Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Too Many Captions 

Sometimes you got nothing; sometimes you just need some help winnowing it all down. This week's cartoon caption contest possibilities:

  1. You wouldn't believe what they're doing with stem cells right now.

  2. The moral is, read the prenup.

  3. I'm a sucker for a good maternity leave policy.

  4. We're considering home birth.

  5. Adoption, probably. It's not really a good time right now.

  6. "Shower" sounds so feminine. Just think of it as an excuse to hit the Gap.

  7. We're doubling up for the child credit this year.

  8. I dunno. Where do you think "want to feel the baby kick" falls under our sexual harassment policy?

Vote below if you dare.

Think you can do better? Voting closes the 23rd over at The New Yorker...

posted by boyhowdy | 12:18 AM | 1 comments

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I've Grown Accustomed To Your Taste 

In the first place, the idea of gum that tasted like -- what, nothing? cigarette filters? what? -- was just a bit too weird. I'd started with the mint, and stuck with it through the introduction of a surely nasty Orange flavor; it seemed safe to assume that gumflavored gum was best.

Then one day all they had was Original Flavor Nicorette.

I've been chewing nicotene gum for a while now, ever since I first tried to quit in earnest. Since then, multiple failed quit-dates have come and gone, but the gum stays regardless, ready to serve as barely acceptable nicfit substitute for long flights, long drives, and the occasional long meeting.

For most of that time, chronologically, I've been an occasional minteater.

But then I started teaching again, and the schedule doesn't allow cigarette breaks. I started taking a piece of gum before lunch, and couple more through my last classes.

And what we had was that Original flavor stuff, which -- honestly -- was bitter and tingly in weird places. Chewing it felt like chewing cardboard.

But somewhere along the line, I began to look forward to that odd taste. I relished the first burst of flavor, began to detect subtleties of foretaste and aftertaste. Nicotene gum got good to me. Like a friend.

And then, this week, I actually figured out how to quit.

Since Tuesday, I've chewed up half a box of that jaw-stiffening tingly treatment -- an hour or so of oral delivery at 4 mg and just about 70 cents a pop. But we ran out in Boston over the weekend, and all they had at the WalGreens was that mint stuff.

Each piece of which is too soft, too strong, too sweet, and two sizes too small.

I miss the full rich original flavor of nicotene gum. Oh, that hint of wax. Worth rooting through old coat pockets for.

Acquired tastes are funny. Beer once tasted bitter; moldy cheese was for playground jokes and cheese plates for company, not midnight pate-and-bagel snacks. I've just started eating fish in the past few years, after an oversensitive lifetime of strong icthyo-gag reflex. Caviar's not good to me yet, but it will be.

If experience matures what nurture and environment create, my daughters' tastes will not be mine. Already at 3 and a half to the dot, Willow talks southern barbecue, exotic vegetables, sushi; kani was one of her first words and her favorite finger food. Baby Cassia at 9 months prefers flute to drum, abstract concepts to concrete nouns, veggie puffs to anything. To wonder where they will wander from here is to envision a great and centering path before each.

Not everything can be acquired, of course. Nor is it all worth acquiring. Quite the contrary. We cultivate such simple singled-out pleasures not to consume, but to specialize, to reinvent ourselves in careful pleasures, to savor.

But you have to start somewhere. Choosing your path may be a constant affirmation, but it's knowing thyself that makes it all worthwhile.

And, once you've found them, a good country pate, some Eliza Gylkyson, a good idea, a keyboard, and thou make for a pretty damn rewarding oasis. Pass the gum.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:34 PM | 2 comments

Saturday, January 14, 2006

It's My Birthday Too, Yeah 

Birthday, Marc Chagall

33 years ago today your host boyhowdy popped into the world just an hour before Superbowl VII kickoff time, and boy, was the doctor relieved. (Factoid: in beating the '73 Redskins, the Miami Dolphins became the first NFL team to go undefeated in a season. But I think the Doctor was just happy to get to see the game.)

Authors born on this day, according to A Book of Days for the Literary Year: Hugh Lofting, creator of the Dr. Dolittle series; John Dos Passos; Tokyo novelist, playwright, and son of samurai Yukio Mishima (Kimitake Hiraoka). Also, according to Wikipedia: pro crankyman Andy Rooney, musician's musician T-Bone Burnett, alt-director Steven Soderburgh, and LL Cool J. Also Paul Anka's son-in-law, Jason Bateman.

Probability tells us that as the number of people in the room hits fifty, the odds that two people in it share the same birthday anniversary approaches 1 pretty darn fast. I get over fifty hits a day.

So. Jan 14th. Anyone else?

posted by boyhowdy | 1:10 AM | 13 comments

Friday, January 13, 2006

Nothing But 'Net 

An interesting consideration of online friends as "imaginary" courtesy of my blogexplosion battle opponent FyreGoddess. I've actually pointed out as much to my students, have encounted plenty of phenomenological ramifications, and concur with much of the good Goddess' assessment, however subjective the experiences that led us to this.

(In my case, one such experience involves my own joy and surprise at receiving a CD from a previously-online friend over the summer when I needed it most. Imaginary friends can't burn CDs, can they?)

The question of what is real, especially outside the self, has always been a fun one for phiosophers to toss around. Also true: the concept of "real" gets slippery in a half-virtual world. Rather than drag out the old college textbooks, it's worth pointing out that full participation in the world of textuality without tonality -- i.e. the half-there persona we see through the glowing screen -- requires clothing others with the imagination.

Everything from Trolling to the rapidity with which online folks tend to open their minds and hearts to each other comes back, ultimately, to the fact that we must clothe that username, that language, that origin, that other in some sort of self-generated humanity in order to make use of it. Even the tendency to forget that the global includes the local -- a fact that has caused much hot water for an unforgettable few of my blogging students over the years -- is merely risk and ramification of this absolutely vital approach to being, truly, digital.

