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Sunday, May 31, 2009

[Hannah]: An invitation that makes me a little nervous

What is this bride thinking?

a) "I am so happy you are all spending this special day with me!"
b) "Somebody needs to keep that kid quiet."
c) "Too late for him to change his mind now..."

In which I play for a milonga party on a whim.

Last week my mentee (she'll be in HIGH SCHOOL next year!) and I talked about regret. I told her I wished I were more spontaneous, that I could repress my instinct to mull things over before I sign on.

So when my friend Daniel called me on Tuesday and asked if I'd like to play at a tango party with him four days later, I said yes.

Daniel is the tanguero (also maker of biodiesel fuel out of french-fry oil, solar panel engineer, former animal acupressurist and art-gallery owner) who took me sailing on his catamaran and showed me his ruined beach house - which since has burned completely to the ground! - and home gasoline factory.

I said yes even though Daniel has only been playing the tuba for a few months and I expected the worst...

Next day, 8:15 am, he came to my house for a short rehearsal. I wasn't reassured - he had a lot of trouble getting to the down-beat on time, and when you play a huge loud instrument and its principle responsibility is the down-beat, that's bad.

I said: when one gets behind one must abandon beloved cascades of notes (bass runs come at phrase end and are his instrument's primary opportunity for self-expression). "I know you practiced them, but if you're behind you must forget about them and forge ahead..."

Daniel practices his tuba for 4-5 hours a day, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that next day, when we met for our rehearsal at his friend Janet's house, he had improved immensely!

Here they are, aren't they so adorable together?

Daniel GREASES HIS MOUSTACHE when he plays, it's so big and fluffy that otherwise it gets between his lips and his mouthpiece and ruins the seal. (My son, who has played the baritone horn for many years, was an unwilling witness to that early-morning rehearsal and moustache-vaselining and was appalled.)

Janet, Daniel and I practiced five songs that day, and ran them again last night before the party. At that point we had to abandon one of them, it wasn't ready for prime time...

I'd baked a jelly roll to take to the party (I'll post the recipe later) and there was a fine spread. The women all put on their stiletto heels, the lights were dimmed, the dj spun Argentinian disks with keening bandoneons and tenors throbbing out songs of ruined love; couples swirled in slow, dramatic motion.

At 11:00 pm (much past my bed-time) we were announced! People were not sure what to expect, given that they'd never seen me before, and given that they knew Daniel had been thrown out of the tango jam session not long ago ("loud" and "behind the beat" not being a felicitous combination).

All went well. Janet and Daniel were great! And I loved fiddling and singing these emotional songs though they're so misogynistic.

As I understand it, when the Argentinian tango was born, Buenos Aires was a wild-wild west outpost populated by cowboys, speculators, and whores. The songs are all about disloyal, cruel women. My suspicion is that the guys who wrote the songs were jerks and all sensible women would dump them...

I don't know if we'll do this again, but I'm so glad I said yes this time.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

[hannah]: an unfortunate wedding cake

Found this on Martha Stewart. To me, this looks like something that, if you left it on a sidewalk in Berkeley, you would be liable for a fine. Ahem.

Friday, May 29, 2009

[Hannah]: Let's talk about dressmaking

So, it's my first week after the end of school. It's a period of transition that always results in a little bit of anxiety for me - all that nervous energy that I had been using to write papers has no place to go. When I was in college I would always be home at my parents' house and would soothe myself by playing Civilization III on the computer until 3 or 4 AM the first night I was home. Then I was usually okay.

This year, my transitional project was dressmaking. I bought a used sewing machine from the excellent Berkeley Sewing and Vacuum Center. I bought some cheap gingham fabric online (the Companionable Atheist is fond of gingham).

I decided to make my own pattern. I traced onto tracing paper the six-gored skirt from a double-layered cotton dress from Ann Taylor I know looked good on me. I can't find it now but the skirt is kind of shaped like this.

So I had the pattern for the skirt. The top I kind of invented. So here are the patterns (from left to right): top part (needs 2), waistband, one of the skirt pieces, of which there were six. (wide ones for the front and back, narrower ones for the sides):

It was a fun geometrical puzzle to try to figure out how to sew the pieces together so that all the raw edges ended up on the inside. I woke up at 6 AM a couple days in a row with my brain happily working on this problem and refusing to let me go back to sleep. I sewed gathers into each side of the top that were parallel to the line of the top. It turns out this is a very forgiving method to give yourself space for your boobs. Unlike halter dresses - it turns out those are actually kind of tricky to gather correctly. Even though the double-layer cotton I was using was stiff, it worked out great. I had no boob problems with this dress. Oh, and I also used iron
on interfacing in the waistband to give it a little more structure. In the end we had something like this:

Now this design ended up having two major problems. First, I had forgotten to make the width of the top of the skirt identical to the width of the top of the waistband. The top of the skirt was from a dress that fit me, and the waistband I had measured on my very own waist, so it kind of didn't occur to me it would be a problem. It was! I had to go and tighten all the skirt sections, I had to narrow each one of them so that the skirt would remain symmetrical. That was annoying, and kind of changed the line of the skirt, but it was simple to execute in the end.

Problem number two: the zipper. Somehow I had not noticed that my skirt pattern assumed the zipper would be in the center of the back, while my top pattern assumed it would be a zipper under the arm. I had left seam allowances in two different places. Crap! I decided to go with the underarm zipper ... further damaging the symmetricality of the pattern. This wouldn't have been a problem except fabric with a check pattern reveals EVERY uneven-ness. My waistband was particularly uneven looking, since it was wider at the top than at the bottom. See below.

