Mike Agranoff

Blog - 2023

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November 5, 2023
Tomas' Pumpkins

Once again I drove out to the home of Tomas Gonzalez around Halloween to document this year's crop of amazing Jack-o'-lanterns he carves. It was a particularly bountiful crop, with 16 examples, whereas he usually produces only 10. His carvings are particularly spectacular, because he does not just carve openings in the rind, but also shaves the thickness of the rind to produce shading in the surface, as the inside light shines more brightly through the rind, the thinner it is shaved, rather than only binary bright and dark. The light source is a traditional candle. The setting is particularly striking; The pumpkins are set out on the vertical posts of a fence lining a one-lane bridge spanning a stream that borders his property. The overall effect is magical, especially this year, when Halloween fell on a nearly full moon.

Wolf-eyed Skull


Little Flirt

Fretting Netting

The Nosey Butterfly

Happy Face

Bat in the Belfry (Dracula)

The Hatchling


Box Turtle

Star Boy

The Last Judgement

Demon with a Scrunchie

This Is Not a Jack-o'-lantern

Tick Tock

El Lagarto

Tomas' Pumpkins, 2023
Click on any image for a full-screen version.
(Note: Full-Screen is much more effective when viewed on a full sized computer monitor than on a phone.)
All of these carved pumpkins are works of Tomas Gonzales of Washington, New Jersey.
This is an ongoing multi-year collection.
Designs for these pumpkins are Registered Copyright ┬ęT. Gonzales
Tomas may be reached at: gonzales.tomas1@gmail.com

To see photos of other years' displays, click here.

I'm still an amateur photographer, and the jack-o'-lanterns are quite difficult to photograph. They are all long exposures, sometimes as long as 20 or 25 seconds. As a result, the pumpkins with the smallest cutouts come out better than those with large cutouts. You'll see that "The Last Judgement" and Buddha with no cutouts yielded better images than "Little Flirt" and "Tick Tock". The big cutouts in the latter two would completely wash out the rest of the pumpkin, and all that showed in the resultant photo were the cutouts, and notning of the pumpkin itself. I tried to fix that by using a shorter exposure, and "painting" the gourd by waving a flashlight over it. That looked pretty good in the camera display, but came out sort of washed-out in the resultant photo. Next year, I'll try messing with the ASA setting. Any advice would be welcome.

The Pumpkins

Wolf-Eyed Skull: The "Wolf-Eyed" effect is achieved by cutting smaller holes in the back of the pumpkin aligned with the larger eye holes in the front, thereby giving the appearance of dark pupils in the bright eyes that seem to follow the viewer as one walks past the skull. To see a video of this effect, click here.

Little Flirt: I love the eyelashes.

Nosey Butterfly: This one really needs to be seen full-screen to get the best effect.

Bat in the Belfry: This is another one that uses a cutout in the back of the pumpkin to good effect.

The Hatchling: Coming out of its egg is not something I would have immediately expected.

Buddha: This one is better in full screen.

The Last Judgement: What might have been if Michaelangelo had worked in gourds instead of frescos. It depicts"The Damned Man", one of the figures in Michaelangelos famous fresco.

Demon with a Scrunchie: Now here's one where the whole joke is totally lost in the photograph. The scrunchie is completely invisible on the left end of the pumpkin, as is the ponytail it gathers, which is the stem of the pumpkin, completely invisible in the dark.

This is Not a Jack-o'-lantern: A pumpkinification of artist Rene Magrite's The Treachery of Images.

Tick Tock: A repeating theme Tomas has created before.

El Legarto (The Lizard), by which early Spanish explorers referred to the animal we have come to know as an alligator. This one is particularly clever. It floats on the stream that the bridge traverses, rather than displayed on the piers of the bridge itself

September 25, 2023
Amy's Birds

Those of you who read my travelogues may recognize the name Amy Hopkins. Very often when I post a photo of some interesting plant or animal I've encountered that I can't identify, I ask readers to let me know if they can. And more often than not, it's Amy who supplies the missing information. I knew I had met her at a gig sometime in the past, but I couldn't picture her. Nonetheless we had struck up a sort of pen-pal (keyboard-pal?) relationship over the years.

Back in February, I had taken a trip to Florida for a gig and a vacation, during which I visited Flamingo Gardens. There I encountered and photographed a number of birds in the parrot family, which Amy identified. I'm quite fond of parrots and their kin, and enjoy them for their intelligence and sociability with humans. In subsequent correspondence, I learned that she kept a number of such birds as pets. That sort of stuck in my mind. So in September, when I had a gig in Massachusetts, I realized that her house would be pretty much on my way home. I called her up, and asked if I could stop off for a visit and meet her and her birds. She agreed.

Click on images for a full screen view.

Amy, Rosie, and me

Rosie and me

Rosie and me

We had a lovely visit. Amy took me out for lunch. I sang for my supper...err...lunch. And I got to spend a couple of hours communing with Rosie, a galah (AKA rose-breasted cockatoo). Amy also has two cockatiels, Tulip and Pepper. Amy tells me her cockatiels are less sociable with strangers, but very cuddly with her. I made some preliminary advances with them, but backed off when they weren't interested. Both species are native to Australia, but her birds were hatched in the US. Rosie speaks a little bit, her primary communication being "OK". All three can be pretty loud when they have a mind to. It didn't bother me. Rosie will be content to have her head scritched for hours on end if one has the patience and time. I had the patience, but I had to leave before Rosie was done.

