Saturday, October 28, 2006

Another Word or Two on American Dumpster

For those of you who come to this site for local music news, I did have the pleasure of seeing Charlottesville-legends-in-the-making American Dumpster again tonight.

As predicted in the 9/25 posting here, some implosion has occurred. There have been some changes in the band's lineup since last month. Tonight's show offered a new bassist and new keyboardist. The bassist has played with Corey Harris and TR3 and is a force of nature. He does that cool bassist thing of hardly moving at all while changing the pattern of your heartbeat. Kind of Zen if you ask me.

The keyboardist had the musical gifts, but was missing that Dumpster moxie. Much of the Dumpster voodoo is centered on their unique and intense interaction with each other and the audience. If you're gonna' play with this band, you need to be down with that volatile and beautiful mojo. That said, I look forward to seeing what happens with the lineup in coming months.

You should, too. Turn off your television. Put down that issue of the New Yorker. Stop listening to that same old tired Paul Simon CD from the '80s and get your fanny out to hear some live music. American Dumpster is never the same twice. You never know what you'll get, and that is half the fun.

Tonight they were laid back on a rainy night in Richmond. I've seen them blowing the ceiling ot of Bogart's Back Room with their energy. Some of my buds have seen them verge on levitation at times, and at others almost splatter into an unrecognizable pile of random instrument fragments.

Moody, infectious, unpredictable, addictive. Now that's music.

Outed at American Dumpster show... and everywhere else

The day started off really mellow. I packed my very first lunch for my son. (He stood at my elbow piping up with encouraging comments like, "You're doing good work, mama.") My daughter and I spent three hours with my hair performance artist, Melissa. I had good soup for lunch... a mellow day all in all.

And then I was outed.

Over and over I was outed by different people on different things - the cumulative effect being a complete and total creepout on my part. I felt like everywhere I went I was recognized today. It was disconcerting.

Part of this is due to last night's airing of "Irreconcilable Differences" a PBS documentary on the proposed amendment to the VA Constitution. I had a small part in it, but managed not to look the fool. My congregation and others gave me all kinds of positive reinforcement, which was the highlight of the day.

I also saw people at various establishments and venues who recognized me from any number of events or connections. But that is just typical Richmond. Live here as long as I have, and that will happen to you on a daily basis, too.

But the killer was meeting the frontman for American Dumpster. We've met in passing several times, but tonight was the first time we have had a conversation. When he sat down beside me I thought, "Cool. I can't wait to ask him how Floyd Fandango was. Or we can talk about the contrast between the C-ville and Richmond music scenes. Or maybe I'll ask that burning question about the lyrics in..."

None of that happened. Within 90 seconds he said, "You're the reviewer."

"Um, no... I..."

"Five Bands in Two Nights?" (See my 9/25 posting)

"Yeah. How did you... uh...?"

"Hunh. I thought you were a dude. Weird. Check your comments. I sent you one a day or two ago."

"Oh! I... Er..." And with that the conversation was over. He went up to do his Dumpster voodoo and I sat there pondering the power of words and technology. It's some freaky stuff.

Just in case this is the beginning of a trend in my life now that I have put my Luddite ways behind me, let me just get a few things out there in the ether and see what happens...

1) I am counting the days until the Lucero concert at Alley Katz on Nov.15 and would be happy to shine the band's shoes or make them cookies.

2) A trip to Venice would not spoil me.

3) My congregation would REALLY like a $60,000 music program and just 5 philanthropists could make it happen.

So there you go. A few wishes out there. Feel free to send me yours.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Adventure Circle - Guest Blogger

I invited a guest blogger to chronicle the latest outing of the Adventure Circle. Doug is a grown man with the spirit of a four year old imp, at least so his wife and my four year old imp say. Doug showed unbelievable enthusiasm and creativity in our "fun and games" activity and here's what he has to say about it all...

So, the Adventure Circle had a laid back, close-to-the-Church-in-the-park outing last weekend. Small but jovial group, taking advantage of the minutes before the outing to take a second (or first!) look at Gallery (our church's mammoth annual juried art show). Some enjoying the beauty of the art, others jealous because they don't have a creative bone in their bodies, and still others exhibiting a little of both...

