Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ave atque vale!

This is one year that I don't really want to look back on, and that's all I'm gonna say! I know more than I did a year ago. The birthday season is over. We've enjoyed a precious few peaceful days. So there's some reason to be thankful. As the passimist that I am, I can't say that I'm hopeful about the year to come. But I've never been bored and I don't expect that I ever shall be.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Pax vobiscum

This image is multiple stampings in poster tempera on manila paper done in 1955 from a linoleum block that I carved that year. I've scanned it and use it from time to time in various publications, mostly at this time of year. The original is very large; this is substantially reduced.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Wando wonders

Wando English peas are a favorite, tried first just because the name is so wonderful, but grown thereafter because they tolerate cold and heat. They're climbing beautifully, nobody has consumed the pea shoots, and blossoms are now appearing. I first grew Green Arrow and Telephone because I liked their names,too, but Wando's the one, sometimes the only, variety that always goes into the ground. I can't remember what ones we used to pick and shell when we were little kids.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Competition for carrion

Late in 2003 was one of the first times I reported seeing black vultures ("Squirrel mortality") instead of the always more common turkey vultures. Just as mourning doves seem to be giving way to whitewings, it seems that we now see black vultures in greater numbers and more often. We saw at least seven, and up very close, taking their turns at a squirrel. This is still my favorite picture of the black vulture, because it shows the white usually displayed when this bird is in flight.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Speedy steeplechase

The last time I saw Harold Lloyd in Speedy, it was on a big screen. "Speedy" can mean "not too swift." One of the most delightful aspects of this movie is the large amount of footage devoted to Steeplechase Park at Coney Island. I'd forgotten that this movie is one of those in which the steeplechase ride can be seen in action. Among other rides seen in action are the swing airplanes and a wonderful, quite long, sequence showing the human roulette wheel in operation. The movie also shows some of Luna Park, including the spinning wheels of light. The prices of some of the food and refreshments sold on the boardwalk can often be read. I like this Web site on amusement parks. I find that there's a page about the carrousel at Dorney Park, which I've ridden (here's one of my pictures of the carrousel, a bit faded), and it was by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, as I surmised, although it has since, sadly, been destroyed by fire. I have a better photograph of the old band organ, too, even though mine is a bit faded. Whatever year that was, it was in working order and was one of the greatest ones I've ever heard. I wonder whether it was burned up, too, because it doesn't seem to be the same one pictured on the amusement-park site. Nobody seems to list Speedy as one of the movies showing Coney Island. This is at times very funny and always entertaining, with its time-machine look at Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Jack Frost was here last night, although only in the most exposed spot. Nothing appears to have been touched except perhaps a few leaves on a few violas in flats not yet transplanted to pots or the ground. Even the cosmos and thunbergia seem fine. But this is the strangest thing. There are two jardinieres right next to one another, one four inches deep and one four and a half inches deep and both filled to overflowing with rainwater. They're hand-thrown glazed red-clay vessels with quite a large diameter. We have forced paperwhites or other narcissi in them in the past. The surface of the water in one is completely covered with a layer of unbroken smooth, clear ice, ice clear enough to read through. The other didn't even have the shards or crystals of beginning ice formation.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Farewell to Mr. Please Please Please

The hardest-working man in show business has died. I loved the music of James Brown the very first time I ever heard it, back when the Famous Flames were part of the billing, although even then in smaller letters. I loved his voice in the early days, with that sort of harmonic high overtone. Later much of the music became very abstract. People have stolen the music from the beginning; I hope there's been some recoupment for all the reuse of bass lines, beats, and other giant chunks from his recordings over the decades. I have never stopped playing his music. I listen to some at least once in every week. I'm glad to see that the newspaper of record devoted even more space to him than it did to Ahmet Ertegun and Frank Stanton, who also had much to do with the world of entertainment as we know it today. I have remaining only one poster: it's a good-sized King Records promotional item. In all caps, it says "MR. JAMES BROWN." In lower-case letters, the words "gettin' down to it" follow. The 1969 album does not display a full-length photo; the poster does.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Heavenly peace

