Nov 27, 2011

On Artificial Christmas Trees

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For many years we had an annual pilgrimage to a local tree farm to pick out our Christmas tree. This was a ritual that even I - someone jaded at Christmas hoopla and commercialism - actually looked forward to enjoying, and our large family would brave even the worst elements to select and cut our own tree.

This year, however, my wife talked me into buying an artificial tree. Actually, it was more like "my wife went out and purchased an artificial tree," and I did not need to be convinced. I am pleasantly surprised at the quality and user-friendliness of this tree.

All told it took me seven minutes to assemble this tree, which was complete with a lighting system. With a natural tree I cannot think of a single facet of procurement and installation that did not take hours to complete, and I have many memories of hacking oversized trees to make them fit our house and itchy arms from pine needle pokes.

It seems to me that we paid $40-$50 the last few years for natural Christmas trees, so the $230 we paid for this tree will pay for itself in just a few years. Add to this the fact that there is no maintenance, and that the tree does not seem to interest our dogs, who in the past have shown great interest in the various smells associated with a natural tree. I recall the year one of our dogs went berserk and destroyed a tree and a bunch of ornaments, and I suspect that the neutral odors of an artificial tree will not provide scents that fire up the canines.

So goodbye, natural trees: we had many good memories, but I am getting too old to be tramping through mud and snow to chop one of you down.

Nov 24, 2011

November Rose

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Strangely, one of my rose bushes decided to wait until the second half of November to offer up its last blossom of the year. The weather had been in the high 40s (Fahrenheit, for any non-US readers) and almost every leave has fallen from the nearby oak, maple, and hickory trees, yet this rose bush responded to some stimuli that prompted this out-of-season flower.

I did trim the rose bushes a few weeks ago, which might have spurred some growth, but the odd appearance of a red rose so late in the year was a surprise. Beautiful, but still a surprise.

Oct 22, 2011

Target Practice

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Left: AR-15-wielding historian

I took some time out of my schedule this weekend to join some colleagues on an outing to test some military weapons with historical significance. In the image on your left, I am lining up to shoot an AR-15, which is the semi-automatic version of the M-16 rifle.

We fired quite a variety of weapons today, ranging from a Mauser Gewehr 98 to an early twentieth century variant of the M1 Garand. We also fired quite a few different military handguns, and after today's demonstrations I have a much greater knowledge and awareness of military technology.

And no fun, whatsoever, was enjoyed by the participants in blasting away at targets for three hours.

Ahem.

Left: firing range target

I am far from a regular at the range, and I have fired rifles or muskets only a few times in my life. I was surprised that with some training (two of the participants are ex-military personnel) I could hit with some accuracy targets 100 yards away.

This has less to do with any skill on my part, and a bit more to do with the coaching. A larger part of the equation, though, is that military weapons are designed to be as user-friendly and easy-to-learn as possible. The AR-15, in particular, was relatively simple to operate, and on my first ten-round practice I hit in the black on the target five out of ten times.

I was much less successful with the Garrand and the Mauser, both of which I landed in the black three of ten times. The Mauser is also a physically punishing weapon, with a strong kick and an especially loud report. If I were an infantry soldier, I would prefer the AR-15 to the other weapons.

Sep 17, 2011

Fall Colors

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Not only have I been away from the blogosphere the past few weeks, but I have spent little time tending my gardens. Thus, it was with some amazement that I paused to take in the beauty of a section of my yard that quietly emerged as an impressive patch of fall colors while I was too busy to notice.

I wish I could tell you every flower variety that I planted, but I tend to be somewhat impulsive in my seed selections and placement. Sure, I spend a minute making sure I plant full sun flowers in full sun, but I often forget after a few weeks what it was I planted. I know that there are about six marigold varieties, some nasturtiums, and three or four different types of zinnia in this garden, but I am clueless as to the names of at least six other flowers.

I suspect that the pink and purple flowers are some plant in the Aster family, but I cannot remember what the tall spiky red flowers are.

Anyway, the plot turned out well in spite of the almost total lack of weeding and watering I provided since late August.

Jul 27, 2011

Blog Hiatus

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I will not be active on this blog for an undetermined amount of time. I have a heavy workload at the moment, and I am also gearing up for an extremely busy fall semester.

I should also add that my blogging Muse seems to have taken flight, and I will also use this time to figure out what this site is supposed to be about. When I was active as a freelance journalist the site complemented my news-related writing, but these days I have a diminished desire to post.

Anyway, I'll be back at some point in the future and we will chat further. Ciao!

Jul 15, 2011

Daylily Season

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Among the more spectacular colors presented by our collection of perennials are those offered by the dalilies we have planted over the years. Specimens like the one pictured on your left bring unexpected hues to the yard at a time when the spring colors have all disappeared.

I also like that daylilies need very little in the way of maintenance, and they will produce flowers even in the driest years. Of course, they thrive when regularly watered and fed a general fertilizer, but I have some daylilies that I completely neglected while I was still in graduate school that never fail to return each year.