Well, it turns out I didn't take a picture of the truly problematic parts of it, I guess cause I was annoyed.

Not bad! Here's another angle, you still can't really tell.

But trust me, trouble was a-brewing under that right armpit. The zipper was weirdly lined up and it just looked ridiculous. So I ripped it apart and did a whole nother top and waistband, learning from my mistakes. I did the waistband so that it was diagonal-oriented and that way its unevenness was concealed.

Hey hey, not bad! The white cotton liner turned out to make a cute looking edge to the fabric. The top is secure enough that there won't be any wardrobe malfunctions. In spite of last minute fudging, the skirt is reasonably flattering. I still need to hem it and wrestle a little more with the zipper (this time it's in the back). But really, I think it looks nice. The only way I would change this pattern for next time is to give myself a little more room in the waistband where I didn't give myself much seam allowance - The "invisible zipper" I bought is awful finicky and after an Indian dinner it took quite a bit of work from the Companionable Atheist to zip me into this dress. Suck it in, Scarlett.

Final conclusion: the pattern is a smashing success and I am sure I will make it again. Not sure this is really the style I want for a wedding dress though (I was imagining cotton under-layer again, with lace top layer). I thought it was, but now I think it would be a little plain! Back to the hunt... I really want to make something like this Tadashi dress, but I think sewing with chiffon would be a nightmare:

Or like this, but in what fabric?

Or like this? Without the dumb sash, I think this is wicked foxy.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I don't know exactly what's happening here, but I wish it would happen more often.

Like, ever. Sent by my pal Mitzi. This is absolutely worth four minutes of your day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Life passages which provide excellent opportunities for you to be ripped off.

My daughter and I were marvelling over the huge amount of money some photographers, venues, etc. charge for weddings. I pointed out that at such a transition moment, she looks like a big fat mouse to the hawks, helpless and tasty.

  • Brides have their hands on a big pot of dough and know they're going to have to spend it.
  • Brides are anxious and inexperienced;
  • Brides are dealing with a bunch of service providers who will never have to face them again.
This adds up to a glaring consumer susceptibility. If a bride buys a very expensive, bad wedding cake - or if she pays thousands to a photographer who takes lousy pictures - well, what's she going to do about it? Not have them back to her second wedding?

People planning funerals have the same three attributes. And look what happens:
A non-profit group recently surveyed the prices at 49 different mortuaries and crematoriums in San Diego, and found that "prices vary widely, with some mortuaries charging nearly twice as much as others for similar combinations of services." San Diego Memorial Society

People planning a big move also have these attributes and in consequence you can find 100s of complaints online about moving companies taking advantage of harried, anxious customers.

I have a friend who's for years been paying a local company $30/month for server space for his website when there are any number of hosting companies willing to do the same for $4-7 dollars a month. These people suggested to him that he needed a $6,000 website makeover. I would estimate this would cost them a half-day of work. They are clearly taking advantage of somebody who's inexperienced, has money to spend, and won't be doing website renovations very often.

What are some other life moments when we are uniquely vulnerable to being scammed?

Monday, May 25, 2009

My dad, William S. Peppler: an 18-year-old fighting in Germany

My dad dictated this to me when he was dying of leukemia in 1999.


The year was 1944. D-day occurred in June - I turned 18 in July, and registered for the Draft. I tried to join the Air Force and then the Navy, hoping to avoid the Infantry. But for the first time I found out I am Red-Green colorblind, and so was turned down in both cases. So I was drafted and where did I go, the Infantry. At the time the biggest need was for replacements for troops being lost in the ground war.

During training I had a chance to go to OCS (Officers Training) in Infantry or Artillery. It was a chance to get out of the infantry, but after I passed the written tests, I flunked the physical due to being color-blind.

The training was serious and tough - they taught us how to handle all infantry equipment (M-1 rifle, carbine, 60 mm Mortar, 30 Cal Machine gun, bayonet, rifle grenade, hand grenade). I enjoyed this part. They worked us from dark to dark , with some night patrols that lasted past midnight; some had us crossing thick swamps by compass at night. We hiked miles every day, with a 26-mile forced march with full equipment including a 60-70 pound backpack as the final test. At the end I was in great shape and had gone from 155 to 185 pounds, with solid arms and legs.

We were to have seventeen weeks of basic training, but the Battle of the Bulge occurred and we were pulled in our fifteenth week.

Boat ride

We were shipped by train to Boston and then loaded on the USS America with 9,999 other troops. The boat was an adventure in itself! I was assigned a cot in H-4, the bottom of the ship. The room had a high ceiling and the only access was one vertical ladder up one wall. The cots were 12-high, made of canvas stretched over pipes. They were so close your shoulders would bump the bottom of the canvas above when you turned over.

The ship traveled alone until a day out of port - it traveled fast enough and on a zig-zag course that gave it a better chance of avoiding U-boats then if it went by convoy.

It was winter and the North Sea was stormy. Some days the waves were so high they would crash over the bow of the boat and down the decks. I was only seasick once, but it lasted the whole trip. Almost everyone was sick - if not from the motion, you’d get sick from the odor. The ladder wall was known as the "Green Wall" from those who couldn’t quite make it up to "feed the fish" over the rail. The lucky ones had top bunks - others risked the drip from those sick above.

Everyone started out with a little money - there were non-stop crap and poker games. By the time we got there most were broke and a few had a duffel bag full of money. The high stakes crap games were amazing - the players still in the game had stacks and stacks of bills - mostly ones and fives, fewer tens, I never saw anything higher. I played in poker games with reasonable limits, and watched a game quite a while before getting in - only some of the games were "honest." I did well for the small games I played in and wired $600 home when we landed. (This was unlike the way back - I started with about $75 and lost it all on the first day.)

