Thursday, July 31, 2008

Where Am I - 2

Have you ever gone somewhere on vacation or a business trip and wandered around feeling like, "This is home!" It's somewhere you've never been before, maybe never even heard about, and seemingly by accident you end up there and realize it's where you've belonged all along.

That's what my last few weeks in the blogosphere have been like. (Oh come on, Blogger! How can you be spell-check-alarming the word "blogosphere!?")

It started when my dearest told me about Politits (DCup). So I went and looked. Whoa! Here was a wild combination of ideas and feelings all coming at us in well crafted prose, a unique voice, and quantity. (How in the world does she mother three, work full time, commute to work, and post so much!? It boggles my mind.) Commenting there seemed a no-brainer: her posts made me think, or made me laugh, so there was usually something to say. And lots of people went ahead and said it. This was a pretty verbal bunch, more so than any other blogging zone I've been in up to now.

She mentioned my blog in a post and that led to comments and frequent visits by Liberality and The Pagan Sphinx. Meanwhile dearest wife also pointed me to Vulture Peak Muse, and I started to comment over there, as well. All three of these new blogs are daily reading now.

But as I looked at the comments every day, I naturally end up following people back to their portions of this wonderful little community. A little interesting dissension here and there, and polite, humorous, balanced, well thought out, and no trolls (knock wood). So I ended up hooked on OKJimm's Eggroll Emporium, and FranIAm (I love that Latin in her blog name), and Lemon Gloria, and Emma Tree, and today I added Adventures Ink and distributorcap NY (both of whom had extaordinarily good posts on top today - outsider art and We the people..., respectively), and Passions of an Odd Chick who posted paintings including one of sheep (!!) and whose previous post was about hummers (!!). I'm also looking into our new candidates Divajood and Nunly...

Where will this end? And will I ever have time to sleep again? Soon I have to go visit Mary Ellen, Randal Graves, Mathman... I don't have the links for all of these yet - but I think they will soon read as the list of my "Fav daily" bookmarks. And there will be more...

Too many blogs, not enough time...

But plenty of welcome, and plenty of brains (with manners). Wow. I always wanted to live here, even when I didn't know it.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #14 <<<<
You might think Grenouille is ALSO wondering "Where AM I?!" but he's his usual cool self. He is using frog visual and echo-location senses to check that my orthodonture (braces twice, because anything THAT much fun should have an encore!) is still holding position. All is well.

And yes, we washed his feet first. And again afterwards (he insisted, but I felt his request for rubbing alcohol was a bit insulting).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Handling Hummingbirds

I held a bird in my hand last night. And I do know that's not a bird in my oldest son's hand in the photo. That's a cicada. More on that later.

We have had so many hummers (and I don't mean SUVs) get into our garage and trapped there, that I have become experienced in their differences. Here in the East we have only one species - the Ruby Throated Hummingbird. They are, like most hummers, attracted by the color red. When I figured out that my garage door opener's red handle, dangling on the emergency cord for disengaging, was drawing them into the garage, where they would then be startled into going up above the door and stuck (they don't look down when panicky, so they can't find their way back out!) I exchanged the red handle for a big aluminum washer. That finally stopped the regular "capture and release" program I was running. I could have been banding the birds, I suppose, but it didn't occur to me at the time.

I have a loose wire for the garage door opener (I just stapled the wire across my garage ceiling and it hangs down over one of the vans) and the poor weary beasts always land there for the night. I climb the van in the dark, get up close to the tiny bird, and gently pluck it from the wire. They peep pitifully and struggle feebly while I climb back down off the van roof (hard to do with one hand full of fragile bird). They stop peeping when I get them outside - they can tell they are no longer trapped indoors. They get quiet. When I let them go they usually buzz me, and one attacked (it's a bit like having a radar guided tavern dart aiming for your face - no matter how you move, it follows). So I'm ready to duck when I let go.

But I look at them before I release them. I had always thought them quite uniform, bird to bird, but it's not at all true. They move so fast it's normally hard to see the differences, but in hand, they are remarkably unique. Some are long and thin, others are short and curvy (my favorites - just like women). Some have longer beaks, and some of the beaks are more curved than others. The color of green is not uniform, either, some being a true leafy green, and others more aqua. And even their feathers are not the same - like the way our hair grows on our heads, some have feathers differently around their eyes and beaks, and the tail feathers can be broader or narrower, shorter of longer, from one individual to another. It was a revelation to me. And every one I've handled was female - not one male has been trapped in the garage. I'm not sure what this means.

Last night we had another one in the garage; I'm not sure what lured it in there. It's been over a year since the last one.

