Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What would Munro do?

1936 was a funny year. 

Hitler was elected 4 years earlier so by '36 he was well into his, well, stride I guess you would call it.  This month in 1936, he made Hitler Youth membership compulsory (which flash-forward to earlier this century is how we ended up with a former Hitler Youth Pope).  Ireland saw their chance when Edward VIII stepped down & moved quickly to limit the powers of the next British monarch, so far as it pertained to them.  In Flint, Michigan auto workers walked off the job (or rather sat down on the job) in their first UAW strike, the results of which (collective bargaining rights) remain under fire today.  December 1936 was an upsy-downsy sort of month. 

In not-news news of December '36, Munro Leaf celebrated his 31st birthday today in 1936.  Not usually one of the big milestone birthdays, but I am guessing this one stuck with him.  Earlier in the year he sat down & by his own admission in under an hour sketched out & then finalized the text of the book that would define his career.  & it was not a small career, he wrote virtually a book a year for 40 years, but none so big, so controversial as this one.  This 1936 book of his was burned by the nazis (always a good sign), banned by Franco's government in Spain (not-coincidentally the setting of the book) & lauded in Soviet Poland (I know, right?).  A movie version won an Academy Award  in 1938 & the book itself has never gone out of print.  Ever.  People have plonked down their hard earned cash for brand new copies of this book year in & year out through wars, depressions, more wars, counter-culture wars & so on.  Multiple musical compositions have been written to accompany live readings of this book.  Today it appears in print in I-don't-know-how-many languages.

I should mention, that in addition to being written in less than a day, it was written largely for the purpose of showcasing the talents of the then-almost unknown illustrator.  Robert Lawson went on to illustrate many other things, but it is this book remains his best known, although You could argue though that there is a better known piece not often attributed to him; during WWII Lawson was a camouflage artist. 

Back to the book.  In an afternoon Munro Leaf wrote a subversive manifesto & within the year it was being burned in fascist capitals throughout Europe.  The book?  The Story of Ferdinand of course.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The new office

Last week (the week before?) I was listening to either an American Public Media or a National Public Radio phone-in show & the guest that people were phoning in to speak with was a woman who recently wrote a book, an egghead book not a mainstream book, about how many of the jobs that have not returned as the economy turned around are just plain not coming back.  Her theory was that technology had changed so much in the preceding ten years that the way business is conducted had also changed, specifically no one needs the kind of office support staff that was the norm.  While these jobs had been slowly falling away as people changed jobs or retired & the chairs went empty, the massive belt tightening meant a lot of them went all at once.

First let me say "duh".  Earlier this year we had our septic system pumped.  We used the same company we have used since we bought this house & it had been less than 4 years since the last time we did this.  The experience was night&day.  Last time I called on a ?Monday? & got the office manager/administrator/secretary/whoever & an appointment for the following week (it wasn't an emergency & that was fine).  The owner, an older man, arrived, dug out the two tank openings (we have two unconnected tanks, weird & yet very useful), pumped the tanks, hand-wrote a bill which I paid by check.  He was here maybe 3 hours total.  At the beginning of the following month, I got a typed statement in the mail which reflected a balance of $0. 

This time I called, got the office manager/administrator/secretary/whoever & she said they could be there later the same day.  Both she & the owner (a younger man who had worked with the other guy for years; he had been out on previous jobs in previous years) arrived.  They had a laptop with the layout of our property & where the tanks were (I could have told them but they tell me this is not the norm).  While he dug one, she dug the other.  While he pumped, she went back to the truck & made & received phone calls & printed my bill from the printer in the truck.  The bill had ALL my previous calls on it & a notice of when they were likely to be needed back for a routine job (3-5 years).  She offered to make the appointment for five years out with the understanding it might change.  They were here exactly 1 1/2 hours.

I realize it sounds like there are just as many people in both stories working just as many man hours, but there aren't.  In the previous visit, there is another guy in another truck also working alone & checking in with the office.  Now there is one guy doing all the driving himself, but becasue he has a n extra pair of hands when he needs them he is covering just as many places as two used to. 

All of this hinges on the reality that in the second story there is no office.  The office works all gets done on the road except for once a month, once a quarter, once a year stuff which they handle at home.  That is one less full-time job than there was five years ago with no loss in service.  & it doesn't stop there.

This elimination of offices generally has eliminated quite a few jobs:  no office means no once a week cleaning staff to come in & clean that office, driving the office around means no more delivery guy with office supplies coming out to the office every month or so.  That is another three jobs poof & gone.

I have a friend who cleans offices for a living, or rather she used to.  She used to clean seven offices a week & a public area on weekends.  Now she has two cleaning jobs during the week & the public area every other weekend (that one irks her actually because it is the same amount of work & now she gets calls on the off-week that the garbage cans are overflowing & when is she going to deal with them).  The offices she doesn't clean anymore are still there, empty & at least one of the businesses still exists.  Ironically they are the cleaning company she still works for except now the manager handles scheduling etc. in her car between cleaning jobs.

Last Monday I had my sewing machines cleaned & serviced by the same guy who has taken care of them since I bought them (trust me, it has been years).  I used to bring them to his shop & wait a week.  & I can still bring the machine to him & wait a week if I want, but mostly he just comes to the house.  His shop is now a room in his own house & he has maybe 2 or 3 machines there at a time, most afternoons he is on the road & although his travel expenses are higher, they are more than offset by the reduction in overhead.

Last night I accidentally tuned into a presidential candidates speech (I flipped the tv on & then went into the other room where I can still watch it but forgot the remote).  The gist of the speech was how when he is president he will bring these jobs back & the crowd went wild.  I wonder if they will be as pleased when they realize that bringing these jobs back will mean commuting longer to get to work (the average commute is a fraction of what it was ten years ago, by the way & generally it is longer commutes to lower paying jobs) & taking on all that expense (deductible if you are the CEO & the company send a car  but not for the average worker), as well as giving up their cell phones & a slew of other conveniences we really do take for granted.  Maybe it's time to consider we just don't live in that world anymore.  & unemployed or not, most of us don't really want to go back.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Panama, a homecoming

Recently (& not so recently) a handful of rock bands have been on the news quite irked that their music was being used as, dare I say it, an instrument of torture.  Apocalypse Now aside, that musical torture was largely incidental (the soldiers just happened to like it that loud), the first time I ever heard of it was those 15 days Noriega spent holed up in the little piece of the Roman Catholic Church that was the Vatican Embassy while outside US Troops blasted the Rolling Stones (if memory serves-wait let me look it up...yup The Rolling Stones, & Hendrix & Bon Jovi & others) to make life just that much miserable for those holed up inside.

There is a lot of fodder in that whole story:  the church really will shelter anyone at all if they think anyone might find out they didn't & we apparently have no problem considering what we enjoy to be a plague on others.  But I'm not going there today.  Today I am going to France.

In 1990 Daniel Noriega did finally surrender to the rock'n'roll army & was shipped off to a US trial & US prison & that's the end of the story.  Well actually it isn't.  After the US was done with him...did you know the US was done with Noriega?  I missed that story last year, on April 26 2010 precisely.  Turns out between the Gulf Oil Spill & the 20th anniversary of the Hubble it just never came up.  Anyhow, so Noriega went to Paris & to prison & maybe even brought is Legion of Honor medal with him.

Wait, you didn't know that (me neither)?  Noriega was awarded the highest decoration in France in 1987 although his name was not on the list of recipients when I checked just now so apparently they can take that back.

Why am I going on & on about Noriega?  Because a judge in France has ruled in favor of yet another extradition & this morning he should be heading back to Panama.  Panama has been trying to get their hands on him for awhile & I for one am happy to know he is going.  The Panama he left & the country he returns to are like different worlds.  There have been elections, no doubt imperfect ones but still much improved.  Crime is hardly eradicated, but the police force are no longer just a thuggish arm of the current president-for-life.  Best of all, there is no such thing as president-for-life. 

