Monday, September 29, 2008

Go Ahead, Repress Yourself

This came out of a recent issue of The Week:
Conventional therapeutic wisdom would have us believe that a person who "bottles up" his feelings is setting himself up for explosive consequences down the road. But everyone deals with trauma in his or her own ways, says a new study by psychologists at the University of Buffalo. In fact, researchers found, people who never vocalized their feelings about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are happier today than those who sought catharsis. There's an "assumption in popular culture, and even in clinical practice, that people need to talk in order to overcome a collective trauma," researcher Mark Seery tells LiveScience. But those who prefer not to dwell on their pain, he says, should not be pressured to talk. "They can cope quite successfully and, according to our results, are likely to be better off than someone who does want to express his or her feelings."
This makes me feel better about the future mental health of my boys who don't like to talk about their feelings.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ponderosa Needles

Needles on Ponderosa pine trees only live three years and they don't regrow; each spring, new needles grow at the tips of the branches and each fall, the three-year-old needles all turn brown and drop off. This is why older Ponderosas have tufts of needles on long, bare branches. The first time you see it, it is a little startling - it looks like the tree is dying from the inside out.
I think most pine trees loose needles over time, rather than all at once, so it is hardly noticeable.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Democracy in America

A couple years ago, I got tired of running across repeated references to books I hadn't read, references that indicated that these books were fundamental to understanding the topic, or at least to the discussion. So I started following up on the references and actually reading the "canon" for the subjects I read regularly: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Frontier in American History, The Feminine Mystique, and most recently, Democracy in America. Not all of these have been easy reading, but they are all interesting and thought-provoking (which is undoubtedly why they are referred to so often).

Democracy in America, Vol. 1, is the best book I've read for understanding how the US still works, even if it was written in 1833. The insights into the democracy of the period are interesting historically, but they are also helpful for understanding what has happened since then, both in the US and internationally. The US is still substantially the way Tocqueville describes it, and the changes are generally extensions of the characteristics he noted or predicted. I sometimes found it hard to follow the distinctions he makes between various forms of governing (legislative vs. executive; governors as magistrates) but trying was enlightening - I had never made the distinctions before.

The main difference between the 1830s and now is that the Federal government was weak and the individual states strong; people looked first to the state to exercise power while the Federal government mostly mediated between the states, and its influence on citizens was generally exercised via the states. Over time, as population mobility increased and local attachments faded, as interstate commerce expanded dramatically, the Federal government gained strength; it now controls a vastly greater portion of daily life than Tocqueville foresaw and is much stronger. Part of this may be a result of the Civil War, which Tocqueville predicted; but he felt that the union would disintegrate under the strong action of the states, rather than holding together and subduing them. For reasons that probably turn on leadership, the union didn't come apart, and the United States of America made the transition from a plural noun and idea ("The United States are...") to a singular one ("The United States is..."), from a federation of mostly sovereign states to a unified country. The Civil War wasn't just a sibling fight, it was a turning point in the evolving concept of the country.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Maple Leaves

The leaves on the maple tree out front are the first to start turning in the fall. The leaves turn slowly and in odd sequences from the bottom up, creating a mosiac of colors. Last Monday, green and yellow still dominated. Today, the green is mostly gone and orange dominates the bottom leaves; the upper leaves are mostly yellow.
In another week, the entire tree will be orange, a great accent for our grey house.

Black Ice

I learned today why black ice is so hard to predict: it isn't ice before you drive on it. When the temperature first falls below freezing, water on the road is supercooled - its temperature drops below its freezing point but it stays liquid because nothing provides the seed crystal to start ice forming or provides the energy for the water to change states. As soon as your tire hits the water, it shocks the water into instantly crystallizing into ice and you are sliding across the "wet" road. That's why you can't see black ice when you are driving; watching the thermometer is a better gauge of hazard than watching the road surface.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Utility Rant

Why is it that when I think I am articulately expressing my opinions, my kids think I am ranting? My opinions today had to do with utility boxes, the green and gray metal boxes that clutter up nearly every street corner in town. In the older parts of town, utilities are discretely (and properly) set in alleys, where they are out of the way. But in the newer areas of town, where developers have spent large amounts of money on the landscaping, with nice street trees and green turf, the metal boxes sit thoughtlessly on the edge of the sidewalk. They are unadorned, paint fading, more-or-less square in orientation, placed without thought for the context or surroundings; if there are two or more boxes, they aren't lined up or placed in any kind of a rhythm. Why can't these boxes be placed away from the front sidewalk, where they will be less noticeable (and less likely to be hit by an errant car)? Or at least placed with some concern for their design and context? I understand that the siting of the boxes is driven by engineering concerns, but the developers would never be allowed to use this rationale for any of their trash dumpsters or internal utilities. So why do the utility companies get away with plopping something down without any concern for design or aesthetics?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Winter Market

Now that the farmers' markets are closed, the winter market has started up again. Each year it gets a little bigger; this year it has added salmon and coffee suppliers. Now you can easily make a full meal from the market: beef or salmon, maybe some pork, several kinds of goat cheese, milk, eggs, bread, potatoes, crackers, a wide variety of vegetables (although not much in the way of root vegetables yet - no celeriac, no sunchokes), and coffee to finish it off. All of it, except the salmon and coffee, are locally grown or made.

Monday, September 15, 2008

We Who Are More Than Magpies

We, who are more than magpies, feather our nests with bits of time.