I love the Sam Hurt cartoon in the current Chron, in which there's longing for that magical day, fast approaching, when there's no more canned Chrismas music to be heard for another year. Our most-frequented H-E-B dispenses whiney whitebread music all the year round and it's no better during the Advent season. We heard very decent stuff at the Sun Harvest. Otherwise, we've been pretty free. Paul Ray played a great assortment last night (including the immortal 'Zat you, Santa Claus?") and KAZI has been playing wonderful music from all eras and in all styles. It's nice that the KMFA people have a break, but the syndicated music might as well be Muzak. I'd prefer cantatas and masses of the season. KOOP has had its moments. KUT has had some good jazz along the way, but there's so much syndicated dreck on that station these days that there's hardly any local choice. Banda on La Ley has been fine. When there's nothing bearable on the radio, it's time to bring out the old Nonesuch LPs with appropriate choral and instrumental works from all eras. And silence is great, too! Only the pealing bells and chimes from across the river are to be heard at some times of the day. What blessed relief from the sounds the air usually carries.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Yes, folks; that's the Ajax foaming cleanser song. We've been watching episodes of the Colgate Comedy Hour starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. I had never seen this show, although certainly I remember the introduction of Gardol. Jerry Lewis is just as annoying as I recalled him to be, but he's also very funny, especially when, in the throes of desperate ad-libbing, he forgets to employ that horrible voice . This is live television, including live commercials, mostly from 1951. Jerry Lewis never looked that young again, and Dean Martin never looked any older. Bob Fosse appears as a dancer, not the choreographer that he became. I love the painted backdrops and the full orchestra accompaniment for everything, including the commercials. I remember the Treniers. Halo never glorified any hair in our house; we all thought it smelled bad. We were Conti's Castile. I love it that there's an American Package Museum. All those fools who'd like to turn back the clock to the 1950s should take a good, long look at evidence like this and they'd be bound to repent of their foolish notions, even if they're rich Caucasian men.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Would you drink this product?

Here's a bad brand extension: colored flavored bottled water under the Crayola name and bearing the Crayola logotype (Crayola Color Coolerz). One would think this to have limited sales potential and also would suspect it to be bad for the original Crayola business. I became curious about this product when I saw it in an ad supplement in the local daily. There's a link to an illustration of this product here. It is possible that people are just lining up to buy this "healthful alternative to soft drinks" marketed by Advanced H20 in Berry Blue, Wild Strawberry, Screamin' Green and Purple Pizzazz flavors sold in eight-packs of kid-size 8-ounce bottles retailing for about $2.99? It's easy to see why Advaned H20 might want to try this, but what were the Binney & Smith people thinking?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cardinal sin of clock-winding

I committed it when my mind was on several things at once. I didn't stop the pendulum entirely before winding the clock. It belonged to my paternal grandmother. She was born in 1850. The clock was never an expensive one. Clocks like it were so plentiful in their day that they're still cheap. It's intended to sit on a a kitchen shelf or perhaps a sideboard or a mantel. It strikes, although not always the number of times that might be expected from what the hands show. A winding lasts only about two and a half days before winding is required again. The paper face, with its Roman numerals, is very worn in places, particularly near the two openings where the winding-key is to be inserted. There was a terrible noise. I started the pendulum again anyhow, hoping for the best. After it had run down, I wound the clock, which felt all right. It seems to have undergone no permanent damage. From the time it was new until this very day, the clock has run faithfully. I'm so thankful that it still will, and I promise to pay complete attention to what I'm doing when that key is in my hand.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I like the word "florero." I sometimes hear them called "pots," which doesn't seem worthy of these earthen objects turned on a wheel, shaped by the human touch, glazed in subtle colors that repay close attention. A surprise present of some of them came direct from the maker. I like to keep one close to me wherever I'm reading or working. I look to hold one of the smaller ones, partly rough and partly smooth, nestled in the palm of my hand. A larger one has gray-blue and gray-green with speckles that bring to mind certain freshwater fish. Natural light loves them all, and so do I.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Newly visible, sprung into view between dusk and dawn, are the leaves of species tulips, joining the leaves of ranunculus, anemones, alliums, grape hyacinths, irises, iphieon, and many others. Pink oxalis continues to bloom. Lantana is trying again, but the leaves didn't like the earlier cold. The potted geraniums do like the weather and are blooming with flowers that last in this weather. The hyacinth beans, except where they have a bit more shelter, haven't liked the cooler weather. Clockvine continues to bloom. The sweet peas are climing. The early lettuce has been eaten, and not by the two-legged. California poppies are looking promising. Every day there's something making its first appearance of the season.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I wrote about lights repurposed for Hallowe'en. Although I can't remember where, recently I saw what were obviously Diwali lights (diya set) repurposed as tabletop items for the Christmas - New Year's season.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

This is news?

