Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Unpaved roads... I've written particularly about roads in the last light of the day.

Here are two shots of roads on the Cone Manor, and two shots of the Commissary Road on Mount Mitchell - both in North Carolina, off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Click for larger views.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I was driving and thinking. I find the mind wanders in a particular way when driving. I've read that the right side of the brain gets a bit more control, because the left side (verbal) is bored with the work at hand, and dodges out, letting the right side take over. Driving, folding laundry, washing yourself in the shower - these are all yawns for the left brain.

So when the left brain steps out briefly, the right brain considers words in a different light. Mine tends to herd them together in groups. Like the small pile of whelks on my desk, picked up in Maine, which I almost unconsciously sort and line up like little artillery pieces during long conference calls and phone meetings. I arrange them by size, or by how they're ribbed, or by how weathered and worn they are. With words I do the same, and I started considering words we use when we protest that something is not so.

There are the simple, literal, straight words, like Untrue, False, Lies, Nonsense, Absurd, each with different degrees and blends of mistake or malice implied.
Bunk belongs with this group (from Bunkum, or Buncombe, a word from 1820's Washington about speeches made just for show or applause).
So do Blather (from an old Norse word for chatter) and Blarney (which comes from a particular myth about the Blarney Stone in Ireland, implying the words are nonsense or false flattery).
So does Hooey (from a 1930s magazine of spoof ads, a precursor of Mad Magazine) and Malarkey (origin unknown).
Balderdash is a stronger word in this family, though it's origins are unknown (here are some theories).
Preposterous is also stronger, coming from a Latin idea that seems similar to our idiom "ass backwards."
Humbug also goes here, being an 18th century slang term for a hoax or a joke.

Or we might deride the untruth with words like Foolish, Laughable, Hilarious, and Ridiculous. "That's rich," is apparently in this group, as "rich" is a slang synonym for laughable.

Carrying unintended falsehood further we might insist it's Madness, Lunacy, Insane, Raving, Out of your mind.

Or we might insist listeners should throw out the falsehood as Rubbish or Garbage.
Baloney is a slang usage in this group, probably because bologna was made from the last scraps of meat, that would otherwise be thrown away (though some think this is actually a corruption of Blarney, or came to mean nonsense because the sounds are so close).
Hogwash is also in this group, being the swill fit only to feed to pigs.

Moving further we progress from trash to manure, and this is where the more vulgar slang appears (you have been warned).
Load of crap
Bull dinkey (though the only references to dinkey I can find on-line refer to a type of small 19th and early 20th century locomotive used to shunt cars around a rail yard)
Horsefeathers (which may belong here or up with Blarney)
Bulls**t (though Bull also belongs up with Blarney, as it was used in the 17th century, while the full phrase we know today is American, and is believed to have shown up in the early 20th century).
A Crock (of s**t) (I found the proposed ancient Roman origin, on this website, to be coarsely funny, and quite possibly self referential)
It turns out Poppycock is actually in this category, derived from Dutch for soft feces.

So now that you've suffered through the entire herd, from the cleaner end to the smellier, you should have a better sense of the finer gradations when you insist that someone is speaking drivel, hot air, and twaddle. Sigh - every round up has a few strays that force you to circle round, and I know I've missed more, but we'll leave well enough alone.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Bubbles

When we visited Maine in September, we split up one day so my wife, our daughter, and our oldest son could all go on a boat tour, visit one of the Cranberry Islands, and possibly see seals. They got their wish (including the seals).

Youngest son (eight) and I had other plans. He had made it clear early in the trip that the one thing he wanted most was to visit Bubble Rock. I put together a hike that took the two of us over both of the Bubbles (in the center of the photo of Jordan Pond above, about a mile off), with a little trek along the shore between them. It was a great hike, nearly three miles, thousands of feet up and down in elevation, including steep jumbled rocky slopes and even a section at the top where we had to use ladder rungs in the side of a cliff. Scary and exhilarating - we loved it.

