Monday, December 31, 2012

Things I Enjoyed in "Trouble with the Curve"

Last night I went to the David Minor Theater and enjoyed both "Trouble with the Curve" and a buffalo chicken salad, once I was able to get it all put together in the dim light of the theater....but that's my problem, no one else's.

1.  I really enjoyed that this was a fairy tale movie.  In the traditional sense of the word, it was a classic comedy, and, as traditional comedies do, it portrayed, in the end, people at their best enjoying healing, reconciliation, successful romance, awakening, leaving home and returning again (just like what the whole game of baseball centers upon:  leaving home and returning).

2.  I don't go to movies, necessarily, for surprises.  I think I knew about forty minutes into this movie how it was going to play out.  YES!  I took great pleasure in seeing how the resolution of this movie would happen, but I was never in doubt that it would come to a comic resolution in the baseball story line, the father/daughter story, and in the story's romantic tale.  I realize, from hearing people talk about movies and from reading about them, that this predictability makes some viewers feels smug and they think less of this kind of movie.  NOT ME!

3.  Especially satisfying, even if predictable (that's another word for cliche), was the awakening, the coming to life, the unfolding of the inward beauty of Gus' (Clint Eastwood) daughter Mickey (Amy Adams).  In the high-powered world of being a lawyer she is distant, cranky, competent, hollow, ambitious.  But, inwardly she's barely alive.  That changes in this movie and as Mickey comes alive, I loved how she slowly begins to radiate (played beautifully by Amy Adams).

4.  I knew the answer right away to every trivia question Mickey and Johnny threw at each other.  I had the answers out before they were answered in the movie (apologies to the guy sitting next to me....).  I could never answer these kinds of questions about baseball in the last twenty years, but those questions centered on the 1970's:  those facts will always be alive in me.

5.  I'll admit it straight out:  I love baseball as salvation stories.  In this movie, baseball delivered Johnny, Gus, Mickey, and Rigo out of some kind of failure to success, separation into union, joylessness to happiness, obscurity into being recognized, and secrecy into truth.  I know baseball doesn't really have this kind of magic, but I sure enjoyed it while it happened during the nearly two hours of this movie and I enjoyed the same in "The Natural", "Fields of Dreams", and other baseball movies, including the unforgettable Ray Milland 1949 classic,  "It Happens Every Spring". 

6.  Lastly, I loved the movie "Moneyball" and,.at the same time, I loved how "Trouble with the Curve" turned "Moneyball" on its head.  Gus was exactly the kind of baseball scout "Moneyball" portrayed as washed up, out of touch, ready for pasture.  In "Trouble with the Curve", the old school ways of scouting triumph over computer software and I enjoyed believing, at least for the duration of this movie, that a scout who knows when a player needs to see his mother or who can gauge a hitter's talent by the sound of the bat striking the ball and who can tell when a power hitter has trouble with the curve is an asset to a baseball organization.

It's really bigger than baseball.  I want to believe that those of us who rely on instincts, intuition, on having a feel for our work can still be valuable in professional worlds more and more dominated by assessment scores and other kinds of statistics.

Really, I suppose, "Trouble with the Curve" brought me back to examine and cherish my work over the years as a teacher who has relied more on intuition than test scores or course outcomes to lead my students to success. 

Three Beautiful Things 12/30/12: Christmas Season, "Trouble with the Curve", Bombay Bomber

1.   The climactic Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations now give way to living in the Christmas season in the first Sunday after Christmas and with Epiphany Sunday on January 6th and then the five Sundays after the Epiphany.  (The Epiphany is the day Christ was revealed to the Magi.)  In the secular/shopping world, the Christmas season precedes Christmas Day.  That makes perfect sense.  In the world of the Christian calendar, however, Christmas Day is followed by a season of reflection upon Christ coming into the world.  Like so many Christian observations, the season of Christmastide/Epiphany is about 40 days (not precisely) and means that, in the church, the emotional joy of Christmas stretches out into reflection, into understanding.  Anticipation, Celebration, Reflection.  It's the rhythm of the Christian Calendar in the Anglican world.  And today, Rev. Betsy Tesi invited us to reflect upon Christ born of a woman, that we might receive adoption as children.  Adoption, as she helped us see, is a powerful metaphor.  It was a splendid sermon.  Deep reflection upon Christmas is underway. 

2.   After much unnecessary delay, I went to the David Minor Theater, ordered myself a Buffalo Chicken Salad, sat in a cushiony chair, and watched "Trouble with the Curve", a movie I found wholly satisfying.  For years, I've been wanting to add "Dead Women Awaking" to my growing list of "Dead Men Awaking" movies.  These are movies where a spiritually or emotionally dead character comes to life.  "Trouble with the Curve" is a Dead Woman Awaking movie in its portrayal of Gus' daughter Mickey.  Moreover, it's the next in a long line of salvation by baseball movies!  I enjoyed the movie through and through.  Humm Baby!

3.  After the movie, I dropped in the Steelhead for single pint of Bombay Bomber.  I hadn't had one of these pale ales for a few years and the pleasure of its balance and refreshing finish came back to me as I sat and stood at a buddy bar with a silly loved-that-movie-love-this-beer-love-that-the-Cowboys-are-out-of-the-playoffs grin on my face.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Scribblings: Defiant

 This week's Sunday Scribblings' word is defiant.

I don't think of myself as particularly defiant.  In fact, when I've been defiant and resisted the will and way of others, not much good came of it.  In fact, I lost ground.

In other words, I don't have a particularly defiant will or personality.  I am a bit more defiant when I'm resisting something as part of a group, but as an individual, in the face of authority or in the face of those I disagree, I am rarely defiant.

That said, something defiant lives in me and it is more powerful than my will.  It has gone into action without my conscious bidding and is deeper than the act of making a choice.

I'm not quite sure what to call this defiance.  It resides in my body.

It has been my ally in the face of death.

When I was nineteen years old, as I've written about before, I was gassed at the Bunker Hill Zinc plant.  As the accident unfolded, in the bottom of a flash roaster, I saw no way out.  I didn't defy death.  I consciously submitted to it.  I put my hands flat against each other to form a pillow, laid on my side, with my hands beneath my cheeks, closed my eyes, and consciously said good-bye to my life.

Evidently, my body wasn't ready to die.  Something inside me defied death and fought hard against the sulfur dioxide and other the toxic mineral dust and I survived and strength surged through my arms and legs when I found a ladder to climb and pulled myself out of the roaster.

That was in 1973.

In 1999, aggressive bacteria attacked my meninges and my wife and two friends rushed me to the ER.  The bacterial meningitis struck so quickly that I didn't have a chance to choose to live or die.

I fell into about 72 hours of unconsciousness.  This dread disease pushed me close to death.

But, my body defied it.  My conscious mind didn't. My spirit, no doubt, helped.  But the defiant troops within me, aided by strong doses of antibiotics, defied death, fought off this meningitis, and I survived.

I suffered after effects: head aches, depression, kidney disease, and other problems, but my body, in the long run, has defied these maladies.

Yes, I suffer severe chronic kidney disease, but I am a fully functioning person.  I have suffered a certain amount of kidney damage, but if it doesn't worsen, and over the last eight years or so it hasn't, I'll continue to do fine.

My body defies getting worse.  It insists on me remaining as strong as I can be and will not give in to this disease I carry.

I see things holistically, even if this piece of writing doesn't suggest that.  I know that my mind and body and spirit work together.

So often, however, being defiant is discussed as an expression of the mind or the spirit.

I don't deny that, but I think my body has been defiant over the years.

I want to acknowledge that, even if I can't explain it. 