As for the Rolling Stones, they will probably be playing somewhere, but Panama has had quite the cultural revolution since  Noriega left & now he will be treated to the not-so-smooth stylings of Panamas biggest musical export: a kind of sort of reggae hip-hop mosh.  What can I say Mr. President, the times they are a-changing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Agatha Christie & another lost week-end

Earlier this year, I was talking with my mom & told her I had begun working my way through the Miss Marple catalog & she said she always thought of them (the books) as kind of henny & her (Miss Marple & Agatha Christie) also kind of henny & without disagreeing (I think they are actually meant to be henny) I said "did you know Agatha Christie went AWOL in December 1926 only to be found in a hotel under her husband's mistress's name after he had come this close to being arrested in connection with the disappearance?" 

Doesn't it make you like her better?

This is not the first lost weekend I had ever heard of.  I knew a lady accountant whose husband was let's say reluctant to believe that staying home with their new baby was nearly so taxing as his day at the office.  He gave long speeches about how she had to pull herself together when he came home & the house was a mess, the baby was crying & she was both a mess & crying.  Among other problems she was having was a complete inability to breast feed, she & the baby just never got the hang of it.  As a result, they were on a merry-go-round of formulas as some did not agree with him some of the time, etc.

Yes, it sounds bad, but it did make it that much easier when on the Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend 1995 she met her husband at the door of a clean house, with a clean baby in her arms, handed over the baby & said I'll be back in time for you to go to work on Tuesday & took off.  C******** & D** were a particularly private couple but alas I was the office manager for the company C******** worked for when not on maternity leave & so I was in the unique position of receiving D**'s phone calls.  Did she go to a client?  Is she staying with someone from work?  Has she called in?  Has she called in? Has she called in?

All I know for sure is she did not stay with me; as to the rest I have my suspicions, mostly formed after the fact.  There was not much he could do; she timed it perfectly.  Memorial Day in east Texas is a big deal & that Friday morning I was the only person in the office & on-call through the weekend.  Both his mother & mother-in-law were also out of town, as was pretty much everyone else he knew who might know what to do with a permanently colicky baby for 100+ hours.  All I could tell him was she never phoned in for messages, no client ever said they were expecting her & it wasn't until a week later that it occurred to me that someone else who was unlikely to have any messages at all kept checking in regularly. 

I have no idea what happened when she got home; I don't know if the house or the baby were still clean.  I do know they hired a nanny & she cut short her maternity leave & came back to work early (the first & only time I have ever seen that happen, by the way).  They are still married & they never had any more children.

Agatha's lost weekend did not end so nicely,  Unless you are Archie Christie, I suppose.  He had said he requested a divorce (that's what prompted the fight that ended in her flight) & a divorce he got.  He married the mistress at the heart of it all & that's all I know.  Happily ever after?  Maybe.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

FKA Santa Maura

Lots & lots of saints today, including Saint Andrew (not the patron saint of golf) & Saint Trojan (not the patron saint of condoms).  But enough about them & what they are not.  This afternoon, lets get to know Saint Maura.  Don't worry, there isn't much to know.

First let me say that a friend of mine wanted to choose Maura as her confirmation name but the priest would not let her becasue there was no saint named Maura & she chose Margaret instead.  There are slews of Margarets.  As it happens in this post-google era we can all know there is indeed a Saint Maura.  She was a virgin (so much more appropriate than a few of the Margaret-ilk I would think but there you go).  She was martyred.  End of story.  Well not quite.

Apparently a kinda-sorta cult sprang up around Maura & for a while there she was very big in the east.  We don't know why exactly because one of Emperor Constantine's brothers (1/2 brothers?  I get confused) divided his time between being emperor & putting down christians generally, & when he had a little extra time on his hands he would go round repressing devotions to Saint Maura specifically.  & that was more or less all I could find about Maura until....

It turns out there is an island named after her.  Originally  I couldn't find the island, even with google but eventually I learned it was renamed Lefkas (in English).  I'm sure they had their reasons

Naturally I got curious what those reasons might be.  While trying to find out (I never did but I did not look that hard) I learned  it was the birth place of that well-known Greco-Irish writer Patrick Lafcadio Hearn.  Don't worry if you have never heard of him, apparently he was mostly big in Japan. 

So there was a Saint Maura, not too much remains known except they named an island for her & then they renamed it & then a guy who was named for the island went on to change his name.  Which brings us to the end of this story & the end of November.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The young lady with the flying lizard body art

Last, year, not far into the year, I decided I had really had it with nazis.  I don't (just) mean in the usual way a person could get fed up with nazis, I mean I was fed up with people talking about nazis.  It started with an unswerving impulse to change the channel the minute one person referred to a person of opposite political affiliation as "hitler-like".  It progressed so that I could no longer even take a chance of watching Secrets of the Dead (which I L*O*V*E, also Liev Schreiber's voice is the voice in my head I always attributed to Eben Strauss who I also love) because every season SotD does cover at least one nazi story & now I just cannot shake it, which is breaking my heart because I would pay to listen to Liev Schrieber read my grocery list aloud.

But somehow all these things had gotten wired & cross-wired in my brain & I just could not take nazis anymore.  Soooo, I declared a nazi free for the rest of the year.  As a result I did not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

//SIDEBAR:  many people who hear this have tried to tell me the Millenium books are not about nazis, that is just one little part & to read them during a nazi free year would not be a violation.  More on this later.

Mostly passing this book over was easy, I had the discs on hold at the library forEVER & I finally bubbled to the top of the lending list just as we were packing for Hawai'i last December.  & I knew I wouldn't be able to read(listen) in the few days after December 31st but before the discs were due back (I am not so obnoxious that I would ask to renew a book other people were waiting for, even though I do have the connections; that's right I am library book hooked-up).  So, back it went into the pool to drag down someone else's solstice observance.

Flash forward four months & a handful of days & it seems I am once again at the top of the list.  But now, also on my bedside table are Harry Dresden, Waking up in Eden, & Naguib Mahfouz.  So back to the library they went & this time I did not put them on hold again even.

Flash forward to late last month when someone asked me how I thought the books ended.  Well, there's a question.  I have a very particular belief about how many books end (Smilla's Sense of Snow being one of them) that almost no one I talk to finds reasonable (my mother-in-law got quite adamant & a bit upset when I said how I thought what happened at the end of Smilla & I swear that time I really was not trying to yank her chain.  I don't think I said more than two sentences & they weren't even run-on sentences, that I recall).  This time, though I did not have to put anything on hold.  Multiple formats of the book were readily available.

I plugged away thru the first 1/3 or so of the first book & my only thought was this girl better be quite something, because I think I have forgotten why I ever wanted to read this book.  The contrast between details that are glossed over & details that are not, as in detailed lists of computer hardware...  Don't get me wrong, I L*O*V*E a good list.  Nevil Shute's passages about airplane part inventory can make me teary eyed, no really.  & I was not kidding about Liev Schrieber & my groceries.  But these lists told me more about the author than any of the characters (seriously, there are more or less detailed descriptions of everyone's computer hardware but what color is any car, any car at all?)

So I am glad to have an audio version, even if it means the names all sound a bit samey.  & as for it not being about nazis:  do you think the Great Gatsby had anything to do with WASPs?  Dante's Inferno Catholics?  Yea, me too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gimme a "J"

I have received a few messages about the December Facebook Quilt Block Swap Group block (which is the word JOY).  Most of these are from people who have never seen examples of letter quilts, or quilts inspired by Word Play.  Those that are interested (& it is perfectly OKay if you are not) mostly want directions for making the letters.

Pieced alphabet quilt patterns abound on the internet (just google it), can be found in all kinds of quilt books (your local library is bound to have at least one) & you can always embroider or machine embroider or foundation paper piece or applique if you prefer anyhow.

But because I keep getting asked (& because some of these questions were being asked by a person standing in my own kitchen) I went ahead & documented these specific directions for this letter J.  The reason I am limiting myself to J is it is better if the words are all a bit different & most people can manage an O on their own anyhow.  As for Y, you will see that it can be made of the same pieces more-or-less & shuffled around, as the J.  For those who saw the original JOY post, you will notice this is NOT the same J.  It is the same J as in the photo on the Facebook Group page, but that should not be taken as a direction to use this J; this is just the J we came up with that could easily be chain pieced (yes chain pieced, my student -let's call her mom- made nine blocks; not the correct number for swapping but we were just using up each chain; we are still swapping in sets of FIVE).

