02 September 2013

Speaking Stones

Yesterday morning the girlie took us to her new church in New York.  The building itself was very lovely example of Gothic/Romanesque architecture--very old-school, though much newer than it looks.  I had the pleasure of joining the girlie's choir and singing with her, which makes this the third different church congregation in which I've sung this month.  I'm starting to feel like a choral dilettante.  The girlie was most excited for us to meet her favorite minister and hear him preach because he bubbles over with energy and enthusiasm as much as she herself does.  And his sermon was indeed quite good; it's refreshing to hear someone a little more realistic and progressive after spending a couple of years being hammered with nearly every kind of hate and prejudice available my previous pastor, who I think would feel far more at home in Westboro Baptist Church.  But that's a whole 'nother story.

Asbury UMC

Anyway, after the service, we stopped to check out the famous Mount Hope Cemetery near her school in which such such notable people as Bausch and Lomb (yes, the contact lens people), Hiram Sibley (founder of Western Union and instrumental in the purchase of Alaska), Dr. Carver (father of the Transcontinental Railroad), and several politicians, poets and inventors are buried.  Perhaps the most famous residents of this particular cemetery are Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.  Given that this weekend is both Labor Day weekend and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech, it seemed very important to me to pay my respects to these two pioneers for equality and justice, who labored their entire lives to improve the lives of others.

I must admit, I was a bit surprised by the small size and overt humility of Susan B. Anthony's gravestone; somehow it seemed that someone so notable should have a marker as large as her impact.  In retrospect, however, perhaps the humble stature of her stone is more appropriate after all.  I particularly liked the rocks (a Jewish tradition to show respect and remembrance) piled atop her grave and the dreamcatcher peeking out from beneath them.

Susan B. Anthony, Suffragette Extraordinaire (and doyen of confusing quarter-sized dollar coins).

The Anthony Family marker...notice that Susan B. is listed on the "Equality" side.

Frederick Douglass' marker was as surprising as Anthony's was, though for the opposite reason.  It was HUGE.  It was also covered with blue letters, which we thought odd till we realized that they must be oxidized copper, like the Statue of Liberty.  To the left of Douglass' grave was a memorial about his second wife and to the right was a stone bench placed there by some Lincoln HS group or somesuch in remembrance and respect.

Frederick Douglass, famed orator and staunch supporter of African-American's and Women's rights

Nod to the missus.


After paying our respects, we got back into the car and began to wander around the massive cemetery of nearly 200 acres looking at stones.  I gotta say, old cemeteries are cool.  The headstones are infinitely more interesting and elaborate than many newer ones and you can't help but feel the weight of history when viewing them, particularly when passing sections devoted to servicemen or firemen such as these:

Graves of servicemen from the Civil War to the modern era.
Memorial to fallen firemen; one of the markers in this section had a stone fireman's helmet on top.
At one point we passed a gravestone shaped like a little bear and all went "awwww!" at its cuteness till we realized it was the marker for an infant who did not survive his first year.

Cutest and saddest headstone ever.

Seeing all the different memorials and stones was fascinating.  I can understand why one of the professors at the girlie's school regularly holds a class called "speaking stones" in which students do tours of this cemetery and research the various people they find interred there.

Of course, I am still me, so we also got a bit silly when we started to see humor in stones juxtaposed near each other.  (Reverence has never been my strong suit.)  We began to think that some of the stones had been so placed just to mess with our heads.  For example, we passed a monument for the Corning family, which was right next to a marker for the Glass family.  Hmmmm.  We saw one for Starkweather, which seemed oddly appropriate given the general snowiness of the city and the fact that the monument was shaped a bit like a lightening rod.  Probably the funniest was the mausoleum for the Pringle family, which naturally led to a spate of jokes about the chips.  These were not helped by the fact that nearby was another marker for the Popp family.  You just can't make these things up.