Three Beautiful Things 12/29/12: Writing, Pork Fried Rice, Grateful

1.  When I first started writing my blog, back in 2006, I wrote all kinds of reflections on all kinds of subjects and then my blog became a Three Beautiful Things blog.  Recently, I've been trying to get myself to veer back to writing stuff in addition to Three Beautiful Things and did so today and enjoyed it a lot.

2.  I bought that load of Chinese food yesterday evening, and, as planned, it supplied me with two tasty meals today.

3.  It was a day full of conversation, online, on the phone, and texting.  It was all satisfying, even when a bit worrisome (Mom getting a little bit sick..she's doing better).  When the talking and "talking" was done, I poured myself a relaxing Bushmills and ginger ale and sat silent and grateful. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sunday Scribblings: Comfort

Back in 2007, I was a somewhat regular contributor to Sunday Scribblings.  I don't remember why I stopped contributing.  But I'd like to resume and make at least semi-regular contributions again.  This week, the topic is comfort.

Twenty years ago I surrendered and gave up work on my dissertation looking at the idea of goodness in Shakespeare.  I'm not sure why I didn't seem cut out for this kind of writing and production, but it doesn't really matter all these years later.

One of the observations I was trying to develop in my thesis had to do with words beginning with "com" and "con".  These prefixes in English derive from the Latin word cum and can either mean "together" or "together with" or the prefix can serve as an intensifier.  For example, the "com" in the word "compassion" means "together" and when combined with "passion", means to suffer together with, the meaning of "compassion" when see etymologically.

The "com" in the word "comfort" is an intensifier and it intensifies "fort", which, when seen etymologically, means "strong" or "to strengthen".  We recognize this in words like "fortify" or "fortress", but we don't normally think of comfort in this way.

But, in fact, we understand the word "comfort" more accurately if we think of it as meaning "to make stronger".  

I'm not sure this is true at the motel chain, Comfort Inn, but it's sure true when we think of the comfort we can offer each other -- not superficial comfort, the kind we speak of when we refer to someone's "comfort zone", but the kind of aid we extend to one another in illness or in times of distress or anxiety or when we strengthen one another with encouragement or a kind word. 

Right now, my sister is extending her visit with our mother because our mother woke up ill this morning.  She not only needs the comfort of pillows fluffed and of the heat turned up a bit and of beef broth and 7Up, but she needs my sister's presence, physical and spiritual, she needs conversation with my sister, my sister's concern, and my sister's compassion.

Our hope is that by staying a little longer with my mother, my sister will bring our mom comfort, help strengthen her, help her be relieved of what's ailing her and help her heal.

 As Advent progressed in the month of December, we often heard the words of Isaiah 40:1 or we heard them sung in Handel's Messiah:  "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people," saith God.

Extend strength.  Fortify my people.  Help them endure.   Unless it gives one strength, the words of Isaiah do not refer to the thick folds of a satin quilt or a comforter, but to the ways we can, by our goodness to one another, help strengthen and fortify each other.  It is why we sing "O tidings of comfort and joy" during the Christmas season.  This fortifying of one another brings joy, and the promise of the Christ child is of us being strengthened by what Christ's life and ministry will involve.

In my dissertation, I tried to argue that we see evidence of Shakespeare's understanding of goodness, in part, in those scenes or those moments when characters comfort one another, strengthen one another.  It is the comfort Gloucester and, later, Cordelia extend to King Lear.  It is the comfort Benedick gives to Beatrice in the chapel scene after Hero has been humiliated.  If is the comfort Prospero discovers when abjures his magic and looks to his human strength as his source endurance.

It's a powerful word and, when acted out, a powerful way of bringing strength and hope and love to one another.  It's at the heart of goodness.  Comfort.

"Lincoln" and Surrendering to Movies

I'd been looking forward to it for weeks, and yesterday afternoon I finally went to see "Lincoln".   It's been difficult to tune out what other people have said about the movie, but I managed.  I read no reviews.  If I saw the movie's title mentioned in a Facebook post, I hid it.  Soon after it came out, I told a fellow teacher I thought I'd go see it soon, and she said, "Well, Daniel Day-Lewis was terrific, but --" and before she could say whatever followed the "but", I (rudely) said, "I'm sure he was" and walked out of the room.

I didn't want to hear what she had to say.

I saw article titles of pieces that purported to examine what was and was not historically accurate in the movie.  I ignored all those articles.  Editorials came out soon after the movie arguing what politicians in 2012, and especially President Obama, might learn from "Lincoln".  I haven't read one of those pieces.

When I go to a movie (or a play), I want to know as little as possible.  It's almost impossible to be ignorant of who appears in the movie -- although I wish I could be -- and it's almost impossible to be ignorant of who directs it -- and I'd love not to know this.

You see, I didn't go to "Lincoln" with the idea that it is a Spielberg movie.  I had no interest in watching it in relation to other movies he's made.  I'm not interested, as I watch a movie for the first time, whether it is in the director's style or a departure or anything else.  In fact, if I read or hear someone say, "As with any Spielberg movie, "This Movie" blah blah blah, I quit reading or listening.

I try to watch a movie with as blank of a slate of a mind as I can.

How blank?

Well, I try to forget what the world I live in is like and give myself over to, surrender to the world of the movie I'm watching. 

I never think to myself,  "That could never happen" because it just did.  In the movie.

I never think to myself, "Could that happen?" or "Did that really happen?", rather, I watch a movie thinking, "Here's what happens."

For example, in the movie "Lincoln", since I didn't even begin to wonder or think if it was historically accurate, I found myself intrigued by how the movie explored a handful of questions.

For example, what happens when a President of the United States declares slaves emancipated?  What happens when he suspends habeas corpus?  What happens when he tries to drive a controversial amendment to the U. S. Constitution through a divided House of Representatives?

Watching "Lincoln", these were questions of the moment for me, questions raised in a movie that had a life of its own and was unfolding before me in its own time frame.  I didn't ask, "What happened" back in 1865, I wanted to know what will happen in this movie.

In other words, I watched the movie as a work of fiction, in the best sense of the word. 

So often, the word "fiction" is used to mean something that didn't happen or that is fantasy.

At its best, though, fiction, unlike non-fiction, addresses the question of "what happens" not "what happened".

I viewed "Lincoln" in much the same way I watch "Macbeth" or "Henry V".  These plays transcend historical fact and explore human character, not by being true to historical fact, but by being true to the character of these figures, true to the pressures human beings face.  Sometimes these pressures can be more accurately explored in a work of art than by historical veracity.

For all I know, "Lincoln" was historically accurate.  But it didn't matter to me while I watched it and doesn't matter to me now.

I knew Steven Spielberg directed the movie, but I watched it as if I'd never seen a Spielberg movie in my life.  Why see this movie through the lens of Spielberg's past work, through his successes and failures?  I do the same thing when I see a Shakespeare play.  I love going to see "King Lear" as if I've never seen it performed before in my life.  I love seeing "Hamlet" as if the only suitable way to produce the play is the way it's happening right here before me.  I love to watch "Romeo and Juliet" as if this is its premier and no other production exists and this production is definitive.

I love to lose myself in what I'm watching, letting the present movie or present production define what's worthwhile, what's good, what's real, what works, what should happen.

I go to movies and I see people with their arms crossed as if to say, "Okay.  Give me your best shot.  Try to entertain me.  Try to please me.  I'm tough.  I'm not easily pleased."

I think to myself, "Poor sots."

I go to a movie saying this, "You will have to work hard to disappoint me.  I love to be pleased.  I will experience this movie as if it is the first movie I've ever seen in my life.   I plan on enjoying you."

