Archive for May, 2011

Peter and Thumper in Boston

May 15th, 2011


Today’s NYT travel section’s article on endangered animals by regions caught me short. The Northeast section included, “Some natural wonders have already vanished, like the sea mink hunted to extinction in the 19th century. But visitors may still glimpse the increasingly rare New England cottontail rabbit in tangled thickets…”

I need to start appreciating them instead of muttering my dread that they’ll chow down on my vegetables. I’ll start photographing a few of our visitors as well…natural history you know. (The image here is Creative Commons and not mine. I’ll make my own soon.)

Here in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, we have a pretty good sampling of wildlife. Friends in far northwestern Connecticut get black bears. We don’t, but have raccoons, coyotes (tipped and ripped into trash to gnaw on ribs and decorate the driveway a day ago), opossums, skunks, the irksome pair of crow and squirrel hordes, and many, many un-rare up here on Fairmount Hill New England cottontails.

A family of them has an odd attraction to our newspapers. When I got out a 5:30 or 6 a.m., I sometimes see one or two or three of them nosing about our papers. So far, they haven’t opened the plastic bags or shown us their favorite sections. I assume the oddity of two or three of the parcels tossed at the base of the sidewalk that attracts them. Perhaps they wonder if there is food involved.

Regardless, when I trot the 50 or so feet, they do notice me and hop slowly out of reach. They aren’t in any hurry though.

Likewise, a couple of days ago, I walked down the hill past much denser sets of houses and found another cottontail meandering from the gutter to the sidewalk just a couple of feet in front of me. It was sniffing around and slowly hopped into sparse shrubs in a yard, continued looking around and headed slowly toward the back of the house. No fear there…

No humans seem to bother them and what dogs I see and hear are indoors in houses I pass. I suppose that puts them in the no-native-predator class of bunny.

I see that the NE cottontail’s conservation status is vulnerable. That’s on the lower risk range of endangerment.

Here’s they are often about the yard in the evening singly or in small groups checking out our house front and back. During the winter, we see numerous rabbit prints in the snow, in the yard, under bushes and even on the driveway and sidewalks. I think they are the residents and we are the visitors.

In a Cell Because of a Cell

May 13th, 2011

We seemingly infinitely programmable humanoids do get the hang of technologies, or rather get hung on them. As a long-term, pre-GUI computer users, I occasionally still chuckle at myself when I notice how mouse-dependent I am.

That’s true of nearly all of us, but I came from keyboard shortcut and dedicated keypad days before there were desktop mice. What the computer press used to call power users were much faster and more efficient than mousing around screens. With such exceptions as drafting programs and layout applications like FrameMaker, a mouse is essential. I’ve been programmed.


On the other hand, I’m still master of the telephone, handset or cell. My phones work for me; I don’t work for them.

At the all too common extreme, many of us have lost a grip on that and let phones run us. The too-dumb-to-walk-and-talk crowd is generally amusing that way, particularly when they run into each other or fixed objects blathering into their cells about what store they just left or what cereal they are about to put in the cart. They are in the pacifier — or more aptly in the British term dummy — stage, unable to be alone with their wee thoughts.

That is less amusing when they’re driving and do not realize they don’t have the bandwidth to pay attention with their eyes and one ear at the same time. Pity humans don’t share one trait with computers, the slots for RAM upgrades.

Those are just mundane stupidities. The true oddment is how many assume everyone is as cell-enslaved as they. These are the many who:

  • Interrupt a face-to-face conversation to take (or worse make) a cell call. That’s on a par with the old crassness of putting someone on hold when you hear a call-waiting beep.
  • Hop up from a meal and conversation because the phone rings. The likelihood of something requiring immediate feedback is surely 99+% for nearly all of us non-cardiac surgeon types.
  • Call people only on their cell number, assuming they are dependent as you.

I lost track of the number of times I’ve told my sister, dentist and others that I only have my cell phone on me when I am out of the house. They also have heard to leave a message if I don’t answer because (let’s say it together) my cell phone works for me; I don’t work for it.

It’s only gotten worse with the looming ubiquity of cell phones. I don’t see any stop to it. People continue to career into each other on foot, in cars and even on bicycles and motorcycles pretending they can pay attention to a phone call and mobility simultaneously. Forget what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have told you — humans delude themselves when the swear they are multi-taskers.

