Songs Of The Moon

            Sunday night is usually the time I start thinking about my newspaper column which I normally send to the Editor on Monday or Tuesday, and it appears in the paper on Thursday. Occasionally, I start and finish my column on Sunday night. We’ll see what happens tonight, so come on along with me and we’ll see.

            My wife, the science teacher, and I, the poet, have been talking about the phenomenon occurring tonight (Sunday) called by the Media, the “Super Blood Wolf Moon.” Some call it simply the “Blood Red Moon,” the “Brick Red Moon,” or the “Blood Moon.” Some of those terms make you think of eerie stories about vampires, so it might be necessary to look at this thing more analytically.

            As a poet, I think of all the many poems and songs written about the moon over the years. Since poets first began writing lyrics for songs, there have been over 150 lyrics written about the moon, some describing its color like this: “Blue Moon” by Sam Cooke, “Pink Moon” by Neil Young, “Silver Moons” by Sunset Rubdown, “Black Moon” by Deftones, “Orange Moon” by Erykah Badu, “Grapefruit Moon” by Tom Waits, and “When My Moon Turns to Gold Again,” Elvis Presley. I couldn’t find any that talked about a Blood Red Moon, — I guess “Orange Moon” was the closest.

            Frank Sinatra gave us “Fly Me to the Moon,” and Thin Lizzy gave us “Dancin’ in the Moonlight,” and Pink Floyd called one of his album’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.”

There have been many famous poems (distinct from songs) written about the moon, in fact, some of the most memorable poems ever. Indeed, poets over the years have gotten a lot of mileage out of the moon!

            One of the most famous “moon poems” is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To the Moon,” as he speaks of the moon’s pallor resulting from climbing the sky alone and looking down at the earth. My favorite “moon poem” is Emily Dickinson’s “The Moon was but a chin of gold,” – what an incredible metaphor for a crescent moon, a moon that then changes to full face with amber lips, and her shoe is the universe. A couple other “moon poems” are Carl Sandburg’s “Moonset” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Moonrise.” I prefer the poems to the songs.

            The Houston Chronicle, KHOU, and many other Houston public communicators have been providing us with instructions on how and when to watch tonight’s moon in Houston. My wife, who plans to watch the celestial event, which is essentially an eclipse, later tonight, explained the phenomenon to me, saying that when the moon is in total eclipse, it appears reddish in color, because it is illuminated by sunlight refracted by the earth’s atmosphere.

            That explained why it’s called a “blood” moon, but I continued to wonder why this strange event was called by the Media, a “Super Blood Wolf Moon.” KHOU came to my rescue by posting this: SUPER – because a super moon happens when a full moon coincides with the point at which the moon is closest to earth; BLOOD – just a description of its reddish color; WOLF – January and February are known as the wolf-moon months, because it is mating season for wolves and the reason they howl at the moon.

            Thus far, the wife has been watching the full moon rise from the kitchen window. She had me take a look, and, of course, it hasn’t turned red yet. She has her itinerary planned for later. She will drive down to the end of the block at 9:30 p.m., to watch the starting of the umbra (reddening) at 9:33 p.m. Then, she hopes to be in full eyesight of the moon at 10:40 p.m., to observe the beginning of the total eclipse at 10:41 p.m. I hope she takes a flashlight for the maximum eclipse at 11:12 p.m. By midnight, it’s all over.

            I’m not sure how this column will end, because when she returns to the house it will be midnight, and I will probably be asleep, so let’s shut it down now.

-0-

Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at amazon.com.

Bake With It Or Brush With It

            A subject for discussion tonight between my wife and me at the dinner table was toothpaste. The toothpaste I ordered online was about a week late in coming, and I assured my wife I could brush with another kind of toothpaste until it comes. But what if it doesn’t? This led us down many rabbit trails, and what began as small talk about toothpaste ended up as an analysis and investigation of baking bread and what causes dough to rise.

            Can you bake bread without yeast? Yes! What can you use if you don’t use yeast? Baking soda and lemon juice! And so on.

            Before I get into the culinary arts part of our discussion, let me begin with the dental hygiene part.

            When my parents were growing up, they brushed their teeth with baking soda (so they told me), because that’s what many families in those days brushed with. After my parents were married, they switched to Pepsodent or Colgate tooth POWDER, no doubt because they thought these popular toothpowders were flavored versions of baking powder, — but they weren’t. Toothpowder in those days was made from ground up chalk plus a detergent plus sweetening or flavoring.

