Saturday, November 27, 2010

3 Good Things (Teenage Daughter edition)

1.   Will teach you how to Dougie, and the difference between it and some other thing you have no hope of remembering. (I didn’t say she was a good teacher, or that I am a good student.)
2.   Will introduce you to musical acts you never knew existed. (And some you may wish didn’t exist, at least not on her iPod.)
3.   Will drive you to the store with the confidence of veteran driver having over 25 years of experience. (Of course without the benefit of having even 25 months of actual driving experience to support said confidence.)
Yes, I know this is not the intended use of a Good Things list, but I really needed to explore these issues in a more positive form than periodically shouting expletives from the passenger’s seat.
Speaking of teenage daughters, this is the time of year that some high schools support the girls playing typically male-dominated sports under the Powderpuff  banner.  My daughter played on her senior powderpuff football team last week and grabbed three flags.  Her technique was impressive and can be best summed up something like this: if I stand here, they’re bound to pass by me, and I can just grab the flag then.  Sadly, it seemed to work for her.
Here is a brief exhibit of how teenage girls play football.  They don’t get fancy, they just get dance-y.

That is all.

You may return to your regular holiday weekend blog surfing now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unlikely Ukulele

On my way back from picking up two year’s worth of dry cleaning (I hate dry cleaning, but that’s the price I have to pay to be surrounded by clean cashmere and suede – clearly, I’m not often concerned about its cleanliness) I heard this song.  I knew the singer’s voice and wasn’t entirely sure I liked the band or the song, but I hadn’t remembered hearing it before. As I listened a while, I realized that what I loved was the sound of the ukulele.

Growing up we owned, or had possession of, a ukulele, along with a mandolin, a round back guitar, and any other stringed instrument my father sold as a travelling musical instrument salesman (I believe this was before the Boone’s Farm salesman gig). But it wasn’t until I heard this original ukulele mash-up a few years back that I fell in love with its sound.

Before that, this is all I knew from ukuleles.

For the record, my twelve year-old finds the Train song horribly boring.  She knows much more about music than I do despite the fact that we both grew up surrounded by musical instruments.  I'd guess that shows that systematic early training, rather than mere exposure and proximity, is the key to learning - music or anything else.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Guess Whose is Coming to Dinner

As we finalize our Thanksgiving menu, I realized that we are doing a lot of borrowing from the traditions, taste tests, and tried-and-true recipes of others.  Here are just a few of the recipes of the food flavors we’ve fancied for our fall feast this year:
1.       Alton Brown’s brine
3.       Mark Bittman’s beets
I have to give a special nod to Mark Bittman’s brussel sprouts with bacon and figs.  Stephen made them the other day and they were fantastic! I’m just not sure they’ll fit in with all the other wonderful dishes we’ll already have on the table.
Brief videos for all of Bittman’s suggested Thanksgiving fare can be found here.

Hope your recipe for celebrating Thanksgiving is as warm, wonderful, or wild as you wish.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Manly Art of Turkey Carving

It's that time of year when my blog gets a lot of hits for "turkey diagram."  Don't bother looking for it, I removed the picture from the blog, but I left the link to the original diagram.  It did get me thinking, though, why someone would want a diagram of turkey parts instead of instructions on how to carve a turkey.  I know that I wanted to identify the parts of the live turkeys running through my yard, but that has little to do with Thanksgiving.

For those who want to recreate the 18th century gentleman's approach to turkey carving, here are some words of wisdom from The Honours of the Table, by Reverend John Trusler, 1791.

"We are always in pain for a man who instead of cutting up a fowl genteely is hacking for half an hour across the bone, greasing himself and bespattering the company with the sauce.

"But where the master or mistress of a table dissects a bird with ease and grace or serves guests with such parts that are most esteemed, they are not only well thought of but admired."
Additionally, Reverend Trusler warns that second helpings are "indelicate for a lady."  Now I don't know how things operate in your house, but voicing such a sentiment in mine might just land you a punch in the nose, bespattering the company with more than sauce.

That last statement notwithstanding, if you, like me, think that carving the bird is a man's job (or at least not your job), but want to know how to do it just in case, then check out this gem, complete with instructional links and videos, at the Art of Manliness: How to Cook and Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Man.  (We happen to use Alton Brown's brining method as well.)

Finally, I leave you with this motivational Manvotional, presented on the same blog, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

A Psalm of Life
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) 

What the heart of the young man said to the psalmist

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Words are a Lens to Focus One’s Mind

Reading books concurrently is a terrific way to discover and possibly strengthen important ideas common to the books.  Taken individually from very different sources, the following passages made enough of an impression on me to make mental or marginal notes:
"By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it."
Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1818, on wanting to communicate with the cottagers.

"They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance.  The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder."
Frederick Douglass, in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Himself, 1845, upon reading Sheridan’s speeches on emancipation.