When someone in front of me answers a cell call, I’m out of there. If they put the phone on the table at a restaurant, I tell them to put it away until we finish. I’m convinced that paying attention or using the New Age version of being in the moment almost surely provides far greater return than letting your cell phone rob you of what attention you have left to parcel among people.

Moreover, if you really think your incoming and outgoing cell calls are worth ignoring palpable humans or traveling inattentively, keep a few notebook pages. Jot down what you heard and said in rough form. Then in a day or two scan your crucial conversation content. It might be enough to let your voice mail do its job and let you engage with the real world.

No Kilt Needed

May 11th, 2011

Little black dresses and wee snifters were the props. Whisky was the feature, that is single-malt whisky (Scottish spelling, if you please), which many of us simply call Scotch.

The Mcallan distiller pumps its promotion budget partly into such dram sipping evening here and there in an annual U.S. road swing. For example, see considerable detail in posts here and here. They write sumptuously on it so I don’t have to. The short version is that we got small snifters of 10, 12, 17 and 18 year old versions, averaging about half an ounce per. Each and more get full descriptions on the company site.

The production fascinated me. It also took me back to my early 20s when I wrote for a big construction magazine, a job which included covering the gigantic Con/Agg show of equipment.

My chum John signed several of us up for the free malt tasting, but only he and I ended up downtown at the Royale nightclub in our cute little theater district. There were no loose ends to this fabric. Mcallan folk had it all neatly woven.

Model types in LBDs greeted us and checked us off the list. They are worthy of comment and what first reminded me of the Con/Agg show. It goes on for days and fills the largest exhibition sites in Chicago. With gigantic earth movers and such, it’s not hard to command such spaces.

What was odd to my young 20s self was women as advertising and sales gear. There was an amusing and pleasing incongruity to the huge, metal machinery and hyper-attractive women in tiny dresses and sometimes bikinis. I recall at the first such show I attended seeing a gigantic dump truck filled with water and a half dozen barely clothed models splashing and swimming and generally showing themselves off in its massive bed. In construction terms, the point was that the bed was as big as a swimming pool, hence capable of hauling terrific amounts of rock and dirt with each load. Yet, the almost entirely middle-aged male potential buyers came to look first at the nearly nude women.

I asked my long-tenured editor how the Caterpillar and Euclid folk got all these stunning women for the show. He knew because he had asked. There was a gold rush of sorts many months before each Con/Agg, with the various equipment makers hitting up the modeling agencies. They wanted xx number of leggy lookers, first come first served.


One might think that in the many years since, we’d be getting over all that. Nah. Men and women alike enjoy looking at and being greeted by attractive women. Exposed legs and shoulders seem to still be the norm. In fact, while they apparently did not have quite enough Mcallan issue LBDs to go around, most of the dozen or so women were in uniform. That was an extremely short and very tight dress, with the right shoulder bare and the left one with shiny black rectangular spangles. The shirt portion barely covered the aspirations of the audience.

Maybe 200 folk got seats at the long tables. A few glasses of walnuts were scattered about with the black and gold company napkins. We got a Mcallan token on the way in, which we traded for a wee glass of the 10-year-old malt. That was the method to keep folk from loading up on multiple shots before the show.

The incongruous disco music played for 20 minutes or so as we got our seats. It sure wasn’t bagpipes. The dark space focused us on the lit stage with the traveling exhibit — a counter for the speaker (brand ambassador Randolph [never Randy, yuck, yuck] Adams), tall display cases of nine different bottles of their malts, and a sports-event-sized touch screen. As the slick presentation started, it was describe Scotland, the whiskies, the process and so forth, interspersed with the women bring around trays of small snifters of the various samples.

There’d be two seatings, so they had it down for an opening at 6:30 and clear the room and tables for the next group between 8 and 8:30. Thank you very much. We can call you a cab if you think you need it.

It was a very efficient operation. Adams had the personality and snappy patter for the job as well. He’s certainly someone you’d, if you pardon, have a drink with. He’d never be a loss for an amusing anecdote.

Back to the temp help, while there were a couple of nice enough looking  20-something men by the doors, they stayed in the background and let the grinning women set the tone. It was a very 1970s tone at that. Also, being Boston instead  of a huge city, the LBD women were nice looking, but not the you-need-to-be-in-movies/Playboy and I-have-to-take-you-with-me types from the Con/Agg show. In that sense, the evening let the maybe 70% male audience concentrate on the snifters instead of sniffing the servers.

