Monthly Archives: December 2007

Our Christmas Card Letter This Year

Holiday Greetings from the Nation’s Capitol!

It’s been yet another busy year. Regarding home improxmas_post_1bvement, we finally finished re-doing the stairs. Beyond that, we don’t have much to show except for new paint in the living and dining rooms. The dining room has no wood trim – that’s Edward’s next project. The painting project took so long because Edward had to reconstruct various parts of the walls in the dining area, including one area twice, after having to rip out the new drywall so that we could have (totally wacky) plumbers install new pipes for an outside faucet in the front (so Dawn doesn’t have to drag the hose from the backyard through the house). And then Edward had to replace a few broken or rotted floorboards. This all took several months. Dawn was very exasperated about not having a dining room table for all that time except for the weekend when her dad came to visit.

xmas_post_2bOur sad news is that our evil-but-beloved cat Louise (picture at left) died in April, at the ripe old age of 18. We had her cremated and buried her in the backyard with her Mr. Mousie, in a grand ceremony with a home-made gravestone. In May, we got another cat, a pretty white female with blue eyes and gray tabby markings. Her name is Evie, and she’s both adorable and a little on the crazy-obsessive side. She’s spent much of her time with us in an Elizabethan collar, first because of an eye infection and then because she developed a strange insistence upon licking her inner thighs raw and bloody. She’s already cost us more in vet bills than Louise and Gwen combined during their entire lives. Evie’s favorite hobbies are tormenting Gwen, playing with her toy mousies, and eating. She’d be quite the little tub o’ lard, but we ration her kibbles to try and keep her stomach from dragging on the ground. We thought Gwen would enjoy being the alpha cat for once, but Evie turns out to be the pushy one – the confidence of youth! See the picture of Evie with Dawn below from her early days with us, slender and complete with shaved belly (from spaying) and Elizabethan collar.

We finally went on a vacation this year – our first non-family vacation since our honeymoon. We went to Boston in early May. We drove there, and it was just amazing to see how late spring comes in New England. Although the temperatures were in the 80s, the forsythia was still blooming and the trees were just starting to get their leaves. We had a wonderful time. Boston’s a beautiful city. We walked everywhere, even to Harvard, which turned out to be a bit further away than we were expecting! Edward went to see the USS Constitution (a famous old wooden Navy ship) twice, once with Dawn and once on his own, while Dawn was visiting the librarians at her new firm. Which brings us to our next news item…

Dawn has a new job. She’s now the D.C. Lixmas_post_3bbrary Manager for Ropes & Gray, a Boston-based firm. She likes her new job, but doesn’t like having to travel to Boston and New York on a regular basis for meetings and HR training. She especially enjoys making more money than Edward once again! Edward is still at the American Society of Hematology. He has to go work their annual conference for the first time this year, so he’ll be gone to Atlanta for 10 days in December, which is why we’re getting the Christmas tree up and the Christmas cards out before he goes!

We bought new bikes this year and have been riding them a lot. We got Bianchi commuter bikes, so they’re sturdy but not remarkably speedy. Dawn rides to work almost every day and Edward rides about once a week. Dawn likes not having to wait for Edward (who’s almost always running late) to come pick her up from ballet or the gym in the evenings. We try to go for at least one long ride together on the weekends. We rode to Mt. Vernon one Thursday when we had the day off. That’s forty miles, round trip! When we got home we were so exhausted we went straight to bed. Dawn’s planning to get a road bike next year so she can zip on ahead of Edward on those long rides. Edward’s long legs and bigger tires make him much faster than Dawn, but he likes to go slow and not get sweaty so he usually lets Dawn go first.

We wish you all a blessed holiday season and a very Happy New Year!

Dawn & Edward & Gwen & Evie

Movies I Saw in 2007

From best to worst:

Eastern Promises
Casino Royale
Mrs. Brown
Michael Collins
La Vie en Rose
Garden State
Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself
The Lavender Hill Mob
Bride and Prejudice
Little Children
The Door in the Floor
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Lawrence of Arabia
To Kill a Mockingbird
Funny Face
Little Miss Sunshine
Jules and Jim
L’ultimo Bacio
Jamaica Inn
Baby the Rain Must Fall
Imitation of Life (1959)
Imitation of Life (1934)

And didn’t finish:

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
The Squid and the Whale
Blue Crush


Dawn plans a mid-day trip to the National Gallery of Art. We ride our bikes over after we work out at our gym. We’re going mainly to see the J.M.W. Turner exhibition, since it’s closing next week. But while we’re there we may as well check out the Edward Hopper.

Being the ignorant fellow that I am, I’m pretty clueless as to who this Turner guy is. But, as I learn today, I’m at least familiar with his painting of HMS Temeraire. I’m not sure why. But the amazing discovery today is: dude painted other boats. Lots of other boats. Non-boat stuff too, but, as you’ll see, I mainly concentrate on his maritime works.

