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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blocked by ""

I just discovered that my mail to some folks on mindspring and earthlink is getting blocked by I'm hoping somebody else can explain what's going on, or maybe this will help somebody, I dunno.

This is what they sent me with the bounced email:

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently: [person]

Technical details of permanent failure:
PERM_FAILURE: SMTP Error (state 8): 550 550 Dynamic/zombied/spam IPs blocked. Write

So of course I tried to write to that address and this is what I got back (extracts). Feel free to skip over it if it makes your eyes glaze over and if you don't know what it's talking about - that's what I did!


EarthLink may be blocking your mail server because the server is listed in a dynamic IP range, is listed as an open proxy, is listed as a compromised machine, or is major source of spam.

If you do not know what IP address your server is sending with, please contact the mail administrator of your company or your ISP and have them follow the instructions below.

If you are the administrator of the email server being blocked, please know you may be able to expedite unblocking by checking to see if your mail server is listed in the following lists and resolving before emailing us:
Other spam databases to determine if your mail server IP has spam issues:

If your IP is not on any of these lists, is not dynamic, is not an open relay/proxy/zombie, please reply back to with "BLOCKED " in the subject line with the IP inserted. All reports sent to this address, not using this format will receive this auto response.

Thank you for your cooperation,
EarthLink Abuse

So the point is, they will not even read my email unless I know what my IP is. Which I don't!

So I tried calling Earthlink. I went to the "Get a Human" database and followed the instructions and did get a human, who transferred me to another human, who transferred me to another human, then the line went dead. Elapsed time: about half an hour.

So I called again. I got a human, who transferred me to another human, who transferred me to another human, who asked: "Did the guys you've been talking to have foreign accents?" I said they sounded like they were in India. He said, "I'll transfer you to a guy who's right here in the room with me." That sounded hopeful.

I waited. The next guy, the "one right here in the room," said, "Oh, you have cable? I'm the DSL guy. Wait." He transferred me to another guy. I was up to about 16 guys at this point.

I got one more. He actually started taking down my email addresses. That seemed even MORE hopeful. But then HE said, "Wait," and I waited, and then - a dial tone.

I screamed out loud. Elapsed time: another half hour.

I googled this problem and here are some others folks complaining about earthlink mindspring mail rejection. At the bottom, find an update with some actual helpful information I got the third time I called.

Does anyone know why gmail is marked on earthlink as being spam? I'm trying to send one of my cousins an email and I get back:

PERM_FAILURE: SMTP Error (state 8): 550 550 Dynamic/zombied/spam IPs blocked. Write

So I sent them an email and got a message back that basically says I need to be the administrator to get the IP removed from their spam block. I went into gmail's support and sent them a message with the information, and I got told that I can find a solution on their help page...which tells you to contact the ISP you were trying to email. Which takes me back into a HUGE circle of automated messages. ARGH!!!

In search of brains

Night before last, I sent an email to a friend of mine who has an Earthlink account; it bounced with the following curt notice:
550 550 Dynamic/zombied/spam IPs blocked. Write (in reply to MAIL FROM command)

As it happens, Earthlink is blocking mail from DreamHost mail servers, and DH hasn't been able to get the block removed. This isn't exactly earth-shaking news — and I can send mail, if I have to, from Hotmail, from my cable provider, even through Earthlink itself (I have a dialup account there for backup) — but I still feel just slightly insulted.

Then again, if you fuse all those complaints together, you get Dynamic Zombie Spam, which I think is a helluva good band name.

Blocked by Earthlink

I guess it’s started. I have my E-mail server connected to using a static IP number. I’ve tried to send E-mail to two different people at Earthlink in the past week. Both of those messages are now bouncing because:

(reason: 550 550 Dynamic/zombied/spam IPs blocked. Write

So, I’m stuck with trying to get Earthlink to accept my E-mail now. It seems that a number of other folks are experiencing this problem, including the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system in North Carolina. What jokers.

Their blacklist is too strict and will have a detrimental affect on their customers.

ISP eMail Blockage

Various ISP's are implementing eMail blocking polices that are not based upon any proven abuse. For example MSN (and Hotmail) are blocking "Yahoo Groups" for "policy" reasons. Strangely they have a new service that you can signup for at a couple thousand bucks that "improves" your "deliverability."

We will begin listing the known blockage, since that means those of you who have signed up for either our Automatic Notification or for our Yahoo Groups Update service WILL NOT RECEIVE the messages you have signed up for., - For "policy" reasons MSN is blocking Yahoo Groups. Apparently Microsoft also owns Hotmail as these addresses are also bounced with the same MSN "policy" message. - TDS Telecom is blocking Earthlink (& mindspring) eMail. If you have earthlink or mindspring and have emailed the SP webmaster in the last month (or any email address) it was not received. Please use instead of to send messages to the SP webmaster.

Such policies mean that corporations are now getting involved in determining what eMail will make it to you based upon arbitrary criteria they establish without notification. In such cases it is no longer your decision.

On January 8, earthlink and mindspring joined the blockage of yahoogroups, with a spam message as follows:

Remote host said: 550 550 Dynamic/zombied/spam IPs blocked. Write

The interesting thing is that "NO" messages were sent on either January 7th or 8th - NONE.

If I am not mistaken didn't AOL buy out Earthlink??? If they did that is probably the reason for all this. Everyone knows how AOL is about blocking stuff. You cannot even send email from a gmail account to earthlink or AOL nowadays.

Me personally I wouldn't use either service if it was the last on earth. It might be a wise Idea to put a disclaimer on your site telling people who use earthlink or aol to get another email from someplace else if they want to receive email from you.