Off to the park on a BEAUTIFUL fall day. The tone for the day was set by Seymour (a stuffed animal, but oozing inherent worth and dignity) who proved that he could jump and run just like the human giants. Seymour came to our world from that famous toy store called Moopsie...gotta check that place out.

Well if Seymour can be a real adult, we adults can be real kids! When it come to games, The Rev. and her Little Man (age 4) come up with endless variations on old themes, just to keep things fresh. Harder to do with old bones than with young ones! Some really lame singing that we won't go into here. Hide and seek brings out everyone's true colors . Some are just doing their best to hide (OK, Rev., the crouching down in the middle of the field wasn't really trying...).
Others are transported into the world of camouflaged Army Rangers hiding from the enemy troops...doing anything to disguise their whereabouts, looking under the bark for bugs for nutrition if they are stranded in their hiding place for days on end before they can be rescued...Oh... Seymour found me.

Oh well, back to reality. It was a nice escape...

Members of the group greet each other on Sunday, not to say what a wonderful time they had, but to admit quietly to each other that their muscles really hurt after all of that! Betcha Seymour was doing fine...

Another Better Way To Remember

Notes from the Exhibit Hall of the Annual National Funeral Directors' Convention, part 5

It was inevitable. You had to know that technology was going to eventually insert itself into American death rituals. It should be a surprise to no one. Right? Well, guess what? The techno-revolution is being vehemently resisted by many funeral directors, particularly those in ole' Virginny. I have no fear in writing that because this is a BLOG. Those in question don't even know what a BLOG is.

"Hey, Buford. Isn't a blog one of those arterial things that messes with the embalming process?"
"Naw, Winslow. A blog is that smell when there's too much water underground at the cemetery."

To all the techno-savvy funeral directors, Bufords, and Winslows out there, please accept my apologies. I don't mean you, but YOU know who I'm talking about. These guys just got a fax machine to send their handwritten obits to the newspaper. These are the guys who still only let women answer the phones or do the hair at the funeral home. Cutting edge to them is piping in some music on a... GASP!... CD during the visitation hours. And there are DOZENS of them in Virginia and thousands elsewhere. You know if a Luddite like yours truly is rolling her eyes at them, they gotta' be pathetic.

So Little Miss Luddite galavanted off to the National Funeral Directors' Convention looking for some twenty-first century innovations to bring back to the hinterlands. It would appear that the horizon line of innovation in the funeral industry is web remembrance companies. And, as with the other installments in this series, I think I found the most UU friendly of the bunch. There were 15 web-related exhibitors in the program. I found two favorites, but they are very different.

From the creator of is This website caters to all things for the over 50 crowd. It's a hip site and has hip marketing. Not a hint of fogey as far as I could tell. One aspect of the site is the obit/memorial section. This appeared relatively easy to use and appealed to the low-tech in me. The obit/memorial area of the site has many purposes and is worth a browse to see if your high school nemesis is still alive, to check out the archives for your grandma's obit from 1983, or to find how obits are written if you have neither a paper nor a funeral director handy. (Personally, I strive never to be without one or the other.)

The company that really lit me up, though, was Now, you may go to the site and be wondering what on earth I'm talking about, so let me give you a little tutorial about the possibilities first. This company offers two options - a web memory repository and a tangible book (available in different styles and formats. ) The web part can include stories, memories, music, and photos. The books put the photos and some of the writings together. It sounds really simple, but the possibilities are very powerful.

First, this is very helpful for out-of-towners, those who missed the service, or people who find out much later about the death. The order of service, the eulogy, stories from friends, the obituary, and photos can all be posted.

Secondly, many sites do not offer the possibilities for input and creativity that Timeless Memories does. Be sure to check out the sample memorial they have, but bring your hankies. It was designed by the mother and sister of a young man who died this year, presumably by suicide. I teared up looking at it in the exhibit hall. It is very personal, much more so than other sites are willing to be. But, fear not, your entry is also password protected.

