When is an owl not an owl?

Answer: when it's a hedgehog

No, that's not some strange version of a Japanese koan.  Rather, it's a tribute to my mother's love of owls.  Over the years, she collected many owls: figurines, stuffed (not taxidermied!), printed on dishtowels and t-shirts, jewelry, statues, etc..  Here are just two "clusters" of them:

It might actually be more accurate to say she hoarded owls.  She knew the origin and composition of each of them, sometimes organizing the collection by type of owl, where it came from, or which year it got added.  Of course, it made gift buying very, very easy.  On a trip?  Buy an owl.  Mother's Day? Find something with an owl.  Etc..

Sometime in the 90s, my parents visited Prague (they visited a number of times, I just forget the exact date).  When I then went to visit them, Mom - as usual - showed off her most recent owl acquisitions.  The Czech Republic, if you don't already know, is noted for crystal and she was excited to show me a crystal owl she'd obtained.  I took one look and laughed.  Here's why:  

No, you're not missing anything.  It's not an owl.  It's a hedgehog.  Yes, my owl-obsessed mother saw "owl" when everyone else saw "hedgehog".  To me, it epitomizes her collection and her love of that collection.  So when she asked what from the house I wanted written into the will, this was the "owl" I wanted.  That puzzled her, because by then she'd accepted that it was, in fact, not an owl and exiled it to another, non-owl-filled shelf.  

Last week I was showing one of my cousins some of the collection and the hedgehog, and mentioned that this was going to be mine one day.  My father overheard and immediately said, "take it" "Now?" "Go ahead - if you want it."

So here I sit, in my bedroom, looking at this hedgehog and thinking about all the other owls she collected.  I think Mom would approve. 


A Tale of Two Christmas Eves

Once upon a time (back in 2001) I lived in Brooklyn. It was Winter Break and I was sick. Not just sick: I had bronchitis. Even worse, Thing One was sick with a cold (fever, cough, etc.). We were pathetic.

If you left our apartment and turned either left of right and walked about a block and a half there was a Chinese take out. One had better ribs and mu shu while the other had better soup and wontons. On this Christmas Eve, we didn’t care who was open, we just wanted soup.

Now, Christmas Day and Jews and Chinese food are a great tradition.  Christmas Eve? Well...

I lost the coin toss and bundled up to find the soup. I went in one direction, got half a block, and realized that the shop was closed. Turned around, walked towards the other... oops. That one was closed as well. Thus began a hunt for an open Chinese take out, a hunt that lasted nearly an hour as one after another of the shops in our neighborhood (there were a lot) failed me.

I did finally find some, rushed home, ate and miserably curled up in bed. The next day, Thing One went out and was back with more soup in less than 15 minutes.

This year, I’m sick with a cold. It’s been waxing and waning since just before Thanksgiving. And Thing One is on day three of a fever. It’s a new city, with far fewer Chinese take out places. So I’m heading out (in a car) in the afternoon to get tonight’s soup.


Ice Cream Therapy

My family's relationship with ice cream goes way back.  My mother's parents started married life as owners of an ice cream shop in Salem (MA), but by the time I came along my grandfather was the comptroller for a chain of department stores founded by his father-in-law, and my grandmother had died 12 years earlier.  Ice cream, when we lived in Boston and later visited, meant Brigham's.  With jimmies.

Mom's favorites back then were rum raisin and butter pecan, but I stuck with "white" ice cream (note: it wasn't vanilla, because there was the pale yellow/cream version that was French vanilla and I just wanted the white version - none of the other colors appealed) Even today, I prefer vanilla but have graduated to allowing mix-ins like chocolate covered almonds, cookies, chocolate chips, etc. And, of course, jimmies,  Imagine how happy I was to move back home to find Brigham's Vanilla with Jimmies!

When we moved to SmallVillage in 1969, my father bought a hand-crank ice cream maker and for years one Thanksgiving tradition was to make homemade ice cream using snow from our background as a cooling agent.  Licking the dasher was a reward for helping.  More recently they've made ice cream at home using the stand mixer given to them as a wedding present. Despite being fervently lo-cal/no-fat, using heavy cream for this was an absolute must.

My uncle, for health reasons, lived in dry places like LA and Addis Ababa, finally moving his family to Jerusalem in the early 1970s.  Israel is not known for its ice cream, and one of his great pleasures when visiting my mother was taste testing various brands and flavors of ice cream.  Towards the last years of his life, on his Anchises blog, wrote about dying, ice cream and what would constitute a lesser quality of life.

Recently, my mother's health has seriously declined.  There's a gasping thing, Meige syndrome (or some other form of oromandibular dystonia) that makes it difficult for her to eat.  One of her doctors thought perhaps cold food would help - so my father brought in ice cream.  Not homemade, but store bought.  In her favorite flavors.  And it's working!  She went from unable to eat to eating 8oz/meal of high fat ice cream. 

