Category Archives: blather

A Moment of Perfect Wind

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The wind has been howling around here lately, just howling, which has made for some trying bike rides. Last week happened to be a week when I had to bike commute all week, and so while the breeze was pleasant for its sweat-wicking qualities, it was a beast to fight on some of the rides home. And then I had a charity ride through the hills of beautiful northern Chester County, mostly in the same hills I normally ride anyway, but I went out on Friday just to get a few more hilly miles in the legs before Sunday’s event, and the wind was just a whirling beast that never seemed to give me a push. Thought for sure it would have settled down some by yesterday morning, but when we lined up for the 32-mile route, there was blazing sun, increasing heat, and a strong wind that seemed to be a headwind in every direction. At one point late in the ride, I was making a long, clear descent to a bridge, and as I sailed down the hill the landscape opened up and I could see that there was an amazing wind tunnel going across my path. I had to brake back my descent and barely kept upright as the wind swept across the road and showed me who was boss; if I hadn’t pulled back I’d have gone down. The rest of the ride, it was just a constant presence, particularly in the ears, as it was hard to hear anything and after a while I wondered if the noise would ever stop.

And then . . . coming down West Seven Stars Road, in a little stretch where the farm fields are banked up just a couple of feet above the road, I achieved something I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced before: a moment of perfect wind. That is to say, no wind, because I was entirely within the wind. As I flew down that little tunneled section of road, tucked in just low enough that there were no cross-currents, I must have been going along at exactly the same speed, in exactly the same direction, as the wind. All the grasses to my sides were flailing wildly. Birds were being pushed back as they tried to come up the road. And yet, I could feel nothing. And I could hear nothing. It was absolutely silent, still, perfect, all visual evidence to the contrary. It went on for what felt like an oddly long time though it could only have been 20 seconds, 25 seconds at most, long enough for me to realize I was experiencing a singularity. I could see the effect of the wind, yet I couldn’t feel it, couldn’t hear it. I sailed through the covered bridge and on the other side the world was back to normal and the wind was back to howling.  But for just a few moments, I was part of the wind.

What a Weekend Looks Like These Days

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  • Drive 250 miles back to the old hometown, hopefully in record time.
  • Get there in time for lunch with old friends.
  • Spend time at father-in-law’s, take him out to dinner.
  • Race to the Egg for a concert.
  • Get out too late for ice cream.
  • Drive to daughter’s apartment and crash there.
  • Get up for the Troy Farmer’s Market.
  • Cry because the pasta-maker is out sick this week.
  • Run back up to daughter’s, assemble a kayak rack.
  • Meet up with mother, take her down to the market and coax her to pick out her own birthday gifts, because I’m classy like that.
  • Her Mother’s Day gift was a new wheel for her wheelbarrow.
  • Late lunch with mother and daughter.
  • Nap of the damned.
  • Go to roller derby double-header, strategically parking near the new Ben & Jerry’s location.
  • At the bout, daughter informs us they haven’t opened yet, and there will be no ice cream.
  • Crash at daughter’s.
  • Sunday bagels and not nearly enough coffee at Psychedelicatessen.
  • Farewell to daughter, take father-in-law to lunch.
  • Drive home in Sunday downstream traffic (not awful, yet), anxious to get home before the ice cream store closes.
  • Work for three hours to get ready for the week because I had the audacity to take a weekend “off.”
  • But at least there was ice cream. In a waffle cone, which I fully deserved.

Top 10 of 2016 (so far)

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Remember that thing a little while back where I was posting regularly again? Yeah, that stopped. If you like it short-form and forgettable, I tweet much more often. If you like it historic, Hoxsie is still getting updated most days. Other than that, I haven’t even had the commitment to paste a banner over the name of this blog to represent the fact that my life is now quite urban indeed.

So in place of cohesive, coherent writing, let’s do a Top 10 again:

  1. Mariachi Flor de Toloache. I’m not even kidding. Just accept it.
  2. Bloody Mohawk. Following up on Hinderaker’s “The Two Hendricks,” because it’s hard to get enough of the extremely complicated relationships between the Dutch, English, French, Iroquois, Mohawks specifically, and other native Americans generally. First time in I just couldn’t get into it; second time in it turns out to be crisply written and informative, and has a better explanation of Conrad Weiser than I have seen anywhere else. Everybody loves William Johnson, and nobody gives Weiser his due. And they were both right to distrust the New England evangelicals.
  3. Actually training for cycling. After years of doing what I do on the bike, poorly and without much focus, I decided that in order to get through the winter (when we thought there was going to be one), I signed up at my favorite new local cycling shop for a series of training classes taught by an Olympic athlete. A bunch of serious, experienced racers and me, but the beauty of the computerized trainers is they conform to your output and abilities, and over the past few weeks I have been able to actually work on technique and endurance in ways I never did before. My previous technique has always been to go as far as I can go and still get back, which is fun but doesn’t actually train your body. And the upside is that I have been diligent about getting on the bike during the week (usually outside, it’s been so warm), because if I don’t I will actually die on Monday night.
  4. The holidays. Those were a thing. The second year of not having a home base for Christmas, though this year elder daughter was able to host part of the family festivities. But it feels very weird to not have Christmas in your own house, and even weirder to be one of those people who has to clutter up the highways on the appointed travel days.
  5. In my ongoing tradition of watching TV shows 10 years or more after they’re a thing, we just binge-watched “Alias,” which mostly led to me screaming at the television each night, “Why are you trusting Arvin Sloane??!” We then upset tradition by watching “Jessica Jones,” which was excellent, but now I think it’s time for a little less obvious blood-letting and something more along the lines of psychological damage, like “Gilmore Girls.”
  6. Similarly, I have to work up to Tarantino movies. I always love them, but I always need to know what level of gore or worse I’m in for. (Though if we could have seen “The Hateful 8” in 70mm, I’d have jumped right in.) So we finally got around to watching “Django Unchained,” and immediately regretted having waited so long. Christoph Waltz is a delightful revelation in it.
  7. While we’re on movies, “Carol” was surprisingly lovely and real (and so gorgeous to look at; it captured the period perfectly). It was weird to see it at the Formerly The Spectrum, as, having moved away, I sorta assumed I’d never go there again. But there we were. “Brooklyn” was also a much better, more interesting, less sentimental film than I’d expected it to be. (Sometimes these things just go a certain way. This one didn’t, quite.)
  8. The photographs of Dave Heath, still on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Incredible street/life photography from the ’50s and ’60s, the kind of work that I used to want to do.
  9. There is a serious ice cream shortage going on around here. Our neighborhood shop is seasonal, and this is not the season. There are some others around, but not quite of that quality, and the good one over in Royersford requires getting in the car, which is something we tend not to do. The jones hit me so hard that I was thrilled to find some form of a premium chain store near where I had to take a computer for repair, but in the end I put on my McKayla Maroney unimpressed face. So either spring’s gotta come or I’ve gotta drive somewhere for good ice cream.
  10. My first experiment with little adhesive LED lighting strips turned out a 94% success. Which is pretty good. (I’d be happier had I gotten them to line up very straight, but that proved tricky). We needed a light source in the living room that wouldn’t bounce off the TV screen at night, and nothing commercial seemed to be working out, so I pretty much built my own sconce and integrated it into the window trim . . . up high, dimmable, provides more than adequate evening light and doesn’t reflect at all. But those little strips are just a touch more finicky when it comes to connections than they lead you to believe.

Weird things about new places

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  • First, spring comes earlier down here. After 54 years in upstate New York, it’s hard to grasp the idea that you can safely put plants in the ground prior to Mother’s Day (and even that wasn’t always safe). Given that we really haven’t had the time to get our tiny tiny back yard garden plotted out (as that will involve finding a new home for canoes), we’re signed up for a community garden plot up on the north side, and already have to think about getting it cleaned up and ready for planting. In March. (Although official early planting begins in April. April.)
  • Despite that, we had some late snow that really pounded the bike trails so I had to wait for that to thaw before I could really get out. Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day is my signal that the new riding season has begun, and traditionally, that means going out in some pretty raw weather and climbing up to Albany Rural Cemetery or around local neighborhoods in order to get some strength back into my legs. Today it meant almost 60 degrees (but with a wicked wind) and a need to search out some of those hills. Roads around here are tough (Pennsylvania’s motto should be “The Shoulderless State), and in case I had any illusions that roads are better maintained down here than in the Empire State, those illusions have been shattered. So spring riding is even more of a challenge than it used to be.
  • The light. The light is weird, or at least takes getting used to. After 23 years in one house, with windows everywhere, I could tell the time just by how the light looked in the house. I got to know places the sun only reached on certain days of the year, odd reflections that only happened now and again. Now we’re in a place with limited light (the lack of a basking room may be a problem) and it seems to show up in the oddest places.
  • “Jeopardy,” the only thing we watch that isn’t on the internet, is on at 7 o’clock down here, before “Wheel of Fortune.” Somehow that feels like it’s just messing with the natural order of the universe.
  • In addition, the only ads we see are during “Jeopardy,” and most of them are for the Pennsylvania Lottery. Unlike the NYS Lottery, where we swindled people in the name of education, the Keystone State swindles people in the name of helping old people. As such, instead of Yolanda Vega, each night there is a different designated old person who watches numbered ping pong balls pop up in a tube. Somehow this makes me sad.