First up is Fisherman at Sea (1796, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 122.2 cm, framed, Tate, London). It’s dark scary night-time. I try to figure out just what they’re doing at the moment, since they don’t seem to have sails up, neither do they have out sweeps or oars. Okay then, they must have nets out, but it’s hard to see ’em. Seems like I can make out one line that’s out, but that looks taut like an anchor line. Ah, there are some floats, what must be the nets.

And Dawn by this time is done with this gallery and moving on to the next. She makes so much better use of her time at museums. I always want to stop and stare. She likes the 30-minute exhibition. I like the 5-hour tour. So that’s why I pretty much ignore everything else and go for the boats. Gives me time to stare properly at some things anyway.

Then there’s The Shipwreck (1805, oil on canvas, 170.5 x 241.5 cm, framed, Tate, London). Again with the scary night, but this is much scarier what with the wreck and all. The ship itself is pretty much hidden, behind the sail of the cutter or launch or whichever boat it is, the biggest of the ship’s boats.

At least Spithead: Boat’s Crew Recovering an Anchor (1808, oil on canvas, 171.4 x 235 cm, framed, Tate, London) is daytime, although it looks like a crummy day’s work nonetheless. Looks pretty windy. And it’s a strange angle where the viewer sees the action unfolding. We’re way down low, right at the surface of the sea. The horizon is just a straight line. We’re almost in a strange bowl, underneath which is this supposed anchor. Again, what hard work. How deep is Spithead anyway?

The very earliest Horatio Hornblower story has him arriving on HMS Justinian, in Spithead. He’s immediately seasick, to great derision, especially from the evil Simpson.

The real stars of the show to me today are the two paintings of Trafalgar. The first is Turner’s largest work, up there on the wall looking as big as my living room, The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 (1823-1824, oil on canvas, 259.1 x 365.8 cm [that’s like 8 feet by 12 feet], National Maritime Museum, London). It apparently was much criticized in its day, for daring to compress the action. Notice how the famous morning “England expects …” signal is flying from Victory’s main-mast, when it would have been on the mizzen-mast, which we see the mizzentop mast has fallen, when that happened later, in the early afternoon, while Redoubtable sinks in the foreground, which wasn’t until the next day. It’s all very exciting, if not at all photo-journalistic.

More up close and personal is The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory (1806, reworked 1808, oil on canvas, 170.8 x 238.8 cm, framed, Tate, London). At first I can’t figure out why everyone seems to be just standing around, when it’s clearly some warm action going on, all sorts of ships yardarm to yardarm. But then I figure that those guys in the red coats are the Marines. Sharpshooters, although they’re on deck, not in the tops. Those other guys over there are in fact hauling on ropes, not just lollygagging. Then it really hits me that the one other group, well, they are in fact just standing there. Or some are crouching there, cradling the just mortally wounded Lord Nelson, who lies in the middle of them. I stare at this tragic scene for quite a while. Then I go back to the living-room sized Trafalgar picture for a while. Then back to this one for another long stare.

Sadly, Turner’s later work leaves me pretty cold. He apparently is pre-figuring modernism, getting almost impressionistic. Somewhat unsatisfying mush, to my eyes. Case in point is Disaster at Sea, aka The Wreck of the Amphitrite (c. 1833-1835, oil on canvas, 171.5 x 222.1 cm, Tate, London). Those blobs are said to be women and children. It’s supposed to be tragic. It sounds tragic, but I guess I expect a painting to do more than sound tragic. And it’s weird because Turner goes to Italy around this time and does some damned sharp paintings of Venice.

Time to leave, Dawn is quite done here. Maybe I can come back during the week.

We go over to the East Building. Whereas Turner was just really crowded, there’s a long line waiting to get into the Edward Hopper. No thanks. We’re not that big of fans. We head back to the West Building for British Picturesque Landscapes. This turns out to be one tiny gallery, with book illustrations. Gives us time then to also check out the Baroque Woodcut exhibition. Which turns out to be stunning in its own way as well. Great explanation and examples of process. That one runs through March. You should totally go see that one.

Random Thoughts on the Songs

Day After Tomorrow. First heard this when Tom Waits was on the Daily Show. It’s probably your typical Tom Waits dirge, which I love, as opposed to the standard issue Tom Waits sort of noisy carnival or disturbed cabaret song that I don’t like. But this song fits in, especially as a counterpoint to the last song, the Patty Griffin Poor Man’s House. Here it’s “Tell me how does God choose? Whose prayers does he refuse?”

The Open Road Song. I like how this song’s point of view changes, going from the child’s naive romantic vision of the hobo to the really cynical present-day troubadour. But given how this mix developed, “When I grow up I want to be a bum” fit right in. I also like a lot how his voice goes down low and flat towards the end of the “I seek my fortune in the wide world” line.

