Monday, July 27, 2009

The Lithuanian Picnic -- A Final Farewell

Yesterday was the last Lithuanian picnic ~ both for the picnic organizers, the elderly sisters of the Immaculate Conception Convent in Putnam, Connecticut, and for me.

I invited Barbara to accompany my to the picnic.

We were both concerned that yesterday morning's rainy weather was to to last all day and follow us to Putnam. Fortunately, as soon as we left the area, so did the clouds and rain.

It was a gloriously warm day at the picnic, though rather humid, as is typical for this time of the year. But at least it was better than last year's picnic, which was overcast all day and threatening rain.

When we got there, we couldn't do the loterija right away because the Mass was still in progress. So we went to check out the vending booths instead.

One of the booths, Baltic Shop, had some new and very interesting jewelry. Many of the new designs were handmade items from Latvia.

While I am uncompromisingly and fiercely proud of my Lithuanian roots, I found myself not being able to resist this Latvian engagement ring. It's a 6th - 12th century reproduction of a ring that was worn by young girls. There are 7 silver tassels representing the 7 days of the week. The tassels are divided into 2 groups. The grouping of 4 represents the 4 seasons. And the grouping of 3 represents the sun, moon, and stars. Also, the dangling tassels are meant to ward off evil.

Because this was my last picnic I did not want to blow my last chance to get such a unique and unusual piece of jewelery. I even bought one fore Ariana so that she could have a memory of the picnic she had to miss.

Roma, Tony, and Michael joined us while I was making the purchase.

In the meantime, I happened to notice that the chow line was open. So I hurried down there to get my Lithuanian sausage dinner before Mass let out. Otherwise, I would have had to stand half an hour in line.

Neither nor Roma were interested in the sausage plate. It didn't look appealing to Barbara. And because Roma had eaten earlier, that was too much food for her.

I brought my plate to the picnic area behind the chicken dinner serving area. Barbara was rather surprised to see that some of the picnic tables had table cloths and blankets spread over them. She had never seen anything like that before.

Roma went off to get some kugelis (a baked potato pudding/cake that is a traditional Lithuanian dish). Barbara went to buy her ticket for the chicken dinner. And Tony and Michael had gone off to pursue their own agendas. Because she already had her own drink, I asked Barbara to get me a cup of the homemade fermented apple cider (which was included with the chicken dinner). I was thirsty, and the homemade cider was a bit on the hard side.

While Roma and Barbara were seated, I decided to take some pix. The fellow sitting behind Barbara was quite the joker. He was trying to do "bunny ears" behind Barbara's head as I was trying to take her pic.

No. Roma's not stern and grumpy. She is just squinting because she was sitting in the sun.

After we ate, Barbara and I went to the loterija, the chance game where you can win tons of prizes, while Roma went to look for Tony and Michael.

Sure, most of the prizes are sudas, which is Lithuanian for "shit," but there are some good ones to shoot for. And seeing the kids walking back to the picnic tables, carrying armloads of stuffed animals that they won in the loterija, gave me hope that the loterija was going to be as good and fun as ever.

Boy! Was I wrong! Really and disappointingly wrong.

Even though I had my usual good luck in selecting winning tickets, there weren't that many prizes to pick from. In fact, all the tables looked like they look at the end of the picnic ~ seriously picked over.

Also, the loterija was run a differently this time. Rather than just getting any prize that the volunteers would bring over, they said that we could select whatever we wanted because the prizes were not individually numbered like they were at other picnics past.

But it was so difficult to see what the prizes were and if they were indeed any good, especially those on the tables at the far end of the hall.

So we had the volunteer bring us promising-looking prizes only to find out, when we saw them close up, that they were, well, sudas.

It was really difficult trying to find something that we felt comfortable bringing home with us. And then the volunteer was getting so annoyed w/us that she reprimanded us: "Please make your selections and stick with them!"

(Well, she did ask for it when she told us to pick out own prizes. And it wasn't our fault that we couldn't the far-off prizes. If I were running the game, I would have consolidated all those pick-over prizes and placed them on the tables closest to the players.)

I tell you, that was the suckiest loterija ever. Normally I would spend at least $15 on tickets and bring home several bags of spoils. This time I only spent $5 and brought home just one bag. In fact, I regretted that I even spent that much and had to endure the agony of trying to find something nice among the sea of sudas.

One of the great highlights of the picnic was that I finally uncovered the "beer underground."