            Many professionals who research such things believe baking soda right out of the kitchen cabinet is the best tooth cleaner. Contrary to what most people think, plain ole baking soda is actually less abrasive than any toothpaste on the market, so its advocates say. I have a hunch that ground up chalk is rather abrasive. My grandparents brushed with baking soda for as long as they lived. My mother would see-saw between Pepsodent or Colgate powder and baking soda, not knowing there was no baking soda in the toothpowder.

            So I grew up with a great deal of respect for baking soda, though I did not particularly like the taste of it, and didn’t use it. However, in fairly recent years, Arm and Hammer Baking Soda came out with an Arm-and-Hammer baking soda toothpaste, and I got on that band wagon right away, using it until I developed tooth sensitivity (from old age, not from the toothpaste). I was happy to discover that Arm and Hammer also now makes a toothpaste for sensitive teeth, — and it’s the toothpaste that’s a week late in arriving, — and triggered this whole discussion.

            Now for the culinary arts part of our discussion.

            It began with my wondering out loud if a person could bake bread using either baking powder or baking soda instead of yeast. Before we could pursue that question, we both wondered what the difference was between baking SODA and baking POWDER. So we googled it. Yes, iPhones and iPads are allowed at the dinner table.

            It amazed me to discover that baking powder contains baking soda, so, yes, they are similar. I also discovered that yeast, baking soda, and baking powder are all “leavening” agents used in baking. And, yes, baking soda can be used as a substitute for yeast in baking bread if you add an acid, such as lemon juice or milk with vinegar to the mixture. Wow! Who would have thought?!

            As a former biology teacher, my wife knew all about “yeast,” but I googled it anyway. She wasn’t, but I was, startled to discover that yeast belonged to a taxonomic group called “fungi,” because I am allergic to penicillin, mushrooms, and most other fungi. Good grief, am I also allergic to yeast?

            As a biologist, the wife knew yeast was a single-cell organism which multiples when fed with sugar, and the sugar causes the fungus to ferment.

            Since we buy our yeast at the grocery store, it was enlightening to learn you can make yeast from mashed potatoes or from flour and water, because most plant life contains naturally occurring yeast.

            One of these days my Arm and Hammer toothpaste for sensitive teeth will arrive, and one of these days, if my wife allows me to use her bread-making machine, I will make a loaf of bread using baking soda and lemon juice instead of yeast. Just for the heck of it!

-0-

Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at amazon.com

What Can You Expect From An Old Man And A Cat?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger appeared first in IMAGES for January 10, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            There is something mesmerizing about a cat sleeping on your lap on a sunny winter afternoon.  You feel that you and he both need to be out in the bright winter sunlight soaking up some Vitamin D, but these lazy, after-New-Year’s days make you both drowsy-frowsy.  The bite-size birds chirping outside the patio door don’t call Gatsby to the hunt, and watching my neighbor rake leaves doesn’t call me outside to the tool shed either.

            It has all the makings of a long winter nap, and Santa Claus has already come.  What can you expect from an old man and an old cat who have grown old together!

            Like most older cats, Gatsby has stopped grooming himself as thoroughly as he used to, so sometimes he smells a bit musty.  May be the same reason some elderly folks bathe only twice a week.  He looks healthy, got a good report from the Vet a couple days ago, and eats as much as a teenage football player.

            But a smelly cat on your lap can interfere with an afternoon nap, and if I wanted a smelly pet, I’d get a dog.

            From the very beginning when we acquired Gatsby during a hurricane, there was something unusual about him.  His being black is not that unusual, and I’m certainly not superstitious about black cats.  There are plenty black cats in the world, but it is a fact that more of them are males than females (not sure why).  The old Medieval superstition about witches turning themselves into black cats is just silly folklore, but makes the black cat a Halloween symbol.

            Still, from the beginning, Gatsby seemed odd, different from all the past cats that lived with us.  He was/is a large black feline with a glossy black coat and yellow eyes, causing me to wonder when we got him if he were half panther.

            The second day we had him, he angrily leaped at me when I pushed him away from me with my walking cane.  He would cuddle with you as long as you did what he liked, but a wrong move could trigger his anger.  Over a period of time, he bit me on the chin twice, both deep bites, and clawing us was commonplace.  He chased and killed not only birds and lizards, but also squirrels, — I had never before seen a cat with such speed and such hunting skills.

            More and more, I was convinced he was part wild panther.  One of our friends called him a “devil cat,” and she wouldn’t go near him.  Other people, however, would just say, “Aw, he’s just a cat!”

            A little research on my part revealed that he was neither a panther nor part-panther.  My research showed there are 19 breeds which can produce black cats, and one of those is the Bombay Cat.  His glossy black fur and yellow eyes are a giveaway that he is a Bombay.

