Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Ass

I'm cleaning out our games cabinet this morning, which is why I have Top Ass playing cards on my mind. For some reason, I always forget to buy more copies of this popular children's game when we're in Germany, even though I think they'd make great gifts for our U.S. friends. We have Top Ass Space Travel and Top Ass Special Transport, but I'd kind of like to see some Top Ass Marine Animals and Top Ass Horses.

I suppose I should mention that Top Ass in German ("tohp ahss") means Top Ace in English. And ASS is an abbreviation for Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkartenfabrik ("The Altenburg and Stralsund playing card factory"). As S explains, "they named themselves ASS." What linguistic fortuity!

Incidentally, if you're interested in the game--known generically as Quartett, it's actually rather boring to play--you'd be far wiser to search than

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The east coast was brought to its knees by snow this past weekend. In a flippant twist, Durham is supposed to enjoy temps in the 60s this coming Saturday. That should be warm enough to melt the hunk of ice in my pottery water bucket out on the porch, and maybe even warm enough to allow me to wear short sleeves as I throw my next clay geeksperiment: the Bagel Box.

The Bagel Box probably has a tidy mathematical name, but since it's inspired by George Hart's nifty website on how to cut a bagel into two interlocking halves, it's going to be "the Bagel Box." In the absence of a tangible clay torus, my brain is unable to decide whether I'll need to devise some sort of key to hold the two halves together--a box is no good if the lid won't stay on--which is why it's so urgent that I get outside and on the wheel. (I've been contemplating setting the wheel up in our living room for the next month or so, but I'm happy to hold off if it's going to be 60 on Saturday. Let's add "devise a more practical winter studio" to the list of New Year's resolutions.)

If the Bagel Box is a success, I'll attempt a trefoil knot Bagel Box.

"Success" here means "aesthetically and intellectually pleasing." It's hard to imagine this will be a practical box, given that part of the container will be the lid, part of the lid will be the container, and parts of both lid and container will be bottomless and lidless sides. Indeed, it isn't as though you see Bagel Boxes everywhere--although that might be less a function of function as of a gaping void (or box) waiting to be filled. Or not.

I found the bagel-slicing page via Vi Hart's brilliant mathemagical website, another fantastic fount of inspiration.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I need to start an Etsy store. That will go on my list of New Year's resolutions, along with coming up with a way to take decent photos of my work, building a gas or soda kiln in the back yard, and learning to repair plaster walls. Can you tell which of the Klein Bottles below were photographed by a professional photographer and which were photographed by me using a low-tech piece of white poster board propped on a chair as a backdrop?

I didn't make any specific New Year's resolutions on January 1, 2010, but some goals did crop up along the way. I'm pleased to report that I have successfully renewed my devotion to Robert Schumann (to whom, incidentally, I dedicated my Master's thesis in Astronomy way back in 1989) by learning the six B-A-C-H fugues for organ. For those who question the absolute brilliance of the fugues, might I recommend several months of worshipful practice and analysis?

By comparison, I've been resisting my way through The Lord of the Rings, but with December 31 looming, I've bumped things up a notch and am now a mere 200 pages away from finishing The Return of the King (not counting the hundreds of pages of appendices). By New Year's Eve, I hope to call my cultural literacy oath to Tolkien fulfilled.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thankful for the little things

Look what the Solstice Elk brought S!
All lit up
I spent the last week pretending I had winter allergies, eventually acknowledging I had a nasty cold, and getting out of bed only long enough to play for multiple Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. Being sick always makes me appreciate the little things, like having a husband who makes the world's best matzo ball soup, and a son who enjoys playing nurse; like dwelling with a silky, easy-purring black cat who curls up with me all day in bed; and like experiencing sickness-induced spontaneous Christmas Day nosebleeds that begin during the spoken creed rather than during the accompanied liturgy (and like having sufficient tissues on hand, thanks to the cold; oh, and like not getting blood all over my face or having to sneeze; and like having a nice big grand piano to hide behind until it's all over).