There were always rumors of a German battleship in the area ahead, and U-boats. About a day out of port we got an escort of two Corvettes. I was in a poker game on a top bunk and there were three LOUD explosions, and the ship started to heel over. We all thought we were hit and sinking, and clambered up the ladder to the deck. It turned out the explosions were depth charges, the ship was in a steep turn that caused the tilt. They got the sub - it surfaced and was destroyed - but by then it was a long way off, and we couldn’t see much but smoke.

We crossed to Glasgow, Scotland and then crossed England on a train with the shades drawn. We crossed the Channel in an old boat and landed at Le Havres. The entire dock area was destroyed so we walked about six miles to a freight train, then to Belgium, then truck, then walked, and we were into it. At every transfer, the group would be split until it was down to another guy and me to an Eight Infantry squad. We had our first experience with incoming artillery before we even got to our unit. We tried to advance a few hours later but were "called back" - driven would have been a better word. A friend that was with me in training was killed in the first hours - heard he took one in the throat.

I could write volumes on the details of the next three. Our Division, the Eighth Infantry, relieved Bastogne, crossed the Ziegfried Line (tough fortifications), went through Aachen, Duren, Koln, crossed the Rine above Bohn and went deep into Germany as point on a drive that cut off 100,000 Germans.

It was winter - muddy, some snow, wet and miserable. We went days without taking off any of our clothes. On occasions our unit would drop back on reserve (still in artillery range) and we would get new clothes - DRY ones!

By the next day we were back in it, clothes all wet from rain, mud, perspiration. We caught a little sleep when we could - usually during the day when we could "hole up." The German artillery was fierce, mostly 88s, and would cut you up if caught in the open in daylight, so most attacks were made at night. Patrols into the German rear were particularly "exciting." The night battles were brilliant fireworks displays - shell bursts, white phosphorus fountains, tracers, parachute flares, German rocket clusters (screaming Meme’s). But the most "exciting" of all was riding on the back of a tank to clear roadblocks - usually barriers with tanks behind them and infantry dug in around them.

We were used to staying close to the ground, doing as little as we could to draw attention. Riding on the back of a tank, you invite everyone to pick you off - rifle, machine gun, mortar and artillery.

We took a lot of casualties, and got a lot of replacements. Inside, I knew my luck couldn’t hold - I didn’t think the war could ever end - my only hope was that a wound would be bad enough to get me out, but not lethal.

It was sad to see the dead G.I.’s, I didn’t feel sorry for them - nothing I could do for them - I felt sorry for their families and friends that would mourn and miss them.

April 3, 1945 - My Day

"My day" started out like so many others - the Germans were on the run, and we pushed as fast as we could to keep them from digging in. We were the "point" of a big drive to close a big pocket of Germans - later heard over 100,000 prisoners were taken. We were moving fast - way in front of any heavy support.

We were in hilly farm country, farms and small villages.

About 8 am we were looking down on a small village and the order was given for me and the second scout to go down to the first building. We ran down the hill and were crossing the pasture when the whole village opened up. Fortunate for me, I was hit by the first shot and fell to the ground. The other scout wasn't that lucky, and as we passed by him hours later, we saw he had taken several through the body.

The village was full of troops, and a hot fire fight went on for hours, all around me. The shot didn't hurt more than a slap in the face, but that changed as time went on. I couldn't tell the damage, but held my hand over the area. Blood backed up and ran out my nose. There was nothing I could do - the nearest building, maybe one hundred feet away, had a lot of gunfire coming out of it. The bleeding wouldn't stop. I accepted the fact that it was over and got a very calm feeling. I thought of home and the sadness it would cause there.

I was there for hours, maybe three or four hours by the movement of the sun. A small mortar round landed close by - I felt the sting of small fragments, the chunks must have gone above. I would get sinking feeling where it seemed I was falling back from the light. I saw spots, but knew that if I passed out that would be it.

Then I heard hob-nailed boots coming down the road - I knew it was a German. I had heard of the wounded being put out of their misery. He passed me by and checked the other scout, then headed back. I raised my head and saw it was a German medic - he wrapped up my head and left - then returned with two others and we went to a nearby barn. There were our guys, they had fought in from another direction, and the Germans I saw had been captured.

I couldn't talk, but I got one of our guys to feel my pulse; it was very weak and very rapid.

They radioed for a Jeep to meet us back at the top of the hill (where we started), since no road was yet open to where we were. One of ours had two prisoners start up the hill with me on a litter - as we started up, we came under fire from back in the village. I got off the litter and ran up the hill with support on each elbow. The Jeep was there, I sat up for the run to an Aid Station. When they cut off the bandage, that was the last I remember.

Next came the trip on a litter in a van filled with others on the same. It was a long, bumpy ride to the field hospital - nerves in my jaw were now awake and the pieces of shattered bone rubbing together tortured me.

The field hospital was a big tent lighted by gasoline lanterns. The first thing they did was cut off my jacket, and I remember the slivers of that mortar shell fell to the floor. Next I remember being on a canvas table in this big tent with, it seemed, dozens of operations going on all around. They guy on the next table was face down and they were working on where most of one cheek was gone.

They put a wad of cotton on my face and poured ether out of a can. They poured a little too fast and some went down my nose - I could taste ether for days.

Next I woke up and found all my teeth, upper and lower, were wired together and elastics hooked the upper and lower teeth. Each tooth over the broken area held its piece of jawbone and that was the way they stayed for four months.

