Jul 20

‘And the chain tension in harmony with the correct gear’

Today, on the bicycle, I had an interesting ride. It was one of those days where I really understood gearing, anticipating shifts in all of the right places. It wasn’t la volupté, the voluptuousness, by any means. I seldom get that spare moment Jean Bobet described:

Its magic lies in its unexpectedness, its value in its rarity … It is more than a sensation because one’s emotions are involved as well as one’s actions.

The voluptuous pleasure that cycling can give you is delicate, intimate and ephemeral. It arrives, it takes hold of you, sweeps you up and then leaves you again. It is for you alone. It is a combination of speed and ease, force and grace. It is pure happiness.

I didn’t have that, but I was really in tune, understanding, anticipating, the shifting today. I really had it down in a fine and intimate way. One click here, push over the roller and two pops there. It was one of those days where I really understood it, until I completely and immediately forgot it all. One of those days.

(I really need a haircut.)

Probably it means I have been riding those particular roads too much recently. Indeed, as we see by today’s installment of the irregular feature of Barns by Bike:

As I am sure I’ve written here before, this road was also on the first bike route we rode here. We see it a lot. Do you ever wonder what’s inside people’s barns? You have time on a bike to think about such things.

Anyway, some roads are like that. Everyone has their regular routines. You have to work to escape them sometimes. You see la volupté a lot less frequently. Far too little, in fact. But it’s one of the reasons you keep going out there. Just one of them.

Jul 20

Things I read

I subscribe to Bookbub, a service that sends me emails about books I might like. You sign up, pick your genres, and they send you daily links to Kindle books onsale. I’ve gotten some decent books off the list. Certainly each of them have been worth the money I’ve paid. All of the books range from $.99 to $2.99. And aside from the algorithm sometimes wandering around, it’s been a great service. I tell all of the readers I know about it. No one seems as excited by it as I do, which is fine, but it is a mystery.

Two years ago I got an offer for a complete set of James MacGregor Burns’ three-volume masterpiece, “The American Experiment.” It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Club award. It was 4,000 pages of reading. It was on sale for $2.99.

The modern world is weird.

I didn’t buy it, but as I type this, I regret that. I do see a lot of books come back around so if that series shows up again, I’ll jump on it. Though, honestly, that feels more like a bookshelf book than a Kindle book.

Anyway, I generally read the Kindle books at night, which makes it slow going. I stay up until I’m exhausted, then get ready for bed and then read myself to sleep. So it’s a few pages here, a few pages there. Meaning it took a while for me to finish this book.

Wrapped it up last night. Coolidge tells you a lot about the former president you didn’t know, because you don’t know a lot about Coolidge. That’s a product of the man and our educational system, I guess. But here you get a lot of his economic politics, which makes sense given the author. It’s also a complimentary book, perhaps just a tiny bit fawning, which makes sense given that Amity Shlaes is also chair of the board of trustees of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation.

I’m sure it glosses over some of the contemporary criticism. Teapot Dome is in there, and sure, that’s Harding, but it resonated over Coolidge’s administration, but we don’t get what was surely the real heft of it. And perhaps there are other things, too. Which, hey, to a degree that’s fine. I paid $2.14 after tax and it isn’t an exhaustive biography or the most authoritative scholarship, but it’s a decent enough primer. I’d like to find out about the man as anything and there are parts of his life where you’re put in the room.

I love this part. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone — the vagabonds, they called themselves — have made the pilgrimage to Vermont to see Coolidge before the reelection in 1924. There was the need to give a gift.

Love that line. It’s so New England. Shopworn and perfect.

Coolidge, who was so often a man of few words, probably didn’t say anything like that. Maybe it’s all Shlaes, but the ethos and pathos there say so much. I should make a present-tense version of that and brand it into things I make.

I found photographs of the event. But then I found this:

Ford isn’t whispering to Edison there. The great inventor by then was nearly deaf. You learn in the book that the vagabonds were charmed by Grace Coolidge, the first lady taught at a school for the deaf, and she was helpful with clear speaking and lip reading. The Coolidges had, just a month before, buried their youngest son, at just 16-years-old. And suddenly you’re summering at home and then come these huge leaders of American innovation because campaigns never really stop, even back then.

Here’s more of that footage, if you are inclined.