Many Spammy Returns

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I moved six months ago, but my previous internet provider, Ever-Growing Monopoly of Suck®, still continues to faithfully deliver all the spam that comes to my old account. So if you don’t mind, let me just get some of my responses to my spam out of the way right here.

From: NBC SPORTS
Subject: NASCAR is coming to NBC and NBCSN.
Thanks. You’ve made a serious mistake. The thought that even one electron had to move in order to bring me this incredibly useless information is a tragedy in my view.

From: SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR
Subject: Webmail Quta Exceeded.
Dear User, due to the recent upgrade of our database. You are required to update your webmail details.
Thanks! I’ll get right on that!

From: James Williams
Subject: I tried to reach you several times, please reply
I write, asking for your indulgence in re-profiling to tune of Fourteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$14.5m) which we want kept safely overseas under your supervision.
James, Mr. Raymond Wilson of the Emirates Finance Security Company has made me a much, much sweeter deal. He has already paid for the delivery charges and the insurance fee. You’re going to have to up your game if you want me to be your overseas money mule.

From: Smith Wilson
Subject: Information
How are you today and your family it has been a long time you may not remember me again I contacted you last time for you to assist me regarding an inheritance fund which I told you that it is not a scam and I promised you that you should not worry that when I receive the fund I will compensate you, finally I have receive the fund I am now doing multi million investment in caman island I have instructed my secretary to issue ATM what of $700,000 dollars for compensation for your assistance in the past, so the ATM card now is ready for you to receive it is with my secretary contact him now on this information below.
Smith, my apologies. When I first read your note, I missed the part where you explained that it is not a scam. Silly of me and I hope you can see your way to forgive me and still issue my $700,000 dollars of compensation.

From: Kenneth Lou Clark
Subject: Hi How are you? Breaking news from Oprah:
Kenneth, Kenneth, Kenneth. You’re not even trying.

From: Branden Otto
Subject: Want new girls every day? OOOOHHHH YEEE!!!
There is no need to threaten me.

From: Addiction Detox Centers
Reply-To: offers@realestatenow.com
Subject: Check in to drug rehab and get clean.
I’m confused. Is this one of those places where you go into rehab but you can’t get out until you’ve bought a time-share?

From: MopinaJohnson@UnitedNation.Org
Subject: Schedule Delivery Your Family Inheritance
I am  Diplomat Mopina Johnson  from   Hong Kong I am  now in  Bellingham International Airport Washington.This is to inform you that I have been advised to deliver your consignment to you as the content was declared as diputed but now resolved Acesstral Family valuables. Valued  five million five hundred United State dollars only. And you are urgently advised to send me your Address, Contact Phone Numbers Next of Kin and Personal Identification  for delivery of your consignment to you. Get back to me immediately you receive my email.
You know, asking about my “next of kin” almost seems like a red flag. You’re not going to murder me, are you?

Blobfest

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rebekah_blobfest_BsWu3HbIEAASHLs.jpgSo, here’s the thing about our pending new hometown of Phoenixville, PA: the movie “The Blob” was largely filmed there and in the surrounding areas. Doc Hallen’s house is still there. So is the Colonial Theater, from which the teens run screaming from a monster feature when the blob consumes the projectionist and oozes through the louvers and into the theater. Let’s face it, “The Blob” would probably be forgotten had it not starred a youngish (27, playing 17) Steve McQueen. It is not one of the finest movies of all time. And the fact that it featured Phoenixville could have remained nothing more than an interesting bit of local trivia, just as with the filming of scenes around Albany and Schenectady in recent years.

But instead, there is Blobfest, an enthusiastic celebration of this and other B movies. It commences with “The Run Out” — costumed participants pay for the privilege of running screaming from the theater in advance of the blob. There is a Tin Foil Hat parade, a costume contest (which Mothra and his companions, shown above, won this year), and a Fire Extinguisher Drill Team Parade. There are vendors, antique cars, and double features of “The Blob” and other movies like “Mothra” or “King Kong Vs. Godzilla.” There is a lot of fun.