Annual North Carolina standstill

It snowed.

Men in Lederhosen

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Correspondences with the Tooth Fairy

I'm not a terribly tidy person, but when I get it into my head that I'm going to clean the house, I go whole hog, starting with drawers so that no one but I can tell I'm cleaning. Thus it was that I uncovered collected correspondences with the Tooth Fairy.

When E was getting ready to lose his first tooth, he asked me who the Tooth Fairy was. The obvious answer was that my mother was the Tooth Fairy. We called her to confirm.

"Yes," said my mom, "but I've been out of the business for years. And I wasn't the Tooth Fairy. I was a subcontractor. The Tooth Fairy has lots of subcontractors; all those teeth are just too much work for one fairy to handle. I'm sure you have subcontractors in your neck of the woods."



Dear E,

At long last! Goodness, I was beginning to think that tooth would never fall out. What a great way to begin the New Year!

My colleague, the Mexican Tooth Mouse, notified me as soon as your frontal incisor fell into your mouth. Since your parents had been saving this beaded bookmark for this auspicious occasion (saving it for months, I might add), I asked one of my friends, a fruit bat, to fly it down to Mexico City for me. A first tooth warrants a little extra effort, don’t you think? Señor Mouse took over from there, so I believe you have him to thank for the pesos. We both thought you might want to save the tooth—they are so fascinating to look at! Did you know you mother saved most of her baby teeth? Perhaps you will follow in her footsteps.

Do keep up with the good brushing habits. You can be proud that you don't have a single cavity!

With much love,
--The Tooth Fairy (e el Ratón)


Dear E,

my, that was quick--your first tooth fell out January 1st, and already you've lost another just a few short weeks later. Señor Ratón says "Hola" and informs me that if you're ever in Mexico again, and if you lose a tooth while you're there, he'll look forward to visiting your pillow again. It is a delight to have colleagues around the world! I myself appreciate that you lost this one in the U.S., as things have been busy for me and my fruit bat lately, making it hard to get down to the border.

Enjoy the nippy January weather. Maybe we'll have some snow this year!

Keep up the good brushing habits!

--The Tooth Fairy


Dear toothfairy
I wold like to have a pre
esent insteadof
mouey. love E
PS my toth is inttHe bag
ifyou wnat to Pot mony instud.

Dear Mom,

you should know that most of E's friends know you once subcontracted for the Tooth Fairy. Isaac's dad told me today that Isaac said you also used to be the Easter Bunny. You never told me!


Dear E,

Congratulations again, dear precocious child, on losing another tooth. Your mouth is maturing quite beautifully. Once again, you deserve praise for having no cavities.

The top central incisor you lost this time appears to have been chipped earlier in your youth. Try not to chip your adult teeth, as they are far more difficult to replace than the baby ones.

You might wonder why I am typing this letter rather than corresponding by hand, as I did previously. Believe it or not, I injured my left elbow last week when I attempted to leave a trinket under the pillow of a loudly snoring crocodile. I won’t go into detail, but my doctor says I should be back up to speed by the end of this month. In the meantime, my ever helpful fruit bat is typing my letters for me. Where would the world be without fruit bats?

I suspect I will discover another one of your teeth under your pillow in the not-too-distant future. Until then, I remain affectionately yours,

--The Tooth Fairy
P.S. Don't forget to brush at least twice a day!


Dear tooth fary
I lost anothertooth
cI would likeap praesint
tooth Luosr E

Dear E,

me oh my, another top incisor! And a handwritten letter too. You are certainly growing up.

I had to check the Tooth Fairy By-Laws. Did you know non-union Tooth Fairy subcontractors may only leave cash under pillows? Lucky for you, I'm a paid-in-full member of UFFG (the Union of Fairies and Fairy Godmothers), which entitles me to leave the occasional gift or two under your head. I hope you enjoy these [ceramic sea lions]. Did you know the incisors of California sea lions have two cusps? The wonders of nature never cease to amaze me.

Keep up the good brushing habits!