Just as well one of their favorite musicals is She Loves Me, which includes this number:

(This was about to be published when the situation changed.  I'm still posting this, but with a heavier heart.)


Culture Vulturing in a void

As with previous schools, MPOW has various endowed funds to bring speakers and artists to campus.  There's one fund for French cultural experiences and this year we were lucky to have Coeur de Pirate perform.

You've never heard of them?  Well, they're huge in la monde francophone:
Nominated for Francophone Album of the Year at the 2009 Juno Awards, Cœur de Pirate was released in France in 2009 in association with Universal Music. It became a big hit there, reaching the Top Ten of the French albums chart for several weeks in summer 2009 and spawning the Top Five hit single "Comme des Enfants." The French version of Cœur de Pirate features a duet with Nouvelle Star season five winner Julien Doré on the song "Pour un Infidèle," whereas the Canadian version features a duet with Jimmy Hunt. The French version of the song topped the singles chart in France... [in 2011] Cœur de Pirate's second album, Blonde, saw release and reached the Top Five in France, Canada, and Belgium. (via)
They've also released two albums with English songs, Trauma (2014) and Roses (2015).

The song Oublie-moi was also released as Carry On in English:

Anyway... I've seen them twice before.  So yes, I was excited.  

But the students?  Not quite so much.  They didn't know the music.  They didn't know the group.  And when Coeur de Pirate played, there was polite applause (granted, it got warmer and more excited as the evening went on) but no one got up to dance or any of the other things that usually happen at concerts.  For the band, it must have been so strange to have such a lack of response when the big hits were played.  Imagine if the Beatles, four years into Beatlemania, didn't get a response when they launched into Love Me Do or Help! (or if Taylor Swift didn't get a response to any of her hits).  


Imponderables revisited

Back in 2004, I mentioned that among Merriam-Webster's Words of the year was defenestration.  At the time, I wondered if there'd been an epidemic that led to it beating out many other words.

What a difference 14 years makes.

Last week, The Guardian had a review of a book about language change, Betrumped: The Surprising History of 3,000 Long-Lost, Exotic and Endangered Words (Edward Allhusen).  Apparently Allhusen lists several words that are "endangered" and, well, defenestration is on that list.



You know that thing you sign when you go to the doctor's, the HIPPA Notice? It's to protect your privacy, so that not just anyone can get your medical information.

I won't give doctors (or many others) my cell phone number - especially after the Vinny episode - so I tell them to call me at home or at work.  There is an answering machine at home, and at work my phone goes directly to voice mail, which goes to email as I'm rarely actually at my desk to take a call.  Even with that, often I'm strongly urged to give my cell number.  Nope.  Not gonna happen.

Thanks to my eye "situation" (luckily, since January it's been 98% nuisance and 2% problem, with much of the problem part due to the medications that keep it at nuisance level) I see far too many doctors.  In October, bloodwork showed that I was anemic and as I had to see my primary care doctor anyway, I  called to make the appointment.  More bloodwork and another specialist visit were recommended, so ok, those appointments were made.  Then I needed to schedule a follow-up with the primary care doctor, which I tried to do via the portal.

This was also just as I saw my neuroopthamologist. So you can imagine how I felt when I got a message at home that I needed to call the doctor ASAP.

I called, a little nervous, only to be told that it was to confirm the follow-up the next week.  When I asked why that hadn't been part of the message, the receptionist mumbled something about HIPPA.  Okay.  Maybe.  Because three days later I got a robocall message on the machine also confirming/reminding me about the visit.

I can't find anything in HIPPA that says humans cannot leave those messages,  but robocalls can?  Stay tuned.


Sounds like home

After nearly 50 years, I moved back to the city of my birth.  Because this isn't SmallCity, even though (thanks to family and friends) I've been back many times there are areas I don't know well - and I managed to move into one such area.  Imagine my surprise two years ago when I realized that a very good friend of our family lived maybe 10-15 minutes from where I live now - in previous visits to that house, I'd come from the area my grandfather lived or near to there, so my sense of how close this friend was was based on that, rather than reality.

After 21 years in NYC, I needed grass and quieter living.  Seeing the sky and hearing birds was important.  The house I bought was in a secluded development and wild turkeys lurked in the woods nearby.  "Mr. Bunny" (probably several bunnies) would watch me as I left or returned from work.  The next house overlooked the Farmington River, with no real near neighbors besides the landlady, deer, raccoons and other wildlife - a surprise in the middle of the suburb in which I lived.