I have probably held over a dozen of them by now - maybe as many as eighteen. It's a small miracle every time I do it. First I'm always struck by the fact that they will not try to escape as long as it's dark and their feet are still on the wire. They only struggle once I have them off the perch. Weird. That must make them very vulnerable in the wild at night. Second, I'm blown away every time by their pulse; it's insane. And finally I can't believe they are so tiny. I've held a lot of insects that are larger. Amazing. And these things descended from dinosaurs?!?

About that cicada above - some of these guys are bigger than hummingbirds; that's why it got in this post. This time of year we can take a night bug (1) walk (2) and see many of them, in their last hours of life, on the pavement under street lamps. We pick them up (because it's fun! and they are so wildly different from us - like aliens have landed!). The males buzz so loudly that it can make you drop them even if you're prepared for it. They do it by vibrating a series of their back plates. Here in NC the great loud buzzing of these insects is a daytime mark of summer - it just wouldn't be hot without them. The females (like this one - note the ovipositor (egg laying tube) on the end of her abdomen) are silent.

In the evenings the cicadas gradually give way to the sound of katydids. They can also be ridiculously loud, and I LOVE their sound (only the fall sound of field crickets is better, to me). I used to try to listen for the moment each evening when the cicadas stopped and the katydids started, wondering if there was a gap between, of if they overlapped. For years I never could pay enough attention (I'm easily distracted) to actually hear it. Now I hear it regularly - funny how you can learn to see and hear differently. They overlap every evening this time of year, just as the colors are beginning to disappear (a sad moment for me every day).

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #13 <<<<

Sometimes Grenouille gets homesick for France. Then I might find him mooning about looking at things like this Orangina bottle that came home on the same trip. Back then you could not find Orangina in the U.S. - and it was gentler, more European, than it is here now. That makes ME homesick for France...

Purple cone flowers are one of my dearest's favorites - she has several kinds, and they bloomed better this year than any time in the last twenty.

Route 29 - Upper Piedmont of VA

South of Lynchburg, VA, on Route 29, there are a series of small bypassed towns. I took the Business 29 options through them all.

Altavista had a long waterfront park, with lots of open space, picnic areas, sports facilities and playground equipment. It was nearly deserted in the late afternoon, but an older couple were sitting at the river's edge, with their heads together, asleep, and there was a family further up the Otter River, with two boys splashing around and their dad fishing. I worked my way along the sandy/muddy bank and tumbles of large rocks (in dress shoes and bowtie) to the spot where I took this photo.

Altavista's business district had a wide main street, diagonal parking, and sleepy businesses. Some buildings looked unoccupied. That was true for all three of the towns I drove through. They have banners bravely posted about their historic charm or unique qualities, but I didn't see much sign of new businesses or an influx of commerce. The people on the streets probably had an average age of 65. The barber was sleeping in his chair the first time I passed, and had an older gentleman client, not much younger than he was, just starting a haircut when I returned ten minutes later.

Gretna was even smaller than Altavista, and boasted a railroad history. I bought a small shot glass on a stem, like a cross between a wine goblet and a shot glass, in an antique mall that was mostly empty. The owner (the only other person in the place but myself) told me I should come back that weekend; there would be a shipment of furniture. He sounded a bit desperate.

A number of the buildings in Altavista and Gretna were closed and empty. Traffic mostly passed through without stopping, what little traffic there was. I found both towns a bit depressing, and I almost skipped the next town on the way down.

Chatham was the largest of the towns, and the county seat of Pittsylvania County. The approach to town is lovely, with winding streets, big trees and old houses. The photo here shows the largest China rain tree I've ever seen.

The courthouse in Chatham was an interesting old building, with very portly law enforcement on the high front porch, joking and laughing amiably. There were other historic preservations and beautiful homes and churches, as well, and a sense of place in Confederate history, in particular. I spent the longest there, because there was more to see and photograph. Chatham seemed like it might be stable or even growing a little, and I got a feeling of more business and optimism about the place.

All three towns were neat, well kept, and obviously loved by their residents. It was sad to think of Gretna and Altavista in decline despite that attention. It's a rural part of VA, far from any major urban center (Lynchburg is the closest city), and there didn't seem to be many younger people in the area. Americans are on the move - into and out of cities. I could see the recent demographic shifts working in favor of Lynchburg, but I think the departure from the rural areas, which started decades ago, is still working against these smaller towns.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #13 <<<<

Grenouille calls his banker once a month to make an appointment. The bank requires the advance notice because when Grenouille visits he likes to see his money. Up close. All of it. Being an international traveler, he sometimes requests to see it in Euros or Pounds Sterling, but generally he is content to look at in American coinage. He does wonder why, in the last 100 years, Americans have only had one lovely face on their coins (if you don't count that pretty boy, Mercury). Don't we like pretty girls? Look at French money... Afterwards he takes a long swim in a local pond, to wash off the metallic smell of all that filthy lucre.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Route 29 - Lynchburg VA

I had business in VA recently, and passed through a number of towns on route 29. Lynchburg was by far the largest. I had a little time to spare when I got there, and the town has some beauty spots, where you can see it built up the hill.