Even though the picnic is a dry, alcohol-free event, people do sneak booze in their coolers. And year years ago, after going to the Lithuanian picnic for over 10 years, I discovered that there was a covert Lithuanian booze-selling operation going on right on the convent grounds.

For 2 years I tried to find the booze truck. And finally yesterday I struck pay dirt.

It happened while Roma, Barbara, and I were sitting at the picnic table. We happened to notice a group of men at another table drinking beer. The bottles did not look like anything I had ever seen before. So I went up to the table as asked ~ in Lithuanian ~ if that was Lithuanian beer.

It was.

Wow! Where can I get some?

I was given instructions on how to locate the LBC ~ Lithuanian Beer Connection. While it was as cloak-and-dagger as giving a secret handshake while singing the Lithuanian national anthem backwards, it was still on the covert and discrete side.

What I had to do was to go to the vendor selling tee shirts and Lithuanian food and ask for the beer directly because the beer was not being displayed among the wares. It was all word-of mouth referrals.

Once I found the LBC, I had to practically run after him as he sprinting across the vending area and into the parking lot. From there the illicit deal was made. I gave the LBC $25 cash and scored half a case od assorted Lithuanian beers that came in pint bottles. The LBC was even kind enough to carry the bottles to my car.

After my covert contraband purchase, I made my way back to the vending area where I found Roma and Barbara in polite disagreement.

You see, Roma wanted to buy Barbara a ceramic figurine that she admired in order to show Barbara her gratitude and appreciation for all the help Barbara had given me. Roma tried to give Barbara the money to get the figurine while Barbara stubbornly refused.

So when I showed up, Roma gave me the money instead.

Roma gave me $10; the figurine was $12. I got the wheeler-deaer Russian vendor (whom we don't like, by the way) to sell it for me for $10.

Then Barbara saw a silver and amber lizard pin that she liked. We got Mr. Wheeler-Dealer to give us a price. Actually, it was a series of prices: "It goes for $45 wholesale. I can sell it for $32. I'll give it to you for $25."

Well, Barbara really liked the pin, but she only had a $20 bill. I offered to put it on my card and have Barbara pay me back. But Barbara had other thoughts.

"See if you can get him down to $20."


"How about if I give you $20 straight cash. No credit card hassles."

The Russian hemmed and hawed. And then he indignantly proclaimed, "You hurt my feelings!"

But he did take the $20 in exchange for the pin, grumpily adding, "This is a tough crowd today!"

When we told Roma the story, she nearly peed her pants and died of hysterics.

"You hurt his feelings, too? I hurt his feelings 2 years ago and he still lets me know that. Hah! Hurt his feelings! He doesn't have any feelings."

As with any Lithuanian picnic, one is bound to run into familiar faces. Yesterday was no different. However, I tried to avoid them as long as I could. It's not that I did not want to talk to them and say "Hi," it's just that I wanted to do it on my own time and terms, when I felt good and ready for such an exchange.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way. I accidentally ran into Aldona. But that was OK; she was one of the easy ones to deal with.

Then I ran into Gerveliene. She was a tougher one. Both she and our mother were friends in England, and the their children grew up together.

She can sometimes be a bit sour and opinionated, and as such I try to avoid her until I am good and ready.

Gerveliene was with her oldest son, Alvidas, who was Roma's old childhood friend, and whom I had not seen in almost 40 years. They had a female friend from Lithuania with them. Alvidas was quite impressed that I had scored Lithuanian beer and was interested in finding the LBC.

I still had not seen Vytukas (AKA Vito), my "diaper buddy." He is Gerveliene's 3rd son and he was the first friend that I ever had. Our friendship goes back to the time when we were still in diapers, hence "diaper buddy."

Frankly, I wasn't all that crazy about seeing Vito. With each passing year he has gotten increasingly rude, critical, and bitter. And talking with him was, unfortuantely, no longer as pleasant and fun as it used to be.

I would have been content not to speak with him. But because this was going to be my last Lithuanian picnic, I felt that at least I owed him a token "Hello."

After spending some 3 hours at the picnic, Barbara and I decided that now would be a good time to head out.

As we were leaving the parking lot, I spotted Vito in a beach chair at his regular spot under the trees by the parking lot. So I stopped the car, rolled down the window, and called to him.

He was a rude as ever. When I told him that I was going away, that I was leaving for Texas, he said "Good."

I called out again, "Hey, Vito."

As he turned around and looked, I gave him the middle finger and drove off.