"For the flash of one instant, she thought that here, before her, in James Taggart and in that which made him smile, was a secret she had never suspected, and it was crucially important that she learn to understand it.  But the thought flashed and vanished."
Dagny Taggart, in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, 1957, when she saw her brother gloat at his victory over her.

What these three brief quotations offer within their respective books is that explicit expression of an idea, with words, either to oneself or to others, is of critical importance in man’s life.  Without words, the idea remains a vapor, a nagging nebulousness, or worse, undiscovered.

As Rand’s character, Hank Rearden, thinks to himself, “[W]ords were a lens to focus one’s mind . . .

Saturday, November 20, 2010


If variety is the spice of life, we gathered some spicy eggs here yesterday. 

The first is a standard chicken egg, the second, some sort of squib we found among the other eggs in the nesting boxes, and the third, a surprise find when shooing the female zebra finch out of the seed feeder last night! Despite the fact that each morning when I uncover the zebra finches I find Elizabeth as far away from Mr. Darcy as possible within the confines of the bird cage, apparently, they’ve been getting busy.
Actually, like all birds in captivity, female zebra finches are as likely to lay unfertilized eggs as fertilized ones. Stephen was told at the pet store—and I have confirmed to the best of my internet search abilities—that caged zebra finches make terrible parents and the eggs should be removed immediately. So I removed them, but was extremely curious about what could possibly be inside the tiny eggs.  Since it takes only two weeks for a finch egg to hatch, I was a little nervous about what I might find inside of it.
The finch egg was difficult to crack as gently
 as required, so the yolk is slightly broken.

Et voila! Nothing but egg stuff. Teeny, tiny egg stuff, but egg stuff nonetheless.
So now we know.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

These Boots Are Made For . . .

I'm not quite sure what, really.

Certainly not walking, but, boy-oh-boy, do they deserve some attention!

n.b. I did not stretch this photo. 
This is how they are supposed to look.

Since I’ve been searching for the perfect pair of fall boots on shoe sites like Zappos and, I’ve been getting hit with some interesting sidebar advertisements on other websites.  Yes, I’ll admit it.  I indulged my shoe-salaciousness and looked closely at these boots on one of those sites.  Now they keep showing up everywhere!

Check ‘em out. 

The heels are interlocked vertebrae, which is rather convenient since when you walk in these bad boys for more than a minute or two you’ll probably need some back surgery!   It’s like having the foresight to design in replacement components on your circuit board (so I hear), or a flaming red flag!

If thigh-highs just aren’t your thing, don’t worry.  They come in booties, too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My New Happy Place

This morning I received an email from a friend with pictures from a lavender ranch in Texas. This last photo instantly became my new happy place. Is it the incredible wave of purple?  The intense blue of the sky? The contrast? The aroma I imagine when I breathe deeply and close my eyes remembering the scene? The warmth I feel as I lift my face to the envisioned sun? The quietly persistent bee buzzing I hear in the field in my mind? Being alone in the middle of it all?

More importantly, what is the function of a happy place and why do I need one?

To answer those questions, I have to go back to my first happy place: a red farm house in the woods where the kids were chasing ducks around. It was a starving artists' painting hanging at my neighbor's house. I recalled it when I was in the hospital having my fractured left elbow set. Instead of focusing on the drilling of a metal rod through my skin and into my bones to hold them together, I thought about running around with the farm kids in the sunlight. Later, it was the more surreal carousel in Mary Poppins that held my attention when I had to have my appendix taken out. I needed to distract my mind away from the nervousness and pain. There was no need to dwell on the things I could not change. I needed to find a way to get through them. A few quick trips to my happy places helped me to focus on the calm, quiet, and positive and get through the necessary procedures.

A happy place is the distracting scene one offers one's mind to play in temporarily while real-time sensory data is causing a serious disturbance in one's ability to respond with reason. One goes there when one needs to relax or focus on happy thoughts in order to reset and better grasp the reality of the unpleasant situation. 

In my thirties, my happy place was riding a horse through an apple orchard in bloom, but these days I'd prefer to walk through fields of lavender (with or without a shirtless Hugh Jackman as the lavender farmer).

Significantly, going to happy places differs from evasion in that you are purposefully using the technique to assist you in dealing with reality. Let's face it: sometimes, things suck and you may find yourself with little or no control over a situation, but need to find a way through it. A quick trip to a happy place can help remind you that you do have the power to be happy.

An activity related to, but separate in function from visiting happy places, is collecting moments of peaceful satisfaction or extreme happiness. This activity, like the construction of a vision board, helps you better define and focus on your joy. As an adult, I started to collect these moments as I was experiencing them.  I began to appreciate what brought me joy and how I wanted to understand and feed the ability to feel that way as it was occuring, not merely as an afterthought. 
This was reality, she thought, this sense of clear outlines, of purpose, of lightness, of hope.  This was the way she had expected to live--she had wanted to spend no hour and take no action that would mean less than this.
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

While Dagny's defining moment of joy in sharing with Hank a quiet appreciation of Rearden metal is clearly linked to her purpose in life, and, I'll admit, my purpose in life is less defined by me at this point, I would argue that appreciating what makes me happy is the first step in helping me to take actions which lead to the way I expect to live - happily.