When we got to Bubble Rock he hugged it, and said he wanted to take it home. Some ladies there on the top near us commented that I certainly needed pictures of him with his favorite rock, and I said I didn't have the camera - it was aboard the boat, since the rest of the family were hoping to see seals, and were going to take pictures of the Cranberries, etc.

So one of the ladies took photos of the two of us and Bubble Rock and got my e-mail address. I got her e-mail on Thanksgiving Day - I had forgotten about them, so they were even more of a gift.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fall Pie

Many of the leaves are off our trees, and these last few weeks the colors got suddenly brighter, perhaps due to some rain a few days ago, and some cold nights. The Bradford pears, in particular, are starting to look like heaps of hot coals.

When I baked a chicken pot pie last Saturday, I cut the top in an autumn pattern. Liriodendron, as beautiful a name as the shape of the leaves or the arching branches.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. While we are in need, and pray and ask for many things, we have been given much. We are overshadowed with mercy and riches, and lit from within and without by grace. Chiaroscuro in glory. Praise Him.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Urinals - Part 2

More and more I am encountering urinals with no top plumbing.* They no longer flush. I assumed the management of the Sloan Valve Company was losing sleep over this. Having modernized from the standard chrome lever flush valves of the 20th century to the automatic sensor flushing variety of the 21st century, they now face the extinction of their valve products as urinals go waterless.

But actually, no! They have gotten into the waterless urinal cartridge business!

I've been wondering how these flushless urinals work (another thing to do during an otherwise pretty bring moment). I guessed some kind of filtration, but I couldn't think it out much further on my own, so I did some research. It turns out they have a cartridge where the drain would be, and the cartridge has a layer of fluid that floats on water. The cartridge is constructed to let urine pass through the layer, into the water/urine beneath (on which the fluid floats) and then, with the use of a clever baffle, water/urine goes down a pipe in the back, sediments collect in the front, and the level of the urine (and the floating permeable fluid) remains constant. The fluid keeps urine from having contact with air in the men's room, making the whole affair sanitary. Apparently the fluid wears out, or sediment collects and fills the front, because they have to be replaced about every 7000 uses. See a short video of the process at Sloan's site (no worries - no bodily functions, people, or parts of people appear in this video).

Since the cartridges must be regularly replaced, this new technology creates a more permanent revenue stream for Sloan. No longer dependent solely on new or replacement plumbing jobs for orders, the more of their units are installed, the more regular orders they will receive.

But they have competition, and judging by what I'm seeing in restrooms, Sloan might not be winning the war here in the Southeast. While Sloan plumbing is almost universal, and on the web the marketing blitz for waterless seems to be in Sloan's favor, I've seen very few of their waterless cartridges yet. Instead, I keep seeing another brand...

Falcon Waterfree is the brand I'm seeing nearly everywhere. Why? Various hints and portions of articles in the green building cybersphere look like Sloan and Falcon are working with two former partners' products, that a parting of the way and a non-compete agreement prevented Falcon from marketing for 5 years, and that the time was up several years ago. So Sloan had the big head start - making Falcon's ubiquity even more puzzling.

The cartridges seem to be $39.95 from either company. Both seem to last the same amount of time (about 7000 uses**). So why am I seeing so many Falcon cartridges, rather than Sloan? Because the news about the competition is old news. Sloan and Falcon signed a partnership in 2003 - so Sloan distributes Falcon products. In other words, it's all Sloan.

So with all the water savings, are there any drawbacks to waterfree urinals? Yes, it turns out. Some public agencies and governments are hesitant because the waterfree urinal requires regular maintenance (cartridge or sealant fluid replacement) or sanitation goes down the drain. (Actually, the problem is that it doesn't.) Certain cleaning chemicals seem to interfere with the cartridges. Cartridge maintenance is apparently messy. The sealant fluid is supposedly biodegradable, but I wonder and I'm sure others do, too. And the cartridges themselves represent another plastic disposable for our landfills, have to be manufactured and trucked, etc. so it doesn't seem like a very green solution, after all.