My wife and I, however, are of two different minds when it comes to separating daylilies to split into new colonies. I prefer the thick clusters with bunches of blossoms, while she likes to spread the color more widely. Of course, splitting daylilies eventually gives you multiple stands for the price of a single plant, but there is the lag time to consider as the divided plants grow to the mass of the formerly joined cluster.

Jul 6, 2011

First Sunflower of 2011

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I have long been a fan of the simple sunflower, and over the past few years I have planted quite a few in my gardens. This year I set aside a 10'x20' patch of yard to create a massive sunflower garden, and the first of these flowers opened this morning, which is pictured on your left.

My dogs, of course, were uninterested in the project, and they trampled a greater number of sunflower seedlings than I expected In order to keep alive the dream of a wall of sunflowers, I was forced by canine destruction to plant more seeds. Hence, I may not get the simultaneous wave of colors I envisioned, but over the course of the summer I should have non-stop sunflower blossoms until October or so.

Interestingly, there are at least a half-dozen sunflowers that spontaneously emerged from seeds left over sunflower heads mauled by squirrels and finches last year. I originally planned a garden of rows of progressively shorter varieties (taller in back, shorter in front) but at this point it is anyone's guess how this will turn out.

But heck: half the fun of gardening is comparing design with results.

Jun 29, 2011

On Patience in Gardening

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I started the garden pictured on your left about three years ago, and the idea to create this space was almost accidental. I had a spot that used to contain a rotting tree stump, and I had some flagstones that were collecting dust in another corner of the yard, and I decided to see if I could turn the space into something besides another patch of lawn.

When I selected my initial perennials for perennials for the space, I did not take into account soil pH and sunlight needs, and I was consequently disappointed when the purple fountain ornamental grass I planted did not return. The next year I went with some Stella d'oro lilies and some bright red Asiatic lilies. In the center I added a Rose of Sharon plant, and during the spring there are some daffodils and tulips for early color.

Of course, it was another two years before the plants in this space filled out to the point where I achieved something like a wall of color. Thus, this garden took about four years to emerge as a colorful source for peaceful contemplation, though the happy accidents are more fun than simply filling the space with a bunch of annuals each year.

Jun 18, 2011

The 2011 Arrival of Tiger Lilies

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Over the last half-decade I have used this blog to record horticultural markers for the seasons, and the arrival of the first tiger lily of 2011 sent me back into my blog archives. The first tiger lily emerged on June 9 in 2010, June 21 in 2009, on June 18 in 2008, and on June 17 in 2007. Tiger lilies, which have the scientific name of Hemerocallis fulva, first bloomed in my yard on June 17 in 2006.

Thus, this year's flowers arrived somewhat near the end of the scale, as today is June 18. With the heavy rains of this past May (23 rainy days) I expected that the tiger lilies would arrive early, but this is not the case. Perhaps they need warmth more than moisture to kick into gear, as this spring was a bit cooler than average.

Still, though many gardeners scoff at the common Hemerocallis fulva (also known as "ditch lily" to even more scornful gardeners, for whom the tiger lily is considered invasive) I look forward to these orange flowers the way I do old friends. They provide strong colors, they are easy to maintain, and they grow in almost any soils and conditions. I have some in shady areas, dry areas, full sun areas, and even in a rock-strewn patch behind the garage where the former owner dumped motor oil.

Jun 13, 2011

Cornucopia of Roses

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Magenta roses In the past two years I have begun to pay more attention to several rose bushes my wife planted in the early 1990s. While "neglect" is a strong word to use for my previous efforts at taking care of these plants, suffice to say that I did little more than hack them down when they became overgrown, and they suffered from black spot and insect degradations, despite my wife's suggestions that I treat the plants with rose sprays.

The past two summers I have applied some preventive fungal inhibitors, and I also gave the plants some fertilizer. In addition, I have been much more meticulous in removing dead stems and keeping the soil around the base of the plants free from debris.

We were amazed at how much healthier, vigorous, and blossom-yielding several of the rose bushes were this year. Perhaps we might also add that this was a very wet spring, but the net result has been a veritable wave of magenta-hued flowers in the yard.

Moral of the story: when your wife suggests something, she is probably right.

Jun 5, 2011

Delphinium

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A few years ago I picked up a small Delphinium plant, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well this plant adapted to my garden. In my region the Delphinium plant produces multiple rounds of blue-violet blossoms, and last year we had three separate flowering periods with these plants.

The brilliant blue and violet hues the plant produces contrast well with many other colors. As you can see in the image, the bluish colors mesh well with the yellow irises, and the constancy of the blue Delphinium makes for unexpected color bonanzas when later blossoms arrive. From another angle they also pair well with some red and pink poppies that are hidden in this image.

The various species of Delphinium are rather toxic, though, so be sure to keep Delphinium away from small children and pets. The plant produces the toxic alkaloid delphinine, which can be fatal in large doses.

This perennial plant can be propagated from seed, or you can also split the rhizomes and start new colonies in other gardens. In this garden the Delphinium grew from a single stalk to about eight stalks in three years: moderate growth, but not the type of plant that overwhelms a garden.

