Wednesday, January 28, 2009


It’s snowing again, light but steady. We’re predicted to get between four and eight inches. It’s already been a long winter, but New Englanders know where to look for solace. Last night, I drove past a little neighborhood market, which had a small marquee out front on which they probably post specials. Yesterday it just said, “Pitchers and catchers in 17 days.”

Ah, Florida. The popping of the mitt. The crack of the bat. Fragrant grass—fragrant green grass. Buried as we are under mounds...piles...alps of snow, shivering in our dark and drafty hovels, gnawing on the bones ravening wolves have left outside our doorflaps, we can turn our thoughts to baseball again, and feel that distant memory of summer stir, and with it at least the faint likelihood that another is on the way.

Pitchers and catchers in 17 days. Red Sox Nation is beginning to heat up.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I got back to New Hampshire last evening to realize that sweet B is passing simultaneously through several transitions. Saturday, she’ll be celebrating—with a little adult help with the corks—her six-month birthday; she’s big enough to be moving from childish six-month clothes to sophisticated nine-month fashions; and she’s starting actually to eat a little solid food ...

... (rice cereal, along with truly ingesting mashed pear and apple sauce...the broccoli is just for show); she’s about to start crawling (any day now—maybe any hour).

Oh, and a tooth...we keep thinking there has to be a tooth on the way with all that drooling and chewing going on.


I was home in Connecticut this past weekend, and while I was digitally pawing through some old files I came across this, which I’d jotted down a long time ago. It’s been a cold, dark winter right from the get-go, and despite the profound joy of spending time with H and sweet B, I feel fat and slow and old. Essentially redundant. This rediscovered paragraph made me nod and laugh. I remember being that boy.
I first felt the thrill of assumed risk as a kid stealing second base. It’s 90 feet from the foul-line side of the first base bag to the middle of the second, so safety is only an 88-foot sprint away. With a decent lead it’s under 80. But of course it’s not just a sprint. First, if your lead’s too long, or the pitcher catches you leaning, you’ll get picked off. And once you do break down the base path, the infielders all shout, “He’s going!” and you know there’s an explosion of activity at the plate, with the catcher receiving the pitch, straightening up, and firing the ball toward second. You can see the shortstop and second baseman moving to cover and you can sometimes get a sense of where that throw is headed by watching them, but you’re out there in the middle of no-man’s land, relying on your initial jump, your speed, and the uncontrollable variables of the pitcher’s delivery, the catcher’s handling of it, and the speed and accuracy of his throw. Delicious.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I’ve developed a close relationship with an emery board over the last few weeks. It’s mostly the cold taking advantage of my general decrepitude, I suppose (though I did have a whack at one thumbnail with a chef’s knife), but my fingernails keep cracking and breaking and snagging on things. It’s driving me insane. I’ve just checked the web, and perhaps I’ll swan on down to Lovely Nails, or the more appropriate-sounding (for me) OK Nails, and get some of those acrylic things pasted on, painted in camo, and shaped in a stubby, ruggedly masculine way. Or maybe I’ll just stay home and finish filing them all down to the quick. Wait...I’ve already done that.

Ah! Radio Heartland saves the day again. Louis Prima is on doing his cheerfully silly version of the famous Benny Goodman Sing, Sing, Sing.

Now on to Al Dexter and Pistol Packin’ Mama.

My fingernails and I feel better now.

[How dopey am I. A niggle just made me look this up. Louis Prima wrote “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Goodman (especially drummer Gene Krupa, actually) made it famous. I do stand by my decription. The Prima version RH played was cheerfully silly.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The English chill

I knew it was cold in Washington, but I did a sort of double-take at the TV when I heard one of the BBC correspondents say, “It’s below zero here today,” before I realized he was talking modern British and using Celsius. In light of this sort of thing, it has long struck me as odd that when lets you choose how it reports temperature to you the choices are: English and Metric.

Americans, of course, even those who voted for Obama, know that metric, in all its forms, is a Communist plot—something like soccer—and reject it out of hand. It was below freezing, but nowhere near below zero. Now put on your helmet and tackle somebody. Then check the big machine for its BTU output.

Ahh. President Obama

Some ought-to-have-beens

I’d been thinking along these lines, but the idea of “those who ought to be there but can’t be” is powerfully and importantly put here. And here is another list, referred to from the first. (I knew Gene Benson, and that’s a nice thought).