Finally, and most importantly, this company is relatively new and they are creative thinkers. When I approached their chief technology officer, Aaron Kelley, and asked him what kind of non-traditional elements could be added for Unitarian Universalists, he was not only open but enthusiastic. This company appears to be willing to investigate what we would be interested in, and designing things accordingly. In other words, less gulls and crosses at sunset, more Emerson quotes and multicultural influences.

As for the books TimelessMemories offer, they are lovely in person. Think Hollywood biography in their look. Very professional. See my previous post "A Better Way to Remember" for why on earth you would want a book.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Better Way to Remember

Notes from the floor of the Annual National Funeral Directors' Convention part 4

She was really thrilled to meet me. In a relieved gasp she cried, “You get IT!” I think maybe some of the funeral directors were not getting IT. She had spent two days in a giant exhibit hall trying to explain IT to hundreds of people who don't get IT. She was right: I get IT. In fact I get it so much I incorporate IT into some of my presentations to funeral directors and... they still don't get IT.

The IT in question is scrapbooking for funerals. Lots of people don't get it. Funeral directors, families, other church members don't understand why anyone would want a scrapbook instead of a register book, or a scrapbook at all. They haven't seen her scrapbooks for one thing. Jacqueline Bokor and her company TheirLifeStory design, manufacture, and sell stunningly beautiful scrapbooks for funerals and memorial services. Here's a little crash course in why anyone would want one of these books.

Generally the family has three sources of contact with those offering their condolences.
1) There are cards and flowers which arrive for the service or at the home.
2) There are face-to-face visits which are supplemented by signing one's name in a register book at a visitation or at the service.
3) Then there are calls and emails.

In reverse order I'll give you the reasons I believe bereaved loved ones are better served by a scrapbook than by all of these.

Calls and emails are the easiest way for the comforter to offer their comfort and condolences, but they can be a real hassle to the bereaved. The phone rings off the hook. Who has time to check email with all the other necessary tasks after a death? Then, when they do get on the phone or on the email, the bereaved has two choices:
1) be authentic at the risk of not finishing sentences, suddenly crying, or not making sense; or 2) comfort the comforter by making the call as easy for the caller as possible. "We're OK. No, we don't need anything. Yes, we love you, too."

I don't know anyone who wants to inflict this choice intentionally on a grieving person. Calls and emails are good if brief and well-timed, but they are not enough.

Face-to-face visits are optimal for many reasons, but they have the drawback of impaired human memory in a time of crisis. If you have ever been through the death of someone close, you may know how nice it is to see people and hear their thoughtful words. It is also nearly impossible to remember at a later date what they said, or sometimes if they were even there. So one goes to a register which offers nothing but names, half of which you can't read or don't recall how they knew Mama in the first place.

Which brings us to cards and flowers. These are good because they last for awhile, are tangible, and can be referred to as many times as needed. As UUs, however, we often have trouble finding cards appropriate to our beliefs and many UUs feel flower tributes are wasteful. Enter the scrapbook.

The way Jacqueline's company does it is - people who would like to leave a special message for the family are given an envelope addressed to the family. Inside the envelope is an elegant piece of paper on which to write a memory of the deceased. There is also some cardboard to protect the paper from the voracious postal machines that eat mail. People are encouraged to take these home and think awhile before writing and sending back to the family.

In the following days and weeks, the envelopes start coming back at the same time as some of the more unpleasant mailings one gets after a death. Each day, memories and well wishes of friends and family start showing up at the door. These are then compiled and easily create a beautiful book. The result is more than a scrapbook. It becomes an archive of who someone was to those who loved them.

The grieving family can look at the words of their friends and loved ones when they are ready to. They will be able to absorb what others have to say more fully. They will also be able to feel whatever feelings come up from the sharing of these words in the privacy of their own home while looking through the book. And the book can be shared with those who couldn't come to the funeral, or in years to come with those who were too young to remember.

These scrapbooks are much nicer than any I've seen in catalogues, scrapbook stores, or craft shops. They were designed by professional artists and it shows. They are very classy and dignified with a nineteenth century beauty about them. You want to touch and to open these books. I have been doing scrapbooks with some of my families for years now, and Jacqueline's books are infinitely better.

