Saturday, December 26, 2009

Culture Shock Christmas

I returned home to the United States on December 11, 2008 and I celebrated my first Christmas in five years at home last year. But this is the first year that I have experienced the full season, Black Friday through to Day After Christmas Sales, back in the US, and in the mindset of one who is no longer wearing the badge of Wayfaring Stranger here.

The end result is that I spent far more of this season as a bemused observer, rather than an active participant. Sure, I knew what was going to happen, but none of the traditions were my own anymore. I saw everything as if through the eyes of an outsider. I found myself mentally reporting on all that I saw in the same way I would have if I had been in Madagascar or Vietnam, watching the locals celebrate the season in their way.

This realization came clear to me in the midst of Christmas Eve Mass. I and two other brass players were asked to play for Christmas Eve Mass at the Catholic church I was raised in. So I had a front-row seat for observing the congregation during the service.

Everything was at once completely familiar, and yet crisp and new. I wondered what this would look like to a Muslim or a Buddhist – the way people gathered to sit in seats all lined up around a central point, the automatic responses and prayers, the interspersed music, the decorations and the incense.  The symbols that lose their meaning when simply placed without explanation, the actions that have no obvious provocation (and, indeed, often leave non-liturgical Protestants baffled). It reminded me of the times I’ve wandered through Buddhist temples and heard the chants and seen the repeated bowing of Muslims in mosques, the prayers of Jewish people in Synagogue, and dances and prayers of people of different faiths and cultures during all sorts of life rituals.

I saw again with startling clarity where all the misunderstandings in the world begin. All those people perched in the pews facing the priest (and me) are beautiful, wonderful, well-intentioned people. They care for their families and I know many of them who go far above and beyond the call of duty to serve their communities. And then I saw the people in those temples and mosques and synagogue and ritual houses around the world. I saw beautiful, wonderful, well-intentioned people who care for their families and go above and beyond to serve their communities. I’ve sat at table with these people and I’ve celebrated their festivals and holidays. We all pray for the same thing - peace, health, and hope for the future.

Wherever and whatever you celebrate, I hope you take a moment to consider your rituals, and to fully celebrate their message, and how, in translation, they join with the message of all the others around the world in hopes for peace and health and well-being for all around the world.

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2010.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanks Given.

It's good to be home.

A year ago I was trapped in Thailand and celebrated Thanksgiving amongst friends in Chiang Mai - the Americans were handily outnumbered by the Brits (English and Scottish and Irish) and Canadians and Thais, and we were hosted by an Englishwoman who did her best to tolerate the Americanisms that happened, but all was joyful - especially since I had found refuge and a homecoming when my best effort to return Stateside were foiled by international incidents.

Two years ago I celebrated American Turkey Day in Hanoi - hosted by an Argentinian family, with two Australians, a West Indian from the British Virgin Islands, a handful of assorted Vietnamese (one who did the most and best "traditional American" cooking), and myself as the sole American representative.

Three and four years ago I celebrated with friends in the southern city of Fianarantsoa, Madagascar. Those were grand occasions with 35-40 Americans of various stripes, a cobbling together of whatever traditional foods we could find (usually involving a couple of calls to Embassy workers in the capital city with desperate pleas for extra cans of cranberry sauce or purreed pumpkin that they'd had shipped with their generous shipping allowances) and lots of improvising with local ingredients (it was also where I learned to make the best pumpkin pie in the world), and lots of held breath knowing there was no "running out to the store" if we ran out of some random ingredient or ruined something. We also had another chance to share the holiday with English and French expatriates and, of course, local Malagasy. But the results were always impressive - and unbelievably delicious!!

Complete with complete Malagasy turkeys!!

Too much food always meant that croquet or basketball or ping-pong was necessary before there was any possibility of dessert being ingested.