Cadence and Credibility

I’m watching early inauguration coverage on the BBC Word Service, whose coverage is marginally less moronic (which church will Obama join?) than American network and cable coverage (unspeakable). I’ll switch to C-SPAN when they turn off their phone-in lines. The crowds are already massive, and the people waving their little American flags look active and happy. Hope. It’s a wonderful emotion to be reintroduced to.

There is an interesting article in the Washington Post this morning on Obama’s oratory. (Lots of good articles today in the Post, as you’d expect.) The author talks about the effectiveness of O’s technique and the appeal of his evident cool in the face of the modern cynicism that typically dismisses oratory as phony. But he also gets close to the point that it’s phony speechmaking that makes people cynical, and that Obama’s so far rings true. He sites iambs (FDR, Martin Luther King), and anapests (Churchill’s “We shall FIGHT on the BEACHes . . . we shall FIGHT in the FIELDS . . . we shall FIGHT in the HILLS . . . we shall NEVer surRENDer,” which he tell us is also “anaphora, repeating phrases at the beginning of clauses. Note, too, that in defense of England [Churchill] uses nothing but Old English words except for "surrender," which comes from the French.”) Well worth a read.

Yes We Can

And yes we did.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Just walkin’...and sleepin’

H got home by lunchtime today, and we decided to go out for a walk. I could never manage the Ergo carrier H often uses for B, because adjusting it requires reaching buckles and webbing in locations behind my back and neck, and my shoulders no longer allow me those motions. I’d broken out the Kelty last week, and today we tuned it better for B and slid her in...

I find it reasonably comfortable to carry, total weight right now similar to a standard TGOC load—a little over 20 pounds.

Almost two weeks ago, on our first stroll to the park, we had discovered, only about half a block from our house, and just around a corner, this wonderful Orthodox church, which, set squarely in a residential neighborhood, manages to look simultaneously exotic and right at home...

The park is perhaps a half-mile from home (something of a trek these days, with many sidewalks impassible, and snow piled high between walks and streets). It’s a great little park, where dog owners can let well-behaved pets run free. Jasper the Wonderdog romps with abandon through the snow, usually chased by one of us and chasing in turn. Here are three of us, pre-romp...

The park’s pond is cleared and popular...

We eventually looped home. We have the second and third floors. That’s me under the eaves on the gable end...

The fresh air had done B in...

and, for a few minutes while we made tea, the Kelty saw service as a sort of crib.


H, sweet B, J the W, and I are back in New Hampshire after a nice weekend in Connecticut. For reasons I can’t fathom, H and her two fellow fellows began their academic program a week behind. (Someone somewhere dropped the ball on communications and scheduling.) But after grinding away late into the nights, she has pretty well caught up. She’s hoping things will become and remain fairly regular especially important point to the mother of a 5-month-old.

While we were home, we hosted what used to be our usual Friday-evening pasta dinner—on Saturday. Great fun, though the weather kept the party around the table smaller than we had hoped for. But we’re close enough to Woodbury to look forward to similar events fairly frequently.

So we’re regrouped, reorganized, re-energized—and relieved at immanence of the great event taking place in Washington tomorrow.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dickie!

I was going to post this last Wednesday, but discovered I didn’t have the photo on my laptop. I’m back in Woodbury for the weekend, and here it is.

My dad turned 85 on January 14. (The joke in the family is that the date is also Benedict Arnold’s birthday). More often than not, I call my dad...Dad. But to all my friends, extended family, his granddaughter, and soon his great granddaughter, he is Dickie. And I call him Dickie sometimes myself. He has for years now been calling me “Sonny Boy.” He didn’t start doing it until I was a father myself and it was a fairly inappropriate diminutive, and therefore characteristic family humor. A terrific natural athlete, Dickie exercises fairly seriously three mornings a week and is in excellent physical shape. He’s the one who taught me how to throw and catch, and he beat me at 60 yards when I was a fairly quick 16 and he was 40. He is also generous, a wonderful host (he has what I once saw described by an English writer as “idiomatic good manners”), and exceptionally kind and considerate. I, of course, argue the alternative and join the family circle and close friends in teasing him about being a cheapskate (which he is in small things—as they say, he throws nickels around like manhole covers). So it goes, and so I hope it goes for many more years.

Friday, January 16, 2009

COLD migrates east

Minnesota has arrived in New England. I stepped outside to walk Jasper 45 minutes ago, and thought, “Whoa, this is a little different.” I checked when H left the house just now. It was -22°F (-30°C). No wind chill, so A wins bragging rights, but my goodness.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

...and then there’s COLD

It’s chilly here. I walked Jasper just before daylight, and it was -6°F (-21°C), with a windchill of -12 (-24). No walk for sweet B and me today.