Another company has already come to the rescue. Ecotech Water LLC manufactures a cartridge replacement that will fit Falcon and Sloan urinals, is made of more heavy duty plastic to last, and has a totally different solution. There is a funnel shaped rubber valve inside that curls up and stays airtight when no urine is passing through it. It uncurls and lets pass whatever amount of liquid enters the funnel. It's the same technology used for urinals in space (where gravity and water savings are both issues). These cartridges are much more expensive than the Falcon and Sloan disposables ($159 compared to $39.99) but they last many times longer and there is no sealant fluid to handle. I'll be looking for these replacements as I use public restrooms.

Urinals - Part 1

* This is cutting into my quiet personal quest to decipher the difference between Royal and Regal lines of Sloan valves...

** Another newcomer to this market, Issainterclean, out of Florida, has a waterless urinal (Zeroflush) that claims to get 15000 uses before maintenance...

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I took a walk today at Ayrmount. I took my best friend.

We strolled the Poet's Walk and looked at the light on the yellow beech leaves, the ripples on the Eno River, and the warm sun shining on the valley spread out beyond the four Adirondack chairs set on the brow of the hill behind the old house. Then we walked the whole thing again, backwards, which we've never done before. It was like walking a new trail.

During the entire walk I was nearly bursting with two paintings that are trying to get to the surface. I have now struggled much of the afternoon with one, and feel worn out and a bit discouraged as I can't get the vision from inside to come out on the paper. The spirit of the thing isn't coming through. I don't know how to draw playfully enough to make it happen.

But I'll keep at it, maybe Wednesday. Meanwhile, the best thing all day was time spent with my best friend. After dinner, she and I have a movie just for the two of us. And after that I'll go to bed earlier; she gets insomnia if she comes to bed too soon. And perhaps I'll wake when she does come to bed, so I can hold her a while before we both go to sleep.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dragon Rampant

For Halloween this year our youngest decided (on his sister's clever suggestion) to be a medieval knight or king. He could carry a sword, belt up a long shirt as a tunic... He liked the idea.

The night before Halloween I got inspired and made a really tall yellow crown, and a long shield of foamcore. I thought he'd like a dragon rampant, and I asked him what color he wanted it. "Red with blue eyes," he replied.

Here's the costume that resulted (we don't show our children's faces on our blogs). The sword was made long ago out of foam tubing cut lengthwise.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The World Below by Sue Miller

I have a particular love for books that happen on multiple layers at once, and have many threads interwoven with intersections and haunting repeating patterns. They remind me of operas or musical scores where themes and melodies can echo back and forth through the story, foreshadowing, reminding, revealing. The patterns that repeat or overlap between story lines lead you to effortlessly draw comparisons and parallels.

The World Below by Sue Miller has three or four overlapping stories, all in one family, that are beautifully woven back and forth between San Francisco and New England, between the past and the present, from one generation and parental relationship, to the next. Relationships, age differences, how certain situations take us out of the world and change the rules, how hard it is to come back into the world we knew, the love of parents and grandparents, stories left unfulfilled in one generation repeated with different result in another generation... there is so much to hear in these intertwined stories. The jacket blurb made it sound like a simple story of a woman finding her grandmother's diaries - but this is so much more complex, and yet so simply told.

The shifts from one layer to another are well timed; they even seem inevitable, an effect which particularly pleased and surprised me. The characters and conversations all fit, and sound like their places and periods. I loved every minute of it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Playful Artistic Buildings

On Moomin Light there is a post about the Frank Gehry designed Stata Center on MIT's campus. The Stata center is one of the most playful structures built, and has caused a minor uproar and a lawsuit because it has practical problems. See Moomin Light's post for more details and some photos.

When I read it, though, I thought of another playful structure, designed not by an architect, but by a painter - one of my favorites - Hundertwasser.