Begin with a 3.5" strip of the background fabric & a  1.5" strip of the letter fabric; in this case the background is purple & the letter is teal.  Stitch them together, press one way or the other (it does not matter) & cut into 4.5" segments.  This means they will be square.

Next, to make the little hook of the J, take a 1.75" square of letter fabric & sew it corner-to-corner in the lower left hand side opposite the other part of the J.  When you iron it back on itself, it will create a corner triangle.

For the base of the J we made flying geese.  The letter fabric piece was  4.5" by 2.5" & the two background squares were  2.5".  I include a link to flying geese directions, in this particular case I used the second method (Speed Piecing Method A), but you can make them anyway you like.  Or not.  There is no rule that says you need a flying goose in your J.

& finally here is the assembled J:

& here it is JOY.  Yes, it needs to be squared up & maybe bordered to make it neater, but you get the idea.  The Y is the same width for the stem (base?  what do you call that part of a Y?) with background fabric on either side, a flying goose to make up the bowl (again not sure what else to call that) & then a strip with a hooky-bit on each end & voila!

As for the O, well I forgot to write that down.  I can tell you it is the same width letter fabric (1.5" strip) as the other two & that's all I remember.

Monday, November 7, 2011

JOY for the shortest days of the year

We are down to the last Facebook Quilt Block Swap Group swap of 2011 & it is....JOY.

You can find the directions (more guidelines, really) here, but the gist is make a quilt block (make five, we swap in sets of five) of the word JOY.  They do not have to be the same fabrics, they do not even have to be the same technique.  They can be appliqued, embroidered, pieced whatever it takes to make JOY.

So far, no blocks other than my demo blocks are in-house so I am making the decision not to do a 6th block quilt for this swap.  That means make six & keep one yourself & send the five.  I realize there is a possibility no blocks will ever arrive but c'est la vie.  In general, I get more messages about the December block/deadline than all the others rolled into one.  I hoped that posting the block six months early would help, but maybe it hasn't; I also realize maybe this block has not caught fire with anyone & hey, that is allowed.  One of the primary rules of this swap is no pressure:  swap when you want to, when you can, when you are inspired & sit out the others.

This block will need at least one fabric, two if you are piecing although you can use more if you like.  I would suggest one of them be a read-as-solid so that the letters stand out, but so long as there is contrast between the background & the letters, the word will still be legible.  It should be 6.5" unfinished/6" finished by 6.5" unfinished/6" finished OR LARGER.  The block does not need to be, almost certainly will not be, square. 

One of the December swap queries has been why I we are making Christmas blocks to swap December 31st.  I would like to float the idea that there are other kinds of JOY.  Baby joy & garden joy & patriotic joy &...&... there are lots of ways to make this block without getting bogged down in just the one holiday. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Holiday cookie swap guidelines

Yup, it's that time of year when we start thinking about cookie swaps.  Last year was intended to be...better than it was.  But Farley-boy dieing right there in the middle of the planning made it all too much for me to deal with.  I know he was a smelly old man who loved only me, but that was kind of what I loved about him.

This year I WILL have my act together.  & this is how it will go.  I think.

Anyone can participate, you do not have to show to win.  You can send your cookies with another person who IS coming (Tuesday, December 13th, 7:30 pm) or drop your off anytime from Monday on (although if they need to be refrigerated we need to talk beforehand) or mail ahead of time (USPS flat rate box is $4.95...I'm just saying).

You need to bring at least 2 dozen cookies.  & you need to package them somehow in units of 1/2dozen OR 1/2dozen-equivalents.  I say 1/2dozen-equivalents because some cookies are just less than others.  For example, I make these very popular, very easy nut balls every year.  They are a kind of shortbread rolled with walnuts & have maybe five ingredients, aren't really decorated & 1/2dozen of them would not overfill the palm of my hand.  I would consider a dozen of these to be roughly equal to 1/2dozen of any normal cookie.

For every 1/2dozen you have to trade, you walk away with 1/2dozen made by some one else.  If you like a good variety for the holidays, the way to go make a lot of the one or two cookies you really like making & know you won't be stuck eating them all (because there is no punishment like having to eat extra cookies). 

I know some people will be bringing 1/2dozens for people who cannot attend which is perfectly OKay.  if you think you might be interested, let me know....

Monday, October 31, 2011

In which the devil builds a church...or not

You might have noticed there were more saints than usual this month.  That was, in part because I can write the saint posts when I have time & then queue them up.  It was also because October, being that month of spooky-ookiness just lends itself to saints.  I don't care who you are, most of those people are downright not-quite-right in the head.  I mean no disrespect, crazy people are pretty much the only people who get big things done (big goods things & big bad things).

For Hallowe'en, it seemed only right to end the month with a guy I had never heard of (although his miracle runs on a very popular theme), Wolfgang of Regensburg.  C'mon, how can you resist a Hallowe'en saint named Wolfgang?  The only thing that could be better would be Saint Vlad.

Wolfgang was a person, a child & then a man in the usual way.  He was a scholar, an educator & the ultimately a bishop in his own part of the world (my guess would be greater Regensburg).  Eventually he retired from his bishophood & went to live as a hermit (shocker!) & so on in so forth in that bishop to hermit to canonical candidate way.  Despite being a hermit (seriously, I am beginning to think that word does not mean what I think it means), he had an active political life, did a bit of traveling & some light construction work (he built his solitary cell where G*d directed his axe to fall; seems an impractical method to me, but the axe remains a relic in the town of Ste. Wolfgang).  He was known locally as a man of great goodness & after his death many churches adopted his name.  All very standard stuff.  But you know there had to be something to catch my eye (or more accurately my typing fingers) & that was the story of how Wolfgang of Regensburg beat the devil. 

I think we are all fond of stories of beating the devil, even if you don't believe in the devil, even if you believe the devil is in all of us.  We all like to beat him, in Moscow or even Georgia.  When I was in school I remember loving the Stephen Vincent Benet story "The Devil & Daniel Webster", maybe in part because I spent a lot of my youth up in Daniel Webster country & have visited his birthplace on more than one occasion.  I have just learned there is a movie that I somehow missed completely, but scenes still look familiar.  I cannot tell if I saw it once & forgot or of all movies from that period look a little bit alike.

Either way, there is no movie about Wolfgang of Regensburg beating the devil (actually there probably the tourist kiosk of the Town of Ste. Wolfgang, but whatever) which is a damn shame because Wolfgang beat the devil & got him (the devil) to build a church.  The story itself, without further ado:

I could not find it.  I looked & looked & looked & all I found was this painting which some sources say is actually Ste. Augustine being presented with a book of vices (how handy!).  How Wolfgang came to meet the devil, no idea.  What the devil offered him, not a clue.  How Wolfgang roped the devil into doing good works, great big mystery. 

& so I leave you with this, a man who pulled a Tom Sawyer on Satan himself.  Then somehow got assigned October 31st as his feast day. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Little cedar tree

Phew.  So.  Well.  I guess I don't have to say "I am way behind" although "I'm sorry I am so behind" would not be out of line.  The bad news about being behind is that the deadlines keep coming, washing over me & moving on.  That is also the good news, because there is something liberating about admitting I'm going to be late.

Yesterday was the deadline for the Facebook Quilt Block Swap 10-2011 swap block.  It was one of the deadlines that rolls on up whether I am ready for it or not.  Not only was I not ready, I had not done most of the prep work either on-line or in my own house.  Samples of the block were made eons ago; I put up three swaps worth at a time, which is six months worth of swaps & I do this at the end of the previous swap soooo pictures of this (& the next & the previous) swap block went on-line in June.  Good thing, too because there is no way I could have cranked them out between the end of the last swap & in time to get them here today.  I didn't even get the packages that have been arriving all in one place until this past Friday, which is BAD.

