Sunday, June 28, 2009

John & Kate + 8 and Iran's Fate

Today I am trying to join bloggers all over to promote the cause of Iran. However, I am pretty sure most American’s know more about the state of John and Kate and their failing marriage than the real life events unfolding in Iran. Moreover, those who might have been lining up to protest at the Federal Building in Westwood are, I fear, being overshadowed by the mourners in Encino at the Jackson compound.

Is this a reflection of our bubble gum culture’s demise or our just general apathy about the global cause? Aren’t we the country’s whose roots and heritage come from revolution, overthrowing tyranny and establishing democracy? How did we get to the place where we care more about the stars of a reality show than democracy being thwarted by a tyrannical dictator who may or may not have nuclear weapons pointed at us?

Give me liberty or give me more reality TV shows?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

lucky's IPA festival

I love Sierra Madre. This is no secret, despite the birds that frequent TOPT, despite the unruly kids who often over run Bean Town, despite the lack of affordable housing – Sierra Madre is an absolute treat. High on my list of attractions is Lucky Baldwin’s – much better than the Old Town location, no weird smell, no difficulty finding parking, no wobbly stairs, no terrible bathroom and quirky bartenders who remember you – it is the quintessential neighborhood bar perhaps the San Gabriel Valley’s own version of Cheers.

Over extending its’ schedule through the 27th is Lucky’s IPA festival where if you buy a glass you can get refills for as low as $3 a glass throughout the duration of the festival. Their 60+ tap list features some true faves – Pliny the Elder, Ruination, Firestone’s Union Jack, Lagunitas, Hop Ottin’ and of course a Craftsman IPA. A non-IPA notable, Firestone’s Honey Blonde sold at the festival rate.

What is an IPA you ask?

An IPA, Indian Pale Ale (not to be confused with the International Phonetic Alphabet), is according to is “the prototypical hoppy ale,” “deceptive pale, golden ale” and “most tip the scales at 6% alcohol b volume.” What is not to like – right? Take a break from the non-stop coverage of MJ mourning and join the celebration before it ends Sunday. This is truly as the LA Times describes it IPA mania. Enjoy dear friends, enjoy often. Paired with a French Dip, the IPA list is not to be missed.

Note: another piece of evidence typing the scales in favor of the Sierra Madre location’s supremacy to the Old Town location – if you forget your glass, in Sierra Madre they will more than likely give you the benefit of the doubt. This is not the case in Old Town, where a bartender who I have never seen before shamed me and charged me the higher rate. Blast.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cats and Fish

I have heard an awful lot about the untimely death of Michael Jackson -- may I offer a lighter note?

I am sure somewhere in the annals of the internet there must be posts and/or musings about this deep philosophical question I’d like to revisit. I know I am not the first person to have wondered about it and Lord knows my friends are sick and tired of me asking it – but here goes.

We all know how cats love fish, right? A stroll down the cat food aisle will affirm this as I imagine it will very likely be stocked with many cans of fish flavored kitty food. But we all also know how cats hate water, right? Picture yourself at one of your cat loving friends homes – what do they do to “punish” kitty? Use a spray bottle filled with water to squirt kitty into line. Or in my case, my brothers threw my poor cat into the pool.

My question, one that haunts me in the middle of the night, is how can this be? Why do cats hate water but love fish? Cats are undoubtedly predators, but I’ve never seen one hunt a fish. Bears yes, dogs yes, ducks, yes, pelicans, yes –but cats don’t even go near the water. Why do they like fish? Is it that they, like so many of us, want what they can’t have?

I know some have offered theories that not all cats hate water, but I for one have never, ever seen a cat that doesn’t. Doesn’t it seem reasonable from a sort of biological standpoint that with this seemingly universal built in aversion to water – they wouldn’t have a pallet for fish? Is this some weird quirk of domesticating cats? Maybe wild cats either also hate water but don’t like fish or like water and hence have a taste for fish.