So we spent the weekend at Blobfest, and visiting the farmer’s market, checking out where to put in our canoes, finding the best coffee places, and chatting with local residents. There were dozens of cyclists out on the roads and paths, there were flotillas of kayaks, there were all kinds of people just out enjoying almost perfect days.

The Church of What’s Happening Now

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bedroomceiling.jpgSo, this is what’s happening now. In fact, it’s what’s been happening pretty much every weekend since the year began, and the year is slipping away quickly. First, I work like a dog at a new job that I love but have to put substantial effort into. It’s a pleasure to do something that matters again, but it does up the game when you’re giving advice that people are actually listening to. I do this far away from home. Then I look at the weather forecast for Thursday or, more often, Friday to see what natural disaster is going to prevent my return home, or, just as bad, interfere with my return to work the next week. Wishes for a mild winter went unanswered. The Philly area gets flummoxed by even a couple of inches of snow, and it got way more than that many, many times this winter. (Only the great humor of the Phoenixville Office of Emergency Management’s wonderful, useful, human alerts — and just try to imagine a humorous public safety agency in New York — helped me get through it.). Then, I drive 250 miles home, which takes under five hours except when it takes six (and getting back down takes four — there’s a quantum effect going on, to be certain). I arrive in the nick of time for whatever event we have planned for that night, sleep, get up early the next morning and start beating up the house some more. Mix in mandatory social events (no less pleasant for being mandatory, mind you), fall into exhausted but not restful sleep, get up and drive back to Pennsylvania. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We started some significant upgrades to the house we’ve lived in for two decades a couple of years back, not really knowing at that time that we’d be selling it. Thank goodness, or there’d be no hope of getting everything done that really needs to be done to sell a house. Even as it is, we can’t do it all ourselves, so we’re relying on our secret weapon, my 74-year-old mother, a tireless Tasmanian devil of home repair. She routinely does more in a day than I could in two, and has managed not only to paint all the things I was never going to get around to painting, but replaced three windows, put up wallpaper, and of course helped me with the unbelievably disastrous task of replacing the ceramic tile in the kitchen. There have been times when we’ve contemplated fire as an option.

One of the last things to get done was yet another of the many, many tasks that I never got around to while we lived in the house because a) we would have to totally vacate a room in order to do it, and we didn’t have the room to do that, and b) it would be a colossal pain in the ass. I have never been wrong in estimating that second part, and replacing the ceiling tiles in our bedroom was every bit of a colossal pain in the ass. Mostly so because it shouldn’t have been necessary. The old tiles were in fine shape and a coat of paint would have made them look nice, but they were falling down at odd angles in odd places, and there didn’t seem to be any way to tuck them back up. Sometimes a well-placed hidden tack can do miracles with ceiling tile, but this was not to be the case, as there seemed to be nothing to tack the sagging seams to. When the old tile came down, we found the reason — whoever had done this job had not bothered to space the standards where the seams would be. So all the standards had to be pulled down and put where they belonged. Just one of those things that never ends with this house.

Some of the other things, we won’t talk about. I’d like someone to buy this house.

Closing in on it

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I know that other people pick up their roots and move all the time, but I’m damned if I can understand how. We’ve been in the same house for 23 years, and along with various renovations there have been various dumpsters filled with construction waste and whatever else we had lying around that we didn’t think we needed anymore. I felt like we were pretty good at clearing things out over the years — the girls’ toys from when they were little are long since gone, old clothes go out the door, and our generally small space keeps us from filling it up too much.

And yet, over the past week, we crammed a dumpster with 15 yards of stuff that had accumulated. Some of it was just impossible to get rid of, like a steel enameled utility sink from the basement that I finally replaced a few years back but was unable to ever get up the stairs. It didn’t weigh less than 80 pounds, and that was after I separated it from its base. (Anyone who guessed “cotter pin” as the connector, you have won the no-prize.) There was crappy particle board furniture and somewhat less crappy wood furniture that just had to go away, and lots of things that I’d have had to take a saw to to fit into the regular garbage, and so it sat until there was another dumpster opportunity. All gone now. (Including one last Barbie shoe that suddenly appeared from nowhere.)

Renovations are proceeding apace, thanks only to my mother, who can do more painting and patching in a single day than I can in two. Honestly, I wish I could work at that pace. Last week I was looking at a destroyed dining room, despairing that it could ever be finished; then all of a sudden, in a single day she got all the new wallpaper up and it looked almost like a real room. I spent a very frustrating day yesterday trying to cut the ceiling cove — geometry is my greatest weakness when it comes to carpentry, and despite checking my angles over and over I still make frustrating mistakes, and so the trim, sorry to say, did not get done this weekend. But maybe next. Almost there.