Jun 1, 2011

Asparagus Curse Lifted

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I recall at least five previous attempts to grow asparagus in my garden, and each of the earlier efforts were dismal failures. I tried a variety of techniques, from adding heavier amounts of potassium to varying water levels to trying full and partial sun locations.

All were busts.

I looked skeptically at the package of asparagus crowns at the Andersons general store a month ago, but I threw them in the cart just the same. Weeks went by with no signs of life, and I was just about to till this space in favor of an easier vegetable like squash when I noticed the first asparagus spears that have ever sprouted at Château Brooks.

Yes, there are only four or five spears, and yes: there is still plenty of time for my dogs to trample these plants. Yet I remain hopeful that I have finally mastered the art of growing asparagus, and I look forward to next spring for the first bountiful harvest of fresh picked asparagus.

May 27, 2011

Bearded Iris

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The seemingly endless rain we have experienced in Northwest Ohio over the past ten days has certainly been appreciated by the plants in my gardens, and my iris plants look strong and healthy. A brief break in the torrential downpours yesterday gave me a few minutes to snap some pictures of the emerging irises.

My wife planted most of our irises a decade or more ago, and they bring welcome bursts of color in between tulip season and when the summer flowers start blooming. I also like that the irises stand up well against the frantic feet of my squirrel-chasing dogs, and a pocket of irises is almost an impenetrable barrier to my scampering canine companions.

May 13, 2011

Crabapple Tree in Bloom

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One of the highlights of the seasonal colors that appear in our yard is the blooming of the crabapple tree pictured on your left. For a week or so the tree produces brilliant pink and fuchsia petals, and local bees become almost drunk in their gorging on nectar and pollen from these flowers.

I too derive a state of near intoxication from the color this tree brings each year. I remember trying to work on my dissertation a few years ago and being almost lured, Siren-like, by the powerful beauty of this crabapple tree.

Interestingly, while this was a wet and early spring, this crabapple tree was about a week behind its usual schedule of blooming the first week of May. Occasionally the tree will burst into color around April 30, but this year it was mid-May before the color arrived.

May 9, 2011

Digging Puggle

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Left: Puggle in full-blown gurrowing mode

Pictured on your left is one of our Puggles, whose name is Chauncey Gardner. I suspect that pound-for-pound this 20-pound dog is capable of excavating more cubic feet of earth than just about any other dog.

I am not sure what sort of critter Chauncey thinks he is going to catch with his digging. I have been filling in the 3-foot hole every day, but in 30 minutes or so Chauncey is able to revert the ground to its former holey state. I suppose I could just let him dig in this same spot: it is out of the way, it is not near the root systems of any significant plants, and the time he spends on this massive hole he is not digging other holes in my yard.

Left: Momentarily surprised Puggle

I had to set up the second photo, and I was shooting for a Scooby-Doo "ruh-roh" feel in the next image. I called Chauncey's name in an excited voice and he popped up to see what was going on. I managed to get lucky and snap the shutter at the right moment, and the picture came out pretty much as I envisioned it.

It is difficult to get angry at such a happy little dog, and his digging is just a minor quirk as far as I am concerned. Heck, for all I know he might be inadvertently aerating the earth in the places he digs.

May 4, 2011

Tulip Time

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After planting hundreds of perennial bulbs last fall, I have been impatiently waiting for spring to arrive. The recent warm weather and rains have been kind to my gardens, and in particular the tulips have rewarded me with some spectacular color this year.

Unfortunately the curious squirrels dug up and devoured a fair number of bulbs, but that is an annual battle. I figure I will compensate for the inevitable squirrel feasts by factoring in a 20 percent or so shrinkage from rodents, and that by planting a few extra bulbs in each area enough should survive the rodential onslaught.

Apr 24, 2011

Peleliu Fishing Trip, 1945

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Pictured on the left is a group of Seabees in 1945 with some fish they caught near the island of Peleiu. My grandfather is in this picture, and he is the third Seabee from the right.

My guess is that these large fish are examples of some type of sea bass, though the many decades that have passed have eroded any memory of the fish type. In fact, even though I spotted my grandfather in about three milliseconds after looking at this picture, he seemed reluctant to give me much more than "yeah, that's probably me, but who knows?"

Not sure if he was just being self-effacing, or if he just didn't want to talk about Peleliu when we visited with him the other day.

Apr 19, 2011

Attack of the Irradiated Historians!

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As part of my attempt to determine the extent of dysfunctionality of my gallbladder, I underwent testing at the nuclear medicine department of Flower Hospital today. The test performed was called a HIDA scan, and the procedure involved the injection of the radioactive nuclear isomer Technetium-99m into my bloodstream, which causes the liver, gallblader, and duodenum to glow for a gamma camera.

Interestingly, while considered safe for humans, Technetium-99m has the potential for setting off anti-terrorist radiation detectors that Homeland Security has placed in airports and other strategic locations. The accompanying photograph depicts the radiation card I received and was told to carry for the next three days (the half-life of Technetium-99m) on the off chance that my status as an irradiated human being might trigger a false security breach somewhere.

