Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hot Hot Hot

          It's been 100-degrees-plus hot this week. It will be high-90s-hot next week. And as they point out here, it's not the heat; it's the humidity. Of which there is quite more than enough, thank you. Even the indefatigable Casey, who lets nothing interrupt her pursuit of squirrels, has retired to the air-conditioned house for the duration to chew on ice cubes.

          I hope it cools down soon. In the meantime, here's something refreshing to look at while you sip your iced tea:

Waterlily pond at Denver Botanic Gardens

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Open Road and the Surprises Thereof

          Texas is a surprising place. Or at least Amarillo is. K and I were speeding by there last summer, intent on points way, way west, when we passed a travel plaza with this unlikely name:

I am not making this up. This place exists. I have seen it with my own eyes.
I regret that I did not take a photograph, but I did go to the trouble of typesetting
it for you so you could see how it looks. As always, you can click on it to make it bigger.

          This is one of those things that just rocks you back on your heels even as your eyeballs are sproinging out of your head like a cartoon character. Especially when you spot it on the side of a very large building (well, it would have to be large, wouldn't it, in order to wear a sign like that with all its ginormous letters?) as you're speeding by at possibly a few miles over the speed limit. I thought, for a moment, I was hallucinating, but subsequent googling turned up the plaza's website, complete with a listing of bible study times.  
          I am a sinner and I have been known to use Bad Words and to not take Serious Things seriously and so I'm afraid this travel plaza with its huge and hortative name made me laugh very much. Not so much because I'm a blasphemer (although I'm afraid I am), but because I recognized the fed-up tone of the statement.
          And that got me thinking: what if there were more business that had really long, exasperated names? I decided I would find that both refreshing and funny, and so I came up with some, which I have posted below. If you, dear reader, can come up with more, post a comment and I'll typeset it and post it on a subsequent entry—and perhaps someone will name his travel plaza after it.
          Here are my offerings (you will probably have to click on them to make the small print big enough to read):

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I Love Type

          I love it so much that I take photos of it shakily incised onto sarcophaguses in a language I don't speak that's how much I love it. (Click on any of these photos to make them bigger so you can enjoy the keen typographic details.)

What charms me about this inscription on the side of a sarcophagus* is the way the stone carver
ran out of space and had to dribble the rest of the inscription down into the bottom border.

I like the bouncy baseline and general DIY air of this one, also the side of
a sarcophagus, and I love the mysterious illo—why is the big guy waving
a stick over the doorway where the dead guy is?
          I love type so much that I will photograph it on random chunks of rock that have been recycled into the walls of churches.

Best "L" I saw in all of Rome!
It seems more important when it's missing a chunk down the middle.

          I love type so much that I will photograph it on churches and monuments while others are photographing the beautiful stained glass or the wonderful architecture that's how much I love type.

I love the shape of the "M" and the "E" and also the gorgeous little curlicues
mimicking the scrolls on the capitals that show up on the "R" and the two letters
that appear to be, respectively, an "F" and a backwards "F." Also, look at how
the spikes on the gate (at bottom, shaped rather like hearts),
mimic those typographic curlicues.

Everyone else photographs Trajan's Column. I photograph the yummy letterforms
on Trajan's Column that the typeface "Trajan" is, not coincidentally, based upon.

*These sarcophaguses had the virtue of being recycled. They first carried the pre-Christian Roman dead into the afterlife. When Christianity became the hottest thing going, they were emptied of their former inhabitants and re-used by (and for) Christian Romans, who added the charmingly inept red-letter inscriptions and illustrations.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Farm and Garden Report…

          …because I know that you live for updates on my veg.

Swiss chard

          The Swiss chard we planted last summer laughed at our mild winter and has continued to give us chard for almost a year.*

Cucumbers! Early!