Marieke. I may have mentioned elsewhere seeing a production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in the basement of the Irish Times with Abby. This was the song that really knocked me out. I did embarrass myself later when I mentioned liking that song that was sung partially in German by the crying girl. After a bit of a pause they, Abby and the producer, both mumbled something about it being (famously) in Dutch. Jacques Brel was Flemish, didn’t you know. It’s otherwise just sort of a simple song about loss, about missing someone who is long gone. I don’t remember narratively where it fit into the show, if there’s anything more specific than that. But it’s grand and sad and the use of a different language just adds to the sadness. Like missing a person and a place and a time and a way of life, all of it gone.

Settin’ the Woods on Fire. I kinda like lightening things up a little with this, when there’s so much else from Hank Williams that could have really helped go further south here. I especially love the line “We’ll order up two bowls of chili.” But then also I’ve always loved how the song puts the good time that will be had in a definite perspective. “Tomorrow I’ll be right back plowing,” he says. It reminds me of, and why I love, Something Else by Eddie Cochran. Or much by Chuck Berry. People having fun, but having to work for it. Like the exact opposite of the privileged fun found in most any Beach Boys song.

The Needle Has Landed. Not really sure what this song’s about. Neko Case is always a bit enigmatic. But that’s part of the enjoyment, of course. In some ways I take the needle to mean a record needle. “Let it play,” she sings. And so it’s sort of an ode to things that are gone now, like those records we used to play. But there’s a darker tale in here somewhere as well. She gets left at the Greyhound station when she moves away, apparently not to return: “And that’s why I never come back here. That’s why they spit out my name.” But also “If I knew then what’s so obvious now, [then] you’d still be here baby” is such a great lovely sad wistful line. The song also somehow makes me think of two Ken Follet novels, The Eagle has Landed and The Eye of the Needle, but I don’t think they have anything to do with this.

Three Days Straight. Clearly about being trapped in a mine, although not otherwise political in a way that, say, Woody Guthrie might have sung about mine accidents. He gets a little wild and makes a speech when the reporter from channel 9 asks him a question, but we don’t ever find out what he has to say. He does tell us that he wouldn’t go back in that hole again, to save his life.

No Bad News. Directed at President Bush, I imagine. A sad little boy. She asks him why doesn’t he burn his own house down and leave the rest of us to live in peace. But, clearly by the title of this whole mix, my favorite lines are “We’ll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us, till there are no strangers anymore.” I reworked it a little for the title, but it’s an amazing and wonderful Christian idea. And, hey, I love the rocking mariachi horns as well.

Where the Smoke Blows. I have no idea what the Bothy Acoustic Mix means. I haven’t heard any other mixes of this song. But Karine Polwart is amazing nonetheless. I first saw her when she did a lot of singing at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2003. I worked only a couple blocks away and made it down a whole lot of days. And she was part of the Scotland part of the events. Battlefield Band was there as well, although she was no longer a member by then, being a member of Mailnky. She’s since moved on from them as well. They had a CD or 2 of Malinky at the store at the festival, but I never bought any. I wanted just her, like she was on stage, not as part of some larger group. Finally now she’s gone solo.

Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards. Putting down some poli-tunes would like require some Billy Bragg, by like law or something, wouldn’t it? I’ve always loved this particular song because I like to dance to it, doing a weird kind of jig to it in my kitchen. It apparently has Michelle Shocked singing backup on in, before she was famous, although now she’s not famous anymore. There’s a big message here, even though it seems to flow linearly lyrically from grand (Fidel Castro’s brother) to the really personal (the revolutionary t-shirt). And he yells out, “Beam me up, Scotty” at the end. I saw Billy Bragg once at the 9:30 Club, with a full band, and a then-not-yet-a-superstar-in-Canada Sarah Harmer opened.

James Connolly. Saw Black 47 with my brother and sister at a bar in East Hanover NJ once. Was a great show, except when Larry Kirwan told the crowd that it was great to be in East Brunswick. He winced just after he said it, knowing he’d screwed up. I especially love the monologue in the break in this song. Don’t let them bury me in a field of shamrocks, he pleads. Raise the Starry Plough on high instead.

The Tigers Have Spoken. This one by Neko Case seems pretty straightforward. There’s this tiger that’s been chained up forever. Goes crazy, so they shoot it. This particular version is from a live show at the 9:30 Club. Not that I was there; it was recorded by NPR. Before this song, Neko says, “This is a very sad song about tigers.” It sure is. I gather it’s also about loneliness. But then also there was just the other day an incident at the zoo in San Francisco, where a tiger got out of its cage and killed a guy and mauled two others. Police shot it dead.

Workin’ For The Enemy. I love so many of the rhymes and images in this song. There’s this truck filled with stolen goods that the narrator and Sonny are supposed to drive south, “Down two-lane highways in the foggy woods with a cigar in my mouth.” And rhyming “business being tendered” with “we went on a bender.” I also especially like his description of the ’67 Ford when it stops working: “The Galaxie broke down.” Nicely describes a whole lotta things, seems like. The narrative itself somewhat breaks down at the end. Not sure what finding his rising star means, unless it’s supposed to go with the galaxy image as well.

