Friday, December 31, 2004

a personal connection to the tsunami

We just got home from being away and unable to look up any information on the tsunami. Well, when I looked at the map, I nearly got sick: our favorite island, our paradise, was right directly in the path.

It lies perfectly between the area that got hit bad (Phuket) and the area that got hit least (Myanmar), so we haven't the slightest idea how all our friends are doing, or whether they're even alive, or whether their little set of bungalows survived or are reparable, or whether the whole thing missed them. There's another large island right in the path between them and the wave, so it might have protected them, but we don't know. We're waiting till it's a decent time to call, so we can try to reach one of our favorite hostesses, the incomparable Moon. We're praying not only that she's OK, but that she's reachable, so we'll be OK.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

kindred souls

Catherine and I are enjoying a winter retreat that her church has every year. Last year at this time, we zipped up there and shared news of our engagement. This year, we're enjoying the beautiful central Texas weather — blue blue blue sky, clear air with a bit of scent left unpurged by citification, just cold enough to be nice and bracing. And we're enjoying the company of people we only get to see a couple of times a year. Even though I've only actually seen some of these folks a few times period, I think of them as old friends.

That's one of the things I'm grateful for about Catherine: her village has accepted me as one of their own. Partially that's because I am one of their own, with my geeky interests and broadband worldview. So nice to find not just one kindred soul, but a collective of them!

Monday, December 27, 2004

engaged one year

Catherine and I are celebrating our one-year-since-engagement anniversary. One year! We got to thinking about all those people who have engagements that last a year, or a year and a half. Frankly, we're not sure the relationship would have survived it. Soooooo glad we got married after a brief three-month whirlwind.

Friday, December 24, 2004

advent thoughts

Click on over to and read my piece on Advent that I did a few years ago.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

cool song: the jesus gift

Ever hear of the song "The Jesus Gift" by Gilbert Martin? It was driven into our head with a railroad spike every Christmas at my church, but very few others have heard it. I've never heard it out shopping.

Which is a shame, because it's a great song, with a catchy uplift to the melody. The Jazz Protagonists play it every Christmas whenever we get the chance. It sets very well to jazz, getting that warm Christmassy feeling that only a jazz combo can get. What if Vince Guaraldi had never discovered the perfect marriage of Christmas and jazz?

Here's a recording of us playing it at a recent jazz party, in Mp3 or RealAudio.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

the problem with state quarters

Here's the problem with the state quarters. The problem is that money — especially in the US — is a fairly permanent thing. It just doesn't change that much. That's why we're all sort of upset about those new 20 dollar bills looking so dang European.

So, if you travel at all, and somehow have some foreign change lying around, then it's easy to pick out the American money — you don't even think about it — except that the state quarters get in the way. Is that a quarter? Is it some Chinese / Japanese / Thai coin we must've picked up along the way? What is it? Give us our quarters back.

Plus, there's the main thing wrong with them: Home of James Piddle! Land of 23 Sunflower Varieties! The Gooseberry State! Granfalooning, all of it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


A friend mentioned my photo essay on trees that i put up last year around this time. I thought, "man, those are good pictures." So, take a look.

Monday, December 20, 2004

i saw the whole thing

Yesterday, Catherine and I were lying in a postprandial embrace. Her eyes closed. A few seconds after the last thing had been said, Catherine's leg jumped. I then made a comment about jimmylegs, and she said that she'd had a dream involving her two sisters in law, Jenny and Jill. I now forget what the dream was about, but she described an entire situation. And it all happened in those few seconds.

So. I have now watched someone have an entire few-second-long dream. What a world of intimacy marriage is!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

saturday, saturnalia, christmas

Interesting: as I was typing in today's day, Saturday, I was reminded powerfully of the origins of that name. It's another example of how much that is ours goes back thousands of years. Just today, in fact, is the beginning of the traditional feast also named after Saturn.

Saturnalia was the central holiday of the Roman year — the festival of the unconquered sun. Toward the dead of winter, the winter solstice, they worshipped in order to persuade the sun to come back. Their traditions? Gift-giving, eating too much, gathering at various homes for parties...

Friday, December 17, 2004

a hun fobby

Recently I've been spitting into goonerisms. They're fust jain plunny. I always used to be able to crack up Trannah and Hey (my, er, niece and nephew) by spooing them dontaneously.

They're named after Rev. Archibald Spooner, who lived at the surn of the tentury. He had some mild comical form of dyslexia and committed these little swerbal vitches, to the amusement of his students ("those of you who hissed my mystery lecture," "Her Majesty, our queer old dean"). Spictly streaking, a spoonerism occurs when the two words (missed, history) become two other real words (hissed, mystery) when their initial letters or sounds switch; it's especially gratifying when those two new real words have a meaning (like when your professor talks of hissing a lecture, or a queer old dean).

But it's still fun to do even if you don't meet those strict requirements. For whatever reason, I'm able to endlessly spew them out in casual conversation, especially when children are around.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

introducing the feliz navidad

Last night, at Pappasito's, Catherine ordered a Wave, which is a frozen margarita swirled with frozen sangria, except she wanted the sangria replaced with strawberry frozen margarita. It was delicious. I suggested that instead of having to order it that way, we just call it a different name, and then you could order it.

Thus was born the Feliz Navidad. A frozen lime margarita swirled with frozen strawberry margarita. It's green and red, it's festive, it's tex-mex, what's not to like? So. Go in to Pappacito's and order a Feliz Navidad. Maybe we'll have a meme on our hands.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

poor guy

I was in one of those meetings that had lots of business corpses involved. One guy actually spoke of "involvement strategies for this ministry opportunity."

I thought, "Poor guy." But then I thought, "His poor wife." How would you like to be married to someone who uses the Latin term for everything?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

sheet philosophies

What is your sheet philosophy?

