Monday, October 17, 2005

Autumnal Trivia 

Autumn leaf color variance in vine maples.

Why there is so much color variability in fall leaves. (Short version for non-scigeeks: turning red protects leaves from "the too-rapid breakdown of chlorophyll" in excess light conditions, but variance in exposure --> variance in color.)

From the Botany Photo of the Day blog of the the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. Posted especially with the mother-in-law in mind, as a long overdue thankyou for the occasional odd link. Via BoingBoing, of course.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:25 PM | 4 comments


Even before the iPod was stolen, my life had grown quiet. No job, no home, no radio show, no rest for the psyche; it was fitting, perhaps, to be musicless in our gypsy mode, bereft of constancy in this like everything else, as if it were symptomatic of our rootless, uncertain existence.

Sure, you say, for most of that time I was iWired. The purewhite double umbillical earcords are all the rage. But most of my love for the 'pod is based on its whole and expandable potential, and no stereo means no speakers, no computer and no new CDs means no rich and constant bloodflow from the everemerging world of hi fidelity.

And how can you select a soundtrack for a coming horizon, an iffy unknown? You can't, and anyway, you can't really play your own music in other people's houses. And you can't sing in public with the damn phones on, and we were living in public.

It takes an environment to build an environment, four walls to build a mood beyond your ears, infiltrate the nearworld with your sonic selectivity until the world is, for just a moment, yours envelopingly. Who knew the sound of constant doubt was silence?

Through most of the long journey to here there was enough music, I suppose, though that's kind of like saying "there was enough air." Still, as long as the car was our home, I had a few moments here and there to roll up the windows and wail, I suppose -- mere pittance, but respite nonetheless.

Then, of course, with the iPod and FM broadcasting attachment gone, even the carspace was somehow less my own. I'd started listening to NPR in the morning -- we're not exactly in station central out here in the woods. But it's not the same.

Then there was the three weeks while, excruciatingly, the gifted iPod replacement (thanks, Dad) sat fallow on the shelf while we waited for a computer. But once we got one (thanks, Josh), it took me ten days to upload the first two thousand songs -- a mere pittance, even with a thousand podcompressed photos lending weight to the gig total. I'm but a third of the way through the CD collection, feeding disks to iTunes as I pass like coins a hotel lobby slot machine. Surfing the the mp3blog shortlist has once again become a daily ritual.

I got to a couple thousand, just to be sure.

And then, oh sweet then, I hit play.

Now I select songs for the moodsetting again, thinking of more than just my own needs, bestowing love through soundwaves once again. I play for the heart -- both mine and others, in every configuration. I feel like I'm in the flow, rediscovering, tracking down the rest of that song I heard on the radio, dropping it in the mix.

The stereo is in fragments, no surface yet to support it. But we dance nightly before bedtime, the baby in my arms, laughing, while her sister and I spin a lurching two-step. Tonight, for the first time since June, I harmonized my way through the laundry. Once again my head is filled with constant music.

Amazing how this tiny white box, this companion software, this small computer in the midst of cardboard chaos, majestically clears the bar, is transformation enough.

My life has its soundtrack back.

I can hear my heart again, and it sounds like everything.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:29 PM | 5 comments

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Absolut Mundania 

It's hard not to like any weekend that begins with the circus, even if you have to get up early to drive into Boston for it. And it makes things easier if your three-year-old throws up in the car on the way to the circus, thus making room for an entire bag of cotton candy plus a purple sno cone in a plastic elephant --watching that come up would have been much worse; this way, it was easier to help her pace the sugar intake appropriately, and she got to wear clean clothes throughout.

The circus was...the circus, I guess. Darcie and I went a bunch of years ago, mostly because she had never gone; though it was the real Barnumandbaileyringlingbrothers deal, and though the kids seemed awed by the whole experience, something about the surprising thinness of the matinee crowd, maybe the glare of the sunshine seeping in through our psyches, kept it a bit off-edge. The smiles seemed more forced than usual, maybe. The too-sleepy lions and their tamer tried a few halfhearted tricks and gave up mid-performance, though my favorite act (motorcycles in a cage) is always pretty spectacular.