Here is the building. It is called the Hundertwasser House, and it's in Vienna. He also encouraged residents to be playful with decorating inside, with some beautiful results, like a sunflower mosaic in one of the stairwells, I believe (I can no longer find a photo of that image).

For more photos of Hundertwasser architecture see the following Flickr items:
A waste incinerator in Austria
A church, several different photos
A market building in Switzerland
A public loo in New Zealand - outside and inside and another view inside (oh no! not more urinals!)
And more photos of Hundertwasser House

Here is a Hundertwasser painting so you understand the inspiration behind the buildings. There are further samplings of Hundertwasser's paintings at this link (also in my sidebar).

I bought a lovely book of Hundertwasser paintings which I still have wrapped, still in the bag from a Nashville, TN bookstore near Vanderbilt. Like an unopened REM album (also stashed in my art table), it's a horded treasure I will open when I either really need it, or when I'm in the kind of expansive mood where the new art will blow me miles up like a hawk on thermals, to soar and scream with joy and pleasure at the flight.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Playing in front of the Mirror

I so disliked the results of my self portrait (so concentrated while drawing my face that I had no regard for the grim expression until afterwards) that I decided to capture my face the way I see it. The way I like to see it.

I don't know if you pose in front of the mirror - looking at yourself as if you were looking at someone else, then freezing to look at how you look looking at them. I do sometimes.

If you know me, these images may look a little odd because they are reflections, everything reversed. But this is how I always see me. The older we get, and the less symmetrical we get as we age, the less our view (always in mirrors) jives with the rest of the world's.

Stranger still is that away from mirrors I imagine myself differently and my reflection surprises me. I picture myself with dark hair and without a beard (though I've had this beard, with only a three week gap, for the last 28 years). I have a bit more chin, as well... and a bit less neck beneath it. It's not just that I'm younger; in my mind's eye I'm in my early thirties, actually, and my hair was already mostly gray by then, so I never actually looked as I do in my imagination. I wonder if everyone has a slightly different self they picture? Are we all out of sync with the mirror?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nice Kitty

Our cats are litter mates, brought to our house together when they were barely weaned. They are best friends, sleep together in a companionable furry heap many nights, and would be lost without each other, particularly Tamlin. But they also play rough. Tamlin's favorite game is to get above his sister like this and then try to wallop her on the head without being touched himself. He has a surprisingly hard punch, we all know because once in a while he directs it at us, and he can be incredibly fast. But Lina is usually faster. They're indoor cats in part because she would cut a wide swath through the local bird life. Usually these stand-offs end in a hitting match with both swiping at the air where the other's paw just was... I tried to catch that with another shot, but they broke it up and romped off into another room. They sound like a herd of wildebeest when they run through the house - and they only weigh about 11 pounds each.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Abstract with Grays to Mixed Herd

Here is the abstract with grays as it was on Thursday. I came home from a long emotionally complex trip to Georgia on Thursday - tired out and bottled up. I threw myself into painting Friday evening and it felt GREAT.

I'd been thinking of bonsai lately, with a stop in Atlanta at a sushi restaurant that had them in shelves above the sushi chefs, and with my daughter mentioning the roadside bonsai salesman near her dance lessons. So this tree photo caught me, and I got out an orange pencil and put it's graceful arched shapes in the abstract. Like antlers or horns. So then cows needed to be under the tree, and I added a small mixed herd of herefords and longhorns with a blue pencil and then white acrylic. I love the bones that show through cows' backs. It's the first thing "bovine" brings to my mind. The tree came into more focus, and more trees emerged in the background - huge trees with diffuse light coming through them. More contrast, more color, some yellow and orange on the white acrylic to tie the cows into the landscape a bit more... Green grass for the cows...

I don't know if I like it or not - but I thoroughly enjoyed letting it run away with itself.

