Monday, December 31, 2007

Right now I'm quilting, trying to finish my Black and White Guild Challenge before tomorrow. To keep myself company, I'm listing to talks from TED--which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

The talks are held in Monterrey California and only 1,000 people can attend the live sessions. I first heard about this from David Pogue's Tech Tuesday column, when he was an attendee (he gave a shorter 3 minute "in-between" talk). The rest of the talks run about 18 minutes and draw from a varied range of speakers from all different fields. By the way, if you want to attend, it's $6,000 a ticket. If you are invited to talk, you get a free pass.

Online, head to However I'm streaming it down via iTunes as a podcast. Head to Higher Education (show all), then TEDtalks.

Saturday, December 29, 2007



Thanks, David!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cool sunrise the other morning.

Dave had to rush in the house to get ready for school (he had to give a final), but I lingered outside to watch the sky ripen.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

For Alice: Paper Shops in Venice

Obviously one too many tourists had bugged them. This was the sign in their window.

They were closed while we were there--on vacation from all those tourists, I suppose--so I snapped these photos through the window.

The name of the paper shops we hit were: Il Papiro (there's several locations) and Carteria Tasotti, on Calle de la Bissa (or at least that's what it says on their receipt). If you try to walk from San Marco Square through to the Rialto Bridge, these two shops are on opposite sides of the lane from each other, just down a bit.

The shop in the pictures above was on a lane if you were trying to get the Accademia bridge from San Marco (parallel to the Grand Canal).

Friday, December 14, 2007

What's the difference between lucky and blessed?

What's the origin of each? How was it originally used? I started thinking about this after hearing the phrase "Yes, the Lord has really blessed me" too many times in church, usually in response to a compliment about their children, or other such tangibles.

Joan Armatrading has a song that begins:
I'm lucky
I'm lucky
I can walk under ladders
Yes I'm so lucky
That I'm as lucky
As me

Richard Wiseman thinks that he can help you find some luck; in fact he's broken it down into four parts. I'm sure if you want to part with some money, he'll share the secret with you in his book.

Another question: Does my good luck in achieving X-quantity imply that you have bad luck if you haven't achieved it? The X-quantity could be a good marriage, children who are happy and adjusted and nice, grandchildren, wealth, health, or good teeth, ankles and bones. We might as well add in being cancer-free.

Wikipedia posits that luck refers to that which happens beyond a person's control. This view incorporates phenomena that are chance happenings, a person's place of birth for example, but where there is no uncertainty involved, or where the uncertainty is irrelevant. Within this framework one can differentiate between three different types of luck:

1. Constitutional luck, that is, luck with factors that cannot be changed (place of birth and genetic constitution are typical examples)
2. Circumstantial luck, that is, luck with factors that are haphazardly brought on, such as accidents and epidemics
3. Ignorance luck, that is, luck with factors one does not know about. Examples can be identified only in hindsight.

If I say I'm blessed, does that imply I did something to cause that? Is blessed different than lucky? Is blessed an adjective, or a state of being?

WordNet says it's an adjective meaning highly favored or fortunate (for example, by divine grace) as in "our blessed land" or "the blessed assurance of a steady income."

Blessed is also used informally as an intensifier in a phrase; "not a blessed dime"; "I'll be darned (or blessed) if I'll do any such thing"; "he's a blessed fool," "Bless me if it isn't my old friend!"

If I were a Roman Catholic and proclaimed to be one of the blessed, I'd be worthy of veneration. I think the term I hear is more along the lines of the final definitions: enjoying the bliss of heaven and characterized by happiness and good fortune.

But doesn't fortune imply luck?

Does one word imply a spiritual dimension, and does the other reside in a secular world with rabbit's feet, four-leaf clovers and found pennies?

I guess my answer to above is blessed is personal, luck is not. Today while pondering and writing this post, I received a package from someone who has known me for a very long time. I opened it, set it up to gaze at it. One might say I'm lucky to have such a friend, lucky to receive such a gift. But this was a deeply personal gesture of sharing, and it came because of our relationship--honed, crafted and tempered over years of thrust-and-feint, forgiveness and kindness. In an instant, the answer to the question was made apparent. Blessed happens on a much deeper level, and bandying it around in response to compliments is a trite use of the word. Perhaps luck is more appropriate to that scenario.

