Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Great Clock

In this world, in Alan Lightman's book Einstein's Dreams, people are aware that there is a great mechanical clock that controls all time, counts out seconds, minutes and hours. Once in their life, they must make a pilgrimage to visit this shrine, waiting in long lines for their chance to watch the "massive bronze pendulum" swing, "glint[ing] in the candlelight."

Long before this mechanical wizardry was built, "time was measured by changes in heavenly bodies: the slow sweep of stars across the night sky, the arc of the sun and variation in light. . . tides, seasons. Time was measured also by heartbeats, the rhythms of drowsiness and sleep, the recurrence of hunger. . . the duration of loneliness."

Since the holiday crush is now behind us, and I no longer have to pay homage to the clock with it's unvarying measures of time, I can wake when I'm ready, sleep when I want. The fudge disappears at irregular intervals alternating with good leftovers, sweet oranges from a friend's tree.

I awoke this morning later than usual, and worried, briefly, about being this far "off the clock." I should be up at 6:00 a.m., I thought, exercising, thinking, working, even writing. I could see the trees moving in great dark shadows beyond the drawn curtain, bobbing and weaving in the winds. I closed my eyes. It's a nice illusion to feel free of the "ratchets and gears" that measure out my life.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Early Morning, Southern California

My husband stepped outside early last week to take this shot of the new snow in the nearby mountains. Today it's rainy, drizzly and even though it's light-a-fire-and-curl-up-with-a-book weather, I have a lot to do.

We decided to have a Christmas Open House on December 23rd.

And on each side, are dishes I hope to make. On the left, crostini with tapenade, goat cheese and a tomato garnish. On the right, a pesto/tomato assemblage to serve with sliced, toasted baguettes.

Of course, Trader Joe's helps out with most of the ingredients pre-made, or I'd lose my mind with all the cooking. And "double of course," mine won't look like the pictures.

Dave thinks we may not have too many people since it's so close to Christmas. I don't really care as it's fun to have a party. My two-year old grandson will be there, along with other family members. With them, it will always be a party. We did get someone call last night with a regrets, and right after them, someone else called and want to bring two more. We bought the flowers at Costco in a Big Shop on Wednesday. I hope they last.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"The site’s Web masters have ensured that creating a personal page is as easy as singing up for an e-mail account."

(from The New York Times, in an article entitled: "I Like Ur Art: Saatchi Creates an Online Hangout for Artists" printed December 18. Click here to go there.)

I like singing. Singing up for an email account is even more intriguing.

Although the Saatchi Online Gallery is about art, what if there were a website for singing? Just audio files of different kinds of music for free--like what the Washington Post did for the holidays in 2004. Certainly some would be atrocious, some horrendously "un-listenable," but some would be sublime. I think that iTunes has some of this, but you do have to pay. Those of us who listen to music a lot get tired of our regular songs, hence iTunes' dramatic success.

What if there was a site like UTube, but only it was just for songs?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hurry Christmas!

I opened my parents' large shipping box and inside was a troika of gifts, all tightly nestled in bubble wrap. Okay, now I'm excited for Christmas to come. They're not all for me--two other children will be joining us for Christmas, but I'm keen to know what each of the similarly shaped packages is. No other hints and although my husband figured out the nature of the gift, each will be individual, interesting.

I have remarkable parents who celebrate occasions well. As the birthday girl, my mother would prepare my favorite dinner, made sure I had a few presents and a double-layer cake after the meal with just the right amount of candles. When I went through the terrible birthday adjustment from child to adult, that is to say, when I realized that I would have to make my own cake and probably shop for my own presents, and it was likely that most people would have no clue it was my birthday, my parents always came through with an individualized birthday card and a heartfelt sentiment in bold angular or neat looping writing on the inside. These memories still stream from the annual card like the wispy tails of a sky-slicing jet.

And just when this Christmas season has seemed so distant, they have rekindled that most delicious part of childhood: wanting to peek.
Saturday's Post, Late: All Things Branches

Belle View Park,
Virginia 2004

National Mall
Washington D.C 2004

Winter Light, Night
National Museum of the American Indian
Washington D.C. 2004

Friday, December 15, 2006

Broken Habits

I broke a lot of the Christmas buying habit the year we took our family to Rome, Italy for Christmas. We ignored all pleas from retailers, avoided the local mall, pulled out minimal decorations and felt deliciously free of the previous 24 years of mass (retail) hysteria.

I comment on that now, because this year, when I need to be gearing up for the Big Event, I walk the Malls thinking, why would I want furry speakers? Who ever needs fuzzy flip-flops?

I guess with work, church service, new and interesting small grandchildren hanging around my life, who cares if your home is lacking this set of snowmen? Although it is cute.

At this stage of my life, what I lust after is furniture, draperies, and efficient handymen who clean up after themselves.

But when my son calls and says "Like a visit from three boys?" it reorients me.

