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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Remembering Cheese, Fabulous Cheese

I just returned from the American Cheese Society annual meeting in Seattle. I love being around cheesemakers, tasting cheese, and learning more about the world of artisanal cheesemaking in our hemispere, but by far my favorite part of the conference is the Sunday cheese selloff. The quality of the cheese is phenomenal and it is only exceeded by the price--which is $5.00 per large piece--better deals on smaller pieces, and we managed to stow quite a bit of it into our checked luggage (we were given three styrofoam boxes that were used to transport cheese to the meeting, and the sale organizers were only too eager to allow us to take them away). The hard cheeses can be at room temperature for a day, and we stowed the softer cheeses in our room refridgerator, so it came through more or less unscathed.
The sale is a bit of a free for all. There is plenty of cheese, enough for everyone, at least at the front end of the sale, and so it is not like a Filene's Basement sale. No blood is shed, no one is knocked to the ground. The cheese is not altogether well marked, so there is some guess work in figuring out more or less what you are buying, but in the end, the cheese is fabulous and the deals are great. You really can't go wrong. So, will I be in Montreal in 2011? Wonderful city, with a rich cheese heritage. I will try my best--but the first priority will be the cheese sell off on Sunday August 7th. In the meantime, I look forward to sharing this year's bounty with friends and family over the next several weeks!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Curiosity of Chance

Here are the details--It is the 1980's and the family moves to Belgium--Dad is Army/ex-Army, and the sister is precocious in a way that leans more towards the obnoxious than the cute. Chance Marquis (Tad Hilgenbrinck) is a gay teen who is trying (and succeeding)in finding new ways to stand out. Being an odd and somewhat awkward teenager makes him the target of the school bully. To deal with this dilemma, Chance turns to the opposite ends of the high school spectrum for help. On one side is the flamboyant drag queen and on the other, the varsity jock, Levi Sparks (Brett Chukerman). On the up side, the story depicts Chance as having friends--not anyone who helps him out of his bullying jams, but who befriend him and stand by him otherwise. His father either doesn't acknowledge his sexual preference or studiously avoids it, and his sister is down right helpful.

In the end, Chance actually gets help from Levi, after they find some common ground. Levi knows that Chance drools over him in a sexual way--one of the first things he says to Chance is that he wishes his girlfriends with look at him with such open desire. But he also sees a guy who is not understood by his family, not allowed to be who he is, and that resonates with Levi. Big time. And it is enough to form a partnership, and to openly flip the bird at the bullying faction of the school (which seems all-too-American, even though the film is shot in Belgium). While it doesn't always come out this way, good conquers intolerance and the movie depicts Chance warmly and humanely.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Wind Journeys

I have to start off first by singing the praises of the Film Movement collection. For my taste, there is almost never a bad movie. Many of them have stayed with me over days and weeks after I have watched them. They are unusual stories, exceptional cinematography, and affordably priced. Many of them have been my first film from that country or of that culture. I can't say enough wonderful things about it.

This movie was shot in 80 different locations in Columbia, and was ther submission for Best Foreign Language film for the Oscars last year. We follow Ignacio, an accordion playing troubadour and Fermin, a boy playing Sancho to his Don Quixote. They travel through fields, forests, small villages and mountains to take the accordion back to its original owner. Occasionally Ignacio will play, usually for money or food, never it seems for the joy of playing. He is mourning the death of his wife, and he thinks the accordion has an arrangement with the devil that didn't used to bother him, but now he knows he has to take it back where it came from. Fermin is a little confused as to what they are doing--and he is only doing it because his mother told him he had to follow this guy--he really gets into a whole load of trouble as a result of going, but in the end, he finds his bliss, the thing that makes him happiest of all, and so it is a journey most important to him. Ignacio rides a burro, and Fermin walks, but the pace of the movie is very much the sure footed and steady pace that the burro sets. The movie appears to be going nowhere, and then just as suddenly, you are there, and happy to have gotten there. Not to be overlooked is a Columbia that is exceptionally gorgeous and rarely seen. Don't miss it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This book is wonderful. Major Pettigrew is "Old British", from a time when being a Major was something that was both prideful and important. He is a military man from a military family. He knows his place, and he knows the place of others. He is elegant, clever, judgmental, and not at all happy with his offspring. Roger is all that the Major is not, and nothing that he is. Where the Major is content with his place in life, Roger is a social climber. Where the Major is loath to take chances, Roger leaps without looking. Roger is just as class-minded as his father, but his plan is to move up, and then look down on those where he once was. The Major is much more modern in some ways than his son--he sees Mrs. Ali as a woman and a business owner. Roger sees her as a foreigner, someone to be frozen out of society, and he is mortified when his father not only dances with her at an exclusive club, but also appears to find her attractive. Mrs. Ali is suffering from culture clashes of her own--she has taken a big step away from tradition when she took over the business that her husband left her--her family now expects her to turn it over to her nephew and then be shut away from the rest of the world for the rest of her days on earth. She sees such a fate as inevitable--until the Major shows her an alternative door that she can walk through with him, and enter a future together. Such a great story!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Technology Troglodyte? Not I