Five years ago, Thanksgiving arrived in the middle of a "rice crisis" in Madagascar. Here's a snippet from the letter I wrote home:

Life goes on, and on Monday E- [my "site partner"] boycotted a teacher boycott and continued to teach while all the teachers went to the district governor to complain about the price of rice. I also met with my Club SIDA [anti-AIDS club]... Then on Tuesday it started to become obvious that the rice issue was not going away any time soon. Teachers canceled classes again, this time a real strike. I still met with my Club SIDA, but it was obvious things were getting dicey otherwise. On Wendesday all things came to a head and the teachers announced that there would be no school on Thursday or Friday and possibly the whole following week until the rice issue was resolved.

So, just what is the big deal about rice, anyway? Good question. E- and I were having a hard time getting our heads around this one. Now, we know that rice is important here – it’s the staple food source and people eat more rice per capita here than they do in almost any other country on earth. Morning, noon and night, they simply have no idea what on earth they could possibly eat instead. Oddly enough, there’s no serious shortage of rice in Madagascar – in fact, rice production is up this year despite 2 serious hurricanes coming through right during the harvest time with the serious potential to ruin the year’s harvest. But no, there’s just as much rice as always, if not more, and yet the price of a cup or kilo of rice has increased almost 4 times and there seems to be no sign of it stopping.

I guess I should’ve paid more attention in economics class – the problem has something to do with the rice futures market and speculation. Now, these are terms I’ve only ever heard in relation to oil or gasoline – never rice. It seems kind of absurd, until you look at it this way: the Malagasy feel about rice the way we in the United States do about gasoline. The Malagasy are not nearly so dependent on gas like we are, so when fuel prices go up around here, it hurts because public transportation gets more expensive and transportation of products forces all prices up in general. When the price of rice goes up, however, is reason to panic. The Malagasy are absolutely dependent on rice, the way we are on fuel. There just is no feasible alternative in their eyes.

So I guess what’s happening is the rice collectors are buying up all the rice now during the dry season and either stashing it or shipping it all out to Tana and storing it there (this is a nation-wide crisis, it’s not limited to just our region) and not releasing it to the market in hopes of getting a good price during the rainy season when transportation of rice becomes difficult, if not impossible. I don’t know if this is a result of the cyclones last year that left so many communities cut off from their supply of rice and people are hoping to cash in should that happen again this year. Either way, there’s no rice on the market, but demand is still high, so the price is going through the roof. And it hurts most in here because we’re a net producer and exporter of rice, so there should be a good supply here, but yet the price is still uncontrollable.

So why a teachers’ strike? First, because they’re worried that students are coming to school hungry, or worse yet, having to drop out of school and go home because parents can’t afford the room and board for students to live away from home. Since most of these communities don’t have middle schools and none have high schools, this means students simply are forced to quit school all together. Second, the teachers have to worry about their fixed government employee salary. On the bottom rung are the elementary school teachers who make 600,000 Fmg per month (about 60 USD). Now a sack of rice (a month’s supply for a family) is 300,000 Fmg – half of a monthly salary. The cry is to stop the madness – so far with limited effect.

In the end, the effect on us was that E- got Thanksgiving off. So, irony of irony, we headed off to our sister city to celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday of harvest and plenty, while people were on strike to protest there not being enough of a staple of life. But at least I can say one thing – we did not eat rice during our Thanksgiving celebration. And yet we still managed to be more than full. I think it’s time to teach people how to make mashed potatoes and gravy – plenty of that to be had cheap!
However, we did not eat turkey that year. Turkeys, while hardly common in Madagascar, were certainly present. In fact, I had a big flock of them that lived in the hospital yard where my quarters were. They would tromp around, clucking, with the big Tom turkey puffing and gobbling ferociously, announcing his authority over his hens and anything else he could see. They were never for sale in the market...and nobody could ever recall having eaten one. So, what were they there for? Nobody really seemed to know.

So, we determined we were going to get one for our Thanksgiving, to be celebrated with four other Americans posted in the region. V-, our loyal Malagasy compatriot in attempting strange American traditions in a foreign land, lead us on a wild turkey hunt, errr, goose chase, all over the Madagascar country side to search out the owners of these or any turkeys to request to purchase one for our holiday. The flock that lived on the hospital grounds belonged, apparently, to some rich folks who owned land locally but lived in a big city far out of communication range. But, she assured us, there were more flocks owned by those who lived locally. And so we set off by bike the Saturday before the big day.

