a turquoise? Is a turquoise a turtle or a tortoise or a porpoise or just a turquoise who is blue?

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Anyway, once the paints were in, the smell of fresh paint along with the envisioned end product of a beautiful, clean wall was enough to get us going. There we were, looking ebullient and hanging off the walls at various angles and heights with rollers in our hand. Music played in the background and talk turned to various topics, including the dumb painter, Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture, Tom Brown’s School Days, the Asian Paints advertisement featuring a boy who looked remarkably like a cross between Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and R.K.Narayan’s Swami which of course led to Mark Twain’s short story of Tom Sawyer and his friends painting a fence.

After a few hours, I noticed that the toddler son had taken a break from painting. I asked him what he was doing. ‘Nothing.’, he said. ‘Just sitting and seeing you paint,’ . There he was sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce on the floor with his cheeks cupped in his hands looking enamored with the soothing aura of activity around him and content to absorb.

It is an answer I love to get from children. In their world, it is okay to say they were sitting, and doing nothing. It is those of us who have bought into this idea of being busy who loathe the term.  Sometimes, nothing is good. Maybe we all need to carve out worthwhile moments of doing nothing, so we can do something worthwhile.

“I soon realized that what I really wanted was time to ruminate, time to observe, and often time to be alone.”

Miss Read, Early Days

It reminds me of this drawing that occurs often in Brain Pickings articles : Everybody should sit quietly near a stream and listen.

Everybody should sit by a little stream and listen
Everybody should sit by a little stream and listen

In fact, I think it would be phenomenally better for our current President to do nothing at all. That will be something, and something is better than nothing.

The Dumb Painter

A version of this post, The Colour Blue, appeared in The Hindu dated 30th January.

I had written in an earlier post about how the daughters room looked like the Flying Zoos of Babylon. It was time for a radical change.

Multiple trips to the hardware store had yielded one decision: the room was to be painted in shades of blue. It is funny how an unassuming dumb painter influenced our choices three decades on, on the opposite side of the world.

Years ago, when I was about the daughter’s current age, we were having our house painted. Regular readers know that I lived in a small mountain village nestled in the Nilgiri Hills. One of the advantages of a small place like that was that everybody knew everybody else. The local barber came home to cut hair, the tailor stopped by our place on his way home from work. The maid knew the milkman’s wife. The train driver waved to my mother and waited while she skated down the slopes to catch the train. When the postman’s daughter wanted to marry the station master’s son, the mediating talks for the cross religious marriage were willingly handled by all of the above people.

Therefore a matter such as painting the house was just handed over to a genial pair of fellows who everyone knew did a good job. One of whom was dumb – not being able to speak hardly deterred him however, and he used guttural sounds, shakes of his head and hand gestures to communicate. And when we finally got the import of what he was trying to say, he gave us one of his beaming, innocent smiles that made you want to smile too.

My father, always had a soft spot for those less abled, partly because he was hard of hearing himself, and used a hearing aid. Consequently, all of us have developed somewhat loud voices in the house: When we ask for the cereal to be passed across the table, cereals are passed across tables in all houses in the neighborhood.

When the  painter and his assistant showed up to paint the house, they asked us the colors to use to paint the house.

Cream was boring, and it showed dirt. Maybe the living room could have cream, but all other rooms could use a different color, the father said in his stentorian tones. The  painter nodded indicating that it was sound logic and that he approved of it.

Yellow for one bedroom (nod from painter.)

Light brown (beige) for another room (nod from painter)

Light pink for girl’s room (vigorous head shaking and bah-bah sounds with his hands gesturing NO)

Clearly, he did not approve of pink for my room.

‘Why?’, said the father and I in unison.

Gesturing and loud interpretations followed. Anyone who did not want to listen to what the other man had to say could simply have wrung his hands and given up. The easiest route would have been for the father to say ‘Pink it is!’ since the choice had been mine in the first place, and for the painter to just shrug and paint it since that is the way we wanted it. But all of us wanted to hear the other’s viewpoint, and even though it was difficult and somewhat hilarious to a casual observer, it was well worth it.

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The father was wearing his favorite Navy blue striped suit. The painter used that for starters. Bah – bah, he said pointing to the dress.

‘Navy blue? Too dark pa. We want the child’s room to be bright.’ , shouted the father.

More frustrated nods greeted us at this, and the painter went and brought in a tin of white paint which he carried with him at all times by the looks of it.

He took the paint and indicated painting white over my father’s navy blue suit. I can’t say that pleased my father very much, but he managed to leap back from the paintbrush and crack a joke.

He tried several other things to make us see reason. It took a while but the painter finally huffed out towards the door, and we quizzically followed him. It was not like the good-natured fellow to huff off like that. He opened the door, braving the pouring rain outside, and he pointed up at the grey, cloudy sky and the wall and then me.