The Tooth Fairy


Dear. tooth Fairy.
Thank You for the seals.
and I losta anothr tooth!
I would like a presint. Ples

Dear E,

Well this was an unexpected visit! Your tooth had barely registered on our scanning equipment when my fruit bat notified me that it had actually fallen out. Never fear, we are always able to fit in these last-minute visits. (I think back to the days when we tried to do all of our scheduling without the help of computers, and I'm grateful for the wonders of modern technology.) It is, of course, always a pleasure to visit your pillow, and to find your notes, as well as your cavity-free teeth.

Brush well!

Affectionately yours,
--The Tooth Fairy


Dear tooth fairy
its early!
my tooth got
Love E

Dear E,

Goodness gracious, yes indeed this lateral incisor came out sooner than I expected! Please try to avoid getting your teeth knocked out in the future. Thankfully, this one was a baby tooth. If you ever lose a permanent tooth, put it back in its socket and get thee to a dentist or emergency room pronto!

I figure the trauma of getting a tooth knocked out warrants a little something extra. I gather you're a fan of this particular mammal [cats]. Did you know I have some of [your cat] Homer's baby teeth in my stash somewhere?

--The Tooth Fairy


Lieber E,

Viele Gruesse auf Deutsch! Ich weiss, dass dein Papa Deutsch spricht, und dass du auch ein bischen Deutsch sprechen kannst. Weil ich viele Sprachen fuer meinen Beruf koennen muss, habe ich mir gedacht, mein Deutsch mit diesem Brief an dich zu ueben. Kannst du meinen Brief lesen?

Ich gratuliere dir zum Ausfall deines sechsten Milchzahn's! Prima, immer noch keine Loecher in den Zaehnen. Putze weiter hin gut die Zaehne, und vergesse nicht, zweimal im Jahr zum Zahnarzt zu gehen.

Die Fruchtfledermaus schickt liebe Gruesse.

Deine Zahnfee,
--The Tooth Fairy


Dear tooth fairy
I lost another.
how are you Doing?
I would like money if you have it.

Dear E,

Well, it's about time! I've been expecting you to lose this tooth for months now. My fruit bat and I both cheered when the tooth finally showed up in our database this evening.

I'm running low on cash in the current economy, but I'm leaving you this fairy coin. Perhaps you know a bank that will exchange it for you.

Brush well.


Selected letters from the 1970s archives:

Dear Liz, Ha ha! I certainly fooled you this time. I understand that you have lost another deciduous tooth. (Look it up in the dictionary.) Did you know some trees are deciduous? Guess what that means. Love, as ever, The Tooth Fairy

Hoo Boy--I thought I'd never make it. I, the tooth fairy, was so tired, I was dropping quarters under pillows of people with dentures and partial plates. You should have seen what I almost left with a great white shark. It could have opened a bank account. I know I only have a few more visits to make to your pillow before we both retire from the tooth business, so there is one thing I'd like to say. Do you realize that there hasn't been a single cavity in all the teeth I've gotten from you! There are only a few other children, most of whom are named Paley, who can boast of that. Terrific. Love, Mom the Tooth Fairy

Dear Elizabeth, I'll wager you thought the old T.F. forgot you again. Hah! You see, I cut my finger and I was going to get a Band-aid, when I cut my finger, so I needed a I'm late. By the end of 1978 we won't be doing business anymore. Isn't that unbelievable! Funny how the time flies when you are having fun. Keep them molars and canines coming in, folks. See you soon, xxxxxx, Y.M. the T.F.

Dear Liz, another? Wow! Only a few more. Seasle's Greetings. YMTTF

Dearest Liz,

Dear me, it has been ages since I last wrote to you. Your mother, a very close friend of mine, suggested that you might enjoy a note from me on the occasion of your 12th birthday. I am only too happy to be of service, of course, as I always enjoy keeping in touch with my old friends, especially ones with memorable teeth.