The crowd was mostly young men, but with a fair smattering of older guys, older women and a very few young women. I suspect that this is wise promotional expenditure. They’ll certainly keep Mcallan in the public mind, just as certainly sell their bottles to those who attended the next time they hit liquor stores, and get a better return than a similarly priced print ad to the cost of the evening.

I am not likely to be a convert, even though I enjoyed several of the samples. As never-Randy noted early in his palaver, tastes differ. The Irish invented the distilling process and many folk enjoy the lighter whiskey they favor. He also praised other Scottish malt distillers’ products, while holding the Macallan the best.

He made special mention of Islay whisky, saying some Scotch drinkers prefer the peaty, smoky products like Lagavulin and Laphroig. I am in that group and those are my one and two favorite malts.

If you like brown whisky/whiskey, you’d surely enjoy a Mcallan evening. The anachronistic b-girl tone of the severs really doesn’t distract from the purpose of the evening. It’s free and, hey, it’s better than sitting in front of TV.

Joy of Fats in Rochester

May 10th, 2011

Cheeses, ice cream, patés — things that are good in the mouth — are popular in at least one shop at the Rochester (NY) Pubic Market. We had our first breakfast there this weekend and shall be back.

Regular readers know my feelings about this market (like here). I’ll note it one last time, with jealousy, resentment and admiration, that this one is bigger, more diverse, better, open more days (3), and has vastly more local produce, plants, pies and even wine than Boston’s.

When we pick up or unload #2 son and his possessions at college, we normally stay at a hotel-like-object with a breakfast. We did not Friday/Saturday and figured to eat at one of the coffee shops at the market. The Latino/hippie one was no longer in business, so we scouted. The first three were full of pastry scoffers and besides we wanted some protein instead of sugar.

Ah, but the fourth place in turned out to be the right option. We initially thought a cheese shop would not suit. Hah!


VM Giordano Imports was a marvel from many angles. There little chalkboard that read they had breakfast was the lure.

Inside, it was all sights and smells to titillate gourmands and gourmets alike. The counters and coolers had perhaps 200 different cheeses, far beyond anything I’d seen, certainly in Boston. Other coolers had dozens of hams, sausages and patés, and the racks behind the registers were a quilt of light to tan to black homemade loaves, rolls and bagels.

It’s open on two of the three days, not Tuesday, but Thursday and Saturday. It was an anthill of customers. There’s a row of maybe 10 stools by a wall bar and four tables for two to four. Nearly everyone was shopping the market and apparently made Giordano’s part of the weekly run.

While we waited for our breakfast specials (smoky Italian ham, and egg and goat cheese on an Asiago or pumpernickel bagel for us, at $4 per, including a 12-ounce coffee), we saw and heard food joy.

I also learned that the Spanish blue cheese was the strongest flavored of the type they ever had. Perhaps I should have taken a chance on some, but did not because it was a warm day and we had 10 or so hours before getting home. The elderly man who ordered some for two salads he would make got a finger of it (turned out to be 0.2 pounds) and left grinning in anticipation. Many other customers either came in for specific favorites or tried slivers before deciding on cheeses, sausages, and patés.

A good advertisement for the store was the food orientation of the staff. None of the five was chubby, but they nibbled too and spoke knowledgeably to customers about the goods. They had their own favorites and enjoyed suggesting uses and pairings.

There seemed to be food life beyond Giordano’s too. The customers turned the conversation to ice cream and anticipation of the area’s seasonal parlors. Someone asked whether Shark’s was open. I had never heard of it, but one of the clerks said he’d just been by and their season had not started.

Then there was a chorus of raves. Staff and customers alike outdid each other with praise for Shark’s (Custard & Ice Cream). It was the area’s best, no the world’s best, yes and with the highest butterfat content of any, and with the best choices of flavors, and a reason to survive the arctic-style winters.

I just visit Rochester a few times a year. Shark’s was new to me. I’ll fix that the next time we go. The world’s best ice cream in a cultural hole somewhere about 15 miles South of a city no place in particular sounds like a destination.

We came away with one new favorite and the potential for a second. That’s a food lover’s reward for a road trip.

Lilac, Mom’s, Pond Jam Sunday

May 9th, 2011

Sure enough, we did snort some lilacs in the Arnold Arboretum. Sons 2 and 3 also shuffled with me around the bonsai house in the year’s most crowded day there. However, we were there for something else.

