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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Classical Week: Day #4

Shortly after midnight we heard coyotes howling and yipping on the back part of our property.  It sounded as if they were just outside the reach of the lights on the back of house, but sounds travel rather far around here.  They were making enough noise that I was tempted to go out and fire an air rifle in their general direction, but they stopped before I could get up and grab one.  I did wonder how the cattle on the lot next to us were handling it....

This was a quiet day, with classical music played for part of the day.  None of the children ate one another, so I would chalk this up as a good day.  Not a smoke plume in sight.

I spent a good part of the day dealing with family finances and drinking coffee.

I got one of them new-fangled Keurig coffee makers a few years back.  The first time I saw one - either 2000 or 2001 - I fell in love with it.  It was in the doctor's lounge of one of the hospitals in San Antonio which I rarely visited.  I had a case in the late afternoon, and showed up early for a change.  After changing into scrubs, I wandered into the lounge.  Dessicated remains of a hot lunch sat in pans over still-burning sterno cans, and all I could find which looked palatable were some graham crackers and peanut butter samples located in a drawer marked 'Silverware.'

The counter next to the refrigerator was filled with the strangest machine I had ever seen.  It was a Keurig coffee machine, one of the commercial ones which was connected to a water line.  It came with a diagram of instructions and a whole bunch of little cups filled with pre-measured coffee grounds.  By pulling a lever on the top, one could drop in one of these cups, close it, hit the 'Start' button, and watch a hot stream of coffee pour onto the counter almost immediately.  I quickly found a cup and caught about half of the coffee and then cleaned up the mess I had made.

It was a really good cup of coffee.  I was amazed at the variety of coffee types and flavors which were available.  I also liked that I could make one cup of coffee at a time, since I was the only coffee drinker at that time.  More than anything, I liked how putting the little coffee cup into the brewer was kind of like loading a shotgun.  Someone who designed this had to have known how this would appeal to the gun nut inside of every male of the species.

Unfortunately, it was a few years before I bought one of these for home.  I used it every day, and one day the control panel on it starting displaying the word 'Descale.'  I got online and proceeded to de-scale it, using a lot of white vinegar.  The smell was not too pleasant.  After running a lot of water through it, I started using it again.  Within a day it started to act up, and once again I was commanded to 'Descale.'  I complied with the order, but the problem persisted.  It started taking a lot longer than a minute to make a cup of coffee.

I called the service line at Keurig, and the folks there recommended I try some other things to verify that there wasn't some other obstruction in the brewer.  After exhausting all their recommendations, they stated that I could receive a replacement brewer.  Wow.  Just like that, they sent me a replacement.  You can see the old and the new one below; the new one is on the right.

I did have to return one part of the old one to show that I was not just cheating them out of a new coffee maker.
My children were surprised that the company would just send out a new machine.  I explained to them that the money is not made in the machine but rather in the disposable parts which you have to purchase to use the machine.  Just like in a lot of medical supplies, like an intravenous pump, one has to keep going back to the manufacturer to buy the tubing and other gizmos which only fit on that pump.  Those little coffee thingies are just like the intravenous tubing.  I pointed out that while the coffee maker costs about $100, I probably spend two or three times that much per year on the little coffee cups.  The Keurig company could easily give out an occasional machine just to strengthen customer loyalty.

Of course, I did not start this blog entry to discuss coyotes, music, or economics.  Instead I needed a convenient place to record they type of coffee I ordered, and to record my impression of them so I could get the same type when I order more.

Right now I am drinking Vermont Country Blend Decaf, by Green Mountain Coffee.  It is good, not bitter, and can be drunk anytime with or without food.

Next up will be:

Tully's Decaf House Blend
Caribou Decaf Natural Blend
Timothy's Decaf Columbian
Green Mountain Decaf Breakfast Blend

Yes, all decaf.  No more caffeine in my coffee, unless I want to see my heart explode.  I used to be like this character, but not any more:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Classical Week: Day #3

All Smoke and No Music

Happy feast of St. Francis of Assisi!

When last we spoke, Waxahachie was burning.  We spent the day driving from one place to another, completing various tasks and appointments scheduled for today.  There was no classical music listened to during the day in the car; nor did the children at home listen to classical music.