UPDATE: The THIRD time I called, I got a tech guy in India who refused to help me go up the chain of command, but did have one helpful piece of information: To find your IP number, go to the DOS Command prompt and type IPconfig[enter]. Then you may be able to get some help from earthlink's reject email department.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stress Reduction Tips

Somebody sent this to me and I was going to excerpt them, but they're all great, and go with my "slowness" and "mono-tasking" project...

52 Proven Stress Reducers
from the Texas Woman's University Counseling Center

  1. Get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning. The inevitable morning mishaps will be less stressful.

  2. Prepare for the morning the evening before. Set the breakfast table, make lunches, put out the clothes you plan to wear, etc.

  3. Don't rely on your memory. Write down appointment times, when to pick up the laundry, when library books are due, etc.

  4. Do nothing which, after being done, leads you to tell a lie.

  5. Make duplicates of all keys. Bury a house key in a secret spot in the garden and carry a duplicate car key in your wallet, apart from your key ring.

  6. Practice preventive maintenance. Your car, appliances, home, and relationships will be less likely to break down/fall apart at the worst possible moment.

  7. Be prepared to wait. A paperback can make a wait in a post office line almost pleasant.

  8. Procrastination is stressful. Whatever you want to do tomorrow, do today; whatever you want to do today, do it now.

  9. Plan ahead. Don't let the gas tank get below one-quarter full; keep a well-stocked emergency shelf of home staples; don't wait until you're down to your last bus token or postage stamp to buy more; etc.

  10. Don't put up with something that doesn't work right. If your alarm clock, wallet, shoe laces, windshield wipers - whatever- are a constant aggravation, get them fixed or get new ones.

  11. Allow 15 minutes of extra time to get to appointments. Plan to arrive at an airport one hour before domestic departures.

  12. Eliminate (or restrict) the amount of caffeine in your diet.

  13. Always set up contingency plans, just in case. (If for some reason either of us is delayed, here's what we'll do... Or, If we get split up in the shopping center, here's where we'll meet.)

  14. Relax your standards. The world will not end if the grass doesn't get mowed this weekend.

  15. Pollyanna-Power! For every one thing that goes wrong, there are probably 10 or 50 or 100 blessings. Count 'em!

  16. Ask questions. Taking a few moments to repeat back directions, what someone expects of you, etc., can save hours. ("The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.")

  17. Say No! Saying no to extra projects, social activities, and invitations you know you don't have the time or energy for takes practice, self-respect, and a belief that everyone, everyday, needs quiet time to relax and be alone.

  18. Unplug your phone. Want to take a long bath, meditate, sleep, or read without interruption? Drum up the courage to temporarily disconnect. (The possibility of there being a terrible emergency in the next hour or so is almost nil.) Or use an answering machine.

  19. Turn needs into preferences. Our basic physical needs translate into food, water, and keeping warm. Everything else is a preference. Don't get attached to preferences.

  20. Simplify, simplify, simplify. . .

  21. Make friends with non-worriers. Nothing can get you into the habit of worrying faster than associating with chronic worrywarts.

  22. Get up and stretch periodically if your job requires that you sit for extended periods.

  23. Wear earplugs. If you need to find quiet at home, pop in some earplugs.

  24. Get enough sleep. If necessary, use an alarm clock to remind you to go to bed.

  25. Create order out of chaos. Organize your home and workspace so that you always know exactly where things are. Put things away where they belong and you won't have to go through the stress of losing things.

  26. When feeling stressed, most people tend to breathe short, shallow breaths. When you breathe like this, stale air is not expelled, oxidation of the tissues is incomplete, and muscle tension frequently results. Check your breathing throughout the day, and before, during, and after high-pressure situations. If you find your stomach muscles knotted and your breathing is shallow, relax all your muscles and take several deep, slow breaths.

  27. Writing your thoughts and feelings down (in a journal, or on paper to be thrown away) can help you clarify things and can give you a renewed perspective

  28. Try the following yoga technique whenever you feel the need to relax. Inhale deeply through your nose to the count of eight. Then, with lips puckered, exhale very slowly through your mouth to the count of 16, or for as long as you can. Concentrate on the long sighing sound and feel the tension dissolve. Repeat 10 times.

  29. Inoculate yourself against a feared event. Example: before speaking in public, take time to go over every part of the experience in your mind. Imagine what you'll wear, what the audience will look like, how you will present your talk, what the questions will be and how you will answer them, etc. Visualize the experience the way you would have it be. You'll likely find that when the time comes to make the actual presentation, it will be old hat and much of your anxiety will have fled.

  30. When the stress of having to get a job done gets in the way of getting the job done, diversion - a voluntary change in activity and/or environment - may be just what you need.

  31. Talk it out. Discussing your problems with a trusted friend can help clear your mind of confusion so you can concentrate on problem solving.

  32. One of the most obvious ways to avoid unnecessary stress is to select an environment (work, home, leisure) which is in line with your personal needs and desires. If you hate desk jobs, don't accept a job which requires that you sit at a desk all day. If you hate to talk politics, don't associate with people who love to talk politics, etc.

  33. Learn to live one day at a time.

  34. Every day, do something you really enjoy.

  35. Add an ounce of love to everything you do.

  36. Take a hot bath or shower (or a cool one in summertime) to relieve tension.

  37. Do something for somebody else.

  38. Focus on understanding rather than on being understood; on loving rather than on being loved.

  39. Do something that will improve your appearance. Looking better can help you feel better.

  40. Schedule a realistic day. Avoid the tendency to schedule back-to-back appointments; allow time between appointments for a breathing spell.

  41. Become more flexible. Some things are worth not doing perfectly and some issues are fine to compromise upon.

  42. Eliminate destructive self-talk: I'm too old to..., I'm too fat to..., etc.

  43. Use your weekend time for a change of pace. If your work week is slow and patterned, make sure there is action and time for spontaneity built into your weekends. If your work week is fast-paced and full of people and deadlines, seek peace and solitude during your days off. Feel as if you aren't accomplishing anything at work? Tackle a job on the weekend which you can finish to your satisfaction.

