PRATIE PLACE

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Illustration Friday - "Phoenix"

And so here I am, trying to start on one of my New Year's Resolutions already: to go back to Illustration Friday. See you next year!


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A few highlights of my 2006

Though I blogged less this year than in 2005, my daughter Melina picked up some of the slack, and between us we cranked out quite a few posts.

Last year I was truly afraid of spending months in my room like this guy, so I made a resolution to get out more.

Happily, I finally snapped out of the exhausted stupor that followed Zed's departure for college and, as resolved, spent more time with other people, DOING stuff. Result: less blogging, more living.

My recapping of the telenovela Alborada (see right sidebar for the whole list of posts), which started in late 2005 and lasted till April 2006, swamped Pratie Place for months. The response spoiled me - it drew thousands upon thousands of hits and scores of comments. It was exhausting to watch the show and write it up every night - but my new friends (enthusiastic non-Spanish-speaking lovers of telenovelas) didn't want me to quit. When Alborada ended I took the novela project to a new blog, Caray! Caray!, where there are now a dozen recappers writing up three telenovelas, five days a week!

I started painting and dabbled in Illustration Friday. I eventually got discouraged by how bad my paintings were, but I resolve to try again.

I studied Yiddish with Sheva Zucker. I started in January and a few short months later I was able to translate an entire Yiddish story, "If I Were Rothschild/When I'm Rothschild," for my friend Scott. What an achievement! He reworked it and included it in his book Souls Are Flying! Jewish Short Stories by Sholem Aleichem, I.L. Peretz and Jacob Dineson.

I started playing Pratie Heads music with Bob again and we have rehearsed and performed enthusiastically all year (and put out three cds).

Terry Teachout came to visit in March - we went to the ballet, ate barbeque, painted, and made music together. I'm hoping to see him again next week!

I drove up to Connecticut, visited Melina, performed a Ben Franklin concert in Greenwich (including two songs I wrote for the occasion), brought Zed home for spring break.

Also in March, I visited a fellow blogger in Seattle and played for her English Country Dance weekend. What a great time that was! I learned you can't go hiking in the Cascades then, because they are buried under six feet of snow.

In July I packed up and went to Paris; I stayed in a lovely flat and studied Yiddish for three weeks at the Medem Library. After hours, I saw the final laps of the Tour de France, watched Parisians deal with their soccer loss in the World Cup, went to the racetrack, rode the ferris wheel, goggled at the Eiffel Tower lit up like crazy for Bastille Day... Visited the lovely Monet museum, reluctantly (because I like lines and right angles, windows and corners and doors and archways, and Monet did not paint corners) ...

I came home and immediately drove up to northern Massachusetts to teach Adult Summer Singing Camp at the Round House for Village Harmony. A great group of people, wonderful singing, I got so much encouragement I felt inspired to write two songs when I got home. I wonder if I could write songs even without anybody telling me I'm wonderful? Time to try.

Last winter and spring I read with Latino kids in schools. I loved the work and was really good at it. I translated a bunch of books myself, bought a lot of books since the collection at the school was so skimpy, Menticia and I translated and illustrated a few ourselves. But in the fall, I was fired. How humiliating to be fired from a volunteer job! The reason: I had asked, several times, firmly, that somebody call me when the kids would be unavailable! Since once or twice every month I'd show up at my scheduled time to find they were getting tested, or were having a special event, and I'd just have to turn around and leave. "We need volunteers who are more flexible" was the explanation. My thought: help they get for free is worth nothing to them. It still makes me sad.

The bats came back to my attic for a second summer, but left unexpectedly early.

I spent a lot of time with Menticia and adored every minute.

I put up an excellent sukkah, for the first time in years, and spent loads of time in it.

It was fun (though expensive) to stand in line at traffic court and listened to my fellow citizens concoct ludicrous and unbelievable explanations of why it was unjust that they had been accused of speeding.

I met Melina's Urban Caballero (who has turned out to have more sticking power than the other fellows she auditioned this year) and enjoyed him quite a bit.

Last year, I complained that New Year's Eve is not a good celebration for a teetotaller. I believe I went to bed early and pulled the covers over my head. This year, I'll be celebrating with a friend. Hope you will, too! Happy New Year!

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Melina: New Years and News

Today is Melinama's birthday! Please wish her a very happy birthday. She is a great musician, a great mom, and a great blogger. Of course, she also has numerous other talents that range from home construction to teaching to papier-mache. Unlike many people in this world, Melinama has created many things that have never existed before, and she also helps other people create things that have never existed before. Kol haKavod!

The report from New York:

The best word I can thik of to describe New York this week is "redistributed." Most of the natives are on vacation or are staying home. To replace them, thousands of tourists have arrived. The tourists are chiefly concentrated on Broadway and Fifth Avenue. So Broadway and Fifth Avenue are jampacked - the street vendors have never done better - but most other places are near-empty.

Last night I bought a beautiful pair of chenille gloves from a street vendor for $5. Then I saw a great Italian movie called La Bella Vita with John and Emily at the MoMA. I got to go for free because Emily's employer has a "corporate relationship" with the MoMA. The movie was about a pair of newlyweds in a small, failing factory town in Italy. The women in this movie were very curvy and had gigantic hair. The menfolk thought these were truly delightful qualities and made dramatic scenes about how they were overcome by love. Everyone spoke very dramatically and swore a lot. Really it was excellent.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

My old British Isles music, back in print.

This is what I worked on while I was sick - a two-cd compilation, 2.5 hours of music Bob and I recorded in the 1980s. I'm very pleased with the way the music cleaned up with Soundforge. And I still like the music a lot!

If you'd like to listen to some of the tracks, even order the set, visit Skylark Productions.



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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fighting against mindless eating

12 Ideas to Keep Off Holiday Pounds
by Marilynn Marchione, Associated Press Medical Writer

Food psychologist Brian Wansink's ... book, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," explores the unconscious cues that make us feast as we do, and how we can keep them from manipulating us.

Nearly all of his suggestions are based on published results of scientific studies he has conducted as director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab.

Here are 12 of his tips, one for each day of the season:
  1. Put high-calorie foods on plates in the kitchen and leave leftovers there. You'll eat 15 percent to 20 percent less. Do not serve "fat-family" style (from a big platter or bowl that is passed) unless it's veggies or salad.

  2. See it before you eat it. Dishing out Chex Mix led one group to consume 134 fewer calories than others who ate straight from the bag.

  3. Keep the evidence on the table (turkey bones, muffin papers, candy wrappers). Diners in one study ate 30 percent more chicken wings when the bones were periodically cleared away than others whose bones stayed in front of them.

  4. Bank calories. Skip the appetizers if you know you want dessert. You also will be more accurate at estimating how many calories you consume.

  5. Sit next to the slowest eater at the table and use that person to pace yourself. Always be the last one to start eating, and set your fork down after every bite.

  6. Embrace comfort food. Don't avoid the food you really want, but have it in a smaller portion.

  7. Avoid having too many foods on the table. The more variety, the more people will eat. People ate 85 percent more M&Ms when they were offered in nine colors rather than seven.

  8. Keep your distance. To reduce the mindless snatch and grab, move more than arms length away from the buffet tables and snack bowls.

  9. For foods that are not good for you, think "back." Put them in the back of the cupboard, the back of the refrigerator, the back of the freezer. Keep them wrapped in aluminum foil. Office workers ate 23 percent less candy when it was in a white, covered candy dish than in a see-through one.