A nurse helped me write a V-mail letter home to tell them I was OK and that letter got home before the telegram, and eased the shock.

Next was a trip to an airstrip and off to a hospital at Stratford-on-Avon in England. They segregated cases, so everyone in my ward was a jaw wound case. We went to our own section at the mess hall and sat down to our liquid diet. There would be about five bowls with puree of anything - vegetables, meats, eggnog, etc. It wasn't bad.

I was there about six weeks - to be useful I got a book of card tricks, and spent time in the paraplegic ward amusing guys who really had problems. I also helped the Red Cross by showing movies in various wards with a small projector. The one I was uneasy about was Section 8 Ward - Mental. I'd go in with the same hospital clothes they had, there were no door knobs on the inside - what if I couldn't get out! I was warned to be careful not to lose an extension cord - some were suicidal.

In my jaw ward there were many much worse off than I - some were badly disfigured.

Next was a trip back to the States by hospital ship - to Savannah, a big Army hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia - closest there is to home. The first newspaper I saw when I got off the boat had this headline: "Army Says Not Sending 18 Year Olds Overseas." I was nineteen the next month.

Mom and Dad visited right away, and later I had long furloughs at home between treatments. I was given a disability discharge in January, 1946.

My dad went to MIT on the G.I. Bill - he was the first person from his Pennsylvania Dutch farming community in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania ever to go to college. While he was there he met my mother, who was going to Wellesley.

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Mark does Illustration Friday: "Cracked."


Acrylic on canvas, 12" x 16"

Mouse lemurs are, for their size, formidable predators. While I do not know for sure, they probably like eggs.

If you have not seen it, Botero's Mona Lisa, age 12 is fantastic! (Scroll down - the picture is almost at the bottom)


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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Melinama paints Yosele ("Cracked")

As you may recall, I translated a book from Yiddish a couple months ago, "Yosele the Incredibly Miserable Boy" I called it. The man who paid me to translate it also asked if I would illustrate the cover. Today, for Illustration Friday, I gave it a try.

Yosele's life cracked when he was falsely accused of being a thief. It went downhill from there.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I go to a "Professional Wedding Guild" luncheon...

I'm not much of a joiner, in general, but lately I've been running around town doing whatever I can think of to drum up more wedding gigs for my bands. As I've said before, I really love playing at weddings: we make people happy - well, they're in a good mood already and I like that! - everybody looks pretty, the air is charged with optimism...

Today I disguised myself as a "professional" (that means I didn't wear shorts and flipflops) and went to the Franklin hotel, a new ritzy spot in downtown Chapel Hill, and went into the fancy marble lobby and asked the guy behind the desk for a parking pass, but he told me grandly, "we are not towing today," so I plucked up my courage, went on up to the third floor, and signed in to the Professional Wedding Guild luncheon.

I hadn't really known what to expect, but I'd burned a few copies of my wedding music sampler cds and had my cheapo business cards and my camera.

The lady who owns the "Perfect Wedding" franchise in this area, Gail Galloway, was friendly and kind, as were just about all the people I met.

The nicest, most relaxed group: the officiants. I liked them all.

The group I would call most tense: the venue people, folks from various fancy hotels, clearly in competition with each other for the big bucks. This area has a high saturation of high-end hotels, and perhaps in the current economy not enough brides have five figures to spend on a venue... The venue folks seemed worried...

The photographers were a bit supercilious when I asked them (on behalf of my engaged daughter) if they would shoot a wedding and then just hand over an unedited cd of the images. No, they said, we must control our images, our reputations are at stake.

It reminded me of the days when the photographer came one day a year to my elementary school, and we were supposed to be all gussied up and we got shoved one by one in front of the camera, and then later we got these folders with sample pictures that said PROOF on them in big letters in case our parents tried to steal the pictures.

I guess I don't understand this business model, you pay the photographer but the photographer owns the pictures he/she takes?

The "Guild" meets every month or so, at different venues, which is a way for the hotels to strut their stuff. The head of catering at the Franklin introduced to us the Franklin's master chef and said "He's a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America."

He'd put balsamic vinegar on our ice cream and strawberries and (somewhat stale) cake, thereby rendering them inedible. So much for haute cuisine.

Being mother of a bride, a former (fanatically do-it-yourself) bride myself, AND a wedding vendor, I feel a little uneasy about the food chain quality of this business. I think of what we do, playing for people who are in a supercharged emotional mood, as being something very special - but "the biz" aspect commodifies music, which to me is so much more than that...

Brides, young and anxious and in potential possession of huge pots of money to disburse to various strangers they will probably never work with again, are on the one hand the bosses; on the other hand, they're a little like bait fish getting chased round the pond by people with items and services to sell.

Further up the food chain: wedding planners, who can recommend - or not recommend - vendors, who can contract us and sell our services to the brides (with a surcharge added).

Above even the wedding planners: owners of the various advertising channels and franchises. They can collect large fees from us cake-bakers and gew-gaw makers etc, so we can tout our wares in display ads in their magazines and on their websites, or pay big bucks to sit in booths at their Bridal Shows and fish for brides.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In which the canny lads at Design Hammer give us Meetup members free web design advice AND free pizza.


A friend recommended Meetup to me a year ago but it wasn't until recently that I jumped in. I now go to a weekly Spanish conversation group, where we conduct show-and-tell, eat cookies, and cheer our amateur magician as he practices his patter en español.

