Monday, September 30, 2013

Got milk?

Reading my fave mag mental_floss I come upon this fascinating factoid: President William Howard Taft had a pet cow. Her name was Pauline Wayne. She lived on the White House lawn and provided the household’s milk.

Not that remarkable for 1909, I suppose. It wasn't in 1945, either. That’s when we had Bessie in the backyard of the Methodist parsonage in Zionsville, Indiana.

Those were the days when congregations were hard pressed to support themselves, let alone pay a preacher. To supplement what they couldn't drop in the offering plate, it was common to hold “Pound Parties” at which each family would donate a pound of something, such as flour, butter, eggs, etc. Mother used to recall with tears in her eyes the sacrificial way their parishioners would surprise them with a good pounding.

But the most wonderful gift was Bessie, the gentle fawn-colored Guernsey who came to live with us. Daddy, having been raised on a farm, had no problems with her care. She was such a marvelous producer that Mother had ample surplus to churn into butter and culture into cottage cheese, which she sold to the community.

But then came the day when Daddy was at an out-of-town conference come milkin’ time. And Mother, being city bred, had no idea what to do. She did know that poor Bessie was bawling with an aching udder and Mother, who had nursed both us girls, was in full sympathy. It didn't take her long to give in to my older sister, 5 at the time, who was tugging on her apron insisting she knew how to milk Bessie.

And she did. She looked so small perched on that 3-legged milking stool, head pressed against the warm flank, her pudgy fingers precisely pulling, squeezing, and lifting at the teats. I can still see those long, dark brown finger curls hanging down her back over a red-checked pinafore, and hear the milk hitting the pail in thin but strong intermittent streams. It’s one of my most vivid toddlerhood memories.

I recall that Bessie held still for her until she grew comfortable enough to take a step toward her feed. Mom and I scrambled to scoot Sarah, pail and stool to the new position.

Wow – it’s been ages since I thought about that. Thanks, President Taft, for the memories…

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sunday, September 29, is National Coffee Day!

Check for special deals at your favorite fill-up

Starbucks is focusing on Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. They’re offering a free taste of their house blend, and if you buy a $13.95 bag of it you’ll get a free commemorative tasting cup. Seriously? At their prices?? Knock it to half-price on the beans and throw in a logo mug and I’m in.

Krispy Kreme will pour you a free 12-oz. cup on the 29th. It’s an absolute given that you’ll buy their incomparable donuts to go with it.

Dunkin’ Donuts also offers a freebie but it’s complicated. First you have to show the National Coffee Day page on the “My Offers” tab of the chain’s mobile app for iPhone and Android. Did you even follow that?

Peet’s Coffee & Tea will give away a small Maple Latte on Sunday with the purchase of any baked good or Simply Oatmeal product.

IKEA is expanding the holiday to include National Cinnamon Bun Day on October 4. On those days you get a free cinnamon bun with the purchase of any coffee or travel mug.

That’s what I found on the national chains, but I bet your local faves are celebrating, too. Google ‘em and see.

Hey – don’t scoff at the idea of a National Coffee Day. As the Consumerist points out, it’s one of the few holidays that (A) doesn't require a greeting card, a party, or decorations, and (B) results in free coffee for people willing to seek it out.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Check this out:

It’s a car! It’s a plane! It’s-it’s-it’s a CAR-PLANE!

Yes, Mr. Jetson, your flying car is ready. Terrafugia, a company formed by MIT grad students, has finally gone and done it.

On AOL News this morning I found this feature article by Translogic. And if you’re a fly-freak like I am, you’ll wait out the stupid ad that plays before the good stuff begins. The interview video with Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich explains how the engine and transmission switch from drive to fly mode, how the wings lock in place and fold down again to fit into a single car garage, and how it runs on premium unleaded instead of aviation fuel.

It has all the safety features of a land-bound car and more than your average private single-engine plane. It’s FAA approved. But of course it’s way too expensive. Like $279,000 and change. That’s actually less than the best-selling Cessna 172, although a comment posted on the page points out that one could fly a conventional plane and rent a car many times over for less. True (sigh). But that’s not nearly as exciting.

I know, I know. They had the auto-gyro back in the 60s and numerous fly/float/submarine/drive vehicles by James Bond’s Q. And you may remember a video I posted some time back about a flying lawn mower created by retired Boeing engineers with too much time on their hands. None of these came into mainstream usage. And the Terrafugia Transition probably won’t, either. But watch these videos and tell me you don’t want one!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy Autumn Equinox!