Saturday was an interesting day. I arrived early at E-'s place, was wanting to tell her about the last couple of days – but she announced that we were going on a turkey hunt! Okay, I thought. Apparently she and V- had some leads on turkeys for Thanksgiving, but they were a ways out of town. So we jumped on our bikes and the three of us went on a turkey hunt that quite literally turned into a wild goose chase. We spent the morning wandering all around the countryside chasing instructions from random people (yeah, sure there are turkeys – over there), and even hearing the darn things, but never seeing a single one. We talked to a few people who thought they knew who owned the elusive birds, but there were stories of turkey plagues that killed off breeding pairs and lots of beating around the bush. Apparently turkeys are neither to be eaten nor sold in Madagascar. We gave up exhausted after lunchtime and came home sunburned and dehydrated.

There are turkeys over there...somewhere - we can hear them!


Gah!! Nobody home!! Where are the turkeys? Where are the owners???

E- makes the best of a bad some much-needed shade.

But by Thanksgiving we had found another solution:
Back to our turkey-hunt-turned-goose-chase – we never did manage to get a turkey for Thanksgiving (despite there being many turkeys wandering around our town…), so we wound up with 2 geese. We took them, alive, on a taxi-brousse, spent a night in a hotel with them, and then on a second taxi-brousse all the way to the next town, where we killed, plucked, and ate them. Not exactly the same as turkey, but hey, this is the other side of the world…and the mashed potatoes were still the focal point anyway...
Odd that in a time the country was so panicked about rice being in short supply, we stuffed ourselves on far too many mashed potatoes and vegetables of all varieties.

Maybe we should have been more worried about a shortage of (clean) water?

A dinner guest that remained a guest:
I sorta freaked out some local Malagasy by actually handling the Parson's chameleon - the Malagasy view chameleons with a lot of suspicion as being an magical animal that can see the future and the past and present simultaneously (because of their independently moving eyes).

Six years ago, I celebrated Thanksgiving together as a trainer with the new trainees at the large training center in a remote location outside of the capital of Madagascar. It was another bizarre week, as so many of my holidays overseas were: one of the cooks from the training center staff died suddenly and rather mysteriously at the beginning of the week. Obviously this caused quite a bit of upheaval - plus with questions of Hepatitis C or Yellow Fever being asked, nobody knew whether it was safe to visit or to have the other cooks handling food that week.

Finally it was decided that all would go on as planned. What was beautiful to see, though, was the effort our organization made to support the family of the deceased staff member. In a country where people don't own cars and access to one is unbearably expensive, our organization authorized the use of company vehicles to transport the casket and the family to the capital city for burial, supported funeral expenses, and gave the staff members the day off to attend the funeral, while the American trainers, the training director and a skeleton crew "baby-sat" the trainees.

Then came Thanksgiving. Despite the fact that the kitchen birthday-cake baker died, the crew was still able to pull off a cake for Dr. Victor’s birthday that day. Then the news that here would be cranberry sauce at dinner that night—along with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and gravy and pumpkin and lemon meringue pies...Thanksgiving dinner was a noisy celebration for all the homesick trainees. The menu was bounteous and complete from turkey and cranberry sauce to pumpkin pie.

I am very thankful to have had the chance to spend Thanksgiving among Americans--although I am sorry E- had to be so far away. I am sure the day would have lost most of it’s meaning had it been spent away from here. I am thankful just for this fantastic opportunity to do one of the hardest things I will ever do: work, live, eat, play and breathe the Malagasy way of life for two years. At the moment I am thankful for the opportunity to live and work with dedicated people who honestly love their country. I am beyond thankful for the support of a vast array of family and friends without which I could not continue to be here.