Thank you Tucker. You made my day.
By allowing me the pleasure of teaching you how to set up a second email account on your phone you made me feel like I might actually make it through the technology snarl-ups I am likely to face as the information highway continues to build lanes and interchanges at a dizzying rate. Just the fact that you would g-chat me to ask if I knew how to do it--that you thought it entirely possible that I could teach you this--made me feel like I was not acting my age.
Now that our government sees broadband as a basic requirement, commensurate with electricity and water, it has the effect of making many people my age and older obsolete in a way that is hard to make an historical comparison with--horse and buggy to automobile? Well, trains were still widely available and cars were neither fast nor safe, so you could probably still function without an automobile. The telephone? Maybe that is a reasonable comparison, that at some point not having a phone put you at a distinct disadvantage from those who did. soon it will be the case that without the internet, you aren't going to be able to be reached easily.

So, not a trolodyte. But, I confess, not an early adapter either. My goal of staying no more than 5 years behind the cutting edge is a hard one for me to manage (it used to be no more than 10 years behind, but that got to be profoundly delayed and had to be revised--I am trainable. If the data shows an error in thinking, I respond accordingly). But I think I am doing it, and not feeling too winded doing so. As it stands, I am drinking coffee, staying alert on the information highway, and loving it, even though most of my fellow travelers are passing me by. I can wave at them and not feel envy. Just hope they will continue to help me manage to routes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cheese, Fabulous Cheese

The American Cheese Society annual meeting in Seattle is a time to taste the best of what the artisanal cheese makers of America have to offer. And what is that, pray tell? Well, it is quite a lot. It comes at a price, and it can be hard to find--the production for many of them is small and the cheese is delicate, so travel is not one of the things this kind of cheese does well--but do not be fooled. This cheese is worth looking for and it is certainly worth learning to appreciate.

I have always loved cheese. My first love was cheddar. A classic cheese that is widely available in the United States and has been for decades. It comes in some wonderful aged variations, crumbly to creamy, moderately sharp to eye watering sharpness, and you can get it in wedges that have been cut off of wonderful wheels, or in small blocks of one to two pounds that are waxed and available at the local grocery store. They hold great promise for excellent cheese because this cheese can travel and not knuckle under to the strains transportation puts on cheese. Cheddar is not exotic, but it is not a bad place to start a love affair with cheese.

So off to Seatlle I go, ready and eager to learn, to expand on what I have learned since the last American Cheese Society meeting I attended. This time around I am prepared to get sick of cheese--no matter how much you love it, this meeting offers more than you can stand in a few days time--but the best part is the day after the meeting there is a cheese sell-off, and last time we came home with a hundred pounds of cheese--enough to last for months to come.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I loved this movie. I love the book as well, which makes it particularly surprising that I came away from the movie with such good feelings. I have been a life-long reader of murder mysteries, and very few of them get any sort of national or international traction of this brief series--even the very best of the genre. The story is complex, with unlikely allegiances, two protagonists instead of one, both with significant strengths but balanced by equally significant flaws. More like real people--exceptional people, but real.
The movie cut some of the book--necessary, and yet, not nearly as irritating as these things often are. They got rid of a dalliance of Mikael's, which is a distraction and it was wise to cut it. It makes him more human, but less likable, and in a movie, you don;t have that much time to build up sympathy for the characters that it is critical that we care about. The whole last quarter of the book is left off, which is in some ways the coolest, slickest part of the book, but it would really be a whole other 2 hour movie unto itself to depict what machinations Lisbeth goes through to get some revenge for Mikael and some financial freedom for herself.
Those are the differences--what feels so satisfying about this movie is that the cast of characters is pitch perfect, exactly as you would see them. The cinematography is crisp, clear, cold, and gorgeous. The script flows well, and Lisbeth, who is a very hard character to master, is magnificent. the actress who plays her took kickboxing, toned up, and practiced her part for months before filming and it shows. Do not miss this--and then go catch The Girl Who Played with Fire before it leaves theaters.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mount Zion 'M'-blem

All freshman at the Colorado School of Mines bring a litle something extra with them to college when they leave home to come to Golden. They bring a 10 lb. rock with them. Abe chose a piece of limestone, which probably came from a site less than 5 miles from our house. We live near a limestone Devonian Fossil gorge, and the local material was used inside and out in our home. It is very appealing, and there are frequent fossils that can be seen in it. Since the school is a state one, and most students are from Colorado, it seemed only fitting that Abe pick something that is homegrown Iowa, like himself.