Having finished Coolidge, I started this book last night.

I mentioned it in a group chat recently and became the butt of many jokes. I’m three or four chapters in and, aside for expounding a little more than necessary on fish, it’s a good read.

Fish was an important part of the Mediterranean diet — still is! And of course this was a staple in England — yep! Northern Europe — sure enough, name a country, we checked! And it’s all in this book. I don’t know if it is going to be the most exhaustive book on salt, but if it isn’t you’ll nevertheless be satisfied. The larger point is how this humble little mineral is a culture shaping, societal forming chemical compound. And so far we’ve only covered China, a bit of India and the first part of selections of Europe, bouncing back and forth across several centuries.

Its Amazon’s best seller in geology. And just look at that list and tell me you wouldn’t dazzle people at parties with the things you could learn from those books. The 19th best seller is about mines in a particular county in Nevada. Number 37? So glad you asked, “Carbonate Reservoir Characterization: An Integrated Approach.”

I’d say that’s the sort of thing you read to get some Stop Bothering Me trivia, but how much of that does one really need?

Jan 20

Hello, everybody

How are you? Did you miss me? I would understand if you didn’t. There’s a lot of stuff out there to see and read and watch and hear and do. And if it isn’t in our faces all of the time, we might not even be aware of it’s absence. We are consumerists of the moment. It has probably always been this way, since society reached beyond some arbitrary critical mass of saturation, but let’s blame it on the Internet.

Shame on you, Internet. There’s just so much of you. So much so, that people won’t even notice me. Or, most critically, notice if I’ve taken the day, or many, off.

Which is what I’ve done. It was a nice idea and I’m pleased with having done it. I haven’t written anything here, or on social media, though I have kept up a little. I’ve just done the other things in life. And, I suppose, that means I’ve had a little extra time. So I have accomplished more stuff! Well, yes and no. Mostly no, but also yes, in a pleasing enough manner. I read four books. Two of them were essay collections edited by Edwin Grosvenor, one on The Civil War and one on World War I. These were both good. It was, I said to a friend, like reading well-written longform Wikipedia posts on specific subjects. I also read Al Roker’s story about the 1900 hurricane in Galveston. It was a book that tried to walk a line between people who want to know about weather and, yet, no know nothing about weather. It is a great and tragic and amazing tale, one somehow lost in the modern zeitgeist. But the book could have done with another editing pass or two. Also, I finished a book about the archeology of the battle of the Culloden battlefield. We visited there a few years ago, and the interpretation is well done for casual visitors. Most battlefields are difficult, for me anyway, to visualize and understand. Not so, Culloden. Part of that is because of the work that’s been done to return the hallowed ground to what it looked like in 1746. And that’s because of thoughtful scholarship like that found in this book.

Things that have happened since we spoke last…

I got sick! There were about six days of feeling rough, eight days of eating zinc and vitamin supplements and cough drops like candy, and three of those days where I was laid quite low. After that, another week of idle coughing and throat clearing. But I’m fine now. It was, as you might expect, a fine way to bring in the new year. But, with that out of the way, I’m good to go and be virus-free until about 2026 or so.

I returned to work after the holidays, of course. (As did you! Was your office different? Mine was exactly the same.)

The beginning of a semester brings its own odd pace. Two or three weeks in, as we are now, the rush of the start is over and we slip into the rhythm of the term. But, in addition to that early semester rush, we’ve also been working toward a project that just wrapped last Friday. CBS Sports was here, producing an episode of We Need To Talk. They used our studio, some of our students and talked to and about a lot of the local sports world. This is the only clip they’ve put online so far:

It was a good show, a good experience for the people who took advantage of it. And, most importantly, we can move on to other things.

Let’s catch up on everything else with photographs.

Poseidon is still getting into everything. We try to keep him out of the laundry room, but he’s fast. And he knows precisely what he’s going for, the bag randomly sitting between the dryer and the ironing board:

We’ve had gray skies:

A lot of gray skies:

It’s just positively charming in its perpetual dreariness. (It’s not.)

We’re averaging one day of blue sky a week. But on one particular blue sky day we had a nice sunset:

It should just happen more often, is all.