I started my touring, though, at the historic riverfront. This area looks like a town project in progress, with lots of potential. The James river runs through Lynchburg, and an old canal from Richmond came up this far.

The riverfront has a walking/biking trail and a foot bridge over the James, which is where I took the top photo above.

A man approached me as I took my photos of these lovely old buildings near the waterfront, and said he'd often joked to his wife that they ought to buy one, years ago. Now it's probably too late - the price has already gone up. Behind the flour mill was a stack of old silos for storing the grain before it was ground. No restoration yet, but you can imagine how interesting this area could be.

In town itself many of the buildings are worthy of a photo. I only had time to walk along Church Street and take photos towards the top of the escarpment there, which has Monument Terrace (photo below, the entrance and stairs to the Terrace) and the old courthouse on top. There is even an elevator and bridge to the top of the terrace, to make it handicap accessible (last photo, below).

Lynchburg is gradually getting some more upscale and European style restaurants downtown, but there are still streets where buildings are boarded up and for rent. Business is mostly in the strips on the expressways around it.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #12 <<<<

Grenouille has been touring oldest son's room again. Here he is visiting the Sistine Chapel (on the right). So few people know how it looks on the outside because everyone uses up all their film on the inside. The bigger frog was also touring, but he wasn't interested in art. He was there for the hot Italian amphibians, in their tiny stilettos and micro skirts, with their dark eyes and bright tympani listening for the loud croaks of a big strong specimen like him. Grenouille is teaching him how to make Italian kissy noises and say, "Incontrarmi nello stagno."

Sunday, July 27, 2008


If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs system of personality typologies, then those letters in the title will look familiar. Last night we had a blow up leading ultimately to me having something of a break down in the wee hours, followed by the worst raw rage I've felt in a long time. This morning I got up, drank a glass of milk, mowed the lawn like it was a martial art (I wielded the mower like a weapon, and I have one of the heaviest mowers I could purchase - in our 90 degree heat, I think I was going for heat stroke or heart attack), went to get more gas in the big 5 gallon gas can and practically dared the men around me in the filling station or in nearby cars to cross me, so I could pull them out of their driver's side doors while I cursed them roundly, and then I could get the beating of my life, since I don't fight, and nearly all the guys I saw were significantly younger and bigger than I (this seems to be happening more and more often, lately...). No one took my right of way or tailgated me, though, and by the time I got home I was snarling like an animal I was so beside myself, with no outlet.

And what the hell was all this about? It was about the moves I make to do my day job, vs. the way I really am and need to be at home. I'm an INFP (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving). For those of you who don't speak Myers- Briggs, this means I'm an introvert who tends to look for the deeper meaning and bigger picture. I tend to be motivated more by feelings than reason, and I prefer to leave things open ended, rather than have to choose one path while discarding others. I need everyone to be OK. INFP is one of the rarest typologies, particularly among men (some of whom will actually test as something else because this typology is so touchy-feely that our society trains boys out of it). They tend to be very hard on themselves. What this means in practice, for me, is that I prefer to observe people (rather than get involved), I need a lot of quiet time to dream, I will rationalize decisions, but I am usually deciding based on emotions (mine or what I perceive to be the emotions of others) and I hate making decisions that are final. I have a loud and very articulate inner censor, who is an artist at making me feel stupid or inept. Since modern Western life is not generally tolerant of my personal style, I have developed a whole series of coping mechanisms, which include a powerful shadow self, which I use regularly at work.

What's a shadow self? INFP's are one of the types that will, under stress, flip their letters for the opposites, or the shadow, of their real typology. The ESTJ, (Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) is one of the most driving personality types, the sort that end up in command, and can tell everyone else what to do, how to do it, why they should do it, and (in some cases, with enough charisma) can make them like it. These are CEOs, generals, entrepreneurs, bulldozers. This is who I often become at work, getting things done, making decisions, not suffering fools lightly, persuading everyone all the time. Push, push, push. I tackle my tasks with no breaks, no mercy, no prisoners.