The sanguine mood of my afternoon, a let-down perhaps after a long semester and too much grading, was banished after watching Alex shoot the Santa toy across the table, while the angel chimes whirled from the glowing candles.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hark Ye Blow-Up Christmas Decoration!

When did these inflatables get to be so big? This snowman is on our neighbor's house. The weird thing is how they look in the day. This guy has about 5 cables and bungie cords holding him onto the roof. In the day, he looks like some sort of Goth nightmare, limp and bound on a roof.

Experimenting with the timed exposures. Notice only two gifts under the tree. What you can't see is the big box off to the corner with gifts from Mom and Dad for all of us, and the gifts from Barbara to Chad that are waiting to be wrapped. Really, we're loaded.
"Time is a local phenomenon."

Clocks close by each other keep time "at nearly the same rate." But the further apart they are, the most disparate the time is. If a traveler goes to a nearby town, he can return to his own city with some degree of success, as his body adjusts to the local time, unaware of the discrepancies. But if he travels to a distant location, he may return to find children grown, his family scattered, a different era than when he left.

The time in the towns is different, but so too is the "rate of heartbeats, the pace of inhales and exhales," as Lightman writes in his book, Einstein's Dreams. In this world, "time flows at different speeds in different locations."

The day my first son was married, I watched him and his bride kneel together, but it was if I had traveled and returned to a place where time had sped by me. I saw him, the man, but also the boy leaping off the yellow school bus, lunchbox in hand, with a huge toothy grin. I noticed how handsome he looked in his wedding clothes, his wife luminescent at his side, but wondered how time had seemed to move past me and had deposited me there. It was bittersweet, only made better by the advent of his son. I can find again my boy in this young child's face.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In this world people live forever.

They divide into two: the Laters and the Nows. On the left, the laters perform each task in sequence, having a conversation, watching the water arc in a neat parabola at Zahringer Fountain, reading leisurely. "They walk an easy gait and wear loose-fitting clothes." They discuss "the possibilities of life."

On the right, the Nows are busy with their infinite lives; "they do all they can imagine." They have multiple careers: cafe owners, doctors, nurses, college professors. They fidget in impatience, "eager to miss nothing."

I know I'm in the Now camp. I wasn't always this way and used to be quite a good procrastinator. But I like the feeling that comes in working ahead, although I still have a way to go. I'm married to a Later. He enjoys each minute, absorbs time and immerses himself deeply into reading or conversation. He postpones many tasks.

The Nows and Laters have one thing in common: "an infinite list of relatives." It is possible for a Now to be happily married to a Later, and both coming from large families (one side shown in the illustration above) we are able to have our own lives while enjoying the richness of "one million sources."

But in Alan Lightman's novel, Einstein's Dreams, a few decide they cannot live forever, and hurl themselves from a local mountain or drown themselves in Lake Constance. Perhaps for a few, the thought of infinite family, of infinite choices, of infinite time becomes an infinite burden.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saturday's Post: All Things Christmas Tree

Library of Congress, Main Hall
Washington DC, 2004

Alexandria Apartment Christmas Tree
(with homemade ribbon star ornaments)
December 2004

Supreme Court, Main Hall
Washington DC, 2004

White House Christmas Tree
December 2006

Christmas Tree
Sunroom, near stair landing
Woodrow Wilson Home
Washington DC, 2004

Daughters of the American Revolution
Early Christmas Tree
Washington DC, 2004

Daughters of the American Revolution
American Christmas Tree
Washington DC, 2004

View from the Canadian Embassy
Washington DC, 2004

And my favorite. . .
"America's Christmas Tree"
Capitol Lawn
Washington DC, 2004

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In this world, there is no memory.

The dream is 20 May 1905, and Lightman (Einstein) imagines a world where people carry around address books to remember where they live, notebooks to remember people and places. When arriving home at night, "each man finds a woman and children waiting at the door, introduces himself," while "each woman returning home from her job meets a husband, children, sofas, lamps, wallpaper, china patterns."

Each kiss is the first kiss.

"A world without memory is a world of the present." These people carry around their history, contained in their own Book of Life. They have to reread the pages daily to discover anything about their families, history, whether they did poorly in school or whether they have accomplished anything in life.

Some days feel like that to me, but to my young students, this condition happens when their grandmother calls them the dog's name or to their grandfather, who is certifiably daft. They tell stories of the elderly and exchange knowing looks, confirming that this is some disease in the future. But I have plenty of emails in my box saying "Oh No! I forgot!" to believe them totally. For those without memory, the present is all there is.

Each time I see my grandchildren, perhaps I add a page to their Book of Life. I play and read with them for at their age, with their short memories, this is all I have--the present.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In class we've been studying Einstein's Dreams, a novel by Alan Lightman. This chronicles Einstein's "Miracle Year," the time he worked in Berne in the Patent Office, and thought up many of his reknowned theories. Each chapter is dream about different ways that time functions and/or the different effects of time in a series of worlds.