          I'm practically dancing with delight over the fact that we have cukes in the offing easily a month before they traditionally appear in our garden. Cucumbers are the vegetable that I look forward to most every summer—even more than I look forward to vine-ripened tomatoes, which I look forward to like a kid looks forward to Christmas.
          The tomatoes are also blooming a month earlier than normal—and before they've grown to a height of six or seven feet. I'm starting to fantasize about not having to prune them—and about getting fruit before September.
          It is going to be a good summer.

*A confession: chard is not my fave green. I much prefer spinach. Which does poorly here. Chard you can't kill even if you try, and if you plant "Bright Lights" chard, you get red, yellow, orange, and white stems and it's insanely pretty in the garden. So I plant it, and I eat it, and darn it, I enjoy it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I'll Tell You What I Was Thinking

          "What were you thinking?"
          Any former child can tell you that this is a dangerous question when uttered by any adult, especially a parental one. It is a question that can only get you in more trouble than you are already, obviously, in.
          Because all the possible answers, which run the gamut from, "I was wondering just exactly how many cherry bombs it takes to explode a mailbox," to "Umm…nothing?" are absolutely guaranteed to make an adult's head explode, thus increasing the decibel level of the lecture you're already getting, and assuring that you won't be able to escape with just a lecture. Punishment will follow, as surely as the night follows the day.
          My own solution, honed over years of hearing this particular question, usually shouted by my father as he surveyed the damage, was to draw out the "Umm" until the lecture started. Thus I appeared to answer him without getting myself in worse trouble by revealing the extent to which I was not thinking at all.
          "Think, Nancy," was another favorite of Dad's, usually hissed at me just before I accidentally punctured the wall with the cordless drill because I was paying more attention to that most danceable song on the radio than to keeping my finger off the On switch until I was ready to drill the marked hole.
          It's a wonder the man let me in the same room with power tools, and it is highly to his credit that not only did he, but he also taught me how to use them properly. It is even more to his credit that I have never been injured while using a piece of machinery.

Dad, in a rare lapse of safety vigilance. Where are our steel-toed baby Redwings?
Our tiny leather gloves? Our child-sized safety glasses? What was he thinking?
©Dorothy Banks

          Dad was—is—his own OSHA office. He worked in a service station and on highway and construction crews as a kid, he uses all kinds of machinery in his work, and he lives in the rural west, so he's seen his share of workplace injuries—fingers or limbs lost because somebody wasn't paying attention or didn't power off the equipment before reaching into its innards to fix something and now they call him Stubby.
          That was the first thing he taught me: turn it off and unplug it. Disconnect the spark plugs. Think.
          The second thing he taught me was pay attention, also a concept that didn't come naturally to me. Pay attention to how it works. Pay attention to where you are. Pay attention to what you're doing. Think.
          The third thing he taught me was consider possible outcomes. Before you jack a car up to change the tire, consider the terrain. Look for someplace flat, to minimize the possibility of the car sliding off the jack. Never kneel to change a tire; always squat—you can get out of the way faster if the jack gives or the car tips off it. Think.
          I am exceedingly fortunate that not only did he tell me these three things, he told them to me over and over and over and over and over and over, until they finally lodged in my head.
          Because my dad saved my life. In an annoying and highly parental way, involving no drama, no adventure, no swashbuckling, no death rays expertly wielded against aliens, no defusing a ticking time bomb. He wasn't even there when he did it.
          K and I were driving the Chief Joseph highway in Wyoming. We'd pulled into a scenic overlook, and a couple in a motor home pulled in just behind us and parked, leaving the motor running. The overlook slanted slightly downhill, and both cars were facing downhill. I was still on the passenger side of our car when the driver of the motor home got out and started chatting with K. Turns out he was related to old friends of mine, so I moved around the car to join the conversation, stopping between the two cars, because there wasn't a lot of room where K and the other driver were standing.
          As we talked, these thoughts itched in the back my mind: "That motor home is still running. We're on a decline. You're standing between two cars, looking for all the world like a Nancy sandwich. Pay attention. Consider possible outcomes. Think."
          I thought, "Well, it never hurts to be cautious," so I stepped from between the cars and crowded next to K. A few minutes later, while our new friend was catching me up on the news about his nieces, whom I'd gone to school with, the motor home's engine cut out with a cough and it jumped out of gear, smacking into the back of our car.
          Where I'd been standing not very long ago.
          Thanks, Dad.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Things I Know About Bread

          I've been baking bread for a lot of years now. Here's what I've learned.