We had a doctor's visit in Fort Worth in the morning, followed by a visit to the Apple Store in Dallas to figure out why one of the computers keeps signing out of whatever program the children are using.  In the midst of work, the computer will suddenly tell them that the program 'had to end without warning.'

We are getting well known at the Apple Store; you know you have made it when the concierge at the door greets you by name......

During and after our time in the land of Apple, some of us ate Mexican food at a local Chuy's.  All of the Apple employees were agitated in anticipation of the unveiling of the iPhone 4S, but I was out of there with a working computer within 30 minutes.

I spent the time it took to fix the computer building a car on the internet.

We went by a religious bookstore in Dallas to get some gifts for certain children who will be confirmed on Thursday.  While I was there, I bought a copy of the video Of Gods and Men; I reviewed it here on the blog.

As per our routine, we spent too much money.

Next, we revisited the business where we saw the fire up close.  The fire was still smoldering; even worse, it smelled as if it were July 5th in these parts, with the smell of incinerated fireworks permeating the atmosphere.  Thankfully, the odor did not overcome the 'new car smell' that we were also experiencing.

Here is a shot from the same lot where we took pictures.  The Environmental Protection Agency said everything was safe, but with the present administration in charge, why would one trust anything said by a federal agency?
It reminds me of two of the worse things one can hear:
One, "I am from the U.S. Government."
Two, "I am here to help you."

Run if you hear either of them.

I have taken quite a number of interesting pictures with my trusty iPhone.  Around here, the weather has been particularly harsh on trees.  If it is not the ice storms bringing them down, it is heavy winds or tornadoes.  Take a look at the trunk on this tree:

I have seen some other fires as well, especially with the high temperatures and drought we had this summer.  Here is a fire somewhere south of Fort Worth:

Here is another one, up in Grand Prairie:

All these fires around us - there was one bad one a few miles from our house - got me to thinking about how I would evacuate the family in the event of a grass fire.  I recall reading about the Mann Gulch Fire up in Montana, and how a fire can spread so quickly when wind and other factors come into play.

Sobering thoughts.  I'd rather think of music, but I shall provide a few more pictures for your consideration:

 I believe 'Tweeting' is where one sends status updates to people so they can 'follow' what one is doing.  I don't do Twitter because I am just not that interesting, nor inclined to tell everything I am doing all day long.

I took this picture at a hospital.  It makes one think that one should saunter down the stairs and out the exit rather than bolting down the stairs and sprinting for the way out.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Classical Week: Day #2

What a Long, Strange Trip Today Has Been.

It started out okay, with me on vacation this week and a list of tasks and appointments to accomplish.  First we began by taking some of the children to Mass; afterwards we had a bouquet of roses blessed in honor of St. Therese of Liseaux.

Then things got a little interesting.  Our next stop was to a doctor's office in Fort Worth, and as we started driving there, we noticed this interesting cloud formation to the South/Southeast of us:

That's down where we live; we were about thirty miles from where we live when I snapped this picture.  It was the only cloud in the sky, and I suddenly noticed that it extended all the way to the ground and was also projecting above the flattened top of the cloud.  This was no ordinary cloud; it was the smoke from a fire.  We called home and asked if they could see a fire or smoke, and the children at home reported seeing smoke in the distance to the Southeast of our house.  We continued on our way, confident that we had seen the end of that.

Our visit to the doctor ended before it could even begin.  The office building as well as all the other buildings on that block had a power outage while we waited to be seen.  We decided to reschedule, and took off for our home.  On the way, I persuaded my lovely wife to make a side trip to do a little 'window shopping' at a business down in Waxahachie - which just happens to be Southeast of our home.

As we started on our way, we noticed that the cloud had not dispersed; in fact, it appeared to be growing.  After several close calls with grass fires on top of our drought and 100+ temperatures, we started to think that maybe this was more than just a 'normal' fire.  Here is a picture we took from about 20 miles from the fire, as we unknowingly headed toward it:

Even the little Moose who lives in the front of the van seemed concerned.  We did not know that the fire was very close to our destination in Waxahachie - nor did we know that people were being evacuated from the area because of concerns with the chemicals which were on fire.  We did not have our radio on, as we were complying with our week-long experiment of only listening to classical music.  We continued on, listening to Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," as we drew closer to the fire.