Although you won't get the full effect, check them out at And if you like them, send Jacqueline an email. She'll be glad to know someone else gets IT.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Urns: There IS something better than Tupperware!

Notes from the Floor of the Annual National Funeral Directors' Convention, Part 3

As a UU minister, I took particular interest in the urn displays of the annual convention of the National Funeral Directors’ Association. With the majority of UUs choosing cremation, and the paucity of appropriate and UU friendly container choices in my region, I was on a mission to find some good urns. Mission accomplished.

There were many absolutely beautiful urn displays on the floor of the exhibit hall. Glass is big this year with Italian and Czech styles being the most beautiful and least likely to scream from your mantle: “Granny’s in HERE!” Metal continues to look cold and sterile, and even sometimes like a bloated martini shaker. Wooden boxes are still wooden boxes. But I am pleased to say, there is more out there. Much more. Below are the best urns I found and the artisans who create them. I have included contact information and web addresses.

In the Pottery urn category, I was incredibly impressed by the beauty of the burnished urns of Pennsylvania’s own David Greenbaum. David has been a potter for decades, but has only recently turned to making urns. Instead of glazes, he uses a burnishing technique best known in Native American pottery and created by rubbing a stone across the surface of the pottery to bring varying degrees of polish out.

Some of his urns have carving that has a Southwest Native American feel to it. But his vessels are not copies nor are they derivative. In the firing process Greenbaum burns leaves and other natural products to give the clay effects that look like grass as seen through water, or curly maple patterns, or even markings that look like Japanese calligraphy. What I liked about these vessels was their unique beauty (no two are the same), but also how they are evocative of living things. See David's work on his website or at his store in Milford, PA.

In the wood category, there was a Georgia wood artist who made stunning urns from recovered wood. His card has disappeared but I'm checking for him via NFDA. There was an Italian company making urns out of inlaid wood that were unlike anything I have seen on these shores. They can be found at Most of the big urn companies have a lot of wood selections, but none were very striking this year. 2006 is not a smashing year for wooden urns.

The most amazing find and the one I want everyone on the East and West Coasts to order TODAY are the salt urns from Marcs Urnas Bach. These look like marble urns. They are geometric and stern looking. I wouldn’t have fallen for them on appearance alone. But I saw the words “Eco Sal” and stopped. These urns are made from salt and are made solely for the purpose of interment at sea.

I am an ash scattering expert. It is a tricky business, and it should not be done at sea unless there is NO WIND. Trust me on this point. This is why in Barcelona, Spain (the home of Marcs Urnas Bach) they drop ashes still in the urn over the side of the boat. But as Ruben Tamarit, the Marcs Urnas Bach representative pointed out: urns often float. In Barcelona there are so many urns, floating or sunken, that they have to be gathered as sea debris. Garbage.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything less meaningful and closure shattering than the idea of my beloved’s remains floating back to shore, or being caught up in fishing nets to be returned to land in a trash heap.

So the good people of Barcelona’s own MUB invented the sea salt urn. It sinks with a satisfying plop and then it dissolves. Everything is dissolveable: the sides, the lid, the glue, and the bag in which the cremains are stored. It all dissolves in forty minutes. No garbage, no flying ash, no contamination.

Upon hearing these details, I was ecstatic. I tried to communicate my excitement to Ruben who then tried to translate it in Spanish to his business partner. My Spanish is not what it used to be but I caught the basic gist of Ruben’s translation, “In her religion, most of them cremate. She likes… A LOT.” You can say that again, Ruben. Check out the salt urns of Marcs Urnas Bach yourself at

In the spirit of sharing my secrets, I’ll add something I already knew about before I went to the convention. My buddy Brockwell (a former undertaker himself) met a man here in VA who offers a unique means of cremain disposition. He's all about skipping this container concern. This man can turn you into a pyrotechnic. Yes, a firecracker. And we’re not talking some little whistling sparkler. We are talking great big, full starburst, when it explodes everyone feels it in their chests, whammy of a KAPOW. Blow Daddy away on Independence Day.