On the other hand, the associated truth -- that those who are both most imaginative and most able to remember that it is their own imagination that clothes these online denizens are those who will ultimately be most successful in the online world -- makes me happy, too.

Other half-productive wandering today included a first-glance at Webster's new open-source space -- a nice healthy way of keeping language real and fluid from an otherwise traditionally high-culture source -- and a few turns tightening up entries on everything from old employers to fave cheesy fantasy author Lawrence Watt-Evans over at Wikipedia. An interesting pair, that. Gotta do something with all that time on my hands -- might as well add value to the universe.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:04 PM | 2 comments

The Howdy Household Health Report 

Doctor's check-up for the three-year old today; I didn't go, but Willow's favorite plaything is her own doctor's kit, so -- no surprise -- she loved every minute of it. Save one: Daddy, next time I go to the doctor, I'd like to pee in the toilet, not in a cup, okay? Thought for a while this might prove a good learning opportunity, but on second thought, maybe it's better not to dwell on the idea of pee as worthy of study. There's a reason toy doctor's kits don't include urine-testing equipment.

According to Howdyspouse Darcie, the new pediatrician suggests we start giving the kid choices for behavior, but backs off quick when informed that we've stopped doing so, as this kid responds to choice-sets with no, Daddy, that's not the choices; I'LL tell you the choices right now.

In other news of the precious, at just under nine months, baby has begin her own path towards self-sufficiency. Tonight at supper she looked down at three neat piles of chopped broccoli, chicken and rice, immediately swept 'em to the floor, looked me right in the eyes, and said Play!. She ultimately accepted a juice box and some healthy veggie puffs as a temporary substitute, though we spotted her trying to stuff the last bit of broccoli into her pacifier when she thought we weren't looking.

Me? Still sick and a bit delirious from the sudden nonsmoking, but hoping I get my strength back pretty soon. It takes a pretty strong will to stay on top in this homestead.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:20 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ten Unnecessary Lists 

10. Stuff that gets smaller

9. The top four movies starring that guy who's only in, like, four movies

8. Things you found in the glove box of a rental car once

7. Potato chips: 1987

6. Everything under a dollar!

5. 50 more ways to leave your lover

4. A lifetime of brunch!

3. Dress shirts wanted to buy later but didn't

2. Where I've seen ducks

posted by boyhowdy | 8:57 PM | 1 comments


1. Nine kind visitors have exposed themselves in honor of National De-Lurking Week. Won't you join them by leaving a comment? I promise not to point and laugh.

2. Though BoingBoing editors chose not to post my comparative stylistic analysis of Mark and Cory's posts on the same subject -- in all probability because it was both a) a bit too meta and b) not so much news as it is pseudointellectual fiddle-around -- Cory was kind enough to stop by to acknowledge and clarify.
[UPDATE 1/13 1:24 am: Mark stopped in, too -- and declared himself tickled by the whole idea!]
Other than to mention what an honor it was to interact with a much-admired writer two much-admired writers we'll save any subsequent consideration of the effect of the Internet on fandom for another day.

3. Still sick. Still delirious. Still not smoking. Still listening. Still not reading; good thing I read ahead.

In other news: there are so many things wrong with paying teachers based on student performance, I don't know where to begin. So I won't.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:20 PM | 1 comments

BoingBoing Doublepost: Mark vs. Cory 

An interesting coincidence of simulposting over at BoingBoing this evening provides a nifty opportunity to explore the difference in posting styles of fellow BBhosts and all-around amazing gentlemen Mark Frauenfelder and Cory Doctorow. Analysis follows, but first, just in case it goes away, a look at the doublepost in question:

Subtle differences abound. Some of the more obvious:
  • The blogentry titles are significantly different. Cory’s post title celebrates the cookbook itself; Mark’s refers to a "scanned copy OF" the cookbook. Meanwhile, Mark uses and capitalizes the actual name of the cookbook, and the longform of the year (1950s) while Cory shortens both, making for a shorter title overall

  • Note the different choice of pic. Given the same source info, Mark went for the oddest inside-the-book pic, thus reinforcing Cypher’s language (and a WHOLE SECTION just for…) while Cory goes for the equally weird but much more colorful cover. Shape and layout come into play here, too -- wide vs. tall pics frame the text differently; I wonder if either choice was made with visual impact of the overall entry in the larger context of the page itself in mind?

  • Given the same information, Cory provides a backlink w/thanks to the poster and also a link to the material posted, though they are arguably/ultimately from the same sourcehuman. Mark, on the other hand, provides no such double-link to Cypher, though his site is not the same as the ground meat cookbook site.

  • Mark eliminates the redundant wordage (ground meat, from the 50s) from the content, since it’s in the title. Cory allows the redundancy, thus preserving (we assume) Cypher's original quote.

  • Cory capitalizes the sender’s name, and uses the ubercool “sez” to introduce Cypher’s original language. Mark uses actual English words but does not capitalize "cypher".

Also worth including, if anyone decided to take this up as a thesis topic, would be the context, both before and after. Has this happened before? Is there some protocol for Mark and Cory to follow from here? Once the incident has come to the attention of the four bloggers over at BoingBoing, will the two posts be mashed-up into one single post, or will one ultimately be dropped by someone -- and, if the latter, by whom: the original poster, the "other guy," or perhaps a third party, such as Xeni?

With or without such aftermath-watching, a more detailed, thesis-level analysis would necessarily note that much of the difference in style is consistent with the obvious difference in perspective that both Mark and Cory bring to the table. There are few surprises, in fact -- stylistically, these differences could have been predicted by us regular BoingBoing readers with some accuracy.

In closing, then: the opportunity to close-read this massively popular web compendium is priceless; glad we could be there to see it.

And a caveat: No disrespect or even critique of either Cory or Mark is intended herein. Each is enjoyable -- incredible, I daresay, and inspirational to boot -- in his own way, both on BoingBoing and in other ventures, digital and non-. It wouldn't be BoingBoing without them. I'm just glad they're each unique.