Or this is who I try to be, to cope with the pressure of my complex and directive job. The job is what I do for a living sufficient to support the five of us. Some days I revel in the pace, and the intricacy - I'm pretty good at it. Other days I dread even waking up. And it's about impossible to go back after vacations and long weekends. At work I spend significant time in ESTJ, to get things done, while still listening to my INFP senses, in order to say and do what will persuade or soothe as needed. I use one for drive, the other for navigation and charm. It's exhausting.

Lately there has been a lot more stress, due to lots of change. Most of the change is good, the sort of thing that has needed doing for a while, and I am pleased to see it happening. Hell, some of it makes we want to dance. But it's all hard for me because of my real nature - which is not pushing, would prefer to never again speak on a telephone (I detest my Blackberry), does not like to be in the center of attention, and hates to make decisions.

So after recent weeks of travel, work, family visits, and other things which put me repeatedly in my ESTJ shadow, I got stuck there, and then my time at home was spent with my ESTJ imitation trying to do an INFP imitation for my wife and kids. (Bugs Bunny, "Now I will do my imitation of Ricky, impersonating Harry, impersonating Elvis.") It's not a success. When my family sends signals that I am not really engaged, or pushing everyone around, I can't hear that because it's not something I want to know. If I fake it long enough, and can't leave my ESTJ fortification, there will be a showdown, and then I will collapse in a rush of anguish, anger, and melodrama, including a death wish, because I am so disgusted with this typology that wants to please everyone all the time so they will all "be OK," fears the bad feelings or opinions of others, and (in my case) plays chameleon so well that I can't even tell I've changed my color to ESTJ.

My deeper trouble is that I often feel my type is not male enough - too passive, and too willing to give in to the feelings and wishes of others. No backbone. I'm so concerned with pleasing everyone that I get into Twister-like knots, and all of this feels cowardly, rather than sympathetic, because I don't do it by willed decision, but on automatic. And my internal censor is a master at driving all of the points above. This can make me grumpy and reclusive, as the feelings of everyone else feel like loud static in my ears all the time.

Actually all of this is exaggerated, of course, by the strong emotions I experienced over the last 24 hours. I'm not driven totally by my typology - no one is - and I make extremely good use of it in my job, which is one that requires a lot of diplomacy, compromise, and understanding the needs and opinions of others, in addition to fact finding, rational decision making, and directing. I just get way out of kilter sometimes.

I can actually recall the first time I actually flipped the INFP for the ESTJ for an extended project. By an amazing chance today I found a photo (which I had totally forgotten) of myself making a presentation (in 1977 - imagine how we all looked with our long hair) to the principal and school board for our high school. Our 10th grade Social Studies teacher had convinced me (actually he used a lot of emotional tactics to bully me) to join, and then lead, a student landscaping committee; our new high school had no plantings around it at all. I lead the committee, I did the horticultural research, and I designed the plan. I had to persuade the principal and local school board to let us go forward with fund raising, volunteer plantings, etc. The photo brings back to me the fear and rush of adrenalin I felt doing that presentation, and the amazed feelings I had when I not only didn't wet my pants, but actually did a good job with the speaking, handled a series of questions and objections, and got laughs and positive comments from the adults and my classmates alike. The project was carried unanimously. I loved and feared what had just happened to me - that I could turn on this other way of doing things. It simply happened.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

By this afternoon I just have the usual residual migraine, I no longer wish I were dead, and the rage passed by the time I made eggs (oldest son brought home free range eggs from a local farmers market - beautiful and delicious) for elevenses. What makes me weary is the knowledge that I will get lost again soon, unable to even know I crossed the line and I'm stuck in the ESTJ shadow again. It's almost like having a split personality, how little control I have when I'm there. Then I can't even imagine I have this other way of being - this quiet, dreamy way.

And on top of the family pain, painting doesn't work in ESTJ mode. That's how I get blocked. That's when I start monitoring how good it is, or considering how it would be received at a gallery, or how it should be priced, instead of painting what I want, and loving it. (Actually the INFP inner censor is just as much the enemy of painting.)

My comfort, in all this, is that my family patiently helps me through these episodes, I have made significant progress in undermining the "automatic" switches through understanding of the typologies and my motivations, and I am coming more to a peaceful acceptance of my "INFPness," as we sometimes call it, to the laughter or groans of our teenagers.


For a more light hearted view of Myers-Briggs, try the "Brutally Honest Personality Test." There the INFP is called "Pollyanna," something I've been called before... Somehow I have to make everything seem OK for everyone (and ESTJ says, "You will all agree, dammit!"). Imagine my long-suffering wife, telling me some trouble of hers, to which she merely wants me to listen, and I have to reply with the bright side, so she can now be OK. That's so typical of me - and it's the shallow side of Pollyanna and the "Glad Game," which I only just read about here.