I've also had my eyes opened, via meetup, to the wonderful world of "Search Engine Optimization," which is to say the sprinkling of magic herbs and the making of correct ritual incantations in order that ***GOOGLE*** may smile upon one's websites.

The economy being what it is, many brides are trading down yet again in the music department. Time was when having live music was de rigeur at a wedding. Then DJs started taking the work away from the bands and we musicians howled. Now, the brides and bridegrooms tote their iPods to the receptions and do away with actual humans altogether. Though I manage a bitter smile when the DJs howl, it's actually horrible for all of us.

Since the last time I'd paid any attention to my bands' websites, our Google standing had dropped down, down, down below a gaggle of mega-directory sites falsely promising "LOCAL MUSIC FOR CHAPEL HILL," for instance. They don't actually offer many local bands at all, rather, slick cover bands in Manhattan and Minnesota which will travel to Chapel Hill - for a large fee, of course...

I want to get more eyeballs on my sites and ears on my music - hence my new site, Wedding Music in North Carolina, and hence a visit tonight to the offices of local website mavens Design Hammer. Two nice young Design Hammer guys, very soft spoken, gave us pizza and proceeded to share 1-1/2 hours of their experience, just to be nice.

So I asked them as we left, "can I pay for the pizza?" and they said, "no indeed, just blog about us," and there you have it! Hurrah for generous young web designers, and kudos to Meetup for inventing itself.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Contagious."


Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14


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Ketubah border prototype #1

I'm starting to think about the ketubah for my daughter and her fiance. This was my first experiment. The colors aren't what they asked for, though. Will try again.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

I loathe flash websites and strapless wedding gowns.

I thought I'd do a little research for my daughter among local wedding photographers, but turns out I don't have the patience for it. The sites all seem to be on this "flash" kick - when you land on the home pages everything starts to load and swirl and even though I have a fast internet connection I can't stick with it - I "back out" of the site. (Just learned this term at a 'Search Engine Optimization' meetup.)

At least once I'd like to
  1. See the picture gallery at my own speed;

  2. Be able to see what the photographer is charging.

Is that so much to ask?

I noticed there was a wedding photographer "sponsoring" a local bridal vendors event (about which, perhaps more later). I complained to him about his swirling, flashing, slow-loading site. He responded: everybody is doing it.

"Everybody is doing it" doesn't make it right. For instance, all the bridal magazines this year are pushing mostly strapless wedding gowns. I point out to my daughter:
  • There is complicated machinery inside these bodices supporting the body inside, machinery so unyielding and baroque that boning shows through all the furbelows;

  • The girls inside those dresses are yearning to hitch them up. Even when they can keep their hands off, the thought bubbles over their heads are loud and clear: "I wish I could hitch up this dress" "I wonder if the photographer is going to get a picture of this dress sagging";

  • A person is not going to want to boogie vigorously in such a heavily engineered contraption

It reminds me of the days when there was an "in" color scheme for any given retail year, and if you didn't happen to like chartreuse or denim or whatever, you just had to wait a year.

Shop at thrift stores, which accumulate the refuse of all the years, and avoid the problem.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Virus attach on Facebook: beware laconic messages!

I got a message from somebody I trusted this morning, it said something like, "check this out,," and because I'm a trusting idiot I tried to - but it turned out to be a virus, and it sent itself to my whole friends list. Now they are all writing me and asking "what is that?" which is the same thing I asked the guy I got it from...

So I feel like I gave all my friends lice.

The human race: so sludgy that we have to spend 90% of our computer time, collectively, trying to protect ourselves from people who are trying to sell us penis cream and Nigerian wonderlands and things we can't even figure out what they are!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Want to learn Yiddish? Try Sheva Zucker's books and cds...

I was a complete beginner when I decided as my New Year's Resolution for 2005 to learn Yiddish. I've been taking lessons for 3-1/2 years now from Sheva Zucker, who lives here in Durham.

This past year I managed to translate a book from Yiddish to English, a book which has never appeared in English, and I even got paid for it! So how's that for a testimonial?

Sheva use to have a free website at AOL, but she missed the notification they sent out some months ago that all those websites were getting shut down. "I get so much spam email from AOL I just ignore it all," she explained.

That meant her whole site vaporized and she didn't have a backup. So she and I made a deal - I put her website back together in exchange for some tutoring before I go back to the Medem Bibliotheque in Paris this summer to take the three-week "Intensive Advanced Yiddish" course.

Sheva has written two textbooks, and there is a cd set to go with each book that has all the text spoken so you can practice in the car, and there is an audio-recording cd set to go with each book and (ahem) I sang half the songs on the Volume II set, and there is an answer-key for each volume so you can work on your own.

There is also a spoken-language cd called "The Golden Peacock" for sale - at the Sheva Zucker website.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

[Hannah] Okay, last anti-wedding post today, I promise


Oh wait, I don't.

[Hannah] Verizon Wireless newsletter??

Hannah wrote:

WTF a newsletter from Verizon Wireless?

New from Verizon Wireless this month:

"Why YOUR phone bill is so high!: We finally let you know"

"Horror Story: I Switched to Cingular - and Paid Even More!"

"Top Ten Places to Get a Good Verizon Wireless Signal. Hint: Try Standing Directly Underneath the Cell Tower"


Monday, May 11, 2009

[Hannah]: We gots all kinds of problems

This chick cares more about flowers than.... well, words fail me. On the other hand, when I look at the flowers, I kind of like her taste.
Somewhere along the way, flower uncertainty had taken hold of me. I’m all over the map here. I’ve seriously considered anemones, but the chances are high that they will not be in season for our Saturday in September. Integrating hypericum berries has stayed on the list, but they’re more of an accent than a feature, and probably will be an accent for the bridesmaids, not for moi. I’ve even gone as far as to contemplate the bouquet stem, as you may remember.