As I've written before, it's why I never recommend movies.   People ask me if I thought a movie was good.

I don't know if it was good.

I only know how it affected me and I usually am affected by movies in ways I enjoy.  I laughed.  I teared up.  I was afraid.  I was absorbed.  I forgot about the world I live in day to day and have been living in the world of the movie for the last couple of hours.  I usually enjoy having lived in that world and if I don't think I'll enjoy that world, I don't go to the movie.

And I can't talk about a movie right after I've seen it.

I have to go for a walk, get away from people, let it settle in.

It's why I go to so many movies alone.

I had a great experience watching "Lincoln".

I found the main character, Abraham Lincoln, to be a fascinating combination of shrewd, folksy, pragmatic, compassionate, romantic, angry, ambitious, political, unbending, wily, reflective, intelligent, and funny.  For starters.

Daniel Day-Lewis played this character stunningly, astonishingly.  I was enraptured by his performance.

I enjoyed the suspense of the story.  In my world of movie watching, I didn't know how it would all turn out.

I enjoyed the many characters in supporting roles and enjoyed the zest the actors played them with.  Tommy Lee Jones gave me so much pleasure I ached.

Sally Fields made me ache with pleasure, too.  Her portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln was complex:  she was a loving, selfish, petty, ambitious, independent, pained, firm, wobbly, aggrieved, self-absorbed.  For starters.

I enjoyed the portrayal the movie created of the pressures of war, made even more weighty by the pressures of slavery.  Those pressures brought out the best kinds of love, not only of justice but of people, and the worst kinds of prejudice and pettifoggery.  Was this how it happened?  I don't care.  In the world of "Lincoln", this is what happens.

I'll admit, in closing, that I don't always stay within the world of the movie I'm watching, and it's a way my mind wanders during a movie that I love.

My mind wanders off into other roles I've seen actors in a movie in and I love thinking about them in these very different roles.  Yesterday, watching "Lincoln" I delighted in quick thoughts like this:

There's Gidget, there's the Singing Nun, there's Norma Rae as Mary Todd Lincoln.  YES!

There's Johnny, the gay Paki-basher from "My Beautiful Laundrette"!  there he is playing Abraham Lincoln.

Wow...I loved seeing Jackie Earle Hailey, thirty-three years later, after playing Moocher, the time clock punching, frat boy slugging kid in "Breaking Away" ("You're not the quarterback here, Mike!"), now the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, negotiating a peace settlement.

I could go on, but I'll end with my favorite. Back in 1979 all the way up to 1984, one of my very favorite movies was "The Return of the Secaucus 7".  I must have watched it at least 30 times, especially once I had it on videotape (Beta, for the record). 

I never would have guessed, in 1979, that the actor who played the character in that movie who never left home, who worked at the gas station, who seduced Frances, Ron Desjardins, would turn out to be one of the best actors working today:  David Strathairn.  I chuckled for a second as I watched him play the august Secretary of State William Seward, while remembering him sprawled out on a windshield in "The Return of the Secaucus 7", as the character with many of the movie's funniest lines.  But he worked on several John Sayles movies and became well-known for many roles, most notably Edward R. Murrow in "Good Night, and Good Luck". 

Somehow, when watching a movie, I manage to stay affixed in the world of the movie I'm watching and, at the same time, have bits and pieces of several other movies delighting me as I remember actors in roles they played in the past. 

No wonder I enjoy the movies so much and so easily pleased. 

I like to surrender.

Three Beautiful Things 12/28/12: "Lincoln" Screenplay, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jade Palace Feast

 1.  As I was listening to the extraordinary screenplay of the movie, "Lincoln", unfold this afternoon, I recalled my enjoyment of the Ethan and Joel Coen's screenplay of "True Grit".  I enjoyed the way Tommy Lee Jones, as Thaddeus Stevens, reveled in Stevens'  overwrought metaphors, insults, and passion, all in a love for a certain stylized diction of the mid-nineteenth century.  Moreover, I nearly sat on the edge of my seat waiting for Daniel-Day Lewis' Lincoln to drop another line from "Hamlet" or "King Lear" or the Bible or a maxim from Euclid on his wife or cabinet or a confidante or to tell another folksy fable to whomever was in the room.  I ached with enjoyment throughout the movie, as I did when listening to the poetry of "True Grit".  In "Lincoln" the range of diction for its range of characters was not only as enjoyable as Ethan and Joel Coen, but Tony Kushner's sceenplay was as enjoyable as listening to Shakespeare. 

2.  I kept trying to think, as I watched "Lincoln", when else I had experienced an actor so entirely occupy a character as Daniel Day-Lewis occupied Abraham Lincoln.  Charleze Theron as Aileen Wuornos in "Monster" comes to mind.  Then my mind turns back to Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Lewis in "My Left Foot" and when he played Johnny in "My Beautiful Laundrette".   I think of the remarkable King Lear that Laurence Oliver played in 1983.  In Act IV and on into Act V, I forgot Laurence Olivier even existed:  there was only this transformed king, this old man cleansed and child-like, who had found his way through madness back to his own soul.  I won't go on.  Suffice it to say that I experienced Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as sublime.  It gave me great joy.  It moved me.  I was astonished.

3.  When I'm batching it, sometimes I buy a family dinner for two to go from Jade Palace and then I have about three dinners worth of Chinese food to indulge in.  I did that this evening and really enjoyed my first dive into the lemon chicken, pork fried rice, fried shrimp, and other dishes as I relaxed this evening after seeing "Lincoln". 

Friday, December 28, 2012

"A Late Quartet"

I sat still as "A Late Quartet" ended, the credits began to roll, and I soaked in Beethoven's Opus 131, String Quartet #14.  In Beethoven's canon, it is a late quartet and the string quartet featured in this movie are about to disband/reconfigure, making them a late quartet.

For me, there was another late quartet in this movie.  It was a quartet of aged artists:  Pablo Casals, Rembrandt, Beethoven, and the movie's central character, Peter Mitchell (played by Christopher Walken).

The movie focuses on Peter Mitchell's aging -- he is the oldest member, by far, of the string quartet, Fugue, featured in the story.

But it also features much discussion of Beethoven's late quartet, Opus 131, and how his departure from the conventional quartet structure, his insistence that it be played without pause, and the mysterious melancholy of the piece makes it difficult and beautiful to play.

(If you've got forty minutes and want to listen to it, here it is):

Then, during the movie, as if to echo the reality of aging that Beethoven explores, the aging Peter and the violist Juliette (played by Catherine Keener) are at the Frick collection and stop in front of Rembrant's 1658 self-portrait.  Here, as in Beethoven's quartet, the artist explores his confidence, his artistic power, while simultaneously exploring his anxiety about those powers, as well as his anxiety about his life, which may be diminishing, possibly nearing its end.

My favorite moment in the movie occurred when Peter Mitchell, as he instructs a college-aged string quartet,  stops them after Alexandra (the daughter of the Fugue's married couple) lambasts the cellist for playing too emotionally. 

Peter recalls his first meeting, as a young cellist, with Pablo Casals. In a private lesson, Peter played some passages of Bach for Casals and, in his mind, played them terribly.  But, Casals praised him and for years Peter was incensed about what he regarded as Casals insincerity.  Later in life, as a colleague of Casals, he confronted Casals about this supposed insincerity, and Casals stiffened, telling Peter Mitchell that any moron can find what's wrong, find the flaws in what someone plays.  Then he explained, all these years later, what he had admired in the young Peter's playing.

In this last stage of his life, this was the wisdom Peter Mitchell carried forward from what he learned from the aged Casals:

Any moron can find flaws.  The best teachers encourage what's good, what's strong in a player.