Then, of course, we need to find something to live in. This has proven marginally difficult, but I have hope. The difficult part is that the houses we would want that have cropped up have sold in seconds, when we really aren’t ready to make an offer yet. The ones that haven’t sold quickly, we can see why, and having lived in a semi-finished fixer-upper for a couple of decades, I’ve decided I’d rather give my money to a bank than to the Home Depot, get some of my weekends back, and just live in a finished house. Other people do this, so I know it’s possible.

It is the little parts of this project that make me insane. I need a ceiling medallion to cover an unfortunate bit of a gap above one of my ceiling lamps, so I tried to find one at the Lowe’s. All I needed was a simple, small, 4″ medallion, of the type that should be perfectly standard. So I was surprised to find myself flying into a Hulk-like rage when I discovered that little, open medallions don’t really exist there, and that in fact most of the medallion display is given over to crafts projects you can do with medallions. I don’t know when this happened, or why, but apparently there is some kind of craze for taking ceiling medallions and stuffing clocks, mirrors, and photos into their centers. What they’re really NOT set up for anymore is hiding flaws in a ceiling, which is their complete and only true purpose. If whoever was responsible for this had been standing next to the display, beaming with pride at their innovation, there would have been an unscheduled, and entirely justified, strangling.

Crafters: just get a clock. Get a mirror. Get a picture frame. Stop ruining my America.

Oh, did we skip February?

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Oh, did we skip February? (See One-armed paperhanger, busier than.) You didn’t miss much. It was a blur of cold and snow, cancelled meetings and anxiety about getting home or getting back. There’s a 225-mile commute involved, and pretty much anything can mess that up, but snow and ice are especially good at it. I’m not sure why the same snow that really has a minimal impact in upstate New York causes absolute CHAOS in southeastern Pennsylvania, but it does. Reinforcing my belief that when we move here permanently, there will be no commute short enough.

But with all that winter behind us (well, not in Albany. Enjoy your 6-to-12!), things are looking better. Been a while since I did one of these, but here’s my current Top Five:

  1. College admissions! While our younger bit of brilliance was absolutely set on WPI, we did make her apply somewhere else just because, so we’re pleased to say that another PI, this one starting with R, also invites her to bask in its truthiness. One more to hear from, but Worcester already has our money, so that entire process is done.
  2. Suddenly, Hooverphonic. I was listening to Mazzy Star on Pandora and it got me into a trip-hop groove. (Listen, no one was more surprised than I was.) One of the bands that kept coming up with songs I really liked was Hooverphonic, and then I found they had a recent album recorded live with an orchestra, so I checked that out and OMIGOD. I cannot stop listening to this album. And don’t want to.
  3. March 10: First official ride of the season. Still snow on the trail, just enough to make some areas a real mess and icy underneath, but the rest was fine. And with the onset of daylight savings, now there’s time at the end of the day to sneak a ride in.
  4. Spring Classics! More important to me than local signs of spring are the global signs of spring, pro cycling’s spring classics. Daughter came down to our renovation project we call a kitchen the other day, pointed to the laptop on the counter, and asked, “Are you watching bike racing while you’re painting the kitchen? Commented on in a language you don’t speak? DORK!” Yes.
  5. Speaking of which, during the prologue of Paris-Nice, if you were taking a drink every time the French commentators said “Gianni Meersman,” you were very, very drunk indeed. Seek medical assistance.
  6. House heartbreak! Well, we’ve already fallen in strong like with a house we could barely afford, and which will be sold out from under us before we are prepared to make a move. Timing a move is a bitch. But, as promised, suitable housing, much of it with electricity and plumbing, is now appearing on the market. The winter offerings were making us think we might be tenting in Valley Forge for a while (which, ironically, is not allowed).
  7. Stir-fry! Beets, carrots, a little green pepper, tofu, some leaf spinach on top, sesame oil and some asian spices. And peanut butter! Do it.
  8. Books? God, there is no time to read anything that doesn’t involve electricity and money. But I snuck in a little last month, and have to report that John Green’s “The Fault In Our Stars” is the first book to make me cry, ever. And I mean weeping.
  9. I want an app that identifies the horrible music that is bombarding me at nearly every retail venue I visit, then interacts with aural implants to ensure that I will NEVER hear it again. Let’s call it “Horrify.” I didn’t think it would be possible to miss Muzak, but god it was so much better.
  10. Hooverphonic. The Last Thing I Need Is You: