Monthly Archives: January 2011

you’re winsome, you lose some


A propos of a conversation overheard at the sporting goods store today, our code word question is this: What body part – or part of your body – used to be much better than it is today? And conversely, what is now much more awesome?

makin’ things make sense since 2002


Things have gotten a little silly around here, and I’d like to call for a unilateral disarmament. The following solutions will only work if everyone agrees to them, so let’s all get on the same page, got it? Here’s my Unilateral Disarmament List of 7 Things We Ought to All Agree On:

1. Rock Shows – We’re up on stage playing a gig, and the entire band is wearing earplugs. The sound guy is wearing earplugs, the bartenders are wearing earplugs, and I look down into the audience, and the people up front are wearing earplugs too.


emotin’ all over!!!

Can we cut the charade, please? Let’s all agree to unilaterally lower all band concerts by thirty decibels. Let’s all take our earplugs out, the bands promise not to give you tinnitus, and let’s all go home happy, yes?



2. DVD Loading – Rarely does technology take you backwards, but DVD and Blu-Ray discs have done precisely that by forcing you to watch all the FBI warnings and piracy crap we used to fast-forward through on the VCR. Not only that, but the new discs don’t even allow the MENU button to work until you watch an endless array of trailers and other ads that have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MOVIE.

Let’s disarm: let us fast-forward through the warnings and give us the MENU option, and we will probably watch the trailers anyway because it’s our choice. Movie lovers respond to moronic behavioral constriction with illegal downloading, y’know.



3. Letters Mean Things. What is wrong with this picture?


I’ll tell you what – you have given the butter a grade that does not exist. Exactly how much better is AA than A? And is there an AAA? Can we please all agree to go back to a grading system that means something FOR ALL FOOD?

I know what “A” means normally: “just fine, and you should consume it.” I know what “B” means as well: “it’s probably just fine”. If it works for high school quizzes and the sanitation grades for restaurants, why can’t it work for everything else?



4. Clothing Sizes – Many of you huskier dudes have noticed something of late: you are able to fit into 34 or 36 waist-size pants. I’m told the same has happened in women’s dress sizes; a friend who had been a 10 is now fitting into the occasional 6.

Psychologically, I have to say “well done”. You clothing manufacturers have convinced us that we’re doing far better than we thought. But ultimately, this game has no shelf life, and it’s getting woefully inaccurate. The tailor at my sister’s wedding said that a men’s 41-inch waist is called a “36-inch waist”. Where’s the science?

While we’re at it… Nike, can you just go ahead and make your shoes a half-size larger so we don’t have to get frustrated every time we forget your idiosyncrasies? Oh, and ice skate shoe companies? Why do I wear a 13 in all shoes, but an 11 ice skate?



5. English Words – Yes, pretty much everyone uses the word “literally” wrong and says “I could care less” and “irregardless”. People sell “cookie’s” and “hot dog’s” and lean painfully on conversation filler words like “y’know”, “um” and “like”. I, myself, get “arcane” and “archaic” mixed up all the time, and in fact, have an error in this very sentence.

But we should absolutely disarm this line of opprobrium, mostly because complaining about it is super goddamn boring, and besides – how else can you feel superior if your fellow Americans don’t give themselves away?




6. PZEV – Oh come on… Partial Zero-Emission Vehicles? Isn’t that like saying “free with purchase”? And “Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicles” sounds like something a 3rd-grade boy made up for comics class. Can’t they just follow our butter lead and have a grade? A = Awesome, F = Fucking Up Our Environment.



7. Sports Drugs – Look, just make steroids and hormones legal, and in turn, we agree to give a shit about baseball again. It’s obvious they can’t test for everything, and the kabuki theater we get in the meantime is embarrassing. The reason every kid in Brooklyn loved the Dodgers in the ’40s was because they thought they could be one of them someday. Now that dream is shattered, and there’s nothing left but lies and dwindling ticket sales.

As for the NFL, we want our thick-necked freakshows as thick and freaky as possible, so don’t even worry about testing them. But all you other sports – and I’m looking at you too, bike racing – just drop all the pretense and show us your needles.

Or you could all agree to give up the juice, and in return, us sports fans would offer amnesty and judgment-free forgiveness. We would be okay with asterisking the Steroid Era (the way we do the Dead Ball Era) and we’d start anew. Attendance would skyrocket, and kids could have their heroes back. That’s a unilateral disarmament worth daydreaming about.


mercedes rule and a rented lear


After much deliberation, option-weighing and advice, we have decided to move. We’re only going down the beach about six blocks, but as most of you know, even moving your entire existence fifteen feet to the left is a massive uprooting, and this place has been pretty awesome to us.