I loved hearing this.  It's been my approach to teaching for many years.  It's also my approach to movie viewing.

If I cared to, I could tell you about what I thought were flaws in "A Late Quartet".  But, as the movie ended, I was tearing up.  I was moved.  The emotional strengths of the movie were what mattered most, especially, for me, as the movie explored the aging of the older man, Peter, as well as his middle-aged colleagues in the quartet.

I never recommend movies.  I am too positive about movies and enjoy them too much to make recommendations.

All I can say is that I was very happy that at the end of "A Late Quartet" I was moved.  I was very happy that I'd decided to spend the late afternoon of my birthday watching it.

And that I left the theater reveling in what was powerful in the movie.

Its flaws melted away.

Three Beautiful Things 12/27/12: Investigating Delta Ponds, "A Late Quartet", Birthday Dinner at Billy Mac's

1.  After enjoying a birthday breakfast of smoked salmon eggs Benedict at Cornucopia, I spent a couple of hours at Delta Ponds investigating areas I hadn't been to before and taking pictures.  No rain made the walking and picture taking especially enjoyable.

2.  I had read a retrospective of Christopher Walken's acting career in the NYT earlier this fall and had been waiting for the movie "A Late Quartet" which inspired the article.   The movie moved me.  I admit, I'm ready and easy to move at movies, but, all the same, I was moved and this movie will stay with me for a while.  That's really all I ask of a movie:  Move me.  Stay with me.

3.  After some deliberation, I decided I wanted to eat my birthday dinner at Billy Mac's and am I ever glad I did.  Billy was grilling the blackened rib eye steak with bleu cheese and caramelized onions, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and perfectly steamed fresh vegetables.  I had a great time shooting the breeze with Derrick and John, got in a lot of good laughs, and had a great time.  Had I gone to the other places I thought about, it would have been a dinner of solitude, which is fine most times, but on this particular evening, I'm glad I went to my neighborhood bar and grill and wasn't alone.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/26/12: Good Kidney Report, Delta Ponds Geography, Hot Wings

1.  I found out eight years ago that I have Stage IV chronic kidney disease.  I don't know how long I had had it before I found out. When I was recovering from bacterial meningitis in 1999, one concern was that I might have suffered kidney damage.  I remember being told that I hadn't, but I wonder if someone made a mistake and, in fact, I did suffer kidney damage then.  Ever since I was diagnosed, eight years ago, the doctors' primary concern is that the blood tests they use to measure the kidneys' function don't change much -- and especially that my function doesn't decline more.  I've had one dip in function, back in 2009, when pneumonia and c-diff dehydrated me, but I regained some of the lost function and my numbers are remaining steady.  This is the news I received at the nephrologist today.  No change.  No decline.  The numbers, within the fact of my disease, remain solid.  The disease is not progressing.  This was very good news.  I have been feeling great and, luckily, feeling good has not been masking other problems.  My blood pressure is also good.  That's really important.

2.  Before I went to the doctor, I took a geographical tour of the Delta Ponds.  I realized after talking with Anne on Christmas afternoon that I had east and west mixed up and today I was happy to get it all straightened out in my mind -- and with my legs.

3.  Good doctor's report.  Good geographical clarification. What's a guy do?  Fix hot wings, that's what.  It turns out that I ate Christmas dinner with the Troxstar family, so I had the dinner I had planned for Christmas today.  I'll admit:  hot wings are more fun to eat with other people than alone, but they were still very enjoyable, as were the celery sticks dipped in Litehouse Chunky Blue Cheese dressing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/25/12: Anglican Still Waters, Brunch, Chez McBata, BONUS Chez Troxstar BONUS Kellogg Christmas

1.  As I've probably written (literally) 50,000 times over the years, I love the regularity of the Episcopalian/Anglican liturgy.  So, going to church this morning, I could count on hearing  and reciting the same words during much of the service that we all speak and hear during every season of the Christian calendar.  Yes, it being Christmas Day, hymns were appropriate to the day and so were the scripture readings and so on, but I love that the liturgy has this constancy, that the regular rhythms of the Christian life remain the same.  It might seem odd that I would say this, but I was the most moved by today's service not by anything extraordinary, but by the reliable and reassuring ordinariness of it.  What did Mr. Exum always used to say about his favorite type of student?  Still water runs deep.  Those were the waters I worshiped in this morning. 

2.  Rev. Betsy Tesi and her husband Martin generously provided us Christmas worshipers with a splendid brunch after the Eucharist.  Not only was the food delicious, but the buzz of conversation and gratitude in the room added more joy to this already joyous day.

3.  Russell and Sonie and I decided to go for an afternoon stroll with our cameras, but no sooner did we hit the Amazon Creek trail, but the rain started to fall.  We laughed at our lousy luck and had a good time telling stories and trying to understand puzzling aspects of our lives and returned to Russell and Anne's house where Anne was skyping with her brothers and sisters and I was very happy to get to say hello and Merry Christmas to Mary, even though she was thousands of miles away in the Catskills.  Conversation continued in the house with the help of Lynn Tullis' spectacular egg nog,  until I got a phone call -- which turned into a BONUS Beautiful Thing!

BONUS:  The Senior Warden called me from the front porch of Chez Corgis (where I live!) and used his ecclesiastical authority to summon me to his presence on my porch.  I hurriedly said my good byes and Merry Christmases to Sonie and the McBatas and within minutes the Troxstar and I sat down for a beer and some conversation which led to the splitting of La Fin du Monde which led to us walking to Chez Troxstar for Christmas dinner and some Senior Warden home brewed stout as well as (a little too much) B & B French spiced liqueur and cognac -- and four slices of four different smashingly scrumptious fruit cake. 

BONUS #2:  I talked for over forty-five minutes with my mom and my sister Christy and got quite a wonderful account of their Ukraine Christmas Eve dinner, church service across the street, and how Christmas afternoon was shaping up.  My family's Christmas was packed with people, friends and family members, and with stories, laughter, near disasters, and a ton of good cheer. 

Today, I would have loved to have been several places at once:  in Kellogg with family and friends, in New York with the Deke and Adrienne, in Groveton with Molly and her family, in Portland with Patrick, but I was in Eugene where my fellow parishioners and great friends and I had a very Merry Christmas.  Blessings to us all!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/24/12: Kellogg, Never Alone at Delta Ponds, Rib Eye Dinner, BONUS: Liturgical Copia

1.  I've been alone at Christmas a couple or three times before and I know how to keep things merry.  Yes, I would enjoy being with Deke or being in Kellogg with family, but this year the Deke is spending Christmas with her daughters and I stayed home to take care of the dorks (the corgis).  One way to keep things merry is to talk with Christy on the phone and get reports from Kellogg and then to get a series of text messages updating me.  I love the pictures Carol posted, as well. 

2.  Usually when I go to Delta Ponds Park, I am by myself, but who could feel alone out there?  Today was chilly, but not raining, and I enjoyed the geese, ducks, and other fowl and continued to keep a close eye on the foliage and being at the park kept me in really good company.  

3.  My Christmas Eve steak dinner was delicious.  I managed to cook my rib eye steak perfectly medium rare and it was so rich and tender that the work "buttery" came to mind.  I'm very happy I decided that this was the dinner I wanted this evening. 

Bonus:  Sometimes three isn't enough!  The nine o'clock Eucharist was beautiful.  Candles.  The green boughs.  The explosion of flowers on the altar.  This is another way I keep things merry when flying solo on Christmas:  be with my fellow parishioners at St. Mary's and, as another bonus, take part in a Rite I Eucharist with all of its copious exploration of the Christian experience, with all of its beautiful, if slightly archaic, language.  I love liturgical copia.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/23/12: Surprise!, Reunion, Whiskey Wisdom

1.  Turns out that the 12/16/12 Service of Lessons and Carols I took part in at St. Mary's wasn't enough.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived at St. Andrew's in Cottage Grove and the Sunday service was, yes, a Service of Lessons and Carols! 