WaterFire is a feast for the five senses that is no small feat to pull off, requiring great effort and planning, and logistical gymnastics in order to yield a memorable experience that is pure magic.

It's an event that is in its 15th season in Providence. And finally, this past Saturday night, I got to experience some of that magic myself.

Barbara received an invitation to celebrate the festivities at the V.I.P. tent of one of WaterFire's corporate sponsors.

While there were plenty of food and beverage venues at WaterFire, there was nothing like free food and being waited on hand and foot.

The food was sinfully excellent ~ succulent jumbo shrimp cocktails that just kept coming at us, piquant empanadas with a pleasantly spiced dipping sauce, gourmet pizzas of all sorts, fresh juicy berries, salmon and capers hors d'oeuvres, an assortment of favorable cheeses and spreads, cucumber finger sandwiches, oozing honeycombs, decadent desserts, etc.

And there was an unlimited open bar.

We got there at around 7:30 PM. The sun had not gone down yet.

One of the popular attractions at WaterFire are the gondola rides along the river.

WaterFire is in the heart of downtown Providence,

which comes alive when the sun goes down.

Barbara enjoyed her virgin WaterFire experience as much as I did.

From where we sat at the V.I.P. tent, we could see the flames of WaterFire flickering through the legs of the folks viewing it from the bridge that crossed College Street. (The V.I.P. tent was right in the middle of College Street.)

Leaving the confines of the V.I.P. tent I was treated to this spectacular view from the College Street Bridge.

In addition to the flaming braziers on the water, there was a procession of flaming torches.

The torch-bearers marched passed us as they crossed over the bridge to the other side.

What was to be their final destination?

WaterFire was truly a feast to the five senses.

There was the visual display of the fire on the water ~ the artful combination of two opposing elements ~ and the bright blue illuminated stars that hung from trees and dotted the landscape.

The sense of smell was engaged by the pine and cedar burning in the braziers as well as the whiffs of tasty aromas from the tent caterer.

Beautiful music, piped in from over 2 miles of heavy audio cable to the 60+ installed speakers, and the crackling of wood-burning fires stimulated the sense of hearing.

The sense of taste was represented by the many delicious foods and beverages that Barbara and I sampled at the V.I.P. tent.

And the sense of touch was all around us ~ from the cool breezes that gave relief to the warm and clingy humid air to the feel of the wine glass in my hand.

The beauty that is Providence at night truly came alive with WaterFire.

Moth Moments

About one and a half weeks ago, I saw this white moth. I had first thought that she hatched out of the black chrysalis that is to the left of her and that she was just hanging out on the porch to allow her wings to harden before she could fly off.

But she was still there the following day. And when I saw the egg casing that was growing underneath her, I realized the error of my assumptions.

She was there the following day, showing no signs of moving, and no sign of stopping her egg-laying process.

By now I was hooked. I was curious about the egg-laying process, fascinated by how so many eggs could fit inside that small body. The egg casing could have easily weighed twice her weight.

It's a slow process that has been taking several days.

This picture was taken this morning, about 11 days after I discovered Mama Moth on my porch.

She's still going at it. When will this process end?

And when it does end, so will Mama Moth's life.

It's amazing ~ and a bit sad ~ to think that some creatures' lives are solely geared towards reproduction and that their fleeting lives end immediately upon the completion of their life purpose.

Birth. Reproduction. Death.

That is a moth's life.

How fortunate we are as human beings to have long wide pauses, filled with countless events and rites of passage, in between these very defined states.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blessing In Disguise

Recent family events have almost paralleled the ancient Chinese folktale of the lost horse.

The tale goes as follows:

A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events.

One day, for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?"

Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a disaster?"

Their household was richer by a fine horse, which his son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?"

A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men.

Only because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each other.

Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.

Our disaster was that Neil broke his foot. And this followed his being told by his boss that things were slow, and as such, he didn't know how much longer he could keep Neil on.

Now that was not good.

And it got even worse.

Because Neil's foot had not been healing properly, he was scheduled to have surgery on it Friday.

But that had to be delayed because the pre-op tests revealed that Neil had a left bundle
branch block, which he already knew that he had. But because it was a heart condition, the surgery could not proceed until Neil had a stress test and received the cardiologist's blessing to go ahead with the surgery.

Neil had the stress test Monday. Some abnormalities showed up. They could have been merely artifacts from the testing, or they could have been something more severe ~ blockages.

An angiogram was scheduled for Tuesday ~ yesterday ~ to determine what those anomalies actually were.