Once you Popp, you can't stop.
(Like you weren't thinking it.)
Philander had two wives.  Hmmmm.
Such a pain in the glass.
(And yes, this is the guy who made your casserole dish.)
"If I had a Hammer, I'd hammer out a gra-a-ve stoooone..."
Cyrillic headstones are just cool.
But beware, because there are Spies in the Russian section.
This guy likes to keep his hobbies in plane sight.
Peter Christ just doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?
Industrialized society brought to you by Steel Gears.

We saw the headstones of some of the slightly less famous residents as well, including the following:

Half of Bausch and Lomb
Father of the Transcontinental Railroad
Founder of Western Union and the largest university-affiliated
music library in the country at the Eastman School of Music.
The Hopeman family, for whom the University of Rochester's 50-bell carillon is named.

Regardless of the number of famous people interred or amusing stone juxtapositions, Mount Hope Cemetery is a peaceful place filled amazing architecture.  There are mausoleums all over, many with stained glass windows inside.  There are obelisks and fountains and memorials beyond numbering.  Some markers are wildly specific and others vague, merely stating "Mother" or "Father" or "Daughter" or "Wife."  All are beautiful in their own way.

Fred and Sue B. could not have asked for a more poignant or expressive place to rest from their many labors.

Happy Labor Day, everyone.

01 September 2013


Yesterday, yet again, we helped the girlie move into her dorm for the coming year.  But this isn't just any year, this will be her SENIOR year.  I find this concept baffling since I'm pretty sure that she was a high school senior only 10 minutes or so ago.  I mean, I know I'm not getting any older, so how can she be?  It's a mystery.

After arriving in town Friday evening and grabbing some dinner we drove out to a friend's house to reclaim her car, which he had been watching over while she was home for the month of August.  What exactly he was watching it do I can't say, though I like to think he used it to herd his alpacas around their pen in lieu of a more compact and furry 4-footed herding companion.  After all, even a poor little Saturn should be allowed to dream big.

Saturday morning we went to collect the girlie's room key, went to the storage unit to load up our rental minivan (Stow and Go seats, you rock my world) and headed back to the dorm to unload.  Because the girlie's roommate is of the awesome, she stashed one of the giant orange utility carts littered around the campus in the suite for us after moving herself in earlier in the week.  This was quite the boon since those carts tend to be hard to get on move-in and move-out days.

I'm pretty sure that cart has a pig snout.

We loaded up the first cart and started to take it upstairs, only to discover a magically deserted second cart with which I promptly absconded.  Thus began what amounted to a move-in bucket brigade, with the hubs and the girlie taking one cart and unloading it upstairs while I loaded up the second cart at the car, then swapping them out and starting all over again.  At one point during the proceedings, a couple of German students who were standing outside having a smoke bemusedly watched me loading up carts.  Halfway through my second cart, they finally commented that my student had "packed the entire house."  While not expressly true in and of itself, her collection of SCA accoutrements over the last three years has nearly doubled the paraphernalia housed in her room.  When I was nearly done loading, one of the boys did ask if I needed any assistance, by which point I obviously didn't.  So much for chivalry.

Because we couldn't get everything from storage into the van in one go (yay, armor!), we once again hid the orange cart in the suite, released the second, and took a lunch break with the girlie and her roommate.  Then it was back to storage with a quick trip to Target on the side.

One trip to Lowe's, two to storage, three to Target and 4 orange carts of chattel later (never mind the 6 packs of bubble-wrapped books we took on the plane), we finally got the girlie moved in for her senior year.  The first Target trip was for standard cleaning/restocking sorts of supplies.  The second was for a curtain rod for her closet and a pack of underpants because she couldn't find any clean ones, having not had time to wash her Pennsic clothes before flying home.  The third trip was to return the curtain rod (which turned out to be the wrong size) and to exchange said underwear for the correct style.  I should have gotten a picture of the underpants and curtain rod for my collection of awkward shopping photos, but didn't.  I did get this one, though.