This last year was busy and interesting for me. After my last visit to you (remember, for those monster teeth with the enormous roots) I spent the summer trying to outsmart a little kid who kept trying to collect on the teeth from his comb. I've dealt with rakes and gears (all having teeth), toothache grass and toothache trees! I have not ever given away fortunes to sharks, however, my dear, because sharks don't really have teeth and are thus--thank goodness--not my responsibility. (The outsides of sharks' skins are covered by little sharp pointy placoid scales. Their jaws are also covered with placoid scales, only these are bigger. When a shark eats Cleveland and loses a few teeth in the process, he just grows a few more to replace them. You can't do that with genuine teeth, you understand.)

I understand from some of my friends that you now have braces on your teeth. What a smile you'll have when they are all straight! How do you feel with all those wires and bands in your mouth?

As you may know, so few children these days have nice teeth with no cavities that we tooth fairies have an honor list and guess what--you are on it! Yes indeedy, right up there. Congratulations!

Again, happy birthday! And don't worry, I still believe in you--very much.

Extremely sincerely and with best wishes for a splendid year,
Your friend, the Tooth Fairy

Monday, December 13, 2010


A while back, I wrote about the number of possible stop combinations on the mighty Aeolian organ in Duke Chapel, calculating a total of 2(120)-1, or ~1.3 x 10(36). It turns out there are only 114 stops, not 120, which brings the total down to 2(114)-1, or ~2.1 x 10(34), a difference of two orders of magnitude. Two orders of magnitude are significant if you're talking about the velocity of a Porsche on the Autobahn (200 km/hr vs. 20,000 km/hr) or the distance to Vega (25 lightyears vs. 2,500 lightyears), but it doesn't make much practical difference when you have a mere 10 decillion combinations rather than an undecillion.* Apologies, regardless, for any confusion this error may have caused.

*Europeans would call 10 decillion "10,000 quintillion," and an undecillion "a sextillion." A European sextillion has six times more zeros than has a million. How logical! A European billion has twice as many zeros as has a million--see the pattern?--although in the U.S., we call a European billion "a trillion." How...sequential. A U.S. sextillion is a measly 10(21).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Condensation versus spit

In grad school, I had several friends who played French horn. As they drained the liquid contents of assorted valves onto the floors of assorted performance venues, they would insist, "it's not spit, it's condensation." As their accompanist, I learned to say it with them: "I know, it's not spit, it's condensation."

I was thus surprised to learn that there's a special valve on a trumpet called a "spit valve." When the instrument starts gurgling, the player presses the valve and blows a good gust of air into the mouthpiece, forcing a dribble of liquid out through the valve.

Now, it turns out you're supposed to give your trumpet a bath once a month or so. We finally learned this four months into E's trumpet education, so last weekend I set up my laptop on the bathroom scale (the horizontal surface farthest from water without also being the cover of a kitty-litter box) and carefully followed the step-by-step instructions offered in a well-reviewed youtube video on trumpet bathing. There's a whole genre of such videos. Some (like the ones that show you how to pry sticking parts apart with pliers, or that insist the idea that trumpets need cleaning is a conspiracy promulgated by trumpet cleaning supply manufacturers and music stores) are worse than others.

I carefully disassembled the instrument, placed the appropriate parts on a towel in the bathtub, soaked them in warm water, inserted the correct pipe cleaners and snakes into the tubes for which they were designed, rinsed and gently patted each piece dry, and finally lubed and oiled and reassembled the parts. Lo, E's trumpet looks and sounds significantly better post-bath.

In the process, I learned that trumpet players are happy to call a spade a spade. Judging by the four months worth of bacterial goo left behind in the water? It's not condensation. It's spit.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Compound cookies

Want to make Lebkuchen (a traditional German Christmas cookie*)? You need look no further for a recipe than in the classic Bayerisches Kochbuch (Bavarian Cookbook).

We have two copies: to the right, the 18th edition, published in 1938 in Fraktur (the same font as the cover text). The font, coupled with hindsight, makes the pre-war national pride in the introduction rather chilling: to paraphrase, "at the frontline stands the German Woman from the countryside and from the town, securing the national diet and health of the Volk."

