Friday, December 19, 2008

Unfavorite word of the week

Just as people are beginning to lessen their indiscriminate use of "vitriol" and forms of "resonate," sometimes it seems as though every single person in the world who has ever even heard the word "parse" or any of its forms is using it in all sorts of improbable contexts.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"I'll Fly Away"

Carolyn Hester is on the cover of this week's Chron, so I was inspired to listen again to her Columbia album, given to me long ago and never discarded on any of those selling trips to Half Price Books. Hers is still a thrilling performance of this song, which has always remained on my mental jukebox. The album is Columbia CL-17961CS-8596. Here's a track list from a Sony reissue as found on Amazon. "Come Back Baby" still generates chills. I've never known why Joan Baez and Judy Collins were more successful in worldly terms; neither one had a voice or a repertory any better than Carolyn Hester's.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"To replenish the ol' coffers"

This is one of my favorite phrases brought to us by our outgoing chief executive. I guess that's a goal for many of us, at least if we ever had anything in our coffers to be replenished in the first place. Nobody, however, will pay most of us sums of any significance to hear us give a speech on any subject.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

From the bookshelf in the corner

Our 1865-built school had no library, but there was a bookshelf in each room. It wasn't a very large bookcase. I suppose there was a tiny budget and one or two new books appeared in each classroom each year. One of those books was Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman, the year it was first published. It was written by Dorothy Sterling, who died at the age of 95, just this month. The book has stayed in print, in one form or another, all these years. I remember the hardbound copy that I read and enjoyed. I wonder what I'd think of it now. I don't see that the Austin Public Library has a copy in any of its branches. Some other books that I can remember reading from those shelves are Around the World in Eighty Days (in fourth grade, unabridged; don't know the translation), and Children of Odin (by Padraic Colum; fifth grade), and Otto of the Silver Hand (Howard Pyle; fifth grade).

Monday, December 15, 2008


In the wake of the financial news, why is this word not being used. I've been conducting an informal poll and nobody has even heard of it, let alone knows the meaning. Did I learn it in a comic book? It seems as though I've always known it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Two names not seen much these days

Books of short essays make for good reading when the APD helicopter buzzes and house and spoils sleep, so that's what's been borrowed at the library. The books should be of mild interest and not so enthralling that they preclude dropping off again. In one recent book, there was mention of Liberty Hyde Bailey; in another, Donald Culross Peattie appeared in the bibliography. The foregoing links to Wikipedia entries are very barebones. Books by both these men were on libary ahd home shelves; are any in print these days? I don't own anything by either, as it happens, but I bet I know people who do. I see that some of their books are being reprinted, includling a Liberty Hyde Bailey book by Kessenger Publishing, the same outfit that's keeping Yellow Butterflies (q.v.) in print.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Surprises in the pleasure grounds

We found pink cosmos flowers back toward the compost bin. The plants were quite dwarfed and the flowers were quite small, but s lovely surprise. I've been raking pecan and other leaves with my hands; some places are just too delicate not to be cleaned out practically leaf by leaf. There's too much on the way, and there are no good record-keepers in this establishment. In addition to the anemone and ranunculus evidence appearing everywhere, there are some leaves of species tulips. Other appearances are of Dutch iris, self-sown nasturtium and asclepias (sometimes where there's not really any dirt), various narcissi and the like, and many items that remain mysterious. The asclepias flowers are very bright against these silver skies, and so are the tithonia and the few zinnia flowers. Flowers of the hyacinth bean are of all shades, and pods are still being produced. The pink shamrocks are flowering everywhere, but soon they will find it too cold. Potted geraniums and cyclamens are doing fine.

