Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Best building blocks

Anchor Stones are either still made or being made again. I'm putting these links in and then I'll read up later. These were the very best things! They were obviously from before the Great War, and probably from the 1890s. They had been cared for perfectly; not a one was missing; they were packed into the wooden box according to the diagram on the cover. A small ad in The New Yorker touting a site selling construction toys (the business is called The Construction Site; the url is made me wonder about these blocks. They feel so beautiful in the hand, and there's something about the colors, too. It turns out that the on-line store sells several different Anchor sets, apparently packaged just like the original ones. They aren't cheap now, and I bet they weren't ever cheap in the first place, judging from how well they'd been cared for. I always liked the idea of Lincoln Logs better than the logs themselves, perhaps because they're so big and clumsy. I used to play with somebody else's toy brick set. As I recall, the designs were very suburban and ranchy, but the plastic casement windows that worked were neat. These blocks may first have been of wood and then of plastic. I'm virtually certain that the brand was American Bricks, and that the sets are probably from the late 1940s and early to middle 1950s (the ones I knew were plastic; others know the wooden ones). In a side excursion, I learn that the A. C. Gilbert company (Erector sets and chemistry sets) was once the largest toy manufacturer in the world. I'm considering acquiring a set of Anchor blocks of my own. What person of any age who loves building toys wouldn't love these?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Further to beebleberries

We were talking about beebleberries, which led to discovery of this Little Lulu chronology, especially nice for the descriptions of covers. I like it that there is a modern-day Beebleberry Farm agricultural enterprise, a farm in Vermont.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A word not often heard spoken these days

"Shambles" was used where others might say "pig sty" to describe a room or household in great disorder. I never like to hear the word or even see it because it reminds me of stories I've heard about working conditions in the Fort Worth slaughterhouses not all that long ago.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

You must decide for yourself

Those scented magazine inserts promoting new perfumes never offer guidance these days, perhaps to avoid putting off those who believe they could never like the scent of, say, roses. There's no more descrptive language evoking the scent, no more listing of the ingredients. One must decide for oneself whether it's fruity, floral, woodsy, mossy, completely artificial, or whatever. Nevertheless, I know the aura of baby powder or fake-o vanilla when I smell it. And I still don't like it. Would I know ylang-ylang were I to smell it? The name is great, but, whatever it may be and however often it may be employed these days as an element in smellums, the ad will never say. Jergens does let everyone know that it still manufactures products carrying the nostalgic and always pleasant cherry-almond scent to be forever associated with after-dinner dish-washing.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Porcelain light fixtures

I'm not the only one who loves them! A person can learn things from a waiting-room picture mag. In the September Elle Decor, there's a feature in which Deborah Berke lists "12 things she can't live without." When a 19th- or early-20th-century house is electrified, there are always a lot of porcelain light fixtures to be seen, sometimes just in ells or outbuildings, sometimes in closets and obscure boxrooms, and sometimes right out there in the open. I like them, and I like them fitted with just a bare bulb. (I like the pull-strings or pull-chains, too.) She suggests fitting them with a compact flourescent bulb, and this makes sense, too, because in a closet or back room, the lack of light from a CFB doesn't matter that much, and they are decorative to look at. She also likes popcorn made the old-fashioned way, as do we. It's scandalous that some grocery stores stock nothing but microwave popcorn these days, if anyone can believe that! We need our Orville. And what will little kids do without the thrill of the expanding foil top on a pan of Jolly Time popped over a campfire? Now, because one of her dozen favorites is a Faber-Castell Perfect pencil, with a sharpener built in, I have to check these out.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Seed secret

The best way to open seed-bearing pods of Pride of Barbados before they open themselves and scatter the seeds every which way is to twist the pods open. A little experimentation will discover in which direction to apply pressure. I assume it's always the same direction, but I just haven't paid attention. In some years, I've just placed a ripe pod where I want a new plant to grow; in other years, I've opened the ripe and rattly pods by treating them as though they were peas, which is extremely inefficient. We started out with one very cheap, badly pruned nursery reject and have grown several more from seeds. This is the first year that any of the newbies have been mature enough to produce flowers and seed pods themselves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Another good idea badly executed