UPDATE: 2:56 am:

If my read of posting times is accurate, Cory -- who was online anyway, posting other material -- seems to have withdrawn his post. Happily, the screenshot above is going nowhere. Now: will the folks at BoingBoing think this worthy of passing along to their readers?

posted by boyhowdy | 2:23 AM | 5 comments

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Meme Too Tempting: National De-Lurking Week 

Expose yourself, darn it!

Blogexplosion claims to bring in 40 hits a day, but I get few-to-no comments on the inanity herein. Why not change your tune, just this once, and leave a comment in honor of National De-Lurking Week? Anything accepted, from friendly shout-outs to evil trollishness; pick a post below or hit me up with some randomness herein, just leave your footprint before wandering off, eh?

Look, I hate to beg, but this is a national holiday, for blog's sake. In return, I promise to actually clicky-clicky and recipro-visit your blog. Maybe we'll both learn something.

Hint for Blogexplosion surfers: commenting on bloggerblogs doesn't seem to work in frames; open comment boxes in a NEW window in order to correctly enter the secret prove-you're-not-a-bot code. The secret bonus in this workaround: you can comment here while moving on for credits there simultaneously.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:24 PM | 11 comments

Daily Delirium 

Being home sick -- alone, for much of the day, since Wednesday is library storytime and preschool playgroup day -- has left me to my own devices, and despite the lure of more high-culture textuality on the shelf before me, I'm finding the attention span just isn't there for more serious literature than a daily double-dose of well-thumbed Heinlein.

I'd love to drop down for more floor-based babytime, but the mere thought of doubling over brings up the nasty raspy, even with a new steam vaporizer happily albeit ineffectively bubbling away at my feet.

Instead, all this time on my fingers has led to more screen time in 48 hours than I tend to average in a week. And I teach computers.

So far, my addled state plus an effectively endless amount of time at the computer has me posting drivel to both the group blog of total inanity and the workblog just to keep from wasting the brainbuzz. Especially proud of my post on the workblog, incidentally -- most edublog topics for the lowtech middle school level have been done to death, but I suspect edu-folks have not yet thought much about trying to harness the ubiquitous student iPod for curricular good.

But there's only so much one can write without the ability to think logically. Thus, a day of mostly-surfing has also brought me everything from this low-tech NaNoWriMo lite to Cory Doctorow's totally engrossing comparison of personal experiences with misrepresentation in both Wikipedia and in the "real" press, in which he presents evidence subjectively but clearly, and ultimately concludes that
it's clear that if you're going to have your name dragged through the mud, it's a better deal if it comes at the hand of an anonymous Wikipedia troll than from a paid journalist in a mainstream news-source.
Glad you quit your day job, Cory. Looking forward to that next longform essay.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:50 PM | 0 comments

Calling Mr. Shoemaker... 

Daily telemarketer experiences indicate that a certain Mr. Robert Shoemaker had this phone number before we picked it up in October.

A serious spate of those annoying calls where you run to get the phone and no one is there suggests that reaching Robert is high on someone's priority list.

Although it is tempting to try beating the telemarketers at their own game, I'd rather do so on my own behalf. As such, if anyone knows Mr. Shoemaker, do please let him know that we'd be happy to order more vinyl siding for him, but cannot do so unless we know how much more he needs. Thanks!

posted by boyhowdy | 2:10 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Return of Randomalia
Now with illness-induced rambling! 

Teaching remotely -- via one-page instructions to a class substitute you've never met, in this case -- is getting a bit odd. Instruction via full network potential is one thing -- I've done the blog/chat/forum/courseware thing myself, as teacher and student, and I hope next time to post instructions for labs and webquests on a blog, then send in the address -- but curriculum without pedagogy isn't really my thing. For all my classroom discourse about King Content, I never really meant to shave style from substance.

On the other hand, quitting smoking on the fly turned out to be a breeze. 8 cigs since Sunday was all I had been able to gag down anyway, and most of that wasted. Hard to tell if the illness, the meds, or just the sheer mental weirdity that immediately follows the quitmoment is to blame (yes, I've done this before) but man, am I flying.

Been hard hanging with the kids much, though. Cassia asks me to hold her all the time, but I don't have the stamina to dance; Willow was a peach in the doctors office -- lots of curious questions, though I was little help explaining the stirrups -- but I miss being able to lie down with her at the end of the day and make up yet another story of Simon and his magic chalk, sing quietly of the things she is not (trees, birds, ceilings, floors, bed, pillow, ad infinitum) until her own breathing becomes heavy and I slowly, carefully, slip my arm out from under her neck and sneak away.

Heck, I miss being able to lie down. Stupid lungfluid.

Once bonus of being upright so long with little work to do and no alarm clock to follow is the time catching up on the virtual world. Mock The Stupid and Overheard in New York are guilty pleasures delivered in big gulp size. Elsewhere, the AV Club interviews a surprisingly sedate, thoughtful Fred Armisen, and sequel week over at McSweeneys brings us a hilarious account of The 4 Year Old On A Blind Date, which sounds much less funny than it turns out, trust me. It's not all funny, either -- I even managed to learn some stuff, though don't ask how I ended up there...or what, exactly, one learns from discovering a multiply-feminist critique of copyright laws.

Once you have children, listening to music with headphones becomes a much more fulfilling experience. Especially good music. And I ain't talkin' no iBuds, either. Gillian Welch into Steve Earle, warm and fuzzy on my ears? Maybe it's the 10th hour of nonsmoking talkin', but it just doesn't get better than that.

Though Byrne's playlist is enough to make me regret skipping that Laura Cantrell show that night in San Francisco with Dad all these months ago. Hey, Dad, there's some great downloadables over on her website; I especially like this toned-down cover of Letters, and this Bragg and Wilco cover. Oh, and where the heck did Doug Sahm come from? This rocks, man.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:02 PM | 0 comments

And I've Got The Note To Prove It 

Spent the day at a series of medical errands, from doctor's office to pharmacy to nearby hospital for X-rays (to rule out pneumonia; results tomorrow).