2.  I hadn't seen my former, and one of my best, student Marjorie for a few years and, lo and behold, she was in attendance at the Service of Lessons and Carols, too, and we got to chat for a few minutes, but not long enough.

3.  After the Service of Lessons and Carols, Rita and I pretty much got everything figured out that needed figuring out about this puzzling world we live in over lunch and a moderate amount of booze:  Jack Daniels and Seagram's 7.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/22/12: Safe Travels, One Picture, Calisaya Warmth

1.  The Deke safely arrived and her visit with Jack and Adrienne begins. 

2.  Russell and I hung out in the Fifth Street Public Market area and took pictures.  We also wandered over to the EWEB plaza area where I took the one picture I was happy with:

3.  The afternoon grew dark, wet, and cold.  Sipping on a drink made by dropping a little Calisaya liqueur in a shot of Meyer's dark rum warmed me. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/21/12: Brails, Restoration, Convenience

1.  Fun, relaxing, filling, mirthful breakfast at Brails with the Troxes. 

2.  The picture recovery project.  Having moved the 06-22-12 pictures I took in D. C. to my desktop, I arduously edited them this afternoon.  I am kind of astonished by how much more I enjoyed many of these pictures today than I did back in July when I originally edited them. In particular, I saw this picture with new eyes and edited three versions of it.

I love how the two women are in step.  Visually, I love the black/white contrast, made doubly pleasurable by the black woman carrying the white baby.  I wonder what the astonished woman sees -- and I wonder if they are, in fact, both astonished.  In short, I love the moment of this picture.  Here's my version by version take on what I see in each one:

Version 1:  retains the wide context of The Mall.
Version 2.  Focuses on the women head to toe.
Version 3.  Moves in more closely on the facial expressions and on the baby.  The focus of this version is not as sharp, but it is more intimate. 

I find all three perspectives exciting and had I not been forced into this recovery project, I would not have looked at this picture with fresh eyes.

3.  For her birthday, the Deke wanted convenience food and so we ordered take out from Chao Pra Ya and somehow it tasted even better than usual -- I don't know why, but the impact was most welcome.  It made me happy. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/20/12: Feeling Better, Recovery Project, From the Archives

1.  The sore in my sore throat is diminishing and I had more energy today -- I spent less time napping.  The question for me was how to spend my day when outside it was raining hard and steady, meaning no picture taking strolls.  I pondered things over a bagel and coffee at Sweet Life.

2.  That external hard drive I had all my pictures on crashed back in November and the guy I entrusted it with to recover the data couldn't do the job himself and when he got an estimate from the lab he works with in California, it was over 1000 bucks.  I don't erase memory cards.  I figured, well, I'll just go back to the memory cards, erase the pictures I know are lousy, copy the others to my desktop, and edit them again.  Yes, it'll be a long tedious undertaking, but worth it.  Soooo, I began today.  Happily, all my pictures from my trips to DC and NYC were intact.  They are all, now, on my desktop ready to be edited.  Once edited, I will copy them onto my external drive (the one that works!) and soon I'll be purchasing a third storage options so my pictures are always saved in their edited form in three places.  And I won't erase my memory cards. 

3.  Looking at my pictures, I was reminded of a picture I took at Saturday Market soon after I returned from NYC.  It made me happy to see this picture again:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/19/12: Thanks David, Rest, Adult Beverage Medicine

1.  I was very grateful today for a comment David, a former fellow instructor at LCC, made to me on Facebook:  All that really matters is that I'm happy with my pictures.  I'm not educated in the arts of picture taking.  I learn as I go and tend to conform my pictures to my own sense of what looks good or what I enjoy -- mostly the latter. Too often, when I read learned comments about others' pictures, they sound like template comments.  It is as if a template of standards exists for what makes a good picture and the learned picture commenters judge the beauty of picture by whether they meet these predetermined standards.  It's why a lot of the language in picture talk repeats itself.  It's the same with writing -- often when I read what's said about what makes good writing, I know before I read itwhat's going to come and those predetermined standards, when followed, standarized, uniform writing, not uniqueness.  It was the same when I sought out therapy when I was struggling with depression.  My well-intentioned therapists had a rubric, a profile, based on studies, based on research, and talked with in terms of this rubric.  I wanted to explore the particularities of my own experience with depression.  I didn't want to explore depression with a thousand faces, the monomythic hero of depression.  So, I'll keep taking pictures, trying to keep my mind free of others' standards -- except when they are helpful and figure I won't be a contest winner or anything like that because when I read judges' comments, they always have that rubric sound to them.  It's the same with teaching --  rubrics, outcomes, course objectives are abstract and do not take into account the particularities of each student, the unique, erratic, non-linear, and unpredictable timeline of each student's way of learning -- nor do these rubrics take into account the uniqueness of each classroom of students.  Maybe you can tell, if you are still reading this long beautiful thing:  I am working to retire myself, with mixed success, from institutional ways of approaching as many aspects of my life as I can:  taking pictures, writing, Shakespeare, poetry, therapy, teaching....and on and on.  So far, though, I've surrendered my kidney to the blood test rubrics.

2.  I don't remember the last time I was ill.  Today I've been fighting a sore throat and some chest congestion.  I'm grateful that I'm on a break from school and could rest, nap, and help myself improve.

3.  After dinner, I thought -- hmmmm -- maybe an adult hot water beverage or two would help me recover.  So, I got in my adult car and drove to the adult liquor store and bought an adult pint each of Seagram's VO, Christian Brothers' brandy, and Meyer's dark rum.  I combined a dose of each adult liquor into an adult mug with hot water, honey, and lemon juice.  Heh.  I don't know if was medicinal, but it sure was good. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/18/12: Forearm Tripod, Sonie Arrived!, Everything but the Kitchen Sink

1.  So last Friday I was out at Delta Ponds taking pictures with my Sigma 18-200 mm lens and I was struggling, even with my left hand placed properly under my camera and lens, with keeping my camera still.  I didn't have my tripod and I didn't always have a solid object like a bridge rail to rest my camera on.  Suddenly I thought, "Hmmm.  How about my forearm."  I hoped it worked as I shot picture after picture using my forearm to stabilize my camera.  Today I looked at the nearly 400 pictures I took that day and I could see that using my forearm made a did resting my camera on a bridge railing and other solid things.  This is a great relief to me.  I think the clarity of my pictures taken of objects at a great distance will improve.

2.  Sonie arrived!  Her plane was a little late.  Her flight was not listed on the airport monitor.  A plane from San Francisco did come in at 2:30, her flight's ETA, and I thought she would be on it and she wasn't.  But I stayed calm.  I waited around.   I talked to a United agent about flights and arrivals and it all worked out and Sonie and I had a very good visit as I drove her to her mother's apartment.

3.  Okay.  I got the chicken out that I crock potted on Sunday.  On Monday I chopped up the meat and today I strained the broth.  I got rid of the bones, put some water in the broth in the crock pot, added the meat, brown rice, red pepper, celery, and green beans.  My hope was for a kind of chicken rice stew, not so much a soup, and I'll be darned:  it worked.  The Deke liked it, so did I, and we have enough of this thrown together concoction (is that redundant?) for more meals to come. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/17/12: Chicken Prep, Steak Dinner, Wet Spot on the Couch

1.  I spent a bit of time preparing chicken for a casserole, but it turned out we didn't quite have time when the Deke got home for the casserole preparations.  It was all fine.  It had to do with housecleaning. 