  44. Worry about the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves. That's another way of saying: take care of the todays as best you can and the yesterdays and the tomorrows will take care of themselves.

  45. Do one thing at a time. When you are with someone, be with that person and with no one or nothing else. When you are busy with a project, concentrate on doing that project and forget about everything else you have to do.

  46. Allow yourself time - everyday - for privacy, quiet, and introspection.

  47. If an especially unpleasant task faces you, do it early in the day and get it over with, then the rest of your day will be free of anxiety.

  48. Learn to delegate responsibility to capable others.

  49. Don't forget to take a lunch break. Try to get away from your desk or work area in body and mind, even if it's just for 15 or 20 minutes.

  50. Forget about counting to 10. Count to 1,000 before doing something or saying anything that could make matters worse.

  51. Have a forgiving view of events and people. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world.

  52. Have an optimistic view of the world. Believe that most people are doing the best they can.


Update on Illustration Friday and the virtues of slowness

The pink parts in the lower corners are my toes as I tried to hold the picture flat on the floor to take this photo... (click on it for a larger view).

I haven't done much over the last few days except paint over this picture and paint over it and paint over it. (This is the "before" version.)

It doesn't look much different (or better) than it did before, but I learned some stuff.

I used to be very achievement-oriented: being efficient and fast was a high priority.

Lately I lecture myself on the virtues of being slow. Being slow, being a mono-tasker, these are luxuries in my life as a solitary empty nester.

Recent activities: hours spent doing Yiddish homework of no value to anybody but me; making midi files of 8-part double choir motets just for fun; painting a lousy picture over and over; darning a sweater so tattered that even after this attention I can't wear it in front of regular folks.

Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do
Words and Music by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins (and Saffire)

There is nothing I can do
Nothing I can say
That folks don't criticize me
But I'm gonna do
Just what I want to anyway
Don't care if they all despise me

If I go to church on Sunday
And I honkytonk all day Monday
Ain't nobody's business if I do

And if I should get a feeling
I wanna dance upon the ceiling
Ain't nobody's business, oh it ain't nobody's business if I do

If I stay out all night
Spend all my money, well that's all right
It ain't nobody's business if I do

You try to tell me I got no right to sing the blues
What gives you the right to tell me what I should do?
It ain't nobody's, ain't nobody's business if I do

If my friend ain't got no money and I say take all mine, honey, 'Taint nobody's biz-ness if I do, do, do, do.

If I give him my last nickel and it leaves me in a pickle, 'Taint nobody's biz-ness if I do, if I do.



Saturday, February 24, 2007

Illustration Friday: "Communication"

I guess I'm bending the theme a big - but for Illustration Friday this week I painted this cartoon copy of the lower right-hand corner of Fra Angelico's "Judgment Day" (see below). (Click on either picture for a larger view.) It's not finished by any means but I couldn't wait...

I was thinking about this painting, and Bosch's "Ship of Fools," at Talmud study this past week, when we saw this passage in Sanhedrin 71B: "When the wicked drink wine or go to sleep, it is beneficial to the wicked themselves, and to the world, for while they are drunk or asleep they cannot sin, or cause damage to others."

This was (in somewhat different words) the quote my friend Maryann Panarella put under her picture in the high school yearbook. It goes with my "staying out of trouble" mantra.

There are some creepy, amazing paintings by 15th century artists on this theme. They express the way I feel, on a bad day, about the people running this planet.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The most romantic whatever (from Beulah Land)

My daughter's friend has a blog called Searching for Beulah and he asked folks for a list of most the romantic whatever. My first thought - I'm a completely unromantic person. Gradually I remembered that hasn't always been the case.

So, anyway, here are some of his categories, with my choices. Visit his link above for the complete list:

Most romantic novel: The only one I've responded to within the last year or so was The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. When I was in high school I sighed over the love between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in the Dorothy Sayers mysteries. I'm afraid to read them again for fear they wouldn't live up to my memories...

Most romantic song(s) (English:) I did a whole album of the most romantic songs I knew, Sedgefield Fair with Jacqueline Schwab and Robbie Link, back in 1993. One of the most romantic: "The Ploughboy Lad" (here's a free mp3 download if you're curious). (You can even buy the album here via PayPal.)

Most romantic song (Hebrew): Ta-am Haman

Most romantic piece of classical music: Rachmaninoff's Variations on a Theme by Paganini (the famous part)

Most romantic movie: Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Most romantic work of visual art: Just about the entire Hudson Valley School, like these two:

Most romantic vacation destination (can be somewhere you’ve been, or not): The Caucasus Mountains (if they're not that beautiful any more, don't tell me).

Most romantic three-course meal menu: It was in Paris. I forget the name, doesn't matter, I'll never see it again...

Most romantic type of weather: When the sky is dark but the sun is shining

Most romantic spot in your high school town: If there was one, nobody ever showed it to me.

Most romantic spot in your college town: The archway of Calhoun College in the early evening

Most romantic spot where you live now: The top of Occoneechee Mountain.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Urban Caballero's Apartment

In the past five days, two significant misfortunes have befallen the Urban Caballero's apartment:

1) The toilet overflowed and leaked down four floors through four different people's apartments

2) A mouse (or something) died behind the wall and stank up the place.

We are city dwellers. These things happen. The Urban Caballero deserves no blame for either of these two unfortunate occurrences. However, given this recent stroke of bad luck, the Urban Caballero and I have decided that he should no longer be keeping the paper towels on top of the stove burners.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Gravity"

This is my grandfather's grandfather, Adin Burt, a man of gravitas, which is why I painted him for this prompt.

