Sunday, December 19, 2010

I Heart Hand Bells

What the hell is that?   I am sure that if you are bothering to read this then you are asking yourself this question.  Well I shall tell you...

Once upon a time I was in high school and at my little high school with a student body of 200 students we all had to take a "Fine Art" course in order to graduate.  Well, since I don't sing and I don't play a band instrument and can't act to save my life (I was that kid who spent the entire Christmas pageant waving at her parents instead of pretending to be a watchful shepherd) when my senior year came around the doors to the chorale, band and drama club were all shut to me.  Luckily, there was one last refuge, one last bastion of hope for talentless students.  This last chance station was known as Bell Choir.

We met in the back room of the administration building during seventh period.  And in a crowded little room we donned gloves and prepared to meet The Clinician.  The Clinician is sort of like the Dude from the Big Lebowski, okay he's really nothing like the Dude...but that's what you call a director of a bell choir...a clinician.  His name was Dr. Chip Spier.  He was a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon with a fever...a fever that could only be cured with a prescription for hand bells.  He left the hospital in the afternoons to come to coach us and he was all business.

Now for the uninitiated, the first thing that one does when joining a bell choir, besides donning silk/cotton blend gloves, is to get a hand bell assignment.  After one look from the Clinician I was assigned the C4 and D4 bells.  What are C4 and D4 bells you ask?  In short...they are the obscenely large bells that could also hang in the cupolas of old Taco Bells (back when Taco Bells looked like replicas of the Alamo)...

Photographic evidence of serving time in Hand Bell Choir with Patrick C.
Yes I have since learned that black turtlenecks on albino skin and a large chest are a bad bad idea...thank you.

Now prior to joining the Bell Choir I didn't know how to read music so I was already at a deficit.  Not only could I not read music but I couldn't keep time...probably because I am a white person and its not in my DNA.  Further, I don't work well under pressure...and there are few situations in life more intense than playing "Carol of the Bells" at the school Christmas pageant with the Clinician giving you the evil eye...that evil eye that communicates to you, You better not f#*k up my masterpiece!  So with no musical training, no natural ability and no strength of character I was poised to become an utter failure in the field of hand bell ringing.  But luckily the Lord gave me one secret special gifts that made me superior to all other hand bell ringers of my day.  What was this weapon, you ask?...a large rack.

Oh yes, you read correctly.  My secret weapon in the war of hand bell ringing was a DDD cup size.  Now why is this an advantage?  Does cleavage distract from a performer's complete lack of musical ability?  Well maybe it does for Britney Spears but for Whitny Braun it made me the best damn dampener in all of the San Gabriel Academy Hand Bell Choir.

You see in order to play the hand bells you have to pick them up and hold them to your chest, then thrust your arms out in a motion similar to walloping a punching bag.  The mallet inside the bell strikes the side of the bell creating the rich smooth echoing sound of the C4 and D4 bells.  Of course you don't want the bell to continue echoing on at infinitum.  Thus you must dampen the bell.  How does one do this?  You do this by quickly cupping the bell to your chest in a manner similar to the chest beating motion Celine Dion makes on stage.  When you are playing the D7 for example, which is a teeny tiny bell similar in size to the little bells you would ring to summon a servant with your tea, you can silence those in an instant by holding them against pretty much any relatively soft, relatively flat surface.  But to dampen the that takes a majestic chest.  And luckily for me...a majestic chest I do indeed have.

So back to the button or pin or whatever you want to call it that reads "I [Heart] Hand Bells" that inspired this I in fact love hand bells?  Well, I guess I do...but mostly I just like the sound of silencing them.

Maxwell the Magnificent

It sort of looks like he has a handlebar mustache don't you think?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Learn the French language and all about stereotypes instantly!

Today I continue on my quest to go through all of the vinyl records in the crawlspace above my closet by sharing with all of you this classic French language instructional album which teaches the listener all about how to ask for directions to the library and how to recognize a French bellhop...instantly!

A Traveler's Guide to Istant French

Ling, Max & What Was My Clean Laundry

Ling, Max & What Was My Clean Laundry

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let's All Sing Christmas Carols in STEREOPHONIC!

Merry Christmas to me!  I am just going to start calling my house Santa because it just keeps giving and giving!  I mean what says Christmas more than this 1961 vinyl classic aptly titled "Let's All Sing Christmas Carols"?