"Brain bleach on Aisle 6..."
The truly sad part was discovering today at the airport that I still had a Target gift card in my wallet, which somehow got missed on ALL THREE of the Target runs yesterday.  Clearly I need to staple it to my shirt or something because I'm pretty sure this is about the 10th trip I've made to a Target since receiving the card and I still haven't managed to use the blasted thing.  Ah, well...one of these days I'll finally achieve the elusive bullseye.

We spent the rest of the evening nomming pizza and catching the end of the recent Les Misérables movie.  Frankly, I still can't take Russell Crowe remotely seriously in the role of Javert; you'd think he'd be good at that sort of character but his clear preoccupation with getting the singing right (which he didn't, considering he sounded most of the time like he had a serious sinus infection or possibly a dirty sock wedged down his esophagus) rendered him virtually incapable of any acting barring the odd scene or two (when he notably was not singing).  On the plus side, when all the deceased characters came back at the end to sing the finale, I got to watch the hubs nearly spew soda up his nose when I casually commented "I see dead people."  So it was all good.

In spite of the approximately 900 trips around town, move-in went relatively smoothly though I find it difficult to believe that the next time we schlepp the girlie's possessions, it will likely be to take them off to her grad school residence.

Time really needs to stop flying past so quickly.

28 August 2013

Dishing it Out

I have a confession...I love Corelle dishes.  I've always loved them.  They're both economical and durable and have a variety of pretty patterns.  I have had Corelle dishes ever since I was in college (a lifetime ago) after my family gave me a couple sets in the Morning Blue pattern (now considered "vintage" as, apparently, am I) one Christmas to augment the paltrey 4-piece setting in my "apartment," by which I mean "roach-infested hovel with no hot water pressure and a roll-away bed to share with the six-legged inhabitants."   Ah, the broke college years--fun times.

"Now, imbued with all the daintiness you can never hope to have for only an extra $5!"

I continued using these dishes even after I got married, though not before discovering that contrary to popular belief Corelle can and will break when it hits a hard surface in just the right spot, which will then cause it to shatter into a bajillion shards of lethal glass slivers not unlike the quills of a particularly homicidal prickle of porcupines.  A few years into the marriage I eventually switched over to the English Breakfast pattern because my husband preferred the stoneware look of the dishes he had growing up, plus he felt that my current set was too girly with all the flowers in spite of the fact that said flowers were dutifully rendered in gender-normative blue.  So instead I got him tan plates with (albeit fewer) pink flowers.  Because I'm helpful like that.

Butching up the dishes for my man...yup.

We used the English Breakfast dishes for years, even though I never really liked the tan color because it always seemed to make food look more drab somehow.
After all, food can only look so vibrant sitting on depressed-looking dinnerware, no matter how prim or prissy the design.  So eventually I became bored with them and donated them to make way for a new pattern called "Memphis."  I loved my Memphis dishes, not the least because we were actually living in Memphis at the time and can always appreciate a good inside joke.  Besides, the dishes were colorful and happy and my daughter loved them too.

At least the mug is all about the Memphis Blues...just the thing for some Blue Suede Brews.

When I was forced encouraged to move to Georgia three years ago, I brought these plates with me so I could keep a little piece of Memphis with me. Eventually, though, even the amazing Corelle begins to show wear and tear after a few years, especially with one's husband cutting food violently enough to saw plates nearly in half.  My pristine white dishes rapidly became sullied by silver gouges that made it look more like he'd been cutting his food with Sharpies than with silverware.  So I decided that with the girlie off in college, maybe it was time to get some nicer dishes and pretend to be a grownup.  (You can stop laughing now.)