Our other copy is the 54th edition, published in 1992 in assorted Courier-ish fonts. National pride has been replaced with more practical advice on the nutritive content and chemical behavior of common ingredients.

You might observe the stylish celebration of white-colored foods on the cover of the 1992 edition: white pork roast, white Knoedel (dumplings), white sauer Kraut (cabbage), and off-white beer foam. It's permissible to spruce up white food with the occasional ornamental vegetable, but unless you want people to eat the decorations, keep the color to a minimum with only a few parsley leaves and a single tomato wedge. Radishes, by the way, are especially useful, because they're white on the inside, so they match the rest of the food after you bite past the ornamental red skin.

But back to Lebkuchen.

When you look up a recipe in the index, you must draw on all your knowledge of the precise German language. Under Lebkuchen, you will find a mere three recipes: Lebkuchen --feine (fine), --mit Kunsthonig (with artificial syrup), and --Weisse (white). Looking for hazelnut Lebkuchen? Well, that's a compound noun, so you have to look under H for Haselnusslebkuchen. Look under E for Elisenlebkuchen, under G for Gewuertzlebkuchen, and under S for Schokoladenlebkuchen. What the heck, scan the whole index lest you miss some other variety.

I made Elisenlebkuchen I. Art (Elisenlebkuchen, version I). They're pretty tasty and would be even better if they could age in a closed container with some dried apples for a month or two. I messed up some of the measurements, so the Lebkuchen dough ran off the Bakoblaten (communion wafer-like rice-flour disks that keep the dough from cementing itself to the baking sheet). Fortunately, I had a silicone baking sheet, so I didn't need to chisel anything off the pan.

For more information on German baking, see this previous discussion on my Wadlstrumpf blog. Here, I'll simply point out the irony of recipes that tell you to weigh out ingredients in grams (a system supposedly more precise than American cup measures) and then to "bake slowly at, oh, I dunno, 150-160oC, until done."

The Elisenlebkuchen I. Art recipe follows the footnote.

*At dinner last night, as I was talking about the cookies still in the oven, E kept asking excitedly, "what cookies? What cookies are you talking about?" And I kept saying, "what cookies do you think I'm talking about? Think." And E would say again, "you made cookies? What kind of cookies did you make?"--even though he was with me when I was making the Lebkuchen. "Dude: think!" I said. S kindly intervened and explained to E, "Mama calls Lebkuchen 'cookies.'" "Ohh!," said my son with sudden wise understanding. That just goes to show how much better E has internalized German than I have. The -kuchen part of Lebkuchen literally means cake, although no American would ever conceive of Lebkuchen that way. Once again, the perennial issue of cultural concepts for assorted foods rears its head: just as Germans have no mental file cabinet for concepts like pie, Americans have no data storage space that allows a Lebkuchen to be anything but a cookie.

To confirm this claim, I nonchalantly said to S, as he walked by just now, "so would you call Lebkuchen 'cookies'?" and he frowned and said unequivocally, "no. Cookies are Plaetzchen; Lebkuchen are Lebkuchen." There ya go.

Elisenlebkuchen, version I

Beat together until thick and foamy:

5 eggs
500 g sugar


2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1 knife tip ground cardamom
1 knife tip ground mace (I didn't use any)
Peel from 2 lemons, juice from 1/2 lemon

Whap up in food processor:

100 g candied lemon peel (I used a 113 g container)
100 g candied orange peel (ditto)

Add to batter. Shell and then whap up in food processor:

500 (650) unshelled almonds or half almonds, half nuts. (Seriously? Like I'm going to count and shell 500-650 almonds? The authors provided no explanation of the parenthetical 650. I assumed they meant 500 g--not enough, which is probably why the dough spread off the Oblaten--and used 454 g toasted almonds and guesstimated an additional 150 g toasted hazelnuts.)

