Nov 23

Perhaps the most wind, non-storm related, I’ve experienced

We covered the fig tree in the backyard. This was a process. It took several days. First, you have to find out this is necessary. Then you have to make some attempts to find out how to cover it. Everyone has an opinion. None of them are authoritative. Some seem excessive — insulation! plastic! whale blubber! — and some some very casual. So who knows, really.

Anyway, get some burlap. Burlap does the trick. Burlap, you can’t find in stores. Oh you can find some useless burlap netting, which is meant to get in the way of your gardening, I guess, but it has no practical application. So finding burlap is the second step. We found some coverings. We put it on the fig tree. It was not big enough.

So we ordered a second burlap covering. That was step three. It arrived last Wednesday, and we put them on the fig tree on Thursday. One cover on the left half of the tree, the other cover on the right. It took the two of us and, there was a moment when a third set of hands might have been helpful. That was step four, I guess. One of the covers blew off last night, so today, step five.

And I got the fig tree, the part on the right, covered once again. All by my lonesome. And, oh, the details I could tell you about that. Only it was very windy today, so this was done in vain. The cover stayed on for … about two, three, hours. It was very windy.

This is how windy it was today. I went out for my bike ride and I went down this road. The map shows about six tenths of a mile, and if you go from right to left you’re on a slight, a very slight, downhill. You lose about 15 feet of elevation in that time. It’s nothing. But then there was the wind, blowing from the left to the right, gusting at 36 miles per hour.

I was in my hardest gear, pedaling as well as I could, and my Garmin said I was doing 8 mph. I was afraid I would just fall over from lack of progress. At the end of that image there’s a road that makes a big circle. Our neighbor, also a cyclist, says he’ll go ride that loop to hide from the wind. He says he’ll do 15 laps in there. It is almost 1.7 miles of a lovely wooded neighborhood, and it does keep a lot of the wind off of you. But that seems like a lot of repetition to me. Plus, three buses came in there during the short time I was there today, and I passed the same landscapers six times. They were beginning to get curious, and my feet were beginning to get cold.

The weather app said it felt like 25 degrees. And there were also flurries. Which is funny, because, before I consulted the app at the end of my ride, I thought I saw two or three suspicious things falling from the sky.

I’ve never ridden in flurries or snow before — because I used to have more sense, I guess, but we’ll get into that tomorrow — and I still haven’t, not really. I thought something was falling out of the trees. I thought I wanted to be inside, which is where I went, after I discovered that the second cover, on the right-hand-side of the fig tree, had blown off again.

Well tomorrow for that, then. This evening I had to make a run to the hardware store. I picked up some electrical tape for another project-in-vain, some more of that twine for same. And, also, a short length of garden hose. Like extension cords, you can never have enough garden hose. It’s been a while since I’ve purchased any hose. You have many options these days, and I have no idea which is the most appropriate for the particular planned drain duty. I chose the heavy duty version. It’ll probably last longer than any of the other ongoing outdoors projects.

And, now, to the grading! So much to grade! But a lot of it is fun stuff. So much fun stuff to grade!

Nov 23

Never good with a carpenter’s square …

It was a rainy day, cold and dreary, but that was just fine. Attention was needed inside, anyway. I busied myself putting some things in the basement and checking on the plants that are under growth lights down there. (Some are doing well.) I moved a few things around upstairs. I cleaned my share of the stuff off of the guest bed. I cleaned the guest bathroom.

All of that and many of the other quotidian chores of the day. It allowed me to ponder the etymology of the word quotidian. (I don’t normally think of etymology, but it’s a fun word.) It comes from French, and old English.

The version we use goes back 700 or so years, “something that returns or is expected every day.” And that sounds about right, for regular ol’ housework.

I also did a lot of grading, because grading needed to be done. Later this week, if I spend another hour on it, I’ll be all caught up. I intended to do that today, but I distracted myself by rearranging the shelves in my office closet.

I used the old step stool. I made this, I believe, in the 7th grade. It was the first or second project we made in shop class. It was the most basic carpentry-by-numbers project. My woodworking skills aren’t especially great today, but they were even less so then. No patience for sanding, had a difficult time cutting anything square, and no patience: the usual strengths one must possess. But, decades later, this is still in good use.

While I was never very good in the shop, my grades were better in the classroom. This, I think, is the only one of my wood shop projects that survived the years. Quite the functional souvenir. I wonder how many of my old classmates still have these step stools somewhere.