Let's All Sing Christmas Carols

Now I am a little concerned about the children on this album cover though.  My first concern is that they are really bad actors.  I mean c'mon are they supposed to look surprised, fearful, joyous?  Frankly my first thought when I saw this was that kids were looking down into a grave but then I thought, nah that doesn't make sense.  So then I reasoned from the bricks they are shown leaning on that they must be looking down a chimney.  So if they are looking down a chimney and one kid appears to have a look of fear on his face, while the little girl appears to be surprised and the boy on the right seems to about to laugh I can only surmise that they have stumbles across Santa delivering presents down their chimney in the nude.  Clearly, its the only logical conclusion.  Wouldn't you agree?

An Evening With Tupper Saussy

Who the hell is Tupper Saussy?  Perhaps this is a question you have asked yourself.  No?  Okay, maybe it's just me.  I found myself asking this question this week as I was cleaning out the crawl space above my closet and came across a pile of probably eighty vinyl albums and right on the top of the pile was this gem...

Tupper Saussy:  "Said I To Shostakovitch"
Okay, so who the hell is Tupper Saussy?  My dear friend Ryan did a little research and the first thing he found was a quote from the UK newspaper The Guardian which said, "Tupper Saussy is not a man to be taken lightly."  Well one can clearly tell just by looking at him that this is not a man to be taken lightly.  This is a man who would throw a 20 year Scotch in your face and then dab off any backsplash that landed on him with that elegantly folded pocket square.  He would probably challenge you to a dual...only instead of pistols at dawn it would probably be a bass viola-off and then he'd hand you your ass on a platter.  He's sort of like the Dos Equis/Most Interesting Man in the know, except that I don't think that anyone has the overwhelming urge to punch the Dos Equis man.  (What?  Is it just me?)

After spending an evening with Tupper Saussy I must say that this album has inspired me to change my use of idioms.  In the future whenever anyone says something that would necessitate me saying, "That's what she said..." or "Your mom goes to college..." I will instead interject..."Said I to Shostakovich".  I imagine it would go something like this:

Other Person:  You forgot to buy orange juice at the grocery store?

Me:  Yes.  Sorry.  It's really not that big of a deal.

Other Person:  Argh!  That's what you always say!


Other Person:  Huh?

Okay, so maybe it won't make complete sense at first but give it time and you can condition the other person so that they understand and respond appropriately.  Patience and persistence are virtues people.

Well, I suppose that is all I have to say for tonight.  There is a turntable in the other room with some Tupper Saussy waiting to be played.  Ciao people...I have a date with Tupper Saussy and he is not a man to be taken lightly or kept waiting.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Brief Encounters with Nancy Brophy

For today's post I thought I should post a conversation I had with a guest staying at the B&B...I had committed the conversation to paper several months ago and came across it as I was cleaning up my hard drive this afternoon.  


When I am not in grad school, doing research in Spain, teaching courses in bioethics to thoroughly bored nursing and medical students or searching for lost cats stuck in trees I work at my family's bed and breakfast near Yosemite National Park.  This last summer I had a series of conversations with a guest.  Her name was Nancy Brophy (of course this is not actually her name as names have been changed to protect the innocent.)  Anyway, It's guests like Nancy Brophy that make me really wonder if I am cut out for the service industry.  If I wasn't so gosh darn skilled at getting the lime scale off of shower doors and removing bodily fluid staining from sheets I think I would throw in the towel and tell my parent's they are on their own up in Coulterville.  But alas, since I am really and truly gifted at scrubbing toilets I keep on keeping on and enjoying the company of true originals like one Nancy Brophy.   Now as for this guest Nancy Brophy...think of my encounters with her as a play told in three acts...I call it "Brief Encounters with Nancy Brophy".  

The First Encounter
 (Experienced in the form of Phone Conversation with me using my professional phone voice):

Her: "Hi...this is Nancy, I am staying with you tonight."

Me: "Yes, hello, we are looking forward to your stay."

Her: "Now how do I find you?"

Me: "Okay, for the first leg you are going to want to take Hwy 120 to Smith Station Road, it'll be 10 miles from the park gate to the Smith Station turn off".

Her: "So is that a long 10 miles?"

Me: "Hmm, well its a straight 10 miles on Hwy 120."

Her: "So its a long 10 miles then?"

Me: "Well its 10 miles at 65 miles per hour, or 16 kilometers at like 105 km/h...on a relatively straight flat road."

Her: "Oh okay, so its a short 10 miles then?"

