Thursday, April 30, 2009

True Adventure: Training Day!

Sorry for the silence yesterday, but I was at Training Day all day. Wow, an entire day of "work" for which I was paid and all I had to do was go to classes where they explained that we can't help getting pissed off because of our brain chemistry, and we might as well improve what we are good at and to heck with the stuff we aren't good at. I'll take that kind of training any day! Plus they fed us well.

In one class they had us make a pie chart of our life outside of work and sleep (i.e., the supposedly 72 hours of free time we have every week) to see if it actually matched with our core values. Mine did, but to my surprise everyone else around me seemed shocked that there was no overlap. (One woman had one-fourth of her pie chart taken up with "Watching TV"!) My coworker who makes the beautiful cakes said she thought a venn diagram would represent my life better than a pie chart, since so many areas have overlap, so here is the venn diagram of my life:

Figure 1: Venn diagram of Famous Hat's Leisure Time

Famous Hat

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hey, Waiter! There's a FLY in My Fishbowl!

As you may recall from a previous post, I have a couple of "office pets," Arphaxad and Amminadab. (See below.) They are goldfish I bought for maybe 50 cents apiece from the "feeder fish" tank, and so far they are at least a year old. Cecil Markovitch recently got some goldfish, and they keep dying, so he asked me the other night what he was doing wrong. "I only change their water once a week," he said, and I told him A&A get fresh water every Friday. "Maybe it's because they're in the window," he said, and I told him A&A are right on the window sill, enjoying the view of the lake. Then he said maybe it was because his goldfish were cheap, but I told him A&A were cheap goldfish too, so we have no idea what the difference is.

Figure 1: Arphaxad and Amminadab
(photo credit: Palm Tree Fan)

Today was a very good day for A&A, and not such a good day for a fly. A&A got a special treat today. Usually they get fish food flakes every morning (except weekends) and then they spend a lot of time attacking their plant and eating algae. They also beg every day for some of my broccoli and carrot, so sometimes I indulge them. Today, however, they got some MEAT. (Richard Bonomo must be so proud!) A ginormous fly was buzzing around my office, and my office mate swatted it so it fell on the window sill, mostly dead but still a little twitchy. We debated about what to do with it and finally decided to toss it into A&A's bowl. At first they studiously ignored it, but eventually Amminadab (that's the smaller orange one) grabbed the fly and swam around the bowl with it. Arphaxad (the larger white one) appeared to be a vegetarian, but later it got in on the act, and soon they were each pulling the fly in opposite directions in a fishy tug-of-war. My office mate had originally voiced some skepticism that A&A would want a fly in their fish bowl (after all, we wouldn't want a fly in our house!) but even as I write this Amminadab is chewing on the unfortunate insect. Why not? Wouldn't flies fall into the water in nature? And this way the fly did not die in vain. As my office mate's husband said, it's the ultimate in recycling!

Famous Hat

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nerds and Taoists and Belly Dancers, Oh My!

My office is on the top floor of a very high building, with a window that overlooks a lake. Why am I telling you this? Other than to gloat at my good fortune, it is to give you some idea of what my newest form of self-torture entails: climbing the stairs from the ground floor all the way to my office. This is my latest training idea for the triathlon. (Thought I'd forgotten about that, didn't you?) It never seems to get any easier, but I am less sore after every climb so there must be SOME improvement...

This weekend my Mideastern band played at a science fiction convention, and it was such a success that you couldn't get a nerd in edgewise! (I wish that were original, but I got it from some kid's joke book.) And what science fiction has to do with Mideastern music, gentle readers, I could not tell you, but presumably sci-fi geeks enjoy seeing a belly dancer as much as the next geek. The belly dancer we had this time was really good; my favorite part was when she did a dance with a scimitar (real or fake? I have no idea) that she balanced on her head and even on her hip! Our unreliable drummer didn't make it so we had a bunch of guest drummers, and the guitarist had a family emergency so we had a bass player instead, but despite the fact that many of us had never played together, it seemed to go very well. Anyway, the kids in the audience thoroughly enjoyed doing the Israeli folkdances, but for all I know we were the only kid-friendly thing going on at this convention. We were followed by a pirate act, but I just went home, weirded out by the guy wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Satan on it that said, "God is busy. Can I help you?"

That night I had weird dreams about some woman wearing different shirts boasting about how Taoists are "lower" (presumably more humble) than members of other religions; one sweatshirt just said "Taoist" and then had a flat symbol after it. This is the Ultimate Famous Hat Dream: it combines music, religion, and jokes that aren't really funny! Most of the punchlines in my dreams are off-color, however. What that says about me on a Freudian level, I'd rather not know.

Famous Hat

Friday, April 24, 2009

The All-Purpose Tropical Song

Continuing the "I'm So Blonde" theme, when I first got into salsa music, I was amazed to hear how often they used the bassoon. When I told the OTHER choir director about this, he was skeptical so I fetched a CD and played "La Mitad" by Willie Rosario, a song prominently featuring the croaking of a low reed instrument. The choir director listened intently to it and said, "That's a bass saxophone!" Like I would know the difference?? After that he would always joke about the salsa bassoon, like when we were doing a Bach cantata at the Lutheran church and he was assembling an orchestra, I said, "What, no bassoon?" since there seemed to be every other instrument known to mankind, and he said, "It's not salsa, you know." The moral of the story: sometimes it's a good idea to hold off on that plan to sell everything, quit your job, and become a professional salsa bassoon player.