A few years ago, I made another stool, a different design, but not much better. It does its primary job, though, giving you couple of feet of extra height. Maybe it’ll work for about the same length of time.

I must return to the Re-Listening project, because I am behind. The Re-Listening project is pretty simple. I am playing all of my old CDs, in the order in which I acquired them, in the car. Then I’m writing about them here, irregularly, it turns out. These aren’t reviews, because who cares? But, it’s another way to pad out the site, I can play and enjoy some music and, occasionally, some memories. I am eight discs behind in terms of writing about them, and I have resolved to listen to a few of those over and over until I catch up here.

So let’s catch up, a bit. We go back to 2003, when I picked up the 2002 Maroon 5 debut. “Songs About Jane” was released in 2002, and it was re-released in October 2003 when it was getting some traction. I have that one, it seems. Five singles were put on the airwaves, and pushed and pushed into radios. The record topped the charts in Australia, France, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and reached the top-ten in 17 other countries. It peaked at number six here, selling nearly 2.7 million copies in it’s first year and change. Millions more were moved around the world. It was certified as platinum in 15 countries, and was a multi-platinum debut in eight of those.

Everyone, then, had this record. Let’s talk, then, abut the acoustic EP. It was recorded in New York City in January of 2003, and I have that for some reason, too. It sits right next to the debut in my CD book.

“The Sun” was on the record, but it was not a single. So, if you’re one of the four people who listened to pop music in the oughts who don’t have this record, maybe you don’t know this song.

There’s also a Beatles cover on the EP, which seems an anachronism for this band and time. But it’s pretty good.

Entertainment Weekly called it faceless pop.

From their crisply played but blandly facile songs to a weak-kneed cover of the Beatles’ ”If I Fell,” Maroon 5 cement their reputation as kings of the new faceless pop. Remember when Journey and Styx were derided as generic corporate rock? In retrospect, Steve Perry and Dennis De Young were idiosyncratic oddballs compared with Maroon singer Adam Levine, whose voice sounds more grating than usual without the much-needed studio gloss.

The reviewer might have gotten all of this right, in retrospect.

I remember playing these in Florida, on a 2004 trip. I surely played these discs a lot because, even though I haven’t listened to them in a long, long time, I remembered every key modulation when I played them for the Re-Listening project. But none of those bring to mind big memories. It was probably just a lot of back-and-forth to work music. But that trip to Florida was a fun one.

Tomorrow, we’ll return to the Re-Listening project, and we’ll find ourselves once more in 2004 with two terrific albums.

But, for now, I must return to the Thanksgiving preparations.

Nov 23

A lot of keyboard time today

I spent a lot of time staring at the computer screen today. It was productive, right up until the point when things got blurry. That’s a mental distinction, not a visual one. I just keep typing when that happens, hoping it still makes sense after that and wonder why it happens more quickly these days than it did, once upon a time.

I assume this is a conditioning issue, or a problem with the spatial mechanics of my desk and chair. Maybe it could be that I sit in a westerly direction. Could be the altitude. Maybe the water or the air. Definitely has nothing to do with age.

Some of today’s typing had to do with Thursday’s classes. So I have some time to circle back and check that work, at least.

It could also be the changing of the clocks. I am still having a difficult time adjusting to two aspects of it this year. First, the time of day when a bright sunny day turns to the early silver gray before twilight and just how rapidly night comes on here. It’s fast.

I did get out for a bike ride this evening. I set off at 4:37. I bumped into a neighbor, who is also a cyclist. He was walking his dog, Prudence, so we chatted for a moment, before he cautioned me that I wouldn’t have much time. But I have a light, and lots of sun and I was just going to ride around here, I said.

I set off on one of the regular routes, heading the opposite direction. I pulled the pin 22 minutes and five miles and change in. I should turn left, to follow the regular route, which would give me a 21-mile circuit. But I turned right, realizing the hour — it being all of 4:59 at that point, and the light was fading fast. Two miles and seven minutes on that road before I take another right. And then, a half-mile later, one more right. Now I’m back on the road that leads to our subdivision. I’ve been out 32 minutes and gone just over seven miles. It’s now 5:09 and it seems like a good idea to just keep it within the neighborhood.

So I spent the next 50 minutes in a two-mile stretch, covering three neighborhoods, back and forth, back and forth, to get an additional 12 miles and change, and almost all of that in the dark.

When I got into our neighborhood, I met my lovely bride, who had returned from campus and was taking a walk. She saw me first, of course. Guy on bike, bright-as-the-sun headlight. I rode the circle and saw her one more time.