Thanks, Amy (and Rosie) for a wonderful visit.

July 28, 2023
Who's on First?

Click photo to view video

This is a skit I wrote a long time ago. It's based upon the old Abbott and Costello routine from the 50s. Although I wrote the skit, the parody wasn't my own idea. It was something I heard once on the radio back in the 60s or 70s.I loved the idea, and always thought it would be good to rewrite and perform in my capacity of the Program Chairman of the Minstrel Acoustic Concert Series. (Now called The Troubadour) Sometime in the late 80s, I think, I got the opportunity on the occasion of the Minstrel's Birthday Show. This happens every year on the Friday closest to July 25, the actual anniversary of the concert series' first show on July 25, 1975, which, coincidentally, was also my own 30th birthday.

The format of the show is unique. On July 4th, the Folk Project, the Minstrel/Troubadour's parent organization, holds a club picnic. At that picnic all Folk Project members who want to perform in the show put their names on index cards. (Remember index cards?) The cards are then shuffled up and dealt out into duos and trios. Each group so selected then has the next 3 weeks to put together a song for the Birthday show. On that date in the 80s, I was paired up with Liz Pagan, whom I thought would be a good straight-"man" for the routine. It came off well.

So when for this year;s Birthday Show I was paired with Amy Livingston, who is a natural actress as well as a fine singer, I figured the original performance was far enough in the past that the skit was due for a reprise. I used the occasion of my serving as the show's emcee to announce upcoming shows at the Troubadour to bring in the skit with an interrupting phone call. Alas Amy's only on-screen appearance was limited to a brief passing across the stage at the end, to join me on stage for our 2nd song of our set.

By the way, you will see below this post the beginnings of another post I have not yet completed. It's a travelogue of a vacation Jenny and I took to the Southwest, culminating in a rail tour from Denver to Las Vegas. The travelogue is incomplete, only reporting first few days of our adventures. As I complete each day's activities, I will post them, and when complete, I'll put out a notice of its completion to my Blog list.


July 5 - 15, 2023
Rockies to Red Rocks Rail Tour

Click photo to enter travelogue.

Please note: while this travelogue is possible to view on a phone or tablet, it is better suited to be viewed on a full sized computer monitor. There are many photos arrayed in a grid, which when viewed on a small screen will appear in a single column, requiring endless scrolling. And clicking a photo will give you a full-screen view of the image, which isn't very effective on a small screen.

Like my earlier trip to Florida this past February, this trip was a combined a gig and vacation. But in this instance, the order generation was reversed; this time the vacation came before the gig. I've done several rail tour vacations in the past, the best of which was the tour through the Canadian Rockies I did in 2012. I've gone abroad for a number of vacations in the recent past, but I figured it was time I'd spent some money in my own country. So sometime back in the Fall of 2020 I booked a rail tour from Denver to Las Vegas for the summer of 2022.

Then along came COVID. I was still willing to do the trip if there were appropriate precautions in place, such as vaccination and masking requirements. But there were not, so I canceled the trip. This year, however the Pandemic seemed to be fully on the decline, so I rescheduled the trip for July, of course inviting Jenny to join me. Then I thought, as long as I was going to be out there, I might see if I could book a concert somewhere along the way. I did a bit of poking around through an outfit called Listening Room Network, that serves as a matchmaking service between performers and house concerts. To my delight and surprise, I got an offer from Highline Crossing Concerts in Littleton, a suburb of Denver. And to put the icing on that cake, the Presenter turned out to be another musician, who owned a Martin D-28 guitar, the same model as mine, and was willing to let me use his instrument for the concert. That meant I wouldn't have to travel with my guitar. Well, twist my arm!

So the trip took shape. I would fly out to Denver on the 5th, right after Independence Day, do some sightseeing there, and then do the rail tour from the 12th to the 15th, and fly home that day.


April 28, 2023
Spring is Here!

Seems almost a shame to mow.


February 2 - 10, 2023
South Florida Folk Festival
and Subsequent Florida Vacation

Click the photo to enter travelogue

I had often heard good things about the South Florida Folk Festival. It's a pretty major event on the southeast folk circuit in the Miami / Ft. Lauderdale area, run by the Broward County Folk Club. I had made two previous trips down to the Gulf Coast of Florida to play a few house concerts, and I had been hoping to expand my presence in the area. I had made a few tentative inquiries in early 2020, and was told they were not accepting any unsolicited inquiries. Then COVID hit.

So back in August of 2022, when the country was tentatively poking its head out from under the covers, and discovering the world had not utterly collapsed, I started sending out some inquiries for another house concert mini-tour in Florida. And while I was at it, I figured why not give the SFFF another shot? There was a new booking person in charge, so I fired off an inquiry and an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) to her. And wonder of wonders, the following day I received an email from her saying "I'd be a great addition to the 2023 Festival, February 4-5." Well, twist my arm!

On one of my previous house concert Florida trips, I had extended my stay after the gigs, and Jenny flew down from Vermont to join me for a few days of vacation. (See my Blog entry of January 22 - 27, 2020.) So I called her up and asked if she wanted to do that again. Florida in February sounded more inviting than Vermont in February, so she agreed. Click here for the story.

January 2, 2023
Words of Wisdom for the New Year

"Never underestimate the power of a heartfelt apology."

Offered by a man who has been known from time to time to unwittingly insert his foot into his mouth, or otherwise, through inattention or misunderstanding, act like a jerk.

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