Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sepia Saturday #135: The Health Fairy

The Health Fairy was a lovely almost angelic looking young woman and certainly seems captivating to her young audience. The favorite fairy of my youth was the scantily clad show-girly Tinkerbell who some claim erroneously was modeled after Marilyn Monroe. Even though she seemed a bit cross-eyed, she was everything young girls wished to be: beautiful, sparkly, good, wise, fun and she could fly away if anything bothered her too much.
I wonder if this Health Fairy was delivering messages about diet. In the twenties America had just emerged from a period of diet madness where great numbers of people believed that consumption of the wrong foods would cause moral decay. One Reverend Sylvester Graham believed for instance that ketchup and mustard would cause insanity and the consumption of meat led to hormonal overload causing men to take advantage of "pliant" women. Perhaps he was right! All the current ills of our society could be traced back to the twenties when hamburgers as we know them began to be popular. 

Horace Fletcher, a charlatan, with a harmless but inconvenient theory convinced the world that each bite should be chewed 32 times. It slowed us all down and couldn't be all bad. Despite advances in nutrition education, diet madness still grips us. We regularly fall prey to ridiculous diet fads with no scientific evidence to support them such as the 3-day diet, the cabbage soup diet, the negative calorie diet, the Beverly Hills diet, the Zone diet and various combining diets.

Perhaps the Health Fairy was educating the children about the spurious health claims being made by food companies such as Quaker Oats claiming to curb nervousness and constipation, Fleischmann's yeast to sooth frayed nerves and loosen the bowels and the "Chicken Dinner" candy bars so called because it provided satiety, like a chicken dinner. 

Worrisome also to the nutritionists of the day, the twenties were the golden age of candy bars some of which are still around: Baby Ruth, Milky Way, Butterfingers and Oh Henry, only one cent!

Cooler sweets hitting the market included Good Humor bars, Eskimo Pies and Pospsicles. The grocery store was laden with temptation and danger. I guess "Yea Bo" was some sort of cool address form, like today's "Hey Dude". `

The Health Fairy of today would probably have to look like a very buff version of Lady Gaga (dressed in thrift store clothing - she'd have to give up her meat dress) in order to hold the kid's attention for any length of time. Her magic wand would be some kind of electronic stylus or perhaps the magic wand patented by Microsoft a few years ago. She would likely be a vegetarian juicer with no personal possessions (except an Iphone), intent on saving the planet, eschewing energy consumption by eating raw and riding her bicycle to the job. Whatever her message it would be conveyed by rapping and she'd have a nose ring and be covered with tattoos of healthy fruits and vegetables. Oh yes, and they'd have to change that name!!! 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Edinburgh Military Tattoo

We have tickets for August 16th. The Edinburgh Tattoo is an even bigger spectacle than usual this year because of the Queen's diamond jubilee. In order to get good seats we upgraded to a whisky tasting package....whisky and canapes at the castle before the performance. Although the tasting will be lost on us we'll have to endure it for the good seats.  I'm watching the whole thing on YouTube before hand in case we get plastered and miss something. You can see a BBC production (or a few minutes) here: Edinburgh Tattoo

The McHargue's were originally the Clan Graham of Scotland, but when driven out of Scotland to Ireland, they spelled their name backwards, as "Maharg," to avoid being captured and killed. Over time, the name Maharg evolved into other spellings/verions/septs, such as Meharg, McHarg, McHargue, McIlhagga, McQuarg.

It almost always rains on the tattoo and you sit outdoors so I'm looking for a raincoat in the Graham tartan. 

Graham tartan

Breakfast conversation

"Grasshoppers are eating my soybeans, I mumbled gloomily to him over my coffee. My squash are probably next on their menu. The bugs are out there eyeing them."
"Grasshoppers can't precisely control the direction they hop in" he laughed. "They just hop high and hard to evade and wherever they land they start eating."
 "They don't discriminate about direction?" I asked skeptically (in the married manner). "Seems like an evolutionary error."
"Well", he said, "They're usually hatched out in the middle of a field so they don't have to navigate.  No matter where they land there's always something to eat".

So I googled grasshoppers and spent a couple of hours re-learning insect facts I used to know and marveling at the many protective devices the grasshopper has - first and foremost those marvelous legs which actually work like a catapult. They are amazing little creatures, but I don't want to share my crop with them. 

Here are my tattered and torn beans with a grasshopper feasting. The plants are pretty well history and the hopper didn't seem to mind my camera or the food was too good to leave behind. Perhaps they save the jumps for real emergencies.

 The squash patch -  next up for lunch.

While I fight the grasshoppers, a picking crew is hard at work picking our avocados. The grueling work of climbing up and down the ladders is even worse today - 85 degrees in the grove. 