Me:  "I don't know that I would call it long or short...I would maybe just say that it is a universally accepted 10 miles."

Her:  "Got's a long 10 miles then?"

Me: "Umm, I'm not really sure how else I can qualify or describe a quantitative measurement of linear distance other than to say its 10 miles in a straight line."

Her: "So you're saying its a pretty easy 10 miles then?"

Me: "Yes Ma'am...that is exactly what I am saying."

The Second Encounter
(Experienced as I took her breakfast order)

Me: "How would you like your eggs?"

Her: "Well, I am watching what I eat...will I still get the same protein from a hard boiled as a scrambled you get what I'm saying?"

Me: "Uh-huh, I totally see where you are going with this and I believe this is exactly what French chemist Antoine Lavoisier was talking about when he wrote his treatise on
 the law of conservation of mass and matter."

Her: "Oh is he the guy who designed NutriSystem?"

Me:  "Uh-huh, and would you believe he's actually fathered children by both Marie Osmond and Valerie Bertinelli?"

The Third Encounter
(Experienced as I drew her a map to the Diana Pools)

Me:  The Diana Pools are our natural swimming pools on the property.  They're where the north fork of the Merced meets Smith Creek and cascades over this huge granite face into a series of little pools.

Her:  "Are they heated?"

Me:  "Well..heated by solar energy..."

Her:  "Oh great, so they're warm."

Me:  "Well, no the water isn't warm because the Merced River is glacier fed...(visualize blank stare from her)...So the water is cold but the granite rock absorbs the heat all day and conducts the heat to the water which keeps it around 60 degrees."

Her:  "Oh so the water is frozen then? Is that safe?"

Me:  "No the water isn't frozen, its flowing water and is it safe?...well it really only takes six inches to drown so really who am I to say whether or not something is safe?"

Her:  "So its warm then, do you pump the water into the pools yourself then?"

Me:  "No, because I'm 28 so they put the glaciers in here back before I was born...which makes it, you know, pretty easy for me now.  I can just kind of let it do its thing."

Her: "Oh that is great, you're so lucky that was all done for you."

Me:  "Yeah, my family has always been into installing glaciers."

Her:  "Well, I just think it is so wonderful when families can pass a business down generation after generation."

Me:  "Yeah, the only thing that is hard is that whole federal inheritance tax on glaciers and, ya know, of course global warming."


The Saga of Harriett in the Big Bad Golf Course

Last month I posted a story about the three month ordeal I endured in the summer of 2009 when my beloved cat Buddy Lee got lost in the woods of Yosemite.  I have since received comments from a reader named Nathalie who is currently trying to recover her own cat who is lost in the crowded busy neighborhood near her house.

In an effort to give Nathalie hope and also to preserve for posterity the saga of my little bitty kitty Harriett I give you the saga of Harriett in the big bad golf course...

This is Harriett

My Dad and I found Harriett in the summer of 2002.  We were on a routine run to Home Depot and waiting at an intersection when my Dad looked down and saw two little eyes peering up from the storm drain below.  Dad jumped out of the car and reached down into the gutter and pulled what honestly looked like a 1 lb version of Gollum from the "Lord of the Rings" out of the muck.  We blew off Home Depot and took the little naked mole rat masquerading as a cat home and then to the vet and over the course of several days nursed it...her...back to health.  My Dad cleaned the mites out of her ears every day and my mom fed her with a bottle.  

In time she turned into the furry fruit bat looking creature pictured above.  She had some special needs, which included a tick and a propensity to walk sideways, thus solidifying her nicknames of "Gollum" and "Smeagol".  Our giant Great Dane/Bull Mastiff mix named Snuggles adored her and they became the best of friends and all was right with the least in the Braun family home.  

Then in December of 2005 all was suddenly not right with the world.  My friend Alise, who was about to leave for Cambodia for research was spending the weekend at my house.  We decided to put up a Christmas Tree.  Well, in the process of bringing in the Christmas tree I left the back door open...

A day later my mom asked if anyone had seen Harriett.  As Harriett is prone to hiding anyway, none of us had really thought much of the fact that we hadn't seen her.  A little while later my mom thought she saw a fight between a portly orange cat and our little Harriett on the fence behind the house through her bedroom window.  We immediately searched the Harriett.

My mom was distraught.  I felt sick with guilt.  My Grandma turned to prayer.  My Dad turned to a million candlepower flashlight.  Alise was in Cambodia and had bigger problems.  