For some class exercises, I made digital representations of what the chapter was about. This one is 19 April 1905. "In this world, time has three dimensions, like space." The people in this world "participate in three perpendicular futures." Each decision carries three different outcomes which are real. A man on a balcony looks down and sees a red hat in the snow. He thinks about a woman in Fribourg. Should he go see her? He considers three outcomes: he decides not to see her and goes on to find someone else to love, he goes to see her and they end up as embattled lovers ("He lives for her, and he is happy with his anguish."), and thirdly, he sees her again but only as a casual acquaintance, and returns home to study again the red hat in the snow.

After they figure out what the visual representation is, we talk about how it correlates to our world. We talked about how we each make decisions. Do we impulsively leap into one "dimension" without bothering to consider the other two? Or do we agonize over decisions, seeing the varied outcomes, knowing they could all be good in their own way, then finally choose? And do we forever look back at the choices we've made, not quite able to let it go--still reliving that moment of decision, still studying the red hat in the snow?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Been Gone, But I Haven't Forgotten.

I need to put up Saturday and Sunday of our Minnesota trip on the blog. I've decided to put those up on the Family Blog--you know the address--check it Friday--as I'm trying to figure out just what I want to do with this blog.

The first few days, it's a kick to have web-publishing capabilities, but then real life kicks back in and it's hard to stay the course. Add in grading, teaching obligations (they Expect Me to Do Something at the front of the classroom), and a general feeling of exhaustion and it's tough to do more than the minimum.

Before Thanksgiving, I was pretty much burned out and at the end of the rope. But that night, after fourty-five minutes in traffic there was a ferris wheel set up in the parking lot across from the Post Office on Chicago Ave. I pulled over, watched it for a while, and thought, okay. Life's not so bad if there's ferris wheels waiting for you.

I felt I should head to Urgent Care. Oh! the doctor said as he looked in my throat, Oh! Oh! as he checked my ears and promptly wrote me out a slip so I could contribute to Big Pharma's coffers. <cough, cough>

Tonight we went to the Senior Center to get the flu shots. In one room the Seniors were all in their Christmas party clothes shuffling under a spinning mirrored ball while the singer on the stereo crooned away. In another room, a group was quietly sitting, led in meditation by a saffron-robed monk. Both groups were looking festive. And in the last room, a crew of Nurses-In-Training were waiting by their supply of little round bandages and boxes of syringes. "We get our clinic hours this way" the young girl said. I winced as she jabbed.

We stopped by Target on the way home and now the Christmas tree's up in the living room, awaiting some Christmas Magic.

P.S. on the Mushroom Bread Pudding. Eat it the same day you bake it. Mom gave me a new cranberry sauce recipe. Best One Yet.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Saturday's Post: All Things Obelisk

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Unlike the early Pilgrims, I'll be in my nice warm SoCal kitchen making up a new recipe or two. I have this luxury to experiment, because Barbara's feting us with a traditional feast on Friday, as we are heading to Kingman for a couple of days. We'll be back Saturday.

Here's one I'm trying. It sounds interesting.

Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding
Total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes • Servings: 8
From Christian Shaffer.

2 1/2 cups whipping cream
5 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 1/4 pound mixed fresh mushrooms (cremini, portobello, shiitake, button, etc.) wiped clean, stems removed from portobellos and shiitakes, gills removed from large portobellos
4 cloves garlic, rough-chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup grated Swiss Gruyère cheese
3 3/4 cups stale bread such as ciabatta, crusts left on, cubed
3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
3 tablespoons truffle butter, or salted butter

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the cream, eggs, 1 teaspoon salt and one-half teaspoon black pepper and set aside.

2. Roast the mushrooms with one-half teaspoon salt, one-fourth teaspoon pepper, the garlic and olive oil until they are tender and have released their water (25 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the mushrooms). Cool, then slice the mushrooms.

3. Place the mushroom mixture, cheese, bread and thyme into a large mixing bowl. Add the egg mixture and incorporate.

4. Transfer the mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and let stand 15 minutes, pressing down with a wooden spoon occasionally so the bread is submerged. Dot with truffle butter or salted butter and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Spiced Cider Drink that 's not a Rip-off
(Or how to not spend $2.55 (!) at your local nationwide coffee-house)

From Trader Joe's, pick up some spiced apple cider. (If you don't have Trader Joe's, substitute, or add a sprinkle of cinnamon and a titch of ground cloves to your apple cider.) Buy some good whippped cream in a can, and for the caramel, Mrs. Richardson's Butterscotch-Caramel sauce, in the ice cream section. It also helps to have some lovely flowers in the background, courtesey of my husband.

Pour about this much into your mug. Heat in the microwave.

Squirt. (Hold can straight up, for you neophytes.)

Drizzle the caramel over the whipped cream. I heated the sauce as well--better drizzle action that way. (Tip: more caramel is not better. Just more.)


Serve with Mom's cranberry bread, and those nice flowers.
Congratulations. You just saved yourself $2.55 and a lot of guilt.