AND - a caution. Myers-Briggs evaluation is actually a carefully practiced and nuanced psychological tool. I am playing "fast and loose" with it here. I find it amazingly helpful to understand some previously confusing internal landscapes, though, even while using it in my imprecise and typically INFP way.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #11 <<<<
Grenouille says I should have had it examined long ago. "Think of all the trouble that might have saved."

Grenouille is an ENFJ, with savoir faire. He has leanings towards ENTP (though even there he is unfailingly charming).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Weepies - Hideaway

Every so often I look on Amazon for a few favorite artists, to see if they have something new. So recently I was over the moon when The Weepies' album Hideaway showed up. I blogged previously about these two singer/song-writers. Their music is deceptively simple, but it wears so well for me that I never tire of them. And they sink in and gradually spread until they make my bones glow.

Like my favorite poetry, their songs handle simple subjects with grace. Happiness, for instance, is one of the hardest emotions to handle in art; the usual yield is syrup. Darker emotions seem easier material for art. But these two handle happiness, love, subtle feelings of loss, and emotional ephemera, with a light touch and a unique viewpoint. The emotions don't seem to lose much in translation, and so the numbers work deeply for me. I love to paint to their voices. The Summer Obsession is another group that seems to work perfectly for my painting - not sure why.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille # 10 <<<<

Grenouille turns up the volume so the bass makes the table hum. He bobs up and down gently to the beat, and does back flips at the peaks.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Theseus' Ship

Imagine yourself in ancient Athens. The great Greek hero Theseus died two hundred years before, but his legendary ship is still kept in the harbor, as a memorial. Over the centuries parts of the ship have needed to be replaced. By now virtually every rope, sail, and board on her has been changed.

Is it the same ship? I don't think anyone is prepared to assert that replacing a few portions of something makes it now a different something. Does a kidney transplant or knee replacement make you someone else? Surely you are still the same person. Your car can have major portions of it replaced over your ownership, even the engine, but no one thinks it's the same vehicle only because of the serial number on it. There is something about identity that transcends the sum of the parts.

Where this gets weird, is if you picture the parts of Theseus' ship being gradually replaced, and the original parts (too precious to be destroyed) being stored in a nearby shrine. Once all the parts are replaced, though, some wiseguy steals the old parts and, under cover of a nearby warehouse, assembles the entire ship from the old parts. Which is Theseus' ship? Are they both Theseus' ship? How is that possible? One is the continuation of the original assembly (same space coordinates and a continuum in time) that Theseus sailed. The other, however, is much more accurately the same atoms that Theseus sailed. Before the assembly of the second (or is it the first?) copy, made of the original parts, there would be little argument that the one in the harbor is Theseus' ship, and the other matter was just a pile of original parts. But now that it's been assembled...

We often call a house, rebuilt on a site, even if carefully adhering to every detail, a "reproduction." It's not the same house (even though it DOES occupy the same space coordinates). If it were just repaired (like the ship) over some period of time, but stood in some measure intact the entire time, it would not be a reproduction - it would be the original. It might be called "restored" but it's the same house. So does the replacement have to be gradual? Is the essence of identity about the continuity - the fact that the majority of it existed continuously and was held in all that time to be Theseus' ship?

If that's true, how much of it needs to be the same - and how quickly can it be replaced? If more than half of Theseus' ship burned, and had to be replaced, would it still be Theseus' ship? What if all but the hull burned to the waterline, but it continued to float, and was then restored? The remaining portion of hull could be argued to be far less than half of the total ship, but I think most people would say it was still the same ship. Is there some essential "shipness" that has to be continuous for it to be the same ship? I think many people would argue that if there was a wreck, and the masts and cabin were all that came to shore, and they were used in some act of reconstruction, even if they were more than half of the ship's original matter by weight, that these parts were just used in the building of a "new ship."

So let's assume that people can be gradually replaced in this same manner, and let's grant this idea that the essential portion of an item somehow "carries" the identity. Then humans must have an essential portion, the portion of the human being that embodies the essence of the individual.

What part is it?

And is it physical?


1. (The first steps of this conversation are very old indeed, though I took it where I wanted. Look down the article and see the part about "Ship of Theseus.")

2. (Photo above is Navis, an early watercolor of mine.)

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #9 <<<<
Bon Voyage Grenouille. This is not Theseus' Ship. For one thing they do not serve baklava mid voyage. Nor is he traveling the wine dark sea, touched by rosy fingered dawn.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A July Gift - Sunset Garden

Several weeks ago we had a deep gloomy rain much of Monday, and I was not well. I "laid out" as we say down here, and just did a little work over e-mail, and one phone call I couldn't avoid. I slept some, which I hardly ever do during daylight (naps don't help me).