Diagnosis so far: a severely contagious and long-lasting acute asthmatic bronchitis.

Now I'm sequestered home until next Tuesday on doctor's orders, with five different kinds of meds for all sorts of primary and secondary symptoms -- from the bronchial wheeze to the starburst headaches and gushing nosebleeds I get from coughing too hard.

As an added bonus, according to the nurse practitioner, I have now officially quit smoking whether I like it or not. I think her actual words were "Unless you want to spend the rest of your life on oxygen and steroids, you just smoked your last cigarette."

Let's see...a pack and a half a day times 18 years...carry the one...yeah, that sounds about right. 197,100 cigarettes and I'll be stopping just like that. No problem, hun.

Congratulations accepted in the comments below. What with the usual symptoms of cold turkey quitting, the uppers and downers in the meds, and my 33rd birthday on Sunday, it's going to be a pretty odd week from here.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:51 PM | 4 comments

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Death Of The Second Self?
Not All Who Wander Are Lost: Now In Its Second Week Of Illegality! 

Via BoingBoing:
Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity...
Of course, the statute doesn't define annoyance. And, as Declan McCullagh reminds us in the above-quoted article, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to lean on anonymity, from blogging about a boss' sexual harassment to sending an anonymous "Letters to the Editor" via email...not to mention the developmental benefits of identityplay.

But "Preventing Cyberstalking," an innocuously titled easter egg squirreled away in the otherwise unrelated Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act, is no joke: Criminal penalties include stiff fines and up to 2 years in prison.

See you in jail, folks.

Counterpoint: More Anonymity Is Good, Wired Editor-At-Large Kevin Kelly's suddenly much-more-dangerous idea. Also via BoingBoing.

Oddly Disappointing Update, 3:45 pm:
According to the resulting BoingBoing thread, the new act does not do what we think it does, and the word "annoy" dates back to my thesis subject: the Communications Act of 1934.

Fat Lady Hasn't Sung Yet Second-Tier Update, 5:37 pm: After hearing these critiques, McCullagh continues to maintain that the law has indeed changed as he described it. Question mark added to entry title in response.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:30 PM | 0 comments

Reading Ahead 

File under 52 Books in 52 Weeks

Home sick, which explains both the unusually avid blogging (see features on David Byrne's Radio Mix and The World Question Center below) and the completion of a second book in my 52 Books series: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005.

I've enjoyed the Best American series for years -- my parents tend to buy me the Best Essays and Best Fiction collections for Hanukkah, and I find the collections thorough, well-selected, and ultimately prized. The addition of Dave Eggers to the mix in 2002 brought a new perspective but no less scintillating a selection criteria: this year, Eggers and his crew of intelligent, iconoclast adolescents have once again found the best of short writing from all over the Dewey Decimal map, fiction and non- alike. I'd single out a few short pieces for special note, but they're all that good. Really.

Never posted a review of McCourt's Teacher Man, the first book of my 52, finished over the weekend, but that's okay -- just read it, for the wry voice and the storytelling. Even if the teacher stories don't resonate, it's a quick read of hidden depth, easily and skillfully mixing tales of McCourt's development as a teacher over 30 years with his personal history outside and before his life in the classroom.

Next on the list: McKibben's The Age of Missing Information.

For those keeping track, updated booklists will live on the sidebar, over that way ------>

posted by boyhowdy | 11:15 AM | 0 comments

Radio David Byrne 

BoingBoing -- who loves Jim White as much as I do -- points to this month's playlist over at Radio DavidByrne.com: a wonderous and well-selected assortment of neo-country, clocking in at four hours plus, featuring the unquestionable best of Lucinda Williams, Wilco & Billy Bragg, Emmylou Harris, Jim White, Waylon Jennings, Lyle Lovett, Shelby Lynne, Laura Cantrell, et. al.

Byrne's monthly radiostream comes complete with genre-defining liner notes of the highest quality; past month playlists from this metamusician have included classic country, old-school club music, psychadelic artists new and not-so, italian classical, and single-artist features from Missy Elliot to Bob Zimmerman.

Posted with my father in mind, but recommended for pretty much anyone with ears. And acceptable bandwidth, of course.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:56 AM | 0 comments

Dangerous Ideas, Dangerous Minds 

What if The Bell Jar wasn't wrong after all? Is the world fundamentally inexplicable? Will parenting require licensure in just two generations? Is school inherently bad for kids? Are there some ideas so dangerous that the world's best and brightest should not (and do not) mention them, let alone discuss them?

Each year, The World Question Center asks over a hundred of the brightest minds in science and technology to consider one question. This year:
What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

Answers range from religion to race to reality in evry shape and size; from the complexity of "The simulation and the real have become permanently and inacceptably interchangable" to the irresistable simplicity of "This is all there is." Each is mystifying and thought-provoking -- even those few which merely respond that some ideas are SO dangerous they should not be spoken.

Plan on hours to read terrifying "what-if" results from the likes of George and Freeman Dyson, Sherry Turkle, Clay Shirky, Stewart Brand, Richard Dawkins, Howard Gardner, Diane Halpern, Michael Nesmith (!), Stephen Pinker, and a holy host of fellow futurists, psychologists, historians, builders, makers, shakers, and science-types. You'll never look at the world the same way.

I blogged about this last year, too!

posted by boyhowdy | 9:49 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ill Winds 

You sound really sick today, Daddy. You should take some pills or something.

Yesterday it was a cold, the full-blown worst of the season: sneezy, achy, chilly, brain-fog-to-the-point-of-hallucination, compounded by the irritation of dust and dander kicked up by a flurry of pre-guest cleaning until the lungs felt like fire, the head felt like cotton wool.