Long Walk Home. Another one seemingly aimed right at George W. Bush. At the end he sings about how his father tells him what a community means, how it doesn’t crowd you but it doesn’t let you go it alone either. And that the flag flying over the courthouse means certain things. Tells us what we’ll do, and what we won’t do. I like to think that one of the things that what we won’t do is torture people. I don’t know if it’s on purpose or what, but in the video for the song, right after that line, there’s a cut to a shot of a young man. He’s seen behind a fence, maybe like he’s locked up, like those poor forgotten souls down in Guantanamo.

No More Buffalo. Really the song that made me want to make this mix. I explained before how dazzled I was by the third verse, with the dust of the herds. I love the advice about still chasing after what used to be there. “Top that rise and face the pain,” he says.

Johnny Appleseed. (Do you ever think of the real Johnny Appleseed as a sort of environmental terrorist, deliberately effecting an invasive non-native species? No, I suppose not. Was apparently an immensely loving gentle soul.) In the song here, Joe sings about poor workers locked in the factory. It always make me think of the horrible fire at the Imperial Foods chicken processing plant in Hamlet NC in 1991, where twenty-five workers died because they were locked in, like in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911. This is progress? “If you’re after getting the honey,” Joe says, “then you don’t go killing all the bees.”

The Unwelcome Guest. Also saw Billy Bragg once, doing a solo show, at the auditorium in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Sadly, I couldn’t tell you if he sang this song or not. I don’t think he did. There were a lot of other songs on Mermaid Avenue that bowled me over right away. This one really snuck up on me, maybe a couple years later, and now it’s definitely my favorite on the record. Okay, this or California Stars still. This is some sort of Robin Hood tale, of course, although I can’t quite place it in time. Does it take place in medieval times, or like in the old west, or in modern times? Doesn’t quite fit perfectly anywhere. Maybe that makes it fit everywhere then.

Poor Man’s House. Nothing enigmatic or ambiguous here. Devastating.

Daddy’s been working for days and days and doesn’t eat.
He doesn’t say much but his time I think it’s got him beat.
It isn’t that he isn’t smart or kind or clever.
Your daddy’s poor today and he will be poor forever.

Until There Are No Strangers Among Us Anymore (Various Tunes December 2007)


I make, and give copies to Joe and Helena today, a CD of stuff I’ve been listening to lately. I haven’t made a various tunes tape (I still think of them as mix tapes) since the wedding CD, I think. Have I? Before that it was The Blues of Throwing It All Away in early 2002.

The big, big difference this time is the iPod, what gadget I won in that contest at TAUG in April. Making a playlist in iTunes and listening to that is the easiest thing in the world. Can add, delete, rearrange with the fewest of mouse clicks.

James McMurtry No More Buffalo really started the whole project, wanting to put that on a mix tape. There’s this really strangely moving and complicated idea in the third verse, where he talks about looking out across the plains and seeing “the dust of the [buffalo] herds still hovering in the air.” But somebody else points out that “those are combines kicking up that dust.” It’s just sad and cool all at the same time. “Man, they were here. They were here, I swear,” he sings.

So added to that were the basic songs I have in fact been listening to lately. Tom Waits Day After Tomorrow. Peter Case Ain’t Gonna Worry No More, Underneath the Stars, and Palookaville. Neko Case, oh a whole lotta songs from her. Bruce Springsteen Long Walk Home. Patty Griffin No Bad News and Poor Man’s House. Billy Bragg and Wilco from the Mermaid Avenue album, a song that took me a while to appreciate, but then really blossomed into a real favorite, The Unwelcome Guest.

So then I started looking for songs that fit with those, and I started looking for a title. I worked with a bunch of lyrics from No More Buffalo, from The Dust of the Herds to Those Are Combines Kicking Up That Dust. Never really found anything that would encompass what the whole mix seemed to be adding up to. But that was probably because the whole mix wasn’t adding up to much.

And one other problem was that, thinking about this with Joe and Helena in mind, the Peter Case and Neko Case songs were getting to be a problem. I had made them both single discs of each artist with a lot of my favorites on them. So I didn’t want to then give them any of the same songs again on this. So then I scrapped those songs. But then I still wanted to put lots of Peter Case and Neko Case on, so I had to go scrounging for more songs.

The Peter Case was a bit easier, in that he had a rather larger body of work. And it was after I added The Open Road Song to replace Underneath the Stars that I realized that a theme was in fact emerging from the rubble. Something rather political. Nothing grandly political, but small humanist personal political maybe. So looking for more political songs got me to add Billy Bragg Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards and Black 47 James Connolly. (Although those are more macro than micro, politics-wise.)