Interestingly, A-Joz and I have very similar "career-for-a-day" fantasies: we both would love to be nightclub singers and/or jazz musicians. If anyone would like to indulge us in this fantasy, we'd be happy to do it on a Tuesday night to minimize damage to your business and/or musical reputation. How about it, nightclub owners and jazz bands?

The episode with the "salsa bassoon" inspired me to write an all-purpose tropical song for my imaginary band. This band would, of course, either have to be ENORMOUS or have members with extraordinary talent and lots of instruments lying around, because in order to play any type of tropical music called for, I would need the following: a slack-key guitar player and ukulele player for Hawaiian music, all sorts of percussion and brass for salsa (not to mention a keyboard player!), steel drums for calypso, etc. You get the picture: this band would have about twenty-three members. On the plus side, we could play the Tropical Song in any tropical style, including Dance Hall. (But not reggaeton, please!)

And, of course, I had to include a stanza about my tropical cred and why I am the best person to write a tropical song, considering that I have spent my entire life in temperate zones. So here, without further ado, is the All-Purpose Tropical Song:

Tropical song, tropical song,
I want to sing it all night long,
Tropical song!

I love that scorching tropical heat (tropical song!)
I love that sensuous tropical beat (tropical song!)
I want to dance under a tropical moon (tropical song!)
I want to hear you play salsa bassoon (tropical song!)

Tropical chorus here

The blood of the islands flows through me (tropical song!)
England and Ireland surrounded by sea (tropical song!)
It was cold when I was born (tropical song!)
But my sign is tropical - Capricorn! (tropical song!)

Tropical chorus here

Twenty-three members in my band (tropical song!)
Tropicalest group in all the land (tropical song!)
So many members when we play (tropical song!)
We each get fifty cents in pay (tropical song!)

Tropical bridge here, followed by tropical chorus and tropical finale

Note: Nightclub owners, A-Joz and I will be available to perform this song most Tuesdays in May.

Famous Hat

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The ePlush Birthday Skit

Here is a true birthday story: one year my officemate and her husband got her mother a beautiful piece of jewelry for her birthday, while her father got her a pair of Birkenstock sandals. When he found out what they were giving her, he pleaded with his daughter and son-in-law to switch presents, and to this day the birthday girl thinks her romantic husband gave her a beautiful piece of jewelry and her daughter and son-in-law gave her nice, sensible footwear.

On the birthday theme, Rockstar Tailor wrote the following skit with some help from Hardingfele and me, Famous Hat. (The "Hammer" character was my idea while all the bad puns are Hardingfele's fault.) She is presenting this for her school talent show, so I will modify some of the action to keep the ending a surprise.

ePlush Birthday Skit

The Yorkie, the Lioness, the Persian cat and the Hammer are going to a party.

Lioness and Yorkie: Yay we are going to an ePlush birthday!
The Lioness, the Yorkie, and the Hammer went to the Persian cat’s house for the party.
Lioness and Yorkie: Happy Birthday, Snowflake!
Persian cat: Thank you, Roarie and Snowball.
Hammer: Knock knock
All: Who’s there
Hammer: Happy birthday to
All: Happy Birthday to who
Hammer: Happy birthday to you!
Persian cat: Oh hi hammer. Hey, we’re going to the pool.
The four best friends go to the pool.

Hammer: I bet I can nail that dive!
Persian cat: Time for pizza and cake. We have cheese, pepperoni or sausage and chocolate cake.
Hammer: Pizza is always a hit!
Persian cat: Present time. (She opens her presents.)
Persian cat: Thank you thank you thank you. Cat toys and …..nails. This was the best birthday ever.
Hammer: You don’t have to pound it in!

And what happens next? Will Hammer save the day by breaking the ePlush Piñata and releasing all the ePlush Treats? Will Hammer save the day by crushing the evil Schnickel Fritz? Will Roarie turn out to have an undiagnosed pizza allergy? To find out the thrilling answer, you have to wait until Rockstar Tailor presents the play at her school talent show.

Famous Hat

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stumbling Blondely Through Life

First, some kvetching: so last night Rich, Anna Banana II, and I went to the final concert of KlezKamp, but oddly enough it was not a klezmer concert. Instead, a couple of people played cocktail lounge music on the piano, and then they had a Q&A session about what makes music "Jewish." I don't know what makes it Jewish, but I know what makes it klezmer, and this wasn't it. The pianists did not agree about what made music Jewish, in fact they seemed to purposely disagree just to make things interesting. Remembering the proverb "Two Jews, three opinions," I figured that this could go on all night, so we left.

Since Hardingfele was fascinated by my family discussion yesterday, and she is my most faithful reader, I am expounding some more on my background. There is some sort of blonde gene in our family that KO's all the darker genes. It comes from my father's side; his mother had dark hair (but pale skin and blue eyes) yet he is blond like his father. My mother has dark hair and eyes and she tans so well that in the summer she looks like a Native American, and yet my brother and I are pale with blond hair and greenish-bluish-grayish eyes. My sister-in-law has brown hair and eyes, and yet my nephews are blond, and one is very pale like our side of the family. According to the statistics of genetics, this is not impossible, just unlikely, but obviously the reality of genetics isn't the same as the expected probability of a given trait appearing, and this must be one mean blonde gene.