Adin, a Civil War veteran, married a Canadian and lived in about a dozen places after the war - working his way from Ohio to Wisconsin, sometimes wealthy, sometimes poor. He started by selling salt and "old metal" but usually dealt with trappers in Canada and the Northern United States aggregating their furs and selling to wholesalers.

He died in this Veterans' hospital not long after the picture was taken.

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Mike does Illustration Friday: "Gravity"

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Writing Advice from George Orwell via "Wesleying"

My son Zed loves the new Wesleying blog, which pointed readers to this article:

Writing a paper? How about some free advice from one of world's most famous writers, George Orwell?

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

True bliss: space stations and number lines - adventures with Menticia.

If you've been around Pratie Place for a while you know I've been mentoring a very entertaining chica for 2-1/2 years now. I decided to do this partly for noble reasons but mostly because I wanted some young energy in my life.

Now she's in sixth grade and it's been fun, for instance, watching the hormones hit her. For instance, boys have gone from being invisible - perhaps briefly of note when they provided entertainment with their wild pranks - to being a constant reference point (always accompanied, however, with one of these provisos: "I'm not interested of course but..." or "I like him, no, just kidding").

Three weeks ago I got her mid-semester progress report and was surprised to see a big fat F in Social Studies. She told me she had "forgotten" to turn in a paper punctually - and had also "forgotten" to turn it in during the 1-week grace period. "It's been in my binder all this time."

When questioned, she provided further information: "Well, it was almost finished, but I didn't have glue at home so I couldn't paste in the pictures." "It was all finished except for some glue? You could have taken it to the teacher and said, 'I need some glue,' and then pasted in the pictures and handed it in." "Well, I had to write a few words after I pasted in the pictures." "A few words? Maybe you could have left space for the pictures and written the words and THEN asked for the glue?"

Menticia is linear in her thinking sometimes. She gets to a hurdle and stops, rather than looking for a way around it. ("What can I do? I have no glue, the rest of this will obviously have to wait!")

I gave her some glue to take home and wrote in her assignment book: "Glue in the pictures, turn in the paper, apologize to the teacher."

Seven days later I picked her up again. The paper was still not handed in. So I decided we would finish it together. To my horror, the "few words" she needed to write comprised about 2/3 of the report. Four hours later the project was done. "Are there any other assignments that are about to become train wrecks?" I asked.

Yes: there was a Space Station, part of a team project - they were, uh, a little bit behind - it was due in two days, and since team members 1 and 2 had already done their part - concluding with an approved design for said space station - it was now Menticia's turn, in conjunction with team member 4, to actually do the building.

"What's done so far?" "Well, my dad gave me a piece of plywood to build the space station on." "Is that ALL? There's just a piece of plywood??" "I also took in some green tissue paper for grass."

Setting aside the obvious question ("Why do you need grass in a space station?") I pointed out that there was, in effect, no space station at all. "Well, it's not just my fault - the other kid was supposed to bring legos to make buildings."

OK, a crisis. Involving corrugated cardboard, paper towel tubes, glue gun, clever design solutions... I was in heaven! My own kids Hannah and Zed will know how happy this made me. I sent Menticia home that day with a most excellent space-station dome and a detailed plan.

That was the crisis du jour last week. This week: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of positive and negative integers, along with "simplifying expressions." We started yesterday. Menticia was completely at sea. I was frightened to discover how little she understood, and how randomly she intended to answer the worksheet questions. When things get really tough for her, she regards a worksheet as somewhat akin to a bingo board - write down random numbers and see if you get lucky and hit the jackpot.

Have you ever noticed it's easier to teach something you once struggled with than something that came easily to you? When I was a kid, I loved math. Everything always turned out right and since I understood the material I didn't have to study or spend any time at it. So I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what it is that Menticia isn't understanding.

I have to slow down and look at math problems through her eyes - not fun and easy, with certain victory to be won at little cost, but treacherous! Liable to result in homework covered with dreadful red Xs of condemnation!

I have to bite my tongue to keep from being an obnoxious dweeb chortling: "Look at that! Isn't it cool?"

The time available yesterday made a sizeable dent in her incomprehension, but we finished only half the work. I said, "we can work on this some more tomorrow if it looks hard after you go home."

I didn't expect to hear from her - she never calls me - so I was delighted beyond words when I heard her sweet little voice on the phone today - it's the very first time she's ever actually managed to ask for help.

I suggested we work in the pizza joint near her house. I brought wads of scratch paper (I hate little squinched up globs of numbers), sharp pencils, and - most crucial of all - my wonderful gigantic eraser. We spread her work all over the table. I drew number lines and matrices; she patiently answered my questions while she ate pizza to gain focus.

In deference to her rather somber attitude towards math I tried not to sound too gleeful, but I was in hog heaven. We drank an awful lot of soda while we worked (I'll never stop thinking we in the South get away with something with these free refills).

I loved helping and explaining, cracking jokes to break down her resistance. Listening to her voice pick up strength and confidence as we laboriously worked our way down the page brought me near ecstasy! And it's been WAY too long since I got to draw number lines!

Something Menticia never cares for: any sort of "What did we learn today?" meta-analysis. "Why was this part hard, and that part easy?" "What will you try first, next time you see a problem like this?" "The minus sign in front of a negative number might seem small and insignificant, but there will be red marks on your math assignments if you don't take it extremely seriously!" When we've made our way from the top left to the bottom right, she's more than ready to forget the whole thing and move on.

I don't blame her. I hope, though, that by osmosis she'll pick up some of my cheerful confidence that the right answer is there to be discovered - an enjoyment of laying out problems in a clear, tidy, rational space (using lots of fresh scratch paper) - even, hopefully, some elation when everything comes together.