Uxorial unit Cindy joined her regular acoustic jam crew at the largest of the three ponds for an afternoon music fest as part of the program. Normally, the Sometimers (sometimes the show up and others…) are at Gerard’s restaurant/bar/convenience store in Dot in cold seasons and at the Jamaica Pond band shell in nice weather for Sunday jams. This was about the same time, but a command performance at an unusual venue.

dobro As usual, the Dobro resonant guitar brought a welcome twang. Normally a single is in the group, but a second showed up yesterday.
Uxiorial unit, a.k.a. Cindy, handled one of the mandolins. CTpick
Pondjam2 The circle of musicians took turns suggesting and leading the songs.
Of course, there’d be no acoustic folk jam without the requisite banjo. Pondjam1
dobro2 The second Dobro was a welcome surprise.
Let there be sing-along and clapping accompaniments! Pondjam3

And there were a variety of stringed instruments, as well as a concertina. Upright bass, guitars, mandolins, dobros, even a uke were in the mix. Likewise, a sundry audience joined the dozen or so pluckers, strummers and squeezers, singing the folk, country and occasional protest or rock tune.

Toddlers beat tunes on their parents’ heads from perches on shoulders. Others little and big hummed, sang or vocalized nonsense as befitted their knowledge and age.

The Sometimers pronounced it a success.

Pulling Lion’s Teeth

May 1st, 2011

grubberMy beloved biscuit lady humbly shared the many techniques and tools she had learned in a well observed life. Evelyn Justice traveled a bit, read much, and above all listened actively. Coupled with her willingness to try the new, she ended up a master in both the kitchen and the garden.

She provided me the essential information on proper control of dandelions. After we moved from a downtown Boston apartment to our first house with a lawn in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, we sought advice on the subject. Evelyn had the best and right answer, although not the lazy-person’s one.

I thought of her again today as I was out for my third yard policing with my British daisy grubber from Spear & Jackson. I had to track this down in a specialty garden supply those decades ago, but see now that Target, Amazon and so forth stock several variations. As you can see, ours had given us a lot of service, but it should outlast us. It is the old heavy steel one.

I became intimate with dent-de-lion, lion’s tooth, as the French taxonimized the beautiful-in-yard-of-someone-else-not-too-close weeds at around eight. Summering with my maternal grandparents in an Eastern panhandle West Virginia town for about a decade, I worked. They had been raised county folk after all. One of my tasks was to keep the front and backyards all green, all narrow blades.

The fecundity of that plateau in apple and peach country was astonishing. I suspect you could have spit out a cherry pit and found a seedling the next week. Dandelions there were like the invading critters from sci-fi movies that appeared overnight by the hundreds.

My grandparents didn’t believe in poisoning lawns or flowers. They’d pick off Japanese beetles and send their wee grandson out with a miniature trowel to uproot the dandelions.

I was amused by a aged woman across the street and down two houses, who watched and waited. The only time I heard from her was when she saw that I was finishing and had a big wooden basket (half bushel, as I remember it) jammed with dandelions ripped from their homes. She’d shuffle over and asked whether I was going to use them.

The first time, I asked my grandmother, who said something like what passed for swear words in my family, “Lord, no!” The woman told her that she fried up the greens or had them in salads. She made wine from the flowers, which she said she’d share with my grandmother. Without making too big a point of it, my grandmother said she did not drink, although as I learned from watching, her two nearby children had better not forget to bring a quart of kosher blackberry wine each and every holiday, a cloying syrup that somehow disappeared mysteriously over the holidays.

Then being an apartment dweller in school and adulthood until that JP house, I had little to do with dandelions until my first spring on Bournedale Road. Damn! Hundreds of them!

I had learned organic gardening working with my grandfather, and as a hippie sort, was not a toxin using lawn worshiper. Evelyn had answers from her homes in the South and New Jersey.

There is no secret or magic to non-poisonous removal. Dig. Get the whole root. Repeat. In a few years, you’ll have manageable numbers blown in from less diligent neighbors, but again, the word is manageable.

So, with front and back lawn with dandelions every few inches, I worked with the grubber from one it was new. She was right, and that comes with the hippie-style self-satisfaction of accomplishing the task without deadly chemicals.

So, here I am again, in a new house with a similar, but much less severe problem. This year is nasty though. Our absurd levels of snow and rain were dandelion delights.

They shall be no match for me and my grubber.

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