One missed deadline does not seem to have mattered so much.  There was no last call for the block(s), but we got plenty anyhow.  I have been calling this "one cut of the cut glass dish" because, well, it is one component of that more complex & much larger block.  It is also a block in its own right, which I had planned on noting but....but...

Among other inconveniences of this whole remodel business was that we decided to put in the same new floor throughout the kitchen, dining room (which is effectively now part of the kitchen), the front room (which was the living room/tv room but has been sort of drifting in purpose since we made the old florida room a year-round part of the house & moved the tv etc. in there), & hallway (which is still a hallway, no real change there).  This meant packing up the books in the front room (maybe we could start calling it the library, hmmmm) & that meant packing my Brackman & that meant I had no idea what this block on its own was called.

Well, the Brackman came back out early last week & now I know.  It is called Little Cedar Tree & it is Brackman #1311a.  .It is a charming little block really.  & with five of it's fellows & three "blank" squares, makes one of my most favorites.  Good thing, too because you would not believe the pile of envelopes waiting to be swapped!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Broken dishes from years ago

I thought about sitting out this Blogger's Quilt Festival, mostly because we have been in the throws (& I do mean throws) of a kitchen remodel & I have nothing new & nothing I have not already blogged about &....&...

I was wrong.  This month, over on the Block Lotto, I submitted three Broken Dishes blocks for the October Sampler Lotto.  & then I went hunting through my blog for photos of the Broken Dishes quilt I made my step-father.  It turns out I have no blog entry & no complete photos of it at all, YIKES!

This quilt hung in a Veteran's Day 2006 quilt show before it went on to it's final home.  For reasons I am not clear on, it was hung upside down, so that instead of the label being in the lower right corner (& oriented correctly when folded up in the usual way of looking at quilt labels on hanging quilts), it was folded over itself.  No other quilt in the show was hung this way (including another I made with a similar label right-side-up when you lift the corner type deal).  Anyhow, it means the only picture I have does not show the whole quilt top.  

Trust me though, it is the same all over, Broken Dishes alternating with Snowballs to make a woven sort-of criss-cross pattern.  I used the same fabric for the center of the Snowballs, the corner squares of the outer border & the narrow inner border.  All the others were scraps in shades of blue, light & dark meeting in the center.

This quilt was made especially for my step-father & happened to coincide with a quilt show honoring veterans, so I made a label with photos of him in the service & more recently fishing & a blurb of how he spent his time, specifically building quonset huts during the Korean War.  I don't usually go in for such elaborate labels, but this was a special case. 

Nowadays the quilt lives in my parent's den, over the back of the rocking chair he sits in every night to watch Pardon My Interruption, college basketball & what-have-you.  I see it every time I visit & have never thought to take a better picture.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Adopt a Shelter Dog Month

Yes, I get kind of tired of these faux-holiday months:  eat a pig month, don't beat your wife monthtake your rabbi to luinch month, & so forth.  Hmmmm, that was a complete accident but maybe you should almost slap your spouse & then take the rabbi for a pork chop...?  No, probably not.


All these months can get stoopid.  What I think I  like most about them is how stoopid they are.  Until I am just fed up & then they aren't even stoopid-fun anymore. But the thing about these months is there is always one that means something to you, or in this case, me.  I am only marginally interested in National Cyber Security Awareness or Downs Syndrome Awareness & maybe just a bit more interested in Breast Cancer Awareness or Lupus Erythematosus Awareness (not to be confused with general Lupus Awareness Month which is in May).  But there is a big one for me:  October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.

There are so many stories, so much alike & so uniquely heartbreaking about shelter animals that I am just not going to enter that now.  Instead I am going to give you a taste of what a foundling dog can be, if someone just takes him home:

When I was a kid it was all about Benji, or Higgins actually becasue that was his name-at-home.  Higgnins was indeed found at a shelter & once this was learned the American Humane Society reported a HUGE uptick in adoptions from shelters.  The subsequent Benji was Higgins's son, who obviously did not come from an animal shelter; Higgins was so beloved by his owner that when the dog died he was cremated & then buried with him (the owner) when he (the owner) died.

Later it was Murray, or Maui a border collie mix also found at an animal shelter, around whom the life of two very busy NY professionals revolved just about the time we got our first dog, Megan-also-called-Piglet.  Her shelter name was Denise & I wanted to name her Dodie & I still think she would have made a fine Dodie, but all the yuppies were naming their daughters Megan so Megan it was.

Most recently it is the dogs formerly know as Bad Newz.  I confess I have not yet read the book about their rehabilitation, but as a person who lives with a pitbull I know that they are individuals just like every other breed & some want to patrol their territory & some would rather eat pizza on the couch.

Sooooo, it's Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.  Chances are your shelter dog won't make you rich, or even pay his own way.  Still, there are lots of wonderful dogs out there who have already been thru the horrible puppy stage & just want someone to rub their bellies.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The New & Improved Very Large Array

You remember the hullabaloo (or maybe you don't) between The Colbert Nation & NASA. The gist is NASA had a contest to name....something. I think it might have been a room on the space station.  Whatever it was, NASA had suggestions & the rest of us were supposed to choose fom among them.  & then Stephen Colbert started campaigning that the room (I looked it up, it was a room) be named for him.  & the rest is history.  Or not, actually.  Apparently NASA reserves the right to override any winning suggestions & may or may not have exercised it.  I don't know.  Google it your damn self.   Alright, I did google it.  NASA conceded & named a treadmill after Stephen Colbert instead.  

Well, forget NASA, this time it is the NRAO renaming their Very Large Array.  First let me say how much I already like NRAO's naming style over NASA's.  Apparently the COLBERT treadmill is really the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance treadmill.  This refusal to choose the voted on name because it doesn't fit their vision & then backwards engineering the choosen name so the letters first letters of the elobarota NASA-name spell it tells us all a little something about NASA.  On the other hand we have the NRAO, who apparently took a look at a very large array & said "Let's call it the Very Large Array".

& the Very Large Array it remained, so-named in the movie Contact & right up through Terminator Salvation although they called it SkyNet.   It was the backdrop for way-too-many music videos, documentaries, comic books & on & on. 

The Very Large Array is located in New Mexico, more or less out on it's own.  It is in a county with a population somewhat less than 20K people; 6 towns, villages & localities; 11 ghost towns & 49 listings on the National Register of Historic Places-10 of which have restricted addresses; in other words yes they are historic but the public cannot know exactly where they are.  Before you start thinking Roswell (actually in another, non-adjacent county),  I checked, they are all archeological digs & I know from talking with people in the biz there is quite a black market for artifacts from same.  Or maybe that is just the cover story.

So there it is, the Very Large Array, getting all upgraded & shiny & new.  & here is your chance to name it.  Unlike NASA they are offering no suggestions, except that they just might keep the Very Large Array & add a prefix.  As in The New & Improved Very Large Array.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Today, a dwarf

I freely & unequivocally admit I choose today's saint because of his name.  No, not the Juan part, the other part:  Juan the Dwarf.  I know if you follow the link you will find JOHN the dwarf, but you will also find painting after painting of white Jesus & you all just need to get over that. 

Okay, is everyone forming a picture of a Latin Lord of the Rings thing?  Yes?  Good.

Juan was born to a poor family (surprise, surprise) in Egypt (Juan?).  He had a famously short fuse (waka waka) & while his temper never really went away, with spirituality came humility (so not 21st century, right?) & he stopped getting quite so worked up about offenses, imagined & otherwise. 

So we have a dwarf, who has left his parents hovel to live in an underground cave he dug himself.  It just gets better & better doesn't it?  Lived for a while as a hermit, offering himself as a disciple.  For reasons known only to ancient villagers with ancient pitchforks (in this instance Berbers with swords), he was driven away, wandered a bit & then settled on Mount Qolzum, over in Anthony's neighborhood, to hang with the other hermits.

In the end, the most interesting story about Juan, in my view, is he was directed (by Saint Pambo, a most excellent name) to plant a piece of dry wood & then traveled uphill in both directions twice a day to water it for thirteen years until it sprouted.  The reason I like this is that one of my favorite movies: Enchanted April.  It has nothing to do with dwarves or saints or mountains or anything really, but a dead bit of wood that sprouts does come into it.  & I guess there are some sort-of hermits living together.