‘Sky blue?’,  I asked.

He stopped, look at me and gave me one of his beaming smiles that blessed my intelligence when it should have been doing just the opposite.

Sky blue it was. Ever since, almost every house we moved to within the campus had at least one room in light blue.

I noticed that as we were looking out color choices for the daughter’s room, I was gravitating towards the light blue, and maybe I managed to convince the daughter too, for she too was leaning towards that. In today’s world, the painter would whip out an app and show us the room in light blue, and we would have nodded our assent, the whole thing from start to finish taking less than a minute.  But, I am glad we didn’t have an app. That smile he bestowed on us would not have been half as wide had we not tried that hard to understand each other, nor would the sight of a light blue wall have any meaning.

Sometimes, hard is good. Life is after all a string of memories held together by strands of time, and the strength of the emotions in our interpretations and recollections.

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I do not know whether the painter remembers this, but I remembered him in the room that day as I regaled the tale to the family. We dabbed on the first stroke of sky blue paint to test the color, and smiled at each other, as wholeheartedly as if the silent speech-impaired painter had convinced us.

The Flying Zoos of Babylon

A few years ago – about the time when I could stroke the daughter’s hair without lifting my hands, or standing up on a stool, we let her paint things on her room walls. Fresh from reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, we were the cool-parents who let her draw on the walls.

Within Our 4 Walls

Her friends trooped into her room with longing looks on their happy faces, and said their parents would never let them do that.  The daughter glowed when she heard that and she painted some more. ‘Sistine Chapel may have a dome, I have a wall’, being the general sentiment. Fat blue unicorns ran from multi-colored balloons that flew at the same height as the lampposts in saffron. Ice-cream cones sparkled under rainbows and Some other pictures that I cannot classify into shapes also dotted the walls. The effect was quite endearing once you got over the shock of it all.

Then, one of her doting aunts got her wall murals for the remaining walls. One wall was a beautiful wildlife themed one. It had wild grass, and in there were rabbits, squirrels, deer and a large tree on which birds sat. Looking down upon this forest floor teeming with flora and fauna was a monkey shaped clock faithfully ticking away. One wall boasted of a height chart with Winnie-The-Pooh themes. I cannot deny that the room looked beautiful. These DIY blogs and Instragram feeds are always showing off that kind of thing. I have seen pictures of rooms like that taken up from multiple angles, at different times of the day, used and reused in multiple posts, with an alarming number of people liking them. We forgot to take pictures. I salvaged a few from the scraps.

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Then, the intervening years mulched the room somewhat.  Santa came in one Christmas morning with a large white board to be mounted on the wall containing the wildlife murals. The monkey clock faithfully counted the days as they passed. One fine day, the deer peeled off.

Interior design has never been her grandfather’s strong suit.  In a stroke of brilliance, he decided to save the remaining animal murals. The rabbit took a giant leap for rabbit kind and landed up above the white board cruising at the same altitude as the birds.  It became legend and I am sure he is much bandied about in rabbit-lore similar to that rabbit,El-ahrairah, in the charming Watership Down series written by Richard Adams.

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Squirrels (live ones) peeked through windows and confirmed the tale to the animals. It was true – this rabbit (maybe he was El-ahraihrah) was flying at the same altitude as the birds even without wings. The raccoon felt sad at this and though he lost a toe during the process, made the leap too and sat atop the white board. So, the stumps of grass languished below the white board, while the rabbit, raccoon and birds flew above the white board. It truly looked like the Flying Zoos of Babylon.

Monkeys, whatever you may say, have a dignity they like to maintain when it comes to mingling with rabbits and raccoons. They like to taunt and tease and then scramble up to the top. But there was no top to go to now. The status quo had changed. Darwin had not prepared monkeys for this eventuality, and the monkey clock’s life ebbed out. Time stood still as the decor of the room deteriorated. Only magic could save the room now.

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Enter Moonshine and Sundrop. A large unicorn mural, featuring 2 unicorns lovingly christened Moon-s. and Sun-d. were mounted to hide the now-hideous drawings.

For some time atleast, peace was restored. The room continued to host hordes of friends.

You know these time lapse videos that show the changes on Earth over the last million years? Something similar would do justice to the changes in the daughters room over the past few years. Poster boards came, photo frames went, wall hangings came, murals went, bunk beds came, bunk beds went,  desks and bookcases came, much larger ones took their place. All under the benign twinkling of the glow-in-the-dark stars on the roof fading with the ravages of time.

There was one thing that was evident. It was time for a change.

That is why you saw the whole family hanging off the walls at various heights on New Years Day. (Part 2)