  10. Use small bowls. A study found that people serving themselves from smaller bowls ate 59 percent less.

  11. Use tall, narrow glasses for drinks. Even experienced bartenders poured more into short, squat glasses than into skinny ones.

  12. Don't multitask. People tend to unconsciously consume more when distracted by conversation or a game on TV. Setting your fork down and giving the conversation your full attention will prevent overeating.


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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

In Which Melina has a Posh Lunch

I promised Ma I'd write about my lunch last week at the Four Seasons Restaurant (my first time - this was a perk of my job) where people in New York come when they want to spend more money on lunch than anyone else thinks is even possible, they want to be part of the scene, but they don't really want the food to be that weird.

The Grill Room at the Four Seasons is decorated in tasteful black. The furniture is comfortable, yet understated. The chairs are low, and the tables are all in one big room, so that you can see who else is eating there the moment you walk in. This is not done by accident.

The maitre d' knows your name and your preferred table. With silent footsteps he ushers you to your rightful place, asking if you would like the glass of red wine before the meal again, or whether you would rather wait, as you did last time, and take the white.

Your co-diners are older businessmen. Perhaps 25% businesswomen or spouses. They all wear black suits. They all look like people you might have seen on the news once: congressmen, financiers, women with really great hair. They are so high-ranking that they don't have to rush through lunch - the office moves on their time. Usually there is someone famous around; often it is a Clinton. Sometimes you won't recognize him, but if he walks through and shakes hands with people at about four different tables, he is probably a politician.

The day that I went last week, there was also a big table of entertainment executives, clearly in a celebratory mood, passing around a hardbound copy of "Top 101 Celebrity Meltdowns" that they must have just produced. You could tell they were in entertainment because there were more women, and one of the women was even wearing a dark red suit (as opposed to a black one).

Here's what they bring you before your meal:

-A glass of water

-A bowl of mixed vegetables in ice water (this is actually a neat trick, because it keeps the vegetables very crispy, but let's face it, it's just radishes and broccoli in a tin bowl)

-One dinner roll (neither super fresh nor super stale)

The tuxedo-clad waiter, who slips silently around the restaurant, leans in close when taking your order, so that he can answer any pressing questions about the menu without disturbing your dining companions. Also so you can try to pronounce "Meuniere" without embarassing yourself.

Here's what I ordered:

Kabocha Pumpkin Bisque with Apple Fritters, $18, and
Roasted Sea Bass, Pumpkin Risotto, Porcini Mushrooms, $42.

Here's what else you can have:

Japanese Kobe Burger, $55. (Yes! A burger and fries for $55! One of my co-diners, one of hoi polloi, ordered this, and then was so intimidated he decided he had to try and eat it with a knife and fork!)

Or if you're on a diet:

Butter Lettuce, Bleu Cheese, Spicy Cashews, Sesame Dressing, $22.

or, if you're really going for gold:

Dover Sole Meuniere, $56.

Meuniere (I looked it up) means basically "sauteed in butter with some lemon." Why they are charging $56 dollars for this is beyond me, but I don't ask questions.

After the meal, if you don't want dessert (Apple Pie, Raisin, Armagnac-Pear Ice Cream) they will bring you a seasonal cookie tray. I had been told I was allowed to order dessert, but in spite of the indulgent "take the kids out to lunch" atmosphere prevailing at my table, I couldn't overcome my shyness. If nobody else was having, I couldn't bring myself to order the intriguing looking Poached Pear, Roasted Pecan Ice Cream, Milk Chocolate Pound Cake, let alone the (overreaching, methinks) Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake, Rosemary, Glazed Grapes (all $14).

The table of entertainment executives celebrated with a gigantic communal dessert - a pile of cotton candy the size of a human torso sitting on a huge silver platter (it tilted slightly to one side). Yes, the Four Seasons has a cotton candy machine. (My boss, unimpressed, commented that she has seen them stick lighted candles in the cotton candy pile when it's someone's birthday)

After lunch ends, most tables (mine included) never see anything as unsightly as a check. The Four Seasons discreetly sends the check to the address of your choosing. Your office will handle it.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

shalt thou not get the stuff you want, want the stuff you get

Remember the woot-off? Here's another odd one - this morning, for about ten minutes, Woot had 3000 bags of "Random Stuff" (stuff is not their word but I don't like their word) for sale. One dollar, plus five dollars shipping. The wooters were there, 1:00 am. By 1:14 it was sold out, they were devastated (except for the lucky 3,000). Here is the warning Woot published and I like it for life in general too.

THE HOLY STUFF COMMANDMENTS v 2.0:

I. Thou shalt expect nothing beyond one bag of some kind and your chosen quantity of crummy items (which should be THREE).

II. Thou shalt not whine and complain when some people’s stuff turns out to be nicer than yours.

III. Thou shalt take a moment to consider whether you might be better off just not buying this stuff.

IV. Thou shalt not order just one stuff and blame it on anything but your own inattention.

V. To paraphrase Stephen Stills, shalt thou not get the stuff you want, want the stuff you get.

Warranty: you wish

Features:
* 1 (one) bag
* Some (some) stuff

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Melina and Melinama on Christmas Eve...

  1. She went for a long run. I went on the elliptical trainer and watched "Bleak House" (what a great mini-series it was!).
  2. Decorated one last present (a book about Sculpey/polymer clay jewelry for Menticia) with hand-made potato-print gift paper.
  3. Stopped off at Menticia's house to drop off the present. Her mom had unfortunately just burned chile peppers in the microwave, filling the neighborhood with toxic, acrid fumes. The girls were alternately coming out on the porch, choking, and going back in the house to watch tv. We beat a hasty retreat and coughed all the way down town.
  4. Using one of my numerous gift-cards to Whole Foods Market (earned by playing British Isles music there every month) we had a fun little shopping spree.
  5. Went home, made two batches of peanut brittle, ate way too much of it.
  6. Packed up the rest of the peanut brittle - one batch for Melina to take back to Manhattan and one batch for Menticia's family.
  7. Read in the sunshine.
  8. Painted a still-life. Melina set it up, so her end had the pretty colorful peppers. The rear end, where I was stationed, was darker and prominently featured a brown tape dispenser.
  9. Melina dismantled the still life since we needed to consume it. She cooked us spicy turkey sausage and roasted vegetables for dinner.
  10. We watched "Frequency," a slightly corny but most enjoyable dvd.
All in all, a very satisfactory day.

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Peanut brittle - the perfect recipe.

Last December I made six different batches of peanut brittle and reported on the results.

Today, Melina and I bought a giant bag of pre-roasted, slightly salted peanuts. She made a batch of the preferred recipe from last year and then modified it slightly for a second batch. This is now the perfect peanut brittle. Enjoy.

Recipe #6, adapted from Recipe #5

2-1/2 cups salted toasted peanuts
1 cup granulated sugar
3/8 cup corn syrup
6 tablespoons butter, sliced into the pot

Put everything but the peanuts into a heavy saucepan and mix over low heat until all is melted - then you can up the flame under the pot a bit.

Add the peanuts when the mixture reaches 225 degrees. The temperature will go down, then keep stirring constantly till it gets up to 300 degrees. Then QUICKLY dump the mixture out on a lightly buttered cooking sheet and push it around with spoon or metal spatula till it's roughly one nut deep. You have to work fast.

Immediately submerge your pot and utensils in hot, hot water so as to avoid peanut brittle cement when you're ready to clean up.

Don't try to break up the peanut brittle till it's completely cool. Yes, WAIT!



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Scrooge - a philanthropist?

