Wednesday, November 30, 2005

custard nog?

It's getting to be that time of year, when one buys lots and lots of eggnog. Better yet, one makes lots and lots of eggnog. But we were at the store the other day and saw something called custard nog. Never heard of it; had to try it.

It's delicious, slightly chalky, and bears a thick resemblance to melted ice cream. A new vice!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

calculating Gs on thanksgiving

I wasn't the only one who enjoyed a spoonful of sugar the other day: Sean had a bit of fun asking what it would take to experience 1g lateral acceleration; moments later, Jason had the answer.

One more thing I'm thankful for: friends for whom life is one gee after another.

Monday, November 28, 2005

fun on thanksgiving

The day after Thanksgiving, Catherine and I managed to catch up with the McMains galaxy for a delightful afternoon of nature, sweat, and togetherness.

One highlight was the hour or so spent on a park playground. For the first time in too long, I mounted the do-it-yourself carousel. You know what I mean: that flat disk that has a few rails to hang on to. You get on and some game adult spins you till you're dizzy. I was the game adult; my victims were the irrepressible McMains children. We yelled and screamed with delight, we jumped on and fell off, we skidded into pebbles, we looked up at the spinning trees and sky.

We all squatted down and hung off the edges while I got us spinning, then we pulled in and leaned into the center, speeding up till we could barely hang on, and proving that the law of the conservation of angular motion is the funnest law of all. It's one of the many laws of physics that can make you scream, especially if you're seven. As this was a McMains gathering, that law was discussed among kids of all ages, and its implications were explored, with as great a zeal as the jumping on and off.

Yes! The distinctly human joy of scrambling brain and viscera, of feeling the laws of nature in one's bones! What better kickoff to Advent? What better way to dive into the mysteries of incarnation and praxis? I shall scream with the understanding also.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

to be named after

Catherine is talking on the phone with a friend of hers, Dana, who just had a baby. The baby's name is Catherine; I said jestingly, "Oh, hey! They named her after you!"

She said, "Yep." They really did? "Yep."

When I was up at Baylor the other week, I stopped by the statue dedicated to Robert Browning's closet drama Pippa Passes. The play pictures several sets of people in various dire, sinful, or ugly situations of their own making. Pippa is a girl who, as the title suggests, merely passes by, singing her song. But even that passing creates transformed lives. It's a dramatization of the moral butterfly effect.

I've often thought that Catherine was one of the Pippas of the world; not a guru or a lecturer or a maneuverer but simply a woman whose mere presence seems to leave the air perfumed with grace. This friend, Dana, isn't on a daily stay-in-touch basis with Catherine. They don't live in the same town; they rarely see each other. And yet Catherine has been such a presence in Dana's consciousness that Dana has named her daughter for her.

Surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

requests part 2

To add to the growing list of strange interactions with people at gigs:

I'm just through with the head of Ellington's "Take the A Train" and entering the solo section when a guy comes up and asks, "Are you the one playing piano?"

"Yes," I answer, with a Gene Kelly smile.

"Can you play 'Charlie Brown?' "

"Sure thing."

A brief minute later, before the Ellington song was over, he comes up and says something I don't understand, but that sounds like "the one that goes like this." Then he starts tunelessly humming something with his hand cupped over his mouth like an M.C.

I ask him (while still playing), "Wait, what?"

He comes right up behind me and says, "Well, stop playing." I indicate that I wouldn't but I'd listen to what he was humming. He cups his hand over his mouth again and does that little bounce that people do, and this time I recognize what he's trying to hum.

It's "Charlie Brown."

He says, "I meant the 'Charlie Brown' that goes like that."

Monday, November 7, 2005

12-step bible

A friend just got the Serenity Bible. It's not for science fiction buffs; it's for people in twelve-step recovery.

Our society's relentless specialization is sometimes dismaying ("Mock-Chicken Soup for the Vegan Golfer"), but when I saw this I was strangely uplifted. Even though I generally think the Bible itself rather than anyone's gloss on it is what has power in a person's life, I was glad to see an "edition" of Scriptures that didn't seem frivolous.

Still, you might be asking yourself, "...but who is this Bible for?"

Friday, November 4, 2005

the ford mugs

One of the many pleasurable things about our wedding was that the ceremony was at the near-perfect Parker Chapel, a room that was designed by O'Neil Ford. Any San Antonian has seen several buildings of his: plain-to-ugly exteriors, in the manner of the middle twentieth century, sheltering incredible interior spaces that are miracles of space and light.

The most recognizable icon he created was the orange brick bell tower of Trinity University. It's the perfect example of his style. It's straightforwardly modern in its lines and materials and aesthetic, and yet it looks unmistakably San Antonian. There's some gesture there in its pared-down silhouette that reflects the four-century architectural tradition of this region. That's O'Neil Ford for you: uncompromising modernism with a local accent.

Parker Chapel is both soaring grandeur and modest graciousness, with iconographically churchy shapes and forms and colors translated into twentieth-century high modernism, and suffused with an authentic and original glow. We were thrilled to be able to have our wedding ceremony there. The icing on the cake: when we were seated for the family-blessing time, we found ourselves sitting in Thonet chairs. A charmed life, I tell you.

Ford was a minor celebrity in these parts when he walked the earth. He died in the seventies, and his wife died a few years ago. The kids have just gotten through going through all the stuff and are finally ready to sell off the huge chunk of land they lived on (right next door, appropriately, to Mission San Jose). The Ford estate, an arts villita with several houses and barns and workplaces connected by brick-paved alleyways, was by all counts a mess: gorgeous decor, an enviable library, all the gracious trappings — scattered about like an artist's mind.

The estate sale was this week. Catherine and I went down to have a look. By the time we got there the only things left were thirty-eight-thousand-dollar desks and ten-cent Dallas Cowboys pens: the junk everyone's grandparents couldn't bear to throw away, mixed with incredible treasures.

We passed on the thousand-dollar sterling set, though it was simply brilliant twentieth-century design, spare and perfectly balanced. We also passed on the very inexpensive Haviland Limoge china, also a brilliant expression of the middle century, but horribly chipped and damaged.

We didn't, though, pass on everything. We came away with a pair of champagne saucers — de rigeur until those flutes came along in the eighties — and a set of elegant, plain green-gray coffee mugs. Both are the perfect remembrance of Ford's virtues, and both fit right into our household.

So. O'Neil and Wanda, cheers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

an unprecedented sentence?

English has an abundance of words, but we use so few of them on a daily basis. Is it really possible to come up with a sentence that's never been uttered before? How about this one, heard recently at the Brake household:

"I love it when your apple cheek fits into my eye socket."