I am thankful for lychee season being upon us and for the chance to know what a “lychee” is. I am thankful to know the meaning of and be able to semi-intelligently use words like mazoto, mahay, voky, reraka, sipa, mahazo, mangala and so many more. I also am thankful for the blessing of knowing that I have the choice to return to the land of good roads, unsmoky kitchens, sofas and couches, grocery stores, internet, TV, reliable mail, books, books, paper and more books! But for now (and for a while) I choose to continue this path. It’s just nice knowing that the choice is there, even if I choose not to use the option.
The Thanksgiving seven years ago was the last one I celebrated at home before leaving to go overseas - a grand traditional family celebration made more poignant and appreciated by the fact that the Thanksgiving before (eight years ago) I had been in Southern California at grad school and unable to return home for the first time ever. For my first transient Thanksgiving, I was adopted by a professor friend who actually hailed originally from my small corner of the world and by chance came to know me during my first trimester of graduate school. He invited me to his home to share a meal at his table - and to celebrate my first vegetarian Thanksgiving.

Our world has turned 360 degrees in the nearly ten years since I have been home. "Tradition" in our family is to celebrate Thanksgiving in my parents' home and my mother's family coming from out of town to take advantage of the cold weather creating a natural outdoor icebox. In the years just previous, the holiday moved to my grandparents' house in another city as my grandfather was homebound and unable to travel for the holiday. With his passing this summer, the holiday celebration has returned, along with me, to my parents' home. My sister and I are both grown, and now graduate school graduates, both gone away and now returned to our ancestral lands. My circle of "family" now encompasses a global community of friends and adoptive family members around the globe. Thanksgiving is probably the greatest gift Americans can bring to their communities in the international world - I am glad I have had the opportunity to deepen my appreciation for the holiday and to know that it is worth far more than just another day to eat a lot of food.

Happy Thanksgiving to all - regardless of where you call home in the world. I am grateful every day for your presence in my life.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


The bird (Flash), laid an egg!!

We've known Flash, the cockatiel for oh, these 15 odd years now, and within the last 5 or so, wound up with full-time guardianship of said bird. We've gotten to know this bird pretty well - all of the likes, dislikes, personality quirks - and lived through those difficult seasons of molting and learning to fly. Every so often, maybe once a year, the hormones would start raging. Flash would start tossing around the newspaper at the bottom of the cage, making rolls and caves to burrow in. Mood swings were pretty common, usually involving a lot more hissing and flapping than usual.

But for 15 years we operated on the principle that the bird was not a female because no eggs ever appeared during these times. And, by logical deduction of no proof to the contrary, we referred to him as a "he."

Well, last week started out with a slow climb into the hormonal curve again. The bird wasn't happy with anybody or anything. Burrowing commenced. I even threw extra newspapers into the bottom of the cage to make him happy.

Then, one morning mid-week I came around the corner only to have the bird his and flap so violently I thought he might hurt himself. It happens repeatedly as I went about my chores. I opened the cage to let him fly where he would, be he showed no interest in freedom. Finally I gave up and threw a blanket over the cage to chill him out and let me get some things done.

This continued for several days - longer than in the past. Finally I decded enough was enough and started ransacking the cage.

And found this:

Well, now having proof otherwise, "he" is officially redubbed a "she."

It's not very big, and as there aren't any (real) male birds in the vicinity, it isn't going to become anything, but it's interesting to watch her "mother" it. She's very protective - and nasty - any time anybody comes near her cage.

As you can see in the video (once I manage to get it uploaded, that is), she hasn't quite got the hang of it, so it's probably a good thing we weren't shooting for getting chicks out of the deal!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hallow'd Eve

I don't know how October 31 managed to sneak up on me so stealthily this year, but all of the sudden, that great day for costumes, candy and mischief is upon us.

I don't have any big plans this year - except to provide back-up support at my parents' house which is always in the red zone of trick-or-treater onslaught, and I suspect particularly so this as Eagle River has canceled their Halloween party for community kids due to H1N1. So, I'm sure plenty of those children will be making their way to neighboring parties and communities for candy night.

But as I look back, I realize that I've been quite amiss in blogging about my Halloween experiences overseas, particularly in Vietnam and Thailand.