2.  I forgot I had purchased two petite sirloin steaks on Friday and they seemed to appear out of nowhere in the fridge.  I gave them the cast iron treatment and the Deke made a very good cabbage salad and we had a quick, delicious dinner.

3.  The wet spot on the couch was from Charly having peed.  Thank goodness.  Charly licks the couch and when she does it leaves a big wet spot.  This fact is weird on multiple levels. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/16/12: Stay Home, Lessons and Carols, Senior Warden Wind Down

1.  On occasion, I decide that I want less time with other people, no matter how much I enjoy them, and want time alone.  This morning was such a time.  I didn't go to the 11:00 service at St. Mary's.  I stayed home and edited pictures, did some contemplating, and, later, took a nap. 

2.  Later, however, I did go to St. Mary's for the Service of Lessons and Carols.  The church has now been greened and the tree is up.  The service was quiet, allowing more contemplation.  The passages from Scripture were beautiful, as was the music.  I enjoyed being a reader and getting to read about the wise men coming to visit the Christ child and Mary.

3.  The Senior Warden also attended the service and we conspired to drink our wassail at the Bier Stein instead of the church fellowship hall.  Agrarian Ales, a brewer in Eugene I'd never heard of, had their Premiere Saison on tap.  When the Senior Warden ordered his second glass and the keg blew, we immediately went to Plan B and brought a bottle of  La Fin Du Monde to the bar and split it.  All of this went very well with my Groovin Reuben panini sandwich.  It was a delicious way to cap off a good day.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/15/12: Remembering Rosemary Batori, Lock-Out Porter, 1964

1.  I had what I think of as a Body of Christ relationship with Rosemary Batori.  We worshiped at St. Mary's.  I was always aware of her presence and her gravitas.  We were never friends.  But being members of the church and joined together in the Body of Christ bonded us.  On Thanksgiving Day, at age 99, Rosemary died and her funeral was today.  It was all things:  solemn, full of laughter, mournful, uplifting, reassuring.  Rosemary was a spiritual and a political force both locally and nationally, both in the Episcopal Church and the Democratic Party, blessed with a keen sense of humor as well as fearless expression of her convictions.  The funeral paid tribute to as many dimensions of her as is possible in just over an hour.  It was beautiful.

2.  After the funeral, the Deke and I met at the High Street cafe.  Yes, I loved the happy hour cheeseburger and order of fries and the Hammerhead beer.  But, I closed our time together with a Lock-Out Porter and it was a big, bold, dark surprise.  I couldn't stop uttering, almost reverently, "God, this is good beer."

3.  The Deke knew several people at the Christmas party we attended this evening because they are parents of kids she teaches or has taught.  There were some other connections as well.  I knew nobody.  This is my least favorite situation to be in.  But, it was fun talking to this German guy who came to the USA in 1964 at the age of 18 to work at the New York World's Fair in Flushing and I enjoyed his stories about being young and in New York City and how he eventually married and settled, of all places, in Oregon.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12-14-12: Shopping with Handel, Solitude at Delta Ponds, Hammerhead Rules

1.  I drove the Deke to work early this morning and went straight to the grocery store to buy food and drink and enjoyed The Messiah being played over the sound system and the uncrowded aisles.  Sometimes my solitude was such in the store that I felt free to whistle, softly, some of my favorite passages from The Messiah.

2.  The sky cleared.  Then it clouded over.  Sometimes it was patchy.  Rain showers fell.  I saw a rainbow.  The egrets, heron, ducks, geese, and other fowl seemed unperturbed by the weather changes and I had a good walk and took more pictures at Delta Ponds.  I was the only visitor for most of my time there.  A woman with her camera was taking pictures when I first arrived.  We smiled politely at each other and whispered a hello.  We both seemed to know that the other didn't want conversation.  Here's a picture of one of the egrets in flight:

3.  I sample a lot of different beers served in Eugene at Sixteen Tons, the Bier Stein, Falling Sky and other places.  After a drink at the noisy and crowded Cornucopia and after discovering that Billy Mac's was packed, the Deke and I discovered that the 19th Street was quiet and I ordered my favorite beer of them all, the one most reliable, satisfying, perfectly balanced beer in this town or anywhere else, in my humble estimation:  McMenamins' Hammerhead.  I last had one in Portland back in the early fall and I'm always invigorated not only by the taste of the Hammerhead, but by all the great memories locked up in this beer, memories of conversations, good company, and reflective times by myself since I drank my first Hammerhead back in about 1996.  I love those other beers, but Hammerhead, in my little world, rules.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/13/12: Walking the Neighborhood, Bon Mi, Gabbin' and Drinkin' the Saison

1.  I took a relaxing sunlit stroll around our neighborhood and took a bunch of pictures.  Here's one of a neighbor's cat:

2.  I'm very happy I tried out Bon Mi, a relatively new Vietnamese restaurant downtown.  My Pho Ga was soothing while stimulating with its chicken ginger clove onion cilantro goodness and the half of a grilled pork Banh Mi was really good.  I love the pickled vegetables and the occasional bite into a hot green pepper.  Pho plus half a sandwich was 10 bucks.  I thought it was a great deal.

3. It was a great hour and a half at Sixteen Tons.  Not only were my two and half pints Elysian Saison Poivre mighty tasty, but I got to talk with Nate and, lo and behold, Kirk was there and we sat together and the Deke joined us and met Kirk and the three of us gabbed and imbibed and had a very relaxing time. 

Three Beautiful Things 12/12/12: Delta Stroll, Fellow Delta Strollers, Stroll to Billy Mac's

1.  I hopped on the city bus and rode to Delta Ponds for a stroll with my camera.  I thought my Sigma 18-200 mm lens might be a good one for taking pictures out there and I was correct.  I was especially pleased that I was able to take pictures of a heron from relatively close range:

2.  As I go out to Delta Ponds more often, I talk with more people, usually about birds.  Mostly I listen.  I don't know much about birds.  I enjoy them, though, and I enjoy the people who tell me that this egret is over here or that heron is near the bank and so on.  Today, I had a very pleasant chat with these two women who were excited about the birds they observed and the pictures they were taking:

3.  I walked a lot at Delta Ponds, walked home from the bus, and then walked to Billy Mac's to meet up with the Deke and we had a good conversation over wine (Deke) and 7 and 7s (me) before coming home and eating the Thanksgiving leftover we froze back on November 22nd. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/11/12: Sheets, Whiskey and 7UP, The Wardens

1.  Lazy day II:  I changed the sheets on my bed.

2.  I went to Billy Mac's and, for the first time in decades, I drank a couple of Seagram's 7 and 7 UP.  To be fair, I think Billy Mac's serves Sierra Mist and think my second drink was Canadian Club, not Seagram's 7.  No matter.  It was Canadian whiskey, my favorite, and it was carbonated lemon lime soda pop, a great mixer with Canadian whiskey.

3.  After the whiskey, it was off to Sixteen Tons to meet with the Senior Warden and the Junior Warden.  They were delayed by matters of gravity at the Vestry meeting, so I had drunk two half pints by the time they arrived:  Burnside Sweet Heat and Giganitic's Ume Umai and closed out with an old favorite of mine:  a half pint of Gigantic's  The Royale.  The beer was delicious and debriefing with the Senior and Junior Warden only enhanced a splendid evening.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/10/12: Lazy Day, Roast, Shopped

1.  Lazy day.  I cleaned up the kitchen.  Twice.

2.  I roasted a two pound sirloin roast in a puddle of Ninkasi's Oatis stout  with mushrooms, yellow onion, and yams. 

3.  I did a small amount of shopping from my chair in the living room.  Lazy day. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/09/12: Malachai, The Royale, Relaxing

1.  I was the lector for the 11:00 service and got to read a splendid bit of poetry from the prophet Malachai, 3:1-4, to be exact.  It's a hopeful, stirring passage of promise.  It was really fun to read.