1. The stickier the dough, the better the finished product.

2. Focaccia can be frozen. Restore it to toasty excellentousity by popping it, frozen, into the toaster.

Focaccia with fresh sage.

3. When you move house, it takes at least six months of regular bread-making before the bread tastes "right" again.

4. Fleischmann's yeast gives bread a slightly sweet, really yeasty flavor. SAF (Red Star) gives a more bread-like flavor. I prefer SAF for most breads.

5. K makes some of the best rustic Italian loaves going.

Look at that crust!

Look at that crumb!
6. Kneading is overrated. Get yourself a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook.

7. Homemade pizza dough is worth the small extra effort.

8. It should be cooked on a baking stone for maximum wonderfulness. A peel is also pretty much essential for getting it into and out of the oven.

Pizza night!

9. If I could live on fresh-baked bread and salty butter, I would.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Upgrades are the Ninth Circle of Hell


          See the cheery little woodcut above? Given the choice between upgrading my computer software and being burnt at the stake, I'd happily choose to join those two poor souls.
          It would be so much less painful.
          I resist almost all software upgrades until I'm absolutely forced to, because I have learned by grim experience that each and every software upgrade generates Inevitable Unintended Consequences of a most unpleasant variety.
          Apple, however, recently forced me to upgrade my operating system by the simple expedient of threatening to take away all my email privileges if I didn't transfer my life to iCloud. Helpless in the face of such a threat, I began the long slog of transfer, and I soon learned that in order to transfer to iCloud so I could keep my email privileges, I would have to upgrade my OS.
          Now, come on. It's only two or three iterations out of date. Hardly worth upgrading.
          But Apple was holding my email privileges hostage, so I went to download Lion.
          It turns out that there's a "Resistance to Technological Change and the Resulting Miseries Appertaining Thereunto" fee assessed on everyone who is not completely up-to-date with their software. Meaning that before I could download Lion I had to download the previous OS, Snow Leopard, and install it so my computer could handle the Lion upgrade. In essence, I had to buy two upgrades when I really only wanted one.
          So I downloaded Snow Leopard and upgraded to it, muttering under my breath all the while, and since I have an actual life, one that doesn't revolve around upgrading every piece of software I own at 5-minute intervals as software companies would prefer I do on the theory that it is so much better for their bottom line, I did not immediately download Lion and upgrade.
          It was soon after that I discovered Snow Leopard had wounded my printer, which refused to print, and also to scan.
          The Lion download waited some more while I downloaded updated drivers for my printer and scanner.
          Which still could not be induced to scan, although it did now print and I suppose I should be grateful for small favors.

This is how I imagine software developers: as Satan's minions, with pitchforks.
          Foolishly hoping that upgrading to Lion would solve my scanning problem (but when oh when has an upgrade ever done anything other than cause problems?), I upgraded to Lion.
          Whereupon I discovered that Lion had killed every single one of my Adobe Creative Suite programs. Which is a HUGE problem, because I use Photoshop rather more often than I draw breath.
          I didn't much mind having to pay twice for the OS upgrades, mostly because they were relatively cheap, but my Creative Suite programs are antiques, dating from early in the century*, so I had to buy Completely New Programs—not simply upgrades—to replace the ones that Lion killed. And they are So Very Not Cheap At All.
          And you know what? The scanner still doesn't work, even after I installed Lion, and even after the nice tech support person at Canon emailed me very detailed instructions about how to make it work. I've managed to kludge together a workaround for the moment, but sooner or later I'm going to have to give up an hour of my life to listen to cheesy lite jazz interspersed at twenty-second intervals with that tinny female cyborg voice saying, "Your call is very important to us. Please continue to hold. An operator will be with you momentarily,**" in order to get the necessary five minutes' worth of telephone tech support that should fix my problem.
          We are at two weeks and counting since I started this misbegotten upgrade, and I would now like to have something to show for all my travails, besides a notably leaner bank account and a dead scanner.  A predator OS that eats weaker programs doesn't count.