My first and only Halloween in Vietnam was in 2007. Vietnamese have a traditional mid-autumn festival on the full moon in September/October (though with temptures still well into the 90s, it hardly feels like autumn). This day is full of moon cakes and treats for the kids, folklore, and, apparently, even costumes, although I suspect that's more of a recent addition thanks to the exporting of western culture.

But of course, my team wanted to celebrate a "real" Halloween.

Ali, my predecessor, had already done a good job introducing the Cao Bang staff to the bare essentials of Halloween costumes and party games...except for carving pumpkins! I decided it was my task to remedy this, and so, I went to the market and bought four of their largest pumpkins.

When my staff, their families and a few friends arrived, I divided them up into teams. Each team got one pumpkin - and I showed them one that I had done as an example. Then I sent them off to far flung corners of the office to do what they would with whatever they could find.

Vietnamese are first, competitive, and second, creative. I patrolled the halls to keeps the spying to a minumum. And without our cultural baggage, they didn't dream of stopping at a hollowed-out, carved jack-o-lantern. Rather, they found paper and ribbons and streamers and boxes and soon had entire dioramas produced to house their creations.

There was no way I could choose a winner, so I distracted them by lighting candles and demonstrating how you make the jack-o-lantern faces glow in the dark.

Then it was time for the trick-or-treating. We hearded everybody to the bottom floor while I distributed the jack-o-lanterns on all four floors in front of closed office doors. Then off went all the lights - and the screaming hoards of candy-chasers came flying up the stairs! I'm sure I'd never get away with something like that in the US, but when they reached the top floor where I was barricaded behind the gate to the roof top, I was pretty glad for the protection!

Halloween 2007 could have been no more different than Halloween 2008. Last year on this date I was in Thailand. Our friend was determined to go as Captain Jack Sparrow, and we were determined to make him look as Johnny Depp-esque as possible.

So, we prepped by watching all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and hunting the markets for daubles and doodads (and a plastic sword) that would make the outfit. Then the sewing and stitching began - and finally, make-up:

Unfortunately the lighting was horrendous and so my photographic evidence of the work is a bit shoddy, but I it came off pretty well in the end...

Well, we tried, anyway.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Monster Mushrooms

Ooooh, here's a post I never got around to finishing. Shame on me!

Another event from the last weeks was the discovery of a giant puffball mushroom in our yard. We didn't manage to get any pictures of the beast in situ, but you can imagine this is what it must've looked like. (Okay, ours was a little smaller.)

Anyway, we picked it, brought it home, and sliced it. It was so big that we called a neighbor and offered him half of it.

Now, just what do you do with a giant puffball mushroom, you ask?

Well, you fry it up and eat it, of course!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Change of staples

I just realized this week that six years of eating rice more or less on a daily basis has finally lead to a major shift in dietary perspective for me: now when I'm stuck and staring around the kitchen with no idea of what to eat, my default reaction is to reach for the rice.

Not potatoes. Not pasta. Not even bread.


Now when I cook, I make extra rice just so I can have leftovers in the refrigerator. It only took me nine months, but I have finally perfected the Asian version of PBJ: fried rice. So, when I'm hard up for a meal, I fry up some rice.

I'll also confess that a major enabler in my default eating habits has been the acquisition of a rice cooker.

Now there is absolutely no excuse for me to not cook rice - all I have to do is dump in the rice, twice the amount in water, and press cook. Then, when it's done, the cooker keeps the perfectly cooked rice warm for me until I'm ready to eat. I can even steam fresh vegetables in it. Really, how much simpler can it get? Okay, it still takes about 20 minutes to cook the rice, so sliced bread still wins for speed, but as far as a hot meal goes, this is downright brainless.

And now rice is available in amazing quantities for cheap at Sam's Club.

Really. I'm in love with rice all over again.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The More You Know...about cranberries

So, as of yesterday, I know more about cranberries than any relatively mentally healthy person with only a night of crash course web surfing and not in any way connected to the industry, should know.
I spent six hours of my Saturday leading bus tours from the Eagle River Cranberry Fest to Three Lakes to visit a cranberry marsh and the Three Lakes Winery. Considering I haven't actually been on a marsh since a second grade field trip and haven't been on a Winery tour since before I could drink and before they had an automated bottling machine, I had a bit of catch-up to do.