The students rise early, to beat the Colorado sun, and are cheered on by faculty as they hike up Mt. Zion with their rocks. Each rock is placed in the 'M' that adorns the mountain face overlooking the school, and then the whole thing is given a fresh coating of whitewash, then they descend and have some BBQ to celebrate.
Well, it is clearly messy work. It is also yet another tradition that keeps a school's identity, and bonds it's students to it. I am not a huge fan of the 'letter on the hillside' grafetti, but this one seems more of a way to delineate an allegance to one's school and perhaps to oneself as one moves towards independence. It is a shared group experience and since it has limited environmental impact, it seems largely harmless.

It turns out that this 'M' is one of the oldest mountain monograms in the United States. Perched on the hillside above the campus, every evening the stone monument of the school's M logo, built by students over decades, is illuminated and can be seen from miles away. During holidays and special occasions, such as finals week, word has it the structure is illuminated different colors and patterns to reflect the season.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hot Chili Peppers in the Blistering Sun

No llores, mi querida
Dios nos vigila
Soon the horse will take us to Durango.
Agarrame, mi vida
Soon the desert will be gone
Soon you will be dancing the fandango.
Maybe there is not a Dylan song for every occasion, but there are certainly times when one is appropriate. What we had was not a Romance in Durango--but it was a love affair with Golden. Which, when you think about the rest of the song, is just as well--no need to involve the law in our lives unnecessarily!
Golden is wonderfully situated in the foothills of the Rockies, just west of Denver. The altitude is less than 6,000 feet, so air hunger is less of an issue, and the population is less than 20,000 so it is an easy place to get to know your way around. We have a child living there, going to the Colorado School of Mines, and we couldn't be happier about the situation.
As we were driving through Denver, en route home after dropping him off, we stopped at another roadside attraction. A large sign promising roasted chilies caught our fancy. And we were not dissappointed. Two men, one tent, five kinds of chilies, and a roaster like nothing we had ever seen. It was simple, functional, ingenious, and magnificent. It consists of a metal barrel, easily opened to load the chilies into, and on a rotisserrie, so it spins. Aimed at it are so many torches that spit a propane-fueled fire at the slowly revolving cage full of the peppers that impart their own kind of heat when added to food. The remainder of the connection between pepper and plant, the hook at the top of the pepper, catches in the mesh cage. So as the cage spins lazily, the peppers hook in and dangle in front of the flames a bit longer because of their tendency to catch, and the roasting is faster and smoother for it. We bought a bushel and this is a picture of them roasting. We then popped our heat-resistant plastic bag into the back of the car, and drove off with our peppers slowly continuing to cook as they cooled, seperating pepper skin from flesh as the miles rolled by. Once we were home, we peeled, seeded, and bagged them for the freezer. We look forward to a winter of green chili inspired and infused meals to come.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Woke Up and Realized I Am In Love With A House

Luckily, so is my husband, otherwise it could be awkward. We have another week or so before we close on this wonderful place, but we keep visiting it in between time, just to see it. Luckily the house is more or less empty, or this would be unacceptable behavior. As it is, we are thinking about what we want to do, what we should do first, what is possible and what we might dream of doing. Every time we think of the obvious barriers--the cost, the time investment, the skill set we have, the skill set we need to acquire, or borrow, or beg--we talk about how to solve it rather than why we shouldn't do it.

We are ready to lavish all our free time and disposable income on this house. We are sure it will disappoint us. We are sure there are things about it that we have yet to learn but will not like. We are parents, after all. We are raising four remarkable men, so we know the pitfalls as well as the joys, and while the house is not a living breathing thing, it does feel organic, part of the past but also part of the present, and we hope that it will also surprise us.

One thing about this new found love object. It means that I have regained my capacity to love objects. Which is not something to crow from the rooftops, I realize. But after my son's cancer treatment a decade ago, I was unable to appropriately care about objects. My car was broken into and I didn't really care--it is just a thing. Well, this is just a building--but somehow it has captured my imagination. I have noticed some of this returning, and while it is materialistic and that is not necessarily a plus, it is also human, which is.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sleep in A Submarine, Ride in a Zephyr

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago started out life as part of the buildings that Chicago built for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The acknowledged reason for the fair was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus coming to the New World, but the city was also trying to demonstrate that it had emerged relatively unscathed from the Great Chicago Fire some twenty years later, a veritable phoenix. Perhaps that is why the non-flammable construction materials that were used were chosen. Live and learn.
The fair ran for six months and the reported attendance was about equivalent to 1/2 the population of the United States. Impressive, although there was probably an element of grand-standing mixed in with the truly amazing accomplishments. The fair highlighted state-of-the-art electricity, which seems a fitting beginning for a museum devoted to celebrating science and industry.