It drove me from the in-laws house to a surprisingly head-clearing trip to downtown Brattleboro, where I finished the last few pages of McCourt's Teacher Man over a latte, and ogled a man in a tree playing guitar to the aging hippies walking by, the usual crowds of halfgrown Saturday smokers loitering there, cool, backs against the bricks in the midtown lot.

But respite was short-lived. Last night it was something else again: stuffed and tired to the point of delirium, a hazy nose-bleeding two hours down south and home again, all funereal dinners quickly forgotten in the rush to return.

This morning it's full-blown bronchitis, a familiar and feared annual visitor. I can barely breathe; my limbs and head ache alternately icecold and feverfuzzy; the headache teeters on the edge each time I cough my penultimate rasp, desperately drawing breath. Hot showers, horseradish, even forced glasses of juice and water have little effect.

Five classroom days per section to the end of the semester and a wholesale changeover of students at work -- after two days funeral leave, it's tempting to go in tomorrow just to make sure their last days are cohesive, since my hybrid position rates no substitute willing to actually carry on curriculum. But alas, I know this weakness; know that tomorrow and perhaps the next day too I will be neither sensible nor clear for my students or myself. Pity, that -- there was so much left to do.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:33 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, January 05, 2006

As If Reading Made It So 

Woke up to a leg cramp: the world's best alarm clock, gets you on your feet in a hurry.

Outside among the stillwhite trees some sort of precipitate fills the air like a shimmery scrim. We're off North to help with the arrangements for Darcie's Grandmother, so I head down to check for forecasted driving conditions online.

To my surprise, according to the map on Weather.com, though the surrounding states run from light snow to rain, we're dead center in a totally dry spell.

Just then, the air clears outside.

Two days of funeral leave off from work; we'll be back in Brattleboro by noon. Taking Teacher Man with me; if all goes well, I'll post my first report from my 52 Books project when I return, or sooner.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:40 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Baby's First Adjective 

After years teaching kids and adults to be aware of gender issues in media and technology application, I consider myself a media-sensitive feminist.

My wife and I have made a conscious decision to try to raise our children without the traditional trappings of dick-and-jane societal gender preconcepts. For years we have spoken of heterosexual marriage, for example, as but one of many possible options for our daughters -- both in our own conversations and in talking to them about their own eventual choice-making.

All the more ironic, then, that after hi, dadi, kitty, doggy, tree, light, and a holy host of proper nouns, the 8 month old suddenly smiles today and begins naming parts of the universe pretty.

Maybe she learned it from the three-year-old. Sigh. And they both treasure dolls more than anything. Guess there's some serious nature involved in gender identification after all.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:09 PM | 5 comments

All Wet 

Note to self: buy conditioner...

Cory calls it: though the Erasable Shower Note Tablet could come in handy, getting great ideas from shower to organizer (or, in my case, to brain) remains a problem.

Still, a neat present for the man who has everything, including a constant stream of good ideas. Waterproof crayons could come in handy elsewhere, too.

Now, if only someone would create an archivable/tranferrable solution for ideas logged in the car, I'd be all set.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:41 AM | 3 comments

Monday, January 02, 2006

RIP Edith Jones 

She was old when I knew her -- the family matriarch, widowed decades earlier, long a solo presence in the life of my in-law family. Though a vague persona down the road apiece when I first met Darcie's family, by the time we married ten years ago she was in the house next door to Darcie's parents, and we visited her often, cleaning her garden, raking leaves in the fall, chatting on the porch, washing the windows in the spring.

She was opinionated, and -- truthfully -- often oddly so. Her closest relatives found themselves on "the bad list" for the most minor transgressions, often without even realizing how they got there. Early in our acquaintance I got myself in hot water at a holiday dinner by defending the recently-learned concept of situational ethics; it was months before she was willing to forgive, and there's no knowing if she truly ever forgot.

She was religious, a commited churchgoer and knitter for church sales until her very last driving days. Rumor has it that when she first learned I was Jewish, she asked if I was "one of those Jews for Jesus, at least" -- figuring, with little knowledge of the true JfJ credo, that belief in Jesus would be a saving grace for a grandson-in-law.

Edith was always given the head of the table at any gathering, where she could hold court with reminiscence: of growing up one of seven siblings on the farm, life with husband Harry home and off in the military, her years in the classroom. It became a kind of family tradition for those of us in the grandchild generation to run new prospective mates through the tiral by fire -- I did it for years; Josh's girlfriend Clay reminds me that I made it a point of handing the responsibility to her the first time we met; most recently, Alicia's husband Matt has held the honor -- and his own -- with aplomb.

Her family -- three daughters, six grandchildren -- loved her very much, and with good reason. She loved my children, and was gentle and firm with them in turn. And, in case it isn't obvious, I liked her a lot, which is more than most of us can say for our grandmother-in-laws, isn't it?

Edith never wanted to grow infirm in her old age. She was a trouper for so long this last year, watching her TV and filling every surface in the house with jigsaw puzzles in various stages of completion as always, even as the memory started to go, the body started to betray. It surely saddened her to have to move towards assisted living these last few weeks, initially prompted by a stay in the hospital.

She seemed healthier Friday, coming off a half hour of physical therapy for a short chat and plenty of close contact with four generations of her family. But last night Edith ended up in the hospital again, and today Darcie's father called to let us know that Edith did not make it.

It's what she wanted, but whether Edith was right about the world and its afterlife is not the point. The point is, though it took a little longer than she intended, she went out the way she lived -- on her own terms, flying solo, and sure of herself. I'm proud to have known her, and know that she is happier where she is now. Goodbye, old gal. We'll miss you terribly.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:02 PM | 1 comments

Read Any Good Books Lately? 

Got a fave highculture author? Know a new theory-of-everything, or a memorable memoir? Act now: help me regain the literary mind!