At first, we were thinking about Josie’s advice to rearrange and purge, but for me, it ultimately came down to something very arbitrary and simple. When we got here in 2006, it was so sunny and hot we had to find refuge under the tiny lemon trees standing in the yard. With each passing year, however, I was noticing the front yard being constantly moist, with the grass getting sickly. Our tomato output looked something like this:

2007: 8 Brandywines, 9 beefsteaks

2008: 2 Brandywines, 2 yellow tomatoes

2009: 1 Brandywine, 1 zebra, all others not fruiting

2010: tomato plants staying green but not fruiting, except for about 9 Sun Golds the size of marbles

When Lucy was one, I posted this picture:


…and now we haven’t had any oranges in two years. Inside, the house has gotten darker and colder, even on days with full sun. Mold starting growing on the birdfeeders. After trying vaguely time-lapse pictures like this in July…


8am, 10am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm

…I realized the culprit. It’s name is the Monterey Cypress:


…and the guy across the street has about eight of them. When we moved in, they were only 15 feet high, but now they are about FIFTY feet high. By August, the yard was in shade by 1pm, and by November, most of our house was plunged into daytime blackness.

I called him and asked him about trimming and “topping” – and he was very nice about it – but those particular trees are native to a tiny, ancient forest in Northern California and are now worth about $60,000. And if you “top” them, they don’t survive.

I could have invited a horticulturist or an arborist over for solutions, or made myself a terrific nuisance, but you know what? We need more space, and we’ve been here five years. Tessa wanted a fresh start in a sunny, airy, beautiful craftsman, and we found one close by to rent.

What’s more boring than real estate stories? Well, hearing about somebody’s nighttime dreams, for starts. Also cricket scores, shopping for linens, being sick, and Wisconsin basketball. But it’s still pretty boring, except for this: it’s not always bad to offer a little surrender when the change can do you good. On rare occasions, it’s okay to uproot a little bit so a family of trees don’t have to.

if you could make a figure eight


I skate on a black lake, the ice clear as glass. No matter what moves I make, the blades never carve any shapes, just a tiny wake that freezes clear as soon as I’m past. At any time, I can look down and see the darkness, the occasional creature, amorphous and opalescent, sluicing through the water below.

At times the ice gets very thin, but I’m not in control of my direction, and there’s no safe place to stop. I figure there’s less mass in movement, and try my best to speed up, but I know I’m just inches from plunging in.

At times like these, I take my pills, I try to exercise, I walk in the sun without squinting. I do everything I can to let the ice freeze over, let it freeze into thick sheets so impenetrable I can never fall through. I daydream of houses built on the frozen lake, ice packed hundreds of feet deep like the arctic shelf, so deep I never think about it.

I have fallen through, and it was terrible. Perhaps four times, maybe five. It’s not something I ever want to experience again, and it has made me cautious, gun shy, not as gregarious as I once was, when I drank frozen drinks and didn’t care about the floor.

I have come to understand I have invisible partners skating alongside me, and while we never touch each other, we’re comforted knowing the other is there. They sing songs in their key, and I sing mine, and every few measures, their outlines are faintly visible as harmony.

I skate on a black lake, the ice clear as a mirror, and know I never really had a choice. I’ve got a good map and good leather, but I can’t slow down or else the weight will crack my defenses. It’s okay to keep going. I know who I am, and I live on a lake.

pulling a geographic


A propos of absolutely something, how long have you been in your current house or apartment? And if you want to move, why?

UPDATE (tues)…

You guys are actually helping us – or me, really – formulate a good decision…

dexy’s midwinter runners


Here’s the entry where I tell you about the various insane do-it-yourself projects I’ve been working on. Of course, you remember such classics as Weirdest Banister Ever Built, or Home Disco Roller Skating Rink or Barn Deck With Offset Umbrella or perhaps Stables Turned Into Dance Studio, but this winter’s projects at the farm took a turn for the arctic.

The Zambiani – Tessa and Lucy have been ice skating a lot lately, and when the yard turned into its usual slake of frozen tundra, it was well-used:


However, this brings up the problem suffered at all rinks: the crappy edges and chewed-up ice from all the spins, stops and landings. The usual solution is a Zamboni, that huge tractor-like machine that smears the ice back into a glistening sheen, but what of the backyard half-Lutz enthusiast?

Enter the Zambiani™. Carelessly scrambled together yet surprisingly effective, it’s a T-section of PVC pipe glued together. The top has a brass connector for the garden hose (with a control valve) and the bottom of the “T” has several holes for the water to spurt out. Behind the PVC pipe, a nylon rope drags a heavy piece of steel pipe.