I don’t get it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Update on Clown School

Last week I wrote about “clown school” – a quick update:

Something very remarkable happened at our last installment of clown school. We brought pizza and sodas for the boys but right before we were to eat our slices, the boy who is the most devious of the bunch asked if he could say grace for the meal. In the whole of our time with these boys we have talked very little if at all about our faith though our understanding of who Christ is, be it often unrefined and at times misguided, is and has been our whole motivation to volunteer at an under-resourced school. We were happy for the boy to say grace and the other boys also somewhat excitedly consented to it.

If ever there was a time in my life I wish I had a voice recorder, I wished I had one that day to record his prayer. He rattled off a brief list of very standard pre-meal prayer material but ended by thanking God for me and the other woman who has faithfully co-lead clown school for the last few months calling us his most favorite staff. Maybe we didn’t turn this clown into a saint or do much measurable “good” at the school as a whole, but even for the briefest of windows, I am proud to have mattered to this young child.

The next time I am plagued by self-doubt or find myself in the midst of yet another quarter-life crisis, I’d play his prayer to remind me of something I can be proud of. And I believe it is very likely, I will not ever be applauded for my role in creating a school-based ministry churches all of the country learn from, but I can take pride in the theology lesson I learned in clown-school.

Coming soon – Lucky’s IPA festival, cats and fish and superman.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


The other day I was sick and stayed home from church. I stumbled onto the crazy Christian network and after watching a bit of the crackpot preacher’s latest dose of crazy, I thought I ought to stream live the morning service of my own church – after all it is 2009, right? Sure enough, I caught most of the service including a baptism, the offering mediation and of course the sermon. Did I mention the Doobie Brothers song?

I can’t decide, though if this phenomenon – streaming of church services – is a good or bad thing? Not meaning to bite the hand that feeds me, I hope a healthy dialogue on 21st century church/spirituality might ensue. Certainly, for those out there unable to make it to church – because of injury or distance or what have you, there is a benefit for cyber-church, right? But I can’t help but wonder what difference it makes if one ever shows up to the actual building or not if I can “be” there in my PJs lounging on the couch? Or, in the fashion of a consumer, why wouldn’t I opt to stream the most popular sermon/church out there even if the physical church is a world away? Could I actually be a cyber member of a congregation a world away in effect?

On an unrelated note, why would I subscribe to my own church’s sermon podcast through iTunes when I could hear the sermon from the horse’s mouth every Sunday (so-to-speak)?

Earlier in the week, I hung out with a friend who’s church couldn’t be more different than mine. Every time we hang out, we manage to delve into a friendly banter on our own understanding of ecclesiology. We both affirmed church ought to be more like singing karaoke than attending a rock concert. (Neither one of us came up with this but we couldn’t remember where we had heard the metaphor) But to elaborate, church ought to be a setting where, like singing karaoke, everyone there is expected to participate and very little prep is needed. In fact the most meaningful material often comes from those who have absolutely no formal voice training but because of their sheer vulnerability inspire. On the other hand, a rock concert, save for the benefit of my ticket revenue, the show is not really at all affected by me in the audience. Sure I might sing along, cheer or even goes as far as holding up a lighter; but I’m never really a part of the show in the same way as the performer is a part of the show.

Be honest, would you rather go to karaoke church or rock concert church?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jacaranda trees…

In an effort to get on board with the Pasadena blogging community, I decided to post about jacaranda trees.

For most of my life, I wrote off the jacaranda trees because of their mess. Our neighbor’s tree spilled over into our pool area leaving those charming little lavender flowers all over everything. If any of you have romanticized ideals about these trees, talk to someone who has one in their front yard. However, maybe it is time I reconsidered these bizarre and wonderful little pieces of natural quirk.

Driving around town today, the curious beauty of these crazy pastel purple trees was unavoidable. Are they straight out of Thomas Kincaid painting or more apt to be part of an acclaimed landscape artist’s work fit to be hung in a museum?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Laker hater?