Catherine and I, as it turns out, have very different sheet philosophies. My idea is that sheets are rectangular pieces of cloth that tuck in at the end, leaving room so your feet don't get stuck, and tuck in a bit on one side or partway up. That way, you get in and you're covered. Same with the blankets. You then have the freedom to fold down a blanket, or even fold down the sheet, roll around in bed, change positions, whatever you need to do; in the morning, it's still easy as pie to toss the sheets up and make the bed nicely. Then you have the same setup for the next night.

Catherine's idea is that sheets are three-dimensionally amoebic objects that can be bunched up on the surface of the bed and used to keep the legs from sweating on each other, to keep parts of one's body warm or cool or protected from the air-motion of the heater or AC, to help one feel a certain feeling (coziness, tranquility), and to help mitigate the temperature difference of two bodies. Thus, the sheets may wind up in any position on the bed, or on the floor, by the end of the night. The purpose of making the bed, then, is to reset the sheets and blankets to their neutral starting position for the next night.

Ideal position vs neutral starting position. That says it all, doesn't it? Two completely different, and incompatible, sheet philosophies. Two completely different ideas about what the very definition of a sheet even is.

This seems related in my mind to the fact that I define a menu as a list of dishes that the chef and staff of a restaurant have developed; whereas Catherine defines a menu as something more like I would define "recipe": a list of ingredients that a customer can use to create a custom-made meal that is exactly to his or her liking.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

what kind of a name is diebenkorn

Several years ago now, over a decade ago, I'd read an article that involved the modern artist Richard Diebenkorn. (I guess it was around the time of his death.) For some reason, the name struck me funny that day, so my way of honoring the dead was to say to myself, "Diebenkorn?!?! Diebenkorn?!?! Hmh!"

I remember telling that story to a dear friend and possibly the only person besides Eric Lewis who'd understand, Frances Reed. By that time I had said that to myself over a period of days, just randomly, apropos of nothing. I'd be sitting there minding my own business, and think, "DIEBENKORN?!"

Frances told me quite a while later that she was in class taking a test, and suddenly found herself staring into space thinking, "Diebenkorn?" She said her teacher looked at her funny.

And that's the purpose of my life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

musician's december

Catherine and I are going through a frustrating season: Musicians' December. It's always a busy month for musicians. Actually, this year is slightly less busy than usual, but still it's frustrating for a relationship, especially a marriage that hasn't gone through it before.

How wonderful, then that at last we have the promise of each other, if not each other in the flesh during this season. We haven't been able to spend time together like we like to and need to do. But, though we were exhausted last night from a wall-to-wall schedule, it was sheer joy to feel her sleeping next to me all night long. I look forward to the minutes a day we get to see each other, and long for Musicians' January — the great joy of Musicians' Life — when we have togetherness like few modern Americans can buy.

Monday, December 6, 2004

the tragedy of the uncommons

You've heard of the Tragedy of the Commons, right? The idea that whenever there's something that's public property, it gets abused by individuals who have no vested interest in not abusing it. Everybody lets their cows overgraze, because each person wants to get as much for their pooled resources as possible, but the overgrazing actually makes the commons unusable after a while.

Well, Adam Gopnik has introduced me to the idea of the Tragedy of the Uncommons. Unusual, small businesses are generally what give a place its character. But, even though every one of us cherishes those things — the local restaurants, the cool hardware store where everybody knows you — no one wants to shell out enough to keep them going, because the fact is that Macaroni's and Wal-Mart are just fine. The food at Macaroni's is absolutely delicious; the coffee at Starbucks is truly excellent; anyone who's ever spent time in a Communist country recognizes Wal-Mart for what it is: a consumer wonderland. And yet it is precisely those giant forces that give each place its monotony.

No one goes to Paris for its Gap, Old Navy, Starbucks, Hard Rock Cafe, and Best Buy. Nor to San Antonio. But we all contribute to the demise of the uncommon and the triumph of the monotonous by patronizing those very places, which is in our best immediate economic interest but not in the long-term interest of our unusual locality.

The Tragedy of the Uncommons.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

hot chocolate

Man, I've been feeling terrible lately. Just physically tired, bad cough, bad attitude. But I do at least have hot chocolate. How can anyone not like this drink? It's hot, it's chocolate, what's not to like? You put a little coffee in, or you put some cinnamon and vanilla in, or you put some bailey's (or, in my case, heather cream, which I like better than bailey's) in, or you just drink it straight.

Here's the mix recipe I inherited from my mom, and tweaked to perfection on my own. It's quite simply the best hot chocolate you'll ever have: very choclaty, but not too thick or syrupy.

You take a makes-8-gallons-size of powdered milk, a regular size nesquick, 8 ounces of powdered cream (HEB makes the best kind, better than cremora), and then about 2 ounces of powdered sugar. Stick them all together, and blend away. Then just add some to boiling water whenever you like.

But here's the key: There's no such thing as a 6 ounce serving. Seriously, when's the last time you used one of those dainty tea-party cups for hot chocolate? No. You use a nice big mug. 11 ounces by my calculation. You put about half a cup of the mix into a nice big mug with no office humor on it, then you add the boiling water.

To make it simply perfect, add a slim slim teaspoon of instant coffee to it. Addictive.

What I'd love to do, though, is make the perfect Mexican hot chocolate recipe with that, but I simply can't find one thing: cinnamon extract. Liquid cinnamon extract to put with the vanilla. Regular cinnamon doesn't quite cut it, because it never blends with the chocolate. It just floats on top. I guess that's OK, but it isn't perfect, like that Abuelita stuff you can get, which is delicious but a bit of a hassle. So. Ideas, anyone?