Unabashedly pirated from my friend Jahnavi Foster’s Facebook page

Jahnavi Foster
In turn, Jahnavi copped her info from the livescience site; an article entitled “Autumn Equinox: 5 Odd Facts about Fall.”  And obviously I’m a bit late with it since said equinox occurred yesterday (9/23/2013) at 4:44 p.m. EDT – when the sun was directly in line with Earth’s celestial equator. It’s the point at which day and night is almost exactly the same length, 12 hours light, 12 hours dark. (It will happen again at the spring equinox. This year that’ll be March 20.)

5 signs of the fall phenomenon:

1.  Besides the fantastic foliage displays (unbearably missing down here on the Texas Gulf Coast!) the aurora borealis, or northern lights, ramp up their show due to the doubled frequency of geomagnetic storms during the season.

2. Animals respond to light changes by squirreling away winter provender and/or pigging out as prep for hibernation. The article took pains to mention that the testes of the male Siberian hamster swells to 17x normal size. Presumably he should call his doctor if the condition lasts more than 5 hours.

3. In autumn the full moon is called Harvest Moon because of the pre-electrical, pre-John Deere days when farmers harvested 24/7 to keep up with crops all ripening at once.

4. This one’s a sad reminder that fall foliage, triggered by chilling temps, will fade due to global warming.

5. Why is the equinox a different date each year? The Gregorian calendar doesn't square up with the position of Earth in its solar orbit. We should’ve stuck with the Aztec’s.

So enjoy your trees, folks. And please send me some pictures!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

You've Gotta Be Kidding!

September the 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day

It's true. I looked it up.

It was on Facebook this morning - one of my cousins posted "Avast, me hearties! It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day!" Wha-a-a-t? But indeed it is, as I confirmed on Holiday Insights, a site I used to use when writing a This Day in History feature for an agency blog.

Swiped - er, pirated - from the site:

Origin of International Talk Like a Pirate Day:
John Baur and Mark Summers created the concept of International Talk Like a Pirate Day on June 6, 1995. While playing racquetball, they began to talk to each other in Pirate-speak". After leaving the court, they decided that there was a need to create this day. After much thought, Mark Summers selected September 19th as the date. This was his wife's birthday. So, he thought it would be an easy date to remember. And so, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was born. 

And you can get into the spirit of things even more by taking this Pirate Personality test:

And there's more. The recipe of the day is Ginger Pumpkin Dessert, and the flower is Mums. Sigh.

Arrrrr. Have a nice day, me mateys! Arrrrr.

The Flying Dutchman ghost ship

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bob Newhart got me through the 70s

And he’s just NOW getting an Emmy??

Ah, the button-down mind of Bob Newhart. Give the man a stool on an empty stage with only a phone for a prop and he’ll have you howling over the absurdities of everyday life. He was smart, low-key, and cleanly funny. Both his long-running weeklies, The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart were refreshing changes from the run-of-the-mill silliness that still plagues sit-coms today. While most plotlines revolve around misunderstandings that lead to layers of lies, Bob kept it real. He never said a lot. Just his blank-faced reactions said it all.

A pleasing departure from the norm was his dramatic role in The Librarian, which marked a turn-about for SNL comedian Jane Curtain as well. I’ve also caught him being serious in such unlikely places as NCIS and ER.

But that spot on The Big Bang Theory? Priceless. I mean, isn’t that the way we all react to the insufferable Sheldon and the sweet but science-challenged Penny?

Maybe it’s because Bob Newhart is so understated. But given his consistent popularity, ya gotta ask: What the heck took so long? He deserved that Emmy decades ago!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Midnight Train to Georgia do you get from Farrah Fawcett to Gladys Knight?

Remember that game called “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon?”  You know. Pick any Hollywood celeb and connect him/her to Kevin Bacon in six steps. Well, I bet you would never have tried to connect Farrah Fawcett to Gladys Knight. But Marc Myers, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, did.

In the Music section of the August 9, 2013 issue, Myers traces it in his article, “How the Midnight Train Got to Georgia.”