Been surfing the "year's best" lists on the way to compiling a draftlist for my 52 Books in 52 Weeks quest, but it's going pretty slow. On the list so far:

  • Teacher Man, Frank McCourt
  • The Age Of Missing Information, Bill McKibben
  • The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas L. Friedman*
  • Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell
  • Pretty much any book recommended at BoingBoing.

    To assist me in my quest, merely recommend a book in the comments below. If it looks like a good candidate, it'll join Assassination Vacation on my newly-created 52 Books amazon wishlist.** Serious fiction and non- only, please.

    *Thanks to Dad, who gave me the book, I did technically start TWiF in 2005 -- but I left the book at work, and have no time to read there. I'll begin again, recapture the flow, and plow through the bookmark like nobody's business.

    **My birthday is in 13 days. Hint, hint.

    posted by boyhowdy | 12:29 AM | 6 comments

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    One Is Silver And The Other Gold 

    A day-and-night at the in-laws: errands, supper, rural R&R; ice everywhere, the smell of stallcows permeating the crip air. Next morning, a trip across the river to Keene for a stop-in with Darcie's grandmother in her new living facility digs, a movie with Darcie while the in-laws watched the kids.

    New Years Eve ever farther North, with Darcie's brother, his long-time live-in, and the annual oldfriend crowd for the fourth consecutive. Too much to drink too late into the evening; awoke at 7 -- in a shared bed, to the baby, in a borrowed room -- for sitzbath and our usual gig: making breakfast for the hungover hordes, real maple syrup and heavy on the butter and pork.

    Stopped by invitation at the old school on the way home, my first time back since they threw us out into the temporary unknown. Hugs and recent backstories with old friends, first at a hanukkah party where Willow played rowdy with a band of half-familiar faces, then spur-of-the-moment across the street, where Willow and once-wee Zinnia played suspiciously well out of sight while close couple Peter and Michelle helped us coo over the baby.

    Pensive on the way home. We have no new friends (yet). Willow socializes seldom, not enough to make attachments like the ones she revisited with ease this evening. We do not wander as we should; we do not travel far enough when we do.

    It's a wonderful thing to find my fears so high up Maszlow's pyramid. But for all that life has regained its center in the past year, a wandering life is never completed. There is always room for improvement.

    Resolved, then: In 2006...
    • I will put family first -- and more often.

    • I will work to ensure that my children have the gift -- and the benefits -- of socialization, peer play and friendship.

    • I will not be afraid to look backwards, even in the dark, as long as I have the family I love.

    • I will make new friends, and keep the old.

    All that, and 52 books. Fifty three if I actually manage to write one. Fasten your seatbelts, folks. It promises to be a hell of a year.

    posted by boyhowdy | 9:52 PM | 1 comments

    Thursday, December 29, 2005

    Resetting The Bar
    Planning The Literate Life in 2006 

    Thinking about new year's resolutions, since we'll be on a three-day with Vermont family over the year's crossing.

    Other than the obvious -- quitting smoking, staying centered, raising the kids right -- much of what I've been steeping in is the possibility of reconnecting with the literate world. The blogging has become a little less frequent than I'd like; true, as well, that the backlog of unfinished drafts grows exponentially as the kids grow older.

    I'd rather not give up on so much brainspark, so there's one resolution right there.

    Onn a greater scale, though, I wonder if I so seldom revisit drafts because I've started to accept the oneshot shortform habit, caring more about logging life than writing it, never the intention for the blog in the first place.

    The resultant brainstorm calls to mind several previously dismissed commitments which, over the three years I've been blogging, have made their memeway across the blogosphere. Under reconsideration, then:

    52 books in 52 weeks

    I've always dismissed this phenom as underwhelming; for years I've read a book a night, though mostly the easily-read -- mostly trash scifi, fantasy and Robert parker mysteries. In the past year, however, with the advent of kids-plural, and a job which has rearraged my schedule towards the comprehensively diurnal, I'm reading less.

    If I'm going to claim the literate life, perhaps it's time to turn this accident of temporality to the good, to rejuvenate brain and time with a renewed focus on the cream of longform writing.

    Aiming for quality over quantity would be worth doing well; weekly review would add new depth to that which I do read . As an added bonus, redeveloping the habit of marginalia, a subjective necessity for reviewing, would put my money where my mouth has recently been.

    Added bonus, of course: though the trash would still beckon, it would be embarassing to end up reporting so often on trash fiction. The public life helps us stay honest; here, it would help me justify succumbing to the equally powerful pull of the bigger, more brain-bumper books.

    Already on the list (and on the shelf): McCourt's "Teacher Man," McKibben's "The Age of Information."


    Reading, of course, is only half a true literate life. Writers write, and -- exceptions aside -- the reality of blogging is that most of us are not going to get a book deal just to repackage the archives. Though blogging is satisfying for so many reasons, the temptation to create something less ephemeral and more comprehensively substantive has been an everpresent itch.

    The world's most serious global writer's prompt, (November-as-) National Novel Writing Month has been for me both terrifying and untimely. But the summer months beckon, and Darcie has offered to support us (temporally and kid-wise, since a teacher's salary spreads through summer regardless) if I want to write a book this summer.

    Not sure where I'd start, or what I'd address -- not even sure if I'd rather tackle fiction or non -- but planning for the summer gives me six months to prep and narrow in; creating my own non-November nanowrimo might provide for a focused time to draft and brainstorm, if nothing else.

    They say the brain slows down as you age, especially past thirty; it's probably too late to produce the great american novel, but something personally satisfying would do. Reading some great novels would help. Non-fiction, too. See above.

    While the issue of recapturing the literate life is on the table, it's worth noting that I've stopped wrestling with the fleeting lines of poetfodder that cross my blanksheet brain semiregularly, other than a few poems written & "published" at Asinine Poetry for the sheer silliness.