One of my students today also suggested that - should such an act of false radiation alert occur - that simultaneously shouting Allahu Akbar would not be found humorous by Homeland Security types.

Apr 18, 2011

Life No More

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The wind storm that roared through yesterday seems to have taken a nascent avian life, and I felt a brief pang of sadness at seeing the broken egg shell on thr ground. There were no mourners for the former occupant of the shell, and I suppose even the bird's mother had yet to develop much of an attachment to what was little more than a warm lump the size of large grape.

Maybe the grey April skies that dumped a brief snowfall this morning brought down my spirits, or maybe I am simply in a funk. Yet the sight of the unfulfilled life haunted me for more than a few minutes, and even hours later the cracked shell seems depressing.

Apr 14, 2011

Spring Daffodils

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I have been rather ill of late. The beginning of my health woes involved a kidney stone for which I had to go through outpatient surgery last week, and now I have some gastric-oriented problem that keeps me nauseated and in pain all day. I had an ultrasound today to see if gallstones are the problem. If not, I probably have a peptic ulcer, or some other source of gastric annoyance.

Fun times.

Anyways, it warmed my heart to see that the daffodils are beginning to brighten up the yard, as nothing screams "SPRING!" like the bright yellow flowers of these perennial friends. The combination of sunshine and yellow petals did not cure me, but for a few minutes the day was a bit brighter.

Apr 10, 2011

Use Google for Sunrise and Sunset

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The folks at Google never cease to amaze me.

I was trying to time my early bedtime this evening by checking the sunset time, as I have an almost pathological inability to sleep when the sun is out. Perhaps this has something to do with my childhood, growing up with a father who instilled in me a rather intense work ethic.

Or maybe I just have a strong circadian streak in me: who knows.

Anyways, when I typed in the word "sunset" in the Google search bar, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the top search result was a customized sunset time for my area. Typing in "sunrise" brought a similar result, with the following handy information: "7:01am Monday (EDT) - Sunrise in Toledo, OH 43623: 11 hours 17 minutes from now ."

Friendly, fast, accurate: what more could you want?

Humorous Weather Icon

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I am not sure if this is a new graphic at Intellicast.com, my favorite weather site, but I chuckled when I saw the fog icon this morning. The graphic features an out-of-focus automobile with its lights on, suggesting the conditions a motorist would face in foggy conditions.

Then after I thought about this further, I struggled to think of another image that might convey the nature of fog. A blank gray blotch would capture the gloominess and lack of visibility, but a website visitor might mistake this for a coding error.

Perhaps fog simply lacks the more spectacular meteorological extravaganza of, say, a thunderstorm or a blizzard, and the best image we can create to represent fog is one that captures the effects of the weather, rather than the weather itself.

Anyways, the fog was short-lived in Northwest Ohio, and by dawn it had mostly evaporated around my house.

Apr 8, 2011

Canine Hoarding

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Pictured on your left is Missy, a nine-year-old terrier mix we adopted through Planned Pethood a few years ago. Missy suffered serious abuse and neglect in her previous home, and though she is much more social than when she first arrived, she still has some moments of feistiness.

In the image Missy has rounded up most of the fillable bones we set out for the dogs, and every time another dog ventured within a few yards of her "stash," Missy chased them away. Her acquisition methods were also quite impressive, as she managed to simultaneously keep tabs on the bones the other dogs were chewing. As soon as they walked away from a bone, BAM! She raced over, grabbed the unattended bone, and added it to her collection.

Pretty funny stuff, unless of course you were one of the pooches who had a bone purloined by Missy. I should add that most of the dogs made the mistake of setting up chew-camp near Missy, and thus made it easier for her to spy on their treat.

If I were a dog, I would take the treat behind a couch or someplace that was a bit more defensible. Then again, if I were a dog, I would probably not possess enough cognitive skills to work out such a solution.

Apr 2, 2011

Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris)

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The interminably long winter that has been the bane of my existence over the past five months finally seems to be abating, and I was pleased to see that some bulbs I planted last fall have started to sprout and blossom. Pictured on your left are some violet Crested Dwarf Iris flowers, also known by the scientific name of Iris lacustris.

These early-blooming rhizomes are a welcome addition to the color provided by the various crocus varieties that started appearing a few weeks ago in my yard. Accompanying this visual burst of color is the growing awareness that the many months of frozen temperatures are close to an end, and I cannot remember a winter that seemed so unwilling to leave.

I also see quite a few tulips and lilies poking out of the ground, and while I am leery of planting any seeds just yet, I suspect I am but a few weeks away from sowing the annuals and garden vegetables.

A-freaking-men, that: I cannot recall a winter I despised as much as this past season.

Mar 14, 2011

Blog Hiatus

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My workload this semester is consuming almost every waking moment, and I apologize for being less than conversational of late. I expect another week or so of intensity before I begin to see any sort of reduction in the amount of work before me, so if you are wondering where the heck I have been (or will be) then you have your answer.