But thanks to an informative guide script and a bit of coaching from the pros (and a bit of Googling on Friday night), I think I did pretty well. And I now know a heck of a lot more about cranberries.

For example:

  • Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries in the US. Our state alone produces over half of all cranberries consumed here in the US. Good thing cranberries go well with cheese...and cranberry wine ever better.

  • Cranberries don't grow in water (actually, I already knew this, but here are the specifics). As with rice, water is a cultivation tool: after the harvest, the cranberry beds are flooded to cover the evergreen vines in ice. This protects the vines from freezing in our Wisconsin subzero temperatures.

    Also, every three to five years, drive trucks out on the ice and dump several inches of sand. As the ice melts in the spring, the sand settles on top of the vines. This keeps an individual vine from growing too long by encouraging the vine to take root and branch into new vines.

    The major pest for the cranberry is the Blackheaded Fireworm (mmm, doesn't that sound yummy?). Fortunately for cranberry growers - the Blackheaded Fireworms can't swim, but cranberry vines can. So they flood the bed just as the Fireworm is maturing and drown them out.

    Then during the spring and summer the growers spray down the cranberry beds on nights that threaten to freeze. As ice forms, it released a small amount of heat (remember high school physics?), and this heat protects the blossoms from freezing.

    Finally, in the fall, the beds are flooded because the ripe cranberries float. They use a machine to "beat" the berries off of the vines, and then all the berries float to one end of the bed where they are collected.

  • Cranberries are one of three fruits native to Wisconsin. The other two are blueberries (in the same scientific Order as cranberries) and Concord grapes.

  • Cranberries and blueberries are in the same scientific order with a third commonly enjoyed berry, the Lingonberry.

  • Cranberry vines take 3-4 years to begin producing berries, but once they produce, a single vine can continue producing for decades. Some have been known to continuously produce berries for 100 years.

  • White cranberry juice comes from using cranberries that haven't fully ripened (the color hasn't "snapped," and the seeds inside the berry are still white instead of brown). The commercial variety of cranberries doesn't fully ripen until after a hard freeze. White cranberries are commonly harvested around Labor Day (or the producers selected unripened berries from the regular cranberry harvest). Another species of cranberry does ripen in mid-September, without the aid of a frost.

  • Much research continues to be done on the health benefits of the berry, but really, you can't go wrong eating those little things (just watch the sugar).

Wisconsin growers estimate this year's harvest will be about 4 million barrels (in the industry, one barrel = 100 lbs of berries). That's down from 2008's harvest of 4.3 million barrels, but 2008 was a record year, and even with an 11% decrease 2009 will be the second biggest harvest on record. That is, assuming that after this strange summer and early fall, the color finally does "snap" with enough time for growers to get the berries harvested before it begins to snow and the flooded cranberry beds turn into a gigantic cranberry slushy.

I'll confess I was actually a lot more intimidated by the idea of guiding tours at the Winery. Fortunately I didn't wind up with anybody in my tour groups that were actually wine-makers (or, I did so poorly they knew better than to attempt to ask me any questions). I'm impressed with how much the facility has grown since I was last in the back of it. There were boxes of wine in every nook and cranny and stacked high to the ceiling. Seems like they're doing pretty well, and they've added a whole line of new wines (including some new grape varieties). We tried the new pomegranate and a red Zinfandel grape and cranberry wine blend that was very good.

Also new this year are cheese spreads that are blended with the cranberry, blackberry or blueberry wines. I snuck back into the parking lot today to get my fresh cranberries, but now that cranberry fest is over, I'm going to have to go back to the Winery tomorrow to stock up on my own cranberry supplies. I hope there's something left to be bought!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bra Bear

There are few times when I have so much to say in one night, but I'm behind in posting a few things.

Several weeks ago Sarah and I were over at my parents' house for dinner. Mom left the clothing out on the line and had decided to just leave it overnight. We advised against, as there had been a lot of bear sightings in the area. We teased her that our local animals might decide it would be a good night for a toga party.