The criteria for my bouquet included the following: that they be white, interesting, unique, and full of texture. Oh yeah, and in season in September, please!

All kidding aside, it’s really important to me that I have strong inspiration photos to take along with me when I meet with our florist in a couple of months. When someone else gets really excited, I quite often will agree with them… only to end up walking away with something that I don’t want. I tend to be too much of a people pleaser, and usually get taken in a completely different direction than the one I had originally wanted to go in. This is how I ended up with bright orange hair upon leaving a salon a few years back. I most definitely don’t want the equivalent of “Raggedy Ann hair” when my wedding bouquet is handed over to me.

When searching, I found three flowers that all come in white and fulfill all of my requirements: ranunculus, hydrangea, and dahlias. Through the magic of Google Images, I plugged ’ranunculus, hydrangea, and dahlia bouquet’ in the search field, and voila! Some great options came my way that were fluffy, white, and unique, using varied combinations of my desired flowers.

This crisis amused me too:
I need help with a decision. After that last flower post, I had a sudden change of heart. I get a little uneasy when this happens, because then I’m suddenly heading down a path that involves lots of back-and-forth with my vendor. In this instance, my florist. And I hate to seem flighty and indecisive—It doesn’t do anyone any good.

But, the feeling I got was so intense, I can’t ignore it. I started thinking that maybe I want more cream or white in my bouquet with hints of peach, instead of having an all-peach bouquet with touches of cream, which was my original plan. I am worried that the bouquet will disappear into my dress if it is too creamy, and white will be too stark against ivory. But, now I’m thinking the peach bouquet might not seem classic in 30 years. If I go cream and white, I can use a colored ribbon to add pop. Or, vice-versa, if I go for colored flowers. Give me your vote!

A few new Pratie Heads videos

I'm putting up some of the stuff from our recent show at the Fairgrove Music Stage in Thomasville, NC. The proprietors are so nice and treated us royally. There are about four new ones now at the Pratie Head YouTube channel and I hope to get a few more up tomorrow.


Donkey update

Jethro's behavior is improving, but not at a rate anyone but me would notice. He doesn't panic as often, he never bites or kicks, and he hasn't knocked me over since my ghastly injury two months ago - that's when we disagreed about whether to turn right or left, and he had a tantrum, reared up, knocked me over deftly with his chin, and then accidentally came down on the side of my ankle with his full weight. Everyone was surprised he didn't break my bones, but perhaps I have excellent bone density due to my diet of corn flakes and milk. (The bruise is still dark and wooden, though.)

He's gradually accepting that I'm the boss. When he gets fussy I yell "STOP!" - and he stops - and I pull his head close to me and stare right in his huge brown eye and tell him I'm in charge. It calms him down. He also seems, these days, to actually care a bit about whether I'm cooing "good boy..." or shouting "NO!"

This picture was taken a few mornings ago off my balcony. I'd set up his temporary fence so he could eat the grass around the house, and he loves being this close to the action - see how he's nestled right next to the patio, about six steps from the kitchen door?

Sunday there was a thunderstorm; the power was out for many hours... Early next day Jethro was poking his head up over the porch for a scratch on the nose, free as a bird and round as a 600-pound watermelon after a fabulous free-range gorge, in a good mood and willing to be led back to his designated area where he stood around dreamily digesting for the rest of the morning.


Mark does Illustration Friday: "Parade."

There was a power outage while we were painting on Sunday afternoon, and Mark left in the dark, and I can't find the piece of paper he wrote on about this here "lizard parade."

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The chickens entertain me.

I got up this morning and looked out the window to see the whole gang of chickens lolly-gagging outside the kitchen door. When they saw me peering out of my second story window they marched over to stand right underneath and cocked their heads so they could keep their beady eyes on me (well, one eye per bird, they can't look at me with both eyes at once).

I migrated over to the office and looked out the window again and they marched over to stand directly under that window. Then I called "chickennns!" and they went to bumble around outside the back door - where I put their breakfast - like early-bird shoppers at Filene's basement, elbowing each other out of the way.

My friend Mark the neuropsychiatrist told me it couldn't be done, he doubted me, but the fact is that I have trained the chickens to tap at the door for sunflower seeds. They don't always remember, in their excitement, but yesterday while we were painting there were some taps so perfect and classic that they could not be ignored. Sunflower seeds were thrown.

The fact is, sometimes Ez and I open that kitchen door and put a little pile of sunflower seeds inside on the floor. We love to watch the chickens play out their angsty dance of fear and greed, coming, going, squawking in frustration, walking in circles. The bottom line is, some will come in and some won't.

I like to watch them in the morning egg rush hour - they all like to lay during the same hour, it seems - waiting at the bottom of the henhouse ladder for the prized spots to be vacated. There are six spots, but only two are preferred and one of the other four is acceptable. They'll scramble up and down the ladder shouting, waiting for the currently reigning rear end to make way for the next.

They have no rooster, so Ez and I are the next best thing - if we surprise them they squat and stick out their elbows, bracing for the attack. Are they disappointed or relieved to live the celibate life?


Joe Newberry sings a song for Mother's Day (if your mother's gone)

I've known Joe Newberry for more than twenty years. I've always thought he has about the most beautiful voice in North Carolina and I got to know him when he let me wheedle him into performing in my annual "Solstice Extravaganza." He was my go-to guy a monty ago when I had a crash, and helped me answer the question: "How do I know what, if anything, to care about any more?" Thanks for that, Joe...