I don’t like the LA Lakers.  I know for my fellow Angelinos out there, this will be ire invoking.  For my family, simply hasn’t come to terms with it – the elephant in the room.  I wonder if this is what gay people who “come out” only to have their loved one still set them up with members of the opposite sex. 

My dad in particular will often ask me if I watched the game even despite us having the talk about my Laker preference.  My oldest brother gave me a Laker tee-shirt to commemorate their 2001 championship in what I think was his attempt to change my mind about the Lakers.  It didn’t. 

I grew up in a sports family.  Our family’s routine often revolved around sports.  Monday night football meant dinner during half-time.  Of course, the NFL was just as much of Thanksgiving fixture at our house as turkey and stuffing.  I swam with Vin Scully and Orel Hershiser in the summers.  Well it felt like that because my dad was always listening to the Dodger game on his cordless AM radio poolside. You get the point. 

For the most part, I have followed suit in my devotion to sports – I love the Dodgers, the USC Trojans and March Madness.  I deviated a bit by becoming a fan of the Green Bay Packers but at least I know they will never move to another city.  However, I never really got on board when it came to becoming a fan of the Lakers. 

And so tonight as the Lakers clinched the championship, I am glad the NBA season is over.  I am glad the finals have not stretched any longer than the eight months it already is.  I am glad the sports pages will no longer be plastered with pictures of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant. And most of all I am glad the Laker flags will go back into the closets of Laker fans hopeful to soon be replaced by either USC flags or Dodger flags.  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Clown School...

About three or four months ago, while on a site visit with the principal of the after-school program I started around that same time, I was interrupted by a very disgruntled fifth grade teacher.  She had a list of names and was insistent that the collective fifth grade teaching staff could no longer tolerate these “clowns.”  Mind you, I was trying very hard to mind my own business however the principal said something to the effect, well you want to help kids around here – why don’t you take these kids for an hour or so each week.  Okay.  Send in the clowns.

And so my journey into what I have affectionately come to call, “clown school” began.  Every Friday since March, a volunteer in my program and myself have hung out with these nine very endearing and at times quite maddening fifth grade boys.  We have played games, wiped tears, nearly had to break up a fight or two, laughed a lot, sent kids to time out, put together puzzles,  wrote letters to ourselves and in a nutshell fallen in love with these ragtag bunch of knuckleheads.  Some of the kids in the group have witnessed domestic violence, others are in foster care, others haven’t seen their biological parents in years and still some have no apparent “cause” factor for their “clowning” other than general rowdiness. 

I finally broke my very strong no self-disclosure policy with the kids and told them a bit of my story.  The truth is when I was in fifth grade, if our school had a “clown school,” I have absolutely no doubt I would have been in it.  In fifth grade I successfully locked my teacher out of the classroom. I organized many of my classmates into an official we hate the teacher club – complete with meetings and members and the whole shebang.  On another occasion, I spat in the teacher’s coffee.  Gross, I know.  Things got to be so bad that at one point the teacher hit me.  Finally, one day late in the school year, I walked up to our classroom with all of my classmates thinking everything was normal to find my desk and all of my belongings outside the door.  The teacher sternly told me I simply wasn’t in her class any more.  I spent the rest of the day in the principal’s office.  The next day, sure enough, I was placed in the other fifth grade class for the rest of the year relatively problem free. 

In my professional experience I have thought often about divine retribution.  In particular, I have had a number of run-ins with fifth graders over the years but I can’t think of one, even in the “clown school” bunch that was as much of a pain in the ass as me.  Hands down, “clown school” has been the best part of my new job.  Most days I come out of “clown school” thinking I have the best job in the world.  Tomorrow will be our last meeting, here’s to “clown school.” 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Baseball Coaches

Okay, yesterday’s post was painfully long.  Thank you for those of you who hung in there but I resolve to next time divide such a verbose piece.  I am kicking around an idea about Superman that will likely be a multiple post piece to spare you all from reading more than 500 words. 