I'm no economist. What do you think?

Extracts from Slate Magazine's
What I Like About Scrooge
In praise of misers

by Steven E. Landsburg

Here's what I like about Ebenezer Scrooge: His meager lodgings were dark because darkness is cheap, and barely heated because coal is not free. His dinner was gruel, which he prepared himself. Scrooge paid no man to wait on him.

Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that's a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat? Who is a more benevolent neighbor than the man who employs no servants, freeing them to wait on someone else?

Oh, it might be slightly more complicated than that. Maybe when Scrooge demands less coal for his fire, less coal ends up being mined. But that's fine, too. Instead of digging coal for Scrooge, some would-be miner is now free to perform some other service for himself or someone else.

Dickens tells us that the Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his 50 cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor's household should—presumably for a houseful of guests who lavishly praised his generosity. The bricks, mortar, and labor that built the Mansion House might otherwise have built housing for hundreds; Scrooge, by living in three sparse rooms, deprived no man of a home. By employing no cooks or butlers, he ensured that cooks and butlers were available to some other household where guests reveled in ignorance of their debt to Ebenezer Scrooge.

In this whole world, there is nobody more generous than the miser — the man who could deplete the world's resources but chooses not to. The only difference between miserliness and philanthropy is that the philanthropist serves a favored few while the miser spreads his largess far and wide.

If you build a house and refuse to buy a house, the rest of the world is one house richer. If you earn a dollar and refuse to spend a dollar, the rest of the world is one dollar richer—because you produced a dollar's worth of goods and didn't consume them.

Who exactly gets those goods? That depends on how you save. Put a dollar in the bank and you'll bid down the interest rate by just enough so someone somewhere can afford an extra dollar's worth of vacation or home improvement. Put a dollar in your mattress and (by effectively reducing the money supply) you'll drive down prices by just enough so someone somewhere can have an extra dollar's worth of coffee with his dinner.


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Saturday, December 23, 2006

West Coast Christmas decorations

Of my crack team of recappers over at Caray, Caray!, one of the very best is Sylvia. She lives in California and sent me these pictures and comments.

"Here is a lovely shot of my neighbor's nativity featuring her kid's Scooby Doo as the angel. She said her youngest son insisted on replacing the regular angel with his stuffed Scooby and he even made a halo and wings for him. Sometimes kids get funny ideas."


"I have another neighbor who has a tall vertical cactus in his yard.
The cactus wears sunglasses 365 days of the year, but he also dresses up for special occasions. He was a pirate last halloween. I could kick myself for not getting a picture of that.

"I have a fantasy of getting a potted cactus similar to this one, dressing it up as a girl, and letting her visit with my neighbor's cactus for a while.

"My neighbor doesn't decorate his house for Christmas or Halloween at all, he just decorates his cactus."


Sylvia continued: "It seems as if inflatables are really in this year. They're absolutely ghastly. I really wanted take some pictures of the worst ones as a sort of horror gallery but I didn't get my camera back in time. Maybe next year. I've gotten a bit obsessed with bizarre decorations this year. Who thinks of all this crap? My friend in Taiwan just sent me a picture of a huge Christmas tree made entirely of duck feathers. Go figure."

Thanks, Sylvia!

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Friday, December 22, 2006

From "Say yes to mess"

An amusing article in the NYT about the advantages of being messy featured this quote from Albert Einstein:

"If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?"

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A pretty holiday song by my friend Galen.

This one's kind of a tear-jerker, what a beautiful voice Galen has. She was the director of the Yale Slavic Chorus when I first joined, long ago. She's been a songwriter and poet and general creative force ever since.

This site is called "Do2Learn, Educational Resources for Special Needs Kids". Here's the song: Remember (there's a link for a free mp3 download).

Enjoy!

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Buying less, or nothing, or buying used stuff.

The MSNBC article is longer, and more mocking and patronizing, than the excerpts here. I will probably never be as hard-core as these folks, but I certainly prefer the PTA Thrift Shop to the mall. I've been hiding from buying during this holiday season and feel cheerful and peaceful. I don't want to meet up with those angry shoppers we've been reading about, the ones with Tickle-Me-Elmo rage, the ones who are snarling under their breath in the crowded parking lots ... even if they are fulfilling their patriotic duty (to SPEND) while I shirk it.

Extracts from MSNBC's
10 friends live secondhand for a year
Voluntary simplicity also sparks a backlash

Attention holiday shoppers! These people haven't bought anything new in 352 days -- and counting. These 10 friends vowed last year not to purchase a single new thing in 2006 -- except food, the bare necessities for health and safety (toilet paper, brake fluid) and, thankfully, underwear, and maybe socks.

Everything else they bought secondhand. They bartered or borrowed. Recycled. Re-gifted. Reused. Where? Thrift stores and swap meets, friends and Dumpsters, and the Internet, from Craigslist to the Freecycle Network, which includes 3,843 communities and 2.8 million members giving away stuff to one another.

They call their initiative "the Compact," ... and although they say they never intended to spark a mini-movement or appear on the "Today" show, that is exactly what has happened.

Since the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about them in February, their story of not buying has appeared on media outlets around the world -- everything from Yoga Journal to Martha Stewart's Body + Soul to the London Times. Even Oprah's producers called.

"Suddenly, we decide we're not going to buy a bunch of new stuff for a year? And that's international news? Doesn't that say something?"

Their user group on Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thecompact) has grown to 1,800 registered members.

Some have called the Compactors un-American, anti-capitalist, eco-freak poseurs whose defiant act of not-consuming, if it caught on, would destroy the economy and our way of life.

Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters magazine, who advocates taking a 24-hour timeout of the consumer merry-go-round, has promoted Buy Nothing Day since 1992, urging citizens to resist the urge to splurge on the day after Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the holiday shopping spree.

"I go on talk radio shows, and I'm amazed by the anger of some people, the Chamber of Commerce president who calls up and says, 'You're trying to ruin the economy,' " Lasn says. "Try to take the larger view. We consume three times more than we did right after World War II. These things are connected."

"We didn't do this to save the world. We did this to improve the quality of our own lives," Perry says. "And what we learned is that we all have a lot of more stuff than you think, and that you can get along on a lot less stuff than you can imagine."


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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chocolate Chiffon Cake

One of the Triangle Jewish Chorale sopranos brought in this incredibly delicious cake for her birthday last night. It has lots of eggs in it so it must be very healthy.

Coffee Chiffon Cake
7 eggs, separated
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
3 tsp. instant coffee
1/3 cup water
1 cup all purpose unbleached flour
2 oz. (2 squares) semi-sweet chocolate, grated
2 tsp. vanilla

Frosting
2 cups whipping cream
1/3 powdered sugar
2 oz. (2 squares) semi-sweet chocolate, grated
1 1/2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 325 degrees. In large bowl, beat egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until mixture forms soft peaks. Gradually add 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.

In small bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon colored. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until thick. Dissolve 3 teaspoons of instant coffee in 1/3 cup water.

Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Blend coffee mixture, flour, 2 ounces of grated chocolate and 2 teaspoons of vanilla into egg yolk mixture. Beat 1 minute at low speed or just until blended. Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites. Pour into ungreased 10 inch tube pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until top springs back when touched lightly in the center. Invert cake on funnel or bottle and cool completely. Remove from pan.

In large bowl, beat cream until slightly thickened. Reserving 3 teaspoons grated chocolate for top, add remaining grated chocolate, powdered sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee and 1 teaspoon vanilla to cream. Beat until firm peaks form (do not overbeat).