These poor sinners are just grateful that in addition to their
present punishment, they were not sentenced to upgrade
their operating systems as well.

*There is a reason for this beyond my dislike of upgrades and their Inevitable Unintended Consequences. I am my mom's tech support for InDesign, and she's running InDesign Antique Version. I can't help her if I can't see what she's seeing, and until I can figure out how to do the remote desktop thing, it just seemed more sensible not to upgrade. Easier, too.

**What she actually means is, "If your call were really important to us, we would connect you with a human being in under two minutes. We only pretend that your call is important to us because we want you to keep giving us money, which is important to us. So just go buy a new printer. It will take you less time than hanging here on hold, and we will get money. Which is the whole point."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Better Than Your Average Travel Experience

          Strange things—and also wonderful—will happen to you if you travel enough.
          I suppose they will also happen to you if you live enough, but I seem to find mine at the other end of the road from home.
          An example? Last week, K and I traveled to the exotic lands of northern Utah. We've been there before. We used to live there. We knew what to expect, which this time included the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," cake, champagne, one giddily happy graduate, and her proud family. Hugs. Congratulations. Lots of photos. More cake. In addition to the usual gorgeous mountains.
          What we didn't expect—or at least I didn't—was that I would acquire a godmother.
          I've always wanted one.

My godmother, some random RenFest executioner dude, and my sister,
still trying to recover from the fright Random Executioner
had just worked on her.
          In addition to being unflapped by scary faceless strangers in scarlet hoods, she is an utter pro at godmothering. The first thing she asked me was if I had a King James bible. Because if not, she was going to get one for me, right away, so I could commence my religious education. At the ripe old age of a lot closer to 50 than I really care to think about.
          I assured her that I did indeed possess a bible of that breed. And I allowed that I might have read some of it, too.
          And now I must away to read up on the duties of a goddaughter. (I mean, besides being religiously educated so Godmother doesn't have to worry about me burning in Hell.) Because the road I took to Utah last week led me right to a delightful godmother, and I want to make sure I do right by her.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why I Love My Family

          K and I traveled recently to my sister's, to attend my niece's high school graduation. I'm happy to report that it was a success. M, my niece, graduated with honors, looked beautiful, and managed a pair of sparkly silver pumps with precipitously high heels with grace. She's going to college in the fall. With scholarships. I'm crazy proud of her.
          But this is not why I love her, and the rest of the people to whom she and I are jointly related. That can be summed up in two words—a product name as it turns out: Color Bug. M had a color bug, and she and I were playing with it before dinner. I put some in her hair. She ran off to find a mirror and pronounced the effect cool. My dad looked at her hair and clamored for some, too. My dad. Do I not have the most excellently cool dad ever? I gave him dots on his crew cut. My mom allowed us to see what orange hair chalk looks like on her gorgeous white hair. Then R, my nephew (and the best and most wonderful of all possible nephews), demanded Color Bug. So M gave him bold Color Bug.

          R ran off to the mirror and came back laughing. He decided M needed more Color Bug.

          R and M, by now high on Color Bug dust, decided to brighten up Godmother's hair.

          And then their mom's hair.

          And then the dog's hair. They have a Very Good Dog.

          Nobody had vapors at the thought of wearing orange chalk in their hair. Nobody immediately ran to the bathroom to remove the Color Bug. Instead, they posed for orange-haired photos because we are not afraid of loud pagan colors and giddy sillines in my family.
          And this is why I love them.