Monday, April 26, 2010

my religious upbringing

When my oldest sister went to college, she called home every Sunday evening to talk to the family. This tradition continued with my next sister and the next, and (somewhat more sporadically) with my brother. I remember feeling very grown up when I made my first college phone call home on a Sunday evening in September of 2002.

I still call my parents most Sunday nights. It's really quite fun to talk with them. Since they have no kids at home, and neither do we, I like compare our weekly stories of adventures because they are in many ways very similar. War stories from work, planning weekend getaways even when it seems like there's no open weekend in which to get away, exploring new restaurants or random midwest town festivals, having friends over for dinner and games.

Also, I've found that the course of the conversation is always unexpected. For example, last night my mom and dad were talking about a gig they had with their folk band, Good News. To get the picture, Good News is a folk/gospel group that combines 4-part vocal harmonies with guitar, mandolin, violin, banjo, and alto saxophone. My dad plays the sax.

He was pontificating last night, after their performance at a very enthusiastic Christian Cafe, that perhaps angels don't carry trumpets, but instead alto saxes. Mom and I both argued that angels were suppose to herald the gospel with a clarion call - not reedy, smooth jazz. But Dad came back and said, Yes, but doesn't it say somewhere that Jesus comes as a thief in the night?

I'm still laughing irreverently at that one. Maybe it's not as funny if you don't know my dad.

Somehow, it reminds me of a children's sunday school class I was sitting in on a few years back. The teacher was talking about Thanksgiving, and comparing each part of the Thanksgiving meal to the gospel. (Remember, these are 3-8 year olds we were dealing with.) He compared water in the glasses to Jesus, because Jesus was the living water. When the teacher asked the children what the turkey could represent, one of the kids called out, "Jesus is the living turkey!"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

ways to get smarter without really trying

For the past week or so, Abe & I have been trading off watching DVD lectures of Art History and Game Theory by the Teaching Company. The Teaching Company puts out DVDs of professors lecturing on any and all topics.

We've watched several series including Egyptology (inspired by my love of Elizabeth Peters novels) and Italian History. Our success rate has been about 70% for really engaging, interesting series. And, unlike college courses, if you realize half-way through that you don't want to take the class, it's pretty easy to drop out. Or, in my case, just fall asleep on the couch.

The bonus is that our public library has tons of these DVDs, so if we keep this up we could be extremely intelligent in just a few months. Of course, we do temper the effects with old episodes of Superman.

Last night, we learned about Donatello. The professor showed Donatello's statue of Mary Magdalene and I was quite taken with it. The figure portrays an older Mary wasted by fasting and age. I think I like this sculpture because it captures the moments when our spiritual tenacity feels like it's at a breaking point - and yet, I have all assurance from her look that she hasn't and won't give up.

Also, I love the fact that I did a google image search on "Italian statue Mary Magdelene old" and instantly found what I was looking for.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

what we do almost every evening

A favorite hobby in the Gong family household is playing board games. Figure 1 demonstrates the extent of this hobby.

Fig. 1

I thought briefly about giving a complete catalog of the games in here, but it sounded exhausting. Instead, I'll list the games visible in Figure 1.

Hail to the Chief
Puzzles (2)
Liar's Dice
Settlers of Catan
Brain Storms
Laser Battle
Ticket to Ride
Apples to Apples
Face cards
Monkies in a Barrel

A few of my favorite games:

Dominion. We purchased this game in August 2009 and my best guess is that we have played it just under 200 times since then. Now our house rule is that we aren't allowed to play Dominion unless we've played a different game since last playing Dominion.

(Abe and brothers playing Dominion)

Ticket to Ride. When our cousins brought this game to a family reunion several years ago, I had dreams all night long about building trains from Zurich to Palermo.

Rook. I still look back fondly on the summer of 2005, when Abe & I stayed with a family in Virginia for the summer and the father and 11-year-old daughter would routinely stay up until 1am playing.

Scrabble. I can only play a few times a year, because I agonize over trying to triple-score on my Zs and get at least 1 bingo each game.