Add nuts to batter. Spoon onto Oblaten (you can skip this if you have a silicone baking sheet. Trust me, butter alone on a baking sheet will not do the job. The dough is like cement.) In theory, let sit for a hour. (I skipped that.) Bake slowly at, oh, I dunno, 150-160oC, until done. (How about we say 325oF for 20-30 minutes.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New horizons in hole appreciation

I thought I'd give myself a break and make some smaller votive candle holders that load from underneath and therefore don't require copper hangers. Plus, I figured the smaller size would improve my chances of avoiding clay goobers, because I could fit my fingers into the pots to provide counter-pressure against the hole-cutting tools. So I threw a couple of little saucers to hold candles, and a couple fist-sized bottomless closed forms to go over the saucers; and when the hemispheres were leather hard, I commenced making holes.

Making holes takes a long time, even with small pots. Despite the reduced size, it still took over an hour to cut the first MSH/TC luminaria by hand. So, long overdue, I finally broke out the big gun:

Like the hand tools, the DeWalt DW972K-2 leaves sizable clay goobers on the inside of the pot, but they're easier to brush off, and the interior cut is cleaner overall. The exterior cut is messier, but the mess is nothing a little sponging can't fix. After experimenting a bit, I came up with a reasonably satisfying process: drill holes, brush off crud, rout holes with hand tools, brush off crud, sponge, then clear remaining crud from holes with a needle tool. A little complicated, perhaps, but it took only 23 minutes and 14 seconds to drill, clean, and sponge a SSH/TC model, and only twice that long to make a MSH/TC model (not counting the time I had to wait to recharge the drill battery), which makes drilling way speedier than hand cutting. As an added bonus, drilling doesn't make my thumb sore, and it doesn't leave metal oxides on my fingertips; and it lets me make a greater variety of hole sizes and get the holes closer together.

I could probably overcome the goober problem if I waited until the clay was bone dry before drilling. I read in Ceramics Monthly that Simon van der Ven drills bone dry clay using dental drills, so I know it can be done (with dental drills, at any rate, if not with a DeWalt DW972K-2). As I don't want to wear a respirator mask while I'm drilling--especially when I'm using porcelain, which has an amazing capacity to spread itself on anything that comes within its event horizon--I'll be sticking to leather-hard clay for now.

They don't look like much now, but when they have candles inside, they'll cast pretty light dots all over the ceiling, like that toy star projector my brother had when he was a kid. Not that this little project has anything to do with overcoming my childhood jealousy. Of course. But now that I've brought it up, I need to add constellation luminarias to my To Do list.

Hole hero 3

Louis Sachar knows holes. His excellent book suggests that when the whole world seems to be against you, it's probably not your imagination but rather an Old World cosmic curse. Deep down, don't we all suspect that's the case?

Hole hero 2

Simon van der Ven knows holes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


If a story is told in a forest and only one child is there to recognize its greatness, can it become a classic?

Simple or complex, brief or elaborately told, a good story traverses generations. My mother's mother, Lorraine, whom we always called Woozy (oo as in wood rather than wooed), left a legacy of good stories, a treasure trove of family and cultural histories documented in artfully illustrated bound notebooks, in little handmade booklets, and on loose leaf paper.

My grandmother died in 1990, over a decade before my son was born. Surely Woozy would have enjoyed knowing that her great grandson would spend hours poring over her stories, reading and rereading them, absorbing the family legacy. Although few outside our immediate family have ever seen the texts, E recognizes and appreciates them as classics.

E recently quoted one such classic for a Word and Grammar Study assignment at school. His teacher, understandably unfamiliar with the collected Woozy Works, signaled her mystification by circling E's answer:

It's kind of hard to see, but you might note that E even cited his source (Woozy Works). We consider this progress, as his teacher has asked him to think more about what kinds of information he needs to convey to his readers so that they'll understand what he's writing about.