The local daily reports that the police department's records of registered sex offenders aren't particularly accurate. When the site first went up, I can remember checking it out of idle curiosity and finding that the people supposedly living in the vicinity of the adobe hacienda were registered at addresses for which there were no numbers having residences on the streets named. I'm not going to sign in, as is required these days in order to be able to view the records, but I bet this is still true. With today's GIS records, one would think it to be impossible to carry such non-existent addresses, but perhaps not. There's a huge flaw in the TCAD data base as well; it's possible for people to get homestead breaks on more than one property within Travis County, sometimes several, because there seems to be no good lookup feature or cross-reference check and certainly no provision for checking out names that are not identical although similar enough so that they may in fact be variations of the appellation of just one person. Cross-checking for multiple homestead exemptions taken by one owner, an owner who claims homestead exemptions in more than one county (e.g., Williamson and Travis or Hays and Travis), would no doubt net new revenues for all local taxing jurisdictions. The taxing jurisdictions are missing out because of multiple homestead exemptions, and there's plenty of fooling around with what the land-use ordinances permit as well.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

No sense of history

Among the books brought home from the return cart is one by Mary Gordon, about her father, who died when she was seven. One of her greatest disappointments seems to have been to learn that he did not graduate from high school and that at the age of sixteen was a stenographer for the B&O. People with a good enough education and degree of skill to hold down that job were fairly thin on the ground before WWI. It has always seemed to me that an eighth-grade education from almost any year before WWII is about the equivalent of a run-of-the-mill undegraduate college degree of today. The NYT reviewer didn't care for this book much more than I did.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Occasionally to be heard

Now that people are beginning to skip town, church bells are audible again, at least in the mornings and evenings. Not one set keeps the same time as any of the others. Just hearing them lifts the spirits and makes a person feel festive.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pecan leaf chi

Leaf chi is the physical and spiritual exercise of picking up one leaf at a time. Everything's down now in the pecan department. Next will be the red oaks. The mimosas aare turning yellow. It'll be fun to have enough oak and mimosa leaves to make it efficient to use the rake again. It's not the bending down; it's the straightening up.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Catching up: the food and drink business

This is a great time of year for hearing surprising news from those in touch annually only. For instance, to run a joint in a college town not Austin, it takes five security people, two at the doors at all times and three roving indoors. Dancing nights are three a week, to music furnished by a DJ. To satisfy the patrons' sports-viewing needs takes 23 televisions. Karaoke once a week remains a popular attraction. Buffalo wings are the most frequent food order. The most popular drink at the moment contains Jagermeister and Red Bull. Other beverage items in current demand are the Redheaded Slut and the Irish Car Bomb. These consumers are the leaders of tomorrow. Thank goodness they're the future leaders of Elsewhere. Ugh! Peach schnapps! Who'd want to be within a mile of something that smells like, and must also taste something like, cheap soap? I'm waiting to hear the annual installment (frome someone else) of the sauna-building saga.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

For entertainment purposes only

Reading aloud isn't dead around here. We understand very well why the cigar-rollers hired readers to entertain and enlighten them while they worked. Sometimes the reading is just from the newspaper. Often it's excerpts from something intended to last a bit longer, something humorous from whatever is the current re-read of Trollope, Dickens, Austen, or the like. Just by chance, on the return cart at the library recently, there were books by a Barbara Holland, new for us. Her personal Web site lists only books currently in print. The books of short, light essays are amusing, but they're also good because they inspire conversation, often conversation that runs far afield. She hates it, too, when she asks someone in a new place about a bird or tree and the person shrugs and says something like, "Oh, I don't know; it's just a bird."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Happy find

When I was looking for more about copper lilies in order to make up the first order with Tejas Native Bulbs, I found this wonderful little set of nature notes drawn from observations in the Lost Pines area over near Bastrop, published in the weekly Smithville Times (author Phil Schappert). I intend to return and read all of them when there's time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Perfect weather

Before we headed downtown for a this-and-that session, we went crazy in the yard. All bulbs, rhizomes, and corms are now in the ground. Various odds and ends from open seed packets have been scattered. The older stalks on fennel plants were taken back some more, since so many new shoots are emerging and even blooming. The potted basil brought indoors isn't liking the change in atmosphere. Old photographs show that we had scads of nasturtiums still blooming either last year or the year before, or both years. Oxalis and geranium plants are still producing flowers. Thunbergia doesn't mind the weather so far. We noticed that, as always, just in time for Advent and Guadalupe Day, all novena candles have shot up in price.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Displacement activity

List-making is the friend of the inertial. These items are related; there's recently been in-print mention of them in unexpected places: Washington Academy, Fly Summit, Battenville, and Ready Jell.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Four near misses