When we got to our destination, we were surprised that someone did not come out and greet us while we looked around the car lot.  Our children who were with us noticed that the television was still on in the lobby, but no one was around.  The place was deserted; this was extremely unusual for this kind of business.

We were about a half mile or less from the fire, and could see flames licking up out of the mass of confusion on the ground.  To us, it appeared that a lot of the fire trucks were spraying the fire from too far away.  Only later did we learn why they were doing that.  After we finished our window shopping, we headed home.  Upon our arrival, we found out that the area had been evacuated because of concerns for the chemicals burning and forming in the cloud above us.  Great.

Then things got really exciting at home.

If you recall, this whole blog entry was to report on our classical music experiment.  Well, the children at home reminded me that Fr. L- had said that the experiment required listening to Mozart continually, not just any classical music.  Of course, we don't have a lot of Mozart, so that posed a problem.  I argued that classical music was sufficient.  The children then wanted to know what defines 'classical' music.  They argued that Gregorian Chant was not classical; I argued that it was good enough and old enough to qualify as 'classical' music.

Next, I was presented with a piece which I recognized as being written by Andrew Lloyd Weber.  I nixed it as being too modern.  The same went for a classical music piece as played on an Electric Cello.

Music volume was then discussed.  Some argued that it must be loud enough to hear it.  I argued that it should be used as background music.  Several countered that one could not hear it unless everyone remained silent, which was impossible in our house.  I responded that playing classical music loud would make everyone raise his voice to be heard, resulting in a tremendous discordant cacophony.  I could see where I could lose this argument, so I pre-emptively ended it by mentioning that what really bothered me was how nobody had gotten up to do their chores which were supposed to be completed by then.

I shall leave the conversation about what they play when they practice piano for another day.

Here is a video showing why the fire trucks were so far back from the fire:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Classical Week: Day #1

About a week ago, I attended a Parish Youth Group meeting where the pastor spoke about an experiment using classical music.  In this experiment, Fr. L- claimed, classical music was piped into one chamber, while rock music was played in another chamber.  Connecting these two boxes was a tunnel, and as soon as rock music started playing, all the mice (or was it rats?) would scurry off to the box featuring classical music.  Padre mentioned other experiments, including one where the rock and roll groupies ate one another, but I shall not go into more of that kind of stuff.

What struck my children and I was one experiment where classical music was played as background music.  It had a soothing effect on the people exposed to this music, and made their home a much nicer place to live.  In short, music helped to form the culture of that family in a favorable way.  So last night (Saturday) my children suddenly mentioned that they would like to take part in the experiment - starting the next day.  That would be today.

Carolyn and I were very interested in participating in this experiment.  We have noticed that the children who live at home have developed a hankering for both types of music - Country and Western - and some of it has caused us some concern.  I even started listening to the lyrics and telling the children that some songs are not appropriate for their listening.  Heck, a lot of it is not appropriate for my listening....

Our little unscientific experiment is not about lyrics.  As Father L- said, never mind the lyrics.  A lot of the music is detrimental on a more basic level.  To paraphrase (badly) his thesis, one must consider how Man and Music have parallels in their construction.  For Man, the Intellect informs the Will, which then directs the Body.  This is how one attains an ordered life, where the Body is subject to the direction of the Intellect and Will.  In Music, Melody creates Harmony, which then directs the Rhythm of the piece of music.  This is how one attains an ordered piece of music, where the lower part is subject to the higher parts.  Unfortunately rock music - and even most contemporary country music - put rhythm ahead of melody and harmony, creating disorder.  When Man puts Body before Intellect and Will, an even greater disharmony occurs.

Our experiment will be to see if playing classical music rather than rock or country will help influence our family in a positive way, encouraging all of us to put Melody and Harmony, or Intellect and Will, ahead of Body and Rhythm.

So what's with the aircraft at the top of this blog?  Well, during the Life Chain event at church this afternoon, one of these things flew over.  I had never seen one in the air before, and it stopped me in the middle of an Ave Maria.  I still need a lot of work when an airplane can distract me from my prayers.

For the next week, I shall make some comment on how this little experiment is going.  Stay tuned!

And no, you can't follow me on Twitter!

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation
Now restored with the help of some cement!

Prayer to Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."

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