And then that started to work to rearrange the songs as well. No More Buffalo, which had been bouncing between being first and being last, moved more to the middle. And Poor Man’s House became the ending song. And with that the cover changed. I’d been playing with a great old picture of Buster Keaton. But I started thinking about the politics of poverty, and figured Walker Evans, something from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, would do the trick. Thus the picture of Allie Mae Burroughs. I’m not sure if in fact it’s in the book, but I found it online at the Met’s great website. Knew as soon as I saw it that it was the one.

Talking to Joe later, seems like I did maybe give him some of the same Peter Case and/or Neko Case. I had changed the playlists by the time I made CDs for Helena. I knew that I was giving him another copy of Joe Strummer Johnny Appleseed. But, what the hell. It’s Joe Strummer, and it’s political (if a bit obtusely so). And it’s skiffle. What more could you want in one song?

In the end, the whole message of the mix and of this season and of this life is in Poor Man’s House.

Mama says God tends to every little skinny sheep
So count your ribs and say your prayers and get to sleep
Nothing is louder to God’s ears than a poor man’s sorrow

Christmas Day

Lovely day at home, with just the sweet wife Dawn. And kitties.

We unwrap presents while drinking mimosas. Love morning booze.

I give Dawn the clothes from her list, but also surprise her with a Rosemary and Thyme box set. The first season. She gives me clothes, but then also Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (And So Can You!). A fun treat.

The in-laws totally score with me, giving me a Cochrane biography and a little reproduction sextant. Awesome.

The cats give me underwear. They give Dawn socks.

In the afternoon we go for a long bike ride.

Later we finish watching La vie en rose. Oddly, the major dramatic movements in the film are set to L’Hymne à l’amour and Non, je ne regrette rien. Not much is made with the actual song La vie en rose itself. I suppose maybe that’s her most famous song here, in the US, while the movie seems to really be made for the domestic audience, the French themselves. Movie was in fact called La Môme for its release in France.

Playing around with the subtitles after we’re done watching, I discover that while there are no English subtitles whatsoever during songs, changing over to French subtitles I see that those do run during the songs, with the lyrics. Not that I speak French, mind you, so I still don’t understand. Or understand the words themselves anyway. But nobody needs to know the actual lyrics when Edit Piaf sings. Oh no. You get it anyway. That’s just how great she is.

Christmas Vigil Mass

It’s Christmas Eve. The evening of Christmas Eve. We go to the Vigil Mass at St. Matt’s, starting at 5:30 p.m. Oh, but we get there around 4:40 p.m. though. Just under an hour early, I suppose. We would prefer to sit. It’s SRO by showtime.

And there’s a choral prelude starting just after five. It’s the Contemporary Choir of the Cathedral, not the Schola Cantorum. Many of the same members though, including the sublime Ellen Kliman, who has a dazzling solo later in the actual service, after communion. But during this actual prelude there’s some strange stuff. Something called The Holly, She Bears a Berry. And another piece called Ain’t That a Rocking All Night, which doesn’t actually rock, à la Elvis or Little Richard, like I expect it to.

But lots of singing for us too during the whole mass. O Come, All Ye Faithful as the entrance hymn. O Little Town of Bethlehem at the preparation. Silent Night and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear at communion. And Joy to the World as the recessional hymn.
And while we are indeed at the Vigil Mass, we get the readings for the Midnight Mass. First, some really earthy Isaiah:

For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.

I’m still not sure when this day of Midian is supposed to be. Is that Gideon? With his three hundred men, blowing the trumpets, in Judges 7? I get that far with Wikipedia. Catholic Encyclopedia is no help.

The Gospel is from St. Luke. That means shepherds. (St. Matthew’s got the Magi.) You know, what Linus goes on about in Charlie Brown Christmas:

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”

We get a fun moment in the Credo where we kneel at the Incarnation. Normally we just bow. Even though it’s noted in the program, Monsignor also reminds us about it just before we start, saying that we do this only twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. But the program also mentions a brief moment of prayer. But we don’t in fact stop for it. We just keep on going.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Pretty serious stuff today, almost there, almost through Advent. The first reading is from our man Isaiah. “[T]he Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” And then the Gospel of St. Matthew. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

But then I’ve always wondered: why did they name him Jesus instead of Emmanuel?

The Catholic Encyclopedia is not a big help at the entry for Emmanuel.

The various views advanced as to the identity of the child cannot be fully explained and discussed here; the following observations must suffice.

They go on to note that the child is not merely a metaphorical child and other such things. Bigger help maybe is over at the entry for Jesus, Origin of the Name of Jesus Christ.

The word Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek Iesous, which in turn is the transliteration of the Hebrew Jeshua, or Joshua, or again Jehoshua, meaning “Jehovah is salvation.”

So is that it? God is with us is pretty close to Jehovah is salvation.


I missed the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker this year, since I was in Atlanta. But, handily, we go to see the American Ballet Theatre’s production tonight.