    But that's a blog for another day. So much of my text-time is spent on short forms these days, from student papers to magazines to, of course, the half-baked and oft-dialogic shortform of the blogosphere. Note to self, then: reconnect with the literate longform, both as reader and writer, before it is too late.

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:55 AM | 1 comments

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    Better Than The Old Mall 

    Took the day off from holidays and headed down to Manchester, Connecticut, to The Shoppes and Buckland Hills, mostly a) to see if it was closer than our usual Massachusetts haunts (a hands-down no-brainer at 40 minutes), and b) to spend a few hours indoors with the kids without having to clean up the mess afterwards.

    Nice surprise, actually. Less busy than we expected, given the post-Boxing Day rush, and the usual assortment of middle-class finery, from Abercrombie to Victoria's Secret. Better, though, the mall was designed with parents in mind: a ubiquitous pet store with uberpuppies on display, a conveniently-placed madhouse of a Huck Finn-themed "soft play area" for the kiddies, and an honest-to-goodness circus-themed carousel -- Willow's favorite thrill -- in the food court to hold back as a reward for good behavior. No Gap, but we'll spend our gift cards another day.

    Also, a novelty: few ATMS, but plenty of wall-installed "card balance readers" throughout the mallhalls. Makes sense, I guess, from a mall perspective, to keep patrons megaspending smoothly on the edge, but we didn't see any in use.

    Mostly window shopping and light-ogling, then, though we did end up getting a few odds and ends too much on sale to resist: enough Hanukkah gifts to last the rest of the season, plus placemats and napkins at the Christmas Tree Shop next door for tomorrow's belated Christmas with my wife's family.

    Candles lit late upon our return -- Willow loves her new tiara and shimmery fairy princess wand, the baby seems pleased with her transparent Playskool rainstick, both fell asleep early for once.

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:21 PM | 1 comments

    Holiday Moments 

    From the interfaith challenge of full-family inclusion to the complexities of other people's travel, illnesses, and the demands of an ever-growing set of significant others, Hanukkah and Christmas have become a weeklong mashup of a celebration this year. Some highlights:
    • Realizing that taking on the mantle of Santa Claus is actually a fulfillment of the highest form of charity in Judaism.

    • Hanging apples, strung popcorn, and peanut-butter-and-pine-cone ornaments from a bough of small trees in the meadow with kids, wife, and in-laws, and then singing carols for the deer and birds to come.

    • Discovering Overheard in New York while waiting for my family to arrive for Hanukkah.

    • Finally reading my brother's girlfriend's blog from her trip to India.

    • Meatless supper (latkes and veggie soup) with my parents and siblings.

    • Giving my NYC-based brother half of our garden-to-be as a Hanukkah/Birthday present, so no matter how bad the urban life gets, he can always come home to a plot of land in the suburbs.

    • Giving my parents a "First Tuesday Cafe", so now they have no choice but to come once a month for homecooked food.

    • Giving my sister hardware and a Home Depot gift card.

    • Getting some great stuff from them, including the entire Muppets first season on DVD, Frank McCourt's new book about teaching, great comedy on CD, this year's Best Non-Required Reading (with short foreword by Beck!), Bill McKibben's Age of Information, and a new watch.

    • Discovering that our new home's staircase is slinky-perfect...and learning to trust the kid at the top of the stairs.

    • Taking the three-year-old on a walk through the slushysnow woods so we could both clear our oversugared heads after a long, cranky Christmas afternoon cleaning house, and -- upon arriving at the banks of the stream -- kneeling with the kid on my knee, only to have her initiate the world's most rewarding conversation:


      Yes, kid.

      This is so nice. I'm so glad we're here. Thank you SO much for taking me.

      Yeah. Merry Christmas, kid.

      Merry Christmas, Daddy. Can we do this every year?

      ...and then making it home just before the rain began.

    After cleaning most of the day yesterday, and hosting today, we're devoting tomorrow to people-watching in random shopping meccas as-yet-to-be-determined.

    Coming Wednesday: belated Xmas with Darcie's family. And -- maybe, if we're lucky -- the rain will stop.

    posted by boyhowdy | 12:27 AM | 1 comments

    Sunday, December 25, 2005

    Christmas at the Howdy House 

    Is that all there is?

    Baby's first Christmas!

    Merry Merry, Everybloggy! Click on pix for larger sizes and more.

    (Only six hours until Hanukkah...)

    posted by boyhowdy | 11:07 AM | 0 comments

    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Becoming Santa 

    Last year, the very idea of Santa was too fearful for us to need to take on his mantle. Santa to the two-year was too much larger than life to be a comfort: that he might sneak furtive and fat into her own house caused no end of terror. We had him visit Grandma's, arriving afterwards to get the goods and goodies.

    Santa the man still scares her, some. She still shies away from mallmen, hides her face from the Santa Train namesake. But a month or more of storybooks and preptalk has reinforced the correlation between giver and gifts; a lifetime of love for all things furry and fourlegged helps her focus on reindeer and sleighs over the man in red.

    A year grown braver, and -- so long as she need not confront him; as long as his reindeer jingle on the rooftop only while she sleeps -- she awaits his stopover.

    And so I eat the cookies she so carefully selected, leaving just enough crumbs to remind her in the morning. Darcie writes the note, half rebus for the preliterate, signs His name in red ink. Baby elf in hand, we fill the stockings, bag and box the few small presents we have accumulated here and there between mortgage payments.

    I, too, believe Santa never dies -- that he is eternal, though he loses his iconographic symbology somewhere on the late cusp of childhood. Writ large, the generosity that he represents is first and foremost the single most important gift we can give our children.

    But the gift of childhood is itself enough for now, and it is, after all, what she needs most of all from us -- for what is childhood without the imagination, the externalization of that utmost value, the personification unsullied by a thousand commercialities?

    Somewhere between surrogate and embodiment, then. Bearded, oft jolly, Daddy by day, but in the dark of night, the spirit of the season, arranging these few small gifts, all we can afford, here under the twinkling tree, as eager for morning as she. In becoming Santa we give without recognition, in the name of the very idea of generosity, all ego gone, the highest form of mitzvah. In being Santa, we, too, recieve his gifts.