One of the popular exhibits at the museum is a German submarine, the famous Nazi U-Boat captured off the coast of New Jersey near the end of World War II. It has a fully restored interior and is housed in a subterranean room of it's own. Inside, it reminds me of the movie filmed inside such a submarine, 'Das Boot', which made me feel claustrophobic in a wide open theater. The inside is very small, but with compactness there is artistry as well.
If I were picked to be the museum's roommate, I would like to spend some time in the sub, perhaps even sleep in this masterfully built submarine to get a real sense of what it would be like to be living there. My family thinks it will be too closed in, so maybe I'll nap there :-) They suggest the Zephyr as a better bunking arrangement, but the month inside the museum would afford lots of sleeping options, not just these two.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Is A Blasting Certificate a Good Idea?

Hi ho, hi ho, it is off to school he goes. My third son will be a freshman at the Colorado School of Mines this fall, and today he is officially theirs. It is with great pride, and not a little trepidation that I set him free to pursue this next step in his life.
This boy marches to a different drummer than his brothers. He has always wanted to be an engineer, although his skill at taking things apart far exceeded his ability to reassemble things up until recently. Throughout his childhood, friends and family would drop off non-operational items at our door step for Abe to take apart. Which he did, and it brought him endless enjoyment to do so.
He has been curious, smart, and impulsive, in about equal parts, since he was very young. He learned to siphon as a three year old, practicing without fail on his fish tank, which effectively ended fish as pets in our household. I worried endlessly when we were on a boat in the Pacific Ocean when he was 6 years old that he would just jump off--it was the sort of thought he would have, and as often as not he would literally leap before he looked. I was particularly fearful of an open spiral staircase between our deck and the one above us. His eyes widened with joy when he spotted it. The only thing that lessened my anxiety was when the captain took them up to the wheel house, and told them that if someone falls overboard it takes them 1/2 hour to turn the boat around--which really impressed Abe--he did not want to be in that big ocean alone for 1/2 an hour. The captain did not mention what I know, which is that even in cases where the passenger is seen going overboard, they only find them in about 10% of cases. Hence my worry!
I think Mines is the perfect choice for him. It is populated by his kind of people. Established during Colorado's illustrious mining boom years, it now offers a broad range of engineering options--no liberal arts options to speak of, but plenty of technical ones. It is a small school, and offers excellent academic support for students who are newly away from home. It is practical in a way that suits Abe. My only hesitation is that true to it's mining past, Mines offers a blasting certificate course to every student, regardless of major. So every fire bug, techno obsessed student gets trained in explosives. Is that a good idea?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Am I the Mother of Invention?

This is an example of what I love about the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I am struck by how whimsical and engaging the synopsis is. And while I can not relate to Lonnie, I can definitely relate to his mother. I have two boys who sound just like Lonnie. They are in constant pursuit of making things, improving them, talking incessantly over the dinner table about the current model, what is working about it and what is not, and options for design modifications. Prior to having children of my own, 'design modification' is the term I would use for an item I had purchased that had the foot note on the box "some assembly required", and when I had done my best to follow the directions and still had a few pieces left over, design modification is what I would call it. Apparently the term has other uses.

One example happened last summer, while my husband and I were enjoying a cheese making trip to the Haute Alps in France. On day three we received an email entitled "Should I Stop This?" from a friend who drove by our house and found a reasonably functional trebuchet on our front lawn. Aimed at the neighbor's yard. Neighbors trying to sell their house, I might add. Fortunately the prospective buyers were not dissuaded by the medieval siege weapon next door, and moved in despite it. My boys continued to tinker with the trebuchet over time, improving it's design and happily fielding all questions asked by interested passers by. One of these young men is interested in biomedical research and the other in biomedical engineering--will they be inventors of something as ingenious as what Lonnie has invented? I hope so.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keep It Simple

This photo, bound to elicit an "ah" from all who view it, was taken at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. I hope to spend a month there this fall, and in an effort to get to know the museum that I hope to room in, I am thinking and writing about it. This exhibit, the hatching of chicks, falls under the category of "oldie but goodie". It is an unassailable truism that it is entrancing to watch a chick emerge from it's shell. To watch the egg go from something that might grace your breakfast table, to developing a bit of a hole, to having a new life emerge, damp and tired from the effort, is magic, pure and simple. I loved it when I was five and I still love it when I am 50. I could spend hours--literally--watching it happen over and over again. Then once the chicks dry off and learn to stand up, the process of seeing them mill about and develop some personality is equally engaging. With the rise in popularity of raising chickens, in both urban and rural settings, the chicken is getting better PR. However, less than 2 million people in the U.S. live on farms and this exhibit may be the first time a young child will have seen an animal being born. What is common is also profound, and this exhibit is a winner.
Which begs the question, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Well, while the answer has been argued both ways, the latest installment is that while evolutionists lean toward the egg, there is some recent evidence that says maybe it is the chicken. Ovocledidin-17 is the protein that is found in the chicken's ovary and it allows her to change calcium carbonate into calcite and therefore make an egg that is hard to crack--scientists argued that the discovery of this in the chicken indicates that the chicken came first, followed by the egg. Debate continues. And this does nothing to answer the other age old question that inevitably arises after watching small cuddly chicks for hours on end--why did the chicken cross the road?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can My Civil War Era House Be Green?