Anyway, he's playing on Prairie Home Companion today with his old-time band Big Medicine, and he has a new cd out called Two Hands; on it he sings this song, "I Know Whose Tears," inspired by Rudyard Kipling's poem "Mother O' Mine" (he wrote some extra words). You should buy the cd, but here is a sample from YouTube, and the lyrics:

I Know Whose Tears
Joe Newberry

If I were hanged on the highest hill
I know whose love would soothe me still
If I were slain in a foreign land
I know whose touch would take my hand

Mother, my first companion, mother, my truest friend,
Mother, way up in heaven, we'll meet again

If I were killed in the battle's strife
I know whose cries would mourn my life
If I were drowned in the salty sea
I know whose tears would come down to me

Mother, my first companion, mother, my truest friend,
Mother, way up in heaven, we'll meet again

If I were dead in the cause of right
I know whose lamp would pierce the night
If I were damned both body and soul
I know whose prayer, sweet prayer would make me whole

Mother, my first companion, mother, my truest friend,
Mother, way up in heaven, we'll meet again



Friday, May 08, 2009

Men's favorite/least favorite conversation topics? Discuss.

This helpful list appears at Do you agree? Or do you think maybe it's a joke?

Men’s Top Ten Favorite Conversation Topics
  1. Sex
  2. Romantic fantasies
  3. Hobbies/interests in general
  4. Hopes and aspirations
  5. Music
  6. Dreams
  7. Movies
  8. Entertainment
  9. Vacations
  10. Travel

Men’s Top Ten Least Favorite Conversation Topics
  1. Past relationships
  2. Other dates
  3. Celebrities
  4. Religion
  5. Politics
  6. Antiques
  7. Money
  8. Fashion
  9. Gardening
  10. Marriage


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Free mp3 download for Mother's Day: "Mothering Sunday"

This is my favorite song for a mother, ever, no question. My mother was long dead when I recorded it, but I thought about her anyway:

Mothering Sunday

It gives me chills just thinking about it. I recorded it with Jacqueline Schwab and Robbie Link on "Sedgefield Fair."

In the 19th century, changes in land policy in England made it impossible for many families to keep their children at home. The boys were sent away to work on faraway farms and the girls were sent out to be servants.

Often they had to go a long way from home to find jobs, and they worked six days a week, so there was not time to walk home, visit, and walk back to the place of employment in time. One of the few times a family could hope to be together was "Mothering Sunday." The kids would come home and fuss over their mom - bake her pancakes - and this song is about that day.

Mothering Sunday
George Hare Leonard

It is the day of all the year,
Of all the year the one day,
When I shall see my mother dear
And bring her cheer,
A-mothering on Sunday.

So I'll put on my Sunday coat,
And in my hat a feather,
And get the lines I writ by rote,
With many a note,
That I've a-strung together.

And now to fetch my wheaten cake
To fetch it from the baker,
He promised me, for mother's sake,
The best he'd bake
For me to fetch and take her.

The boys will all come home from town
Not one will miss that one day;
And every maid will bustle down
To show her gown,
A-mothering on Sunday.

It is the day of all the year,
Of all the year the one day;
And here come I, my mother dear,
And bring you cheer,
A-mothering on Sunday.



Monday, May 04, 2009

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Hierarchy."


The littlest harlequin was planning his way to the top of the entertainment hierarchy. "Yes, I will learn to juggle while riding a unicycle," he thought.

11x14, acrylic on canvas

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Worst songs for weddings

I started a new blog and I'm putting my Pratie Head and Mappamundi mp3 recordings of my favorite wedding songs on it - it's Best Wedding Songs.

Yesterday, somebody found it searching for "daughter daddy songs" and thinking about that I found the following funny list from of awful wedding songs. (For some of my own ideas, see below the box.)

Strange Break-up Songs and Other Mood Killers

  • Every Breath You Take – Police (Unless you're marrying your creepy stalker, this is not a romantic song!)

  • I will Always Love You – Dolly Parton/ Whitney Houston (It's about a break up. Please, no talk of "bittersweet memories" at your wedding.)

  • Lips of an Angel – Hinder (The angel's great lips are enough to make him think about cheating on his girlfriend).

  • My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion (She's singing the song to her dead boyfriend. Dead and weddings don't mix that well.)

  • Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton (Yet another death song I've heard at too many weddings. I know there's the life insurance policy, but it's a little too early to be talking about death, don't you think?)

  • I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor. (Not only have I heard this at a million weddings, but I've also seen it on lists of "popular wedding songs!" People, it's a song about surviving a horrible breakup! Don't play this at your wedding.)

  • Jesse's Girl – Rick Springfield (Go ahead. Fuel rumors that the bride is sleeping/has slept/will sleep with the Best Man.)

  • White Wedding – Billy Idol (Idol himself says that the song is about hating his sister's fiancé.)

  • Love Stinks, You Gave Love A Bad Name, Tainted Love (all self explanatory).

Here are two of my favorite bad requests made by brides for weddings we played at:

She Moved Through The Fair - I think they heard the line, "it will not be long, love, till our wedding day" and didn't listen to the rest of the song - the fiance is dead and comes back in a dream.

The Last Rose of Summer - this is the worst ever. It implies the bride is the last one standing. In fact, I must quote this one for you in its entirety so you can marvel that I had a hard time talking her out of it:
'Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
From Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit,
This bleak world alone?