The job with too many ups and downs

Intrepid and energetic young man in red, high on the ladder

Bins filling up

Ladders are everywhere


Sunday, July 15, 2012

A colorful visitor

A gorgeous peacock dropped by this evening. We wondered if he might fall through the umbrella - you can see it seriously sagging. Richard heard a couple of sounds, like a truck pulling up to the house and a kind of honking noise, then he saw the bird out back. He stayed about half an hour, looked around and then went on his way. We're hoping he comes back.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sepia Saturday 134: Wheels

What a huge carriage for such a small passenger! When I saw this image, the Indian auto, the Tata Nano came to mind.  It's not all that much larger!

The Nano was originally priced to sell at the Indian equivalent of $2500.00. Switching back to baby carriages, for the same $2500 price you could buy a Roddler for your precious little jewel. I realize the wheels on this thing are nothing compared to the antique Austrian carriage but you can get a  custom paint job, "tuck and roll" upholstery and who know what else to justify the price.


Big wheels also brought to mind the huge wooden water wheels we saw in Hama, Syria. Up to a thousand years old, some of the 20 still in operation are as large as 20 meters across. Not only a sight to behold they groan like prehistoric monsters.  

 You can hear them here:
Hama wooden water wheels grinding

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July Book Club Meeting. A Partial History of Lost Causes

Book Club this month met at Laurie Hill's lovely home. The warm evening air felt good after we completed reading our May book selection, set in icy cold Russia. Sitting in Laurie's lovely home watching the sun set, looking out over the grove covered hills of Fallbrook, the contrast with the Russian cities described in the book was mind-boggling.

Elizabeta lived a few miles north of my hostel, out in a gray neighborhood with rows of identical flats that expanded outward like the units of a self-replicating virus. The streets became narrower and more finicky the farther north we got, and after a while I relieved my indifferent taxi driver of his duties and struck out on foot. I took several wrong turns as I hunted for Elizabeta's apartment, searching through sixteen-letter street names that often differed by only one vowel. I looked down alleyways at fluttering clotheslines, schools of androgynous blond children, large dark dogs that seemed to answer to no one. Above me, apartments were stacked on and over each other like cliff dwelling. 

Traffic in Moscow

"A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel", by Jennifer Dubois was enjoyed by most for the fascinating story and the superb writing. As we are all interested in various aspects of Russia such as the economy, day-to-day living, economic status of women, life style - the book rang a different chord for everyone. Rox listened to the book on tape and enjoyed the two principal voices, Irina - diagnosed genetically and on the verge of sinking into the pit of Huntington's disease and Alexsandr, chess champion and political figure living constantly with the fear of assassination.

This is the debut novel of a brainy master of description, clever word deployment and simile; throughout the intriguing story she skillfully engages all the senses. I got so absorbed in her illuminated story-telling that it was only after I'd finished the book and gone back to re-reading certain passages that I realized how deft the similes were, page after page. Here's a few examples and forgive me for pointing out the sense engaged..this is more as memory trigger for myself than for the reader.

And if there is an actual sense of loneliness longing, it's like feeling a human hand touch you through gauze - removed and almost unrecognizable.

The man's legs were shriveled and mostly missing, and his face had an odd flatness to it. When he lifted his head into the light, Aleksandr could see that he was missing teeth, too, which wasn't unusual but which contributed to the man's overall look of unnerving concavity. He looked like a person who'd been taken apart entirely and then put back together wrong.
She turned to face him, and when she moved, he heard clicks and clinks, the unidentifiable feminine shifting of heels and various bits of jewelry. She was dressed in black, although he thought there might be multiple components to her outfit - a shirt, and a short jacket, and a skirt, maybe? Her face was pretty, but maybe not pretty enough to sustain the attention that came from wearing only black. The outfit was like a drum roll. 

In the light of day, I could give my room a more complete inspection. There were mysterious stains on the floor, and I soon found an apocalyptic toilet down the hall. In the shower, the smell of somebody's gardenia shampoo floated just above the smell of wet dirt. I walked down the hall and passed the rockabilly poker player, who was shuffling his iPod with his thumb. There was a horrific smell outside the hostel's entrance. I declined to investigate it's source. 

A special guest, Laurie's mother Pat added much to our discussions; the rest of us are sadly bereft of mothers and we loved having her join us.  As an antidote to the stark life style described in the novel, Laurie served us a wonderful lobster bisque, a delightful eggplant dish and fresh tomatoes from her splendid and lovingly attended organic garden. In addition we had a salad, guacamole, pierogi and for dessert, as nothing exceeds like excess, we enjoyed Roxs' delicious blackberries and boysenberries fresh from her garden accompanied by chocolatey brownies, the dense moist kind with a crackly crust. As usual plenty of wine was dispatched. We celebrated excellent news from Susan - impending grandmotherdom. Laurie gave us an abbreviated trip report about her visit with her daughter living in South Africa - we need to hear more. 