            Further research found that Nikki Horner, a cat breeder, created the first Bombay cat in the late 1950’s.  Horner’s objective in developing this breed was to create a miniature “panther” with glossy black fur and yellow eyes.  She succeeded only too well.

            My wife and I came to love Gatsby, and he, us, though there were times when I was ready to send him back to where he came from.

            And he did have a “wimpy” side, too.  He was terrified of thunder and lightning and would hide under the couch during a thunder storm (and still does).  He was and is even more terrified of dogs, and when any stray dog got into our backyard, he was traumatized and would disappear for the rest of the day.  He loved to be cuddled and wanted to be stroked constantly, but always on his terms.

            Now that he is an old cat with failing eyesight and a slower running speed, he has mellowed even more, and like most old codgers, felines or homo sapiens, he has become more lovable.  We will continue to grow old together.

-0-

Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at amazon.com

]]>

A Trip of a Lifetime

Last year, my wife and I were talked into taking a Danube river cruise from Budapest, Hungary to Prague, Czech Republic in late August. While we were planning our trip, my wife agreed to add an extra day at the end of our trip in Prague so that I could learn more about my Wendish heritage. I wanted to visit the Sorbisches Museum in Bautzen and I was hoping to see the area where my mother’s family (Matthijetz) came from.

As I looked closely at the Sorbisches Museum, I found that the museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays. We were scheduled to arrive in Prague on a Friday afternoon and fly home the following Tuesday. Our river cruise included a tour of Prague on Saturday, the only day we could really visit the Sorbisches Museum. My wife and I had never been to Prague so we really wanted to get a tour of the city so I started to look up tour companies to see how expensive it would be to book a private tour of the city, and also tried to find a way to get to the Sorbisches Museum in Bautzen. My wife and I aren’t ones to venture out on our own much, so being in a foreign country and not doing all of our excursions through the tour group or cruise group was new to us. Fortunately, we had several months to prepare for this trip.

I first looked into taking the train to Bautzen from Prague. While it was doable, the time spent on the train was twice as long as if we travelled by automobile. My wife and I did not feel comfortable in renting a car and driving ourselves, so I started looking at other options. I found a tour company run by a husband and wife who did tours in the surrounding countries along with Prague and the Czech Republic. They had excellent reviews on Trip Advisor.

I contacted them to see if they could drive us to Bautzen on Saturday and then give us a Prague tour on Monday. After several emails, they found a driver to take us to Bautzen on Saturday and a tour guide for Monday.
Sometime after our agreement with the tour company, I realized that the church my ancestors attended was very close to Bautzen in Klitten. St. Johns Lutheran Church in Klitten was also the church of Pastor Johann Kilian and the passengers of the Ben Nevis. I contacted the tour company again to see if the driver could take us to the church after our visit to the Sorbisches Museum. A few days later, I got the quote for the added trip to Klitten and agreed to the terms.

I had also contacted the Sorbisches Museum by email before our trip to see if the exhibits were in English, because I do not speak or read German or Wendish. Mrs. Pawlikowa and I exchanged some emails back and forth and she let me know that the museum had an audio guide in English that we could use. I asked her if we could meet. She said August 25, the day we would be at the museum was her day off, but she would try to meet with us.

On August 25th, the driver picked us up at our hotel and we were off to Bautzen. The weather that day called for rain showers and as we entered the city of Bautzen, it was pouring rain. Our driver was having some trouble finding the museum and had to ask some locals for help. Just as we arrived at the museum, the rain stopped and it did not rain again that day.

When we went into the Sorbisches Museum, we met the Director of Research, Mrs. Andrea Pawlikowa (Andrea Paulik). It was a pleasure to meet her. I gave her a copy of my book and she gave me a book about the Wendish culture and some pamphlets about local Wendish customs. We spent about 2 hours looking at all the exhibits and learned a lot. We walked around that part of the city and found a place to eat lunch. They had some Wendish items on the menu and we tried the Wendish dumplings, Wendish wedding soup and the Wendish roasted pork. We also tried a Bautzen brewed beer. Everything was very good. We walked around the general area of the museum and took some pictures before heading out to visit St. Johns Lutheran Church in Klitten.

Our driver found the church very easily, but when we walked up to the church I wasn’t sure we were at the right one. Above the door of the church, there was the date, “Anno 1930”. I tried to enter the church, but the door was locked and no one was around. My wife and I walked around the church to see if there was another way in. There wasn’t but there was a cemetery next to the church. My wife and I started to read the headstones and realized this had to be the church we were looking for. The names on the headstones were Kieschnick, Noack, Mitschke, etc, so I knew we must be at the right place. However, we could not get into the church. I was a little disappointed, but we decided we would leave.