How blonde am I? I have previously related the story of hearing someone's voice coming out of the speakers and not realizing it was mine, but it bears repeating. It was at a bluegrass jam, and I made the mistake of suggesting a song ("Long Journey Home"), which I hadn't realized meant, in bluegrass etiquette, that I should then lead the singing. So as I was singing, "Nothin' in my pocket but a two-dollar bill, Lord, a two-dollar bill," I could hear a woman behind me with a lovely voice, and I let up a little to let her take it, but whenever I backed off, so did she! So then I'd take it up again, and so would she! FINALLY it dawned on me that I was hearing myself. When I told some band members about this, they said it was like not recognizing yourself in a mirror, and I said, "Yeah, there was the time I wondered why the woman in the next booth was staring at me... until I realized it was a mirror." The fiddler laughed so hard I thought she might asphyxiate.

However, the ultimate blonde moment in my life may have been the secret message in the driveway. I live in a condo complex, and one night while walking home from my second job I noticed someone had painted "M075" in the middle of the driveway. Since it was clearly a professional job, I knew it must have some purpose, but I could not deduce what it might be. Then the moth planes began flying around, spraying the anti-gypsy moth bacteria all over the neighborhood, and I wondered if M075 were a signal to them. When I mentioned it to T, she asked me to show her the mysterious label, and when I pointed it out to her, she said, "You mean where it says SLOW?" Yeah, OK, maybe that's what it says in the OTHER direction...

Famous Hat

Monday, April 20, 2009

KlezKamp: Everyone's a Little Yid

My mother has an illustrious ancestor who was, in her day, a well-known author. When I decided to create a nom de plum incorporating my illustrious ancestor's last name with one from my father's family, I realized I did not know many names from his family. I called and left him a message asking for ancestral last names, and he left a message which was a long string of Gaelic surnames and then "Katzenberg." You know how they say people who were separated from a twin at birth somehow always know they have a twin somewhere? That's how I felt, like I always knew I was a little bit Jewish. Later I found out the Katzenbergs are German Catholics and they aren't even my ancestors; Mr. Katzenberg married my grandmother's sister. The irony is that if there is any Jewish blood in me, it comes from my mother's side, which means my illustrious ancestor is no relative of mine. Let's just say it would be highly unusual for two blond, blue-eyed people to have a daughter so dark she could practically pass for another race, and that is also when intellectual ability invaded our branch of the family tree... and good looks fled. My mother has brothers who got perfect scores on their SAT tests, and a cousin who was a runner-up in her state's beauty pageant.

Anyhow, whether I really do have Jewish blood or not, during KlezKamp everyone's got a little Yid in them! I LOVE klezmer music, it's got that New Orleans-style syncopated tuba hooting in the background while the clarinet wails in that weird Mideastern scale. Nothing better!... except salsa, of course. So Saturday night there was a free klezmer concert, and it was so packed that they couldn't even let everyone in. Hardingfele got there late and they wouldn't let her in, even though A-Joz, Kathbert, and I had saved a seat for her. She was schmoozing some friend of the band by telling him she plays hardanger fiddle, like that's going to impress him. THEN she drops my name because - get this - I play in that Mideastern band. Yeah, we play Israeli folk songs (in HEBREW, not YIDDISH) and Arab pop songs! Sure, my great-grandfather was a shabbes goy in Brooklyn, but that's not much of a connection. And I don't even have shiksappeal! What she never did was tell the guy that she's Jewish too. You'd think that would be her first attempt at connection: "Eh, paisano!" But she's always been meshuggah. (And yes, Hardingfele, I know you're going to read this!)

Anyway, it was a great concert, and they even gave us a free CD in the program! Can you believe that? Then yesterday was KlezKamp, when the professional band members taught us amateurs. It started in the morning, I suppose to keep us goyim away, but I just snuck in late, after church. There was a big section of people with licorice sticks, but they were all really good (because you know how excruciating it can be to hear a bad clarinetist), and the fiddles were all good too. There were at least five accordions, and three other mandolinists. It was the biggest klezmer band I'd ever seen, and it turned out most of us played in bands so not surprisingly we got it together pretty quickly. I did feel a little conspicuous with my straight blonde hair, especially when the bass teacher talked about people davening at the schul, or something. (It seems to have something to do with praying at the temple.) However, it was refreshing to be among so many non-athletic people - I felt right at home!

Tonight Anna Banana II, Rich, and possibly Kathbert said they would be interested in going with me to the closing concert of KlezKamp. If, of course, we can even get in...

Famous Hat

Friday, April 17, 2009

Just... Wow

A true story: "John Jones" (named changed to protect the guilty) is getting married later this spring. He invited all faculty members (and no support staff) to his wedding, but he ran out of envelopes. Instead of saying something polite like, "Sorry, I ran out of envelopes," he gave the envelope-less invitation to the newest member of the faculty with an explanation that states: "Sorry, I ran out of envelopes. Since you are the most junior member of the faculty, I gave you the invitation without an envelope." Apparently he ran out of invitations too, and that is why none of the support staff received one... And clearly he ran out of tact long ago!

Famous Hat
(which I am now wearing again in the beautiful weather!)

Happy birthday, Palm Tree Fan!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Caveat Emptor in Festo

The other night Anna Banana II showed us a video she had received about holding selling parties. You know what I mean, those ridiculous parties women have where they try to get other women to buy things they don't need. I have done it twice, and in the second case I was given a "content-free" video much like the one Anna Banana II had, which told you absolutely nothing about how to actually go about hosting these parties. It just went on and on about how some ultra extroverted woman had made SO MUCH money selling this product, and so could YOU!!