Sorry - no pictures. I was too busy eating and drinking. 

Next month's book will be Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry, an ultra-light summer thriller.

Jennifer Dubois, so young and so talented
Jennifer duBois is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a 2009-2011 Stegner Fellow in fiction. Her stories have appeared in Playboy, The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, The Florida Review, The Northwest Review and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, will be published by Random House in March 2012. She is currently the Nancy Packer Lecturer in Continuing Studies.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sepia Saturday #133 The Blind Men and the Elephant

When I saw the elephant, the centerpiece of this week's theme, I thought of the following poem.

 The Blind Men and the Elephant

 It was six men of Indostan
 To learning much inclined,
 Who went to see the Elephant
 (Though all of them were blind),
 That each by observation
 Might satisfy his mind

 The First approached the Elephant,
 And happening to fall
 Against his broad and sturdy side,
 At once began to bawl:
 God bless me! but the Elephant
 Is very like a wall!

 The Second, feeling of the tusk,
 Cried, Ho! what have we here
 So very round and smooth and sharp?
 To me tis mighty clear
 This wonder of an Elephant
 Is very like a spear!

 The Third approached the animal,
 And happening to take
 The squirming trunk within his hands,
 Thus boldly up and spake:
 I see, quoth he, the Elephant
 Is very like a snake!

 The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
 And felt about the knee.
 What most this wondrous beast is like
 Is mighty plain, quoth he;
 'Tis clear enough the Elephant
 Is very like a tree!

 The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
 Said: Even the blindest man
 Can tell what this resembles most;
 Deny the fact who can
 This marvel of an Elephant
 Is very like a fan!?

 The Sixth no sooner had begun
 About the beast to grope,
 Than, seizing on the swinging tail
 That fell within his scope,
 I see, quoth he, the Elephant
 Is very like a rope!

 And so these men of Indostan
 Disputed loud and long,
 Each in his own opinion
 Exceeding stiff and strong,
 Though each was partly in the right,
 And all were in the wrong!


 So oft in theologic wars,
 The disputants, I ween,
 Rail on in utter ignorance
 Of what each other mean,
 And prate about an Elephant
 Not one of them has seen!


An with baby elephants in Sri Lanka

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Avocado Morph Suit

Humans in morph suits
In a cookware store in the Haag, we found an avocado morph suit. Slightly different from the human style it has a zipper in the front. Hidden from view is a clip-on feature so you can attach your avocado to your morph suit in case of an attack of guacamole madness.

Avocado getting dressed
Avocado in full party mode

A concert in Amsterdam

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Amsterdam was attending the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra's performance of Brahms ein Deutsches Requiem at the Concertgebouw, one of the acoustically finest concert halls in the world. The conductor, Marc Albrecht, was enthralling. The mammoth Brahms requiem has seven parts played over 80 minutes; the music is huge, raging and thundering with an 85 voice chorale, the imposing pipe organ and pounding kettledrums, liberally scored. 

At the end, after the last note was played, the conductor held his baton aloft; there was a full house freeze-frame, like the baton had thrown out invisible filaments lassoing everyone in a spell -  the musicians, the chorale and the entire audience. No one took a breath.  Seconds passed with all eyes and concentration focused on Marc. When he finally slowly lowered the baton, it touched his stand - finis - and there was an attenuated rustling sigh as 2000 audience shoulders relaxed and the sweating musicians separated from their instruments. The audience leaped up and applause thundered.

Such a mastery of timing. Do they teach this stuff in conducting school?

From the moment the curtains parted and Marc Albrecht trotted down the staircase to the podium radiating charisma and energy, we knew we were in for a treat. These conductors and musicians study scores of works like these in some cases for years and have the opportunity to conduct a particular composition with a full orchestra perhaps only once or at most a dozen or so times in a career. We felt so lucky to have experienced this splendid performance. 

Monday, July 02, 2012


 I've spent more time than I should have on kickstarter explained below.

The filmmakers, musicians, artists, and designers you see on Kickstarter have complete control and responsibility over their own projects. They spend weeks building their own project pages, shooting their own videos, and brainstorming what to offer as rewards. 

Rewards are things like a copy of what's being made, a limited edition, or a custom experience related to the project. This isn't Best Buy — rewards aren't shrink-wrapped and ready to ship. Once the project is funded, the journey to bring them to life begins. 

An interesting way to get funding for a creative project or to invest in something that sparks your interest. There's a sous-vide gadget that I think has promise.