Brockwell has fallen in love with this idea, and I must admit, it is starting to grow on me, too. It combines celebration, spectacle, and a great big boom. What could be a cooler ‘YAHOO' to life than that? I don’t know if this guy heads out of VA, but contact me if you want to learn more.

Raul and Dave: Cleaning Up

Notes from the floor of the Annual National Funeral Directors Convention, Part 2

File this in your alternate universe folder. Two of the most animated and engaging people I met at the convention were cleaners. Come on, you saw “La Femme Nikita”. You know: Cleaner? The cleaners in the movies have a violent streak and know the many uses of lye and acid. Real cleaners are more peaceful and law-abiding sorts, which in a way makes what they do all the creepier.

Dave operates Radical Restorations, Inc. and Raul is a manager at Assured Decontamination Services. They are both big strong men with shaved heads, attractive smiles, and palpable confidence. They both can climb into an OSHA approved plastic suit faster than I can put on a pair of panty hose. And they both have an intimate knowledge of what it takes to clean up the human brain when it violently leaves its safe nest of skull. They are cleaners.

Got it now?

When the worst things imaginable happen in your home, office, or building, these are the men you call. This is a part of death that funeral directors, cops, fire fighters, and some ministers know too much about. It’s the part of death which makes most people avoid the aforementioned professionals at cocktail parties for fear of overhearing details. It’s the mess the human body can make when it dies. And it is what Dave and Raul call a job.

I am a different kind of cleaner. I clean up what happens to those who survive the worst thing imaginable. Dave and Raul think my job is just as hard. That's a point to debate, but we had immediate rapport as the people who clean what others think is uncleanable. Raul is even a double cleaner, if there can be such a thing. His other job is as firefighter.

As you hopefully can imagine, I found it comforting to talk with people who had similar experiences to mine. Dave, Raul, and I shared stories of…

OK, maybe I shouldn’t go into detail here. Let me just say, we talked. We shared stories. We laughed. We said, “Yuk.” We got serious and kind of sad. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch. All in all, we had normal interactions that people have at a convention. When it comes to work, we just have a different idea of normal.

So here's to Dave and Raul. And here’s to hoping that their normal NEVER becomes yours.

National Funeral Convention 2006

Funeral Convention - Part 1

When thinking about Philly, most people imagine cheese steak, Ben Franklin, or the Italian Market. Having spent a few days there, Philly calls to my mind caskets, hearses, and eco-friendly cremation urns. That’s right, friends: Mama has just returned from the annual National Funeral Directors’ Convention and has she got some stories to tell!

I have an abundance of alternate universe moments I can share, because it is true – funeral directors are a different bunch of people from the rest of America. I personally find a lot of them to be cool or, at the very least, wickedly funny - but that may just be my thing. So I’ll give you a little of the strange funeral world stuff, but more importantly, I will let you in on the latest in funeral, cremation, memorial, and burial innovations. The next six installments of Auspicious Jots will be on UU friendly trends I discovered on the floor of the convention exhibit hall. Auspicious Jots does the leg work and you reap the rewards.

Speaking of funeral directors, I’d like to send out special congratulations to my dear friend Tommy Peters. Tommy was my first love in the funeral biz. He’s one of the best in the profession and is in possession of lengthy instructions should I meet my maker. As of Monday, he is also the proud daddy of Nicholas Gian Peters. Nicholas came in at a little over 7lbs, a little under 20”, and looking all the world like Daddy, they say. This could mean any number of things including: blonde haired and blue eyed, devilish, or drinking a beer. Nicholas brings the Peters family census to four. May they enjoy getting to know each other and, some day, may they sleep again.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Vespers 10/10 Home and Community

Our Vespers Readings were all on the subject of home and community. I was inspired to this topic by last week's Vespers in which several people talked about what they had seen on their way to the service which had given them pause.

One reading was by Kaaren Solveig Anderson called "Zaine's Fairy Wings." it touched on those who have moved away. The next meditative reading was on those who stay: the poem Still Life in Milford by Thomas Lynch.

Thomas Lynch is a funeral director, poet, writer, teacher, and kind person who answers his fan mail from ministers in Richmond, Virginia. He has a book of short stories to be published in '07.

Next week's Vespers will meet in the Great Hall due to the beginning of our annual juried art show, Gallery.