For the sake of clarification, here's the original text:

Incidentally, I believe the little black dog in Woozy's picture was named Willis, as in Willis is barkin'. The name comes from a line describing the marital interests of a character in David Copperfield, wherein Barkis is willin'. Maybe someday, E will get around to reading that other classic.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The golden hairy toe

I posted recently about my friend J, who had needed to make party favors for her neighborhood Halloween festivities and thus decided to make plaster toes by casting her own pedidactyls.* If that act alone isn't sufficient evidence that she takes community responsibility seriously, check out this amazing end product (which, interestingly, is now in the private collection of The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, who attended the party with her four children):

*My gift to the English language. Use the word freely.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A quick visit to our nation's capitol, day 2

On October 30, the day after going to the Air and Space Museum out by Dulles, we thought we'd continue our trip to D.C. by heading to the Mall. Our party of seven left our hotel in Falls Church at 9:30am and walked the half mile to the Metro stop, where we encountered this:

I took this photo about two hours after we got in line. The line started to the left of the overpass, continued a block to the right, wrapped around about a fourth of a block and then continued another half block into the Metro station.

By the time we had tickets and were on the platform, it was 12:10pm. All of the trains heading into D.C. were so crammed full of people, there was no way for anyone else to squeeze in. We finally got seats by squeezing into a train heading in the wrong direction and riding one stop to the end of the line. More folks squeezed on there, and we changed direction and headed into D.C.

The trip would have been more pleasant if it hadn't been over three hours and a nice big glass of OJ since I'd last peed. Instead of joining in the general conviviality of the singing crowd (yes, when happy people who share common goals are crammed on trains like sardines, spontaneous singing may erupt), I hunkered down and tried not to think about Tycho Brahe's dismal death. By 1pm, still a few stops from the Smithsonian, there was no alternative but to escape--"coming through! coming through!"--and S, E, and I dashed up to the restrooms in the George Washington University Hospital cafeteria.

It turns out that holding your bladder in a cramped public space for that long makes you a little jittery and tense even post-restroom, so that when a seemingly innocuous woman asks you what that sign you're holding is supposed to mean, and you offer a friendly explanation even though you think the sign seems straightforward enough, and she calmly goes on and on about how you you've got it all wrong and politicians are just doing what they're supposed to do and why do you think things should be any different and how people who attend rallies always think they're being useful but they're really not and what makes you think politicians shouldn't be obfuscatory and so on and so forth, somehow eventually making her way to what was apparently her goal all along about "all those evangelicals and pro-Israel people" in your part of the country who have gotten us into the mess we're in, all the while claiming she's just trying to understand your sign...and because she won't shut up even after you tell her you're done talking with her about this, and because you're still super edgy and irritable from the whole peeing thing...well, that's when, instead of walking away like a mature adult, you might instead ironically find yourself shouting "leave me alone or I'll call security" and then stuffing your fingers in your ears and shouting "I don't want to listen to you so I'm going to cover my ears and talk over you because I really don't want to listen to you, blah blah blah I can't heeeear you" while holding the homemade Rally to Restore Sanity signs in the photo below:

We walked from the hospital to the Mall, finally arriving at about 2pm. We couldn't get close enough to see or hear much of the Rally program, but we did see a bunch of fine signs (see below) and dozens of Waldos.

By 3pm, we had managed, through intermittent cell-phone connections, to meet up again with J and M and their kids, whom we had abandoned when we bailed on the Metro. Since the rally had ended, we headed to Chinatown with a quarter of a million other people for an early dinner. Our small group didn't even attempt to find a table anywhere and instead headed (noooooooooo!) into the stuffy underground darkness of the Metro to play another hour of Sardines with a thousand like-minded folks. Since none of our party had remembered to eat lunch, saying we were all a little cranky is an understatement. In desperation, we eventually got on the only train that had any room and rode it to Rosslyn, where we got out, had some dinner at a restaurant where we waited in line for a table and waited in line to use the restroom, and finally caught a packed connecting train back to Falls Church.

The drive home was uneventful and quick and involved no lines at all.