Our first lead was the fact that my mom had seen Harriett dart off into the golf course behind our house after the altercation with the fat Garfield cat.  So we set up base camp.  We took blankets and sleeping bags and set up a base of operations on the back porch so that should Harriett want to just come wandering back to us she would know where to find us.

Suffice it to say that sleeping outside in December on your back porch is miserable and move on...

My next step was to hop the fence into the golf course the next day and look for Harriett.  Seeting how heartbroken my mom was and knowing how terrified Harriett must be (wherever she was) I began frantically searching the area of the golf course along the property line with our house.  Now in theory this search was a good idea...except that the manner in which I chose to do it was perhaps less than well thought out.  I got a machete from the garage and began walking along the hedges and frantically slashing at the brush trying to reveal where Harriett might be hiding.  In hindsight I realize that this could have very easily resulted in me injuring myself or the cat...but desperation makes you do crazy things...obviously.  After hours of slashing through hedges and bushes and small tree branches I stepped back and surveyed the damage.  I had made the area around the 9th hole look like it had been carpet bombed by a C-130 cargo plane in Vietnam.  Then I ran.

The next night as we were camped out on the back porch once more my mom began calling Harriett's name.  After about thirty minutes we heard something.  It was her meow.  It was her distinctive little chirp of a meow.  My mom called out her name again but we didn't hear anything.  Maybe it was another cat.  Maybe it was out imaginations.  We waited a bit and then my mom called out her name again and again and alternated between saying her name, her best cat friend's name Buddy Lee and her best doggy pal's name Snuggles.  We waited a second and then heard her little chirp again.

This went on for three days and we couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from.  The acoustics in the golf course behind our house made it impossible to know where she was.  For three more nights we camped out on the freezing porch calling her name and then climbing over into the golf course with the flashlights to look at her and thoroughly irritating our neighbors.

I can't speak for my parents or my grandmother but I suspect they felt like me.  I could not give up.  I had to find Harriett.  We couldn't lose her right before Christmas.  Well, we couldn't lose her period.  I had not slept in five days.  I had not eaten in five days.  I had leaves in my hair and I had vandalized a public golf course...I was going to find that cat.  As I was having a Scarlet O'Hara moment on my porch, shaking my fist at the moon my Dad came running back from the golf course yelling that he had found her!

He had found her!  Where was she?  Of course...she was at the top of a seventy foot pine tree about 100 yards from our back porch.  A seventy foot pine tree with no branch lower than ten fee off of the ground.  Fabulous.

So I did what any rational, sane person would do.  I called the fire department.  Well, I learned very quickly that contrary to popular belief the fire department does not actually get cats out of trees.  Apparently, it is considered a waste of tax payers dollars and it would be too dangerous to risk driving the fire engine across the golf course and getting it stuck in one of the sand traps.  My Dad had an alternate plan...he was going to climb the tree.  He went and got a ladder.  Remember this tree is seventy feet tall.  All I heard in my internal monologue were the words..."Sweet Jesus"

I of course did the next best thing a sane, rational person would do after being rejected by the fire department.  I pitched a the golf the base of the tree, so that just in case Harriett managed to come down we would be there for you.

Sometime around four or five in the morning a golf cart with it's headlights on cruised up along side of our campsite and then sped away.  A few minutes later two gold carts came back...apparently the driver of the first decided he needed back-up.

"Excuse'am, ma'am...why are you sleeping in the gold course?" called the man from the first cart.

"My cat is in the tree!"  I yelled back.

"Are you homeless?" the hollered at me.

"Me?  No...I live right there in that house.  I motioned over to my 6,000 square foot house."

"Are you the doctor's daughter?"


There was a pause.

"Well, you can't sleep in the golf course."

This hollering back and forth was getting tiresome.  I got out of my sleeping bag and walked over to the golf carts.  I explained that I had been searching for my cat for five days and that I was so close that I couldn't walk away now.  I then think I might have fallen to my knees and begged for help from the golf course manager.

He looked at me with pity and then said that he would need me off the golf course by the time the first golfers got to the ninth hole.  At this point I said, "You wouldn't happen to have a cherry picker or anything that we could use to get up there and get my cat do you?"

"No we don't but we have the tree trimmers coming today to clean up that area over there..." he motioned to the hedgerow I had absolutely obliterated four days earlier.  "It's the weirdest thing...must have been the wind."

"Yeah that is weird..." I said trying to look as perplexed about it as he was.