Gotta admit, though -- when your six month old infant wakes up during the smashbang spectacular that is the circus finale, looks around in wonder at the whole suddenlychanged universe of chaos, thinks a moment, and then lights up grinning like a jackolantern, it kind of vindicates the whole parenthood thing.

Spent the rest of the weekend shopping for furniture all across the greater Boston area with Darcie and baby while the 'rents hung with their only grandchild old enough to talk. The head spinds with hardwood. Don't get me wrong, I love shopping, truly -- but you'd think there's be more than a dozen total possible table configurations on the market. It't frustrating when you can describe exactly what you want -- a basic block-legs-with-leaf table, under seven feet, out of wood, not veneer -- and not find it anywhere.

Funny how I didn't realize how much I am absolutely, positively emotionally done with the whole shopping phase of our homeownership until I began that paragraph. I mean, gee, but it's great to be back home.

Pretty cool to be able to say "home" and mean it, too, even though, a month after moving, we're still living in boxes.

Yeah, the place is a mess, but there's hope on the horizon: with a few choice finds (bed, table and chairs, library chairs and an AV cabinet for the corner) this weekend's furniture shopping filled the last hardwood gaps in our theoretical from-scratch redesign, came in around budget targets, and thus promises to be the last gasp in what has become a month-long mission to get our life up off the floor and out of all these damn bozes.

In the meantime, the pellet stove blazes merrily while the dishwasher drycycle steams the air. A newly opened box reveals heretofore forgotten dress shirts and khakis, thus allowing me to blog and iron, and leave laundry for another day. The kids cuddle upstairs, resting up for another wild day in a world where anything can happen. Life is good. And it's getting better all the time.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:07 PM | 2 comments

Thursday, October 13, 2005


No work today. Fasting mixes poorly with the effectively hyperactive daily grind, my naturally sage-on-the-stage pedagogy.

But no services, either. I never really got much out of the communal trappings of high holiday worship, especially on an all-day scale. As a kid, the daylong was excruciating and ultimately unproductive, all sense of atonement drowned in the stuffy monotony of the liturgy, the uncomfortable itch of starchy dress.

Last year's temple session with Mom was better paced, more relevant than most. But intellectual interest in new prayers and infrastructures is no substitute for spiritual substance. Instead of finding my peace in the midday meditation session, I fell asleep.

In lieu of formal repentance, then, I choose to spend the day solo, walking the woods, seeking my peace with God and self. The mudpath back acres here are bright with yellow leaves, late mushrooms in vibrant pinks and rainsky blues. Fallen trees turn to mush in the rain. Grey rooftops loom through the low bare branches of a hundred canopy pines and oaks.

Four houses down, the path ends abruptly at the swollen river. I walk upstream for a while, past the fork and along the smaller tributary, skirting long grass and beavercut pine; turn around just before the dam itself.

Just before I reenter the woods for the short hike homewards I speak aloud. I ask God to help me remember the lessons of the past year, that I might continue to learn from them even as our life becomes more stable. To lend me strength as I strive to do and be better, even when Life Is Good. Amen.

I stand for a minute, thankful for another year. My words drift and flow into the roar of the concrete waterfall just downriver, where they become one with the universe.

And then I go home, to sit and meditate in the midst of my family, our tiny community of four humans, two animals, who deserve my best, and help me to be my best. Because they, too, are part of God's agency in my life.

That Yom Kippur is supposed to be about community is no accident. It is through their love, after all, that I am able to open my heart to God. It is through them, after all, that I have the courage to try in the first place.

So although I know my choice to observe in privacy precludes my daughter's attendance, however perfunctory and stiff, at more formal templegoing, I believe this is the right way for now, at least. Maybe some day we'll have them put on their uncomfortable shoes and sit for the day in a big room filled with the smell of old books and old people, listening to the Cantor lead the community through their apologia. When they are ready. When they can listen, to their hearts and their lives.

In the meantime: God bless my children, and I will help them learn to love you, and the world. And I will teach them to cast their own atonement upon the waters, that they, too, may be cleansed. I will help them find meaning in all your houses, for you are everywhere we are.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:32 PM | 6 comments

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

We Are Guilty, Oh Lord 

An important part of the Yom Kippur service is the "Vidui" (Viduy) or confession. The confessions serve to help reflect on ones misdeeds and to confess them verbally is part of the formal repentance in asking G-d's forgiveness. Because community and unity are an important part of Jewish Life, the confessions are said in the plural (We are guilty).
-- High Holy Days on the Net

We are guilty, O Lord
of pride in a job well done,
even when it comes at the expense of others.