Slice cake into 2 layers. Fill and then frost top and sides. Sprinkle reserved 3 teaspoons grated chocolate over top. Store in refrigerator.

Allegedly serves 20.


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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Drive Dull Care Away (redux)

This is, to my mind, the quintessential Winter Solstice song. It appeared in all the Solstice Extravaganza shows, I think, and I still love it to pieces. My favorite line: "Life at its best is but a jest." The song comes with a great tune (I once drove 40 miles to find somebody who could sing it to me) but I wrote my own a few years ago - if I get some time together I'll post it.

DRIVE DULL CARE AWAY
English Traditional Song

Why should we at our lot complain, or grieve at our distress?
Some think if they should riches gain 'twould be true happiness.
But alas, how vain is all their strife - life's cares it cannot allay,
So while we're here with our friends so dear we'll drive dull care away!

Why should the rich despise the poor? Why should the poor repine?
When we will all in a few short years in equal friendship join...
We're all to blame, we are all the same, we are all made of one clay,
So while we're here with our friends so dear we'll drive dull care away!

The only circumstance in life that I could ever find
To conquer care or temper strife was: a contented mind.
With this in store we have much more than all things else can convey,
So while we're here with our friends so dear we'll drive dull care away!

So let us make the best of life, not rendering it a curse,
But take it as you would a wife, for better or for worse.
Life at it's best is but a jest on a dreary winter's day,
So while we're here with our friends so dear we'll drive dull care away!

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Prisoner of Pachelbel



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Away melancholy

By Stevie Smith, via Laudator Temporis Acti.

Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Are not the trees green,
The earth as green?
Does not the wind blow,
Fire leap and the rivers flow?
Away melancholy.

The ant is busy
He carrieth his meat,
All things hurry
To be eaten or eat.
Away, melancholy.

Man, too, hurries,
Eats, couples, buries,
He is an animal also
With a hey ho melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Man of all creatures
Is superlative
(Away melancholy)
He of all creatures alone
Raiseth a stone
(Away melancholy)
Into the stone, the god,
Pours what he knows of good
Calling good, God.
Away melancholy, let it go.

Speak not to me of tears,
Tyranny, pox, wars,
Saying Can God,
Stone of man's thought, be good?

Say rather it is enough
That the stuffed
Stone of man's good, growing,
By man's called God.
Away, melancholy, let it go.

Man aspires
To good,
To love
Sighs;

Beaten, corrupted, dying
In his own blood lying
Yet heaves up an eye above
Cries, Love, love.
It is his virtue needs explaining,
Not his failing.

Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.


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Monday, December 18, 2006

On the third night of Hannukah ...

... I was at Wrightsville Beach, in a nearly deserted hotel out on the causeway. It was supposedly a nice hotel, and there was an earnest pre-printed note from the housekeeping service saying, "We have done an exceptional job cleaning your room," but there was a roach in the bathroom. I killed it and left it where it fell as a mute commentary on the exceptional service.

We lit the candles and watched tv - I rarely watch anything which is not in Spanish and I was still sick so the kindly documentary on giraffes was about my speed.

Now if one forgets, as we did, that there are no restaurants out there on the causeway, and no grocery stores, then one ends up having the lovely hours-long walk in the morning without breakfast. We were very thirsty, too, because there is no potable water available out on the causeway.

The plovers and pelicans were busy. It was about eighty degrees, we were all strolling the beach in our shirtsleeves. Little children were gamboling in the surf in their bathing suits and there were numerous surfers.

I got a bit of a sunburn. We went to Wilmington (a town I like very much) and had grouper sandwiches. I came home feeling it had been a great vacation from winter.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Melina: Still Alive

Hi all,

Sorry to be such an absentee blog hostess. I've been working, watching woot, carousing, and practicing theater tricks with the Urban Caballero (pretending to walk into walls, stage-slapping each other on the subway platform).

Actually, the Urban Caballero was in an excellent show this week. It was high concept, which I usually hate, but I make an exception for this one. His co-stars, all highly entertaining, included a number of Ivy League alumni, an electronic music artist, an up-and-coming actor who just got his big break starring in an Italian panty liner commercial, and a couple of hard-drinking, Gothic-influenced Australians. The director, a tall sleepy-eyed young man with a silky 1960s-style beard, staged the play in several different rooms in one building at Columbia. Between scenes, a solemn usher carrying a boombox would escort us to the next room, while cast members rushed or wandered by, or conversed with each other, in character, in the hallways.

This succeeded in making us all feel extremely uncomfortable. The first scene was set in the building's computer lab. We all sat down at computer stations, where "our Gmail" was already open. As the scene went on around us, we were presented with additional side-commentary via GChat. This worked perfectly, because all of us Millennial-generation computerheads are incapable of sitting down at a computer without opening our Gmail, and to see a GChat talking to us, when we were unable to respond, was deeply disturbing.

I actually think someone could make a great theater piece using only instant messenger. IM'ed communications possess a unique combination of urgency and inscrutability that would lend itself very well to drama.

Another classic scene today: going to get a picture framed. New York picture framers are a noble, tragic breed. They strive to perfection - the perfect match, the perfect rectangle - but are inevitably undone by the errors of others: the artists, who inconsiderately paint to the very edges of their canvases; the customers, who don't know what they're looking for ("a chrome? or a silver? with rounded edges? No, wait, maybe it was squarer than that...") and who always think the framers are out to cheat them.

Visiting the framing store, I was privy to a conversation between a (distressed) customer and an (irritable, resigned) framer.

Customer: "This frame you put on my picture is crooked."

Framer: "The frame is straight. It is your picture that's crooked."

Customer: "But it is closer on the left side than on the right side."

Framer: "It is closer at the top of the left side. It is farther at the bottom of the left side. That is because the canvas is wider at the top than at the bottom."

Customer [unhappily rocking picture back and forth]: "What if you shifted the painting farther toward the left?"

Framer [staring, also unhappily, at picture]: "Then it would be *really* close at the top left corner."

Customer: "Did you try moving it higher up in the frame?"

Framer: "That wouldn't help."

Customer: "Why?"

Framer: "Then it would still be uneven, but it would just be farther than the bottom."

Customer: "What if you made it even at the top?"

Framer: "Then it would be uneven at the bottom."

Customer: "But why can't you move it any closer?"

Framer: "The artist painted around the edges of the canvas. We talked about this. We didn't want to lose that much of the painting."

Customer: "Not any closer?"

Framer: "We talked about this."

[Pause.]

[Customer sadly eyes painting. Framer sadly eyes customer.]

Customer: "So...." [pause] "So you're saying, basically, this is the best you could do?"

Framer [patiently, resignedly] nods.

Customer: "Well then... okay." He pays and leaves.




Two thirds of arguments, I think, could be boiled down to this final exchange.

"Was this really the best you could do?"
"Yes."
"Then okay."

They would have saved a lot of time if they'd just cut to that part sooner.

Endlessly searching for perfection,
--Melina

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

On the second night of Hannukah...

I picked Menticia up again and we worked on her Christmas presents some more. First we wrapped up the soft furry blanket with her sister's name blanket-stitched on it in blue felt.

Then we made "salt dough" (2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, less than a cup of water, a tablespoon of oil) and, per instructions in the craft book I bought her, rolled it out and made a plaque with a raised edge and a raised heart with wings. (Don't ask, this is the picture she chose.) It's going to bake all night.

Then we made sculpey earrings (fun!) - I overbaked the first bunch so they looked like gingerbread, but all was well, we had plenty of sculpey so there were more successful batches later.