An hour later the tree trimmers with their cherry picker rolled in.  The cavalry had arrived.  The manager had explained my plight to the tree trimmers already but as they cruised in like the SWAT team I fell to my knees once more pleading, "Seniors, gatito es arriba en el arbol...por favor...necessito su ayuda!"

They obliged me.  And with my mom, my dad, the golf course manager, the head of security for the golf course and me watching they planted the legs of the cherry picker and began raising the bucket up to the highest branch in the tree.  The intrepid tree trimmer Javier had leather gloves and a cat carrier and was ready for business.  Just as Javier was within arm's reach of Harriett she panicked.  She ran to the end of the branch and fell...falling almost seventy feet to the ground below.  I almost couldn't look.  My mom screamed.  The golf course manager yelled "Aye dios mio!".  It couldn't end like this!

It didn't.  Harriett somehow managed to land on all fours and then what did she do next?  She bolted up the next tree over, a sixty-five foot Ponderosa Pine.  She scaled that thing like Spiderman climbing up the face of the Empire State Building.  

Javier was undaunted.  His partner Marco repositioned the cherry picker and Javier ascended to the heavens once again to attempt to get Harriett for a second time.  It was inspiring to watch.  This time if Javier failed and Harriett fell out of the tree again there was no way she would live...she had to have used up all of her nine lives by now.

As Javier approached Harriett in the bucket attached to the massive mechanical arm the second time Harriett froze.  Javier reached for her and started to guide her into the cat carrier.  We were almost there.  Just another inch or close...but just when it looked like it was going to be okay Harriett freaked out and fought and then fell sixty-five feet to ground below landing on her side.  We all cringed, assuming the worst but no sooner did Harriett hit the ground with a thud than she popped back and up and started running at full speed toward our backyard.

I was standing the farthest from our backyard and stood there slightly dumbfounded as I saw my dad take off running after Harriett, followed by my mom, followed by the manager of the golf course, followed by the director of security for the golf course, followed by the man who had been operating the cherry picker.  Javier was still up in the bucket.  It was surreal.  I then shook my head and followed in pursuit.

I saw Harriett jump over the fence to our backyard and then with the agility and swiftness of a cat my Dad somehow leaped over the fence and landed on top of Harriett with his full weight.  Okay, now the cat was definitely dead.  But as soon as the dust cleared Harriett wriggled out from underneath my Dad's weight and shot like a bullet towards the back porch.  At this point I thought we had lost her for good.  She was so traumatized there was no way we were getting her back now.

But no sooner had I said that then I saw that Snuggles the Great Dane/Bull Mastiff and Ling our Chow had cornered her under a bunch.  My mom swooped in and grabbed Harriett in a towel and rushed her inside the house.

A few minutes later she was curled up in my mom's arms next to the Christmas tree telling her all about her ordeal.  That night I was able to sleep, with Judy Garland crooning "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" from my iPod, and safe in the knowledge that once again...all was right with the world.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Really Does Come Twice A Year!

Okay I am back at it with my blog.  I took a little hiatus to recover from an ear infection and while I was convalescing I found a stash of hidden gems in the cupboards above my closet...about 70 vinyl albums with original covers stacked neatly behind an off brand Thigh-Master.  Finding this cache of recording gems made me realize that Christmas really does come twice a year!

The album on the top of the stack that I pulled down first was this retro gem:

Christmas With The King Family
The back of the album cover features this scintillating description of just what lies in store for you when you put this album down on the old turntable:

"Christmas with The King Family has always been a time of music, a time of singing.  One of the first Christmases the Kings can remember was the eve papa King Driggs pulled up to the family house with a car load of oddly wrapped packages, a violin, a clarinet, drums, the makings of the Driggs Family of Entertainers.  Each year since, the growing King Family has spent musically:  exchanging presents together on Christmas eve, and singing.  Singing as a whole family, with its eight branches presenting their own show of Christmas songs.

This album is such a Christmas, with the traditional songs the Kings all love...the Al Burt carols, Bill Drigg's own composition, "Holiday of Love," their own traditional song "Hear the Sledges with the Bells," and many, many others.  It is an album of warmth, of sincerity.  It is a family Christmas album in every sense."

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess by the condition of the vinyl that this bad boy has never been taken for a spin.

Who knew Diane Sawyer was a member of the singing King Family?

So if anyone is planning on coming by my house this Christmas you can be sure that there will be lots of sparkling cider and Special K loaf and of course "Christmas With The King Family".