But blessed in the higher sense comes from the most extra-ordinary feelings of inclusion, of being given gifts for no other reason than the giver is good, is kind, and loves unconditionally. The feeling and emotions that spill out are a sign of the profound and mysterious, the unexplainable. Blessed is something, then, that you can only know, can't easily articulate, and can happen even in the midst of what others might call bad luck.

And that's the difference.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Decorating the Christmas Tree

Alex contemplates how to put the ornament on, or if he should take it off and put it somewhere else. He was a great help, as was his father.

Andrew just likes to take them off. His big contribution was shoving a plastic water bottle into the tree--found when he started opening all the cupboards in the kitchen while his mother cooked us a delicious dinner.

The tree all lit up.

Christmas has come to the bedroom as well.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gerard's one of my students in my English comp class. That's not a ball at the end of the string--that's a sleeping yo-yo.

He wrote an "Explaining a Concept" paper on yo-yo-ing and offered to give a demonstration in my class. He was a hit, as you can see. Turns out he's the 2007 Southern California yo-yo-ing champion. My favorite trick was the yo-yo with a large die on one end, that he flipped over and back and around and everywhere--not attached to his finger, but free-falling.

One young mother in the class wants to book him for her son's birthday party. I'm trying to think of what event I could host, so I can hire him as well.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dots, Three

Alice's picture of Zurich, lit up for Christmas

An illustration for holiday cooking from the newspaper

cool Black Hole picture

Friday, November 30, 2007

I have been on a reading craze lately, making up for lost time. Magazines, with only a brief attention span necessary, don't really do the trick.

I have thought a lot about writing, and have long wondered how to write and be loyal and sensitive to the people in my world. Rue Rude, an interesting ex-pat blog captures it well (click on the words Diary vs. Blog to read the entire entry--it's worth a diversion):

Diary vs blog

Five_year_diary_1" Sometimes I wish I could write hilarious posts about my family and friends, like other blogs, or moving stories about my child or my personal life, or even just make things up off the top of my head. But I can't. For one thing, I'm not that funny or sensitive.

"But anyway, all that stuff goes straight into volume XXXIII of my real diary, which is indeed scintillating ("One should always have something sensational to read on the train"). (Volume II, left. Ages 9-13.)

"Much of the reason is just that being older than a lot of you, I don't feel I can expose my life to that extent, because it's not just my own life that would be exposed.

"I was once very poor and everyone I knew was poor, and that's easy to write about, thank goodness: one of the few blessings of poverty. I still know plenty of poor people. "For ye have the poor always with you." But now I also have friends and acquaintances who get cars and airplanes for Christmas, tied up in a red bow; who own castles; who know the Presidents of the United States; who are well known or famous in the media; who run large companies; who have become major donors to museums. Frankly, you can't write about them. Not in a blog. Too bad, it would be great copy. But I'd rather keep my friends. And that's the last I can say about it."

I guess that's why fiction is safer, although after reading Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking, I may re-think that idea as well. She recounts how her husband "lifted" parts of his young daughter's sayings in order to write one of his novels. And I think of my father's admonition that if you don't want to be written about, don't be acquainted with a writer.

I go round and round with this.
So who started all this business about lighting up tree, a house with strands of Christmas lights? Thomas Edison, with the help of some of his friends. The Library of Congress has a page that tells you all about it, including pictures of the first General Electric lighting set.

I think of this today, as my own rendition of lighting should be attended to.
The List:
Stair banister: garland interwoven with lights --DONE
Garland with light over the front door--DONE
Random loops in the kumquat trees--NOT DONE
Mesh of lights (leftover from Barbara's wedding) up on camellia bushes--NOT DONE
Roof line lights (lower roof only as I won't let Dave up on the upper roof)--NOT DONE

List for Non-Electric Lighting:
multiple votive candles set out in glass yogurt jars carted home from trips to Europe--NOT DONE

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I think I'm finally making peace with the phrase "Happy Holidays." Yes, I still prefer a good rousing "Merry Christmas," but an experience today just tipped the scales.

Driving to Moreno Valley up the long incline, I was next to an out-of-service city bus. I didn't pay it much attention, as I was focused on the semi behind me. A lovely rendition of Away in a Manger came on the stereo, and I hummed along and sang, feeling good that the surgery day for my friend Liz had finally arrived (it's tomorrow) and that she had made it through the long wait of inactivity and pain.

Be Near Me, Lord Jesus, I sang, as the cars inched up the freeway. Stay Close by Me Forever, and Love Me I Pray.

I glanced over at the bus, and the Out of Service digital sign flashed over to Happy Holidays.