No sooner was this said, than the dogs started barking - and we could just see in the dusk that the wash on the line was moving...

Sadly Mom refused to clean off any of her SD memory cards (full of pictures from their Germany trip), so we could only capture 16 MB worth of the event...but needless to say, Mom will be thinking twice about leaving her dainties out on the line for the male three-legged bear to play with again any time soon...

Canned Panic

Our family invaded our house for the evening - the same night my sister decided to try to make jam for the first time. She's never canned before, but the room is filled with experienced persons who were willing to yell suggestions from the living room to the kitchen.

She cooked the jam, but didn't boil the jars. Correcting advice was yelled, and a pot of water was put on to boil. Jars were put in and the family returned to the conversation.

Suddenly my sister marched into the room gripping a jar with the tongs:

"Look what boiling water does to jars!!!!"

After lots of questions about just what this amateur was using to boil her jars - and a slightly panicked closer inspection by three of the males in the family who all claim science backgrounds - she revealed that it was a defective jar that had come from the factory that way.

Happy (early) Half-Fools Day.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Of Bloggers Past...

Great Books is a great way to keep things in perspective. Just when you thought you had an original thought -- well, let's just say it's probably been thunk before, and even more likely by somebody far better at thinking and writing than you or me. Further, that thought has probably also been discounted and shown to be completely false by yet another person far more worthy of the mass in his or her head and the ink in her hand.

In many ways, it is a shame so many of them had to come before us. I think they missed out by being born too soon. Case in point: Michel de Montaigne.

I daresay Michel de Montaigne would've been right at home in today's technological society. In fact, I would argue further that he was the first blogger. And his blog would have probably been called "Of Michel's Mind." And it would've been a pretty active blog.

de Montaigne pioneered the "essay" as a form of writing. Doubtless, he also pioneered the style of titling all of his essays as "Of" something. And true to form of any blogger, there was no subject deemed unworthy:

Of sadness
Of prognostications
That the taste of good and evil depends in large part on the opinion we have of them
Of prompt or slow speech
Various outcomes of the same plan
Whether the governor of a besieged place should go out to parley
Of books
We should meddle soberly with judging divine ordinances
Of sleep
Of thumbs
Of husbanding your will
How our mind hinders itself
Let business wait until tomorrow
Of honorary awards
Of not communicating one's glory
Of vain subtleties

And onwards.

And, like any good blogger, he provided links to his other favorite thinkers. Horace makes regular appearances, such as the following in the essay Of friendship:

-- A lovely woman tapers off into a fish. HORACE

Indeed, de Montaigne describes himself in that same essay as fully prepared for the form of thought-word-publishing: "And what are these things of mine, in truth, but grotesques and monstrous bodies, pieced together of divers members, without defnite shape, having no order, sequence, or proportion other than accidental?"

Which he follows with the above mentioned Horace quote.

Sadly, had the blog form existed in the day of de Montaigne, I fear that his insightful ramblings would've resulted in yet one more pile of mish-mash written in bad need of editing forever lost in the blogosphere and eventually zapped out by the next passing solar flare.

Maybe it's time to go back to stone tablets.

Releasing the Rocks

Having visitors on the horizon is a great motivator, and the impending arrival of a large group of them has me tackling the attic for real. Or, at least, again - with promises to go back through those other boxes soon. But in the process of sorting through the unsorted, I found somebody's long-forgotten rock collection, too long removed from their natural environment. I decided it was high time to return them to their natural habitat. So, with the help of Wrangler, we released the rock collection: And they're free!!!!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Fairwell to a dear friend

Cooper Brewster, 3 years old, was laid to rest this morning on the Brewster Estate. He lies in peace in the forest next to his beloved predecessor, Duke.

Cooper died Sunday night, September 6, 2009, after being struck by a car shortly after 8 PM.

Cooper's life, while entirely too short, was a blessing to Sarah and the rest of the Brewster family each day. We remember with joy his confidence, curiosity, intelligence and independence, and most of all, his devotion.

Rest in peace, Cooper. May you find many chipmunks and all the ice cream you can eat in heaven.