We love Brussels sprouts, but, even so, one of those big stalks with the sprouts still attached does make for a lot of sprouts. The other way that fresh sprouts are found is in a little basket, also quite a quantity. It's been a long time since I've seen them loose for a you-choose-'em way of buying. So we were happy to see a little four-pack of individal servings of frozen sprouts. The trouble was that they tasted oddly sweet, almost as though sugar had been added, and also that, no matter how briefly they were exposed to heat, they were mushy. This is really a disappointment. Even large sprouts can have an "x" cut into the bottom and be perfectly tasty, but these small ones were almost insubstantial, a very odd texture. We haven't tried the similar peas yet, and we certainly will not under any circumstances try supersweet corn (ugh!). I'd rather eat field corn. Maybe we should have just picked up some of those very fresh looking parsnips at Wheatsville. The Wheatsville green beans were the very best tasted since a batch from the South Congress farmer's market last time they were in season there.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pallets like boxcars

Wherein lies the resemblance? There's a company shuttling used pallets around according to where they're needed, just as rail freight cars are dispatched for loads. It's necessary to sign in to read this article in Forbes magazine, but sign-in's free ("Beast of Burden," subhead "A humble wooden pallet is worth only so much. Having it in the right place at the right time is worth a lot"; byline Monte Burke, October 29, 2007; page 176). I loved the pallet factoids. A common pallet is made from 25 pieces of wood and 150 nails are used in its construction. It weighs 65 pounds and its platform surface measures 48 by 48 inches.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wings on the wind

We've seen several monarch butterflies. They must be coming in on the weather, which at last is changing.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Surely this one's the last

Today there's yet another stalk of oxblood lilies. It has three flowers on it. These look beautiful in all light, whether the day is sunny or cloudy.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

He picked on a favorite of mine

A factoid culled from Rolling Stone is that Romney's Bain outfit did a raid on Ampad, stripped it of assets, fired hundreds of people, and left it to file for bankruptcy. I've always loved the small-sized legal tablets that Ampad makes and also, more recently, some of those 3.5" x 3.5" 500-sheet memo cubes. I can't quite bring myself to use up a tablet of "pop papers," #35371, with white clouds against a pale blue sky. Ampad's founder is credited with inventing the legal pad.

Friday, October 19, 2007

An old chestnut

This is my kind of joke: simple, silly, and probably ancient. The punch line is "Are you sure this is where he went in?" and the source is surprising. I first heard it this morning as told in a different, and funnier, way by the Friday Wakeup Call guy on KAZI.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Garden surprises

This morning there were two new stalks of oxblood lilies. Surely these will be the last. We also found beautiful leaves of buttercrunch lettuce, self-sown and doing well unattended all this time. Our one hyacinth bean by the gate has proliferated to cover the entire fence one side of that gate, and has put forth very long bloom stalks, the first of which are forming pods not yet turned shiny and purple. I'm feeling like Jack, the Jack of beanstalk fame.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pry it from my cold, dead hand

That's the only way that "they" will get my last incandescent light bulbs away from me. How can people even talk about outlawing them in favor of compact flourescent bulbs or any other kind of flourescent lighting? Angela Merkel isn't going along with the European Union line on this, either. Anyone who has poor vision or who creates anything made by hand or who cooks or who reads knows that there's no substitute for natural light. And knows that the very worst substitute for natural light among all the kinds of artificial light, including kerosene, is a flourescent bulb, tube or compact. I'm spoiled. When I haven't worked outdoors I've had big windows and been able to work by natural light until sundown. We do have more than one compact flourescent bulb in our house, in difficult-to-reach locations, because they do last a long time, but the light provided is dim and inferior in every way. This is an interesting discussion of the inferiority of most of the available compact flourescent bulbs. This is another good roundup. I was talking about this issue with someone who suggested that a better way would be to steeply increase per-kwh billing in stages. The Austin utility has a first break at 500 kwh. Our bill has exceeded this number twice, both times as a result of a meter misreading. We seldom go over 475 kwh in the summer or 375 in the winter. Why can't this be enough? Why must there be dictatorship of how a given quantity of electricity is used?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Watered-down coffee

Or maybe I should say "sugared-down." Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream isn't always stocked at our super-busy and -crowded H-E-B, so it has been a while since the last time I tasted it. It seems now to taste more sweet than coffee-like. Has the price of good coffee gone up? This is a disappointment. No more triple dips in H-E-B cones, just double, with chocolate and vanilla only. I hope that coffee ice cream for grown-ups returns.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What about hand-me-downs?