So onto tonight’s brief thought, earlier tonight my roommate coaxed me into switching over from the Dodger’s game to the Laker game (and of course, as I hate the Lakers and have been a bad luck charm for years, they lost).  But I couldn’t help but be reminded of a profound difference between Baseball and all other sports – namely revolving around the attire of the coaches. 

Consider Phil Jackson (and all other NBA coaches), he is manicured, polished clad in a sophisticated suit a generally fitting ensemble for a middle-aged, professional.  Now consider our beloved Joe Torre – Dodger Team jacket and, this is the part I most disagree with, the very same type of pants the players themselves wear.  Are they officially called sliding pants? I mean really, Joe are you going to be sliding into home any time soon?  And pity, pity, pity those members of the coaching staff who shop in the big and tall stores. 

I get that baseball coaches, in certain instances take the field (namely base coaches) so it might be necessary for them to wear cleats.  And I also concede, they don’t need to go as far as Phil Jackson. Perhaps something more along the lines of what football coaches wear might be more suitable?  Khaki pants and a team shirt, jacket or hybrid of the two?  

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dutch bingo, Rob Bell's cousin & Fergie

Last Friday was Rob Bell’s Cousin’s birthday.  I know, like me, you might feel like a bit of a smo for not remembering to call or to offer at the very least a cursory Facebook happy birthday message.  Or, in the event that you either (A) have no idea who Rob Bell is or (B) – the more palatable/realistic of the two options for me as it is unimaginable that there are those out there who don’t know who Rob Bell is – did not realize it was indeed his cousin’s birthday, allow me to explain my connection. And that is really what this whole blog entry today is about – connections. 

So my very dear friend, Sharon, went to college (insert name of small, Midwestern Christian liberal arts school here as I somehow suspect all of Rob Bell’s cousins went to this specific strand of higher learning institutions) with a red-headed woman named Heather who married a tall, witty man named Bruce who is, indeed, the aforementioned cousin of Rob Bell.  This fact was brought to my attention when at Sharon’s wedding Heather was given the charge of doing my hair.  Okay – the fact might have come up some other times but it was a very awkward non-sequitur when the much obliging Heather was curling iron in hand, as it were, fixing my terribly unruly hair.  I could think of no appropriate response to the lead in, “you know Heather is married to Rob Bell’s cousin.”

Heather, who I think possibly might get this type of introduction more often than not as Rob Bell has somewhat of a cult following in Christian intellectual circles (and yes, if you couldn’t have already surmised, I am in that cult), quickly and naturally lead our conversation into more organic territory – most notably how she as recent transplant to Dallas, Texas, has gained quite a bit of experience into curling iron tricks.  So much for a liberal arts education, right? 

Of course, Sharon shared this unusual piece of Heather’s story (not sure she lists married to Rob Bell’s cousin on her résumé), in the hopes of Heather and I forging a deeper bond than the, in this case, hair styling might otherwise lend. Her heart was in the right place, and without question I did find Heather – and Bruce by extension – to be a dear woman who, connection to Rob Bell aside, I would be proud to call a friend.  I admit, having a close friend recognize and build a link on my behalf based entirely on my esteem for Rob Bell, was a bit of a wake-up call that my regard for Rob Bell might have floated a bit too close to the creepy region/zone. Now, it seems whenever the topic of Bruce or Heather comes up, as it did last week on Bruce’s birthday, Sharon will make a funny reference to him being Rob Bell’s cousin.