2.  I am happy that Sixteen Tons is open at 12 noon again.  It's refreshing and relaxing to stop in for a pint after church and reflect upon the mass and make plans for the day ahead.  I enjoyed a pint of Gigantic brewery's The Royale, a fine Belgian Pale Ale.

3.  I enjoyed a slow Sunday afternoon and evening.  A few Bushmills and Ginger Ales spread far apart from each other, a delicious squash dinner prepared by the Deke, going over pictures, posting a few, reading up on the NBA, contemplating Christmas gifts.   Very relaxing. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/08/12: Breakfast Spirits, More Delta Ponds, Margarita Break

1.  Mike, Jim, and I kept our morale high and helped the hungry people we served breakfast to feel welcome as we dished out eggs, potatoes, sausage, and toast at this morning's Saturday Breakfast.

2.  Russell and I went to Delta Ponds and took pictures for an hour and a half or so.  I struggled a bit with my 200 mm Vivitar lens and the tripod and was more comfortable when I mounted my 50 mm autofocus lens on the camera.  I liked a lot of my pictures.  I wished I had had my 200 mm lens mounted when a heron was near the walking trail, sitting still, unperturbed my people and dogs walking by.  But, with the lens I had, I created a set of silhouetted pictures of the heron, like this one:

 3.  I got done grocery shopping and decided to stop in see what was happening at Billy Mac's where things were moderately busy and I had a refreshing margarita and some pleasant chat with Cathy.  Ever since I moved to Eugene in 1979, I've wanted a bar I could rely on for a place to relax, watch a ball game, have a drink, possibly a bite to eat, and where I could shoot the breeze with the people working there.  Billy Mac's has turned into just the place I've always wanted.  

Three Beautiful Things 12/07/12: December in Eugene, Brails Fun, The Best of Beers

1.  One reliable and uplifting thing about this often silly town I live in is that the climate is mild and a killer freeze often doesn't come until December or January and some times not at all.  It's December 7th and we haven't had any kind of a killer freeze and so I can walk the neighborhoods near where I live on cold, dark, gray days, with the clouds nearly on my shoulders, and find many flowers in bloom, berries alive, and fall colored leaves:   much color all around.  I took pictures of flowers and berries and leaves today on my walk to Brails and back, as a defense against the shrinking hours of daylight and the general early December gloom:

2.  Breakfast at Brails was fun.  Yes, the bacon and eggs with hash browns, English muffins and Boyd's Ambiance blend coffee tasty, but shooting the breeze with the Troxes and the witty service of Ian made the meal.

3.  The Troxstar and I decided to go Belgian at the Bier Stein late in the afternoon.  What a great variety of Belgian and Belgian style beer we drank.  Get a load of this:  a glass of Dupont's Avec Les Bons Voeux, and then we split bottles of Onibroue's La Fin du Monde, Logsdon's Oak Aged Bretta, and Logsdon's Seizoen.  We were on foot and put no one in danger as we staggered several blocks to the Rogue Public House and each drank a pint of splendid Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout on nitro while enjoying an order of onion rings.  It was a high quality bierfest.  And a great time for me and the Troxstar to air out our wit, tell tall tales, and plan a future Oregon beer pilgrimage to Oakridge, Bend, Hood River, Portland, Corvallis, and back home again.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/06/12: December Color, First Chicken, Graceland Forever

1.  I very much enjoyed walking from home to the Cornucopia for breakfast, winding my way through the neighborhood south of 13th, up and down Lawrence, Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson streets.  I had my camera, but I wasn't taking very good pictures.  Late in the walk, I realized that on such a gray day that it might be fun to photograph flowers and other colorful survivors in the natural world.  I'll walk again tomorrow and take pictures of flowers, of color.  Late in today's walk, I did, however, take this picture.

2.  Until today, I had never roasted a chicken before.  Crazy!  I know.  Right?   I had a fun time following the buttery directions of America's Test Kitchen cookbook and it turned out pretty good.  The Deke and I had a nice dinner of roast chicken, green beans, brown rice, gravy (Deke's), and cranberry relish (Deke's).

3.  While I was eating breakfast, my twenty-something server strode back toward the kitchen singing, along with Paul Simon, those unforgettable words:  "You can call me, Al".  I thought how Graceland has been alive, been omnipresent for twenty-six years now and that the album might be older than this fellow and how when I was his age there was not one song, not one album from the year of my birth, or thereabouts, that I ever sang along to at work or anywhere else.  Heh.  It's been a new world for a long time. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/05/12: Grades Done, Dead Memories, Mini-Mini Pub Crawl

1.  I submitted my grades and fall quarter is over for me.  Every student who completed WR 115 is ready to begin WR 121.  Each of them examined their own minds, experiences, ideas, and reasoning and did so both in relation to material they read and in relation to their own experience without the accompaniment of reading.   Of the thirty-four students enrolled at the end of the quarter, thirty completed the course.  That makes me happy.

2.  The coffee conversation between me and Michael, Jeff, and Margaret was free wheeling and we'd all read a recent New Yorker piece on the Grateful Dead and we all enjoyed it a lot and reading this piece and talking about it today took me back to December of 1987 when I went to my first Grateful Dead show on New Year's Eve and the days leading up to the show became one Grateful Dead seminar after another at Jay's flat, as Jeff played the Europe '72 cd for me with all of its variety and we listened to acoustic Dead shows and took a detour and listened to the Flatlanders and then as a small crowd of people staying at Jay's and sleeping on the floor came in and out they, too, prepped me for my first show and they were all very good to me and I remember how I enjoyed the show, even though I couldn't talk intelligently about it, but Jeff and Jay's friends could and I'll always remember that time in San Francisco for a Jerry Garcia Band tape Jeff made for me  that had Nicky Hopkins on it and the most beautiful version of "Mission in the Rain" I've ever heard.  I've since lost the tape. But not the memory.

3.  I went on a mini-mini pub crawl after coffee.  The Troxstar had recommended a farmhouse ale being served at the Beir Stien:  La Fin du Monde.  As the. server poured my beer, the keg blew before the glass was quite full and so it was on the house.  It was terrific.  So was the saison that replaced it:  Avec Les Bons Voeux.  I finished my beers and my beef on rye and chicken soup and strolled over to 16 Tons to see if another saison might be available.  Well, Gigantic's The Royale isn't strictly speaking a saison, but close enough.  It's a fruity Belgian Ale and it was a perfect cap to my mini-mini pub crawl. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/04/12: Merry Christmas --or Whatever, Group Photo, Less is More?

1.  Last week, on the last day our WR 115 class met, I made sure my students knew that when they brought me their final folders that they were free, at that awkward moment when one wonders if it's acceptable, to wish me a Merry Christmas.  Or Happy Holidays.  Or Have a Good Break.  Or to just walk mutely out the door.  This announcement made my students laugh.  Many of them today, grinned broadly when they turned in their final folders and wished me a Merry Christmas.  I returned the senitment. I think we all felt like we were getting away with something!  (For the record, those who wished me Happy Holidays, Have a Good Break, etc. smiled, too, but not as mischievously.)

2.  I took portraits of all my WR 115 students at the beginning of the quarter.  Four of my students, who had taken writing classes together previously, had their picture taken together.  D.T. framed their picture and gave it to me as a parting gift as he turned in his final folder and wished me a Merry Christmas.