Rather than running from reality, my brief visits to the fantastic assist me in addressing reality in some situations and in living joyously in others, as my real-life lavender farmer can attest.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PET Recycling Center

This is along the lines of what my daughter envisioned when she laughed out loud after reading the side of a water bottle.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Morning Armchair Quarterback

This has nothing to do with last night’s Patriots game which, after half-time, we smartly slept through.  (We needed the sleep far more than we needed the fourth quarter excitement. Right?  Right??)  This has to do with the wisdom of hindsight and offering advice regarding a situation in which you have no experience.  And by you, I mean me. 

I really don’t care what kind of quarterback you are – unless you’re Tom Brady, then call me. We need to talk about the hair.

During my ten, non-blogging days, I realized that while I like blogging, I didn’t miss it. Sure I started two separate quick posts and one more substantial one, but I declined to post anything, opting instead for blog silence. I kept reading the papers, blogs, and books (more of these) that I normally do, but I didn’t want to post anything unless it could change my world.  Needless to say, that’s a mighty tall order for a blogger who produces a lot of this:

Friday Fun Facts

Three things I had to discover for myself, but that you could live a perfectly happy life without knowing.

1.       Schtupping, slang for to have sex, does not have an ‘m’ in it. Why I thought it did – Well, I’m sure I don’t know, darling!  But I still think it should.

2.       I am somehow torn between wanting to wag my finger at, and wanting to dance like a freak to, Teenage Dream. The former takes less effort, but is also far less satisfying than the latter.

3.       Having laryngitis does NOT make me sound sexy like Demi Moore, but wonky like Peter Brady.

This morning, however, I realized something even more important:  if I limit myself to posting on only potentially world changing items (e.g. politics, justice, morality), I begin to percolate a sort of personal dissatisfaction, not with the state of the world, but with my inability to fix it. I would hazard a guess that combating that potentially destructive attitude is a prerequisite to fostering big ideas; after all, celebrating my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is a kind of a big deal. 

And so I’m back.

If you’re disappointed that this has nothing to do with football, read this post containing football AND important ideas – just the way I like it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank You.

To those of you who have worked and who presently work in our armed forces,
I offer my most sincere appreciation.

Take a look at the last 32 years of official Veterans Day posters and see if you can find any trends, not only in graphic design, but more importantly, in attitiude. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Round Up and Other Stuff

This week's Objectivist Round Up can be found at my friend Lady Baker's blog, The Playful Spirit. Go there and get yourself some interesting blog posts.

In other news, dear readers, I am going off-line for a wee bit. It's nothing personal, or rather, it's totally personal, and as such, has nothing to do with any of you. I will occasionally miss our mostly one-sided conversations, but I will mostly miss our occasionally two-sided ones.

While I'm away, I will be doing some blog maintenance.  If you have anything interesting I might want to add to my sidebar lists, please let me know.

A tout à l'heure!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Pirates in England

Saxon Invasion, A.D. 400 - 600

by Rudyard Kipling

WHEN Rome was rotten-ripe to her fall,
  And the sceptre passed from her hand,
The pestilent Picts leaped over the wall
  To harry the English land.

The little dark men of the mountain and waste,
  So quick to laughter and tears,
They came panting with hate and haste
  For the loot of five hundred years.

They killed the trader, they sacked the shops,
  They ruined temple and town–
They swept like wolves through the standing crops
  Crying that Rome was down.

They wiped out all that they could find
  Of beauty and strength and worth,
But they could not wipe out the Viking's Wind
  That brings the ships from the North.

They could not wipe out the North-East gales
  Nor what those gales set free–
The pirate ships with their close-reefed sails,
  Leaping from sea to sea.

They had forgotten the shield-hung hull
  Seen nearer and more plain,
Dipping into the troughs like a gull,
  And gull-like rising again–

The painted eyes that glare and frown
  In the high snake-headed stem,
Searching the beach while her sail comes down,
  They had forgotten them!

There was no Count of the Saxon Shore
  To meet her hand to hand,
As she took the beach with a grind and a roar,
  And the pirates rushed inland!

As I went a-black-berrying with Mr. Kipling this morning, I found Puck of Pook's Hill.  Later today we'll explore more of the same.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Enfranchised but Not Enthused

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to vote for something today. 

In certain cases there is wisdom in voting against something.  

Unfortunately in deciding between the lesser of the two weevils, you still end up with a blighter.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Money Four Ways

(via Wealth is Not the Problem)

This is not a perfect illustration, but it does show the relative standard of care with which money is expended according to whose it is and on whom it is being spent. 

Think about it and decide when money is used most efficiently.  Then think about under what circumstances it could be different, keeping in mind that we are each equal under the law.