Yes, it is, I thought. These can be, and are happy holidays.

It's the secular world's way to say what they feel they can't, and I'm content to understand the coded message that buses, corporate Christmas cards, and Cub Scout Dens send along to acknowledge this time when blessings seem just a little more abundant, feelings run a little closer to the surface, and we're more willing to see the good in others.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Day, 2007

Dividing the meal between three families makes everything easier, especially if you order the turkey from a local caterer. We had smoked turkey: tender and moist and flavorable.

All three families around the table.

Jenna shows off the desserts: pies from Emily and gang, small apple-pies by Jenna and her Dad, and a chocolate-pecan pie from me.

Ashley enjoys a little apple pie.

Okay, now the recipes.
I try a new side dish every year because I'm really getting tired of the same old thing. This year the new dish was Simple Two-Potato Gratin, only I made it a three-potato gratin. This one's a winner. Here's the photo, from before it was baked. The colors are amazing.

Simple Two-Potato Gratin
Bon Appétit | November 2006--Makes 8 servings.

3 pounds mixed russet potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced (I used 3 sweet potatoes, 2 russet potatoes, and 1 yam)

Butter for baking dish and foil
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped sage
1 minced garlic clove
1 teaspoon kosher salt
ground black pepper
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Spread potatoes in a buttered 11x7-inch baking dish. Combine heavy whipping cream, chicken broth, chopped sage, garlic, and salt; pour over potatoes. Sprinkle with pepper. Cover with buttered foil; bake at 425°F for 35 minutes. Sprinkle with Gruyère cheese. Bake uncovered until brown and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Let rest before serving.

The other recipe that was a new one was the Chocolate-Pecan Pie. Simple, simple, simple and simply delicious.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie--Ruth Cousineau
Gourmet | November 2007
Active time: 40 min Start to finish: 3 hr (includes making pastry)
Servings: Makes 8 servings

1 (3 1/2- to 4-ounces) fine-quality 60%- to 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate bar, finely chopped
Pastry dough
2 cups pecan halves (7 ounces), toasted (about 5 minutes in the pre-heated oven) and cooled
3 large eggs
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark corn syrup

Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream
Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over barely simmering water, stirring. Remove from heat.

Roll out dough into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold overhang under and press against rim of pie plate, then crimp decoratively.

Spread chocolate in bottom of pie shell with back of spoon and let it set (I put it in the fridge for a few minutes), then cover with pecans.

Whisk together eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl, then whisk in corn syrup and pour over pecans.

Bake pie until filling is puffed and crust is golden, 50 to 60 minutes. (If pie is browning too fast after 30 minutes, loosely cover with foil.) Cool pie on a rack to warm or room temperature. Serve with whipped cream.

Cooks' note: Pie can be baked 1 day ahead and chilled, uncovered, until cool, then covered. Reheat in a 350°F oven until warm, about 10 minutes.

**I use the Quick and Easy pie crust from the 1980 edition of the Joy of Cooking. Write if you need it.
Pre-Thanksgiving Sleepover

Alex came to spend the night last weekend. It was supposed to have been 3 weekends, ago, but I was sick. When I showed up at his house to pick him up, he couldn't believe it was really going to happen. He waved goodbye to his mother and said "I'll be good," and objected when his father came to carrry the carseat down--he was going by himself to Grandma's house.

We drove through In and Out, took the meal home and ate with Grandpa, played toys--a game or toy in every room, and had a bath. This was the Nerful toy room, and he enjoyed lining up all the creatures on their wheels. (This toy is hangover from my kids' days--of course it would be banned now.)

He took this photo (with a little help from Grandma).

The next night his parents and brother Andrew (above) came to pick him up. While we were having dinner, Alex came to get me, saying "Tub is cold. Toys are cold." He took my hand and dragged me upstairs. He'd been able to get the water on to a low pressure--cold--with the way our uni-handles work. He'd dumped out the toys, put the plug in: everything ready. "Cold, Grandma." So I let the water out, turned on the handle full-blast to warm and within minutes both he and his brother were fish in the warm tub, much to their parents' surprise.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and South, come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lips and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich pumpkin pie?
from Whittier--The Pumpkin

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Too tired to move, set a table for Thanksgiving, or cook the yams, I wound my way to the computer with great goals in mind: peruse syllabi of remedial English courses on the web (I'm teaching one next semester and have no idea what I'm doing).