Back to our man of the day; he is the patron of nothing, nada, zip.  Not even dwarves.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Curried eggs

It has been a while since I had a recipe & I don't know about you, but when it gets hot I have trouble eating anything meaty.  Alright, I am not a big meat eater at the best of times (I had a cheeseburger a year ago October & by a year ago October I mean 2009), but the simple truth is I need protein just like everyone else.  In the summertime, the best way to get it is with eggs.  & yes, by the way, it is summertime here again in Fladidah.  This week, it is hard-boiled curried eggs over leafy greens (because it turns out I realllly need more iron & spinach is my new best friend).

First hard-boil some eggs.  However many you want.  Six eggs would last me a week; A could eat that in one sitting.  Lets say six:  hard-boil six eggs.  Then drain them & take make them easier to peel, drop them gently into cold, cold water.  Set aside for a minute...or an hour.

When you are ready, return to the eggs & peel them.  I roll them around for a bit until the shell cracks & then try to peel it in one piece like an apple.  No, I have never been successful, but it is good to give yourself these little challenges, don't you think?  Cut them & remove the yolks.  Set aside the whites, keeping them as intact as you can, but don't make yourself crazy, this is not deviled eggs after all.  Mash the yolks with a fork.

In a small bowl -a really small bowl, I use a teacup- combine 1tsp cardamon, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp red pepper. 1/2 tsp turmeric.  Generally these are already ground but if not, grind them now.  Grind them together, even.

Finely mince one or two or three cloves of garlic.  Three is probably too many, so if you really like garlic, use two.  If you buy minced garlic in a jar, try to scoop as much liquid as actual garlic & go for a teaspoon or so total.

Take your smallest pan, ideally a pan with some sides to it (i.e. a crepe pan would not cut it) & put in as little of a light oil as you need to coat the bottom.  Any light oil will do.  The idea is not to cook anything in oil but to make the temperature more or less even throughout the pan.  If you have a gas stove & snazzy cookware, you might be able to get away without the oil.  If you are feeling adventurous, or it is the morning after bookclub, you could try a bit of red wine, just covering the bottom of your pan.

Heat the oil, add the spices.  Stir.  & stir.  Do not stop stirring.  Add the garlic & stir some more.  The spices may smoke a bit, just keep stirring & use your nose.  When they "release" add the mashed egg yolks & stir, stir stir for as long again as you stirred before adding the eggs.  It is almost impossible to under-cook them, but the longer they heat up together, the more flavor the eggs will take.

Never stop stirring, never ever ever.

When they are done remove from heat, remove from pan (or they will keep cooking, even if the pan is not on the stove) & set aside.  Slice the whites into smaller-than-bite sized pieces.  I like to put them in a bowl, whites on one side, yolks on the other & spoon it over my salad instead of dressing.  Other people scoop them up on pieces of bread or mix it in with rice. 

& for those of you who like a media tie-in, I give you Cool Hand Luke.  I bet he couldn't have eaten those eggs curried...maybe he could.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Talk about talk

Today in 1881 an ancient language was reborn. Wait, let me back up.  Did you know languages are like sharks?  No really, they are.  Keep moving or die.  & languages happen in more ways than you might think:  American Sign Language began as a way for a hearing teacher to reach a deaf student.  Noam Chomsky would say this conversation starved girl was just the right age for her language switch to be flipped on & the language exploded.  & then there is Klingon; they needed a few syllables to match up to subtitles for a television show.  A few cult member later, a movie is made & the producers decide to hire a linguist to reverse engineer into the existing noises & grow something from there.  The rest is linguistic history; last year Shakespeare was performed in Klingon & the Book of Mormon was translated.  I am not suggesting there is a huge market, but how many people have to speak a language for it to be a language?

Which brings us to today's phoenix.  In 1880 there was no such thing as conversational Hebrew.  Yiddish, yes, but outside of ceremonial uses, there was no Hebrew.  So, if no one uses it in every day living, is it still a language?  Eliezer Ben-Yehuda said yes.  & then to hedge his bet, he began speaking it.  Alright, he probably began speaking it because it mattered to him that this language come back into common usage; gambling had nothing to do with it. 

Ben-Yehuda made major changes in his & his family's life to bring back this language,.  His son was barely exposed to any other language as a child & is credited with being the first native speaker of Hebrew in a thousand years.  Today, it is the official language Israel & regardless of how you feel about whether Israel should exist there is no doubt it is the home to almost 8 million people, more than 60% of whom identify Hebrew as their primary language.

So Happy Rebirth Birthday, Hebrew Language.  Alas all I can say in conversational Hebrew is "I have a song that irritates people" over & over & over again.  Feel free to blame the counselors at Camp Ramah circa 1981.  Wow, exactly 100 years after the whole thing began again!

In a related story, Michael Chabon came to write one of my favorite books (actually he wrote several of my favorites books, but I am only referring to one of them here) because he got to wondering about Yiddish & how it is a dying language, only to learn that it isn't but by then he had started down a whole alternative history concept in which instead of the Middle East the Jewish homeland is settled in Alaska.  & all of this was before he rest of the country ever heard of Sarah Palin.  I am talking of course about The Yiddish Policeman's Union.  Do yourself a favor, get the audio version read by Peter Riegert.  It is a jewel.  & now I see the book has been optioned for a movie by the Coen Brothers...I can hardly wait.

Back to the birth of Hebrew....& ASL & Klingon & Esperanto & so on.  While waiting for that movie that now I really must see, also get a copy of In the Land of Invented Languages.  The people of language are some of the most interesting people to read about.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pelagia AKA Margarito

I backed into Saint Pelagia, not in a parking lot or anything but through the Boris Akunin series about Sister Pelagia (which I backed into because of my deep & abiding love for all things Erast Fandorin, also a Boris Akunin character).

There are a few different Saint Pelagias, conveniently celebrated on the same days (today or later this month, depending on which calendar you go with, but all together on whichever day):  a virgin who jumped from the roof of her house rather than be raped by soldiers, another who drove one man to suicide & his father to burn her alive for refusing to marry either of them, & a nun who saw a vision of Mary that told her where to find buried treasure, but today we are taking a look at Pelagia also known as Margarito the Courtesan.

Our Pelagia lived in Antioch (as did the roof-jumper, who is known as Pelagia of Antioch) & had quite a following as a dancer & professional mistress.  She was known for her outrageous costumes & public spectacles (think Lady Gaga) & was out one day with her entourage when she happened to hear Saint Nonnus preaching in the street.  In an unusual twist, as far as I can tell part of what got Nonnus the saint gig was baptising Pelagia & then getting her to renouncing her sinful ways.  Pelagia was a very big fish (imagine Lady Gaga; now imagine her joining Westboro Baptist Church).  She had a very public, very well compensated life of sin.  She was a walking-talking repudiation of be good & good things will happen to you, be bad & you get my point.  This was most excellent PR for the christians.

But Pelagia does not stop being interesting.  She was casting off her worldy goods & worldly life & really wanted to get to Jerusalem & live as penitent without attracting undo attention.  So she went disguised.  As a man.  No where else have I come across a saint who went cross-dressing to redemption.  I am just going to beat this Lady Gaga thing like a rented mule.

Pelagia spent three years disguised as a man, shut away in a monk's cell.  When she was found dead, she was buried without above ordinary ceremony.  I wonder what they thought of the babe in monk's clothing but maybe everyone secretly knew.  Also things were hopping in the Holy Land right about then.  In more scandalous death-news, the wife of the emperor also died- yes they die all the time but this particular wife had been banished to Jerusalem because of her adultery.  There were also a lot of religious schisms, the results of which are still seen today, hence Pelagia being a widely recognized saint in some churches & not so much in others.

That's it for our Pelagia really.  The second go-round of the hooker with a heart of gold story.   For another story about another Pelagia (no more holy than our saint & no less interesting, frankly) let me recommend Sister Pelagia & the White Bulldog.  It has everything:  religious schisms, sexual intrigues & behind the scenes look at champion dog breeding in Tsarist Russia.  Also, the sister wields a deadly knitting needle, what's not to love?