We are guilty of playing to our strengths.

We are guilty of selective perception,
and of situational ethics; of faintheartedness
and ignorance.

We choose those tasks more visible
so that we might garner more recognition and praise.

We are guilty of passivity,
of not taking the initiative,
of falling too easily into the role of innocent bystander,
of witholding support and love until we are shamed into offering it.

We protect ourselves.
We pretend we have not heard when we have heard.

We forget that you do not expect us to be perfect.
We get frustrated by our limitations
and neglect to celebrate our differences.

We covet the self we think we should be.

Sometimes, at the end of a long day,
we fantasize about a different life
in a different town.

We dream of paths not taken
when we are supposed to be listening to our inner selves
reflected in the outer world.

We are guilty, O Lord,
of presumption in all things.

We write for others more than we write for ourselves.

We share because it allows us to talk about ourselves.
We pray, and never think to ask
if now is a good time for you.

We use humor as a crutch.
We watch ourselves using language as a shield.

Even now, we are guilty. Our chutzpah shames us.

We do not stop when we should.
We go on far too long, thinking only of ourselves.
Yet we do not take every opportunity to change.

Help us, O Lord, to forgive ourselves
for these transgressions, and for a hundred more.
Help us to remain warm and human in the face of humanity.

May we be inscribed in the book of life
that we may atone for our sins.

May we continue to learn and grow.

May we wander yet another year
in your grace, and in our own.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:42 PM | 3 comments

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

'Nuff Said 

This Sunday's supplement.   From the Onion, where the mockup is the concept.

A dozen times a day can't be healthy. Further signs of overuse after a long absence include a return of the old familiar shoulderache, and tonight's post timing, given that I get up at 5:15 for work.

On the plus side, the iPod's up to eleven gigs, and I'm told I can pick up my new laptop tomorrow. What Happens When There's Nothing Left To Download? Tune in next week for the surprising conclusion.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:57 PM | 0 comments

Monday, October 10, 2005


In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America, thus paving the way for a long weekend and a million end of year car sales.

This morning, I discovered Sweden, land of wooden simplicity, high-functionality, and slightly curved design concepts. And oh, it is good.

And forget about the furniture. From the moment you land on its yellow-shirted shores, IKEA's concept takes over on a more organic, environmental level, complete and comprehensive from micro to macro. From the family-friendly parking up agaist the building sidewalk to the conveniently-placed lunch-counter -- featuring 99 cent breakfasts and a thin but clearly gourmet assorment of gravlax, shrimp salads, and swedish meatball platters -- IKEA is a miracle of modern consumerist design.

There is only one way in, one single staircase upwards; from there, following the huge arrows on each of the two floors (you can't walk through walls, so what else are you going to do?) eventually puts you within arms reach of every single item in the store.

When the children get tired, sign them in to the kid's playspace for an hour, where they will presumably be indoctrinated into some weird swedish cult and forever worship at the altar of uncomplicated but elegant hardwood furniture. I swear, the usually loquatious three-year-old was in there for the fully alloted shift, but when she emerged all we could get out of her was a prim confirmation that she "didn't want to go home, just go somewhere else."

And they will get tired. It takes five hours to go through the place at a relatively rapid pace, maybe a little less if, like us, you begin to accelerate your journey as you realize you have been shopping for hours and there's no end in sight.

We ate two meals, both involving a breed of french fries suprisingly akin in look and feel to much of IKEA's furniture, and bought a few tidbits -- a crawling tube and a nifty coocoon-chair for the wee one, a freestanding shirtrack for the laundry room, random knick-knacks for kitchen, bed and bath.

But since this week's trip was for ideas, not objects, we got what we needed. Proof positive: the kids have been in bed for ages, and I'm up in seven hours for another long stretch with the preteens, but for hours and hours, now, the wife and I have been walking through the house, blueprints in hand, envisioning shelving here, couch and loveseat here, a new bed, better chandelier, a TV cabinet.