Around sunset, you hook the garden hose to the Zambiani™ at top. Then slowly open the valve until you get the right pressure, and water starts to spurt from the holes at the bottom. Begin walking over the ice, like you were mowing the yard, dragging the contraption behind you. The steel pipe flattens out the water as you walk – and the garden-hose water melts the top layer of ice. Within an hour, the whole thing refreezes into a gorgeous shiny surface for the next day’s skating.

The Homemade Ping-Pong Table – We don’t have the room for a standalone table tennis set-up, so we’ve always been at the mercy of that cheap shit you can set on top of a pool table. These “converter” ping-pong tops are frequently too small, and even the best ones start to warp downwards at all four edges, making it even more depressing. I thought I could do better.

As you might know, a regulation table tennis board is 9 feet by 5 feet… in other words, you can’t buy a single piece of wood that big unless you special-order it. So I looked at all the tongue-in-groove Ponderosa pine flooring I had left over, and cut it exactly to specifications. Then I nailed it to three sheets of plywood in weird formations (to increase strength) and framed the bottom with metal brackets.


I was going to paint it regulation green, but then saw a quart of tung oil on the shelf and thought “who else on earth has a stained wood ping-pong table?” Nobody, that’s who, and as soon as it was dry, I knew why: you can’t see the white ball against it. So I found a bunch of colored balls on Amazon (hanging up at right), and the problem was solved.

The Stuppach Madonna – I include this, mostly because I loved working on it. Tessa and I have always had an affinity for the medieval painter Grünewald – whenever we’d peruse an art book, we’d always stop on pages devoted to him. He’s kind of bizarre, like an ancient Chagall, painting these green-skinned Jesuses to make patients at the leprosy ward feel better. He always seemed to have his own muse, like a lo-fi indie rocker, German Renaissance-style.

I found a site that made beautiful classic art print reproductions on stretched canvas, and one of Grünewald’s was there: the Stuppach Madonna, a deliriously happy work that reminded me of Tessa and Lucy (in fact, Lucy said the same thing when she saw it). They shipped it without a frame, because I wanted to make something intense to put around it, something with the same ornate quality as the paintings we’d seen at the Uffizi.

It took most of Christmas Eve Eve to figure it out (with help from all of my brothers) but I found some bizarre moulding along with end caps usually meant for fireplace mantels, fastened it all together, and coated it with a metallic gold spray.


The end result? Kind of awesome. Also kind of odd, I mean, we’re not what you call a religious family by any stretch, and the painting is ostentatious and wild, not a natural fit for any room in particular. But I stand by it: sometimes you have a strong feeling and you have to act on it. The painting hung on our living room door for weeks, still waiting for the right spot, and I would catch people staring at it for minutes at a time. Me too.

butter in the middle and on top, please


Yesterday’s comments have proven so resourcefully terrific that real-life lurkers are telling me they’re using the list for reals, so THANK YOU for the suggestions. If you don’t mind me taxing your hive-cerebellum again, can we do the same thing for movies?

This is probably a more well-documented problem, best encapsulated in jp’s links (lists entitled “Non-Boring G-Rated Movies” and “You Can Look at the Screen Again, Honey”). My criterion is the same for these, so I’ll give you a few that she has loved:

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl – Disregard the corporate tie-in, because this is a simple, engaging, fun drama set in the Depression about a plucky girl makin’ it work. Lots of “hoboes” and Stanley Tucci.

Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue – the rare third installment of a franchise that is better than the first two, although all three are kind of awesome. Total Disney computer animation, but fun as hell, and this one has the added benefit of a father-daughter relationship that gets me every time.

Nanny McPhee Returns – Emma Thompson, I hope you never stop making these.

Babe – Probably her favorite movie. And perhaps the best line ever: “That’ll do, pig.”

• “Ponyo” and “Totoro” are the fever dreams we share.

• classics she has loved: “Mary Poppins”, “Singin’ in the Rain”, parts of “Meet Me in St. Louis”, “The Muppets Take Manhattan”

So I leave it to you, fair readers, are there more such movies at the nexus of “not terribly scary”, “non-violent”, “imagination-inspiring”, “age-appropriate” and “guaranteed not to make parents drool with fatigue”?


Tinker Bell is okay, but I’m partial to her pal Silvermist

o backpack, o map, where hast thou led me


Those without kids or not majoring in child development please avert your eyes, because I’ve got a question for the collective parenting hive. We’re at a weird period in Lucy’s media digestion: catering for a five-year-old, we’re a little lost between TV shows that are too young and unchallenging, and the kind of batshit micro-edited craziness inhabited by the Spongebob and Phineas & Ferb world.

As a disclaimer, let me say that no TV is allowed in our house during daytime hours, and only very rarely on weekday nights, when she and I will watch something like Planet Earth or Great Migrations. On weekends, she gets a few videos of her choosing, and when we travel, the plane/car ride turns into an iPad videofest, which we curate pretty carefully.