Monday, December 08, 2008

That's how they did it in 1865

That's the year that my elementary school was built, but I'm a left-hander, even though I write cursive script with the same slant as a right-hander and not backhandedly, so I didn't realize the way light was intentionally directed through those windows so high that a very long pole was needed to open them or raise or lower the shades. That is, I didn't realize until I read an article by Alison Lurie in the December 18 NYRB pointing out that classrooms were arranged "so that the light came from the left to minimize shadows on the papers for right-handed students." It's true: I can remember that that's how it worked for every single classroom, except kindergarten, where the younger kids went in the mornings and the older kids attended in the afternoons and nobody wrote anything. In addition to that kindergarten room there were two classrooms for each grade, one through five, and one classroom that had been turned into the indoor gym, just the same as the other rooms apart from the mats hanging on hooks. It had the same little classroom spinet piano that every other classroom did. There was no lunchroom; all went home or to a neighbor's house at midday. Even on a dark winter's day, most of the light was natural, augmented to a degree by a few hanging lamps suspended from the ceilings high above us. I still love natural light and am fortunate that I've never had to work by artificial light if I didn't want to.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


I've now read three reviews of this book, and soon I must read the book itself: Scrapbooks: An American History (by Jessica Helfand, Yale University Press). It's certainly fun talking to people about their scrapbooks, and I don't mean the modern,very intentional, sort of make-work projects; I'm talking about young people. My scrapbook had large, manila-paper pages and had been started by someone else, probably just before or during World War II, somebody who had used just a couple of pages. What I can remember that went into mine were the Saturday Evening Post covers by Norman Rockwell of Ike and Adlai. I also cut out those Texaco Fire Chief ads with all the Dalmatians. I also liked those waxy batik-y ads that appeared in Holiday or National Geographic or both, read in another household and cut up with permission; they were like travel posters only they promoted, I think, American Express, although I'm not sure. Straight Arrow cards weren't pasted in; extra ones were traded. I'd like to see that old scrapbook, or at least remember more about it. The library has four copies of this book (central, Manchaca, Spicewood Springs, and Oak Hill).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Missed this news

Archway, the cheap cookie people, went bankrupt in October. The Lance snack people bought the Archway cookie brand, and Kellogg's bought the Mother's cookie brand, or at least the recipes. Mother's is the brand seen in airports and bus stations that is almost inedible, and similar to the Otis Spunkmeyer stuff, which is equally inedible. Archway, on the other hand, always just made plain, not fancy, cookies. Maybe it's just something about a lot of fake vanilla. Archway made those windmill cookies, which once tasted good, but declined in the same way that Lorna Doone cookies did, abandoning the old, honest recipes. Now, the closest to the old Lorna Doone is the Pepperidge Farm shortbread cookie, still made with butter, but not as easily found as the Milano. (I did not overlook the news of the bankruptcy of Royal Worcester / Spode. I love the old Royal Worcester Delecta pattern and many, many of the older Spoke patterns.)

Friday, December 05, 2008


For some reason, there are fresh hollyhock leaves to be seen back by the old clothespole. Assorted mystery wildlife seedlings are appearing. Ranunculus greenery joins that of anemones. Tithonias are a bit untidy toward the bottom of the stalks, but there are some flowers. We see no all-yellow asclepias at the moment, but there are lots of the orange-red and yellow ones, all in pots. Mockingbirds are still busy with the Turk's cap fruits and the lantana berries. I thought I saw some Dutch iris leaves. For some reason, despite the quite cool weather, basil that has been dormant in the heat is putting forth new leaves.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sharp blades

I was struck by the statement that there's only one American producer of tool steels left: Crucible of Syracuse. The article is "Sharper," on page 70 of the November 24 New Yorker. I like it that the Crucible page speaks of "systems for leading edge manufacturers." "Leading-edge manufacturers" is not the intended meaning, it appears; rather, it's leading manufacturers of edges (as in blades). Here's the Crucible page on tool steels for knife-making.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tweet, tweet

This evening was the first time spent experimenting with Twitter. I feel like el Piolin (Tweety Bird). I had looked at it months earlier and did not see the point at all, but it's beginning to exercise a certain mysterious charm. I don't know whether I'll stick with it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Encounter in the dark

Which of us was more surprised? In the side yard was the biggest 'possum ever. At least he or she did not growl at me. After one long minute of staring, each of us turned aside. At first, from a distance, I had thought that the very large pale object was a loose plastic bag escaped from the trash collection and brought there by the wind.