3.  I didn't push my WR 115 students really hard this quarter.  I wanted to see if their writing would seem all that different from past terms when I assigned more reading, more writing, and packed more instruction into the course.  The writing was not much different.  In fact, I thought some of my students did better work than I remember students doing  the last time I taught WR 115 about five or six years ago.  The older I get, the more I teach, and as I enjoy the liberties of teaching in my retirement,  the more willy nilly it all seems.  I mean, how would more reading, more writing, and more pressure to get things "right" necessarily result in better writing?  I've been wondering this for the past five years or more.   Maybe being rested and relaxed helps inspire the best writing....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/03/12: Kitchen Pep, Blazer Eruption, Derrick's a Good Dude

1.  My busy weekend left me moving slowly this morning, so I got myself pepped up by diving into the mess in the kitchen and getting dishes taken care of and things straightened kind of got me going.

2.  When the Blazers' Luke Babbit knocked down a 3 with 22 seconds left, tying the Bobcats, and, as it turned out, sending the game into overtime, the patrons at the bar at Billy Mac's erupted with whoops and high fives and the whooping continued as the Blazers went on to win.  Yes!  I said, "Erupted!"  For a game on December 3rd against the Bobcats!  Wow!  These are passionate fans.  If I hadn't had my senses about me, I'd have thought it was June and the Blazers had just won a playoff game.

3.  Derrick didn't have to help John.  It wasn't his shift.  He was just sitting at the bar, cap turned backward, enjoying a drink and watching the Blazers.  But, Billy Mac's got slammed and, being the good dude he is, Derrick jumped into action, like a volunteer fireman, and helped John serve the restaurant. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Three Beautiful Things 12/02/12: St. Andrew's, Lunch with Rita, Willy Wonka at Cottage Theater

1.  Lawrence Crumb invited me to the Cottage Theater to see their production of Willy Wonka... and I started the day in Cottage Grove by attending the Eucharist at the church, St. Andrew's, where Father Crumb serves as priest.  I enjoyed the service a lot.  I enjoyed being a part of a small congregation in a small church, enjoyed Lawrence's sermon, and very much enjoyed the fellowship during and after the service ended.

2.  When I knew I'd be worshiping at St. Andrew's, I hoped Rita would be there and she was.  We went to her house in Creswell after church and enjoyed coffee and a fine lunch and talked about all the things we've enjoyed talking about over the years, including poetry.  We looked at a book titled Faces of Poetry and listened to Galway Kinell and others read their poems on a CD and talked about all the things going on in our lives now.  Hard to believe it's been thirteen years since we last stood side by side in a classroom and co-taught philosophy and composition.

3.  The Cottage Theater is a beautiful facility and the performance of  Willy Wonka was full of spirit, energy, and fun.  It might have even given us all some things to ponder about honesty.  I look forward to seeing more plays at the Cottage Theater.

Three Beautiful Things 12/01/12: Making Do, Hating War, Talking Witty

1.  EVERY time, not just once in a while, when mounting a show like the Shakespeare Showcase, stuff goes wrong.  Today, one of the things that went wrong was that after working just fine at rehearsal, the light on my stand wouldn't work.  No light on my stand would work.  I read the narration when the theater is blacked out.  I need a light to read by!  But, ingenuity prevailed.  One student pointed out that Sparky's IPhone has a flashlight application and Olive, the sound effects wizard, was carrying a strong bike light.  So, it all worked out.  It's what I love as much as anything about doing live theater.  Sometimes you've got to make stuff work.

2.  Between shows I watched the first forty-five minutes or so of The Hurt Locker.  When I was younger, I used think I'd want, some day, to teach a course in literature and movies about war.  I had quite a list of works in mind that I thought would make a compelling course, a compelling study of human character.  While I was watching the early part of The Hurt Locker, I realized I can hardly bear the sight of war in movies (or broadcast by any means) any longer.  I'll finish watching this movie.  I see much to respect and admire in it:  writing, story, acting, the recreation of disabling IEDs.  I can't distance myself, though, like I once could.   I hate the sight/reality of war more and more the older I get.  It's not a political response.  It's more raw than that.  I hate what war does to all and everything involved, to those who fight, to the cities wars are fought in, to landscapes, animals, buildings, everything.  War occupies, it takes over.  I hate it. 

3.  The Deke picked me up after the second Showcase performance and we dropped in for a drink at the Cornucopia and as we departed had a fun time talking witty with Chad and Star. 

Three Beautiful Things 11/30/12: Rehearsal, Pictures, Nightcap

1.  It's time-consuming, pains-taking, tedious, and sometimes nerve-wracking, but I love the long dress/tech rehearsal for the Shakespeare Showcase and to be a part of every detail of this complicated show of over twenty scenes from Shakespeare's plays come together into a show. 

2.  I took over 200 pictures during the rehearsal, shooting for the first time in the challenging lighting conditions of the Blue Door theater, wishing at times I could get closer to the action.  It was invigorating and some of my pictures turned out pretty well...well, at least, I thought they did. 

Othello Imagines Desdemona Enjoying Cassio

3.  After the long rehearsal, I dropped into Billy Mac's and enjoyed a prime rib sandwich and a few Hefeweizen beers.  Derrick asked me if I wanted another and I said, "No.  I'm going home and pouring myself a Jameson and ginger ale for a nightcap."  He replied, "You gotta try one of mine."  I smiled, "You make one here?"  Derrick smiled back.  "Hell yeah.  We make our own ginger ale, too."  I was in.  It was mighty tasty and made having a nightcap at home totally unnecessary.  It was a great way to wind down. 

Three Beautiful Things 11/29/12: WR 115 Farewell, Rogue Lunch, Brad Pitt's Damn Good

1.  I liked the way WR 115 ended today:  good sense of trust with my students, time to talk individually with students who needed attention, time to spend time looking at one student's pictures she'd taken over the last few months, and everything ready for the final folders to come in on Tuesday.

2.  I stopped at the Rogue Public House for lunch and tried a couple of beef sliders with too many very tasty fries and couple of very satisfying pints of Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout -- on the nitro.

3.  I finally watched Moneyball.  It made me think of how much I hate celebrity news.  Celebrity news makes actors like Elizabeth Taylor or Paul Newman or Nicole Kidman or Brad Pitt seem like people who only are on the screen because they look good.  They are/were all terrific actors.  Brad Pitt made the complexity of Billy Beane, his regrets, his agony, his daring, his joy, his riskiness, his strong will and much more, come alive in this movie.  I loved it. 

Three Beautiful Things 11/28/12: New Route, Cornucopia Warmth, Clay on Jefferson

1.  I went on a different route than ever before when I took a photo walk today. I headed south from 13th and zigzagged in the neighborhood bordered by 13th and 17th between Jefferson and Lincoln.  It was fun.  The Amazon Creek in its mediocrity, with its remains of the day, cuts through this area.  I liked photographing it, as well as gardens, home fronts, and, when lucky, some people.  About the remains of the day: 

2.  I called the photo walk the Cornucopia walk because I went to the Cornucopia tavern before retracing my steps and returning home:  grilled cheese and celery soup and a couple glasses of Oakshire's Milky Way Chocolate Milk Sweet Stout.  It was a warming meal -- it was also warming to run into Kirk and meet Christina.

3.  I was walking home down Jefferson and I heard someone call my name. It was Clay!  Over on the porch of the McNail-Riley house!  He was getting ready to lead a meeting and he showed me the fine interior of the house and told me about his project and we had a splendid conversation.  What a fine surprise!