In the meantime, be sure to donate a few bucks to those in need in Japan after last Friday's mega-quake. The American Red Cross is accepting donations on its Web site and via text message. To make a $10 donation to the group using a mobile phone, text REDCROSS to 90999.

Mar 7, 2011

White Squirrel Redux

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While out walking with my wife this sunny afternoon, we came across a denizen of the neighborhood that I have previously blogged about. This white squirrel can be found within a few hundred feet of the same spot on any given day, and over the past year the squirrel seems to be increasingly comfortable around humans.

I suspect that the unusual appearance of this particular squirrel has endeared the rodent to nearby humans, and that people have been feeding the squirrel by hand. We were able to get with six feet or so of the squirrel, and if we had a couple of peanuts, the creature no doubt would have sauntered right up to see us.

Mar 1, 2011

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

There are only four ways in which a ruling group can fall from power. Either it is conquered from without, or it governs so inefficiently that the masses are stirred to revolt, or it allows a strong and discontented Middle group to come into being, or it loses its own self-confidence and willingness to govern. These causes do not operate singly, and as a rule all four of them are present in some degree. A ruling class which could guard against all of them would remain in power permanently. Ultimately the determining factor is the mental attitude of the ruling class itself.

-- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Feb 26, 2011

Strange Snow Formation

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While looking out my back door this evening, I noticed an unusual shape in the snow on the deck. Pictured on your left is a nearly perfect right angled snow formation on a deck post.

Knowing that right angles are somewhat rare in nature, I wondered how this shape came to be. My best guess is that this shape was formed as a result of the partial melting of what was originally a sphere, causing the flat surface that was underneath the snow to shift at a 90 degree angle when some of the snow fell off the side of the post.

And no: this was not man-made. There were no footprints in the fresh snow anywhere near the post in question, though perhaps an enterprising unladen swallow could have performed such a feat.

Feb 23, 2011

Al Stewart - "Year of the Cat"

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I always loved this song as a kid, and recently I have been playing the bejeesus out of this Al Stewart tune on my iPod. The following live version of "Year of the Cat" was recorded live in 1976 on the BBC program The Old Grey Whistle Test:



The songwriting is brilliant (though Stewart has mentioned it is not among his personal favorites among his recordings) and there are lines with sheer beauty, like the opening of the second verse: "She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a watercolor in the rain." I also enjoy the seamless solos in the instrumental break, which morph from cello to acoustic guitar to electric guitar to saxophone.

In addition, the musicianship in the song is impeccable. I especially enjoyed hearing George Ford's bass work in the digitized version of the song, an element of "Year of the Cat" that unfortunately became washed out on the tinny AM transistor clock radio I owned in the 1970s.

Six minutes of sonic joy: what more could you ask from a musician?

Feb 21, 2011

Northwest Ohio Ice Storm

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ice-coated branches of a cherry tree Left: ice-coated branches of a cherry tree

I have to admit that there is a certain beauty associated with the aftermath of a winter ice storm. Pictured on your left are some ice-coated branches of one of my cherry trees that glisten in the grey post-storm light.

The sounds of an ice storm are also unique, beginning with the crunching of human feet and vehicle tires across the frozen landscape. Each passing breeze also creates a crackling noise in the neighborhood trees that is not unlike popping corn, or perhaps the sound of distant fireworks.

Yet the damage associated with a severe ice storm far outweighs any fleeting aesthetic pleasures, and my yard took quite a beating in the storm that passed overnight. My yard is strewn with many dozens of goodly-sized branches, including the 20-foot fir limb that crashed down while I was beginning some cleanup.

 limb from a fir tree broken by heavy ice accumulation Left: limb from a fir tree broken by heavy ice accumulation

My yard better resembles a war zone, or the aftermath of a severe wind storm, than it does a quiet winter scene. I will be spending many hours chopping up these limbs and branches, and I suspect I will have enough firewood for the chiminea to handle three years' worth of outdoor parties.

A large broken limb in my neighbor's yard also hangs precariously over the power line that services my house. I am tempted to go cut it myself, but I would not want to be the party responsible if I guessed wrong and caused a power outage. I suppose the best course of action is to call Toledo Edison and hope they get to the problem before the broken limb completely snaps off.

Or luck could be on my side: the limb might break, glance off the line, and be nothing more than another branch to clean up.

Feb 20, 2011

First Crocuses

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Given the lengthy and bone-chilling nature of the current winter, I was heartened to see that some of my crocuses have begun to sprout today. This is the earliest I can recall seeing crocus sprouts, and I am not sure if this is: a) the markings of a different crocus variety; b) a true sign of spring's imminent arrival; or c) a false start due to the warm temperatures we experienced the past five days.

Of course, no sooner had I uploaded this image than I looked out the window to see thick, fluffy snowflakes falling in the latest winter storm. Still, the sign of fresh green life brings me some hope that this bitter winter is waning, and that in a few weeks we will finally say goodbye to a particularly brutal stretch of cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls.