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:23 PM | 1 comments

    Friday, December 23, 2005

    2005 Realistic Resolutions, Revisited 

    With work finally over for the season, it's time to begin looking to the year ahead. As a way to explore realistic yet productive goal-setting, vacation (finally) plus a nifty new laptop from the fine folks at work* gives us a moment to revisit last year's year-end resolutions. A point by point systems check:

    1. Resolved: I will smoke slightly less, make several halfhearted attempts to quit, and feel guilty about it.

      Surprisingly, I seem to have done better than expected here. I now take a single smoke-break at work, and not even that when things get hectic; gum helps me get through the day instead. Net smoking is down, and guilt is hardly present. Goal met, if not exceeded.

    2. Resolved: I will try to put Willow to bed one night a week, as requested. However, I will put her in charge of reminding me.

      Though Willow still seems to need Mommy for that last ten minutes, multiple hour-long dark-room story sessions and half-bedtimes a week counts, doesn't it? Goal met/exceeded here, too.

    3. I will return library books on time, or at least take that crucial first step of putting them in the car when they are due.

      Increased use of public libraries has made this harder, but we've only had two late fees to pay since September. Goal met/exceeded.

    4. I will eat at least one marginally healthy food item per day.

      Hmm. Milk in coffee does not make it health food, but eating school lunches 3-4 days a week has led to an increase of fruit. At home, I eat what Darcie puts on my plate, and there's veggies with almost every supper. That said, pizza night mitigates what would otherwise have been a perfect score, so far: Daily goal not met, but intention easily surpassed.

    5. I will not get addicted to more than 5 new technologies. On second thought, better call it ten, just in case.

      Easy. Lack of access to technology during the summer of homelessness followed by ultimate settlement in a job three to five years behind the times tech-wise left me bereft of new addictions save a few web-based services (gmail, flickr). No worries, mate!

    6. I will blog a minimum of seven times a week, though it may mean overblogging on Fridays to catch up.

      Our first major snag, resolution-wise: summer on the road was mostly unbloggable; change in lifestyle leaves me averaging 4-5 blogentries a week. Failed, but perhaps for the best reasons of all: time gets spent instead on sleep and family.

    7. Similarly, I will not update my blog so many times a day that the better entries remain predominantly unread, unless I am really, really bored.

      New concern instead: not blogging enough to keep readership. Are you out there, folks? Goal exceeded, unfortunately.

    8. When the new baby is born in April, I will remain in hospital with my wife for at least half of every day.

      Goal met! Thanks to in-laws ad parents, who wached the elderkid and made this easy.

    9. I will arrive on time for work for at least the first month of my new job, when I get one.

      Close call, here -- I tend to make it in with the kids, but I should be getting there beforehand. Not technically late, but we'll call this one a draw.

    10. I will make shorter lists wherever possible.

      Oops. Sigh...ten is such a nice neat number for lists, isn't it?

    Final analysis? A few subtle calls, but overall, I seem to be batting well over 500. Seems realistic resolution-making makes for some easy-to-meet benchmarks, eh? Watch this space for a new set of resolutions for the coming year.

    *New company laptop is shiny, but it comes with administrative functionality locked, which means no new X-mas music on the iPod until next year's season. Coming resolutions will likely include convincing the district to give me admin-level access in-building, since my work may ideally involve software- and settings-tweaking needs and, really, you don't want to spend a tech's salary trailing me at all times, do you?

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:54 PM | 0 comments

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    How Not To Celebrate Winter's Arrival 

    Though today is short, and the night is very long, having a fire in the furnace pipe is hardly an appropriate celebration.

    No fun staying up through much of the long night waiting for the low-level creosote burn at the chimney base to die down, either. Nice to meet the local fire folks, though.

    Bonus: I now fully understand how our hybrid wood/oil furnace works. We'll be on oil until we can get the chimney sweep in.

    posted by boyhowdy | 11:48 PM | 2 comments

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    This Is Not A Menorah 

    The image you see here accompanies newsstory ACLU Challenges Menorah Display at Capitol, a new note in an old and already-stale seasonal issue.

    Since there seems to be no laws against candelabra display (yet), I figure either someone at the Nashville City Paper is in big trouble for using the wrong stock image, or the ACLU is about to find they backed the wrong horse.

    Via Fark, which has 418 comments and counting, and where the stupid seems to be happening on all sides, as it is everywhere. I'm trying to stay out of stupid this year, so I'll say this once and then move on:

    As long as all are both welcome and iconographically represented to a reasonable degree in a given community's spaces overall, I see no reason why a single display should be either outlawed or somehow inclusive of all other religions.

    I'm proud, by the way, to have been asked to light the hannukiah at Sunday night's holiday service and potluck at our UU church on Sunday night...and to have brought the kid up to do the actual lighting, with guidance. Now that's the way to do it, folks. Thanks to our minister, who found a way to make me feel included for who I really am...and to share mutually, with family and community, in doing so.

    posted by boyhowdy | 9:28 PM | 4 comments

    Perma-Pattern Recognition 

    Can you tell what this is a photo of?

    Spent three years of my life in a cage touching lightning; on alternate days, when I wasn't talking cold-blooded edutainment with a ten foot boa wrapped around my lap, I stood on stage evoking schoolgroup oooohs with the above image and a lexan overlay.

    Disappointingly, it seems, once you've seen the cow, you'll always see the cow.

    Still can't see it? Check back with original image source BrainBashers for an isolated view of the bovine.

    posted by boyhowdy | 8:53 PM | 0 comments

    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    If You've Nothing To Blog... 

    Informatics guru Alex always gives excellent advice and analysis.

    Today I am taking some.

    posted by boyhowdy | 11:55 AM | 1 comments
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