No sooner had I walked in through the door at 2:30 yesterday afternoon, I heard the phone ring. I did not even have time to clean up the massive pet accidents that I encountered in the library.

It was Neil on his cell phone, calling from the hospital.

He called to tell me that the angiogram found that he had four blockages and that he was scheduled for open-heart surgery ~ a quadruple bypass ~ for the very next day!

Now thinking back to the misfortune of Neil having broken his foot last month, it was now obvious that this disaster was a blessing in disguise.

If Neil had not broken his foot and had the pre-op diagnostic tests, no one who have known that he was a walking time bomb until it was too late. That wretched accident had actually alerted him of a far more serious and life-threatening condition.

So, if the broken foot turned out to be a blessing in disguise, what about the discovery of Neil's blockages and the ensuing surgery to correct them?

Could this perhaps be an opportunity to start anew as Neil views it to be?

Only time will tell how this contemporary retelling of a classic Chinese folktale plays out.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Grocery Bags Gone Green

What do you get from several months of collecting plastic grocery bags, cutting them into skinny plastic rings to be knotted together to make "plarn" (which is short for "plastic yarn"), and then crocheting them for countless hours?

This is what you get.

Nice, huh?

Revenge of the FURminator

When I can home yesterday, I discovered that the FURminator I had on the coffee table in the living room was on the couch instead.

Not only was this handy pet grooming tool relocated, its blade guard was missing and nowhere to be found.

Did one of the dogs eat it, perhaps?

Anyhow, the FURminator had its revenge this morning.

Look at all the dog fur on the porch!

And there would have been more if the dogs weren't so squirmy and my arm not so tired from all that brushing.

I bet there's enough fur to make another dog.

A Tale of Two Fridays

The only reason I'm writing about two Fridays is that I had tons of pictures and did not get around to blogging in a timely manner.

The first Friday was last week, the 3rd of July.

Carol and I had gone to Linda and Gordy's (Ryan's aunt and uncle) in Marion for dinner and a ride on Gordy's work boat to watch the fireworks in Marion Harbor.

After days of rain, Friday was a blessedly beautiful day as evidenced by the nearly cloudless sky overlooking Marion harbor. (Linda and Gordy have a great view from their upper deck.)

That's Linda and Gordy's private dock as seen from one end of their deck.

The blue boat is Gordy's work boat, while the smaller one is the boat that Ryan normally takes out on the water.

In fact, there's Ryan, with his friend Audra, getting ready to shove off on the smaller boat.

Guess it was more fun being on a boat with a friend than hanging around with a bunch of "old farts" at the house. LOL

Here's Carol and our gracious hostess Linda. (Sorry that the pic got a little blurred.)

Carol is making friends with either Sierra or Destiny. (I often cannot tell them apart unless they are together.)

Linda's Dad, Lester, has his dog Puggy in his lap while Ryan's kitten (and Callee's brother and litter mate) Blade looks on.

Grandpa Les and Ryan sharing a bonding moment with their pets. (And Ryan did make it back just before dinner.)

Linda's daughter Wendy joined the fun with her Bernese Mountain Dog "pup" Gus. Gus is about one and half years old and filled with boundless energy.

I couldn't resist this pic of Gus with the goofy tongue.

Sierra or Destiny looking a bit pensive. But don't let that forlorn look fool you. The doggies had a great time visiting with their doggie cousins. It seems as though my house isn't the only place where you can find a swinging dog party!

Now I know that's Destiny because I remember Linda yelling her to get away from the pallets, which are used to block off and protect a nest of baby bunnies that were found in the yard.

As beautiful as the sky was when we arrived to Linda and Gordy's, the fog rolled in once the sun went down. And this was all that we've been able to see of the fireworks.

But despite the disappointing fireworks and the rather chilly harbor, it was still very nice to get out on the water.

And even more important than that, the company was extremely pleasant. We had a wonderful time despite the lack of cooperation that weather gave us.

Anyhow, that concludes the Tale of the First Friday. Now let's move onto the second Friday, which was yesterday.

It was a full day, the kind I appreciate especially since it's often a challenge to find things that will keep me occupied. (And it's an even bigger challenge trying to find things to occupy me that don't cost any money.)

Yesterday I drove down to Providence to visit with Julian, a dear old friend whom I have not seen in several years. (He claims that it's been about 10 years.)

Our first order of business was to stuff our guts.

I wanted to go to Wes's Rib House in the Olneyville section of Providence. Wes's Rib House is famous for it's giant finger-licking pork ribs. And the price of an excellent gut-busting meal won't break the bank either.

