Friday, February 27, 2009

The Pedroia Effect

George Vecsey of the New York Times writes a modern tale from Spring Training. Ballplayers are slimming down. Uh, yes, we fans say. Perhaps the steroid scandal has something to do with that. And Vecsey, a wonderful old-pro sportswriter, knows that. But he talks to at least some players for whom beefy was never a goal. And he talks to a doc from the Mayo Clinic, which always gets my attention because of H’s connection, but this time holds it by mentioning great athletes of my youth, from Sandy Koufax the pitcher to Al Oerter the discus thrower. This year’s American League Most Valuable Player was Dustin Pedroia, 5'9", 180, the youngest player I’ve ever heard called “grizzled.” He deserves it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I got home last weekend to find that it’s maple syrup time in southern New England. These buckets are hanging on the maples in the front yard of a house near ours in Woodbury. The trees are tapped and the buckets regularly emptied by volunteers from the excellent Flanders Nature Center, which acts, among other things, as our local Land Trust. Most commercial operations now use long runs of gravity-feed plastic tubing running to a large central collection barrel, but Flanders still goes for the simplicity (and great PR) of sap buckets on trees visible on residents’ property. (I think they also use the tubing on more remote sugar bushes.) I remember helping my mother and a few others collect Flanders sap back in the ’70s. It can be backbreaking work, especially if the snow is deep and you’re not wearing snowshoes. Side-hill work is the toughest.

Some people tap their own trees and make a small supply of syrup, often poured into small bottles and given as gifts. The lady who owned our house from 1950 or so through about 1980 tapped our maples and used the old woodstove still in our kitchen to boil down the sap. We have her records of yields. It takes about 40 units of sap to yield a single unit of syrup, so her ultimate production was modest.

[We’re pretty sure that woodstove has been in the kitchen since the first decade of the last century. It was certainly there by the ’20s. The mother of a old friend lived in the house then, and she remembers it.]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Music and life

Rural Doctoring goes delirious.



PBJ on wheat with a nice Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Of course, the ultimate taste treat is a mouthful of potato chips and M&M's.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Larry’s existential moment

The “croc-ese”-speaking loser from the strip Pearls Before Swine is barely dipping a toe into middle age, so he lags far behind my 60+ years of fecklessness. But he’s already been helped to the same realization I live with. (Click on the strip if it isn’t all visible.)

Pearls Before Swine

Saturday, February 14, 2009

For my funny Valentine

How can I tell you what is in my heart?
How can I measure each and every part?
How can I tell you how much I love you?
How can I measure just how much I do?

How much do I love you?
I’ll tell you no lie.
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

How many times a day do I think of you?
How many roses are sprinkled with dew?

How far would I travel
To be where you are?
How far is the journey
From here to a star?

And if I ever lost you
How much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

—Irving Berlin, “How Deep is the Ocean.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

May I help you off with your bib?

I’ve just been enjoying an elegant luncheon with Spike the Nazgûl.

She savored a presentation of céréale de riz, while I dined on lait et légumes Old Faithful, sprayed with perfect regularity by the guest of honor herself. She also offered short, highly personal musical stylings reminiscent of the best of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and physical sketches interpreting, in her own thoughtful way, the ground-breaking work of The Three Stooges.

There was, of course, a certain amount of clean-up.

A wonderful time was had by all.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

You’re reading this on a screen

Yesterday I was checking out Amazon’s announcement of the Kindle 2. Over a decade ago, I investigated electronic publication and publication on demand for a small operation that might have benefited from them, but the technology then available wasn’t ready.

Nowadays, it is. There hasn’t been a mass-market breakthrough, partly because of the bizarre nature of the publishing business, but within that business, thousands of editorial types use Kindles or Sony Readers to do their jobs. These devices reduce the editorial schlep of manuscripts and books to a simple insertion of light device into small bag.

Somewhere in my reading yesterday, I was referred to this long, hilarious information- and opinion-packed article by John Siracusa, who, among other things, takes this jolly view of the march of technology: “To put it bluntly, people die. Indeed, death is arguably the single most important driver for all human progress...Did you ride a horse to work today? I didn’t. I’m sure plenty of people swore they would never ride in or operate a ‘horseless carriage’—and they never did! And then they died.”

Siracusa believes that Apple is the obvious eventual owner of the e-Book universe, but that Steve Jobs, et al. consider it too small a market for them to bother with. He thinks that the e-Book reader of the near future is, in fact, the iPhone, and he advocates using it with good, available reader software like eReader or Stanza to get a taste of the future. But Apple refuses to draw all the threads together, and Syracusa says that most of what’s happening with what could be a great platform is “the e-book equivalent of a dog humping a tree. I admire the enthusiasm, but it is perhaps not the most productive course of action.”