We totally score on parking, just a few blocks away, 750 meters from the front door according to my geeky measuring using Google Earth. On the way, we come across a young couple who seem maybe lost. I love giving people directions, so I ask if they need help finding something. The woman asks, Where’s the Kennedy Center? Oh, well, it’s that enormous brightly lit building at the end of the street, I tell them. We’re going there. Follow us.

I kinda expect that we’ll walk together and chat, but the man, yakking on a cell phone, seems to have no interest in us or walking with us. Seems to have not a whole lot of interest with his charming companion either. A shame. I at least get out of her that they’re going to the NSO performing Handel’s Messiah.

We have our usual seats, although the people who normally sit to our right have pawned their tickets off to their daughter and son-in-law.

It’s interesting seeing someone else do Nutcracker, after having only seen Washington Ballet’s version. It’s still not the most remarkable of works. Too much party scene. Mice and soldiers fighting. I kinda miss Washington Ballet’s Clara throwing her shoe at the Rat King. Here Clara distracts him so that the Nutcracker Prince can stab him with his sword. The Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, and Russian dances are pretty unmemorable. I miss the Washington Ballet’s Anacostia Indians and the Chinese dancers’ long streamers.

But Xiomara Reyes as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Herman Cornejo as her consort really do shine. Seems like that’s what the whole night is really for, the two of them.

Return of the Heroes

We split out of work right on time and zip home. Then we jump in the car and head to BWI. We’re picking up Dawn’s brother Shawn, a Major in the U.S. Army on his way back from his tour in Afghanistan.

He’s been winding his way back for a number of days now, is my understanding. I had thought he was going from Afghanistan to Kuwait, or maybe then it was Kyrgyzstan. I expect he’s coming this latest hop from Frankfurt, Germany. (He tells us later that he spent time in Turkey, and his last hop has been from Ramstein Air Base, which isn’t in Frankfurt.) We also seem to understand that he comes into the US through BWI, rather than straight down to Atlanta, his final destination, because he’s carrying a service weapon and thus is required to go through BWI. We’ve convinced him to stay the night with us. We’re proud and pleased to pick him up.

At BWI we can find no listing of any flight arriving from Ramstein. We ask at the USO office and they tell us to go to the international terminal E. Look for World Airways. We find their counter and the guy there is pretty damn cryptic. I ask if the flight is in fact on time or landed, or if Maj. Dillon is on the flight. All he’ll say is that we’ll see him coming out of customs around eight. We grab a quick beer and bar chum and then come back to wait.

It’s quite a charming little arrival scene, actually. Girl scouts are there to cheer the returning troops. A couple of old vets too, seems like. Finally people in uniform start coming out from the double doors. An old vet directs them down our way so we can clap and cheer and the girl scouts can hand out cookies and candy.

It’s really quite a moving scene. As much as I’m against war, and especially this war, as much as I’m against much of what our military does and is for, it just feels like the right thing to do to welcome back, with honor and gratitude, these men and women.

Finally Shawn comes out with shitloads of luggage. Hugs and greetings and we get him in the car and back to our house, where we feed him good home cooking and give him beer and his own room and a comfy bed. And cats.

Welcome home.


It’s the Third Sunday of Advent. It’s pink candle day. Apparently pink vestments is also an option, but we don’t see them here.

Here means St. Matt’s, by the way. It’s good to be home.

The entrance hymn is When the King Shall Come Again; the tune is Gaudeamus Pariter by Johann Horn 1495-1547. Gaudeamus is some other form of gaudete, seems like. Maybe “our rejoicing” whereas gaudete is “your (familiar) rejoicing.” Dawn would know better than I would. And in any case it’s hard to sing. Not an easy one like the recessional hymn turns out to be, People, Look East.

More readings about stuff that’s gonna happen. From Isaiah, “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.” The response for the psalm, “Lord, come and save us.”

The epistle from St. James is especially awesome:

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

I just think the image of the patient farmer waiting for the precious fruit is lovely. But then it hits particularly hard to me when I think of my semi-meltdown on the plane earlier in the week over stupid old headphones. Although perhaps meltdown is a bit strong. Even in the midst of it, I knew that I would suffer waves of shame if I got too angry. That I always become ashamed after being angry. So thinking about that at the time helped me in fact from going really too far. And it’s not like I yelled or anything. But I sure did do a long slow burn.

But, instead, I need to make my heart firm. The coming of the Lord is at hand. Pay attention, dummy, St. James says to me. Pay attention to the important things.

Christian Humility, or lack thereof


I have these earmuffs that I use in the workshop to protect the (already damaged at this point) hearing from the power tools. I took them with me on the trip to Atlanta, to wear on the plane, because the noise of the engines can sometimes bother me on take-off. Plus it helps to deaden the jagged crying of babies or the idiotic conversations of the adults.

But they made me take them off today. The flight attendant told me flat out that the pilot would not take off if I continued to wear them. Strange.

I kept protesting to them that they weren’t personal electronic devices (PEDs), prohibited below 10,000 feet. I showed them that there were no wires, no batteries, no nothing. All for naught, however.