Unfortunately, the only negative thing about Wes's Rib House is that it's in a less than desirable neighborhood. But then again, that may not be a bad thing. After all, if Wes's Rib House were located in a much safer and nicer area, it's delicious meals would have not been as easily affordable.

Anyhow, both Julian and I were sated. It was one of the best meals either one of us has had. And what's even greater is that I had oodles of left-overs to bring home and enjoy again the next day.

After eats, I decided that I wanted to stop at the Bubble Tea House on Westminster Street (just past my old high school ~ Classical High). I had been wanting to try bubble tea ever since I read about it in the Providence Monthly.

For those of you who haven't heard of bubble teas (And I was once in that boat, too.), bubble tea is a tea beverage that contains tapioca balls at the bottom of the cup.

In this case, the tapioca balls were large black pearls that were slightly larger than the size of a pea. You sip the drink through a very wide straw so that you could suck up and enjoy the chewy tapioca pearls along with your drink.

Bubble tea comes in all sorts of imaginable flavors. I was struggling to decide between passion fruit and durian flavored bubble tea. Durian won out. Julian picked a less exotic flavor ~ chocolate mocha.

Anyhow, Julian was up to some adventure of the libation persuasion. And it was a good thing too, because his chocolate mocha bubble tea knocked his socks off so much that the Hubble telescope has last seen them shooting past Pluto!

And I loved my beverage as well. It was tasty, refreshing, and fun.

(Next time I go back to Providence, I will have to stop at the Bubble Tea House. And maybe then I'll get the passion fruit bubble tea.)

Following that, we drove to Roger Williams Park.

We were going to visit the zoo, but when we got there it was 3:30, and the zoo was going to close in half an hour. So rather than fork over good money for just half an hour of gawking at the animals (which were probably hiding from the heat), we ambled over to the pond to watch the swan boats, swimming geese and turtles.

Here's my old pal Julian on the bench by the pond.

There were geese all around us. It was so amazing to see all these wild animals so unafraid of humans. We practically had to step over napping geese just to get to the park bench.

Anyhow, this gaggle was making its way to the pond.

And there they all, all in a straight line.

There were two long regimented lines of geese swimming in the pond.

And as we watched, we saw that they were circling the swan boat. It sort of reminded me of those old western movies where the band of Indian raiders would circle around a lone covered wagon in the middle of the prairie.

Here's a small placid group of geese, just before they got involved in the goose raid on the swan boat.

It was rather warm sitting out by the pond, especially since the benches were out in full sun.

So, as we walked back to my car, I had to stop and get a small frozen lemonade to wet my whistle (which doesn't work because I can't whistle).

I drove Julian back to the Veteran's Transition House where he has a room. And from there I drove to Mam's house, so that I could very briefly kill some time before heading out to the opening of Collective Access, an art show featuring the artwork of the key members of the AS220 Print Shop, of which my nephew, Michael, is a part of.

The gallery was a small space. So when I got in, it was very easy to spot Michael right away. He was in the middle of the room, with his white-gloved hands looking slightly out of place with his sharp black suit.

The gloves were not part of a homage to the late Michael Jackson, but to protect the portfolio of art work that Michael was handling and showing gallery visitors.

Michael is an amazingly talented artist who specializes in print making. Not only does he have well-honed technical skills, he has a great eye for composition that is often expressed in a wonderfully quirky manner.

This rabbit print is one of my favorites. (Michael said that it's a favorite of a lot of people.) The composition sort of reminds me of Michael's self-portraits.

Very simple, yet richly detailed.

The vulture is an interesting focal point. But also look very carefully at the fingers.

Self-portrait in typical "Michael" style.

A massive print-making machine.

Very organic.

And this is not an actual photo but a composite of two photos, which were taken in two separate rooms. (I just wanted to have some fun with digital photo manipulation in order to maintain practice.)

All in all, yesterday was a very busy day.

But it was not over yet.

I got home at around 7:30 PM, and was very pleased that I did not find ANY pet accidents in the house.

As happy as they were to see me, and as hungry as they were the dogs were anxious to uncross their legs and run outside to the bathroom.

Half an hour later Barbara showed up with three of her dogs. And though she did not bring any dog cookies with her, the dogs still had a dog party.

However, Barbara brought me a nice treat ~ authentic baklava from Lebanon that was given to her from one of the hospital residents who very recently came back from a trip to Lebanon.

It was very good.