First we have to travel back to 1970. Okay, here’s how it starts:

1.      Songwriter Jim Weatherly calls a former football buddy
2.      Lee Majors, who’s just started dating
3.      Farrah Fawcett. And Farrah answers. “Sorry, Lee’s not home. I’m just packing to take a midnight plane to Houston.” Wow! What a great idea for a song! Weatherly grabs a guitar and writes “Midnight Plane to Houston” in 45 minutes.
4.      In 1972 Cissy Houston records it with a few changes. It’s no longer a country ballad, but more of a country-gospel thing. And the title? “My people are from Georgia and we don’t take planes to Houston or anywhere else. Gotta be a train.”
5.      Gladys Knight hears Cissy’s version and loves it, but wants a few changes. “I wanted an Al Green thing, you know, something moody with a little ride to it.” Add the Pips, and the rest is history.

 Okay, so it’s only 5 steps. But hey – you’ve just been from L.A. to Memphis to Atlanta to New Jersey to Detroit and back to New Jersey. One heck of a train ride.
From "The Wall Street Journal" Friday, August 9, 2013 D5

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Big Announcement for My Readers

AMMANON Has Found an Agent!

Of course, there's still no way of knowing how quickly things will move from here. I'm sure the process of pitching to publishers is no less arduous for an agent as it was for me pitching to agents. And, as I've often lamented, publishing is an extremely slow-moving industry. But by golly it finally happened! At least, after all these years, I'm on my way.

There have been other changes, too. Rewrites; improvements. The criticisms of rejecting agents, (and these were legion, though only about 3 made comments, 5 sent form letters, the rest simply ignored) the characters didn't immediately engage the reader. Agreed. A sticky plot point came up at a book club meeting to which I was invited. I agreed and threw it out. Also, my style has matured considerably over the following books of the series. And no doubt the publisher's editor will do some tweaking, too. So it will be a much finer product when it finally reappears on the market.

From the bottom of my heart I thank all of you who have hung in there with me. It was your encouragement and enthusiasm that pulled me through all the obstacles, disappointments and frustrations. I love you all.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Casual Vacancy

J. K. Rowling's big novel about a small town 

Once more Rowling’s keen insights and well-explored characters produce a stirring and absorbing read. But first, you are wondering, what the heck is a "casual vacancy?" Glad you asked. A direct quote, printed at the start of Part One:

6.11 A casual vacancy is deemed to have occurred:
             (a)  when a local councillor fails to make his declaration of
                  acceptance of office within the proper time; or
             (b)  when his notice of resignation is received; or
             (c)   on the day of his death…
(Charles Arnold-Baker, Local Council Administration, Seventh Edition)

And by the by, People, the “councillor” to which Spell-Check objects is the fault of Mr. Arnold-Baker, not me!
J. K. Rowling

So now you know, and we’re all on the same page.

Pagford is a small, picturesque town with proper, traditional values. But as we all know, proper, traditional folk are rarely as they seem. So when Councilman Barry Fairbrother (yes, Rowling still has her penchant for descriptive names) dies unexpectedly, his vacant seat triggers an immediate polarization of the community. Rich are at war with the poor. Wildly profane teenagers are at war with their parents. Wives vs. husbands; teachers vs. students, and on and on. It’s clear it will all culminate in tragedy, but it happens horribly and in a most unexpected way. It’s also clear that while kids run rampant through its pages, this is a novel for adults. Just so you know.

The blurb on the back cover says: “blackly comic, thought-provoking, and constantly surprising.” It is that.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sarah’s Garden

A winemaker’s tribute to his groundskeeper of 27 years
Aerial view of Wayfarer Vineyard on a Sonoma mountainside
Sarah's cabin in spring
Recently I received a call from Jayson Pahlmeyer, premium winemaker and owner of the Wayfarer Vineyard where my sister lived and worked for 27 years. It plunged me back into a deep well of memories. Again I saw the spectacular mountain panoramas from her porch, smelled the cedar, bay, rosemary, pine, and lemon thyme on the air, watched jack rabbits leap and hawks soar. But by now the feeling is more joy than grief.

Jayson’s call was a request for pictures from Sis’s long tenure there. He owns many other vinyards, mostly in the Napa Valley, but this fall, for the first time, he will be bottling wine from Sarah’s Sonoma home under the Wayfarer label. And one particular blend will be called “Sarah’s Garden.”

Of course, being blown away by this magnificent gesture honoring my adored big sis, I happily spent the next few days sorting through box after box of photos – most of them brought back from her cabin.

I dearly miss her earthy wisdom and spiritual understanding; her courage in the face of cancer. It is so gratifying to have Sarah recognized in such a meaningful and appropriate way.
For over a year after the malignancy was discovered, Sarah doggedly remained on her beloved mountain and on the job. She died January 4, 2013 in Santa Rosa shortly after surgery. And I’m so grateful I was there.