They're not taken into account; neither are constrained budgets generally. One must concede, though, that the context is a rarefied one, and the comment is entertaining. As reported in the November Vogue, Diana Vreeland is alleged to have remarked to a companion at a gala evening event: "I want you to think for a minute about the fact that every person in this room walked into a store where other things were available and CHOSE what he's wearing right now." In the fall fashion mags, Nordstrom is running shorter or longer ad segments featuring fashion illustrations by Ruben Toledo. Nobody that I've noticed has remarked on the resemblance to Bratz dolls; the only detail lacking is that the feet in the ads are not quite large enough to meet Bratz standards.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Taupe beige mushroom

It was a sorry day when I first started skimming the color ad supplements in the Sunday paper. I went for years without giving them a thought and that's the way it should have stayed. How said to think that the national curtain and bedspread color, if one is to believe the Penney and Sears promotions, is some variation on a muddy shade of brownish something-or-other. Is this the favorite color scheme of our nation? If so, that's a depressing thought.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is the ecological niche empty?

Ponder Lee, a neighbor's cat, was seen to race up a tree and catch an extremely large tree lizard. This was probably not her first success. Now, we suddenly are seeing anoles everywhere and quite a few geckos as well. Is there a connection? Anoles started to become scarce when the numbers of tree lizards increased.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Last of the lilies?

Yesterday there were two oxblood lilies; today there's one. Lily leaves are appearing everywhere. Each time it seems as though the last lily has made its appearance, one or two more shoot up.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Orange wings and others

Among the gulf fritillaries we have seen a monarch butterfly or two each day for the past week. Zebra longwings continue to be here in large numbers, as do both kinds of giant swallowtails and also cloudless sulphurs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Oddball household hint

Keep all those other freemiums from St. Joseph's Indian School, of Chamberlain, South Dakota, if you're that sort of person, but discard the new, upgraded dreamcatcher with the authentic feathers attached. Some creature will eat the feathers down to the quill and in addition leave little feather crumbles or feather-dust particles behind.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


I believe that people who believe that they look good in hats do, in fact, look good in hats. I believe that nobody looks good in a beret of any kind, although a few look good in a tam o'shanter; men shouldn't, however, wear tam o'shanters when they go skiing. I think it's funny that some private security outfit here in town costumes its guards in dark straw DPS-type trooper hats. I believe that everyone looks good in a bowler. I long for the return of veils as millinery adornments. It should by now be plain that I like grosgrain ribbon and other serious frivolities. Texas is one of the last places where hats matter.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Another great cover graphic

To illustrate the Business Week cover story this week on the housing-credit crisis, there's a photograph of a deflating bouncy castle. It even appears to have an unhappy face, making for an inspired concept and an even better realization. This is almost as wonderful as the Texas Observer summer reading issue with the H-E-B baker cake on the front cover and a nearly consumed version of the cake on the back cover.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Disguise your own feet

Render them invisible to yourself and everyone else. That seems to be the premise of footgear sold as "Bill Jordan's Realtree hardwoods green HD men's slippers: high-definition mutli-[sic]terrain camo designed to perform in any any distance." We were just looking for a pair of men's slippers, ideally moccasins, ideally available for immediate purchase, which ruled out year-round mail-order sources such as Bean's. These items tend to be seasonal, stocked for the holidays at the end of the year and sometimes also for Father's Day. We'd been striking out everywhere, including REI and Whole Earth Provision Company, when we tried Bealls and found these. The carton says that the slippers are manufactured (in China, of course) and distributed by SG Footwear, "Keeping in Step," of Hackensack, New Jersey. The camouflage pattern is a registered trademark of and used under license from Jordan Outdoor Enterprises, Ltd. Bill Jordan is Mr. Modern Camouflage, licensing his patterns and hiding feet and other objects and portions of the body in plain sight everywhere.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

We have bun feet!

So proclaims an ad in one of the catalogues or sample magazines received as a result of yet another mailing-list mistake. I'm not a carpenter, cabinetmaker, or practitioner of fine joinery of any sort, yet someone believes that I am. I do read these magazines and catalogues from cover to cover. If I were the sort of person I'm thought to be, I'd be working without power tools most of the time. I like the scrollsaw projects, though; in fact, I like all the projects, no matter how misconceived; and some of them do embody an esthetic sensibility that's more than a bit outdated (lots of Santa Claus projects). The most recent magazine read tested folding rules and highly approves of mine.