Feb 16, 2011

On Winter Daffodils and Seasonal Blahs

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I have been beset by a significant mental funk of late; I am not sure if this is a pronounced case of a seasonally-induced blues, or if I am just passing through a low level depressive phase. I do not much feel like writing, and most of my energy gets sucked up by work, though I should be grateful that I am not falling behind in the classes I teach during this spell.

In order to jar myself out of my melancholia, I purchased some daffodils at the store the other day. The flowers almost called out to me, and for a brief moment the fog lifted as I loaded them into my shopping cart.

I wish I could say the flowers brought me immediate joy, but this is not the case. Still, seeing some life in the middle of a rather dreary winter cannot hurt, and perhaps these flowers will last long enough for the first crocuses to appear next month.

I planted about 250 bulbs from a variety of tulips, daffodils, and irises last fall. This alone should be reason enough not to stick my head in the gas oven (sorry: this is not a suicide hint, just a bit of gallows humor).

Springtime: you cannot arrive soon enough.

Feb 11, 2011

Fighting Temptation and Saving Money

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I was late in making myself some lunch today, and I ran into an advertisement from a local pizzeria for some delicious-looking cheese bread. Despite working in the pizza business for several decades, I am always a sucker for a fresh-baked pizza or cheese bread, and it took considerable willpower not to pick up the telephone and place an order.

Two quick points: 1) I am trying to lose weight; and 2) I am trying to rein in unnecessary expenses so we can remodel our kitchen. Both of these goals are antithetical to the purchase of a calorie-laden cheese bread, so I decided to look around the kitchen to see what might work as a substitute for this craving.

A couple of leftover wheat hamburger buns jumped out at me, as did some two slices of low fat Provolone cheese. I baked the two at 500 degrees for a few minutes, and I substituted a little olive oil for the butter. Sprinkling a bit of Parmesan cheese and Italian seasonings, and voila! Homemade cheese bread that was at least half the calories of something I might have purchased (I estimate this was about 450 calories), and I did not shell out $4-$5 on an unnecessary purchase.

The taste was reasonably close to what I imagined the commercial cheese bread would be, and I am sure that my arteries were no worse for the wear after eating this creation.

Feb 6, 2011

Dogs vs. Squirrel vs. Snow

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The fresh accumulation of another six inches of snow last night did not deter my dogs in one of their primary missions, which is to keep the property as squirrel-free as possible. The new snow brings the total snow pack to just under two feet, though the dogs managed to trample down the snow under this crabapple tree:



Interestingly, when I played back this short video, my dogs (now inside) ran immediately to the east windows and began barking in the direction of the same tree. It seems clear to me that this was a form of canine language, as they not only responded to the sound of the barks, but they specifically went to a certain place and stared at the exact same spot.

Feb 5, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Prediction

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In keeping with my past traditions, I am posting my annual Super Bowl prediction. Now, though I would not recommend taking anything I say straight to your bookie, I can say that last year's prediction of a victory by the New Orleans Saints raised my Super Bowl prognostication record to 5-0 since joining the blogosphere half a decade ago.

This year I see the aerial exploits of the Green Bay Packers being a bit too much for the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the unfortunate loss of center Maurkice Pouncey will continue to hurt the offensive line of the Steelers (though his replacement, Doug Legursky, might be alittle better at pass protection). A late TD by Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson will be the difference maker in a close game, with the Packers coming out on top 27-21.

I think the Packers will also come out ahead in the turnovers category, picking off a Ben Roethlisberger pass and scooping up a funble along the way. Green Bay, meanwhile, will only turn over the ball once, probably from a deflected pass. MVP for the game: Aaron Rodgers, who returns to the superhuman playmaking that has carried the Packers for the past two months (setting aside the pedestrian numbers he put up against Chicago two weeks ago).

Other recent successful Historymike predictions:

2009 Prediction: Steelers 27, Cardinals 21 (Actual 27-23 Steelers win)
2008 Prediction: Giants 27, Patriots 24 (Actual 17-14 Giants win)
2007 Prediction: Colts 27, Bears 21 (Actual 29-17 Colts win)
2006 Prediction: Steelers 24, Seahawks 17 (Actual 21-10 Steelers win)

Feel free to leave your own predictions and/or homer hate mail in the Comments section.

Feb 2, 2011

Snowmageddon 2011: Round Two

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The second (and larger) wave of Snowmageddon 2011 turned out to be somewhat less devastating than early projections suggested. Certainly this was one of the more impressive winter storms in Northwest Ohio the past few years, but it might not even be the biggest storm of the decade.

We benefited from a sudden northward surge in the sleet/freezing rain line, as the early snowfall was interrupted with a few hours of dense sleet. This was kind of a pain in the arse to clear - even with a new snowblower - yet I did manage to clear four driveways and a significant section of the street in 2-1/2 hours.

Not bad for a forty-something with a wicked upper respiratory infection.

Today's workout was more of the backbreaking labor effort. The 8-10" heavy snow was a struggle for the machine to move, and many times I had to really lunge into the work. My neighbor's driveway, for example, received an unkind gift from both an east-west and north-south plow (he lives on a corner) and I spent a good half-hour destroying a two-foot mountain of snow at the base of his driveway.