"Menticia, I want to buy you a treat now because you've worked so hard." "Oh, no, that's ok."

So ended another wonderful session. Are you, too, longing for construction paper and glue, "boys," number lines, bowling, and discussing the relative merits of several ghastly radio stations? Be a mentor!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My valentine's day presents to myself...

Some of my favorite presents of all time were:
  • An electric pencil sharpener;
  • A copy machine;
  • A tiny yellow bulldozer.
Most of the usual Valentine offerings, things with which I might theoretically be gifted (I like this sleazy newspeak verb) if I had a valentine, aren't my favorite:
  • Jewelry, in my opinion, is a giant waste of money;

  • Ditto expensive restaurants - next day, what have you got to show for dropping all that dough?

  • Flowers - lovely at first, they wither and die in their vase, reminding me of our inevitable mortal decay (and I feel guilty when I finally throw them out);

  • Chocolate: I love it but would consider any attempt to import it into my territory a hostile gesture, since I am still wearing my 12-year-old jeans and want to continue fitting into them. (Not to say I'll ever turn down a piece of chocolate that's offered to me.)
Nonetheless I felt the need for some self-gifting so I just bought:
  • InDesign, the devilishly intricate graphic design program which seems to be the standard among cd-replication companies these days. As I wrote previously, in the old days putting an album cover together involved ink, paint, rubber cement or wax, and a final trip to get color separation films made. These days, it can all be done by email, but only if you have one of the correct graphics programs. I've been cadging off other people for help with this long enough, so I bit the bullet and bought. Now I'll be gnashing my teeth for days trying to figure out how to use the 1% of InDesign's bells and whistles I actually need;

  • A Seiko "Quiet-Sweep" wall clock. For some reason I've gotten so sensitive to the ticking of the clock in my music studio I've had to take it off the wall and cover it up with pillows. And then I can't see what time it is. The Seiko was kind of expensive, but if I can leave it on the wall I guess it will be worth it.
What did YOU get for Valentine's day? Give me some vicarious pleasure and leave a comment.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Longing for scissors and glue.

Having more or less given up on "love" (see how I even have to put it in quotes), I've been trolling for interesting dinner partners at Craig's List. My requirements have boiled down to three: (1) not a Republican; (2) able to spell; (3) doesn't use expressions like LOL or ROFL. It's surprising how few posts come up to this high standard, but there are, luckily, a few.

So I emailed a guy: "I'm free for dinner Tuesday or Wednesday," and he wrote back: "Let's make it Tuesday, Valentine's Day is going to be a zoo," and I realized I'd completely forgotten tomorrow is Valentine's Day.

How could this happen? Easy, the same way I missed Christmas: if you don't watch tv, listen to the radio, or go to the mall, you avoid those nagging, hypnotic messages relentlessly trying to sell stuff by reminding us what an important day it is.

As my frugal Pennsylvania Dutch dad used to say about Father's Day: "it's just a plot to sell more ties."

As a hat-tip to Laudator Temporis Acti's "antediluvian, bibliomaniac, and curmudgeon" (Michael Gilleland), who sent me a Valentine "buck up" email last year, I commend his most recent post, about eating acorns, and offer these quotes from the one before that:

There was a time, indeed, I fretted myself about the mistakes of government, like other people; but finding myself every day growing more angry, and the government growing no better, I left it to mend itself. (Oliver Goldsmith)

Princes appear to me to be Fools. Houses of Commons & Houses of Lords appear to me to be fools; they seem to me to be something Else besides Human Life. (William Blake)

Last year's Pratie post: One Tough Day for Two-Timers: As Cheaters Juggle Valentines, Private Eyes Work Overtime; the Feb. 14 'Business Trip'

The previous year: Sweet Potato Queens' Advice for the Lovelorn, said advice including the words with which I soothed Hannah when her love interest was no longer interesting: "They makin' them thangs ever' day." (Now she has the Urban Caballero and they seem happy.)

You know what I miss most about Valentine's Day? Cutting out construction paper hearts and gluing stars on them with my kids. They went to a Quaker school where, if you wanted to give a Valentine's Day card to any one child, you had to make one for every child. We had assembly lines, hearts and stars in a sprawling matrix on the floor waiting to be glued. For me, such a project represents the pinnacle of satisfaction. Sigh. I wonder if either Zed or Hannah has made a construction-paper heart this year?

I leave the disgruntled among you with this quiz from the QuirkyAlone site, which indicates one might even be better off abandoning the whole idea...

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Illustration Friday: Crash

I've started stealing my friends' photos off to paint portraits of them. Here's my little brother's friend Chaney, God knows where.


More words of wisdom from the readers of my other blog.

Here's a second installment of snippets from Caray, Caray!, where my intrepid recappers brave the lurid worlds of the telenovelas in order to help the many who, without knowing much or any Spanish, are nevertheless addicted to these tales of (1) steamy romance; (b) heartless betrayal; (c) babies switched at birth, (d) extreme boob jobs and face lifts, and (e) leprosy visited upon the villainous (though not until the last episode). Some of these gems are from the recappers, others are readers' comments.

Flor tells Luba to be careful. Luba laughs, she's crossed the river a million times. Of course she puts two feet in the river and immediately does a face plant. She gets swept downstream as Flor shrieks for help and runs along the river. Flor finally finds a big stick and tries to help Luba but all we see are Luba's boots sticking straight up out of the water, like when we were kids and used to do handstands in the pool.

Oh yeah, I remember guys like Emilio in high school and I did my best to avoid them. Good gosh darn thing because at my 25 yr. reunion most of those ex-studs were sporting gigantic beer guts and the school's biggest nerd matured into a total hottie, rolling in dough from starting his own hi-tech company, with a complete babe as his wife. Bwahahahahah!