As our driver started to leave the church property, he saw a man walking towards the church, so he stopped the car. I got out of the car to talk to the man. He asked why we were there and I told him I thought my family had immigrated from there and when he heard the Matthijetz name, he introduced himself. His name was Pastor Daniel Krause and he was the pastor of St. Johns. He asked me if we wanted to see the inside of the church. I said yes and he said he would go get the keys and be right back. When Pastor Krause came back with the keys he unlocked the door and let us in. We asked if we could take pictures and he said yes. The church had the same floor plan as St. Pauls Lutheran Church in Serbin, TX and I knew we were in the right place. In the back of the church there was also a small plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Ben Nevis voyage to Texas.
Pastor Krause told us the church had burned and the steeple had to be removed. The main body of the church was the original building but the steeple attached to the church was rebuilt in 1930. Pastor Krause gave us each a copy of a hymn he had written about the church, so I gave him a copy of my book. All in all it was a great day. For me, it was the highlight of the whole trip.

To see pictures from the Sorbisches Museum in Bautzen and St. Johns Lutheran Church in Klitten, Germany please go to:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Author/FranksFindings-845264252270925/

]]>

Not Over! Three More Days Of Christmas Remain

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 3, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Although most Americans and Brits seem to think Christmas begins in late November, it doesn’t. It begins on December 25 and lasts through the evening of January 5, — so dear readers, please know that it’s still Christmas!

            Of course, Christmas has become so secularized in the 21st Century that some folks even forget the season had religious origins. The official date of the birth of Jesus was designated by the Church as December 25, marking the beginning of the Festival of Christmas, with the Coming of the Wise Men designating the end of the Festival (and the beginning of Epiphany). Christmas was a joyful celebration, thus each of the twelve days of the Festival were observed with special festivities, the royal families in Europe setting the traditions.

            In England, until the Puritan Revolt, the royal family would celebrate lavishly during those twelve days of Christmas. Queen Elizabeth I, for example, would provide twelve nights of conviviality and merriment at the palace, each night something different and special, — a ballet, a masked ball, a play by Shakespeare, etc., for royals and nobles. Although religious ceremonies were part of the twelve days of observing Christmas, they took a back seat to fun, frolic, feasting, dancing, and other forms of merriment.

            The English Puritans, filled with zeal for holiness and a passion for the truth of the Bible, were never happy with this secular emphasis by the royalty and nobility, and even by the “lower classes,” but had to tolerate it, at least until the Puritan Revolt. The Puritans were a pious group within the Church of England, who wanted to “purify” the Church, with the Queen (or King) considered the Head of the Church. Roman Catholicism was outlawed in England during the 17th and 18th Centuries, making it a treasonous crime to be a Catholic.

            Many people still believe, in spite of proof to the contrary, that the famous Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” was a hidden proclamation of the outlawed Roman Catholic faith. Others believe it is just a delightful, nonsensical, secular Christmas song. Many commentators today call it “one of the most annoying Christmas carols ever written.” The first version of the carol appeared in 1780, and many more versions appeared since then, some even designating it as a proclamation of the Christian faith.

            I agree with the scholars who reject the idea that the poem is filled with hidden Christian and/or Catholic religious symbols. For example, today, the Tenth Day of Christmas (January 3), the narrator in the song provides his true love with “10 Lords a Leaping.” Those who see symbols consider this to be a secret code for the 10 Commandments. Tomorrow, the Eleventh Day of Christmas (January 4) calls for “11 Pipers Piping,’ viewed as the eleven faithful Apostles. And the Twelfth Night of Christmas (January 5) calls for”12 Drummers Drumming,” seen by the symbolists as the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed. Most of the symbolic interpretation could be seen as Church of England doctrine as well as Roman Catholic, so how could it be a secret code? Men leaping, flutes piping, and drummers drumming, — three days of song and dance to end the week!

            Without this rather “mysterious” song, whether nonsense or hidden symbols, I’m afraid most folks wouldn’t even think of observing twelve days of this important Christian Feast. Since Christmas decorations went up on Thanksgiving, and even on Halloween, some of the posts on Facebook are already saying, “Time to take the Christmas tree down.” No, don’t put it up in October in the first place! Today, we still have three more days to celebrate Christ’s birth. On January 1, we had five more days to celebrate and worship. The Wise Men haven’t arrived yet! They’re an important part of celebration and worship, — they were the first Gentiles to worship Jesus.

            I have to confess, some of us are kind of lazy about taking down decorations, but this week we can self-righteously say, “There are still three more days of Christmas left!”

-0-

Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at www.amazon.com. 


]]>