We went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and I saw that a couple years of coaching have resulted in her being able to eat slippery Lo Mein noodles with slippery ivory (well, ivory plastic) chopsticks with quite a bit of grace.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

What I did on the first night of Hannukah

My kids are away; Zed's friends at the Bayit (Jewish house) at Wesleyan grated 47 pounds of potatoes for latkes - not nearly enough latkes, I suppose, given the way college kids eat. Melina, too, was on her way to a latke party tonight when I called to wish her Happy Hannukah.

Luckily I was not alone. I usually spend Friday afternoons with Menticia, so she was with me when I lit the candles.

Then we got to work. Today we were beginning her Christmas presents. This is the third year I have been noodging away at the concept that hand-made presents are preferable to easily-broken trinkets from the dollar store.

Hurrah, Menticia finally seemed enthusiastic this year! She had the idea we could work on a blanket for her little sister. (Evidently there are not quite enough blankets among the three girls and there is testy sharing going on.)

We got a fluffy, furry red throw with big snowflakes on it - we bought blue felt and golden embroidery thread - we drew the letters of her sister's name on the felt and cut them out and pinned them across the throw.

Menticia started at the beginning of the name, I started at the end, we blanket-stitched our way toward the middle. When we were stitching adjacent letters it was a bit like the game of twister...

The sewing got a bit break-neck towards the end, not just because of the twister situation but because Menticia had a social engagement and we really wanted to finish before I had to take her where she was going.

Next up: Sculpey earrings.

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Most of what we say and do is unnecessary.

A comment from Phil Flemming, found at Laudator Temporis Acti:
... let me give you a short passage from that wandering indigent Marcus Aurelius. I paraphrase and edit Meditations IV. 24:

Do but a few things if you wish to be happy. The better course is always to attend only to necessities and what reason demands, and let the rest go. Most of what we say and do is unnecessary, and if we can persuade ourselves to jettison these superfluous things, we will claim the rewards of true leisure and peace of mind. Always remember to ask yourself: are these words and deeds necessary? And our thoughts also should be examined in this fashion, for most of them are superfluous too.


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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Melinama's albums of yore. What a pain in the butt it used to be!

I marvel at how the process of putting out a musical recording has changed since I started.

My first album: "Laduvane - Live Balkan Music!" (Pronounce it Lah-doo-vah-ney - it's the name of a Bulgarian water ritual.) Made c. 1976. In the studio, all eight of us had to get everything right all at the same time because there was no cut-and-paste.

I sang drone on much of this album of Balkan music - that is, I sang the same note all the way through many of the songs. One memorable day we did a very long song - in which I sang the same note throughout - we had to do 32 takes because the soloists couldn't get it right. I amused myself by mentally computing how many thousands of times I sang the same note in a row.

When the recording was finished, it took days to mix, then another day (and a ton more money) to "master" the mixes, then they got sent off (everything went by mail) and some expert someplace far away did a lacquer master - mastering is something I can now do at my own computer in an hour or so - and sent it back to us, and there was always something wrong, and we had to send it back for corrections. Months later we had the albums.

But first, I had to do the cover. Because I trust you all, I'm going to expose my youthful efforts. For instance, look at this (you can click on all these pix to see them larger):



Nowadays this would be done on a computer and it would be as easy as pie. But back then, I drew the picture by hand with a Rapidograph pen on bristol board, and then spent days using an exacto blade to cut out tiny little stair-step chunks of pantone film (transparent, sticky on one side) to be fit onto the board, each one exactly abutting the next. This was a completely manual process. If I made a mistake, I peeled off the film and tried again.

Here's the back:



I didn't have access to a typesetting facility so I lettered the whole thing myself. If I made a mistake: White-Out.

Here is the next album we did, a year or two later:



Watercolors - and white-out.

And here is the photo montage from the back (Melinama is in the upper left corner):



My method:
  • Scrounge up a batch of photos taken on all sorts of cameras from little brownies to "real" ones;
  • Buy photo re-touching inks - they came in little sets of several bottles of different shades of grey - and hunch over the photos dabbing at them with the little brush trying to correct glare etc.
  • Cut the pictures to size.
  • Wax the backs of the pictures and put them together like a jig-saw puzzle.
  • Put sticky-back black tape between the pictures and rub it hard because it didn't want to stick to the places where two photographs stood side-by-side.
  • Have another picture taken of the final product. (Remember, nothing digital, so each round of photos means waiting for them to be developed.)

One more example, this one from the not-so-old days. This is from 1991. Beth found the picture. To do the lettering, I took a piece of acetate and painted one side of it with black ink (leaving the parts that would be the lettering un-painted) and then painted the other side with yellow ink. Then I pasted the acetate to the picture.



When I think of how easily all these things can be done now - with minimal expense and fast as lightning - I have to laugh.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another one sick in bed.

I just got up enough energy to look at ONE blog and it was "Jew Eat Yet?" and Danny wrote:
I’ve been sick in bed since Thursday with some kind of virus/flu. I still have a bad cough but if I don’t wrench myself out of bed today I’m afraid I never will. ... I’ve also noticed that whenever I’m sick I judge myself mercilessly as if I have no right to engage in such a silly self-indulgence as resting in bed. Shouldn’t I at least be catching up on work projects, committing Shakespeare to memory, or learning Italian?
Zed called me today because he was worried: I hadn't been writing in my blog. I'd hoped my daughter Melina might pick up the slack, but no. (What's your excuse, dear?)

I went to my last Spanish class today and then cancelled everything else and came back and crawled in bed. Unlike Danny (who goes on in the article above to comment on the many movies and shows he's seen on tv whilst flat on his back) I couldn't even watch tv or read or listen to the radio. I just lay flat and did nothing.

I wasn't even bored.


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Monday, December 11, 2006

Get your red-hot Pratie Head cds!!!! Available now! Will send by first-class mail!!

The UPS guys arrived with 1,000 copies of the Pratie Heads brand new cd "Rag Faire" today. Jeesh, can I live long enough to sell all these cds?

I tell you what - they're for sale at my record label's website, Skylark Productions for VERY CHEAP as a special HOLIDAYS bargain. Every cd on that page is $11.99 and shipping is a flat $3.00 (domestic) no matter how many you order. And I promise to pop them in the mail first class right away. There are sound samples at the Skylark page.

Be excellent to your friends and give them wonderful more-or-less traditional music from the British Isles and beyond for the holidays!

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Getting yet more cds ready; Jon Pareles writes on the "long tail" getting its day

Friends, I've been sick as a dog this week, but used the last few days of being unable to drag myself out the door pretty well - I resurrected old Pratie Heads recordings from the dead. That is to say, I ran 23-year-old cassettes into my computer and edited them digitally, even removing a couple weird notes that have bothered me for decades. In another couple days, I'll have graphics for them and will send them off to be duplicated. You know how much this all costs me?
  • Editing, remastering, sequencing, burning two master cds=$0.00
  • Scanning an old photo and doing cover notes=$0.00
  • Writing liner notes and running them into the template=$0.00
  • 100 copies of a DOUBLE cd=about $3.50 each!
Do you know how inconceivable this would have been even a few years ago? Anybody can do it.

And that brings me to the article below, written by one of my oldest friends. I met Jon Pareles in 1971, on my first day at Yale. He already had an awful lot of LPs. We were roommates later in Cambridge and when he moved out to take his first job at Rolling Stone he organized his friends and siblings as a bucket brigade to move the records out of his room.