Ministers' Ball Rocked the House

Aw, you missed it! Mo' Debree kicked the tunes out like nobody's business. (Lead singer Kelli Moss has THE voice and her boys were sounding great.) Dance floor was full most of the night. The raffles had great prizes. And we all looked stunning.

I wore my new favorite t-shirt as mentioned in last Sunday's sermon. Because all clergy can tell you that the minute they tell someone their profession they have to be ready to open their ears, it is the perfect minister shirt. It reads: You know you wanna' tell me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ministers' Ball with Mo' Debree

It's this weekend. It's rockin' with the band Mo' Debree. It's laid back, come as you are, dance until your toenails turn blue, or sit and talk with friends.

It's the Ministers' Ball in honor of the Installation of the Rev. Jean Pupke (my partner in ministry, colleague, and bud).

It's Saturday night at 8PM for only 10 bucks.

We'll be looking for you! See you on the dance floor.

State Fair disgusts with more than Fried Twinkies

I know way too much about the Virginia State Fair. We live close to the current fairgrounds and have been going regularly since the news that the Fair would be moving. That was 4 years ago. It's still there. We're still going.

The Fair was a bit of a bummer this year in comparison with the last three. The kiddie size midway rides are in horrible disrepair. Lots of duct tape, missing lights, and broken planes, lady bugs, and train cars on every ride.

It seemed like there was less landscaping throughout the fairgrounds. In previous years there have been beautiful little islands of horticulture sprinkled amongst the pig poop, pork rinds, and BBQ stands. (For those of you reading in other states - Virginia= pork products.) This year it was all pig, all the time.

But the worst of all would be the apparent motto of this year's State Fair: Celebrating Virginia's Past, Current, and Future Legacy of Bigotry. I saw men, women, and children between the ages of 4 and 64 wearing I Support Confederate History Month stickers and Marriage = One man, One woman stickers. I know the "I carry a gun so I can not only disagree with you... I can shoot you" stickers must have been somewhere not far behind.

Would you like a little intolerance with your deep fried dough?

That said, Baby Girl loved the rabbits. Little Man would have spent the night there if we had let him. We saw, of all things, jazz delights Chez Roue perform. And yours truly did go down the big slide.

Three times.

As for the fried oreos, not what I'd expected. We are saving Fried Twinkies and Spaghetti on a Stick for next year when I am lobbying for the theme: Virginia - 400 years of Intolerance was more than enough. It's a NEW DAY.

I am also lobbying for a bigger slide.

When Activist Artists wed

Must be the year for cool weddings. I have had some really amazing ones this year. In a previous post you were told of Jim and Dottie's nuptials IN the James River. Next up for unique and memorable were Karen and Jason.

The highlight for many was the cotton candy machine. Even my buddies, the caterers from A Sharper Palate, were impressed. I believe the friend who did cotton candy service was named Charlie. To him I say, "Charlie, all the kids under 12 and I love you."

The lovely and talented bride Karen is the designer of my conversation starting and stopping business cards. (Designed to look like a 19th century death announcement, they are square with a black border, an hourglass on one side, and on the other side my info and the words, "Specialist in concerns of death, dying, and mourning. Available for consultation." Normal folk get the heebie jeebies. Artists, lovers of goth, and undertakers think they are the BOMB.) Karen threw all the little herb vases that were gifts to guests. By THREW I mean created not tossed. They are lovely and mine was the prettiest of all because I got to pick it out while the rest of the guests were making toasts. And they say there aren't any perks left in the ministry...

There were many things that were great about this wedding, but what made it the most blog-o-rific was: best use of mod music in a wedding. They had a DJ doing the wedding music, which can be an iffy proposition. Not in this case! I felt like I was in a movie. A Sundance award winning movie. Here's the playlist.

Bridesmaid processional - "The Winner Is" by DeVotchka
Bridal March- "What the Snowman Learned About Love" by Stars
Recessional - " Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" by The Arcade Fire

I am hoping that the Recessional will become "the usual" at kool kid nuptials.

And to learn more about Jason the groom, check him out at the blog: Caramelized Opinions.