Saturday evening we had a family gathering of siblings and their families at my youngest sister's house. Her husband built the enormous place, and we had a big bonfire out in their pasture, where a friend raises a mixed herd. The cows came lumbering purposefully towards us, spread out so they'd all arrive at once, to check out the fire. I thought of my painting - and I waited to see how close they would get and what they would do. Then my eleven year old niece jumped up and ran them all off. They turned and fled over the hill and out of sight.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I don't handle uncertainty very well. I like certain kinds of surprises, the kind that are pleasant like when my wife kidnaps me for a morning or an evening to go do something we like. Who doesn't like these?

But some people thrive on the uncertainty and gamble of everyday life. People in sales, who like the challenge of overcoming the obstacles, or people in politics. The uncertainty of the outcome, the considerable possibility that I will fail or that something unpleasant will result, puts me off.

At work, presently, there is a lot of uncertainty. We're in the middle of a merger, so I have a new boss and a whole series of new work comrades in another state. I'm not sure who is credible, who exaggerates, who is full of it, who has the most effective perspective, who is out for themselves and sees a new person as an opportunity... I don't know exactly what will be expected, when, how much, etc. I'm not sure where the lines are that you don't cross. At the same time I don't want to be timid in this new situation, so I've tried to speak my mind clearly and fairly, and to be decisive. It will either be correct, or it won't, but I'll have been honest and real. Thing is, I build up a lot of stress until I know I'm OK, and the way I'm doing things will work.

And that stress gets taken out on everyone around me as I'm not fully present. For instance, this morning (Saturday) I got up ready to roar along through chores and other things at 90 miles an hour. I had 25 minutes at one point until my oldest got up and I could make us both an omelette - and I made the clock practically stand still rushing about cleaning up, changing out old flowers in wall sconces, sorting old mail, etc. I popped a bunch of old balloons that have been cluttering up the living room (post Halloween - they stuffed our giant bat) and apparently jolted several of my kids with the mechanical brutality of this act, even though it was expected, more or less. I move too fast. At work I go very slowly, over think everything I do because the way is uncharted, and so at home I run - even if I shouldn't. This morning I wasn't just running, I was jet propelled. You should have seen me making that omelette - it was aerobic - I probably looked like a rubber ball bouncing from side to side of the kitchen - fridge, stove, island, sink, stove, boing, boing, boing.

I enjoyed running this morning - but I didn't enjoy what I did while I ran. I was just... running. As I do when I finally get home from a long day of taxis, airplanes, shuttles, delays in terminals, more airplanes... I get in my car and want to gun the engine in the parking deck. I want to make the tires scream as I leave my space. I want to speed on the highway just because I finally CAN. I change lanes and make my own decisions on my own power, in my own way, without having to wait on or consider anyone else's schedule or wishes. It feels LIBERATING.

But I don't want that kind of freedom all the time - I just have a hard time when I spend so much time waiting or uncertain.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Boys

Here we are, just me and the boys, standing tall in beautiful places.

(Blue Ridge Parkway,VA, big meadow up the trail from "The Saddle" in Rocky Knob park)
(Grand View Preserve near Virginia Beach. For over 6 months this has been the wallpaper on Rico (Rico is my studio PC - named for a recent total reload after viruses took over - "Yes, Rico, Kaboom." - Kaboom is it's name on our home network.))

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Clotheslines and Abstract with Grays

Often I feel my pieces lack color unity, and are garish. It might be because I have so little gray gluing everything together. I get carried away.

Here's a watercolor I think of as "Clotheslines." This began as an abstract and then the clotheslines and clothes emerged. Family, looking at this piece, don't get that, though - so it doesn't really work. And I'm not sure I like it, colors or composition. It has no focus - too much is going on.

I read about ways to mix grays using different pairs or trios of transparent colors. So I decided to experiment with an abstract. This is the result. While I like some of what's going on here, and I learned some things I will apply in other works, I'm not sure this works, either. It also lacks focus.