I’ve been running, of course. Even as I was trying to get over my head cold. And I have had the opportunity to use the running light that The Yankee got me for Christmas:

It casts a giant arc of light. Probably looks weird coming at you, but you don’t miss things on the sidewalk or path or road. And it inadvertently spotlights deer. Now we both have one of these ONE80 lights, and we’re big fans. If you run, or work outside at night, or need something that’s ridiculously bright and long-lasting and hands free, this is the one you want.

Also, it has been cold, of course. But happily, so far this year, it has been an unseasonably mild winter. Even still, cold enough.

Only a few days this month have been really bitter. And that’s plenty for the year, thanks.

I got to run with Venus, which you can see in the twilight here:

The Canada geese are just moving back and forth from one pond to another around here.

They think, this is south enough, I guess. They are mistaken.

There is a running path behind our house. It has little tendrils that extend out to the road in front of us, but otherwise, it just exists unto itself, ending in a fallow field on one end and almost seven-tenths of a mile away it ends in woods. It is one of many paths around the city, and we’ve been told that they’ll one day all be connected, which would be a great feature, if you think about it. The realization of that goal may well be long after we can be bothered to care, or live here. But there is a bit of progress on our local stretch of pedestrian asphalt. The path behind us has been extended a bit, recently. Now it goes back and behind the newer developments on the road. Meanwhile, one of the other paths (which joins the larger network on one end and just … stops … on the other end) is growing toward our little path. One problem: the creek in between. Well, that problem has been solved:

Now those two paths just have to link up.

Also, the ponds recently froze:

Definitely the kind of weather I want to be outside in. Fortunately they haven’t been frozen solid. Here’s a shot of a larger pond, just a day or three later. And if you squint at the fuzzy background in the distance it almost looks like that’s some sort of alpine village, which would be an upgrade.

It has been cold enough for the cats to cuddle:

Phoebe is also doing just fine:

And now we’ll try to get back into some normal routine around here, too.

Dec 19

A random assortment from Monday

On Saturday, Poseidon had the howling cat blues:

He looks like a different animal with his mouth open. It’s weird.

Phoebe, meantime, was unimpressed.

What’s nice is that, as you can just see from that side view of the window, it was a gorgeous day. You can even see it based on the light bouncing off this Chick-fil-A window:

That’s one merry dairy cow, I said on Instagram. And not enough people appreciated that word play and my taking advantage of every chance possible to point out that, for decades now, Chick-fil-A has been using the wrong breed of cattle in their promos.

But it was a lovely day to make that argument. Today, today was less attractive in every way.

I used to count how many times I’d seen someone leave their cart in this particular parking lot’s handicapped spots. It’s a rural area. There are a lot of older people shopping in those particular stores. I visit once a week, or so, on a regular errand and I have met plenty of people that might take advantage of that spot.

The last thing anyone that needs a handicapped spot wants to deal with, besides the rain and the cold and whatever condition they feel like that particular day, is the laziness of a person who can’t push the cart to the corral not 25 feet away.

I’m sure you were just in a hurry.

So I pushed the cart up to the store. Someone ought to.

Every once in a great while you get to read a real treat of a story. I consume a lot of news, part of the job, and over the years I’ve written or read almost every kind of formula covering most any kind of story you can put in front of your eyes on any given day. They still have value, but you sometimes just know where a story is going.

But once in a great while, you get a treat. Here’s one now.

The first time he spoke to her, in 1943, by the Auschwitz crematory, David Wisnia realized that Helen Spitzer was no regular inmate. Zippi, as she was known, was clean, always neat. She wore a jacket and smelled good. They were introduced by a fellow inmate, at her request.

Her presence was unusual in itself: a woman outside the women’s quarters, speaking with a male prisoner. Before Mr. Wisnia knew it, they were alone, all the prisoners around them gone. This wasn’t a coincidence, he later realized. They made a plan to meet again in a week.

On their set date, Mr. Wisnia went as planned to meet at the barracks between crematories 4 and 5. He climbed on top of a makeshift ladder made up of packages of prisoners’ clothing. Ms. Spitzer had arranged it, a space amid hundreds of piles, just large enough to fit the two of them. Mr. Wisnia was 17 years old; she was 25.