All of this was very slow — ’tis the season — but I did enjoy one 18 mile per hour split, very early, and did set a PR on one Strava segment. Barely had a chill, until right near the end. Funny how that happens.

Here are a few more photos from our Sunday afternoon trip to Cape May this past weekend. I’m stretching these out to cover the week.

We’d just turned away from one marshy inlet or pond — all of this being in the area of some brackish water that looks distinctively different and yet the same — where we’d watched ducks look for a late lunch and swans judge everyone. That was our first of two such observation points where we could spy on the waterfowl, but as the trail looped us back into the woods, the sun was dancing perfectly on the leaves.

It isn’t a hike, I don’t think, when the trails are so well maintained as all of this, but it was a splendid place to be. And, if you’ll notice at the top of this photo, the implication is that part of the trail is not only tree-lined, but offers a canopy.

I like pictures like that for some reason. They’re a dime a dozen, but I don’t care. It isn’t a metaphor, but there’s just something about not knowing what’s next that makes it an intriguing visual. I stopped my lovely bride from walking into the shot, but before she figured out what I was doing, she stopped to pose for a picture or two. This one is one of my favorites from that little sequence.

Still smiles like a little kid. I have digital scans of all of her childhood slides to prove it.

More from the beach tomorrow, including some actual clues we were at a beach! And, also, we’ll see more of the local historical markers in another installment of We Learn Wednesday. Do make sure you stop back by to check it out.

Nov 23

The bike, the trees, and democracy inaction

I spent a fair chunk of the day grading things that needed to be graded. And, boy does time fly when you’re trying to make sure students hit all of an assignment’s requirements. And that’s before the subjective parts of grading a somewhat subjective project.

Somewhere between that and the quotidian — watering the plants, reading the news, attending to the cats and the like — the day was filled. And that’s how the day is filled. Mostly, anyway. I spent a little time playing with maps.

Because I wanted to ride in a new direction today. So I drew a different 20-mile square. It was a good route. The first side of the square is a familiar road. I took a left, instead of a right, and went by where we get pizza. There’s a Wendy’s there. I hadn’t noticed that before. Right around there it was a bit crowded, but just after, I was back in the country.

And that’s where I found today’s barn.

I saw another barn that I didn’t photograph. Right in front of it, I realized the yard wasn’t a yard, but a huge chicken run. In the corner of that was the nicest, most suburban looking coop you’ve ever seen. I didn’t photograph the barn because I thought it was a house. It was nicer than most people’s houses. The chicken coop was better than some, too. I wanted to double back and knock on their door — the owners, not the chickens — and ask them a few questions.

What did you study? What do you do? Where did I go wrong?

But, hey, it was a stunningly beautiful afternoon and I was outside enjoying it, so maybe I didn’t do too much wrong.

Just down the road from that fancy set up, I was passing through two freshly cut fields, and wondering about this tree. Why did they leave the one? Was there something sentimental about it? Was this where they sat in the shade for lunch on the hottest days? Acreage is important, but just the one tree, right up on the road?

And then I noticed the Harvestore silos coming up in the background. The ol’ blue tombstones.

Those were a popular brand a few generations back, and they apparently worked well, unless there was a user error. But changing economies, scale, and the realities of farming changed underfoot of the Harvestore silo salesmen. Those things were always changing around the farmer, and they were used to it. But in, a wry way, this symbol became something of an omen, and not the best kind for a lot of small farms.

The blue is actually a glass treatment. These silos hold wet shelled corn, or corn silage, and they can be labor intensive. Other methods of feeding livestock make more sense these days. But that farm down the road has four of these big silos, and that’s not a small number. They look new, or at least well maintained. And someone was out there working when I slid past. Hundreds of kernels of corn were scattered across the road at the entrance to the lot.

Four more lefts and two more rights, nine miles and several smiles later, I was back in my yard.

I spent a few minutes walking among the trees during the golden hour. We have at least two different kind of pine trees on the property … make that three.

That tree sits on the back border, and it has a four-needle cluster. And these incredible pine cones make me think this is the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus).

Wikipedia tells me mature trees are often 200–250 years old. In New York they found one that was 458 years old a few decades ago. Others in Michigan and Wisconsin were roughly 500 years old. So let’s assume I’m right about the species. Those cones are mature, the tree is still quite youthful.