She knows how to read (albeit slowly) and string words together, which makes shows like the new Electric Company perfect, but there aren’t many of those episodes out there. She totally digs Johnny and the Sprites for the Broadway-style songs and fairies; she grooves on the Imagination Movers and absolutely feasts on the documentary-style Kids Adventures from the Smithsonian Channel and Dino Dan.

But there’s a weird spot that seems to be missing from entertainment – the shows for 5-7 year-olds who just can’t handle screaming, relentless non sequiturs or some animated character getting kicked in the balls. Unless, of course, there’s something huge I’m missing. I’ll try to make a list showing where she’s at:

• liked Dora well enough, now way too old for it

• loved Olivia, but now seen every episode multiple times

• moved past Word World

• likes Jack’s Big Music Show, but it’s also a little young for her

• went through a big Sid the Science Kid phase last year and LOVED the research aspect of it, but the repetition and never-changing format made me insane (and eventually made her crazy too)

• loved the ballet, but thought Angelina Ballerina was kind of a whiner

• can still rock a good Backyardigans and chow down a Super Why, but not sure how much longer.

She will gladly watch all these shows again; she’ll even sit through something that drives me batshit fuckin’ insane like “Caillou”. She is in no hurry to grow up, and is quite vocal about things above her pay grade (at the “Toy Story 3” screening, she yelled “how can you take a KID to this???”). Scared but entranced by narrative, and utterly transfixed by science/history/zoology, I put it to you, my wise friends… what shows do you recommend?


I confess, sometimes I miss the days of constant Pingu

ophiuchus just rolls off the tongue, don’t it


Hold on, now. Why is the story about how your Zodiac sign is actually a month off suddenly all over the news and internet? I thought it was vaguely common knowledge that the Zodiac was developed in Babylonian times, and the stars have shifted since then. The inciting article doesn’t even call the phenomenon by its real name: the “precession” of the Earth on its axis (although you can call it a “wobble” if you want, freshman!).

Not to scoop everybody or anything, but I wrote a “Wednesday’s Child” column on this sometime in 1989, and then went on to say that the instrument you played in school was a much better predictor of your basic nature than astrology. So I did a horoscope for you based on the peculiarities of having learned violin, or piano, or flute, trumpet, cello, etc…

Where was I? Oh yeah, I want credit! No wait, that sounds too needy. What am I trying to say? Now I’m completely confused.

take solstice in your loved ones


What? You say you don’t want to hear my blood-churning, spittle-spraying pinko exhortations to hate hate hate? Okay, fine, then you’re getting…


First up, Lucy hangs with Jack Bowen at the Nutcracker. She had the outfit picked out for weeks beforehand, and god knows she loves visiting the world’s great cities with Jack. By the way, the Arabian Dance was even better than last year:




As I’ve oft bored my readership, I pick a random skill set to learn each year, some “talent” or craft with which I have no previous experience. 2010 was “ice skating”, which coincided with Tessa resurgence in the sport, and Lucy’s lessons. So we brought our skates 3,000 miles to the famous rink at Rockefeller Center, but it was 10 degrees, and the line was an hour and a half long:




Not to be defeated, I planned to make a backyard ice rink up at the farm, since water always floods our yard and freezes anyway. To our astonishment, nature had taken care of it, leaving a beautiful little rink for the ladies:




My pregonaut sister Michelle and I pondered the Christmas tree farm:




…while Tessa wrapped packages courtesy of Michelle’s new business (Lily standing guard, as usual):




I like my Waffle House hash browns scattered, smothered and covered, but I like my family studying, dreaming, mothering, tickling and pontificating (in that order):




Our staircase is running out of room, wonderfully, thanks to little sweetieboots like Marlena, in Tessa’s arms:




I tried to make sure… *ahem*, I mean Santa tried to make sure everyone was surprised with a Pillow Pet, which is a product I confess to liking far out of measure:




Tessa got these Xmas-themed jammies a few years ago, and they are pretty comfortable. Even the dog has one, which is not something I condone AT ALL, mind you:




The storm that hit after Christmas was theatrical, to say the very least. Parts of the farm were under 6-foot snow drifts, others were passable by Lucy, with Lily following her tracks like a coal cart in a mine:




Our annual Arcticular party for New Year’s Eve turned the barn into the parlor game hootenanny it was always meant to be (note GFWD’s Carolina pool table light):




Seth, Ehren, Tammy and Salem prepare to taste a scotch as old as Salem and I are. This 43-year-old Glenfarclas was absolutely wonderful, though it is getting very hard (and expensive) to find whiskies aged like us:




And there’s always the quiet times when you can introduce your daughter to the Rankin-Bass claymation Christmas specials:




Anyway, from all of us to all of you, we hope your winter is going wonderfully!