This house, smart and wired, was my favorite stop at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I have long supported reusing, recycling, efficiency, and renewable resources. But I have new eyes on what can and should be done since I am buying a house built during the Civil War in Iowa and remodeling it (see my McCollister farm posting on August 10th). I will undoubtedly have shifting goals and plans related to this house as my husband and I immerse ourselves in this endeavor, but one of them is to investigate how to bring what the modern world has to offer into a house from the 19th century, all the while retaining the things that the Victorians put into it that led to it being so charming. I want to be charmed and warm. Preferably without being poor. Or dramatically enlarging my carbon footprint.

Impossible? The house is built from brick, which offers special challenges, so perhaps a little thinking inside and outside the box would help. I have applied to be a museum roommate, and one of the things that I would hope to garner out of the month is some ideas about how to go about making such a home green without losing character. The house was built after about 30 years of farming the property--so they had plenty of time to scope out the spot that offered warmth in the winter months balanced with coolness in the summer. Iowa is blessed with weather, often severe, and at times quite unpredictable.

The opportunity to spend a month in a different kind of institution of higher learning is an opportunity to get input on how to do this project right. We are just starting out, and so know more about the problems at this point than the solutions. This smart house is an inspiration, something to strive towards, all the while working to maintain the historic charm that the house has lived with over time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

I love what happened to this building--it is a 'happy ending' story that so often eludes cities.
This variegated Bedford stone depot, designed by R. C. Stephens, was completed in 1931. The exterior of this impressive example of Art Deco Architecture reveals the inspiration of machinery as a theme for geometric designs. The desire for machine-like geometric clarity evident in this building became something of a mania in the 1930s. The Depot serviced as many as thirty-six trains a day in its prime. However, rail travel diminished as the years rolled by and need for the Depot's services decreased. It ceased operation fairly early on, in 1967.

The Depot stood vacant and neglected for years. Then, in 1983, the deteriorating structure, including the caved-in roof, was restored and adapted for contemporary uses. The original interior was skillfully preserved and integrated into office space. The walls, moldings and medallions on the ceiling were restored to their original colors. The other two train station reclamations I have seen (in St. Louis and Providence) have not been nearly so masterful at returning the space to something that benefits the public at large, and this is a model for how to do it right.

The Union Depot Building is now the new home of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. In addition to the museum, they have constructed an elegant performance hall, which is a multi-purpose space for concerts and other events. I had such a wonderful time in Tulsa last week--I am still thinking about the myriad of things that made it a memorable visit, and this is just one success story. While many buildings were lost, it is true, the degree of historical preservation in the downtown area is remarkable.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sweet Sixteen

My youngest son almost died one day over a decade ago. First, he woke up with a bad headache, and the next day he was seeing double, his right eye turned inward. In the several hours that followed, we went from our camp site (we were on vacation in beautiful Grand Teton National Park) to an eye doctor, to an emergency room, and finally onto a plane that would take us to Denver Children's Hospital and a neurosurgeon who could begin to solve the problem we had discovered. He had a brain tumor the size of a large marble growing out of his cerebellum. Before we left the ground in Jackson to get on our way, one of the worst seconds of my life occurred. The nurse accompanying us on the flight rubbed his breast bone. Hard. And he did not respond. He was unconscious.
At that moment I realized that he could die. My unstoppable 5 year old could be stopped. In a moment. That it could happen just like that. Blink and your world is a different place. Thankfully, the medicine they gave him in the emergency room to decrease the swelling of his brain kicked in mid-flight, and by the time we were in the hospital, he was arousable.
But I have never forgotten that moment, the one where I realized just how serious the situation we were in was. I met many wonderful health care providers over the 18 months that followed my son's diagnosis, starting with Dr. James Little, the pediatrician who initially diagnosed him in Jackson. I was profoundly sad to need them, and eternally grateful for what they provided. One such man was Fred Epstein, a pediatric neurosurgeon who tirelessly provided information to families like mine who were desperately seeking answers and options for their children. He wrote a book about what he had learned about courage and character from his patients and he entitled it "If I Get to Five". He had a patient who quite matter-of-factly discussed her life in the face of uncertainty. She continued to make plans, all the while acknowledging that she might not get to be five years old. Four might be the end of her road. Well, today is the birthday of my very own cancer survivor, and I wake up thinking "Ethan gets to sixteen!"
I learned the hard way. Or one of the hard ways. There are no guarantees.
I try to rejoice in what we have, rather than dwell on what we have lost. Today that is working for me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I Want to Room With a Museum