S thought coat hanger wire was too inelegant, so he bought some shiny new copper wire and made candle hangers (thanks for the tip, R!) for two of my impractical hole-filled pots, just in time for the Art Walk tomorrow. Not only do the candle hangers make it much easier to get a lit candle inside the pots, they also make these previously non-functional hole-filled Objets d'Art--poof!--functional. Of course, sitting on a shelf looking interesting while collecting dust is a function of sorts, but there is some urge to "be of use" (as Wilbur Larch would say). I can thus make hole-filled narrow-necked pots to my heart's content, knowing that potential buyers will appreciate them a smidge more because they shine prettily in the dark ("oh, that's what they're for!"). I just have to remember to keep the pot necks wide enough to accommodate a tea light.

My friend Adrian finished taking photos of my pots last week, and he's put together a snazzy slide show. It's a little shocking (in a good way) to see professional photos of my work, since the images I usually see are the cheapo snapshots I take using a piece of white posterboard as a backdrop, which doesn't exactly flatter the pots. Check out Adrian's slide show here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Where's Waldo?

If you don't want to get lost in a crowd of 250,000, dressing up like Waldo might seem like a good solution--unless a hundred other people have the same idea. In contrast, we only saw one Beaker, and no Dr. Bunsen Honeydews. Judging from his sign, Beaker had an unequivocal message for Washington insiders.

Found poem

I just realized the Labels tag cloud on this blog makes a pretty swell found poem. I particularly like the phrases atmospheric firing attitude, camping cats, cursing dialects, downtown dreams, energy fish, heavy machinery holidays, möbius strips neighbors newspapers, obscene heat obsession, and the elision of spring style therapy things with things you blow in tolkien--plus that the poem ends with y'all. Here's the current iteration; parse it as you will.


acrophobia airport security assumptions atmospheric firing attitude adjustment backseat conversations bats beach bedding beloved child beloved engineer bifocals blogging breathing bugs camping cats chickens church colloquialisms common cold consumer culture creative nonfiction cultural differences cursing dialects diatomaceous earth disappointments don't try this at home downtown dreams education energy fish flowers food friends geekitude gender germany good causes grammar heavy machinery holidays homework house houseplants hyperbole intentional homophonic misspellings jury service kiln klein bottles large numbers maintenance math mendelssohn mental hygiene mice modal auxiliary verbs museums music möbius strips neighbors newspapers northern obscene heat obsession opera organ overreacting pedal piano poetry plastic pollen pottery preparing pronouns punctuation recycling religion roadtrip safety in the pottery studio schumann sentence fragments shoes signs size sleep soccer southern southern insults spring style therapy things you blow in tolkien town gown relations trash untapped potential USA weather y'all

Monday, November 1, 2010

A quick visit to our nation's capitol, day 1

Last Friday, S and I and our friends M and J took our kids out of school and drove 4.5 hours north to the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located next to Dulles airport and complements the Air and Space Museum on the D.C. Mall. It houses the Enterprise space shuttle and the Enola Gay, among other icons of national and international air and space history.

M had seen a lot of airplanes recently, having just returned from a business trip to Liberia that involved an unplanned day-long stop-over in Newfoundland due to a smoking first-class seat, and a runway diversion in Belgium to deboard a disruptive shouting passenger; the trip was capped with a drunk Liberian police officer who set up a roadblock somewhere between the airport and Monrovia at 4am in order to coerce bribes from drivers.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, J had needed to make a bajillion party favors for kids at her neighborhood's Halloween shindig, where the grownups were unveiling "The Legend of the Golden Hairy Toe"; so she made plaster necklace charms cast from her very own feet. How's that for thinking on your toes?

Anyway, the airplanes 'n' stuff at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center were pretty neat, but for me, the greatest thrill was showing my inner acrophobe who's boss by walking the entire upper catwalk All By Myself. (OK, so my inner acrophobe and I walked it together). I regret to report that no one else was particularly impressed by this accomplishment, but it's a far cry from where I was pre-Germany. (I don't want to boast here, but I've also been over the suspension bridge at Eno River State Park not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times this fall--a task that was previously so nerve-wracking that I'd avoided the Few's Ford branch of the park for a whopping five years.)