Which means we'll be heading back the the land of plenty in a week or two. With a truck, no doubt. Maybe next time we'll make it for breakfast. Ask Queen Isabella if she wants anything, will you?

posted by boyhowdy | 9:35 PM | 7 comments

Sunday, October 09, 2005

When It Rains... 

Voluminious rain in the past two days. The run-off from the roof filled the flowerbeds until they overflowed against the concrete foundation, but the levee held: the basemenet remains bone dry, and the wellwater runs clean and pure. Down the street the waterfall roars and foams like the dam's burst behind it. For the first time since we moved in, the sound of water in the runoff stream at the base of our hill drowns out the distant traffic and train.

Wet conditions kept us mostly inside, save for a short excursion to the mall yesterday -- mostly just to get the kids out of the house before we all lost it -- and a first trip to our local UU meetinghouse this morning. The congregation is small and welcoming, and about as diverse as twenty people could possibly be; young and old, liberal and more formal, though the dressing-down trend I've noticed at other meeting houses with the spouse seemed to hold true, what with shorts and sweatshirts the dress of the day. It was St. Francis's birthday or something, so the focal point of the hour-long service was mostly the blessings of the beasts. Some woman even brought her tiny dogs.

Each day the abundant world brings forth more evidence of a centered existence. Darcie spotted a red fox in the trees behind the house today, and we watched it from the bay window as it skulked towards the meadow. This afternoon's walk to the roaring dam overspill brought kingfishers and jays, though the heron we spotted Wednesday seems to have been washed out of his bog. Toads chase shadows in the woods when I step outside. Beasts, indeed, and we have evermore to be thankful for.

Technology, too, seems to be falling from the sky. Thursday we had Internet service but no computer; Friday I arrived home bursting with news of a serendipitous encounter with the district Business Manager-slash-technology director which netted me a brand laptop to be delivered Tuesday and a new projector for the school, all in the midst of an otherwise-drought of up-to-date hardware...and found a stunning almost-new desktop, complete with flat screen and burners, waiting for me in the garage. I've been cranking pix and tunes into the new iPod (thanks, Mom and Dad) non-stop since I set it up.

Of course, I'm typing this on a milk crate, my butt going numb from another, half-hidden from the otherwise bare room behind a leaning tower of bookboxes. And supper was served once again on the tinytable my parents bought the wee one for her birthday last year. We'll head south to Ikea tomorrow for a first crack at resolving the whole "bereft of furniture" thing, a heady hour-away adventure with the possibility of a Connecticut beach luncheon.

In the meantime the feeling of renewal continues to grow within me. I suppose if it weren't, I'd be working harder at it, what with Rosh Hashanah upon us. But I seem to be living the spirit of the holiday this year with little effort, putting my whole self in, shaking it all about, you know, the whole hokey thing. And what a surprise to discover that really is what it's all about.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:51 PM | 8 comments

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Feels Like Starting Over 

Too much time and the near history of our newly minted life becomes so much background noise, like the rain outside, our first since we moved into our new house a week ago Wednesday.

From the change in season to the minutia of a fulltilt existence, from work to family to play, the tidbits and fragments of an almost-stettled life fade a little farther into the pile, become unrecoverable. After ten days, the sheer volume of unblogged life far overwhelms the possibilty of backtrack.

Ten days of half-written poems, workplace triumphs and childmoments, town exploration and household quirk discovery -- all faded like the stars fade into each brightening morning as I rise, and sit on the porch with the day's first cigarette and coffee, and emerge from sleep with the day.

The bedraggled, blueheaded wild turkeys that just now walked through our yard, scant inches from our feet, on their way up through the woods to the meadow, seem no more or less recent than our first night here, camped out on camping mattresses on our own bedroom floor.

It's hard to begin again.

Not so odd, I suppose, to realize that I needed the blog both more and differently during the long months of homelessness, nomads on the road, no job or haven to come home to. But hard to recover the trope, and the tendency, and the time. In this brand new day, after a hundred years of uncertainty, it will be a while, surely, before blogging and I can once again find our place in each other.