We need LA FEA ACTION FIGURES!!! We could design endless plot variations and act them out to our personal satisfaction, complete with plenty of snappy dialogue. We could design a new wardrobe for Lety, and maybe bring in GI Joe to take care of Ariel. This would soothe our irritation at the slow pace of the telenovela.

Paulina & JC are in his office, getting their daily exercise patting themselves and each other on the back over what fine architects or whatever they are.

I forgot, but at the beginning Nic was telling Mariángela about Dolores - it seems he is enamored with Dolores, yet has not acted on his feeling because of her son Tiberto. ****Yes Nic I've seen this many times on Dr. Phil, you just have to bide your time until Tiberto finishes school.... Wait a minute, Tibero is like 57 years old, he's seriously like seventeen years older than his mother****

Gabe is the father of both lil spawns... Joselyn did the drug thing that seems to be quite the rage lately... Desperate Housewives did the same thing this week. You just give em sleeping pills combined with viagra... it apparently just totally does the trick. She had a paternity test done in vitro and has had literally 1000's of copies made and hands them out to anyone willing to take one.

Then Don Loco orders Gaspar to return Alina to the cave, Gaspar follows the order. I haven’t seen all the episodes this week, this is my first look at Gaspar. I think I saw him once at a Metallica concert, he’s not retarded, he just smoked too much pot. Really, I think that’s the guy.

Melinama you said it so well "what a bunch of imbeciles". This novela makes me want to scratch my eyes out at the stupidity of it all. I keep asking myself why, why, why do I keep watching!!!

Alina begs the dog for forgiveness. She mumbles to herself a bunch of worthless stuff, including whining about Emiliooo and about how she is in love with him. How do you inspire that kind of loyalty in a woman for real? If I didn’t treat my wife well, she wouldn’t be sitting in a cave thinking how much she still loves me, she would be calling me asking where this month’s alimony check is.

I am wondering quite a bit how Marcia keeps from blinking? Do you think she is actually asleep with her eyes open???????????

Here's just a small bit of trivia for y'all about that handshape you call the "Mundo de Fieras" hand. [Editor's note: another novela, "Mundo de Fieras," aka "World of Wild Beasts," in which an evil triumvirate of women make cat scratches in the air behind people's backs sometimes.] In American Sign Language, that "open claw" handshape is used for many negative signs. For example, if you put it in front of your face and wiggle the fingers with the palm facing yourself, centered in front of your nose, it means "crabby" or "cranky." If you face palm toward yourself and fingers point downward at your waist, then bring it up fast toward your face, it means "angry" and if you just circle that handshape on your abdomen in front of the stomach, it means nauseated. The only time I have ever seen it faced toward the other person was one day when my ex husband was yelling and fussy with me, a teenager with Down Syndrome saw him and walked over to him and made that sign right up close to my ex's nose as if to say, "don't be so fussy!" My ex collapsed in laughter and couldn't be angry any more. The young man just smiled and walked back to his group.

I've never seen anyone in a telenovela react quickly to a health crisis. Whenever an unfortunate character falls to the ground, unconscious, obviously severely afflicted with who-knows-what, the companion starts shouting, demanding to know what's wrong, to please wake up, grabbing the stricken one by the shoulders and shaking, shouting and crying until the scene fades to a commercial.

See, I am having a problem with the whole space/time continuum... this day stretches out like it is being sucked thru a black-hole... If my day at work lasted this long, and trust me, I am working no harder than the slackers at Conceptos... they'd find me dangling from the ceiling; my shoes would be on the floor with no laces....

The show could not have been too interesting if so many have commented about Aldo's shirt. I didn't see a stain but he does look different. Either his head is shrinking or his hair is getting flatter.

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It's a dangerous world, part MCVI

Snorkeler shot after being mistaken for rodent
Man held for shooting says he thought snorkeler in Ore. river was a nutria

EUGENE, Ore. - A snorkeler who was shot in the head after he was apparently mistaken for a swimming rodent was in good condition after surgery, a hospital said Saturday.

John William Cheesman, 44, of Springfield, underwent eight hours of surgery Thursday to remove shrapnel and bone fragments from his face, said his wife, Shelley Cheesman.

"He’s doing really well," Shelley Cheesman said. "The bullet hit in front of his right ear, where the bone is the most dense. It just fragmented and didn’t go into his brain."

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Bowling with Menticia

I took these pictures last weekend when the Blue Ribbon Advocate Mentor program gave us all a bowling night.

First I took Menticia and her friend to the local Chinese restaurant where the two of them chowed down an unbelievable amount of lo mein using chopsticks very dextrously.


Because they were extremely anxious not to miss a second of bowling, we got to the alley almost a half hour early. They played air hockey and piled on this motorcycle thing.


We were the first to arrive at Lane Number One and the first to have our shoes on. They had already spent quite a while examining all the bowling balls in the joint and discussing their relative merits.

Then we had to wait for some other girls to show up. We ended up with three more. At first these other three were at pains to show us how uninterested they were in the proceedings. They sat way in the back and ate nachos. Each had to be summoned by repeated shouting when it was her turn to bowl.

However, one of the bored three suddenly discovered she was good at bowling. This upped her interest considerably. She migrated away from the table in the back and started hanging out in front with Menticia and her buddy.

Seeing their friend get involved and excited, the last two started to get interested almost in spite of themselves. And so they left the shadows and came up to the front too. And pretty soon all five of them were jostling and shouting and watching the scoreboard above, and having a great time.

My favorite part of the evening was just watching these girls have a great time. Because I am a lurker by nature, I almost prefer being around happy people to being happy myself.

I like bowling too but the best thing is how comfortable the bowling shoes are.





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Forced to migrate to "New Blogger," the blogger formerly known as Melina changes her name to Hannah.