As always, I'd love it if you'd leave suggestions (good or bad) in the comments.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

In which I watch a Tacomentary and eat not the greatest tacos from a taco truck

I spent all day huddled over my computer working on a NEW blog where I am posting free mp3s of songs I consider to be perfect for weddings! Have a look, won't you?

I was in the mood for an excursion and remembered that one of my favorite local blogs, Carpe Durham (they describe it as "Ramblings about food from the basement of Duke Law School by people who know nothing about food or the law" was throwing a party at the Pinhook.

The Pinhook is a lovely retro bar in downtown Durham. Retro meaning, not that some expensive designer tried to make something new look old, but rather that something old and on the verge of collapse has miraculously been made whole again. The wood floor is really old, the place has that grungy ambience I like...

Anyway, back to "Carpe Durham." If I were guessing, I'd say there are three bloggers at Carpe Durham. One likes fancy food, one likes southern food (hush puppies and barbeque), and one likes downhome Mexican places. I've tried a few of their recommended establishments and loved them...

... and two of them had made a documentary about taco places for a class at the law school which demanded that they "do something you've never done before." They were showing it last night at the Pinhook.

I parked and walked up to this huge long line at the taco truck which was parked outside the bar for the occasion. I stood in line for quite a while, but then the movie was starting.

The guy behind me had seen it already and was engrossed in some game on his phone, so he said he'd save my place.

I went in and saw the movie, which was short, and which featured many of these people in the audience (which was much larger than I could capture in this picture) absolutely stuffing their faces with messy overflowing tacos, so they were very enthusiastic.

When the movie was over, my place in line had moved almost to the front. There was a reduced menu posted on the side of the truck and it had a quote from one of the restaurant owners in the film: "Chicken is the favorite of children and Americans."

It turned out the guy in front of me was ordering vegan tacos! He asked anxiously, "there is no butter in these, is there?"

Here are my tacos de asada. They look good, but the meat was very fatty, not nearly to the standard I've come to expect at the local places. I wonder whether the guy knew he was going to be selling to gringos all night so he decided we wouldn't be so particular?

No matter, they were tasty. I sat down on a narrow bench to eat the tacos and watch the crowd. As I sat there stuffing my face, a passing car slowed and the driver (a woman I know only slightly) rolled down her window and said, "Melinama, your chickens' eggs are GREAT!" and drove away.

Friday, May 01, 2009

About the concert at the 40th reunion of the Yale Slavic Chorus

It occurs to me I never wrote much about my trip to New Haven at the beginning of April to be part of this extravaganza and to enjoy whispering and being naughty with my daughter. The article below sort of says it. Here's one of the videos I sliced out of the recording I made (there are about twenty on YouTube):

Forty years of powerful harmony
by Carole Bass for the Yale Alumni Magazine

It was the fall of 1969, and Yale had just admitted its first female undergraduates. While the (male) president of the Glee Club helped organize The New Blue as a female counterpart to Yale's men's a cappella groups, a (male) member of the Russian Chorus envisioned an altogether different kind of singing group.

"Sing as if you’re bending over and pulling a frozen rutabaga out of the ground!" Celo V'ec '71 exhorted members of the newly formed Yale Slavic Chorus.

At a joyous reunion concert in April, some 75 past and present self-styled "Slavs" -- it's a brand, in this case, not necessarily an ethnicity -- celebrated nearly 40 years of bringing what one called "peasant women's music of the earth" to the stages, common rooms, and squash courts of a lofty Ivy League university.

By turns dreamlike and hymnlike, rousing and yearning, the songs from Bulgaria, Croatia, Ukraine, and elsewhere tell of love and loss, work and sleep, olive trees and orange trees -- and strong women. In one, a girl wins a singing contest with a nightingale. Another girl scolds her Turkish suitor: "I will not marry you." The harmonies are sweetly dissonant; the rhythms distinctive; the warbling, whooping vocal styles suited for unamplified outdoor singing.

"Men never sing this stuff. These were field workers," says V'ec, the founder and an invited guest to the April 3-5 reunion weekend.

On tour with the Russian Chorus in Bulgaria in the summer of 1968, V'ec (then known as William Robbins Jr.) came across a book of women's ethnic folk songs, he recalled while the Slavs rehearsed that Sunday morning. He bought it and, a year later -- with coeducation about to begin -- decided to organize a group to perform the songs. He learned to transliterate the Cyrillic and hand-wrote the music.

After the April 5 rehearsal, four decades of Slavs sat in a circle, sharing their names and stories. While names were all different, many of the early members' stories sounded -- well, like a chorus: "It saved me," one woman said of the singing group. "I was worried when I came, if I was going to be able to find my people here. And lo and behold -- my people!"

"When I arrived after 11 years of coeducation," said another, "Yale was still a really male-dominated place. The chorus was a haven."

A third woman said she heard the Slavic Chorus perform in Cambridge and thought, "'Oh my God, I've got to go to Yale, because it's full of these incredible women doing incredible things.' Little did I know the legacy of Yale."

The circle included three mother-daughter pairs of official Slavs, plus another member's 16-year-old daughter, who sang with the group. One of the pairs consisted of Merideth Wright '71, a founding member, and her daughter Sophia Emigh '06. As a transfer student, Wright had even fewer female peers than the freshmen that year. Yet she remembers the Slavic Chorus not so much as a women's haven as "just a soul-satisfying experience. It was an antidote to all the academics."

Sunday afternoon, with all the Slavs on stage at Battell Chapel, V'ec -- wispy, shoulder-length gray hair flying -- arose to lead the finale. The stirring, full-throated Bulgarian "Prekvrukna Ptichka" brought wide grins to even the most serious-looking choristers.