Nothing much has changed. I have a photo (I won't show you, though) of his gorgeous apartment in Manhattan. Gorgeous except for the corner which is his office, where there are cds in stacks taller than we are. I didn't know you could stack cds like that.

This is an article about what sometimes is called the Long Tail on the internet. While superstars may accumulate the most hits and the most attention, online it's possible for those of arcane interests to find what they're looking for, too.

For instance, over on my Caray, Caray! blog (where we recap telenovelas in English for people who are addicted to them but don't understand Spanish) I did an informal investigation while I was hanging out in bed here. Over the last couple days we had visitors from Albania, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Novosibirsk, Oman, Paraguay, People's Republic of China, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Unthinkable a few years ago!

Extracts from
2006, Brought to You by You
By Jon Pareles for the New York Times, December 10, 2006

IMAGINE paying $580 million for an ever-expanding heap of personal ads, random photos, private blathering, demo recordings and camcorder video clips. That’s what Rupert Murdoch did when his News Corporation bought MySpace in July. Then imagine paying $1.65 billion for a flood of grainy TV excerpts, snarkily edited film clips, homemade video diaries, amateur music videos and shots of people singing along with their stereos. That’s what Google got when it bought YouTube in October.

What these two highly strategic companies spent more than $2 billion on is a couple of empty vessels: brand-named, centralized repositories for whatever their members decide to contribute.

All that material is "user-generated content," the paramount cultural buzz phrase of 2006. It’s a term that must appeal to the technocratic instincts of investors. I prefer something a little more old-fashioned: self-expression.

It’s on Web sites like YouTube, MySpace, Dailymotion, PureVolume, GarageBand and Metacafe. It’s homemade art independently distributed and inventively promoted. It’s borrowed art that has been warped, wrecked, mocked and sometimes improved. It’s blogs and open-source software and collaborative wikis and personal Web pages. It’s word of mouth that can reach the entire world.

It’s often inept, but every so often it’s inspired, or at least worth a mouse click. It has made stars, at least momentarily, of characters like the video diarist Lonelygirl (who turned out to be a fictional creation) and the power-pop band OK Go (whose treadmill choreography earned far more plays than its albums).

And now that Web entrepreneurs have recognized the potential for profit, it’s also a sweet deal: amateurs, and some calculating professionals, supply the raw material free.

All that free-flowing self-expression presents a grandly promising anarchy, an assault on established notions of professionalism, a legal morass and a technological remix of the processes of folk culture.

TECH oracles predicted long ago that by making worldwide distribution instantaneous, the Web would democratize art as well as other discourse, at least for those who are connected. The virtual painting galleries, the free songs, the video blogs, the comedy clips, the online novels — all of them followed the rise of the Internet and the spread of broadband as inevitably as water spills through a crack in a dam. Why keep your creativity, or the lack of it, to yourself when you can invite the world to see?

User-generated content — turning the audience into the auteur — isn’t exactly an online innovation. It’s as old as "America’s Funniest Home Videos," or letters to the editor, or community sings, or Talmudic commentary, or graffiti. The difference is that in past eras most self-expression stayed close to home. Users generated traditional cultures and honed regional styles, concentrated by geographical isolation.

In the 20th century recording and broadcasting broke down that isolation. Yet those same technologies came to reinforce a different kind of separation: between professional artist and audience. A successful artist needed not only creativity and skill, but also access to the tools of production — studios, recorders, cameras — and outlets for mass distribution.

As the music and movie businesses grew, they flaunted their economic advantage. They could spend millions of dollars to make and market blockbuster hits, to place them in theaters or get them played on radio and MTV. They owned the factories that could press vinyl albums and make the first CDs, before the days of the home CD burner and MP3s. Independent types could, and did, release their own work, but they couldn’t match the scale of the established entertainment business.

They still are at a disadvantage. But they are gaining.

Low-budget recording and the Internet have handed production and distribution back to artists, and one-stop collections of user-generated content give audiences a chance to find their works.

With gatekeepers out of the way, it’s possible to realize the do-it-yourself dreams ... to circle back to the kind of homemade art that existed long before media conglomerates and mass distribution. But that art doesn’t stay close to home. Online it moves breathtakingly fast and far.

Of course the notion of culture as something bestowed by creators and swallowed whole by audiences never had much to do with reality. Now fans can not only tell others about their responses to art — in the user-generated content of fan sites and discussion forums — but they can also demonstrate them directly.

IN the tsunami of self-expression, audiences have been forced to take on a much bigger job: sifting through the new stuff. For musicians, the Internet has become an incessant public audition. What once was winnowed down by A&R departments, and then culled again by radio stations and other media, is now online in all its hopeful profusion..

Individually the hopefuls can’t compete with a heavily promoted major-label star. Face it: Song for song, most of them just aren’t as good. But collectively they are stiff competition indeed: for time, for attention and, eventually, for cultural impact. The multiplying choices promise ever more diversity, ever more possibility for innovation and unexpected delight. But they also point toward an increasingly atomized audience, a popular culture composed of a zillion nonintersecting mini-cults. So much available self-expression can only accelerate what narrowing radio and cable formats had already begun: the separation of culture into ever-smaller niches.

That fragmentation is a problem for businesses, like recording companies and film studios, that are built on selling a few blockbusters to make up for a lot of flops. The music business in particular is going to have to remake itself with lower and more sustainable expectations, along the lines of how independent labels already work.

The promise of all the self-expression online is that genius will reach the public with fewer obstacles, bypassing the entrenched media. The reality is that genius has a bigger junk pile to climb out of than ever, one that requires just as much hustle and ingenuity as the old distribution system.

The entertainment business is already nostalgic for the days when it made and relied on big stars; parts of the public miss a sense of cultural unity that may never return. Instead both have to face the irrevocable fact of the Internet: There’s always another choice.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Global Warming kills plankton

Extracts from
Ocean Warming Withers Food Chain
by Larry O'Hanlon for Discovery News

Dec. 7, 2006 — Almost ten years of unprecedented color satellite imagery of Earth’s oceans has now made one thing crystal clear: When the water gets warmer, ocean life declines.

The orbiting Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) has been collecting data on the colors of the oceans since 1997. That global data, combined with detailed ocean temperature data, shows an undeniable connection between the vibrancy of phytoplankton — the microscopic plants that anchor the ocean food web — and the temperature of the water, scientists announced on Wednesday.

"On a global scale there’s a very strong correlation between climate and ocean plants," said Michael Behrenfeld, an ocean plant ecologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. "(Phytoplankton) are very sensitive to changes in climate."

The climate connection in the oceans is hugely important, Behrenfeld explained, because phytoplankton is the food of the animals that, in turn, are the mainstay of the fish we eat.

What’s more, the tiny green plants are also a gigantic player in fighting the rise in the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. It’s estimated that ocean plants account for about half the Earth’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, he said.

The problem is that when the surface waters are dramatically warmer than the waters deeper down, there's a lot less mixing of waters up and down. This hurts the phytoplankton because it’s the deeper cold waters that contain the nutrients they need to thrive.

"This is incredibly important to life on Earth as we know it," commented Oscar Schofield, an aquatic biologist at Rutgers University.

Not only do ocean plants feed fish and eat carbon dioxide, he pointed out, they also create much of the oxygen that we breathe. That’s why everyone should be very interested in how climate change affects the oceans.

The consequent shifts in food for local ocean wildlife are expected to be dramatic and could have a disastrous effect on fisheries.