But still I rise, and so will the blogpart of me, the tiny voice that needs this space to be whole. The outside world only paves the way for the settlement of this one, the world of the mind.

And in that glorious outside world of rain and sunrises, we're finally wanderers in control of our own destiny, able to make our own choice of path, pace, and progress once again. Unfurnished and still packed, but we're home at last.

Thank you, God, for this life is good. The world still spins, but we've got money for our tickets this time 'round, found our seats together for the long ride.

Hold on, hold on as we crest the top of the roller coaster, clutching our purses and shiny bright things, these tiny hands in our hands.

It's all downhill from here, and the carnival never ends.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:57 AM | 7 comments

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Middle School Moments 

So I'm out for a day attending a surprisingly useful conference for newbie yearbook advisors (Why, yes, I am insane). When I return, there's a detailed report from the sub in my mailbox, telling me that the kids have gone so far ahead in their projects -- despite instructions to keep them doing the research -- that it's going to be hell to get them to think about the rhetoric of a good oral presentation with powerpoint now.

In addition, the report notes that "the kids in the back" of my last class were a disaster. No names were taken.

So I ask them, in all innocence: how was the sub? And do they tell me about her pedagogy? Her leadership? Her kind and gentle nature? Her effectiveness (or obvious lack thereof) in guiding them through an activity which I both wrote out clearly for her and went over for twenty minutes with them the day before?

Of course not. Instead, they say: Oh, Mr. F, that sub was hot!

In other news, someone stole all the mouse balls in both my labs while I was gone. Imagine standing up in front of a class of middle school kids and announcing that a) your balls are missing, and b) whoever stole your balls better give them back right now, and you've got a good sense of how my day is going.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:32 AM | 26 comments

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In The Meantime... 

Discovered Terry Pratchett; am slowly recovering the book-a-night habit. Hoorah for libraries, the best bastion of the broke and nomadic, though why is it that most public booklenders all carry the same two-of-twenty from the Discworld series? Also good: Nick Hornby’s new book A Long Way Down.

See my comment on previous message for why backing up data is a luxury. Comment was in response to oldfriend Shaw suggesting that the loss of my iPod contents was due entirely to my own lack of backup; my case is that backing up can’t be done without serious stability and dough (and time, and space), which we haven’t had for a long, long time. I’d be interested in counterarguments, if you’ve got any, but not if you’re merely going to point me to free storage spaces, because access TO those spaces isn’t possible with no computer. Try plugging your iPod into a public library computer, see what happens, eh?

Speaking of poverty, an oddness in Jonathan Alter’s otherwise excellent analysis of Katrina social factors in this week’s Newsweek seems to suggest that, in addition to multiple televisions and an old car with over 100k miles on it, poverty “luxuries” which contribute to keeping people poor include a refrigerator and a washer/dryer. Excuse me? Having lived at various times without car, washer/dryer, and fridge, I’d suggest that not having these contributes significantly to the eternal loop of poverty; for example, doing laundry “out” means not being able to multitask at home at the same time, thus leaving less time for work, and not having a fridge means having to spend more cash on pre-cooked meals, thus keeping one from being able to accrue the cash that makes for savings, etc. I’d provide the direct link, but I’m on dial-up again.

And speaking of dial-up speed, the everperfect spouse mentions that she has already ordered DSL for the newhouse (even before we have an actual computer). It’s cheap for a reason: reported speed is 150 bps under low-traffic conditions, and do we want them to upgrade our house when they eventually get around to the neighborhood? According to the phone rep, they have to ask, but everyone says yes.

Three days to homeownership. The past ten days have become an exercise in math for the three year old, and anticipation for the rest of us. You mean this many fingers, daddy? Indeed.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:53 AM | 6 comments

Saturday, September 24, 2005


But Now I'm Found

20 gigs of music carefully culled from entirely legal sources, from artist download sites to iTunes to a voluminious CD collection.

Rarities now unrecoverable, from Sebadoh's cover of Cold as Ice to hand-recorded live versions of Manic Depression from Gillian Welch at last year's Green River Festival.

As yet unposted audioblogs and podcast drafts.

Digital product -- word documents, powerpoint presentations, photoshopped images, code and more -- representing the entirety of seven years of professional work.