But New England’s current cold wave pales compared to what’s happening back in the Midwest. When A walks his 3/4 mile to work in Rochester, Minnesota this morning, it will be through a temp of -24°F (-31°C), with a windchill of -49 (-45). He grew up in upstate New York, went to school in New Hampshire, and has spent time in Greenland, but I’ll bet he’s never been out in temps approaching these. He may want to wear his hat.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Spike dances

Sweet B, along with her Nazgûl screeching, has been standing—solidly, but with help to balance—for a while now. Today, after a mind-clearing walk with Jasper, H set her on the kitchen table for a little shakin’.

J the W was so appreciative that afterwards, mother and daughter shared what one of the Fox News morons, watching the Obamas share the same little affirmative ritual during the campaign, called “a terrorist fist jab.” We, of course, now call it the same thing. Dangerous characters, for sure.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tough Tolkien baby

Sweet B is making a fair amount of noise these days. Some of it is normal baby babbling. But most of it is various modulations of something between an avian squawk and an angry cat. Because of this and the fact that her wispy hair sweeps up into pointy tufts, her mother has taken to calling her Spike the Nazgûl (“The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death.”) Spike most determinedly employs the voice of death (as distinct from the pre-crying “lip of doom”) while maneuvering to suck her toes, a feat (feet?) undreamed of by Tolkien’s badboys.

Unfortunately, Spike has a cold right now, and really wants Mommy.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pulling the Youkah’s cawk

Jasper the Wonderdog and I just returned from a mutual scamper through a beautiful fluffy snowstorm, shuffling whitely down the middle of unplowed and untraveled streets. Baseball season seems far away. But there is no escaping the fact that New Hampshire is Red Sox country, big time. (Yet another reason to feel at home here.) On my way buy some wine Friday evening, I sat at a traffic signal behind a car whose license plate read “GOSAWX,” approximating the regional pronunciation.

Then, perusing Sauvignon Blancs on the shelf, I came across one that made me laugh.

SAUVIGNYOOUUK BLANC (from what is certainly the fictional Longball Cellars) is named after the Red Sox’s popular first (and sometime third) baseman, Kevin Youkilis, generally called “Youk” or “the Youker,” which comes out of Boston (and many other New England) mouths as “Youkah.“ He’s admired for his great fielding, clutch hitting, intensity, and for being what old-timey baseball guys call “a red ass,” a guy who can get really angry really fast—in Youk’s case, often at himself or the baseball fates, but sometimes at opponents. This makes him especially popular to Sox fans, who endured decades of talented players who regularly had their heads handed to them by teams that simply cared more .

I bought a bottle, of course—income benefits Youk’s fund for yoouuth health and fitness. And it was just fine with corn chips and salsa.

Pitchers and catchers in a month. GOSAWX! Go Youk!

Writers rooms

I’ve been having trouble getting sweet B down lately. She’ll go to sleep in my arms as usual, but she wakes up, instantly and crankily, when I lay her down on couch or bed. I just drugged her with milk and tried again...success.

But instead of turning to work I’ve been feeling guilty about ignoring, I’ve been wandering through this irresistible site. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know the work of most of these Brit writers, but I love looking at their spaces and reading what they have to say about them.

Years ago, I wrote a book about home offices. I’d had a contract with a publisher, but when I delivered the first chapters we discovered we’d been thinking of two different books. I was writing a highly personal, very specific work based on my own experience both as a worker in a home office myself and as someone who in a previous life had had the chance to see many such spaces and to talk to their designers and users. My editor was looking for an impersonal and unspecific general text (basically, she wanted me to lose the first person pronoun, particular recommendations, and all brand names and models). She was polite but insistent. I was polite but determined. We parted company (which meant my sending money back to a publisher, an exquisitely painful experience), and I decided, as an experiment, to self-publish. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone else (well, maybe I would, now we’re in the era of E-books), but I learned a vast amount about everything from layout and design to marketing and sales, much of which I put to good use in a later position.

I was working at the time in my perfect home office, which we’d created in the unused one-car garage of our little house. A few years later, we moved around the corner, and I sadly left perfection for mere adequacy. Adequacy, as the Scots salesman would have expected, actually worked, and continues to work, just fine.

Now there’s a book topic for the new age.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Snow growling and a Sunday snooze

It’s warmed up today enough that snow has been rumbling off the roof all morning, the invisible freight trains passing on nonexistent tracks frightening even our profoundly phlegmatic J the W, who is tucked even more completely under the coffee table than usual. I just sit here, listening to Gene Autry sing Tumbling Tumbleweeds on Radio Heartland, where Dale Connelly has just announced that his computer, by vote of listeners, has been renamed...Jasper!