I stewed furiously throughout the flight, unable to even fire up the iPod after we were high enough. I did wear the muffs after the ding when we were told we could use the PEDs. But I dutifully took them off for landing. But still I was so pissed.

I talked to the other flight attendant and the pilot when leaving the plane. The pilot explained that it was a safety issue, that I had to be able to hear safety instructions, that it had nothing to do with electronic devices.

That made some sense, in a lame sort of way. But it also made me feel ashamed for being so angry about it for the whole flight. But another part of it was just being ashamed for being angry in the first place. It was just some earmuffs, after all.

Rubbing Fins with Fishes and Friends

Easily the most fun night of Annual Meeting 2007.

It starts out poorly, however. At my ticket booth for the ASH Bash, we declare tickets sold out around 4:00 p.m. No, even worse, I’m wandering the exhibit hall, trying to get a picture of Avery Clyde at the Eisai booth, around three, when Ayuko calls me on the Nextel to tell me that my booth is swamped and that I should come help. I foolishly thought that ticket sales would be minimal today, the day of the event. Wrong.

We stop sales per Ayuko, around 2550 tickets sold. I let Kyle and Rita bolt, since we’re not selling tickets anymore. But then I get swamped by folks still stopping by to turn in their plastic badge-tokens for their tickets and drink coupons. And so then I’m late getting back to the staff office to make copies of the ticket list for use at the door at the aquarium. And it’s like 6:40 when Ayuko Nextels me again, telling me to get my sorry ass to the aquarium. Run, she says.

You know how like the old saw goes where drill sergeant says jump and the recruit asks how high? Except of course that the recruit isn’t supposed to ask how high, the recruit is just supposed to jump as high as he can jump. So I don’t ask nothing, just start running as fast as I can. It’s only half a mile to the aquarium, but I’m an old man and I’m like fucking dying by the time I arrive. To my credit, it’s only like four minutes later. But I’m sweating and can barely breathe. LaFaundra holds Ayuko off for a minute while I pace and try to get back to normal.

Ayuko then takes me through to the other side of the aquarium, where the second copy of the list will be used. I sit with Melissa and help check people in. Finally we’re relieved and we’re able to go enjoy the festivities.

Later I hook up with a group of folks, Clare and Helena and Virginia et. al., and we head through the Ocean Voyager exhibit. Then some want to go see river otters or sea otters or some other fuzzy aquatic mammals again, so Virginia and Helena and I go to pet the sharks and shrimp.

After the event is over, I walk them back to their hotel, the Marriott Marquee, where we repair to the lobby bar. We order clear drinks, Helena the vodka martini, whereas I have the regular gin martini, and Virginia has Sprite. Once, back in the day, I used to recite Shakespeare sonnets in bars. But I haven’t in years. But then tonight there is again such recitation. Helena goes first, although I am completely unfamiliar with the sonnet she recites. I do my basic number 30, the Proust one I call it, the one with “remembrance of things past.” Great fun.

LATE UPDATE: Helena reports that it was number 64, “When I have seen by time’s fell hand defaced.” She claims to have substituted Death for Ruin in line 14. I sure didn’t notice, and Virginia didn’t say anything about it.

Second Sunday of Advent

Sadly, despite my best laid plans to make it to Sacred Heart for the two o’clock Spanish mass, we have a meeting at scheduled for three for the President’s Reception workers. Then there’s the five o’clock at Immaculate Conception, but we all have to get on the bus at six to head over to the Piedmont Driving Club.

So I don’t make it to mass at all anywhere. Sigh.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

It’s been very nerve-wracking trying to schedule time to go to Mass during Annual Meeting. Even worse, in addition to the usual Sunday obligation, today’s a holy day of obligation as well. I’ve got the 5:30 vigil mass at Sacred Heart on my schedule, in hopes of going, even though said vigil mass is more for the Sunday obligation rather than the holy day.

But planning with Dante all during the day, I discover that the even closer Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is having an extra mass at five, in addition to their usual Saturday at nine in the morning, for their feast day. Things are fairly quiet around the staff office and my ticket booth, so we dash over by cab.

It’s a modest but lovely church. Sign says it was the first Catholic church in Atlanta. The original wooden structure some blocks away, gone now, while this building erected in 1872. I do so love old churches.

But going to a different church for mass is something of a dance, not knowing where and how they practice certain things. We sit near the back, but Monsignor Gracz announces right at the beginning that he’d like everybody to move as far forward as possible. So we hike up to the front row. Then Monsignor basically begins the mass standing in the nave in the back. Strange and backwards. And he asks us to start out by introducing ourselves to everyone around us. Andy is right behind me, Regina is two rows back. I tell Regina that she has the best name for today.

Finally Monsignor processes up to the sanctuary. Our singing is not remarkably good. The opening hymn is Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly. Then, for the readings, Monsignor comes and sits in the pews, in the front row, right next to me. The first reading is from Genesis, “After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree.” Original sin time. Good for today though, for the Blessed Virgin, born without it.