Seriously. I want to be a museum roomie. Really. I can't imagine a more exciting month. I know, it is hard to believe. If you had told me that the motto "Eat Sleep Science" would be something that I would literally dream about doing, I would have called you in for psychiatric evaluation. Which I can do. But here it is, an opportunity to spend a month doing just that at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and I have not only applied, but I am allowing myself to hope against hope that they might seriously consider my application.

What is so appealing about this room? Well, what it lacks in privacy it gains in location. It is right downtown, on Museum Main Street. Easy walking distance to all exhibits, and, in fact, it is an exhibit all it's own! My plan would be to not spend all that much time in the room, despite it's obvious attempt to be comfortable--maybe writing my blog entries, and the occasional overnight. The whole point is to be out and about in the rest of the museum rather than holed up in what is really a very spacious (if not secluded) living quarter.

If I were to be chosen, this photo is for me what I hope to feel every night. Step out into the museum after the doors have closed to the public and the sky is the limit, the stars are at your feet. I am sure there are actually security cameras everywhere and my kids think there will undoubtedly be night guards (although I think they are basing this on 'Night at the Museum' rather than on any real data), but my fantasy is that it will just be me and the museum, that every night I can step out of my room and into a new adventure.

Ok, earth to Catherine--yes, I know that the probable ideal candidate, from the musuem's point of view, for this position is not a middle aged woman with a childhood dream to explore a museum and a grown up zeal to talk about it. At the very least they are apt to be looking for someone who is a little bit closer to their actual childhood, rather than someone trying to recapture theirs on the second go round. I'll put it out there that they would be ill advised to overlook the more "established" of the applicants. I have the enthusiastic support of both my family and colleagues to be freed from all responsibilities for the duration of the habitation. My children have unbridled enthusiasm for the idea, and I think I went up ever so slightly in their estimation just by applying. I have an outstanding work ethic and a track record of productivity that can't be matched by someone half my age. I have taught all ages, and I listen to the feedback from my learners and adjust my teaching every year to be better and better as an educator. I am a bargain. So, wish me luck, and send good vibes in my direction!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Route 66, Alive and Well in Tulsa

One of the original U.S. highways, Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926. The famous highway originally ran from Chicago to L.A, meandering through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California on it's way there. I have been on the Albuquerque to L.A. portion of the old highway a number of times, but this week got the chance to see a 15 miles stretch that goes through Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa was booming about the time the highway was built, and I am sure up through the 1950's it seemed extremely modern. Not so today. Diners are alive and well, as is neon on Route 66 in Tulsa. It is like stepping back in time.

Which was a pleasant step, I must say. I went to Tulsa hoping to see what it had to offer. I had no expectations, and was therefore overwhelmed by how wonderful it was to be there. The fact that a lot of money helps any community will come as no surprise to any of us. But for Tulsa, prosperity washed over it, cresting an era ago, and then swept on, leaving something behind, but not on the scale that it had experienced. The stamp that oil has put on Tulsa, and how it emerged from it's era of prosperity, is surprising. The community has undoubtedly lost many landmarks, some of which are probably real losses to us all, not just to the locals who loved them. But what remains is remarkable. It is well worth a trip, and the food along Route 66 is what you would expect--excellent diner food.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tulsa Art Deco

I had time this week to walk through Tulsa's downtown and was amazed by the gorgeous art deco architecture. I didn't know.
Now, having read about the whole phenomena, I know that Tulsa has lost a number of it's famed buildings, but the multi-million dollar renovation on the Mayo Hotel was very impressive, and the density in the neighborhood of the courthouse was literally awe inspiring.
Tulsa and Art Deco came of age together. The young city was experiencing unprecedented growth and prosperity in the 1920's, just as the Art Deco movement came into vogue. Flush with oil money, prominent Tulsans started building and wanted the skyscrapers to be distinctive and modern. These oil barons spurred one of the preeminent Art Deco collections in the United States. I have been to New York and Miami, and I grew up in LA--Tulsa has it going on over all three. The extensive use of terra cotta, especially colorful terra cotta, and the well-preserved buildings are better than any South Beach stroll from a purely architechtural perspective.