So I don't think of these as finished pieces, and I will probably paint over them in some way and push them further. That's how Cats and Koi emerged.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Bass Lake - Cone Manor

If there is a more photogenic walk in North Carolina, I don't know where it is. The temptation is to fill the camera up on just one round of the lake.

And it doesn't matter if it's morning light, as in the first shot, or late light, as in the last two.

We put things back together here.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Myers-Briggs - What Doesn't Work So Well

In a previous post about Myers-Briggs I mentioned how knowing my typology (INFP) helped. Now I want to discuss some of the system's weaknesses.

1. Tendency WHEN?

When we take the tests we are painfully aware that different situations would get a different response. For instance, the example Moomin Light used in a recent conversation about this was buying a car verses a decision about spending time with a friend. She would be INTJ about the car decision, and INFJ about the friend. We particularly gnash our teeth at questions that pit the two types of situations against each other. I know this is probably meant to get at the deepest underlying preference or style, but we know very well that we shift between modes depending on the situation. Facts or emotions or both (and in what balance). We might decide what car and features using facts, but we're likely to pick the color emotionally.

2. Emotional Intelligence?

It seems to me that a person's ability to switch styles (depending on the situation) is a kind of intelligence. I know people who seem consistent in their style, using the same approach for everything, whether that works in the long run, or not. I also know people, many of them introspective, who consciously change their style. I believe it might be helpful to tease out this factor and apply it somehow to the Myers-Briggs typology. I will admit that we have taken simple Internet tests - and a full Myers-Briggs profile might include a lot more - I don't know.

3. Extroverts Win

We have read that recruiting processes sometimes include Myers-Briggs to weed out the introverts (loners). We have seen many websites that advise job hunting introverts to lie on these tests - pick parties over books. Actually, I think the work world would be better served by finding people with various typologies AND that intelligence I described in the previous paragraph. People who can work with concentration alone AND on teams. People who are exceptionally good listeners AND able to speak to a crowd.

4. Excuse and Condone

Finally, it's tempting sometimes to write-off behavior (mine or other people's) as just a result of the typology. No struggle, no considering that another outcome might have been wiser. While it's good to cut people slack, and anything that helps us forgive each other (and ourselves) might be worthwhile, it's easy to get sloppy.

All in all, though, I believe it's been helpful to know my typology, and others, as well.

(I wonder if any of your are trying to figure out what significance the dump trucks and sand have, in the photo up top. I just haven't had an excuse to use that photo and I figured this was as good a post as any... Sometimes a truck is just a truck - if you know what I mean.)

Friday, November 2, 2007


I wrote these about ten years ago, and just rediscovered them while doing some autumn cleaning. I don't recall writing them, but the creative process is all there to see, scribbled out, and the notes say my oldest and I sat in my mother-in-law's kitchen in Sept 97 and each wrote haiku. That would have been when we stayed with her between houses, when my oldest was nine, a dark age. I actually do recall a little that I was trying to help cheer him up.

Some of these, I note, are not strict about the number of syllables...

Mantis and
caterpillar on
different thumbs

Walking stick
and half sized girl move
down the beach

Curving beach
hides small girl from view
father running

Hopping sounds
toad's eyes in the dark
reflecting fire

broken mental stride
unknown bloom

(The last is about summer tanagers, and the second line sounds a bit like their staccato agitation call)

chuckle flicker back
red and gold

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Moleskine - Chairs and Table

Inspired in part by Cindy Woods, of Learning Daily (see this sketch of a table and chairs), I made a drawing of a dining suite where we were staying in the mountains. This lacks the lively line and animation of Cindy's sketching; I would love to learn to loosen up like that, and this shows how far I have to go.

But this sketch works in other ways, and I'm pleased with it. And, like all drawings, I will always have vivid memories for the place and the moment whenever I look at this. Photos can't carry the same amount of freight - not by a long shot.

Finally, after that self portrait several posts ago, I needed to show what a happier subject looks like in my moleskine.