Lotta folks misunderstand the Immaculate Conception, of course, confusing it with the virgin birth of Christ. Then all the non-Catholic denominations who do understand what we mean by it specifically reject the Immaculate Conception as strange dogma, recent too. To me it’s pretty easy to go along with it. I mean, if you’re going to believe in the concept of original sin in the first place, how hard is it to think of the mother of the savior as being without it? Not a big leap. For a God who can create the entire universe, this particular item doesn’t seem like it’s that difficult, yeah?

But, back to the reading, totally fie on Adam for immediately trying to blame Eve for his own actions, for taking that bite of the apple. For shame. Very weak, but I suppose typical of my gender.

The Gospel reading is from Luke, because, hey, it’s the Blessed Virgin’s day and St. Luke is totally the best for all things Marian. It’s the Annunciation, although sadly it doesn’t quite go all the way through to include the Magnificat. Whenever I picture this scene, the Annunciation, I always imagine the angel Gabriel up above Mary, being an angel and being able to fly and all. But then my favorite painting of this scene, by Boticelli, has Gabriel kneeling reverently below Mary. Either way:

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.

And note also that there’s a separate feast for the actual Annunciation itself, a movable feast in the Catholic church, normally March 25.

Night Off

In Atlanta for the ASH Annual Meeting. I arrive Sunday night, too late to go bowling with the Meetings Department. I call Ayuko on her cell phone after I’m all settled into my hotel room. Turns out that they didn’t go bowling anyway, they went to ESPN Zone. I like bowling as much as the next man, having been in various bowling leagues starting when I was seven. But I’m not much of an ESPN Zone kinda guy. I meet the gang when they return.

Monday night Ayuko takes us to Emeril’s restaurant, up Buckhead way, across from some mall, maybe Lenox Mall. I’m surprised at how nice it is. Not the celebrity food factory that I thought it would be, like Hard Rock Cafe or something. I don’t know that I’ve ever in fact seen Emeril on any cooking show or the Food Network or whatever. All I know is that he says bam.

Tuesday night is the chic little bistro One Midtown Kitchen. Our waitress is adorable, reminds me of the young Elizabeth Hurley.

Wednesday we (as part of the meetings dept) are on our own. I’m pleased when Joe invites me to go out with his department. Then I’m less pleased when he says that they’re going to Ted’s Montana Grill, where they serve bison. I check the menu on the web and there’s really no vegetarian option. So I beg off, but Joe says that Ted’s is not written in stone, that we can go somewhere else. I’m embarrassed to make the whole Education Department change restaurants for me, but he insists. So I find City Grill and Joe agrees.

Even better, turns out that it’s not the whole department, just Joe and Helena. Two of my absolute favorite people at ASH.

Joe and I meet early, at 6:30 at the Sundial atop the Westin. This turns out to be a crucial mistake, starting drinking early. After a few beers here and then two bottles of wine at the restaurant, I’m very much worse for drink. Apparently I keep telling our waiter how cute he is. Joe and Helena wisely pour me into a cab back to the Omni, rather than let me wander back on foot, most likely to be mugged on the way.

The hangover will last a solid two days and then some.

First Sunday of Advent

Happy New Year!

Although it’s kinda funny, this whole new beginning today, switching from Year C to Year A in the lectionary, and yet we sing the exact same responsorial psalm as last week. Yep, same exact one.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I like it. “Jerusalem, built as a city.” Although then the lectionary has the next line as “with compact unity,” whereas the NAB for Psalm 122 reads “walled round about.” I wonder about this. The walled round about makes me think of Rome, when we were there, where we followed the old wall around for a while, when we got lost after riding the subway. The compact unity makes me think of my own city, so compact, with nowhere to grow. Not that I’m thinking that either Rome or DC is Jerusalem. Or should I be like Blake, bringing Jerusalem home? On these dark satanic grounds?

The first reading is from good old Isaiah:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.

When, oh Lord? Soon? I suppose I’m not unique in this, thinking that maybe all this might be sorted out in my lifetime. I hear tell that St. Paul himself felt that way too, and he was off by at least two millenia. Still, I sure do love the idea of beating swords into plowshares. (Hmm, feels funny spelling it that way. I’d go with ploughshares myself.)

Next up is St. Paul, being antsy like I am. “You know the time,” he tells us. “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” He goes on to say that salvation is going to come even sooner than anyone thought.

For year A we go back to the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Today’s reading has Christ telling us that none of us knows the hour when the Son of Man will appear. Like a thief in the night, he tell us. I’ve always found that amazingly jarring, the thief in the night simile. Always seems so backwards, so negative, to compare the arrival of Second Coming as like the arrival of a thief. I suppose that’s the point, to defy expectations, to make sure we know that things are going to be might different from now on.

All of the readings then, all about anticipation. It’s that time of year. Something’s coming.