Pork. Unfortunately, other people can't purchase this game because it is a game Abe made up. It's basically high-intensity reverse Taboo with a political spin. It also involves dressing up as the secret service.

(Photos from an actual Pork game)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

$123 to celebrate 26

Ann Arbor is a great place for birthday deals. In past years, I've taken advantage by picking up my 1/2 dozen free bagels and maybe catching a half price meal downtown.

This year, however, was different.

My birthday fell on a Monday, and I had the day off of work with no particular plans whatsoever.

And so, in full efficiency mode, I visited the Ann Arbor Wiki Birthday page, selected a few of the many options, plotted establishments out on a map color-coded by day/time, signed up for any prerequisite mailing lists, and let the celebration begin.

The planning is necessary because venues either offer you a deal on your birthday date only, or offer coupons good for a week or two surrounding your birthday. To take full advantage, it helps to have a timeline of places to visit throughout your birthday week. I'm sure you'll catch the vision in the following travelogue.

(Check out the custom map here)

Date: Friday, March 19
Deal: Birthday festivities begin with a free large specialty pizza from Aubree's (technically not an Ann Arbor deal - they're in Ypsilanti).
Cost: $3 (tip)
Savings: $18.00

(It was barely warm enough to eat outside that night!)

Date: Friday, March 19
Deal: Free creation at Cold Stone Creamery
Cost: none
Savings: $3

Date: Saturday, March 20
Deal: Free burrito from Moe's Southwestern Grill
Cost: none
Savings: $8

(This incredibly scary photo is to prove that I was sick the week leading up to my birthday - hello, red puffy eyes.)

Date: Monday, March 22

Deal: Free breakfast/lunch at Northside Grill. They were very nice and let Abe & I split 2 entrees but take the more expensive one as the free one.
Cost: $9.50
Savings: $8

Deal: 1/2 dozen bagels from Zingerman's Deli
Cost: none
Savings: $6 (?)

Deal: 12-pack of long party candles from the Found Gallery (I selected a sherbet orange candle color)
Cost: none
Savings: $3

Deal: Cupcake from Cake Nouveau
Cost: none
Savings: $2.50

Deal: 1/2 dozen bagels from Zingerman's Bakehouse
Cost: none
Savings: $6 (?)

Deal: Gelatto from Zingerman's Creamery
Cost: none
Savings: $2.50 (?)

Deal: Cookie from Great Harvest. When I asked for the cookie, the manager said he'd had a lot of people coming in about free birthday cookies and had no idea how it got started (not by him). I told him it was listed on the birthday wiki and he said he was happy to give me the deal.
Cost: none
Savings: $1.50

Deal: Scoop of ice cream from Ben & Jerry's
Cost: none
Savings: $2.50

Deal: 1/2 off a meal at the Real Seafood Company, plus a free dessert
Cost: $25.15
Savings: $25

Date: Wednesday, March 24
Deal: $10 coupon from Grizzly Peak, plus a pint glass and free dessert. For lunch, my co-workers took me and another girl who had a birthday the day before out to Grizzly Peak. They don't give you a deal on your check, but do give you the coupon, glass, and dessert.
Cost: none (to me)
Savings: $16

Date: Thursday, March 25
Deal: Free bowl of noodles at Noodles & Co. (They give you a bowl of noodles plus soup! It was enough for Abe & I to split for lunch.)
Cost: none
Savings: $8

Date: Friday, March 26
Deal: Free meal at BDs Mongolian Grill
Cost: $16.77 (tip, plus Abe's meal)
Savings: $13

(I took several photos in this series. Abe is straining to the see the basketball game on the TV behind him. TVs in restaurants are like black holes - he doesn't even watch basketball...)

TOTAL COST: $54.42
(note: if you take out the Real Seafood Company - our big splurge - the cost goes to $29.27 and the savings to $98)

Thank you, Ann Arbor, for a very happy birthday. And don't worry local businesses - I will probably never actually do this again.