I believe this is a pear. Bradford (Pyrus calleryana) or Plymouth (Pyrus cordata), I don’t know. This tree was planted, or grew, in isolation, which is a shame. You need two pear trees to be about 20 feet apart to have pollination and of different varieties, for cross-pollination and fruit production. So, on the downside, no fruit. I love pears.

On the upside, I don’t have to pick up a whole bunch of rotten pears. And they look pretty nice, too.

This is a black cherry (Prunus serotina). I think. We have two of them, but they only produce very small, bitter fruits. Or at least that was the case this year. They can grow as old as 250 years, and produce fruit for a century. So the tree has time, probably.

We have a nice young eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), too. These guys are fascinating, and can live for almost a millennium. If, that is, someone doesn’t cut them up for good lumber. And, oh, the things you can make with good cedar.

Right next to the cedar there’s an American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). It’s a popular ornamental tree, of course. But the resin has been important for hundreds of years. Also, the spiny seed pods.

The people we bought the house from had some sort of handheld seed pod collector. They left it for us and we’ll see, at some point, if that thing is any good. And, from that knowledge, we’ll decide if they were generous, the previous owners, or tricksters.

Those seed pods are the key to a great many things.

Some of the rose bushes are still blooming.

And just after that I discovered I dropped my lens cap. The light was dying and I was going inside and, oh, I just touched glass and not plastic.

So I walked around, unsuccessfully, trying to find the 52 mm piece of black plastic in the blue-gray light that was fading away quickly. No luck. I’ll look again tomorrow. Guaranteed it’s under the sweetgum, which is shedding leaves rapidly, covering so many of those seed pods — those feet offenders, those heal harmers, toe ticklers, those arch agitaters — that feel like they should all be investigated.

We went to vote tonight — the off-off-year voting for the most spendingest state lawmaker candidates you can imagine being the local highlight. It’s gotten personal. And they’re buying in bulk. They might be taking out ad buys together. Where there’s the one fellow who doesn’t like women or employees, there’s the other fellow of questionable moral judgment. Whoever wins tonight the biggest loser will be the bulk mail printers, the political consultants and the TV stations.

I’ve decided, this campaign season, that the problem isn’t the campaigns or the saturation buys. It’s the quality of the advertisements. They’re just bad.

Anyway, we went down the road to the polling place. Three districts were funneled into one room, and then split apart again. We live in District 1, and that was to the right, where two tables were put together. Four pleasant women were staffing the two computers there. My lovely bride went to one, I hit the other. They could not, however, find us in the system. Voter registration is automatic with your license but, in this state, in the 21st century, it takes … several weeks for these data files to be merged.

We missed the cutoff by one day. Despite our names showing up on the customer-facing website I found, the clerk’s system didn’t show our names. One of the ladies made a phone call, which required another phone call. I figured two phone calls from a volunteer was above and beyond. We thanked the ladies, and made to leave, with disenfranchisement jokes — some of them pretty clever — as we stepped away. The women, of course, realized we were new to the small town, so the ladies seamlessly transitioned into a welcoming committee.

Go to this! Go to that! Make sure you check out the Christmas event! Oh, and there’s a great bookstore, too, one of them said.

She said it with a grin, the kind you were intended to see, so that you might easily get the joke. The bookstore is hers. Her husband’s, actually.

We know of the store, passed by it and all that, but I haven’t been inside yet. But now I’ve met someone involved and she told me all about it.

I said, “You know, I’ve said for years,” pointing to my lovely bride for verification, “that my retirement plan is to find a nice used bookstore that’s closed a few days a week and offer to work those days. The owner needs a day off, but I can go sit in there, open the store, maybe we sell a thing or two. I definitely read a lot.”

She’s nodding along, my wife, and the older woman says Don’t tell that to Tom. He’ll take you up on it. So now, I guess, I have to go make a new acquaintance.

Nov 23

Happy Halloween

I dressed as … me. Early in the day I had a Texas shirt on. Now I am wearing a Maryland shirt. I dressed as four percent of the United States. No one asked me, but I have categories for Halloween costumes. I would obviously fit in the not-wearing-a-costume category. Sometimes that one is also labeled the forgot-entirely category, or the “What do I have sitting around that I can justify as a lame costume?” category. I think costumes are for children, but at the same time, I don’t begrudge adults who have a lot of fun with it. (Some people have more than one costume and I admire how they spend their abundant free time.) Enjoy yourself, I say. But, if you’re over 15, leave the candy for the kids.