You can’t excerpt a story like this, to give it justice, and you will find yourself glancing over at the scroll bar and sad to see how you only have so much of the story to go. You’re going to want it to go on, like a great book. You’re going to run through almost every emotion possible. And you’re going to want to keep reading it. So go read it.

Speaking of books …

It’s dense. It’s detailed. We’re starting to catch up to the period on electricity. I’m going to finish that one, some day.

Nov 19

We’re averaging 300 words per topic here

How was your Thanksgiving? As great as mine, I hope. The in-laws are in town, and we are having a lovely visit. The Yankee and her mother made a delicious meal (and I got in the way of things a little bit) and we were able to enjoy it last night and tonight. There’s still some good stuff in the refrigerator, so if you’re out of Thanksgiving provisions feel free to stop by.

Thanksgiving seemed to sneak up this year. It wasn’t until near the end of last week that it seemed an eventuality. I’ll blame the timeless nuance of the work structure. You’re bound into the regiment of the week, each week, this week, next week the one after, all just like the last in their own way. And it’s hectic in its own way. And then, suddenly, people are thinking and talking about their travel plans. And then the travel and you begin to focus on the good stuff: the family, the visiting, the food.

And then, almost as quickly as it arrives, it is gone. Swallowed by like leftovers, like a running back in so many bad Thanksgiving football games, or even worse Friday night games. It’s almost as if you’re reminded, just in time, to spend this moment as a moment for which you should be thankful, and remember all of the many blessings you have. That we have to reminded is a human failing. That we now follow a day of such humility with a day of crass commercialism – what once was shopping in stores became camping out and then shopping over night and shopping online and, now, “Dear Lord, how did all of these companies get my good email address?” — is probably the second problem.

Now it is the season of lights and cold and shopping and traveling and feasts and generically labeled office parties and more sugar cookies than you need and exploitive commercials.

Seven more emails from stores I once shopped at in 2011 rolled in just as I wrote that paragraph.

I put handles on the stove cover this evening. We started using it earlier this week, without them, to see if it was necessary. We quickly decided it was necessary.

So, fortunately, I’d purchased two drawer pulls earlier this week that are vaguely reminiscent of what is featured in the kitchen cabinets. And then I picked up four screws that were too long. So I sawed them down to an appropriate size earlier in the week. And then tonight, after everyone had retired, I agonized over how to do this.

It involved tape, a fair amount of muttering and wondering at how many ways I could get the measuring wrong. A lot, it turns out. But when you add hardware last, you are obliged to get the actual process correct the first time. This isn’t the finest piece of craftsmanship in the world, mind you, but when you put a drill bit into finished wood you are definitely stepping over the point of no return.

And I had to have that conversation with myself twice.

Sure, if you were making dressers or cabinets or anything in mass, you’d work up a template or a jig to speed things along. This was four screws on an artisanal piece of folk art from extra lumber and a few free moments grabbed from here and there. I’m an amateur, is what I’m saying.

For us amateurs, it isn’t the first screw that’s the problem. You have to have the second one in precisely the right spot, so the handle can actually attach.

That made for a few tense moment. Drill on wood, drill in wood, drill through wood. And now the screw, pushed from one side through the last. And where is the handle? There it is. They always escape, like they know something. Do they know something? Is this going to fit? Should I just start trying to soften up the handle now so I can warp it if it doesn’t fit? It isn’t going to fi — elbow grease it into place. It fit. But only just barely.

That was the second side when, presumably, I was more prepared for the task. When I’d figured out my process. After the first time, when I had to do a little hand shimming of the second drill bit whole.

Anyway, they both fit. The stove cover is done and in place and if it works for at least three weeks then we’ll have gotten the effort out of it, I guess. Also, the next time I make something like this, I’m using knobs. Just the one screw, after all.

So, next week, then, it is back to my tie rack. Only nine more pieces to sand!

But today, you have the books!

Today we’re wrapping up our examination of the April 1969 Reader’s Digest from my grandfather’s mound of books. It is the last of the Digest, so we’ll have to start something else in the next few days. Perhaps the stash of Modern Science. Perhaps some other thing that catches my eye. We’ll get them all eventually, but you can get this right now.

Click the book cover to see the latest. If you are catching up, you can see the entire 50-year-old April issue here. If you’d like to see some other things from the my grandfather’s collection — there are textbooks and notebooks and more — just follow this link.