In contrast, the first time I tried doing selling parties, I actually got a useful video. This company, let's say they are called BongoFest and sell tropical drums so that I don't get sued, provided me with a kit full of sample drums and BongoFest: The Movie, a handy if highly cheesy guide to throwing your own drum party. It showed how you talk your first victim (the "hostess") into having the party at her house by promising her lots of schwag (the more subsequent victims, the more schwag), and then you release her to find more victims for you. Then you set up the drums attractively and ask the guests to imagine themselves playing salsa on the drums, and which songs they would like to play. You can usually guilt them into at least buying a pair of maracas, and the hostess is on your side because if enough of them buy stuff, she can get that set of timbales she's been coveting for the price of a pair of bongos.

So I hosted a party, got enough people to buy enough drums so that I got my free "drum kit" and started off to find my own hostess victims. My first hostess was a college student living at home, and she was having a slumber party with a couple of friends so they ate pizza and watched me give my drum spiel as if I were a movie. I knew perfectly well they were not one bit interested in buying any drums, but the hostess's mother did end up purchasing some lovely dumbecks so it wasn't a complete waste for me. The second party I hosted ended up in the basement during a tornado warning, but no tornado hit, and several drums were sold. The third party was at my friend Ethel's house, and her toddler daughter projectile-vomited all over, barely missing my sample drums and effectively ending my spiel, but Ethel does have many, many sisters who bought drums. The fourth party was at Richard Bonomo's house, of all places, and only he, Anna Banana II, and I showed up, but enough people ordered drums that I did make money. The fifth party was at the home of our Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and none of her guests spoke English so she had to translate everything I said about my drums into Spanish. She has a bit of money and ended up ordering a set of steel drums, so it was a profitable party. However, my most successful party by far was the easiest one: I gave T a catalogue to bring to work, and all her coworkers ordered drums. At the end of the month I had made a tidy profit, but when I divided the money I'd made by the hours I'd put into my drum-selling business, it came out to about $2.15. And that is why I only sold drums for a month; sure, you can make money if you really hustle, but is it worth it?

Famous Hat

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Tax Day

Did you get your taxes done yet? Not to rub it in, but I have already gotten both my state and my federal refunds back and have put them toward the principal on my mortgage. If taxes have got you down and you need to hear an inspirational story, just look up Susan Boyle on YouTube. This is one of the most moving stories I have heard in a long time, and judging by how popular it is (over five million people have viewed it), a lot of other people feel the same way.

Imagine this: the British version of American Idol. A dowdy, unemployed, middle-aged lady who claims she has never even been on a date says that her dream is to be a singer. The audience and judges laugh at her... and then she opens her mouth. Seriously, this woman can SING. It's high time we started acknowledging people for their actual talent instead of their image. This woman looks like someone who would serve church dinners, not the plastic-pretty contestants usually on these shows, and her voice is as real as the rest of her. Once upon a time singers did not have to be beautiful; they just had to have beautiful voices. Now the important thing is that the performer is young and gorgeous and polished, because he or she can always lip-sync if talent is the only missing ingredient. It's gotten so extreme that hopeful new authors (especially female ones) have to be "interview-ready" (read: attractive) to present the right image on the jacket cover and the book tour. Authors??? I ask you, was there ever a career choice where aesthetic quality mattered LESS? What are we plain women supposed to do now? But then here comes Susan Boyle like a fresh west wind, blowing away all the superficiality so that everyone can see that what really matters is not looks, or charm, but talent.

On a completely different note, why do we call a game "football" in this country which uses neither the feet nor an actual ball? Isn't soccer a better contender for the title of football than a game that consists of throwing and running with an oblong thing? It's like Rhode Island: neither a road nor an island. Where is the truth in advertising there? My officemate and I were surprised to read that RI has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, so we always joked that we would quit our jobs and move there, and nobody would find us among all the other people who don't have jobs. Then she read that there was a strip club in Providence with a whole bunch of openings, not just for strippers but for bartenders, waitresses, and bouncers. They had more positions than the Kama Sutra! So maybe if this gig doesn't work out for us, we will go be bouncers in a place which is neither a road nor an island.

Famous Hat

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Smackdown: A-Fooze vs. The Crane Game!

This is a true story and it happened very recently, in fact a week before Good Friday, during Lutheran's Night Out. We had an hour and a half wait for a table at the fish fry, so we wandered toward the sound of big band music to discover a fundraiser in process, complete with a live band. However, there is only so long you can stand there listening to music for free at the entrance to a $60/couple fundraiser before you start to feel guilty and the people taking the money start giving you dirty looks, so we hung out in the hallway by the coat rack. There were nine of us, two-thirds with a Y chromosome but oddly it was the three of us females who ended up wandering into the arcade to look at the pinball machines and video games. Then we spotted the thing I always call the Claw Machine, but Richard Bonomo tells me it is actually called the Crane Game. Being girls, we were immediately attracted to the thing full of plushy toys.

"I never win at those," said A-Fooze, so I told them a story from when the world was young, and I was in high school. One day I was at a bowling alley with a guy we all called Caveman Daveman for reasons I have long since forgotten, and I spotted a plushy pink cockatoo in the Crane Game. I said something along the lines of, "Oh Dave, look look look! It's SO cute!!" and he was immediately in Caveman Mode: "I will catch prey for pretty girl! Ugh!" After wasting more than a dozen quarters on it, he gave up in disgust, handed me a quarter, and said, "YOU try it!" Whereupon I immediately grabbed the cockatoo with the claw. (To this day, I still have the cockatoo, but I couldn't tell you what happened to Caveman Daveman.)