It’s a hard line approach i have to Halloween, let me tell you.

Much of today was doing busy personal work. Things like reorganizing my wallet with newly activated cards. Important work like watching half-hour long training videos for work. Valuable stuff like planning Thursday’s classes.

Much of that was a great casting about today. Rending this and gnashing that. But finally, here late in the evening, it all started to come together. Which means I will tomorrow have to lay things out a with a little more definition.

Other things today … lessee. A few, a tiny few, yard things, for it was overcast and damp and cold. And then I walked around delivering mail. Our carrier had a rough day of it yesterday. Three things for neighbors two houses up the street one direction landed in our box, and a magazine destined for someone two houses the other direction landed in our box. So I had to walk those things to the appropriate places.

Then the Canada geese flew overhead.

They were heading southeast by my reckoning, never a bad direction to go.

I also put a card in the mail today, all a part of the now regular test to see if things will arrive in anything approaching a timely fashion. When it came down to a post-2016-post-2020-post-everything, not many people, really, thought the mail would be the everyday thing that lost its reliability. It makes sense if you’re paying attention to the Postal Service, a big concern with many, and big, problems — but who pays attention to the Postal Service?

I am overdue in returning to the Re-Listening project. And we need to do some catching up, lest we fall behind like the postal service. Remember, if you can recall back that far in reading here, that the Re-Listening project is the one where I am listening to all of my old CDs, in the order of my acquisition. And I’m writing about it here to share some music and the occasional memory. These aren’t reviews, but they are fun little trips down memory lane.


I’ve somehow accumulated some of the less pleasant associations with this record, so I’m not going to dwell on that here. The music was good, so I guess i played it a lot, and there it was in the background, or the foreground, when things happened. As will happen. But, when I played “Waiting for My Rocket to Come” the other day, I was pleased with how well most of it still holds up.

Jason Mraz’s debut was released in 2002, and someone burned a copy of it for me sometime in 2003. (Or maybe I burned it from a library copy. It’s impossible to say, and it doesn’t matter. It sold 500,000 copies by the end of that and has since been certified platinum. There was the hit single, a top 40 introduction to all of us.

The record peaked at 55 on the US Billboard 200. And it climbed all the way to number two on the US Heatseekers Albums chart. Only Finch, a post-hardcore emo band I don’t recall at all, kept it from the top spot that May. I wonder what I was doing in May of 2003.

It seems like you should remember the yesterdays that were only two decades ago, he digressed.

It’s an impressive record. Tracks four, five and six are so distinct and different from one another, that you can forget he’s a young guy here, and that this is his first record.

Though, I’ll grant you, “Curbside Prophet” feels pretty dated 20 years on.

Mraz had all kind of success after his debut. His third record hit number three on the chart and was certified four times platinum. His fourth made it to number two, and spawned another top 10 hit. At least two more records made the top ten on the albums chart. He’s also won two Grammy awards. Most of which I had no idea about. But one other album should show up later in the Re-Listening Project.

It will probably happen before he goes on tour again. If you want to see Jason Mraz live it looks like you’ll have to wait until next summer.

Up next is Diana Krall’s sixth studio album. I picked it up because I knew some people would like it, and because it was another opportunity to add a little complexity to the collection. This is a jazz and bossa nova tribute record with a lot of great standards. All of which Johnny Mercer has to show up. And, sure enough, here’s the Johnny Mercer track.

This one proves the critics’ point. Diana Krall is almost a singular pianist and an incredibly accomplished singer. But it all gets swallowed up by string arrangements.

Yes, there’s a Hoagy Carmichael number. Actually, a Carmichael and Jane Brown Thompson number. And there’s a story. Carmichael wrote the music, inspired by a poem palmed to him anonymously while he was back visiting IU. The poem said J.B. Carmichael put the initials on the sheet music, but it took more than a decade to solve the mystery. Jane Brown Thompson died the night before the song was introduced on radio by Dick Powell.

That story made it onto an episode of “Telephone Time” a mid-1950s anthology drama series. Wouldn’t you know it, that episode of “Telephone Time” is one of the few that haven’t been uploaded to YouTube.

The title track is a Burt Bacharach standard.

The album topped the Canadian charts, won a Juno and a Grammy. Also, she’s wearing nice shoes in the cover photo.

Diana Krall is still performing. And if you want to fly south, like those geese, you can catch her touring in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia all this month.

In the Re-Listening Project installment, Thursday probably, we will once again discover how Guster is for Lovers.