The older child singing Happy Birthday to me on my thirty third.

My smallest daughter's first cry, recorded less than a half hour after her birth.

Gone like the wind.

Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning my iPod was stolen from our car behind the borrowed condo, and with it sundry other car contents: glovebox candy supplies, scattered CDs, an ancient Palm Pilot.

The week before, the thief took a folder containing the only copy of our newhome inspection report, and our last remaining checkbook.

The loss of stuff sucks, surely. But it’s the loss of content -- every file, every single-copy casualty to our no-back-up, no-computer nomadic lifestyle – that really hurt.

But not for long.

Last year at this time such a loss would have been a personal disaster. I'd have stormed off, tucked it inside, seethed for days, anger seeping out the seams.

But if seven months on the road with two kids and little else to show for it have taught me anything, it's that the best things in life aren't things. The bank can stop checks. My head contains all the music I've ever wanted. The thoughts will continue unabated, blogged or unblogged. I will have another birthday, another song sung. The baby will cry again. We lost her first voice, but we'll have her forever.

So while Darcie hung up hopeful signage round the neighborhood -- $100 and no questions asked for the return of the contents only -- I walked it off with baby Cassia. The gleeful looks we get in town cheered me up to no end. And the nuzzled fuzzyhead under my nose, redhaired and sweetsmelling, cleared my brain.

And as we walked back homeward, away from the chattering crowds and the headturning roar of motorcycles, for the first time in ages, she fell asleep in my arms, on my watch, as if she really trusted me.

I'll miss those nightly walks through town, the baby snug against my chest facing outward, passersby cooing and smiling like the world is a wonder. I'll miss the gasless access to supplies and cheap windowshopping entertainment, and the possibility, however unrealized, of hitting bars and musichalls afterhours.

But I no longer wish to live in Northampton.

You can have your smalltown. I'll take the woods, and gladly, as long as my family feels safe. And that's what counts, innit?

And so this Wednesday, we'll close on the house. The movers come Saturday. We’ll have bedrooms set up anon; our event horizon grows near.

My wife, my life, my daughters, my newly minted soul. My sense of priorities, my newfound center. For all these things, God, we give thanks. Especially the reminder that for all our strife and striving, all our desperation and distraught hours, I'm better than I used to be. Yes, thank you, O Lord, for even this loss, just in time. No matter how the world howls at us, this will always be the year I grew up.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:20 AM | 52 comments

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday Five 

What I've Been Up To...
  1. getting out of chaperoning the middle school dance this afternoon (yes, I said afternoon. You'd avoid that, too, eh?).

  2. Caring for three sick family members in turn, including a half-day home to cover for a spouse suddenly turned into a human barometer (see, when the weather changes and hits the inner ear...)

  3. making this blog for work (please don't leave comments yet, it will only confuse the masses).

  4. My ears in work...

  5. 72 ounces of coffee before noon each day and counting!

Oy. Happily, we close on the newhouse Wednesday...keep yer fingers crossed for us, folks!

posted by boyhowdy | 12:49 PM | 1 comments

Monday, September 19, 2005

TalkTeach Like A Pirate Day 

Parents night went swimmingly (the trick: talk enough to ensure that parents get a good sense of your teaching style but have no time to ask how little Mary is doing). This afternoon's teacher-wide GradeQuick training is ready to go. I've fallen behind a bit on grading, but the kids are rarin' at the bit for content, so ahead we go with reserach projects for 7th and 8th, which will get us through everything from Inspiration to Access, Publisher and PowerPoint.

Good: found a sneakaround to access gmail at work, so no more once-a-week. Especially useful, since the in-law dial-up was dead over the weekend (hence the bloglessness).

Better: T'was our penultimate weekend at the in-laws, as we've ten days to houseclosing! Woohoo!

Better still: the newschool practices Talk (and Dress) Like A Pirate Day, charging kids two bucks a head for circumventing the dress code; cash goes to Katrina victims, specifically the family of a kid in my homeroom. Arrrrr! This damn eyepatch makes me walk into walls!

Oh, and I've decided to take on yearbook advising. It'll pay for just under half of our heating oil this winter. Yarrr!

posted by boyhowdy | 8:40 AM | 6 comments
coming soon
now listening