Still, this was considerably less strenuous than the days of a shovel.

Feb 1, 2011

Snowmageddon 2011: Round One

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I just finished clearing away the first wave of what is being billed as the biggest winter storm in decades in this area (as well as setting snow records in many other parts of the country). We received 4.5 inches of snow overnight by my measurement, and later this afternoon the main blast should start arriving in Northwest Ohio.

This year I have been blessed by the acquisition of a new snow blower, which my wonderful wife bought for me. After dutifully shoveling snow for approximately four decades in cities like Detroit and Toledo, I suppose I paid my precpitative dues.

I am amazed at what a time saver the snow blower has turned out to be. I cleared three driveways in about one hour this morning (I have two elderly neighbors who patiently endured the many years of noise and hijinks from our children, so I consider this to be a form of penance). With an old-fashioned shovel I estimate the same amount of work would have taken me at least three hours, and this does not include the street clearing I can bring about with the 24" swath of gasoline-powered doom I can wreak on accumulated snow.

Even better, I no longer suffer from the inevitable backaches that accompany snow shoveling. It was almost a foregone conclusion that my snow-clearing efforts would bring on at least moderate back pain, and I can recall a few winters where a steady snowfall over a period of weeks meant non-stop backaches for me.

Thus, I await the worst that Snowmageddon 2011 can send my way. Bring it.

Jan 30, 2011

Out Sick

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My apologies for the lack of posts of late. I came down with a wicked little upper respiratory and sinus bug, and I have had zero energy left after working.

As I get older I find that recovery time from even the most mundane illnesses increases significantly. Once there was a time when I bounced back from even the harshest influenza attacks quickly, but in my upper 40s I no longer seem to be able to muster that instant recuperation of my 20s.

I wish the rest of you well in avoiding the myriad seasonal viruses lurking about this year.

Jan 22, 2011

Crescent-Less Rolls

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Pictured on your left is an example of the hazards of attempting to cook breakfast before drinking the first cup of coffee in the morning. I thought I would surprise my wife with breakfast this morning, but I neglected to actually shape the little crescent rolls I baked.

The particularly funny part was when I was peeking into the toaster oven and wondering why the rolls were not rising in the usual manner. Luckily it dawned on me what I had done, and at least I was able to avoid over-cooking the now-flattened flaky bread.

The end result was a thin-but-flavorful bread product with more of that crispy exterior, though less of the soft, fluffy interior bread. I also took my eye off the bacon, winding up with extra-crispy slices, though in my defense I think the Kroger-brand bacon I bought was a grade or two below ideal in quality.

At least the eggs were error-free.

Jan 20, 2011

Rapid Rhetoric: MAZEWAY

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

mazeway (MAYS-weigh) n. a system of socially constructed and learned rules for human interaction.

I stumbled upon the term mazeway in an article entitled "The Delaware Prophet Neolin: A Reappraisal" by Dr. Alfred A. Cave, a history professor at the University of Toledo (an excellent article, by the way, if you have any interest in Pontiac's War or other topics related to British-colonist-Native American interactions after the Seven Year's War).

The term was coined by anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace in a theory known as the mazeway resynthesis to discuss some of the ways in which religious syncretism occurs. J.S. Price offered a succinct explanation of the theory:
Wallace (1956) applied the term "mazeway resynthesis" to the change in belief system which occurs in prophets, the mazeway being to the individual what culture is to society, so that the prophet awakes to a new reality which he or she then tries to impart to followers; if successful, the prophet becomes the leader of a new religious movement; otherwise, he or she is alienated from the parent group and is likely to be labelled as mentally ill.
So there you have it, all you would-be millennial prophets reading this post: navigate well your mazeway, or you face the likelihood of being tossed in an institution.

Jan 15, 2011

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice, and need.
-- Voltaire

Jan 12, 2011

On Ray Padula and Excellent Customer Service

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Last September I penned a post about my purchase of a Ray Padula thumb control hose nozzle. I liked the operation of the innovative sprayer, but the device broke after a three-foot fall, and I was disappointed at what I thought might be poor workmanship.

I recently received an email from the Ray Padula customer service folks, and after reading my post they offered to send me a new nozzle. I thanked them, gave them my address, and promptly forgot about the exchange after I went on vacation.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Ray Padula people sent me not one but three replacement nozzles. The dedication to customer service exhibited by Ray Padula Incorporated was far above and beyond what most normal companies would do in this situation, as most corporations would simply ignore the comments of a blogger.

Thus, in fairness, I felt it appropriate to post about my positive experience with Ray Padula, Inc., and that the superior customer service has created a ton of goodwill in me as I make future decisions on gardening and landscaping products. Any company that will go this far out of the way to keep a customer happy is a company worth doing business with.

Thanks, Ray Padula!

Jan 8, 2011

On Nicolas Cage and His Pyramid Tomb

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(New Orleans, LA) While sightseeing in New Orleans at some of the above-ground cemeteries, I stumbled onto a curious pyramid-shaped tomb with the Latin phrase OMNIA AB UNO ("everything from one") carved on it.