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A strange addiction develops: the "Woot-Off"

I'm not sure I should admit to this - maybe it's a public disservice to tell you about Woot.com's current Woot-Off...

Woot is a site I've looked at casually over the last month or so. Every night at midnight an item is posted for sale, one item, and it's for sale until it sells out or until the following midnight. Only one thing at a time. Usually, but not always, the item is some electronic thing I can't imagine wanting - often I can't even figure out what it is!

Once or twice a month, I gather, there is a Woot-Off, and today is such a day. An item is offered for sale until the stock runs out, then there's another one. This appears to be happening about every five or ten minutes!

There's a secondary site (Woot-Watcher) where you can watch the count-down as the items get sold.

I dunno why this is so mesmerizing, but it's as good as a lava lamp.

UPDATE: There's an unloveable Lexmark printer being offered just now. It is not moving. And there will be no new woot until the printers are gone. This is like a bunch of glum diners sitting at the table looking at a big pile of spinach and being told "clean your plates."

UPDATE: The Wooters have gotten so desperate to move on to the next item, they are telling each other: "The last time I bought one of these, it was stuffed with $100 dollar bills!" and "These printers are the greatest ever.....everybody buy 3!!!"



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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Just deserts"

From the Triangle Grammar Guide something else I didn't know.
A reader asks about just deserts and just desserts. In fact, the phrase is just deserts. It comes from the French word that became deserve in English. To get one's just deserts means to get what one deserves, good or bad. Mostly, however, it means to get the punishment that's coming for bad behavior. To paraphrase an old saying, just deserts are best served cold.

From the Word Maven:
Desert, also pronounced "di-ZERT," is in modern use found almost exclusively in the compound just deserts. The word means 'reward or punishment that is deserved'. The two other senses included in most standard dictionaries are 'the fact of deserving well; merit; worth' ("If you retain desert of holiness"--Marlowe, Tamburlane); and 'the state or fact of deserving reward or punishment' ("Some will always mistake the degree of their own desert"--Samuel Johnson, Rambler No. 193). This desert is based on a French verb meaning 'to deserve', and is first found in the thirteenth century.


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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lack Of Unique Character

Click for larger image.



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Peace and Lexapro

Somebody sent me a link to the New York Times article about Seasonal Affective Disorder. I've had this problem all my life but it didn't have a name until a few years ago. Maybe this post will help somebody.

I start to go downhill when the dread Christmas season begins; houses festooned with twinkling lights might as well be decorated with cobwebs, evil clowns, and Bride of Chuckie waving a knife as far as I'm concerned. I hit bottom around Valentine's Day. I'm back to speed by St. Patrick's Day and slightly manic by the end of June.

When my kids were little, I self-medicated by eating and reading: one year I lay in bed for most of January reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's entire oeuvre.

S.A.D. is not my only problem, I've always been jittery. When I was in high school, kids used to sneak in the door of my homeroom and tap me on the shoulder just to see me jump. I got an astrological reading from Stephen Forrest once; he said "you were born freaked out."

Then there was a pretty bad decade - I divorced my husband, got into an awful relationship, eight trees fell on my house during Hurricane Fran and crushed the roof, my dad died, my beloved aunt died. On New Year's Eve 1999 I had to have a tooth crowned and, miserably alone and woozy with Novocaine that night, I just laughed: "Next year has GOT to be better."

The next year, 2000, my son Zed was diagnosed with brain cancer. So much for prognostication.

I come from a long line of extremely eccentric women and fear following in their footsteps. So I'm glad I finally found a way to dig out of the hole. After trying herbal remedies and a lightbox (that helped a little), what really did the trick was Lexapro.

Now, as the shadows lengthen in November, one day I'll I notice myself muttering "NOTHING IS WRONG!" quietly but audibly as I push my cart in the grocery store; then it's time to start taking Lexapro. The dark fog I used to call Dread gradually lifts, I sleep better, I'm not as jumpy or despairing. When the days get long again in early spring, I quit the Lexapro.

When I started Pratie Place, Zed was getting ready to go to college and I was anticipating the Empty Nest Syndrome. I thought a blog might sop up some of my anxiety. It did - when I woke in the middle of the night I wrote in order to forestall pointless obsessing.

Somebody actually made fun of me for writing too often - "I can't keep up," she complained.

Once Zed was in college and my worries for him had subsided, I realized I needed more creative outlets in my life. A friend turned me on to the "Artist's Way" and I started writing "morning pages" every day - it's been more than a year and I'm still writing in a series of journals which have led me to painting (how thrilled I am to enjoy it even though I'm so lousy), studying Yiddish and Spanish, reviving a musical partnership with Bob, and a number of other things which all take time and make me happy.

When I was lying in bed late this morning (7:45) and just - feeling good - I remembered the therapist my ex-husband sent me to when he felt I needed to be fixed. This therapist said, when I complained of sadness: "But artists are supposed to be unhappy." Do you agree with that? What a conundrum! If I were jittery and miserable would that be better?

Have you noticed how many more songs there are about heartbreak and sorrow than there are about being happy? In my opinion it's because happy people have less motivation to write songs.

To be continued some other time, perhaps...

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Sad factoid indeed.

"To burn off one peanut M&M candy, you would need to walk about the length of one football field."

Sigh.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

From Samuel Johnson's biography of Richard Savage

"By imputing none of his miseries to himself he continued to act upon the same principles and to follow the same path; was never made wiser by his sufferings, nor preserved by one misfortune from falling into another.

"He proceeded throughout his life to tread the same steps on the same circle; always applauding his past conduct, or at least forgetting it, to amuse himself with phantoms of happiness which were dancing before him, and willingly turned his eye from the light of reason, when it would have discovered the illusion and shewn him, what he never wanted to see, his real state."

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

A good Hannukah present: "Souls are Flying," Jewish short stories

I don't think I've ever plugged a product, but I'm recommending the paperback Souls Are Flying! Jewish Short Stories by Sholem Aleichem, I.L. Peretz and Jacob Dineson collected and retold by Scott Hilton Davis, my friend and fellow Yiddish maven and also executive director of WUNC-TV.

That link takes you to lulu.com, where you can order a copy and they make it for you and send it to you. What a cool system!

A couple days ago Melina linked to an article in the Jewish Forward which mused that few American Jews have any connection to the shtetl any more. The stories in Scott's collection are moving, fascinating on many levels, and connect you to a past none of us will ever experience. Highly recommended.

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The costs of being fat: A good reason to run away from carrot cake, as we did last night.

Extracts from
Extra Weight, Higher Costs
By Damon Darlin for the New York Times, December 2, 2006

As you snatch a couple more Christmas cookies or down another eggnog, you might be thinking about what those extra calories will do to your health.

But have you considered what they will do to your wealth? The sugar and fat will add pounds, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and a shortened life span.

There is another consequence to packing on extra weight: being fat costs money — tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Heavy people do not spend more than normal-size people on food, but their life insurance premiums are two to four times as large. They can expect higher medical expenses, and they tend to make less money and accumulate less wealth in their shortened lifetimes. They can have a harder time being hired, and then a harder time winning plum assignments and promotions.

"Being overweight can be dangerous to your wealth," said Jay L. Zagorsky, an economist at Ohio State University who has looked at the relationship between various economic and sociological factors and a measure of obesity called the body mass index.

[You can find your body mass index using] a Web calculator like the one at www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/ or www.halls.md/ideal-weight/body.htm.