Link led on to link (what would Robert Frost have done with our internet world?) and I arrived at Arts and Letters Daily, hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. There's enough browsing here (by linking to off-site journals, magazines) to make you need two bottles of artificial tears. Click on the picture above to head there. The older articles are filed at the bottom of the columns, the newer stuff's on top.

So, instead of watching the football game on Turkey Day--watch your computer!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman

In class, we've started reading Einstein's Dreams again, a book set in Berne Switzerland. We traveled there last year which makes for great teaching material, so I set up a blog for my students to look at the city.

If you are new to the book, I have other posts on this blog. Click on the following to read about some of the chapters.
The Red Hat
The Great Clock of the World
Time is Local Phenomenon
The Nows and Laters
There Is No Memory

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Finally found it! The Four Yorkshiremen from Monty Python, a family favorite.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pro Patria

I thought a lot about Veterans' Day this year, having watched Ken Burns' World War II special. I remembered that nearly every church I'd been in while traveling in Europe had a place to commemorate their soldiers who had died.

This one's in Lyon: a reclining WWI soldier a top a bier that has the words Pro Patria, "For Country," carved in it. His head is tilted, as if to see the light from the window. I always think of that poem by Wilfred Owen "Dulce et Decorum Est," the result of a mixing of the horrors of war with a young writer's sensibility.

Here's a more ethereal tribute, the golden hue washing into the blue from the overhead stained glass windows. This church was damaged in the time of Napoleon and the craters from the cannon shells are still visible in the doorway over the church.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I read this slender book last night, a tribute by Calvin Trilling to his wife.

In one chapter he recounts Alice's sympathy towards the daughter of an old friend, who'd been raped by an intruder. Alice said that her lung cancer was comparable to the attack "only in that both were what she called 'realizations of our worst nightmares.' She said there was some relief at surviving what you might have thought was not survivable. 'No one would ever choose to have cancer or to be raped,' she wrote. 'But you don't get to choose, and it is possible at least to understand what Ernest Becker meant when he said something like "To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything," or to begin to understand the line in "King Lear"--"Ripeness is all." You might have chosen to become ripe less dramatically or dangerously, but you can still savor ripeness."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Three Things

While I've been down and out, I've watched two movies--one terrific, the other we won't mention. Here's the terrific one: Seducing Dr. Lewis. A French-Canadian movie with subtitles, its actors and storyline make it an entertaining watch.

I finally got this novel read. I paid 50 cents for it at a garage sale and it's sat for probably five years in my house. My mother always said it was good, and she's quite the reader.
I started reading and couldn't put it down. Good fiction does hold up, although at times I wondered what the PC police would say about things, I pushed that to the back of my mind in order to follow the story of Wang Lung and his amazing wife O-lan (although interestingly the book cover doesn't even mention her). When I was so sick this weekend, I kept thinking of how O-lan would carry a baby to term, deliver it herself, and on one occasion went back out to the fields to help hoe the weeds. Of course, compared to her I felt like a wimp, laying there with drugs to relieve my symptoms, a stove to cook on that I didn't have to gather fuel for and freshly-squeezed orange juice if I wanted it.

Today I ventured out to get more of those drugs (we'd run low) and while I was in the car I went for gas at Valero near the grocery store. I didn't want to get caught tomorrow with no gas and fatigue setting in after a long day.

This gas station has screens atop all their pumps. They didn't seem to be working, but all of a sudden as I swiped my credit card, this voice commented on some credit card evils that I should be aware of. Big Brother at his worst. Then it switched to something else, the cacophony assaulting me as I hooked the hose into my gas tank. Whatever happened to being alone with your thoughts? I jumped into the car while the tank filled in order to get away from the noise. I'll choose a different gas station in the future.

Okay, enough fun. I'm tired. Back to bed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

It's late and I can't sleep. So I'm browsing the web, killing time while waiting for the cold meds to kick in and I finally found the respresentation of how I feel.

In Bed with a Bad Cold
by Pam Rupert

Posted without permission, but a link to her site is on her name. (Pam, if you wish, I'll remove it, but thanks for your great rendition!)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I've always wanted to head to Mexico, or other southern countries to see the decorated graves and join in the festivities.

This reminds me of the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico--a whole room of collections--some garish, some primitive, some from Mexico and other South American countries, other collections from around the world. Of course, there's no picture taking allowed, but the memory of the organized chaos of the juxtaposed creatures and creations is still vivid.