Now onto what this has to do with Dutch Bingo.  Another friend, who is of Dutch ancestry originally hailing, like Rob Bell, from western Michigan, told me about something she and her family members refer to as Dutch Bingo.  Apparently the Dutch world is very small and interconnected and as such, often people in that world who don’t already know one another will, upon a meeting, embark on an ad hoc round of Dutch Bingo where they each, through their network of connections, will figure out a mutual connection.  Somewhat akin to Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.   I am told most will be able to find a bingo within minutes.  I suppose the point of the game, much like with Sharon and Rob Bell’s cousin, is to transform what would otherwise be a mere acquaintance, into a deeper, richer connection leading to friendship.

Today, I unknowingly played my own particular strand of Dutch Bingo, including a co-worker and among other people Fergie (aka Stacy Ferguson).  I work with maybe forty other people many of whom, even four months into the gig, I must confess, I don’t know very well.  One of those casual acquaintances today shared his wife was a teacher.  This was very interesting to me, and got more interesting when it turned out she teaches in the very same school district of the town I grew up in.  This is not that unusual as we work maybe three towns over from my home town but what was unusual was my co-worker’s wife is also from the same small town (more aptly described as an unincorporated area of LA County).

I had a pretty good sense my co-worker was about my same age and could pretty safely place his wife in this bracket. When I figured out she was from the same town as me, I made a joke about her knowing Fergie.  Indeed, she and Fergie grew up together.  Still no bingo, as I am not nor have I ever been friends with Fergie, but it was a funny coincidence.  Then he asked me if I knew Bonnie Wilson.  No bells ring, but I keep kicking the ball around in my head until it dawns on me (later confirmed by a text to a childhood friend) – Mrs. Wilson, my well-meaning and eccentric junior high science teacher who on the first day of seventh grade, upon reading the roll, kicked me out for no other reason than being my brother’s sister.  Bonnie Wilson is now my co-worker’s wife’s boss as well as having been my junior high science teacher years ago a connection no less strange as being married to Rob Bell’s cousin.  Today the world was made a wee bit smaller.  

Monday, June 1, 2009

Taking a Stand

Last weekend I met a dear friend at “The Only Place in Town” in Sierra Madre to eat lunch.  While we were well on our way to while away the afternoon, our serenity was painfully disrupted by a man carrying a large white pet bird (cockatiel?).  If you know me, you know that just the mere casual onset of such a pair is enough to make me a wee bit uncomfortable (okay maybe enough to push my friends into the path of the beast preserving my own safety).  I lost control however, when the man and his very offensive pet stopped at “The Only Place in Town” and were seated at the all too close next table.  I insisted on us moving to the extreme end of the patio but still was unable to reclaim my enjoyment of the atmosphere and company. 

While paying at the register, I shared somewhat emphatically with the restaurant’s staff my frustration at the entire situation.  The staff of the “The Only Place in Town” understood and expressed their shared annoyance with this very unusual man who is a frequent customer and regular around town in Sierra Madre.  They described his treatment of the bird as being very bizarre over and above the strangeness of bringing a bona-fide exotic pet to a place where some might have trouble with even a more conventional pet’s patronage.

To make matters worse, the next day while dining at an open air restaurant in Seal Beach, much to my horror, another large white pet bird arrived.  Fortunately, this foul creature was not as close as its Sierra Madre counterpart, but his owner curiously left him on a news paper stand to roam about at will.  In fact, the bird was single-handedly (clawedly?) causing quite a scene – squawking and generally moving about – in  a venue I think it would be safe to say passer bys would not normally expect to see such a bird.  This dreadful bird was left on his makeshift perch for well over an hour another damning entry onto my ledger of the general mental health of bird owners. 

Dogs are one thing, and while although I love dogs, I do understand the discomfort some might feel when they are paraded through restaurants and other public places.  However, we must draw the line at allowing birds to be allowed in public places.  They are not normal pets to take on walks or just generally to be brought out and about.  I completely disagree with them as pets but respect others habit but prefer to not ever visit their homes and believe they ought to remain in their cages.   And in an era when so few people will take a stand on anything, I believe the no pet birds in public places is a noble line in the sand I invite you to make for yourself.