Anything under 25 is considered a normal reading of the index. From 25 to 30 is overweight, and above 30 is obese. People who rate above 40 are considered morbidly obese, meaning they are facing serious and sustained health problems.

It is by this measure that academics estimate that 97 million Americans, about a third of the population, are considered obese. Almost 10 million Americans could be considered morbidly obese.

Academics have struggled to place a price tag on the cost of treating those carrying around too much weight. The obese suffer from heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis and joint problems, liver disease and sleep apnea.

Complications from obesity, particularly diabetes, which afflicts 21 million Americans, push up the bill: $44,000 for a heart attack, $40,200 for a stroke or $37,000 for end-state kidney disease, estimates Judith A. O'Brien, the director of cost research at the Caro Research Institute, a health costs consulting firm. Amputating just a toe, a not uncommon consequence of untreated diabetes, averages $15,000, she estimates.

Academics have not spent much time calculating what that care costs the overweight individual. Instead, they look at what obesity costs society or insurers. The sum usually arrived at is about $80 billion a year and steadily growing. The government or insurers pay about 85 percent of that. In other words, the fit and the fat pay for it indirectly through taxes or higher health insurance premiums.

While the health problems ravage savings, an overweight person may have difficulty accumulating a nest egg in the first place. One of the earliest sociological studies of the overweight, in 1966, found that the heaviest students had a harder time getting into top colleges. More recent studies have found that the obese, particularly white women, are paid less. A study by John H. Cawley, an associate professor of human ecology at Cornell University, found that a weight increase of 64 pounds above the average for white women was associated with 9 percent lower wages.

One factor is that some employers do not want to be burdened with higher health insurance costs. Other times it is a matter of appearances or a belief that "people of size," as Mr. Roehling terms the obese, are lazy, weak-willed or considered too unattractive to interact with customers.

Brian A. Nosek, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who helped develop it, said that test results showed that bias against blacks and the overweight was about equal, but that while people rarely admit to race bias, they freely admit to weight bias. "There is no social sanction against saying you don't like fat people," Mr. Nosek said.

The weight penalties come in other forms as well. Sociologists have long noted that in developed countries, the higher-status people tend to be thin and the lower-status ones are fat. "That heavier people have a harder time getting married is pretty well supported," said Jeffery Sobal, a professor at Cornell University who has studied obesity.

The end result? The obese accumulate only about half the assets of the normal-size American, said Mr. Zagorsky, the Ohio State University research scientist.


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Friday, December 01, 2006

Melina: That's So Boring, Grandpa

Ma and I enjoy collecting examples of narcissistic Baby Boomer writing. There is certainly a lot of it out there. The pieces tend to run along the lines of "The Baby Boomers were so unique, and heroic, in the 60s" or "Whatever will the Baby Boomers do, now that they've turned [40, 50, 60...]?"

Part of my job is to scan the Jewish media for articles that may be relevant to what we do. And yesterday I came across this gem:

"Bubbie and Zaide were Hippies"

['Bubbie' and 'Zaide' are common Jewish nicknames for Grandma and Grandpa.']

Now, this is a very sweet article, but its overall thesis I find a bit unrealistic - that the grandchildren of hippies will enjoy listening to stories about how Grandma and Grandpa used to pass their days when they were flower children. I am merely one generation removed from The Hippies, and I already find these stories stultifyingly dull. Here's one excerpt from the above article, where the optimistic author envisions regaling her grandchildren:
Where is the Jewish children's book called "Bubbe and Zaide were Hippies"? The most meaningful experience of faith for today's bubbes and zaidies is unlikely to be being saved from physical attack; it is more likely to be the first time they prayed outside at sunrise following an all-night Shavuot [holiday] study session. How lovely the illustration of this could be: Zaide, 30 years younger, in his jeans and rainbow-colored tallit [prayer shawl], the sun rising in soft watercolors.
Sorry, but all this story says to me is that Zaide likes imagining himself 30 years younger. And I'm afraid that Zaide has been spending too much time admiring his rainbow-colored
tallit in the mirror if he thinks his grandchildren are going to have the slightest interest in this story.

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Venison for food banks

Extracts from
To Feed the Needy, Iowa Looks Hungrily At Its Glut of Deer
As State Eggs On Hunters, Venison Meatballs Become A Soup Kitchen Staple

By Roger Thurow for the Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2006

With the deer-hunting season going full blast, ground venison is standard fare at soup kitchens and food pantries across Iowa. "Our hamburgers are venison, our spaghetti Bolognese is venison, our meatloaf is venison," says Jean Bergen, director of the House of Compassion, a church converted into a homeless shelter and community kitchen.

Last year, volunteers from Marshalltown churches distributed and cooked more than two tons of ground venison in the kitchen beneath the stained-glass window.

Iowa's Help Us Stop Hunger program targets two troubling trends: rising populations of deer with too much to eat, and hungry people with too little. Through HUSH, which was concocted by the state three years ago to control the exploding deer population, more than 250,000 pounds of venison are expected to be donated by hunters to local food banks. That should result in more than 1 million meals of chili, stew and sloppy Joes.

Last hunting season, Iowa hunters shot more than 210,000 deer and donated 5,608 to food banks. Reports from meat lockers and butcher shops indicate donations are increasing this year.

"You can only eat so much deer," said Kevin Bradley after he dropped off a dead doe for cold storage and processing at the Milo, Iowa, locker south of Des Moines one October Saturday.

Beef is rare at soup kitchens and pantries. "We never get donated hamburger," says Ms. Bergen. So the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines collects venison recipes, some of which come from nutrition students at Iowa State University. "One guy made venison stroganoff," says Carey Miller, the food bank's deputy director. "We tasted it. It was very good, so we put it on our list," which is passed along to food pantries and soup kitchens.

Before this year's hunting season, the state's deer population had soared to about 450,000, from only 10,000 in the 1950s, matching a nationwide Bambi boom. Like residents in many other states, Iowa's farmers and suburban gardeners have watched deer ravage their crops. Insurance payouts from deer-vehicle crashes -- as many as 20,000 a year -- have escalated to upward of $50 million in Iowa alone.

At the same time, the number of people in Iowa without enough food was also increasing. In 1999, about 7.6% of households couldn't afford to feed their families at some point during the year. In 2005, it was 10.9%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Iowa [wanted to] encourage hunters to thin the growing herds. Most hunters take only one or two deer a year, aiming to get trophy antlers or to fill their freezers. What would they do with extra deer?

The state launched a pilot program in 2003 in which it paid for donated deer to be processed at meat lockers, which butcher meat and provide cold storage. The venison was then handed over to food banks. Because of limited funds, only 1,600 deer were donated that year, and 1,900 the next.

In 2005, the state legislature added a $1 surcharge to every deer license sold. It also allowed hunters to buy multiple permits to kill deer. For Iowa residents, the first permit, usually used to shoot one buck, costs $27. Additional permits cost $12 apiece and are restricted to antler-less deer, usually does. The new surcharges cover the $60 that is paid to meat lockers to process each donated deer. Last year, the number of donated deer tripled as hunters gobbled up extra permits.

"I'm happy to do it," says Ralph Roloff, who owns the locker in State Center, Iowa, that supplies the House of Compassion. He says the $60 pretty much covers his cost of processing a deer and considers any extra expense to be his contribution. He remembers his own family using food stamps when he was growing up.

At the Milo locker, which handled 226 HUSH deer last year, owner Darrell Goering also endorses the program as a taxpayer, noting that it's cheaper for the state to pay for a pound of lean deer meat to feed the hungry than for a pound of similarly lean beef.


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