My daughter had to migrate her own blog Fear Not the Gods to New Blogger a week or two ago and now her previous name here, Melina, has been immolated. So from now on I could her "The Blogger Formerly Known as Melina," or just - Hannah, the name we gave her when we stood in front of the rabbi 23 years ago. I suppose that will be less confusing, anyway, a lot of people had trouble reading all the way to the ends of our screen names and seeing that we were two different people.


What I've been doing lately.

Sorry to be out of touch, it's been a busy time. I've been learning a lot of new music, preparing a cd re-release of a set of old Skylark Production recordings of a cappella gospel for Ed Norman of New Hope Harmony and The Maudlin Brothers, and preparing publicity for a St. Patrick's Eve concert.

I especially enjoyed scanning one of the posters I drew with pen and ink back in the 1980s and trying to typeset over the blank places. What a blast from the past. See below. You can click for a larger view. You can even come to the concert.

UPDATE: My daughter asked how she can hear the Pratie Heads broadcast on March 16 (it will be live at noon and then repeated in the evening). The State of Things radio show streams live over the internet, and is also podcast.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Melina has been visiting Manhattan houses of worship

I wanted to let you know my daughter Melina has started her own blog (under her own name) and is starting an exploration of synagogues, churches, etc. in New York City. Here's her most recent post on visiting St. George's Church. Go say hi!

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Melinama does "Illustration Friday" - SPROUT

I did this one in 20 minutes.


Mike does "Illustration Friday" - SPROUT


Melina: An Evening In Williamsburg, or, It's Not Easy Being Cool

Hey! I managed to get back on "old blogger!" I wonder what changed.

Last night my high school friend Katherine was in a fashion show. It was just a little one. She didn't tell us about it, so we only found out by seeing that she'd joined a group called 'Just Because She Dances Go-Go It Don't Make Her a Ho, No." When interrogated, she told me and my other high school friend Mary not to go, but of course we went anyway. Urban Caballero in tow.

The show was at a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just across the river from the Urban Caballero's house. Very convenient. It is always slightly weird going to Williamsburg because nobody who lives there is over 30. You sort of feel like you're in Logan's Run and everyone in your subway train is about to be shot. What's more, it's always a little bit like Halloween in Williamsburg. A lot of people just go around in costume, just because. Mary said she'd seen someone in a Williamsburg bar who she was sure was a nun. But was it really a nun? Or was it just clothing styles coming full circle? "Hey, you know what we haven't done? Baggy, plain brown floor-length dresses!"

The bar was holding the fashion show because they'd just lost their cigar license - New York is notoriously strict about its tobacco laws. This was particularly a problem because the bar was called the "Velvet Cigar Bar" and they had been unable to serve hard liquor because they were serving cigars. So now they had no cigars and no hard liquor and so they decided to sell sexy women instead, by way of this fashion show. Pretty much the logical choice, it seems to me. I wonder if that will be a good enough concept to keep them in business.

Melina's cocktail ($8): Champagne, pomegranate juice, mango juice.
Urban Caballero's cocktail ($8): Sake, ginger, cucumber juice (this took a long time to make because the cucumber shreds got stuck in the cocktail shaker and the bartender had to poke them a little).

The fashion designer made all "recycled clothes" - ie cutting up some baggy pants to turn into a sexy top, cutting up a baggy t-shirt to turn into a sexy dress, cutting up a sexy dress to make it into an even sexier dress. I actually used to do stuff like this as a kid and was impressed that someone had pursued the concept.

Katherine was wearing a very sexy dress but she was in a foul mood. I was in a good mood but was quite overdressed. All the women in this bar - if not wearing recycled clothing - were wearing very tight very dark blue jeans and small slinky tops, and carrying gigantic leather purses that could have fit half a case of wine apiece. More upscale than your typical Williamsburg crowd. The Urban Caballero, who doesn't like crowds, said in a bewildered tone, "all these women look the same!" They kept accidentally hitting him witih their gigantic leather purses. I told him I thought it was like wearing a uniform, or like camouflage. You don't want to be picked out from the herd. It's like Wild America with Marty Stouffer. Anyway, I had been feeling slightly under the weather, so I was wearing flannel pants and the Urban Caballero's hunting cap.

The men were wearing tight-ish jeans (are tight jeans on men coming back?? Oh joyous day!) thin button-down collarless shirts or worn t-shirts, long shaggy hair (Irish Setter hair, sort of), and sometimes corduroy caps tilted oh-so-slightly to the side and worn high on the head (as if to say, I'm too carefree to adjust my hat correctly on my head).

Katherine pulled herself together and walked in the fashion show (to the end of the bar and back). We were very proud of her. Then we left Williamsburg and went home and watched a few episodes of The Simpsons to calm our jangled nerves. It's not easy being cool.



Melina's "gifts from the departed"

I wanted Melina to post this one herself, but because she has migrated her own blog to New Blogger she can't post on mine anymore, isn't that weird? I hope we can figure it out but in the mean time this is what she wrote:

I have a lot of trouble getting rid of gifts because I remember exactly where and when I got everything I own.

Melina's gifts from the departed (of all genders):

Father's Grandfather: A stuffed animal - a pink cat named "Felicity" - that he gave me when my little brother was born.