Where I live now is withing city limits.  There is a busy road half a block away.  But my road? It's a "private road", with two single family homes and the apartment building on it... then it curves and (apparently) is renamed, and there are two apartment buildings that are senior living spaces.  They overlook a cemetery.  Yes, someone has a sense of humor.  A sick sense of humor.

It's a little noisier than my previous homes since NYC.  People walking on the street talk into their phones far too loudly.  Kids living nearby use their skateboards  because there's little real traffic.  My bedroom is next to the elevator shaft and the people above never got the "don't wear heels indoors if you don't have a rug" memo.

But late at night it's quiet, almost like when I'm home in my SmallTown bedroom. The noise is that of peepers and the occasional owl.  For some reason I woke up around 2am and as I lay in bed trying to get back to sleep I heard a train whistle.  The nearest train tracks are 2 miles in one direction, 2.4 miles in the other.  When I lie in my childhood bedroom, the nearest tracks are one mile away.  And late at night, I can hear a train whistle.

Not only have I returned to the city of my birth, I've managed to bring the sounds of home with me.


The Innergizer Bunny

Did you know that tomorrow is National Innergize Day*?  Nope, me neither.  🎵The more you know🎵, right?

Apparently we're supposed to rest, reflect, retreat.  My Simpler Life has some ideas for how to create a personal retreat. Some of them I can easily do, like the decluttering, natural light, aromatherapy, and - of course - books.  Others, like nature?  Well, I don't like air conditioning so my windows are always open.

But let's dive a little deeper: what does "innergizing" really mean?  Leaving aside the problematic fake word, of course.  If I'm being honest, the start of the school year is always complicated.  Yes, there's all the fun of new clothes, new office supplies, seeing my friends again after the summer off. A fresh start of sorts.  And then there's the Jewish New Year, another opportunity for a fresh start.  This year, because of the timing, classes didn't actually start until after the Jewish New Year, later than we normally start the academic year.  The following week, Yom Kippur created another day off classes.

In other words, in the space of one month (30 days), things went from days of loafing and relaxing to getting ready for the school year to start to getting the library up and running to starting classes.  None of that was entirely smooth in terms of timing: a day off here... and day off there... another day off... Last week we worked Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday.  It felt like two Mondays with an extremely short weekend shoehorned in. I'm exhausted. Next week will be the first five day week of classes.

Spending tomorrow gathering my strength, resting and reflecting on the past month while pruning my life and to-do list for the upcoming month so that things are less stressful and mentally healthier is an excellent idea. 

And now that I know about this day, it's going on my calendar next year.  Of course, the start-of-year schedule will be entirely different, but knowing that there is a day dedicated to pausing and working on the inner stuff is something to look forward to after all the chaos.

* Apparently there's a discrepancy here: the day is the day after the autumnal equinox, which is September 22nd, so you'd think it's the 23rd but the National Day Calendar claims it's the 24th.  Whatevs.  It's the idea more than the actual date IMVHO


Notable Quotes

If I could outlaw one word, the obvious others aside, it would be fucking 'patriotism.' It's nationalism in better clothing.  You know who were patriots?  The Nazis, and those Japanese fucks who bombed Pearl Harbor, and the Serbs who rounded up all those men and boys and put them in holes in the ground outside Srebrenica before going back to rape their women, at least until someone tried bombing sense into them.  Patriots built Auschwitz.  You start believing that 'my-country-wrong-or-right' shit, and it always ends up at the same place: a pit filled with bones.

Moxie, Jennifer Matthieu


Really? I have to pay?

Eight years ago, when I was leaving a school, my closest friends there bought me a Kindle.  Now, I'm not a huge fan of the company behind that device, nor am I a huge fan of ebooks.  However, I find it incredibly useful in two ways: I use Instapaper a lot, saving many longer articles for later reading, and I use Netgalley and Edelweiss to read eARCs.  It is easier to carry it around than a book, allowing me to always have reading material when waiting at the doctors, or at the post office, or where ever a long line or wait might occur.

Over the summer, my old one died and I had to purchase a new.  The new one has features I don't particularly like, including removal of the side panels that made it easy to "flip" pages (it could be held in either hand, allowing for either thumb to do the work; the new one makes you touch the screen, sometimes missing and going back instead of forward, or making it difficult to go more than one or two pages back), or having the controls for font size be so sensitive that a slight brush of the finger in the wrong place can make have you go from this to



While setting mine up, since I don't share my notes or highlights with others nor do I shop for books online, I turned off ads.  Then I found this in my email:

How venial is Bezos?  I have to pay to remove ads and offers from my device?  Because I don't want to continually get junk mail from his company, I have to pay?? 

I know this isn't enough to convince people not to shop there.  But it is proof that this is an evil company not above extorting money so that you can be left alone.