"So," I concluded, "it can be done." My speech encouraged A-Fooze to waste two whole quarters (that's inflation for you) on one attempt, which was entirely fruitless. Then Anna Banana II, who had never tried a Crane Game before, decided to try her hand at it. To our delight, she grabbed a green-and-yellow dinosaur and picked it right up!... but then it fell out of the claw. A-Fooze was so infuriated that she immediately put another 50 cents in the machine, moved the claw over the dinosaur, and picked it up. Not only did she get it, but a plushy fish stuck to it so she actually got two stuffed animals!!!! She said, "I feel like I've taken vengeance on every crane game that I ever lost money to!" She gave Anna Banana II the dinosaur she had been so unfairly robbed of and kept the fish for herself. We were cheering so loudly that the menfolk raced into the arcade to find out what had happened, and we told them how A-Fooze had defeated the evil Crane Game and gotten Anna Banana II back the plushy toy she had so unjustly lost.

Famous Hat

Monday, April 13, 2009

Felizes Pascuas

Happy Easter, everyone! I hope you had a deeply spiritual Lent and a fantastic celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, or at least a reasonably good weekend if you don't go in for that Christianity stuff. My Triduum was wonderful. Because they have merged Our Lady of Perpetual Sobriety with another parish, we did not have Holy Thursday or Easter Vigil services in English. That's fine with me - I got to practice my Spanish! I'd rather do that than go to the other parish, which is what they want us "white" people to do. Seems a little racist...

Thursday night I went to the Lutheran church to sing for their Maundy Thursday service; we did Byrd's "Ave Verum Corpus," and you could feel how moved the congregation was by it. That was offertory, so I had heard all the readings in English, then I ran to OLPS and got there during the homily, so I was at a Catholic church for the entire Eucharistic prayer. Perfect! Afterwards Rich, A-Fooze, her Mexican fiance, and I had a late, late dinner but luckily I had taken Friday off of work, so I got to sleep in. At noon we had a Good Friday service at OLPS (the only service of the Triduum in English at my church!) and then in the evening I sang with the Lutherans again for their beautiful service. "Ah, Holy Jesus" and "Oh Sacred Head, Now Wounded" in four-part harmony. *Sigh!* On Holy Saturday Rich, A-Fooze, and I were again the only "Anglos" (actually, I'm the only Anglo since he's Italian - well, half Sicilian - and she's a Canadian Hungarian) at OLPS, and I was the only blonde. The Exultet is just as beautiful chanted in Spanish as in Latin! The Easter Vigil is the most incredible service of the entire year, with the church starting in darkness, then the priest lights the Easter fire and we all light small candles from it, and then at the Gloria all the lights are thrown on and all the bells ring. So gorgeous! Afterwards Rich, A-Fooze, her fiance, and I went to the restaurant across the street for some pie to celebrate the end of the Lenten season.

Every year, Lent always seems both too short and too long to me. I used to feel so much joy during this liturgical season, which might have been partly physical; I seem to have some food sensitivities, so when I gave up sweets for Lent, I was then not consuming fake vanilla and whatever else, so of course I felt a million times better. Now that I always try to eat well, there isn't a marked difference in how I feel physically during Lent and any other time of year. Still, there is something very appealing about simplifying your life for forty days... until you just WANT TO DO SUDOKU and then you think, will this Lent never end?? But it has, and I celebrated by immediately doing a bunch of word game puzzles, after coming home from eating pie and singing to my bunnies (EASTER bunnies!) such Easter favorites as "Christ is Arisen" and "O Sons and Daughters of the King." My favorite? Probably "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," a very Lutheran hymn... guess that's why I sing with Lutherans!

Sunday morning I wanted to sleep but did drag myself to OLPS to sing alto on Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" and Victimae Pascali Laudes in Latin, then I went to the Lutheran church to sing soprano on the "Hallelujah Chorus" and Victimae Pascali Laudes in English. Then Rich had a bunch of us over for Easter dinner (my contribution? bread, of course! from my bread machine) and it was such a beautiful day that many of us sat out on the porch to eat. The Lutheran choir director brought an egg the banjo player had given him, full of Svedish Søperstår candy like Paskaskum (which we guessed was Swedish for Easter Scum) and Skumagge (Scum Eggs). The Scum Eggs weren't bad, but the Easter Scum was like one step up from Peeps. They were little marshmallow... things, I think they were supposed to be birds but they looked to me like the carvings I saw on the pyramids at Teotihuacan. Somehow we got on the subject of tofu, and when the Lutheran choir director asked if it were soymilk that has been whipped, Mr. Icon (he seriously looks like he just stepped off a Byzantine icon) said no, it has been thoroughly defeated. The Lutheran choir director did tell us an organist pal of his sent an actual email he had received from a bride-to-be saying she wanted a particular song at her wedding, she couldn't remember what it was called but it went "dum-de-dum, de-dum." (I think I know that one! Isn't it "Coconut Grove"?)

Saturday during the day I took a very long walk, wearing my Famous Hat for the first time this season. I took a sort of unsanctioned shortcut on the way home, cutting across the railroad tracks, and people on both sides of the tracks looked at me somewhat askance. Maybe they thought I was trespassing? I can just see the police report: "Unknown white female wearing a Famous Hat spotted crashing through the underbrush and heading north across the railroad tracks." Is my hat famous... or notorious???