I mentioned that D, T, and B came to help us last Sunday. They brought some wonderful housewarmers, organized the kitchen...

added a bunch of nice touches, did a little shufflin’...

fixed us a lovely lunch, and, as the ads say, much, much more. We’d still be deep under water without them. Family and friends: we’re blessed.

Somewhere along the line, sweet B needed a nap, but boxes everywhere and the whirlwind of activity made it impossible to put her down in a place that was comfortable, safe, and within hearing...except one. Here she is, snoozing away under the alert protective observation of Jasper—the Wonderdog, not the computer:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Snow day

H had the day off because of the foul weather, and we spent most of it unpacking boxes and putting things where they belong (or at least fit temporarily). We have a way to go yet before the place is warm-feeling and really comfortable, but things look and feel much better now.

Just before it got dark, we got bundled up and headed out to find the park we knew was about a half-mile up the road. H had J the W’s leash and I had B in the Ergo chest carrier as we shuffled and chugged uphill along the unshoveled sidewalks (boy, am I unfit!). In the park, J got his first free runabout since we arrived in Concord. He used it to disregard commands and run 200 yards across the (empty) skating pond to check on a somewhat more mannerly Husky. Ten seconds of frisking about, and he deigned to answer H’s calls to return. When he got back to us, he tried to put the brakes on, and skidded right by. J the Doofus.

Sweet B returned home rosy-cheeked and happy, to pose with her somewhat less adorable grandfather in the kitchen.

Then tea, followed eventually by a meal from the H&A cookbook: the first meal I ever created that contained, among a number of other things, the combo of walnut oil, maple syrup, and pomegranate seeds. And it was not bad.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Content in Concord

H, sweet B, Jasper the Wonderdog, and I arrived in New Hampshire Saturday, after dropping A off at the airport to fly back to Minnesota. We are gradually settling into the apartment H and A have taken on a year’s lease (he’ll join her here in June). We got heaven-sent help and support (and a meal!) last Sunday from D, B, and T, who “did” the kitchen for us (more on this in future post). Bless them, bless them, bless them.

We’re still existing in a sort of genteel squalor, working on the place mostly in the evenings after H gets home and B is in bed. We should be in decent shape by the end of weekend, when we will have had time to sort out the last few boxes, though I think we’ll still have to visit Goodwill and the Salvation Army for more lamps, some side tables, and a shelving unit or two.

Concord is the capital of New Hampshire, and we are at the political dead-center of the Live Free or Die state: the the capitol building itself is less than a quarter-mile from the house. Its dome is featured in the view from my window:

I check out the neighborhood on morning and evening walks with J the W, and we agree it’s varied. As we would near all state capitols, we pass a significant number of lawyers offices in old houses, mostly restored and rather posh; some associations, non-profits and the like; single-family residences, almost all nineteenth-century and ranging from lovely to shabby; and some larger multi-story houses of similar age and range of appearance. Ours is a big old house with nice landlords and three apartments, reasonably attractive on the outside, clean but basic inside. As with a lot of these old places, electrical outlets are few and far between, supplied lighting is dim, and the kitchen was never meant to be a kitchen. We have the second and third floors (I sleep up there—it’s really an attic with no direct heat beyond what finds its way up the staircase, but that is sufficient, and the space will be fine once I get the bed put together and my things organized). At the moment, we have no key to the mailbox on the front porch (the previous tenant accidentally took it with her), so we are receiving our bills and catalogues in a small red Thermos drinks cooler we set out.

I am, of course, with H and B, so living arrangements here are essentially perfect.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Fine times


We’ve had a wonderful holiday, with great family time and a chance to see lots of the friends I’d been missing. We had our annual Boxing Day do, which filled and overflowed us as usual, and for the last few days college friends of A and H have been sleeping all over the house. A kitchen bulging with smart and outgoing 20-somethings representing the clergy, academia, Silicon Valley tech, and media is a wonderful place for an old and creaky guy to have his batteries recharged...even if he did toddle off to bed long before midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Sweet B has been experimenting with solid foods, with spectacularly bad results on sweet potatoes...

... and only slightly better luck with pears...

...which she later accepted more cheerfully when they were presented in a more elegant manner—on a spoon rather than her father’s fingertip.

She seemed much happier altogether with the Baby Buff Santa brought for her, and cheerfully wore it out for a walk the other day:

A lovely holiday.