Friday, September 30, 2011

In which the best thing we have becomes more like MadLibs

I'm not sure what happened to me at the outset of book banning week but here is the post I researched, made notes on & actually started writing:

What with Banned Books Week right around the corner (or upon us & rolling away as the case may be), I thought I would take a look at a newly-not censored book:  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as newly translated (it sounds better than bowdlerized, also no one knows what that word means anymore) by Alan Bribben.

The short version is Mr. Bribben (Professor Bribben?)  went through & replaced the word "nigger" with the word "slave".  I understand the word "injun" was also removed, but I don't know what replaced it.  The word "slave" could work there too, I guess.  Unlike a lot of people, I actually have a more than passing familiarity with Mr. Twain's original work.  I adore it & I don't mean that in the knee-jerk literature major way.  To give you some perspective, I refer to Moby Dick as the G*d damned fish book & while I have been trying for almost 30 years & I still cannot think of anything more overrated.  Also, The Great Gatsby is puerile crap.  I do not love literature lightly or because someone told me I should.

& I actually think the word nigger is worth hanging on to, in Huck Finn & in general (yes even in rap music).  Nigger means something.  It isn't pretty, it isn't flattering but why oh why are we so anxious to paint over a word with  history (an ugly history but no less real).  Why isn't someone waging a war on "nice" or "like", which as far as I can tell are placeholders for "I don't really remember that person/place/thing" & "uhmmm" respectively?

I do not understand why the choice is Huck Finn without nigger or no Huck Finn at all.  I don't understand why we have room for Harlequin romances & holocaust deniers & The Surrendered Wife & Beatrix Potter rip-off board books & all kinds of copy-cat rehashed consumer driven word-putty, but nigger is two syllables too far.

I did not think for one moment Huck Finn could be improved by replacing nigger with slave but what the hell.  Here is one of the more or less nigger-rich passages:
They asked us considerable many questions; wanted to know what we covered up the raft that way for, and laid by in the daytime instead of running -- was Jim a runaway nigger? Says I:

"Goodness sakes! would a runaway nigger run south?"

No, they allowed he wouldn't. I had to account for things some way, so I says:

"My folks was living in Pike County, in Missouri, where I was born, and they all died off but me and pa and my brother Ike. Pa, he 'lowed he'd break up and go down and live with Uncle Ben, who's got a little one-horse place on the river, forty-four mile below Orleans. Pa was pretty poor, and had some debts; so when he'd squared up there warn't nothing left but sixteen dollars and our nigger, Jim..."
But why slave?  If we are going to rewrite history, Jim should be a ...patriot!  & let's face it, who calls their father Pa?  & those $16 really should be adjusted for inflation.  Because that's where this goes, it doesn't stop with one bad word, there is always tomorrow's bad word & "let's update the language to help the kids through" & so forth.

They asked us considerable many questions; wanted to know what we covered up the raft that way for, and laid by in the daytime instead of running -- was Jim a runaway patriot? Says I:

"Goodness sakes! would a runaway patriot run south?" 

hmmm.  Let's keep going.

No, they allowed he wouldn't. I had to account for things some way, so I says:

"My folks was living in Pike County, in Missouri, where I was born, and they all died off but me and daddy and my brother Ike. Daddy, he 'lowed he'd break up and go down and live with Uncle Ben, who's got a little one-horse place on the river, forty-four mile below Orleans. Daddy was pretty poor, and had some debts; so when he'd squared up there warn't nothing left but sixteen hundred dollars and our patriot, Jim...

Interesting, but "Ike" calls up images of Ike Turner, so unflattering to black people & "Uncle Ben", well I don't think I need to explain that one.  According to the baby name trends site I found, boy's names that were popular when Ike was popular are:  Dock, General , Gustave, Enoch, etc. So I'll just randomly grab another name from that era.  As for Uncle Ben, well there are other forms of the name Benjamin we can fall back on. So, let's try this:

"My folks was living in Pike County, in Missouri, where I was born, and they all died off but me and daddy and my brother Otho. Daddy, he 'lowed he'd break up and go down and live with Uncle Bentley, who's got a little one-horse place on the river, forty-four mile below Orleans. Daddy was pretty poor, and had some debts; so when he'd squared up there warn't nothing left but sixteen hundred dollars and our patriot, Jim..."
I think there is a future for the Madlibs version of The Great Works of American Literature, because that is what we are screwing with here.  Ernest Hemingway said "All American writing come from that (Huck Finn)".  Are we so sure whitewashing is always the best way to keep something clean?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

World Tourism Day

I am not the world's best world traveler.  In fact, I kind of hate it.  I share this with Richard Nixon who famously preferred Hilton Hotels because all the rooms were the same.  At least I think it was Hiltons.  Maybe it was Sheratons.  Maybe it wasn't quite so famously.

Anyhow, I am not much for leaving home even on trips I want to take which makes this year's World Tourism Day a natural good fit for me because this year's theme is Linking Cultures & this year's host is Egypt.  In light of Egypt's inability to link within it's own culture well, what can I say, I laughed.  

I laughed again when I went to the World Tourism Day Official Celebrations page & learned that "The official World Tourism Day celebrations will take place in Aswan, Egypt/Details coming soon".  Given that today is World Tourism Day & it is no longer today in Egypt, I don't think those details are going to come soon enough.

Nowadys, I live in a tourist destination myself.  In a broad sense, Fladidah being the Once-Upon-A-Time go to locale for snow-blind refugees & that was before the Temple of the Mouse was built just to the south east of here & then right-right here we get educational tourists who come for the university, college sports tourists who come for the football & stay for the basketball, as well as the healthcare tourists (one of the largest research hospitals in the country is right here as well as a distinct regional hospital that serves the surrounding counties). 

Besides the actual sunblock on the nose wearing (or more likely chemo cap wearing) tourists, on any given day, ten or more of the people I deal with are unlikely to be here in another two years.  This can be good & bad.  It is hard to convince a local who will not be local in five years to commit to a five year budget that involves sacrifice or investment.  In some ways they show up & expect things to just be here. 

On the other hand, there are things here (that their predecessors have helped pay for) that are way-way better then anything they have back home & I don't mean the reason they came.  Our local library has won national awards.  Life downtown, even in the smaller surrounding towns, is alive & well thanks in part to a population that would rather bicycle or walk than drive.  Live music, theatre, dance are all alive & well supported by the people who live here & the people who are stuck here & need something to do.

I don't think I could take living in a resort community.  Mouse-Mecca is one of the most crime ridden cites in the country & even Horse-Town, the county seat of the county just to the south, makes the Top 100 most dangerous cities in the US list (interesting tid-bit:  there are 50 states & 100 cities on this list & 18 of those cities are here in Fladidah, mostly centered around-you guessed it- tourist hot spots).

So Happy World Tourism Day.  Stay home, even the host wants you to.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Martin Van Buren-the encore

WOW.  I just reread that last post & what can I say, we are repainting ALL the public (not bedroom, not bathroom) parts of the house & apparently the fumes are taking their toll.  I did a report on Martin Van Buren at Laurel School & have been repressing ever since..?  I want you to know the draft of the book banning week post was about Huck Finn.  I don't know what happened.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Taking a break from book burning

It's that time of year again, Book Banning Remembrance Week.   Yea, yea books were challenged.  Some were banned, some were restored.  It was a same old, same old year book-banning-wise. 

So I thought why not take a look at what was not banned.  Yes, that is a lot of books but there are national groups (freedom of speech groups, the world is a funny place) that assist local groups with their book banning challenges.  They also recommend books these local groups might want to challenge.  I thought it might be fun to take a look at their recommended reading lists.  It's convoluted, I know; let me try to sum this up:  what books do book banning backers believe are books you better buy?