The tomb - which is as yet unfilled - is owned by noted actor Nicolas Cage. Folks around New Orleans have quite a few theories about the tomb and Mr. Cage, and I was unable to determine a consensus opinion about the tomb. Some New Orleans residents hate it, some love it, but nearly everyone agrees that Cage at least has one item that the IRS cannot touch in its quest to seize the wealth of Nicolas Cage for back taxes and penalties.

One conspiracy-theory aficionado I spoke with hinted that Cage is a closet Mason, though I suspect the Masonic imagery in the pyramid tomb owes more than a passing nod to the National Treasure series.

Jan 6, 2011

Treme Brass Band at Saint Louis Cemetery

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(New Orleans, LA) My wife and I decided to walk from the French Quarter to the historic Saint Louis Cemetery this afternoon. While we were soaking up some of the history in the graveyard, a funeral procession entered the cemetery, complete with music provided by the Treme Brass Band.

I was familiar with the concept of a jazz funeral prior to my visit to Saint Louis, but of course I never witnessed such a sight in northern climes like Toledo and Detroit. The musicians and marchers snaked their way in between the above-ground tombs to their final destination, and I tried not to be the typical annoying tourist by interfering with the ceremony.

I was struck by the differences between the somber funeral processions to which I am accustomed and the celebratory joy of a jazz funeral. Certainly the late Drextal Brumfield's family grieved the loss of this young man, but I found the musical homage to be much more uplifting than the funerary dirges I am used to hearing.

While I hope to live many more decades, I hope that my own mourners would remember the happier times, and I would have no problem being serenaded by a jazz band on my way to the Pearly Gates.

Jan 5, 2011

Barge on the Foggy Mississippi

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(Maurepas Swamp, LA) I came upon the pictured river barge in a rural area about 40 miles upstream from New Orleans today. I found the rising morning fog to be a bit eerie, and the fact that I could not see any human inhabitants on the vessel made the scene even more mystifying.

In fact, other than the tour bus I was on, there was almost no sign of human activity in and around this stretch of the river. The lack of bird sounds and traffic noises made the scene appear almost apocalyptic as I stared down from a 20-foot levee onto the mighty, mighty Mississippi below me.

Cue the theme from Deliverance.

Jan 3, 2011

System Tool 2011: Combatting An Especially Nasty Virus

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System Tool 2011Left: pink screen of misery created by System Tool 2011

My laptop got nailed today by a particularly wicked virus/malware infection called System Tool 2011. The virus pretends to be an antivirus program, but it really operates for two purposes: 1) to try and dupe people into giving out their credit card number; and 2) to try and duper users into deleting important system files, turning their machines into slave drones.

Luckily, I had enough common sense not to fall for either ploy, but this virus was a royal pain the the arse to eliminate. If you get hit with this virus, DO NOT allow it to delete any files when it prompts you with scary messages.

One of the biggest problems with System Tool 2011 is that the virus hijacks useful programs like Task Manager, regedit, and msconfig. System Tool 2011 will also detect and shut down legitimate antivirus programs. The first thing to do is to restart your computer in safe mode with networking: as the computer is booting up, look for the prompt that asks you to hit F10 for boot manager and hit F8 for advanced boot options (the function keys might be different on different operating systems). This will allow you to operate your computer without System Tool 2011 taking over.

You can try to manually remove all the associated files and registry entries, but this can be both cumbersome and confusing, as System Tool 2011 generates random alphanumeric names for files and registries. Thus, my unwanted guest called itself gLagg00309, a name that did not jump out at me as a likely target for manual removal.

I recommend two programs to combat this deadly virus: Malwarebytes and RKill. RKill is a process-killing program that will allow you to temporarily shut down any components of system-hijacking viruses, while Malwarebytes was the only antivirus program I tried that could kill all traces of System Tool 2011.

Both programs, by the way, offer free versions available for download, and I am gratefully sending each group a cash donation via PayPal to reward them for their selfless efforts.

I suspect that this virus entered my computer via a Facebook application. I normally avoid all Facebook apps (mostly out of annoyance) but I think I accidentally clicked someone else's app and wound up with a backdoor trojan.

Jan 2, 2011

1966: Animated Incredible Hulk Episode

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This may very well be the most poorest quality animation I have ever seen, but watching the first episode of the Marvel Comics cartoon The Incredible Hulk filled me with nostalgia:



I did glean a few interesting historical insights from this, like the presence of the evil Russian-sounding assistant Igor in a Cold War era cartoon. I also found interesting a conversation with Doctor Bruce Banner's girlfriend, who was told by her father to pipe down:

"Keep out of this Betty: it's man talk."

Also intriguing was the presence of a proto-hippie who wandered into the desert testing site for the gamma bomb. As Banner tried to rescue the hipster (an effort that ultimately exposed him to gamma radiation) the cool cat tried to dismiss Banner: "Cool man: it's a free country, right?"

Give it a quick watch: there are worse ways to spend six-and-a-half minutes, and you also get to hear the cheesy theme song: "That ever-lovin' Hulk.... Hulk, Hulk."