Famous Hat

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Happy Maundy Thursday

The obvious topic for today's Lenten reflection is the Last Supper, which was also the first Mass, when Jesus offered Himself to us as the Bread of Heaven. A lot of people have problems with the concept of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; admittedly, it is one of the stranger things about the Christian faith, but it is clearly very important because Jesus Himself spent the entire sixth chapter of the Gospel of John expounding upon it, and it was believed by Christians since the very beginning of the Church. Before I was any particular faith, I was puzzled by the fact that some churches seemed filled with a spiritual presence, and others just seemed like pretty buildings. Finally it dawned on me that I felt this Presence in Catholic and Orthodox churches but not in Protestant ones. (For reasons I cannot explain, I did also feel it in the mosques I entered in Istanbul.) Perhaps the moment that most persuaded me of the Real Presence was when we attended a Greek Orthodox liturgy in Thessaloniki and at a certain point I didn't just feel the Presence, I felt it practically smack me! It was clearly supposed to be an important moment, because the three priests who had been chanting in unison suddenly broke into three-part harmony, bells rang, and they lit incense. However, the aesthetic quality of the liturgy wasn't enough to explain the rush of something I felt at that moment. Back home I tried to piece it together, and I thought maybe the energy came from the people around me, like the rush you get at a sporting event or rock concert, but that didn't seem right either. As I began to learn more about religion, I realized that had been the moment of transubstantiation, when the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: all those bells and smells don't distract us but instead call our attention to the moment when all the angels in Heaven bow down as our offering is taken to the Heavenly Altar and Jesus descends to our earthly altar. I have been to many a suburban parish where the solemnity of this moment can barely be discerned over the just-a-guy banter of the priest, and the people all looking at each other instead of the altar because some brain trust thought round churches "facilitate community." Thank you, but during the consecration I would like to be positioned so that I can't help but look at the offering upon the altar. In round churches it's way too easy to be distracted by the toddler mauling her toy bunny or the two people whispering to each other about who knows what, although you can't help wondering what when you're supposed to be marveling over the miracle occuring before you. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who hates having children in church and thinks they should be relegated to a nursery; in fact, the toddler could be very well-behaved, but she is fidgety by nature and therefore a potential distraction if things are set up to focus on her and the rest of the congregation instead of on the altar. In fact, such a situation is a perfect setup for grumpy people to complain about having children in church, when Jesus Himself said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me." Instead of blaming kids for being themselves, let's blame the real culprits - the people of questionable judgment who designed these buildings.

Gosh, I guess that was quite a rant! And didn't I give up complaining for Lent? Guess I almost made it!

Famous Hat

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Don't Passover This Post!

First of all, for all my Jewish readers (Hardingfele), Happy Passover! (Of course, she's the one who sent me this picture!) If the kitties had a seder, and they did not wear yarmulkes, Dayenu!

And now back to our regularly scheduled religious themes, which tend to be more Catholic on this blog. Today's Lenten reflection is on alms again, this time on the idea that when we give, it is more important to focus on what the receivers really need rather than on what we want them to have or what is convenient for us to give. For example, my family was always receiving odd cans and boxes of "food" from the food pantry that we had no intention of eating, so we just gave them back during food drives. Here is a more extreme example: imagine you are a woman in a Third World country, and you have had three children die before the age of two. Then some pale people from a wealthy country come to help you. What would you like them to help you with? That your next child survives to adulthood, of course. What do they really offer? In many cases, how to prevent pregnancy or, if that doesn't work, how to terminate pregnancy. Are you interested in limiting the number of children you have when you have no reason to expect more than one in five to reach adulthood? Would you see this as kindness on the part of the pale, rich people, or would you see it as bullying on their part? You would probably assume they want to minimize the number of poor, dark people in the world. If we REALLY want to help others, we should find out what they want help with rather than assuming or, worse, imposing our views on them. We should help their children survive before telling them they should not have so many!

So now that I have addressed Favorite Topic #1 (Abortion Is Evil), I will address Favorite Topic #2 (My Pets Are Cute). Last night I discovered that one of my little darlings had pulled my tradescantia (commonly known by the un-PC name of "wandering Jew") partway off the shelf and consumed most of it. I am not sure who the culprit was; Charlie is not athletic enough to have gotten to this plant, and Cashmere generally eschews fresh produce. My guess is it was Cashmere, but neither rabbit seems to have suffered any ill effects, and the plant got quite a trim but should be just fine, so no harm, no foul. Still, I am going to have to revisit my supposedly rabbit-proof Plant World setup... After all, many of my plants are allegedly quite toxic, although I once watched Charlie eat a poinsettia leaf before I could get to him to stop him, and he's still alive and hopping. Maybe I have Dread Pirate Roberts rabbits who have built up immunities to iocane and all sorts of nasty substances!

And now, a very un-Lenten answer to that burning age-old question: can you scan chocolate? At the behest of my officemate, I scanned the four types of chocolate we currently have available in our office. I did not, however, subsequently eat them, so I cannot say if post-scanned chocolate can be safely consumed.

Famous Hat

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Charlie and Cashmere: Happy Day!

In my goal to create The Most Random Blog Known to Mankind, I have recently neglected what used to be my two favorite topics: Abortion Is Evil and My Pets Are Cute. Today I will focus on Favorite Topic #2 and bore you with more little animal stories. Yesterday was a happy, happy, happy day for Charlie and Cashmere (and Sylvia!) because Allie and Aimee the guinea pigs left. They went home with someone from the Lutheran choir who was very happy to get them. I will miss them, because they were very snuggly and a lot of fun to watch run around, but they were also loud (especially in the morning, when they wanted breakfast) and they drove the rabbits nuts. Charlie and Cashmere just watched in amazement as my choirmate cuddled the piggies, decided she could get along with them, and left with them. Even Sylvia made happy little squeaky noises I've never heard her make before as she ate her dinner.