Then the late afternoon cleared, it was only in the high seventies (amazing for July) and the humidity was very low. Everything was bathed in the kind of light we get in my favorite season - autumn. My love and I ate dinner outside and looked at the gardens.

On the west side the light was kissing all the flowers in France and England, the beds in the front of the house, surrounding our outdoor living room. It set off this year's earliest spider flowers (also called cleome and grandpa's whiskers) here shown with our favorite white phlox "David." The spider flower will bloom almost all the way to frost, just getting taller and adding more buds on top until they look crazy.

The orange cosmos in our mailbox bed come back every year from their own seeds. We have to help, by sprinkling the seeds into the center of the bed every year, otherwise they would just spread outwards and the bed would be empty. The Japanese maple in the last photo we bought for $25 when it was about eighteen inches high. It's over ten feet tall, now, and I keep selecting the branches and shape, like a slow sculpture that I've been creating for a decade now.

After I took these shots, we went for a walk in the neighborhood, and I felt more relaxed and better than I have in a month. Peaceful. The light does it to me.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #8 <<<<

Imagine the fond embrace of a creature a hundred times your size...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How She Looks to Me

I posted a photo of my dearest, and triggered a blog post from her. I got in trouble, and took my punishment with laughter, but without contrition.

I often feel grateful for the many things that are good in my life. There is stress and trouble, of course, and I complain about them, but overall my life is good. No, past good. I have two passions, and I'm in awe that I was granted two. One is my painting and drawing, a complex cycle of emotions that I don't understand and can't control. It ebbs and flows. It rewards me for consistent effort. It punishes me for neglect.

The other passion is the woman I fell in love with when I was eighteen. The angel I married two years later.

I am living a great romance. To the unobservant this may look like any other marriage, but it isn't. Our children see something happening in their midst which they know is cute, adorable, powerful, overwhelming. They know we two live on a vast continent of our own making, and they see it in almost all its different weathers, from the quietest moonlit spring evening to the gentle rains of early autumn, to the screaming gales when our passion and love converts our worries and troubles into anger. Alone, though, we enter another world they cannot imagine. We have built a bridge of our two selves, and left nothing on the shores, living instead suspended over the torrent. We rejoice in this, sometimes with just a glance, sometimes with a passionate embrace, sometimes with a fierce glee that will outlast our bodies. A look from her can set me on fire. A touch can do even more.

I recently commented on a blog post about cravings. What I didn't say there was that I have a deeper sort of hunger that is only for her. Physically, intellectually, emotionally - I am in orbit around her, pulling away into my own imagination, hurtling into space and the stars on my own just long enough to feel the tug of the delicious gravity that binds us, and then delighting in the long plunge back into the glory of the heat and light of her love for me, into the intoxicating female presence of her, into the passionate enjoyment of what we share. And that plunge, and the energy I receive from our union, is the fuel for the next flight into the world.

So while she has doubts about how she looks, or who she is (as do I about myself), I have no doubts about her, and I'm certain I've found the finest match in the world. My eyes can never get enough of her. Neither can my arms, my hands, my mouth, my mind, my heart. And sharing that here, where anyone can see it, is a deliberate public celebration of my passion for her, like a dance through the streets, a song from a rooftop.

Some people think only youth is beautiful, and they fixate on men or women of a certain age. To me this is like repeating the first few chapters of a book, refusing to get to the deeper story, the stronger events and moments that come with age and wisdom. It's as shallow a view of beauty as it is of relationships. Time adds and subtracts, changing our appearance and our personalities, making us more unique and more ourselves. As my dearest and I let time have its way with us, we are surrendering our bodies and hearts to be bound more tightly together. Right now the heat of our love, and the passion of our moments alone together, are more brilliant than at any time in our younger marriage. I know this will someday cool into something else, but I am breathless with curiosity and certainty that whatever we become, it will be miraculous, amazing, more than my heart and mind can comprehend, and worth more than anything else.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hillsborough in July

We live in one of the oldest overlooked little towns in North Carolina. During the days leading up to the American Revolution, Hillsborough was the colonists' NC capital. There was a scandal when the capital was moved to Taylor's Farm (now Raleigh). Having missed its bid for the center of NC government, it makes due these days as the Orange County seat (to the irritation of Chapel Hill, which has easily ten times the population) and a growing reputation as a nice place to live and an interesting little area to shop and eat.

Sunday my dearest and I got up early and went for a walk in the village. We live in a well established, well treed subdivision a few miles south of the town center - we couldn't afford these houses in the historic area, and it's too dark for us in those houses. Lots of little windows, huge trees, deep porches and very little direct sunlight into the rooms. It was all about keeping them cool in the summers before central air.