One stand out was the Mincks-Adam Hotel. The Adams facade is widely recognized as an excellent example of glazed terra-cotta veneering. Produced by the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, the terra cotta pastel blues and reds are still quite noticeable, and the individual tile units are sound, with tight mortar joints. The architectural style of the facade is eclectic, in the mood of the 1893 to 1917 period when architects felt free to use any and all decorative motifs as they saw fit. Its highly ornate facade is an imaginative combination of Gothic, Italian Renaissance, and Baroque decorations--and it is up and down and sideways on the exterior. Terra cotta is also used extensively in the interior of the building in the lobby, coffee shop, and stairwell.

My favorite of the tour was the little Pythian building (1931) at 5th and Boulder. It is a three-story structure that Edward W. Saunders intended to be thirteen stories high. The Great Depression intervened, and work stopped at the third floor. The building, now mostly vacant, has terra cotta tiles in the Zigzag style both inside and out. The lobby is breathtakingly well preserved and a wonderful example of keeping what is good about a place in great physical condition.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

When my mother visited me in May, she gave me three book suggestions. They were books that her book group had read that she thought I would like. I am not now, nor have I ever been in a book group, so I appreciate the vicarious experience of reading a book that is worthy of a discussion and that my mother enjoyed. This is the last of the bunch, and while I think there are substantial flaws in the book, I have been thinking about it ever since I finished it.
One reason it has stuck with me is the topic itself. It is two adult daughters (one of them has college-aged children of her own) who lose their father--the parent who was warm and loving to them and who they are both intensely (and differently) attached. They each make him a promise as it relates to their mother, and the rest of the book is about what unfolds as they try to keep their promises.
The mother is portrayed as being unable to love her children, and one of the things that is revealed is why that might have happened. The father brought their mother home with him from World War II, but the daughters don't know much about what happened there, and we find out. It is a good depiction of what trauma can do to a person, how that damage can continue to affect those around you, and go on to shape the lives of your children. It is another layer of the war that is so often not well explored. My quarrel with this book is that the ending is so improbable--yet one does read of true stories where this happens, so maybe not improbable after all. the daughters themselves are opposites who gradually move closer to each other, both emotionally and temperamentally, and that too seems a bit contrived--although again, the truth is that dramatic revelations do change people, sometimes in dramatic ways. Just not frequently. So I recommend this book, and it is well constructed, but I am not sure that I recommend the author--I will wait until I read another book by her to decide that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The McCollister Farm

This will be the second of many future musings on the next phase of my life. Today is the 22nd birthday of my eldest son, and it is soon to be the 16th birthday of my youngest. As the children continue to move into the beginnings of their independent lives, it is time for my husband and I to move on as well. We are on the brink of purchasing a piece of Iowa history, and continuing the task of keeping it alive and well for generations to come.
The house was built in 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, on what quickly grew in the post-war era into an 800 acre farm. The house was built a number of years after the land was purchased, and is an idyllic location--up on a hill, taking advantage of the breeze, and with a lovely view over the land. The architecture is called Anglo-Italianate, a style that recalls northern Italian farmhouses tinged with an influence of Victorian England. The style was popular in the Midwest, and by the late 1850's, it was the predominant style of the area. The relatively strict adherence to the architectural rules of this particular Victorian style speaks to the wealth of the builder--they were able to do it right, rather than 'on the cheap', as is seen with the Folk Victorian houses that abound.

The house looks as stately in real life as it does in this photograph, and was one of the early grand houses of the area. While it's circumstances are greatly reduced now, it remains on a 4 acre piece of property with the same sweeping view that it has always had. One of the fun things about the house is that there are many photographs of it throughout it's history and so we can think about restoring it to a particular era of it's history, but really, it is a house that has been changing since it began.
So this is the new project, the one that will get us over the hump of having our children need us less--we are getting something that needs us more. We are going away from the priorities we had as parents of young children and returning to the priorities we had when we were about their age. To be optimistic, to see promise in the restoration of old things that are good, and to know more about the history of where we live.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Wow, it is really hard to know what to say about this movie. Stiller's depiction of Roger Greenberg approaches perfection--you end the movie feeling like you know this guy. You can not stand him, but you know him. He has the one potential saving grace that he is just discharged from a stay in a mental health institution for reasons that we don't specifically know, but can imagine would affect him. He seems blunted, which could be medication, but pretty quickly it becomes apparent it is him. He is blunted. He is a man who didn't quite emerge, and while he is not apologetic about that, he does seem to grow through the movie to accept that maybe he is missing something afterall.
Stiller does an amazing job (and the script clearly helps this along) of portraying a narcissist, a person who appears full of himself, and yet is unbearably fragile. Not able to admit his frailties because the damage that would cause him is too great, and yet kind of pathetic in his current persona. Struggling within and struggling to get out.
This is not an easy movie, nor is it particularly entertaining, but it does stick with you. You want to shake these people. Go to the third world, see people with real problems, then call me. They are the detritis of the consumption society we have become. Not a pleasant message. But a message well told.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lentils with Summer Vegetables