It took me almost no time to discover the 9/12 Project.  They are very upfront about books they don't like, & aren't skittish about being named in the complaints.  I am told they have a very helpful & easy to navigate website, but every jump off the main page requires signing up & I have no desire to be on their e-mail list.  It took me years to get the fruit basket of the month people to stop sending me messages; G*d only knows what these e-mails might bring me & for how long (does anyone seriously buy those $200 stacking tins of rare nuts?).

Right there on the front page, the 9/12 Project has a disclaimer where they make sure to repeat at length how they are "not owned by, operated by, or in any way affiliated with the Glenn Beck Program, Glenn Beck, Mercury Radio Arts, or any radio station, Cable TV Network, etc".  This parallels nicely with their Read These First list of ten books, four of which are authored or co-authored by Glenn Beck.   While not automatically ban-worthy, I wonder about the credibility of any organization that says that these books tell you how to think & we are in no way affiliated with the guy who wrote of more than a third of them any longer.  Imagine if Greenpeace said we would like you to ban all books that discuss how valuable whaling is & read instead these books coincidentally written by one of our founders who has since gone his own way.

From what I could see, most of the books the 9/12 Project object to have a strong sexual component.  I gather this from the titles, such as Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology a book they helped get banned from a library in New Jersey, although others they targeted were not "deviant" (their word) just plain old How-To primers.  The locals did not quite get into the spirit of banning though.  Only Revolutionary Voices was actually removed from the shelves & in response to that the group Revolutionary Readings was begun.  What used to sit between the covers of a book someone had to actively seek, open, etc. was now being performed/read aloud over&over&over again, with newspaper coverage & television coverage & a facebook page & twitter feed & so forth.  I am guessing that did not go quite as planned.

The books the 9/12 Project endorse have an entirely different theme (not a sex manual in the bunch, at least not that I could tell by their covers).  Aside from the four by Glenn Beck &/or Glenn Beck et al there were two co-written by two gentlemen named Stewart.  Both books have the word "miracle" in the title & one of them is more specific:  The Seven Miracles that Saved America.  I made a swift & incomplete search for a list of these miracles & if I had been willing to sign up on one or another website, I am sure they would have been at my fingertips, but again I am skittish (those fruit basket of the month people have really made me gunshy).  Also, I am suspicious of the word miracle, because it always turns out to be interpretive.  For example, I don't actually think looking out on a familiar vista & seeing a guy hanging in mid-air with life threatening gory wounds is a miracle; I think that is really really bad food poisoning.  Just to make sure christians don't feel singled out, I don't think all that much of  lamp oil that burns way past the laws of physics following the pillage of a people; wouldn't the miracle have been to prevent the massacre?  I am really not interested in reading about the miracle of the Reagan tax cuts or whatever.  I read the introduction (it was free on Amazon) & it did belittle certain celebrities as not being qualified to discuss the mater they were discussing.  Any list that includes Glenn Beck & belittles others for not being educated on their topic amuses me, but probably not for a whole book.

Two others are histories, secret & otherwise.  One of them seems (from the title anyhow) to be devoted to George Washington:  The Real George Washington.  That might be interesting, I like warts&all biographies.  I am not convinced he was the one & only individual that could have lead us out of the dark night of the British Empire as the blurb implies (Amazon again), but I am also fairly certain that even without Neil Armstrong there still would have been a moon landing & I don't think this view diminishes Neil Armstrong one bit.

According to a cookbook I have, George was quite fond of beefsteak & kidney pie which sounds unamerican from here, but it was probably just what he was used to, being born in a British colony & all.  The Must Read List does not include any biographies of Martin Van Buren, the first president actually born in the US of A (what with all previous presidents being born in the colonies that would become & so forth).  This is a shame really because I think I could argue that Martin was more American than his predecessors & not just because of his resident versus naturalized alien birth status.  He ditched the powdered wig for good (so had Jackson before him but let's face it, Jackson was a madman & maybe we shouldn't get too cozy with anything he did & well, yes the Adamses did too...Okay forget that part about the wig).  He did lots of  other American things & by American I mean not attempting to emulate Britain.  After being voted out of office, Martin ran again, on a slavery-opposition ticket.  Everyone goes bat-shit for Lincoln but no one remembers this about old MVB.

Two months into Van Buren's first & only term, the US entered its first great depression (I know, they start to pile up) & most of his time was spent dealing with that.  Jackson had left behind some rather conflicted policies, including but not limited to the decision to require all purchasers of federal land to pay with precious metals.  In other words the US government would not accept US currency.  In retrospect, it is easy to see how this might go badly.  What can I say, I would rather read about Martin Van Buren than George Washington; I think he is more relevant in the way that paying the electric bill is more relevant than knowing the guy who invented the latest lighting technology.  Sure, the later might be more fun at parties, but not if we all have to stand around in the dark.

For whatever reason, I cannot see that 9/12 Project endorses any Martin Van Buren biographies, but they also don't appear to oppose them either.  This might change though if they learned he opposed the annexation of Texas (it might be a good idea for some future date, but it just wasn't a good idea right then), he declined to go to war with the British even when Canadian loyalists killed a US citizen for illegally selling weapons to Canadian separatists.  In fact, Martin went so far as to say that the government "would not countenance Adventuresome Americans attacking the British" & stated that the US would remain neutral in this dispute on the northern border.  Later disputes were resolved diplomatically.

In happier news, the only biography of the man I could find is actually Martin Van Buren's autobiography.  & for reasons I can only speculate on, his wife is nowhere in that book, so there hopefully isn't any sex to object to anyhow.  I can tell you according to the aforementioned cookbook, he was widely criticized for his love of French cuisine.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Going going gone to the dogs

I should have caught this earlier, but alas I have been wrestling the kitchen demons.  So, way late & not one iota less for it:  September is National Guide Dog Month.

A long, Long, LONG time ago, I worked oh-so-briefly for a company with offices on the green in Morristown, NJ.  Morristown, NJ for those who do not know, is the home of The Seeing Eye, where the whole seeing eye dog moniker originated.  Funnily enough, I still hear people calling all kinds of service dogs seeing eye dogs, even the dogs helping people who can see just fine.

Anyhow, every day, rain or shine, the dogs in training would do convoluted laps around the green, encountering people, crosswalks, hotdog wagon, etc.  the green was a hopping place in those days & may still be, I have not set foot in Morristown since April 1994.

On an entirely (OKay not really) I have been following a story that is happening locally, in the great football mecca just east of me.  First you should know that there is a better-treated-than-average homeless population in that city.  I think liberal politics, moderate climate & high population turn-over what with the average citizen graduating in five short years (URP!).  A large homeless shelter & soup kitchen has finally gotten their dream legislation, specifically there is no longer a cap on how many meals they can serve in a day but instead a beginning & end to the hours they can serve.  This really is a good thing, even for people who think the homeless should be beat to death in the street (a favorite local pastime in that great cartoon mouse mecca to the south).  Instead of people always asking if there are any left, the giant clock on Century Tower will tell you whether or not you should hang around.

For a few years now, adjacent to the people facility, there has been a pet clinic.  & before you get in a twist about homeless people having pets, it turns out to have been a good idea.  It turns out a person who has no home, no family except a transitory, cobbled community, a person who has intermittent access to the prescriptions etc. that keep them from believing someone is out to get them, such a person is more likely to remain peaceful if they can share their lives with someone who does not care that they are homeless.  It turns out that someone is often a pet.

Not surprisingly, it also turns out to be better for the rest of us if those pets gets neutered/spayed, vaccinated, flea & tic treatment & general veterinary care.  & while they don't have the paperwork or the training to prove it, after watching homeless people & their pets, it is impossible not to see that each companion is a bona fide service animal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Late with the cut glass dish block

I am running late.  I mean really super-bad late.  I should have put the Cut Glass Dish Block info up weeks ago & I do mean WEEKS.  My excuse is I had no kitchen; even as I type this I still have not counters or table, so no surfaces.  Life without surfaces is challenging.  If I cannot hold it in my hand, whatever IT is, I cannot deal with it.  Multitasking is just not possible.

Ah well, it will get better.  Also barring a few small jobs (putting in lights!), work stops for the next ten days or so, which means I can at least go to the bathroom without someone (dog, contractor) looking for me.