Jack Frost hasn't really nipped at anything yet. The cold all ran down hill on the four nights that he came closest. There's been not even a light frost, let alone a killing one. All except the largest and the most tender plants hauled indoors are going out again for a while tomorrow. Half the pear leaves are still clinging and about a quarter of the pecan leaves are. I refuse to rake until everything's down. More bloom stalks keep appearing on the paperwhites.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A bet won

"What fools these mortals be" comes from Shakespeare, not from the Marvel comic book Thor. That's not to say that it wasn't said by somebody somewhere in Thor. I bet it was, just not originally.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Stay away from it if you don't know what you're talking about

Now that I've seen this once, I'll see it over and over again: "guardian ad litum" in the Rolling Stone. The author wrote it and an editor, or more than one, passed it. If it's Latin, it must end in "um" or "us" or "i" or "a," or so many would have us believe.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Giver without recipient

Some former recipients are sorely missed, this time of year especially. When I see the perfect book for someone who's no longer with us, I'm sad. I see that Uncommon Carriers (John McPhee) was included in the NYT list of 100 notable books, so I'm reminded all over again. I've read the published excerpts as they've appeared (all in the New Yorker, I think) and have wished that the person who'd be most interested in everything the book contains were here to talk about it. (In the little blurb linked, although the cover shows the coal train, there's no mention of this segment in the summary.) Another book that would have gone to this missing recipient would have been Nicholas Lemann's book about Reconstruction.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tamale time

This charming promotional piece was found on the Bolner's Fiesta rack at the Pleasant Valley Albertsons yesterday. The paper is probably recycled. I'd change the "tamale recipe" typeface on the cover and kern the letters, but that's all. Inside this beautiful little trifold are a good recipe (specifying, properly, lard, although promoting garlic powder in addition to the proper chopped and mashed fresh garlic) and instructions for assembly, which is the really hard part. This recipe specifies ground pork and ground beef; my preference is shredded pork. I like it that it says, "It is best to have four or five people helping you." At least! It also says to take an unbroken hoja. These are tough to find and even tougher is to sort of overlap two of them and hold them together in one palm while filling them with the other hand. Travis Heights Elementary is conducting its annual tamalada this week and seeks volunteers this Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 7 pm in the school cafeteria, which is a good way to learn. I've always loved it that Bolner's Fiesta sells both "chili petines" (round) and "chili pequins" (oval).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Manufacturing mystery

Above an article about competitive oyster-shucking was a photograph of a hand holding an oyster knife and wearing a butcher's mail safety glove. On the cuff of the glove, only some of the letters encircling the wrist could be read. They appeared to be "Whiting + Davis." Could this be the same Whiting & Davis that has been famous for so long for manufacturing mesh evening bags? I imagine that they're both "Whiting and Davis," but may have split as entities. They're probably both related to the old Whiting and Davis or Whiting manufacturers of sterling silver tableware that was at some point enfolded into the Gorham companies. Nothing found on line makes it clear. The safety outfit seems to be located in Attleboro Falls, while the evening-purse business is in Plainfield, where the tableware business once was located.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Not taken into consideration

Why don't those who think up Web domain names ever test to find out whether the result is easy and rapid for keyboard input? I always think about it when I'm dreaming up a new name. There's something slow and very annoying about "gmail." I think it's the pass from "g" to "m," but I'm not sure. Long ago, I used a book and a pre-WWII typewriter to teach myself touch-typing. I skipped teaching myself the numbers part of the keyboard, I must confess. Later, I took a short formal course in typing that slowed me down considerably. That course was so short that I never learned the numbers there, either. I'm bad at hitting "6" and the caret sign without looking. Non-desktop computers tend to let the top rank wander a little to this side or that, which doesn't help things; nor does fooling around with tab, capslock, and alt and control. I once taught myself to use the 9-key number pad without looking, but there's nothing of that left. I always notice when I see people who are good at this. They are rare and becoming rarer.

Friday, December 01, 2006


We brought in as many plants as we could stand to and had room for and then covered up as many as we could with as many old towels and sheets as were available. First in were the potted milkweeds (quite tender) to be saved in case monarchs hatch or fly through, basil, the succulents from Mrs. H. with white parts that turn pink in the chill, representative chile plants, the best of the ancient geraniums (which should have been slipped this summer), and the schefflera in two pots that grew from remnants of last year's frozen one that survived and were stuck in new pots. This morning there was no frost to be seen, and certainly no killing frost. The ground's still warm, of course, so that helps. After the chill predicted for the next few nights, everything will go back out, except, perhaps, the larger and heavier schefflera.