This is the Colonial Inn, which fifteen years ago was one of the longest continuously running inns in the United States, and one of the town's best known landmarks. They also had a legendary Sunday brunch. Then a rich eccentric recluse bought it, promising to restore it and continue it's life as an Inn; he closed it and for over a decade has lived in one back corner, letting the building molder into ruin. We have heard that he has done this with historic properties in other towns. He's not well liked in Hillsborough. I'm sure tar and feathers have been discussed.

These houses, with the gable over the bay window, were built in several variations in the early 1800s around town. Here are three of them. Click for a larger version.

The downtown historic area has been there so long that the trees have attempted to swallow many of the houses. People also garden intensively on the small lots, but this example carries it further than most.

In West Hillsborough, where my wife had never been before, we found an old mill, and several other buildings. This little corporate district is being renovated for businesses and some condominiums, we understand. The town had under 5000 people when we moved in - now it's over 6500 and growing. As long as it's done smart and with character, it's probably a good thing for the near term. We don't want it to become homogeneous and boring, like Cary, NC.

I was snapping these while we walked, and my dear one had to keep walking for her foot and knee injuries. Standing is the hard thing right now.

This crepe myrtle paradise was repeated in many parts of the walk, but this was the most beautiful, with a heavy shower last night responsible for so many bright blossoms on the ground.

It looks pretty, and it was, but by 10:00 the NC July heat was setting in, the cicadas were ratcheting up, competing with the sound of the church traffic (and winning), and we were ready to head for the quiet and cool of home. We shopped at the newly opened organic market before heading out - but that's another subject, which I'll let my dear one handle on her blog.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #7 <<<<

Grenouille visited the other amphibians around the fountain. He's too fussy to swim in that water. He's strictly a coffee mug frog (but not like this one - biscotti always brings a smile to my face now).

When we were on the way back to the house Grenouille said, with his usual sangfroid, "That poullette is tres joli, and her spots are tres chic, but she never paused even to breathe. I watched carefully. Her beak also proves scientists are incorrect - perpetual motion is possible. And, finally, I deduce that both toads have developed selective deafness."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Breakfast (Again)

A weekend breakfast is one of my favorites. I make eggs a different way, or with different companion tastes.

This was last week's incarnation; the scramble is made with dill weed and ground celery seed - I'll be repeating that when oldest son can have it with me. Crisp rye toast, (with caraway seeds, of course) finishes the main course.

The garnish is nasturtium flowers. They are an odd thing to eat. First the earthy-floral perfume strikes you. Then, as your teeth crush the blossom, they are as strikingly vegetable as a fresh spinach leaf. Finally the heat comes on, along the lines of a good radish. I can understand why colonial Americans enjoyed these. They gave a little zest to what could be a bland diet. And, for me, the look of them on the plate is very stimulating. They, and certain goldfish, are almost the magic shade of orange, the color equivalent of ambrosia, for me.

Yesterday's breakfast was without oldest son (he was sleeping in - keeping show-biz hours, after his second performance in The Music Man). So several ingredients were open to use that aren't when we're sharing. First I sauteed a shave of onion and two thinly sliced cremini mushrooms in a teaspoon of butter. Then I added the eggs with salt, pepper, and cilantro. Just as the eggs were finishing up I added five chopped Nicoise olives (the ingredient that would ruin it for him). On the plate I smothered it with freshly grated (that minute) pecorino romano cheese. This pleased my mouth, but I wasn't sure what meal I was eating.

The red banana was something new - our plain yellow bananas (the cavendish) are actually one of the least interesting types (they travel well - like red delicious apples, which must have been named by a marketing person) and these red bananas did have more banana flavor. Tough skins, though, hence the knife. The cottage cheese has been mixed with a little salt, fresh ground pepper and a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise (my biggest weakness in the kitchen - I love mayo).

This morning's breakfast, after a trip to the new organic market in our little village (a separate post coming about that walk, and our historic downtown), featured more fresh fruit than usual. Ruby red grapefruit, red grapes, red banana (notice I sliced it from the get-go this time - their peels really are different than the cavendish). The main squeeze this time is a potato, onion, and rosemary foccacia from the market - I ate it cold, and it was delicious. The potato and onion made it like an exotic variation on hash browns.

Youngest son got his choice of breakfast, too (dearest and I went alone this morning, for a walk before shopping, so we picked it for him, actually). He likes a scrambled egg, but, yes, that large item is a chocolate chip cookie. He calls them face cookies when they're this big, because he could hide behind it.