I packed up the Memphis Corelle for the girlie's future apartment (because I'm such a good mom) and began stalking Kohl's sales until I ended up with a 10-piece setting of Fiestaware, any one setting of which--retail--would have cost about the same or more than a 4-piece setting of my beloved Corelle.  Still, between sales and coupons I didn't do too badly and was able to get most of the sets for around half-price.  Go, me!  Suddenly I had a rainbow of dishes in my cabinet. This seemed cool in theory, though in reality they were so much thicker than my inexpensive glass Corelle dishes that it was difficult to cram them all in the cabinets.  Then both the girlie and the husband started complaining that the dishes were too "loud," especially when they banged against the granite countertops in our new house or, God forbid, against each other.  The hubs began carving silver lines into the new plates in about 1/4 the time it took him to molest the last Corelle set and I missed my old dishes anyway so I decided enough was enough.  The time to sell the festive Fiestaware had come.

I would totally buy a Corelle set that came in rainbow colors.

Before I began posting on Craigslist, I approached a friend of mine (who has her own extensive collection of Fiestaware) to see if she'd be interested in any of it as a first-refusal sort of thing.  We agreed on an equitable used price for the dishes, which was still far less than I paid originally even with all the sale prices but which turned out to be almost the exact price for a 12-piece setting of my new dishes.  I couldn't have planned it that well if I'd tried.  I purchased my new dishes--square, this time, just to be different--and packed up the Fiestaware in the boxes to take to my friend the next time I visited.  Ironically, I later discovered that my old Memphis dishes had been packed in Fiestaware boxes.  Recycling FTW!

My new dishes aren't as festive as the Fiestaware nor as happy as the Memphis Corelle pattern, but they're nicely contemporary.  And I have to admit that the squared-off plates provide a little extra room for food that maybe doesn't lend itself as well to rounder plates (think corn-on-the-cob).  They do tend to slide around more in the dishwasher, however.  Still, the pattern is perhaps a little more dignified than those I've had previously, which for me is kind of laughable in and of itself.

Because Malaysia needs a little more Splendour?

I like my new Corelle, even if it lacks the whimsy of my previous set.  And I'm sorry that I cheated on the company with my Fiestaware dalliance.  But even without the element of whimsy, this set suits me fine because after a mere two months of use, some of the dishes have already become slightly warped as Corelle is wont to do.  So we match, my dishes and I--we're durable, we're sometimes serious and sometimes frivolous, we're not overpriced or pretentious, and we are most definitely a little on the warped side.

But at least we're rarely boring.

Warping adds character.

19 July 2013

Frivolous Fridays--Music

For this week's installment of Frivolous Friday, the theme is music (see what I did there?)...enjoy!

There's obviously a movement to improve operations.

The Facebook Fugue-It-All

Is it just me, or do the black keys suddenly look like shark fins?

So E-flat leaves and C and G have an open fifth between them.  After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished and G is out flat.  F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough.

D comes in and heads for the bathroom, saying "Excuse me.  I'll just be a second."  Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor.  Then the bartender notices B-Flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, "Get out!  You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight!"

E-Flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit and nicely shined shoes.  The bartender says "You're looking sharp tonight.  Come on in, this could be a major development.  Sure enough, E-Flat soon takes off his suit and everything else, becoming au natural.

Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he's under a rest.  C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.

Celebrity national anthem singers clearly get paid by the note.

Bugs Bunny had nothing on this pugnacious actress.

Like you weren't thinking it.

This is not the arrangement you're looking for...

Gangsta Cello.

And one last note...always remember that the real problem with reality is a lack of background music.  I can't underscore this enough.

17 July 2013

Wedding Fever

This past Saturday I attended a friend's wedding, the second of three such weddings this summer.  While everyone knows that summer is prime wedding season, rarely do I find myself with multiple invitations in a single year.  I have to give my friends credit, though, because they've considerately spaced them out to one per month each for June, July, and August. They're so thoughtful that way.

The first wedding was in Florida in June and was between two dear friends who are pretty much the epitome of everyone's fantasy relationship. In fact, if they were anyone else, I'd probably want to hate them in much the same way that a woman often calls someone younger and prettier rude names just because she's secretly jealous. But you just can't be angry with a couple who is just so freakishly adorable together (and not in a saccharine, diabetic-coma-inducing sort of way) and so stunningly good at loving and supporting each other because they give the rest of us hope.  No doubt that is in part the result of all they had to overcome to be together; she is a native Floridian and he is from London.  As you might imagine, dating someone overseas is more than a little challenging in the best of circumstances, yet somehow these two amazing people made it work.  You couldn't help but root for them while watching their romance blossom and unfold.  Frankly, it was more than a little like "must-see TV" -- the very best kind of reality show.