(Robert Kaplan, The Nothing That Is)

This is a pretty good description of what I'm doing in this blog...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Teaching Cursive

Over the years, I have taught my kids to be individuals, to find their own way of doing things instead of simply following the standard model. Now it's coming back to bite me: teaching them to write cursive properly is like herding cats! "Why do we have to do this? I don't want to write in cursive anyway. I like making an extra loop on my a's and o's; why do I have to change it?" Sigh. Sometimes having taught your children to question things is a pain in the neck.

Why I Love Owenhouse Hardware

I wanted to hang a peg of some sort by my front door, primarily for dry-cleaning deliveries but for hanging other light things on, too. I wanted something that looks nice, not a nail or a basic peg; a cupboard knob would be perfect, but the hardware for knobs assumes that they will be installed on a door that you can put a screw through. Which is a challenge when mounting the knob on a solid wall. I found a neat knob at Owenhouse, then tracked down Gary, my favorite staff guy, and asked him for help. It took 4 potential solutions, an 18-cent screw, and 20 minutes to solve the problem; in the end, he cut the head off the screw and turned the knob into a peg for me. I mounted it today and it works slick! It was the perfect solution: low-tech, simple, and inexpensive.

My new goal in life is to find a legitimate project that stumps Gary.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Short Growing Season

Talking to growers at the farmers' market tonight, the last one of the season, I confirmed that the growing season is late this summer, by an average of 20 days. Now that the two farmers' markets in town are finishing up, the growers are finally harvesting their summer vegetables - which is why I am having a hard time finding vegetables to preserve as I move into my fall putting-food-up-for-the-winter mode; those vegetables won't be along for another three weeks. To make matters worse, we are definitely into fall weather, with cool, cloudy days mixed in with warm, sunny days; the growing season is going to end up being a very short one this year. It is one of the less-cheerful aspects of trying to eat in tune with the seasons: the weather doesn't always co-operate. But even the shortage of "seasonal" vegetables reminds me of the unpredictable nature of the real world.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

How to Get Teens Up in the Morning

To be accurate, I should call it "How to get teens up at noon for a late breakfast". But it worked to get four 16-year-old boys up and out of bed in time for lunch today. All measurements are flexible. Unfortunately, you will probably have to soak the baking dish to get it clean.

Cheesy Bread Pudding (Or you can call it Breakfast Casserole, if that works in your household; it doesn't in mine.)

Start cooking 3/4 pound of bacon. I use the microwave because the tray drains off the fat, but a skillet will work fine. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

While the bacon cooks, cut up some slightly stale, chewy bread into 1" chunks, enough to loosely fill your baking dish; I used 2/3 of a sourdough baguette that had been languishing in the fridge for a week. Place in a large bowl. Add two small cans of diced green chilies and 1/2 pound of grated cheddar cheese. Dice the bacon and add it. Mix well and place in baking dish; you may need to smash it down a bit to make it all fit.

In a bowl, combine 6 eggs (ok, crack them first and add everything but the shell) and 50% more milk than eggs (maybe a cup). Add salt and pepper to taste. Blend well and pour over the bread mixture. Grate a little more cheddar on the top.

Cover with a lid or tinfoil and stick in the oven for about 45 minutes. Remove lid and let cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes while everyone finishes waking up. Serve with orange juice.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Apple Packaging

I just bought my first computer from Apple, and it arrived this morning. I have no idea how well the computer will work, but I love Apple's packaging - someone with a good eye for design, both visual and practical, has really thought it through. Even the outer box is easy to figure out where to open; and when you cut that bit of tape and look inside, there is a handle waiting for you to pull it out. The handle is attached to a nice box of glossy white cardboard, and it opens easily to this:
This is seriously cool packaging! I love the pattern and the design of it. When you remove the top layer of foam and the computer and cords under it, this is the bottom layer of foam, echoing but not copying the upper design:
The silver package opens up like a gift to display a booklet (Everything Mac) and a package (Everything Else) with a monitor wipe, the re-install disks, and some additional information. Instead of being a utilitarian task (at best - more often an exercise in frustration!), getting the Mac out of its box is a delightful chain of packaging surprises, like opening Japanese packages.

Regardless of Apple's computer technology, they beat most US companies on packaging, hands down.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mountains Beyond Mountains

Reading Mountains Beyond Mountains makes me feel the same way as reading about homeschooling families whose kids get perfect scores on the SATs and go to Harvard on full-ride music scholarships: completely incompetent as a human being. I am neither a genius nor so tolerant of discomfort that I can relate to Paul Farmer; he is completely out of my league, and therefore I don't find his accomplishments personally inspiring - laudable, certainly, but equally certainly not replicable in my world.

This is relevant because it was selected as the initial One Book One Bozeman read, with the idea of inspiring people to see what they can do to change the world. I dutifully read it, but to be honest, I mostly found it annoying because it makes me feel so...incompetent. Last year's big feel-good book, Three Cups of Tea, was much more inspiring because Greg Mortenson comes off as someone real (if unusually determined), someone I can relate to; I think that maybe I could do something like what he did, and so I am moved to try.

The only reason I made it through the Mountains is that is was well written; it is definitely better written than Three Cups of Tea, which can't decide if it should be in the first or third person. The narrator's voice is consistent and better at filling in background; and Tracy Kidder's early discomfort with Farmer helps blunt the hagiography. Actually, the only reason I made it through the book, when Kidder succumbs to Farmer's personality, is that I was too stubborn to quit so near the end. But Mountains Beyond Mountains definitely doesn't make my list of books I would recommend to anyone.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

We Who Are Your Closest Friends

This poem by Phillip Lopate is my new favorite poem:

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
discontent and
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.