Here's a true story: the Mideastern band I play in does not have the most reliable drummer, so before one important gig they kept him hostage at the keyboard player's house until we all got in the car to drive to the gig, in a town about an hour south of here. After we had driven for quite some time, the drummer finally asked me in confusion if we were going to another town. It turns out he thought we were going to a street in our city by the same name as this town, so he must have been very confused when we got in the car and drove and drove and drove! He probably thought we had kidnapped him and was wondering where we were taking him. Crazy Americans! I will say that he is an incredible drummer.

Sorry, no Lenten reflection today, but I do have a picture of a lamb. (Unfortunately it looks more Christmasy than Eastery!) This is a little lamb my mother made out of my favorite flannel shirt when it got too worn out. Unlike me, my mother can sew anything.

Famous Hat

Monday, April 6, 2009

You Seder Mater, I Seder Matter

Today's Lenten reflection is on the Eucharist and its connection to Passover. Last night I went to a Christian seder at a neighborhood Catholic church, and the connection between the Passover Seder and the Christian Mass couldn't have been clearer. In the seder, we commemorate the blood of a lamb saving the nation of Israel; in the Mass, we commemorate the blood of the Lamb saving the whole world. At the seder, the father of the family holds up the matzo and breaks it; at the Mass, the priest holds up the host (which is made of unleavened bread) and breaks it.

This is the second Christian seder I've been to, and both times I had an unfortunate fit of "the giggles," which has (thankfully!) never plagued me during the Mass. The first time we were reading from a book typed up by a woman whose fiance was in medical school. He dictated the word "period" wherever he wanted her to put one, but in one case she accidentally typed the word "period," which would not have been SO bad, except it was at the end of the line of a psalm that said: "And death is not the end." Period. Last night I had trouble keeping a straight face as we were dropping wine onto our plates for each plague, and as the "father" recited each one, we intoned it like a bunch of zombies after him. When we got to "frogs," I had to fight not to burst into laughter. Partly it's just the sound of the word (imagine a bunch of zombies droning "frogs") and partly it's the concept. I mean, no wonder Pharoah wouldn't let Moses's people go free! What the heck would a "plague of frogs" entail? "Gosh, Joseph, there sure are a lot of frogs around lately." AND....? Most of the other plagues sound awful, but FROGS? They don't bite, they don't eat crops, and they're frankly kind of cute.

The other moment when I almost burst into helpless laughter last night was when they told us about the dessert; they said, "This cake is thousands of years old. It symbolizes the bricks the Israeli slaves used to build in Egypt." Anna Banana II and I just exchanged a glance. If the cake was that old, it wasn't just a SYMBOL of a brick anymore! Of course what they meant was that the TYPE of cake was thousands of years old, but that's not what they said... I said to Anna Banana II, "I wonder if we could get a more recent piece of cake... like one baked within the last couple of days!" But I will say that the cake was delicious, a dense honey cake.

Friday night Cecil Markovitch declared it was "Lutherans' Night Out," but Kathbert wouldn't come with us to the fish fry, so it was "Lutheran's Night Out" since my OTHER choir director was the only Lutheran there. Cecil said his favorite Lutheran joke was: "What do you call Lutherans from Duluth? Dulutherans!" and I wondered what the jokes were like that didn't make the cut! Then we got in this crazy conversation about the Lutheran's nice nursing nurse niece. Rich Bonomo, Anna Banana II, A-Fooze, and the B-Boys were among the others at Lutheran's Night Out. (We have to miss Frog's Night Out - no joke - because it is inconveniently scheduled for Maundy Thursday.)

Saturday morning my acoustic band had a gig at a nature center to celebrate maple sugar. Afterwards we went to the little zoo they have there, of native animals, and on the way back some brain trust was walking backwards up the path, and as I swerved to avoid him, I tripped and twisted my right ankle (the one I've sprained twice) and then landed on my left knee (the one that was still bruised from skiing last weekend). And that is why I did not do any training for the triathlon this weekend!

Famous Hat

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Evangelical Atheist

My Lenten reflection for today is on evangelical atheists. This morning as I got off the bus, I noticed an advertisement along the side that said: "Sleep in on Sunday mornings," posted by our friendly local evangelical atheist establishment. The ad puzzled me at first, because certainly more people sleep in on Sunday mornings than go to church, and what do these folks gain by increasing their numbers? Generally people pay a lot of money to plaster their message on the side of a bus because they hope to gain something from it, like getting you to buy their brand of poppyseed toothpaste or purchase some dry ice sculptures from them. How do the Evangelical Atheists gain by getting people to stay in bed on Sunday mornings? They certainly don't gain anything monetarily.

I would think atheists would regard those who believe in God the way skeptics regard people who believe in, say, astrology. I'm not one to read my horoscope, but I have noticed that we Capricorns tend to be fascinated by the fact that we're Capricorns. (True story: I worked with a total enginerd who had the same birthday as I did, and he said, "I'll bet you never guessed I was a Capricorn!" Are you kidding? I never would have guessed he knew what a Capricorn was!) Why this should be, I don't know. A goat doesn't seem nearly as cool as a lion, but somehow we always find each other in the crowd and start discussing our Capricornness while the Leos just roll their eyes. However, the Leos do not post ads on the sides of buses saying: "Capricorns, quit reading those descriptions of yourselves in the Astrology books!" Why would they spend money on something they consider silly? And shouldn't atheists consider Christianity something silly that they don't want to waste time and money debunking?