I love French Green Lentils and in the summer it is nice to make them with an abundance of vegetables. Our CSA this year often has a few of this and a few of that, not enough to make a whole dish with, so this is a great way to use all those dibs and dabs of vegetables, as well as a zucchini or two that is overcrowding the vegetable drawer from your own garden. Start with 4 c. of stock (I used the leftover water from cooking corn, another summer favorite--I just strain it after it is cool to get rid of the silk, and save it in the refrigerator for the next vegetable based soup I make) and 1 c. of lentils. Add 4-6 c. of vegetables that are sliced or diced, a pinch of thyme, cover, and cook on the stove for an hour or two. Once most of the water has been absorbed, adjust the seasoning and top with minced fresh herbs (I have used cilantro here, but it could be anything that you have in abundance this time of year).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My Paper Chase by Harold Evans

The greatest editor of newspaper history could probably have used an editor. First, some of the most thrilling stories of his time were told in almost too casual a way, so as to not emphasize for those readers who were mere babes in the woods at the time the events happened just what the significance was--the assassination of Anwar Sadat, for example.
The clearest part of the book is the run up to his being editor of the Sunday Times. His childhood upbringing, the character of his family and their origins--isn't it a great country where a man of humble origins can grow up to be knighted kind of a tale. Not maybe the tale that readers wanted to hear, but he does a good job.
The weakest part is the transition between his first and second marriage--I suspect that he was trying to spare feelings all around, which is admirable, but could have been left out completely--why include his exclusion from the sexual revolution because of his marriage and small children, then drop that marriage with the mere mention of an ongoing affair, and then almost a footnote that his marriage ended amicably, and then his marriage to the object of his affections? Dissatisfying, and not necessary to include at all. Tell it, or leave it out.
The thrilling part of the story is told with reasonable restraint, but then his life at Conde Nast has a feeling of holding something back. Maybe he will write a book about those years? I would have loved to hear more about the quality of that transition, but maybe it is really just that the fire can only burn so long, that with his second family he wanted more time to pay attention to the details of those childrens lives and there isn't much a story. So, in all, it is an uneven tale, that is easy to read, but could have used a really good editing job.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Next Step

Tucker told me this week that I need to muse more and pontificate less in my blog, and I am taking that advice to heart. I do love to share 'the good' that I find in life, as well as the creativity of myself and others, but since he was an early adapter of my urge to blog, I feel I need to listen to him.
This picture was taken the summer my oldest son was leaving home, the beginning of the exodus of the Kline boys into lives of their own and away from the daily influence of their parents. And since that summer, the march of time forward has continued, slowly but inexorably, toward a house empty of children. What to do? I think it is time to let go of the place we did that phase of life in and move on. Unfortunately, I no longer am able to pack all my belongings into the trunk of an over-sized sedan. So this is not like molting. It is a daunting task, but one that I would rather under take sooner rather than later. Why wait another ten years to allow all the atrophied parts of my past to gather more dust? Maybe by finding them again, they will ignite a new fire in me to use them. But maybe not. I think that everything that makes the cut for this move should be stamped with an expiration date--if I have not done something with the contents of this box by such-and-such a date, it goes to Goodwill. Let someone else have a crack at it! After all, Tucker uses Goodwill as a lending library or sorts--he gets all his clothes there, and sometime later, after he has made use of them and is ready for something new, they make a return appearance there, ready for life with someone else. I should set some of my things similarly free. So, that is the task for the rest of 2010, to downsize my possessions into something more modest than they are now, and to make better use of what I retain.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Same Sex Marriage

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco decided yesterday that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, striking down Proposition 8, the voter approved ballot measure that banned same-sex unions. Now 52 million of the 306 million U.S. citizens live in states where same sex marriage is legal--17% of the population live in such a state. The 37 million Californians contribute significantly to this number, and that is why this is important beyond the fact that social justice matters. Let tolerance reign.
Judge Walker said Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice. His ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oh well.
"Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment," the judge wrote. "Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."

Vaughn added: "Plaintiffs seek to have the state recognize their committed relationships, and plaintiffs’ relationships are consistent with the core of the history, tradition and practice of marriage in the United States.“
Ultimately, the judge concluded that Proposition 8 "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. … Because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”
How can anyone disagree with this? I am relieved by this decision. It gives me hope that forward progress is possible. I am especially thankful for the gay children that I know, who may be able to reach adulthood in a country that will afford them all the rights and privileges of straight citizens. It is a matter of basic human rights.