Father's Grandmother: recipe for Viennese Sacher Torte

Mother's Grandmother: Two china animals, a bunny rabbit and a fawn, that my mother stole off the shelf and gave to me before the estate sale that took place when her grandmother died; a slightly scary doll from the early 1900s with a splintered and cracked china face; the money that got me through college without debt; my status as a potential member of the Daughters of the American Revolution

Mother's Father: Newt Gingrich's book; several copies of "The Limbaugh Letter" from the late '90s; a mousetrap-powered car, with wooden wheels, which I used in physics class (he was an engineer but the car didn't work very well)

Mother's Mother: a fitted orange shirt with vertical stripes that I wore until it dissolved; family predisposition toward insanity

Mother's Aunt: Set of watercolor paints and beautiful watercolor paper that I use to this day; enjoyment of going to the beach in the winter

High school boyfriend: an entire three-ring binder (4" spine) full of emails that we sent each other when I was supposed to be doing my homework (most to the effect of "YES, I really like you, I said that yesterday. Do you really like me?") ; a guilty fondness for Burger King's Hershey's Sunday Pies

College Boyfriend #1: a musical arrangement of Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls for marching band, which we wrote together; a copy of Jim Henson's movie Labyrinth; a couple of fiction stories that I hope nobody ever, ever finds

College Boyfriend #2: A lost $1000 from a broken lease; a necklace and a matching pair of earrings; a permanent hatred of football (before him it was merely indifference)

Friend from Summer 2006: A couple of excellent songs (contemporary musical theater)
Friend from Summer 2006: A couple of excellent songs (blues/jazz piano)
Friend from Summer 2006: A couple of excellent songs (Israeli neo-folk)
Friend from Summer 2006: A t-shirt with a picture of two unicorns mating under a rainbow

You never know what will turn up next, eh?

Friday, February 02, 2007

The things they left behind.

As I ate oranges and popcorn for breakfast this morning I looked over in the corner and saw the excellent electric pencil sharpener my friend Lenny gave me almost 32 years ago in exchange for my illustrating his songbook. The sharpener still works as perfectly as it did when it was new, and it reminds me of him every time I use it. It also enchanted my kids, with the wonderful whirring it makes and the perfect points it produces, and now it enchants Menticia.

It got me wondering, what still remains in my life of the men who have passed through it? I guess you could call these my aides-mémoire.

  1. My grandfather Hodges: I have a Sony radio he gave me in 1971. It was top-of-the line then. Still works. Also, a wooden breadboard, inscribed with a French saying carved in blackletter, from his Canadian mother.

  2. My dad's father: a dark green corduroy pillow with tucks-and-gathers. He and my grandmother had this design (I have the original McCalls pattern they used, too!!) and my aunt Marian told me the two of them used to sit on the floor together ruching up these pillows. I'm going to try this myself one of these days.

  3. My dad: a bat-house he made me, with the plans included in case I wanted to make another; a box of wooden Q-tip sticks (from back when Q-tips had wooden shafts) - we built a huge geodesic dome out of these sticks and there are still 1,000s left; the knife he cut our Sunday roasts with (he sharpened it till there was almost nothing left, but it still works); a little gizmo for bending coat hangers into artwork or whatever.

  4. My first college boyfriend: a 6-page typed treatise on the proper uses of "giving five," with photographic illustrations; a cd of his opera "Green Eggs and Ham;" a tendency to sob any time I hear Rachmaninoff's Variations on a Theme by Paganini.

  5. My second college boyfriend: rug-burn scars on the backs of my wrists.

  6. My husband: a copying machine, now 24 years old and still functioning (sort of); two children.

  7. The bass player: my favorite Imperial-size mug, with fish on it; a violin/viola hanger I can attach to my mic stand. He gave me a toaster, too, but it broke.

  8. My Belgian buddy: a cassette I made while he instructed me in the correct way to pronounce French (I had to learn 3 hours of French songs in a hurry). "Make that sound with lips like you're kissing," he suggested.

  9. The guy from Vermont on whom I had an unrequited crush: a great recipe for Szechuan chicken and noodles; a costume I made for the Mardi Gras night we went dancing to the music of Rosie Ledet's Cajun band.

  10. The surly Georgian I sort of dated for a while: a book of his good, but surly, poetry.

  11. The guy I'd have married if he hadn't moved to Georgia: two wonderful huge heavy flannel shirts; about 20 packages of Cajun chicken ramen he mailed to me from Atlanta (you can't get that kind here in Chapel Hill); a container of popcorn salt I am hoarding because I don't want to use it up, I like having it on my shelf. Also, a liking for having the bed made.

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Two more "artist trading cards"

I couldn't think of anything to report - despite the warm weather, I'm in hibernation mode and even took a four hour nap, shockingly, two days ago - so here are a couple more little cards done for the exchange project over at These pictures are 2-1/2" x 3-1/2" - that's turning out to be a nice size for me, because I can hold them in my hands while I dab away.


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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bilingualism delays dementia

Extracts from
Bilingualism Delays Onset of Dementia
By Rossella Lorenzi for Discovery News

Speaking more than one language can delay the onset of dementia by four years, according to a research on bilingualism and cognitive impairment in old age.

The mental agility required to manage two or more language systems every day throughout one's life, appears to enhance neural plasticity and enrich brain vasculature, staving off cognitive decline, Canadian researchers report in the February issue of the journal Neuropsychologia.

Dementia is associated to a gradual onset and continuing decline of higher cognitive functioning, including impairment in memory, language, visual-spatial function, judgment and abstraction.

93 people in the [study] were bilingual who had been using two languages since they were young. The bilingual group included speakers of 25 different languages, including Polish, Yiddish, German, Romanian and Hungarian.

The average age at which these patients developed dementia was 75.5 years old. Among the remaining patients, who spoke only one language, dementia began to appear at the the mean age of 71.4 years.

The four year difference remained even after considering the possible effect of cultural differences, immigration, formal education, employment and even gender as influencers in the results, the researchers said.

"What is most striking about our results is that there is no intervention available that can delay onset of symptoms by as much as four years," Bialystok told Discovery News.

Bilingualism appears to have beneficial effects if both languages are spoken regularly on a daily basis.

A 2004 study published in Nature revealed that bilinguals have greater density of grey matter in the left inferior parietal cortex compared to unilingual people.