I'll tell you what their motivation is: FEAR. No matter how many Capricorns say, "I'm supposed to be very organized," no sane Leo is going to think, "I should go read an astrology book to see what I'm like!" But when a Christian gives up sleeping in on Sunday morning, somehow that threatens these Evangelical Atheists. They think it is some sort of comment on their lifestyle. Now of course it isn't, since everyone knows you can go to Saturday evening Mass and sleep in on Sunday morning. What is actually behind their fear is guilt; the Leos know that no Big Astrologer in the Sky is going to come down and say to them, "Yo, LEO!!! How many astrology books have I put in front of you, and yet you still don't know what Leos are like!" Because of course there is no Big Astrologer in the Sky to do that. However, when Christians go to church on Sunday morning, that reminds atheists that there just might be a Big Judge in the Sky who doesn't like what they are doing. Otherwise, why on earth would ANYONE care what someone else does with her spare time? Especially enough to spend money on bus ads? Christians may care what the atheists are doing for the sake of their souls, but if atheists don't believe we have souls, then their nosiness doesn't stem from concern for Christians but their own guilt.

Funny that these are the same people who say: "Opposed to abortion? Don't have one!" Their world view is not very consistent, or they would say, "Opposed to going to church? Then don't!" with the same implied understanding that the other choice is just as valid. Apparently they consider a woman's right to choose pregnancy or termination sacrosanct, but her right to choose church or sleep should be influenced by ads on the side of a bus.

Famous Hat

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More Cool Pens

So here are some more pens we got from vendors. Here is one with floating things in it:

Figure 1: Pen with Floaty Things

This one is a light-up pen that lights up in several colors (green, red, magenta, and blue, but they didn't turn out that well, especially the green):

Figure 2: Unlit Light-Up Pen

Figures 3 and 4: Magenta and Blue

Figures 5 and 6: Green and Red

Famous Hat

I'll Take My Vocation... in Tahiti!!

Today's Lenten reflection is on vocations. No matter what your vocation in life is, Christ should still be the center of your life. When I was young and madly in love with Hoodoo Head, he was the center of my universe. He was the sun I orbited. As I matured, I could see how such a "love solar system" was completely unnatural, and it seemed to me that a much better model would be a twin star system with two equal suns revolving around each other. However, when Ubi Caritas and I were contemplating a vocation of marriage to each other and I read Fulton Sheen's Three to Get Married, I realized the best analogy for married life would be two equal planets in each other's orbits, both circling the same sun (Christ). The best marriages are not those where the spouses gaze at each other but where they both gaze in the direction of God.

Some people, of course, are not meant for a vocation to marriage but for a religious vocation. They are the sole planet in their solar system, orbiting the sun of God with no distractions. I thought this sounded like a wonderful life, and the people I know who were called to it seem to be so full of joy, but apparently God is not calling me to a religious vocation. As hard as I listened for the call, I never heard it, and finally my spiritual director told me straight out that he did not feel I was called to the religious life.

So I fall in that fuzzy third category: those people who are still not sure what their vocations are. That's right - I STILL don't know what I want to be when I grow up! It matters not, as long as I keep God at the center of my universe, I can deal with all the comets and meteors that might enter my solar system, and maybe someday I will share it with another planet... or many other planets! (To stretch this silly analogy to the breaking point, I do have a couple of little moons named Charlie and Cashmere!) (I'm only counting the rabbits because the guinea pigs will hopefully be adopted by someone from the Lutheran choir this weekend, and Sylvia the Hedgehog isn't much of a moon. She's more like space debris.)

Wherever my vocation in life takes me, hopefully it's warm and full of palm trees!

Famous Hat

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Amazing Timepiece

No Lenten reflection today. I just wanted to tell you about the amazing timepiece I acquired last night. It started when we saw a bright light just behind a distant mountain. See below.

Figure 1: Arantxa Approaches the Light

Arantxa and I walked toward it as if in a trance until a powerful beam suddenly pulled us up into the sky. To our surprise, we found ourselves aboard an enormous space vehicle, speaking to three strange creatures. I don't know how to describe them except to say that they resembled Chthulhu more than Hello Kitty. They didn't directly speak to us but communicated telepathically somehow. When they found out Arantxa was Basque, they told her the deepest secrets of the Universe. Since I'm not one bit Basque but just your basic Anglo-Celto-American, they apologized and said they could not reveal these secrets to me but they could give me a very special gift, a watch that would help me travel through the time-space continuum. I cannot reveal everything I learned, but I will say this: be very careful when going down the steps next Tuesday. I have included a picture of the watch, but you probably cannot understand the arcane phrases on it. Neither can I; only Arantxa has that power.

Figure 2: Space Alien Watch/Time-Space Continuum Bender

APRIL FOOLS!!! It's just some silly watch a drug company sent us free in the mail. The amino acid codes are no substitute for plain, old-fashioned Arabic numerals when it comes to telling the time.

We did have a truly odd April Fools' Day here at work; some coworkers came back to their office mid-morning just to find that the lock on the door had been replaced by a key pad! They had keys to the office but did not know the code of the key pad so they had to do some research. They still don't know if this was an accident or a crazy April Fools' Day prank...

Famous Hat