Happily ever after.

After two long years or so of struggle, waiting, immeasurable heartache at saying goodbyes, waiting, joy, waiting, endless Skyping, and more waiting, these two finally saw their dreams come to fruition in front of a diminutive Catholic priest on a hot summer's day in the heart of Florida.  It was awesome.  And I was privileged not only to be a witness, but to become a participant when the couple asked me to sing during the service...I was deeply touched and honored by the request.

However, things did not quite go according to plan for me.  I met the accompanist at the rehearsal and ran through my hymn (to be sung during the lighting of the unity candle).  It went perfectly.  I went to the church early to warm up with him again on the morning of the wedding.  Again, the run-thru went smoothly.  I wish the same could be said of the actual service.  As I've gotten older, I've become more prone to allergies and react more frequently to certain smells, perfumes, plants, etc.  Every day that I was in Florida, I felt myself clog up just a little bit more, so clearly I was having a reaction to something in my environment, though I'm still not sure precisely what.  At any rate, in spite of sucking down water by the gallon for the several days I was there, when it came time for me to sing during the ceremony my throat decided that approximately 20 seconds before opening my mouth would be an excellent time to close up.  I was furious. I'm still not sure how I managed to get through the song but somehow I did, albeit with about 1/3 of my natural power and more than a little hoarseness and croakiness.  At one point I even signaled to the accompanist to pause briefly between verses, but was still unable to shift whatever the obstruction was.  When it was over, I was despondent because I so felt that I had let the couple down and more than a little livid with myself.  While I realize I'll never be a musical star, singing is one of the 3-4 things I am actually reasonably good at--so it was immensely frustrating to fall short of my capabilities, never mind on a day when I wanted to sing even better than usual for such lovely friends as opposed to having my voice crap out on me at the most inopportune time. Still, things happen, and technical difficulties are technical difficulties and beyond one's control.  Most of the attendees likely thought I was choked up with emotion (rather than with allergies) or perhaps they just thought I was that friend who thinks they can sing but really can't.  Either way, it doesn't really matter.  The bride gamely lied to me about how good it was, but I still spent the better part of the next two hours beating myself up over it.  I suppose I had it coming after bragging about what an "easy" song it was and how I didn't have to "work" to sing it since it was placed in my mid-range.  You'd think I'd have learned my lesson my now, but nooooo.  God always finds a way to smack down my hubris.

"Felines...whoa-o-o, felines..."

At the end of the day, though, this wedding was never about me, nor should it have been.  This beautiful wedding was about two amazing people who sacrificed so very much to be with each other and who stood together, glowing with love and joy, to celebrate the culmination of that accomplishment while surrounded by loved ones from two continents.  In fact, I heard it remarked upon many times that week about how extraordinary the extent of the love and happiness surrounding this couple was, which speaks to how much they are loved and to how many people have been rooting for their union.  No, this day wasn't about my drama or any other kind of drama, it was about celebrating the much-awaited union of two very special people and, in that respect, mission accomplished.  Besides, in my experience there is rarely a wedding that doesn't have either some sort of drama (usually relative-related) or something that goes wrong at the last minute, if not both.