Which brings me FINALLY to the October 2011 swap block.  It is one component of the Cut Glass Dish block.  We will be making (are making, have made, yes some have already arrived) the 4 square of 1/2-square triangles. 

The completed Cut Glass Dish block would take six of these, a perfect number for our swap as you send five blocks, get five back & if you keep one block for yourself that means each swap set has all the 4 square 1/2-square triangle blocks you would need.

You would also need three solid blocks (not solid fabric, necessarily, just not pieced) for each complete Cu Glass Dish block & yes, we are casual-swapping those.  Some people asked & I could not see a reason not to.  If you would like, you can send five (5) 6.5" squares of any fabric you used in any of your blocks.  Or something completely different so long as it meets the block requirements (either o novelty OR bright print OR reads-as-solid) & you will get five (5) back.  This will leave you with two more than you need but we are quilters; I am confident you can find something to do with any extra.

The directions for making the block we are swapping are detailed here, the size is 6.5" unfinished/6" finished, the blocks are DUE the last Saturday in October which means you should mail them first class within the US no later than the Friday before the Saturday before the due date.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What would Freddy do?

I have been rereading that manifesto where the pigs walk upright, dress like people & generally consider themselves smarter than the rest of the farm animals & by&large the rest of the farm animals accept it.  No, not that manifesto; I mean the Freddy books. 

Freddy the pig is in two book before he really emerges as a force of his own.  In the third farm book by Walter Brooks, Freddy starts solving mysteries around the farm after reading & assimilating the techniques of Sherlock Holmes.  Freddy is such a force the publisher turns around & releases the first two books (which were farm animals adventures generally) & re-releases them under the titles Freddy Goes to Florida & Freddy Goes to the North Pole

In the first book, the farm animals are unhappy with the state of the farm & generally feel put upon by the farmer.  At the outset of one cold winter, they decide to strike out for Florida & have adventures there & back again: robbers, kidnappers (farm animals nappers?), & US Senators.  In the spring, the animals return to the farm, renegotiate their contracts with the farmer.  Everyone makes a few concessions & then all settle back down to a quiet life. 

In the second book, some of the animals are getting itchy feet & they are ready to go a-wandering again.  Some smaller trips are organized (& they incorporate), but it isn't long before Freddy realizes that through judicious management, those animals that want to can be away for a longer journey & a trip to see Santa is planned.  The bulk of the book, though is not about this trip but about the rescue mission when the trip goes awry.  I think the descriptions of what they find at Santa's workshops are my favorite.  A ship of well intentioned but unqualified whalers (yes, people who hunt whales) have taken over the toy-making operation.  As a result, all the toys are the same as all other toys of their kind, all dolls have one pony tail, not some with braids & some with bangs  & so forth, so that an assembly line can be used.  Santa's labor force, which consisted primarily of people who were too sick or too old to work conventional jobs are now being forced to work the long o ours they couldn't before.  These & other decisions, as well as the new board always losing the daily snow ball fight to exactly the same military maneuver make it clear:  these men are just not cut out for this life.  In fact, they are going to run a small but very successful old family operation into the ground with their greed. 

Well, I don't want to give too much away, but I can tell you the cows learn to ski & the cat may or may not have taken up trapeze work (he lies, so it can be hard to be sure).  & Freddy the pig does start wearing clothes, eating at a table, sleeping in a bed, etc. but does not...well I don't want to ruin anything.   It turns out you can embrace some changes & still maintain your principles. 

& just in case anyone gets the idea Brooks was trying to water down/wash away the impact of Animal Farm, the first book in the series was published almost 20 years earlier.  Do yourself a favor & read the first two Freddy books instead.  Your local library probably has several copies.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why you don't want me anywhere near your wedding

A friend of mine was recently in a wedding.  She was The Maid of Honor & it was marginally less fun than anyone would have predicted.  Let me give you the highlights:

The Bride wanted to have a destination shower.  I had never heard of this, but I gather from the trailer of Bridesmaids that it is a thing.  Her location of choice was rather pricey being some distance away & in a generally more expensive part of the country.  What it wasn't was someplace any rational person would want to go.  Her reasons for choosing it had to do with the entertainer who would be there the week-end that had been set aside for the shower.  This same entertainer is actually from the state where the wedding was later held, the home state of The Bride, The Maid of Honor & many others of the bridal party.  He does shows less than 100 miles from the blessed event frequently, just not on demand. 

Ultimately it was a destination (to a different, more convenient, but no less inexplicable locale) shower & it unfortunately coincided with the very day The Maid of Honor lost her job.  This was, of course, not The Bride's fault; it wasn't even The Maid of Honor's fault, as her employer had been circling the bowl for a while.  The Bride gave The Maid of Honor a stirring & uplifting speech about how she better not be a bummer on this oh-so-important of weekends, second only to the importance of the blessed event itself, just because she didn't have a job.  Also, she had better not try to play it cheap.

& finally: at the time of the initial wedding planning The Maid of Honor was dating a guy, lets call him The Snake.  Introductions of The Snake to the happy couple were made, as it was expected The Snake would be the The Maid of Honor's date to the wedding.  After The Maid of Honor & The Snake broke up & he started openly dating the reason for the break-up, The Bride invited him &  his "new" girlfriend to the wedding as guests despite no other previous contact except through The Maid of Honor.  Then the Bride began nagging The Maid of Honor to get another date.

Which brings us to today's story.  The Maid of Honor had a few drinks at my dining room table & we started brainstorming about who she could bring to this wedding.  Previous suggestions included a friend who offered to appear costumed as a butch lesbian, but I knew we could do better.  By the end of the evening on the date-table were:

  • A give the groom a lapdance right after the ceremony.  She should also be encouraged to make as much extra cash as possible performing private dances for guests & wedding party alike throughout the reception. 
  • A drag queen-they are surprisingly pricey
  • A mime-they are surprisingly cheap, OKay maybe not "surprisingly" but still a most excellent bargain
By the end of the week we had expanded to include:

  • An Elvis impersonator-not as easy to find as you might think, outside of their native Vegas anyhow
  • An accordion player-hey, I like accordion music better than the next person.  I even still have Gérard Blanchard on vinyl (dude!), but lets face it not everyone wants to hear accordion music with their dried-out chicken entree.
  • A clown-which I ended up expanding to include a bride clown & groom clown & their entire wedding party all crammed into a clown car.  This made no difference, as the only clowns we could find were strictly of the birthday party/balloon animal variety & if we were going to spend that kind of cash we would definitely go with a stripper.

A few weeks later, it was suggested she order a pizza during the ceremony & ask the delivery guy to stay for the reception.  When it was pointed out that the delivery guy probably could not stay, we thought maybe we could get someone to pose as a pizza delivery guy. In the end, there was a kinda-sorta actual offer to pose as a pizza delivery driver but it would have required interstate travel at rather too short notice to board his dog.

The day before the wedding, I texted the suggestion that she dial 911 during the ceremony & ask the firemen to stay.  Somehow, I doubt she did.

//nothing to do with this wedding exactly, but I have spent way too much time with brides & I think I might have an idea how bridezillas happen:  in order to get a bride to pay exorbitant amounts of money for food she will not eat, a dress she will not wear again, etc. wedding vendors spend a lot of time blowing smoke up the bride's ass.  As a general rule, it is never a good idea to take fashion advice from the person who makes a commission off of what you spend on your wardrobe; as a bridal rule it is probably just about as stoopid to take lifestyle advice from people who make money the more extravagant your lifestyle is.  I'm just saying.

& about accordion players.  I actually briefly dated one in high school, although in those days he was a mere clarinet player.  He is a very nice guy & if he lived locally he would absolutely not have attended this wedding with his accordion because he is so nice he would never force accordion music on anyone no matter how egregious their sins.  You can see why we didn't last long as a couple.

Lastly, I might be wrong about why The Maid of Honor & The Snake broke up.  It is possible this is the reason, it is even possible she told me the reason & this was or was not it & I just don't remember.  For the purposes of this blog post, however, The Snake was a semi-discreet man-whore who got caught.