Dearest's choice of breakfast from the market was a croissant chocolat. I don't speak French, but, to me, it is almost as wonderful in the mouth as these breakfasts.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille # 6 <<<<

I had planned on using this gorgeous heirloom tomato for today's breakfast, but it was taken by royal decree. Vive le Roi Grenouille! Maybe I can have it for lunch when the king is busy doing something else. I doubt he'll notice - very short span of attention and even shorter memory (nothing to do with that tequila from last night's post).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Yes, Rico, Kaboom."

My PC had a major viral meltdown about two years ago, and I had to reload it from scratch. In it's pristine, baby faced newness it needed a name on the home network, and we had just seen the Christmas short with the penguins from Madagascar. (I love the scene in Madagascar where the penguins finally reach Antarctica, and are standing there looking at the frozen, wind torn flat whiteness...) The moment I had pressed the button to wipe everything off my machine had felt like pushing the handle down on an old fashioned dynamite detonator, so I decided to call my reborn PC "Rico," and it's spot on the home network is "Kaboom." And so it still is.

And today, after all the stress and running around of this July, which was preceded by a fun but overwhelming trip to PA, which was preceded by tribulations with our sick cat and the unbelievable vet bills... we should have been able to predict that we adults would be on edge and Saturday would be the logical day for a different kind of explosion. I said afterward that we should have been able to put it on the calendar months ago, for this Saturday or next.

When we push our emotions or introverted needs down and ignore them for weeks ("no time for those right now") we store up gunpowder for later. At first we put it somewhere safe, deep inside, and it seems OK. But then it starts to be in kegs stacked here and there, under our various pieces of interior furniture, and they start to get in the way. And THEN it's suddenly all over, lying in little drifts in the corners, and blowing down our inner corridors, being trampled underfoot. At that point we ought to know we're in trouble, but instead we pretend we can handle it, that the danger will diminish with some time to decompress... And then there's a lightning strike, or someone lights a match. Or I get in a strange mood and don my hobnail boots and clomp around the inner spaces until I kick up a spark on the stone floor...

Fortunately with age and experience we get the business over with faster than we used to. The time the kids have to spend behind their bedroom doors, before we knock and tell them it's over and we've talked through it, is shorter than when we were younger. We all talk about what happened, and why. And understanding more quickly the underlying causes, we don't hurt each other as much as we used to. Oh there are still bruises from initial POW! when the kegs all go up in a flash, but these days it's more noise than damaging concussion. We usually both need the release when it comes.

And while I was writing the previous paragraphs upstairs, this was being quite independently written downstairs...

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #5 <<<< There is nothing like a drinkin' buddy. The evening might begin with a claret, and proceed to port or amontillado after dinner... Nothing like red wines to flush the face and bring the laughter.

But there are other nights, and a good drinkin' buddy knows the difference, when stronger medicine is needed. Today, for instance, was a "two shots with lunch" day. A bottle of Patron or Don Julio can last over a year in this house, but when it's called for, it's good to know the location of a bottle, and a pal or two to watch you take your doses.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Shhhhh! Don't Tell It.

I can't grow vegetables. I've tried for decades to grow tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, radishes, beets, squash, peppers, carrots, and more - and with some tiny success - but mostly with ghastly results and disappointment. And let's not even think about the Swiss chard.

But I can grow flowers and shrubs and even get rare and difficult plants to thrive, like crambe cordifolia, or the graceful Japanese maple I've been slow sculpting for ten years in the front yard in full sun (which is not supposed to work). And my true love is even better at this than I am, raising various lily species from seeds and handling finicky wildflowers like toothwort, butterfly weed, and cardinal flower.

So I've officially given up vegetable gardening, and she bought me this lovely Italian pot this year for my April birthday (which we celebrated in May, even though I was born in December - but that's another story) and these lovely flowers to plant in it. The plants droop a little, and the flowers are not very showy, but they make an interesting specimen plant. I'll have to cut those seed pods off, though, before they spread seeds all over the front walk. Wouldn't want these things to start growing in the cracks and between the flower bed stones like the balsams, forget-me-nots, cardinal flowers, and hibiscus all do. I've heard that the best time to prevent the spreading is just after the pods turn red.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #4 <<<<
It's Friday night, and Grenouille is going out on the town. His idea of a great date is to take a green head frog (preferably with a soft Southern accent, that drives him wild), or perhaps an exotic leopard frog (even humans understand how sexy those spots can be) to spend an evening beneath the street lamps at a big public fountain. His personal favorite is the fountain at Meredith College, because of the colored lights and the rising and falling jets. The colored spray, the girlish laughter from the dormitories, the unusually large flies of Raleigh, NC... such a romantic setting. And for the lady frogs, what could be hotter than that broad smile above a bow tie.