Let's face it, for all the excitement and joy they bring, weddings tend to be fraught with stress, worry that everything will come off right, and unwilling compromises as we impossibly try to please everyone.  That's just the way it works.  In my own wedding, for example, I'm pretty sure I pissed off my future in-laws and extended family by refusing to have children involved.  There was only one likely candidate anyway, a 4-year-old cousin who would have been flower girl.  In retrospect, had I actually known the child, I would have been more than happy to acquiesce; at the time, she was quite a self-possessed little girl.  But I didn't know her, and I'd heard far too many horror stories about kids in weddings to want to risk it.  Nor were all my plans met with complete enthusiasm, though my mother-in-law was mostly supportive, at least when she wasn't gently trying to steer me to a more "appropriate" way of thinking.  Years later I discovered that several of them just tried to write it off as me being a "Yankee" and therefore "not knowing any better."  How dare I try to buck the Southern machine, after all--there was a system in place, by God, and my callow Yankee sensibilities had little place in it. In fairness, the relatives were all perfectly nice to me at the time (bless my heart), but there was no denying that my opinions and theirs didn't always match up.  But then that's pretty par for the course, isn't it?  Most families, particularly the mothers of the future bride and groom, seem to feel that their children have no clue about the planning of a wedding regardless of their ages, organizational abilities or educational achievements.  The moms know that the nuptials are really about the family, not about the participants in question...they get to have the marriage, dammit, but the wedding itself is the moms' reward for putting up with all our crap while we were growing up.  Or so they would have us believe.

So there's usually drama.  And there's usually some sort of crisis.  I saw a lot of these back when I used to alter wedding dresses.  Once I had to alter a dress overnight because the overly-helpful stepmom had taken the bride's dress to be cleaned by the cheapest dry cleaner she could find.  In the process, the dress was turned a lovely vanilla color (like the flavoring before being mixed into batter) and all the beads and sequins were melted.  Needless to say, the bride was so hysterical and panicked her mother took her out to buy a new wedding dress less than 24 hours before the wedding and brought it over to my house.  No pressure.  But I got it done, and she got married, which is all that mattered.

Looks about right.

For another wedding, I altered the bride's dress for free as a wedding present because she was the daughter of a friend. When I arrived at the church to attend the ceremony, I was immediately accosted by her father.  Turned out she'd accidentally dropped a mascara brush on the front of her dress and everyone was freaking out about how to remove or disguise the black streak.  I was pressed into service because of my intimate familiarity with her dress, in spite of the fact that I was not a dry cleaner and had absolutely no clue what to do.  We carefully blotted off the worst of the mascara with some water and a cloth, then I suggested that they use some of the bride's face powder to absorb the rest and to tone down the color.  After all, the entire point of make up is to cover blemishes and smooth surfaces, right?  It was an imperfect fix, but between the powder and a strategically-held bouquet, it got the job done and no one was the wiser.

At my own wedding things went relatively smoothly, at least until we tried to set my veil on fire.  After lighting the unity candle the minister had us kneel for a prayer.  The candle was on a stand very near my head, however, and under a heater vent blowing warm air.  Fortunately we made it through the prayer without having to hose me down with water from the baptismal font, but it was a near thing since the flame was blowing less than an inch from my veil.  To this day I'm convinced that not a single person heard the minister's prayer because on the video you can see everyone (notably my mother) staring intently at the candle and my head, poised to wrestle me to the floor and roll me around in the carpet to extinguish the flames if necessary.  So there's always something.  Someone tears the dress, someone pops a cummerbund, someone trips, someone forgets the programs, someone's flight gets delayed...something.  But you roll with it and carry on, because really, that's what a marriage is all about--supporting each other through whatever crises life brings.

That can't be good.

The wedding this past weekend was completely different than my friend's in Florida, but just as lovely and the happy couple ended up just as married.  The music was performed beautifully by a string quartet (as opposed to a squawky soloist), the dresses were lovely, and the service short and sweet.  The wedding party had to contend with rain (See? There's always something...), but the weather mostly held out for them.  No doubt there was some kind of drama somewhere behind the scenes, but since I was merely a guest and not involved in any way I didn't see it if there was. Sadly, I'll have to miss the third wedding because I'll be in New York helping my girlie move into her dorm, but I'm sure that bride will be just as beautiful as the other two and that her wedding will be just as uniquely her as theirs were (but I'll still keep my fingers crossed for a drama- and crisis-free day).