It’s a terrific, funny, and possibly important article (great links, too). Well worth a read, even if you aren’t remotely interested in reading on an electronic device (which, of course, you’re doing right now). When you’re finished, if you’re so inclined, you can go for a ride on your horse. Or let your dog out.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Twisted again

Sunday night supper—homemade lentil soup with decent bread, a pretty good Vermont cheddar, and some sliced apple—would probably have been best with a nice red wine, but I’m on a twist-off roll, and a bottle of Goats Do Roam White came into the house the other day. This is the best known South African label in the U.S., which isn’t saying all that much. We’re beginning to know Antipodean and South American wines quite well, but R.S.A. stuff not so much. I didn’t even know Goats Do Roam offered a white.

It doesn’t list grape varietal on the bottle, but some Googling reveals that it’s 64% Viognier, 18% Crouchen Blanc, 13% Chenin Blanc, 4% Pinot Gris and 1% Muscat. Crouchen Blanc is a new one on me, but I learned on a visit a couple of years ago that what I don’t know about South African grapes and wines rivals what I don’t know about quantum mechanics. I do know, though, that this bottle, with its twist-off cap and sub-$10 price tag, was simple, crisp...and went fine with lentil soup.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

(un)Screw that

I had something unusual happen to me last week: I tried and failed to open a bottle of wine. I don’t mean that a bad cork crumbled or a soft one pushed through into the bottle. I mean I couldn’t muscle the cork out. I was in New Hampshire, using the (quite good) corkscrew in my Swiss Army Knife, and the “cork” was one of those micro-foam ones, neither true cork nor that solid plastic type. When it resisted pulls of increasing strength, I tried every contortion I could think of. I applied both hands, I had H try to hold the bottle, I strained and jerked and sweated and, of course, swore. Nothing. Fortunately, we had another bottle in the cupboard—an Australian Sauvignon Blanc twist-off no less—so with the addition of a little ice (we’re such a déclassé pair) we were set.

At home for the last few years, I’ve been using a simple but wonderful double-lever corkscrew, similar to this, given to me by R. Elegant engineering, sturdy, essentially fail-safe (and with a really good foil knife). So I brought the offending bottle south over last weekend, applied the power of the lever...and the cork slid so silkily out I probably could have gotten it with my fingernails. What’s with that? I settled that bottle’s hash by consuming the wine (a Rueda, but not our usual Las Brisas) with aggressive haste.

Frustration, humiliation, and mystification aside, I’m a big fan of twist-off wine bottles. Many of the great New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs come with screw tops, and studies have shown they are at least as effective as corks at keeping the wine from going off. A tip of the hat to the Kiwis for their characteristic courageous pragmatism. Wake me when the French come around.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Césaria Évora

A decade or so ago, we were lucky enough to find ourselves on a beautiful Alden sloop in the British Virgin Islands. Our second evening, we anchored in a secluded shallow bay, and as the dark came down after dinner and the drinks were being handed around, the captain put on a CD. What a wonderful place to be introduced to this wonderful voice and this plaintive song.

Césaria Évora is Cape Verdean, and she sings in Kriolu, the language of her islands. This song, and many of the others she sings, are called morna, songs of sadness and longing. “Sodade” means something like a combination of melancholy, nostalgic, and homesick. It is apparently a characteristic of Cape Verdeans, who come from a home most of them leave.

On line, I found this approximate translation of Sodade’s words:
Who showed you this way?
This way to São Tomé?

I miss my home,
my home of São Nicolau

If you write to me
I will write to you.
If you forget me
I will forget you...
until the day
of your return.
Here’s a other great Évora favorite, Xandinha:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A few days late...

Happy 6th-month birthday, sweet B!

And many...





The sign’s not edible.


(Gentle grapplings and enthusiastic kissings.)

Sunday morning

Say that, in the joy of celebration and the expectation of a nice sleep-in the following morning, you’d had perhaps a sip too much to drink on Saturday evening.

Say that, waking up parched and groggy at 7 AM, you took inordinate pleasure in a drink of water and the expectation of a long Sunday morning’s snooze.

Say that, at 8 AM, the roofers who had stacked squares of shingles in your driveway months before, arrived and announced themselves by shaking the house with a series of thuds, slams, and crashes, before building to a scraping, ripping crescendo as they demolished the existing roof just over what had been your gently pillowed head.

Say that, brutally robbed of healing sleep and feeling deeply put-upon, you staggered downstairs in not the best possible frame of mind, only to be reminded that, since some not entirely satisfactory early-winter work on the boiler and thermostats, the kitchen is no longer toasty, but frosty in the morning.

Say that you were both a weak enough character and sufficiently self-aware to know that you were about to be cranky and grumbly enough to make others as miserable as you were.

Then say that you spotted your six-month-old granddaughter playing on the rug with a measuring spoon. And say that when she saw you her face lit up and broke into a wide and beautiful grin.

Well, I won’t say that you’d turn into Cary Grant, but I bet you’d take on an aspect nearly human.