The Shaker Museum and La Salette

It’s a truism that people who live in an area tend not to go to the tourist spots.

I went to one that’s not too far from my house today — The Shaker Museum in Enfield.  I’ve held a long interest in alternative communities, especially Utopian communes.  The thing is they really don’t present what the culture really was, why the Shakers came about or any of that.  It’s a fascinating story, but all we get is that the classic view of Shaker furniture was a 15 year period during the “Golden age” of a 200-odd year history.  I mean, that’s true as far as it goes.  By the late Victorian era they were making and selling Victorian-era furniture.  They were not living quite the plain and unornamented lives that their predecessors had.  However, like almost all Utopian communities of the time, there was a serious interest in purposeful lives lived in an orderly way.

I was entranced to walk its halls, though and see first-hand large, airy building this particular community had made for its home.

After that, The Bird wanted to visit La Salette.  It’s a shrine diagonally across the road from the Chosen Vale community and was built on land the Roman Catholic church had bought from the Shakers. Talk about a contrast.  The restrained ornamentation of a Shaker community gave way to a shrine dedicated to an apparition of the Virgin Mary sometime back in the early 1800s to some shepherd children in the French Alps.

There was a garden dedicate to the apparition, a series of statues in the Stations of the Cross ending in a tomb-like structure with a truly grisly statue of Jesus lying dead and blood-stained — rather  shudder-inducing to my general Protestant-trained sensibilities.

The Rosary Garden was kinda neat, though.  It’s a path and garden surrounding a large fish pond.   There’s a chain that surrounds it with iron roses painted in various colors and statues at each Rosary decade.

The varieties of religious expression and what they cause us to create and express is endlessly fascinating to me, even if I don’t join in the game, myself.

Time Travel and Technology

A story I often tell whether teaching or whatever, is about a time when I couldn’t have been more than five.  Daddy had taken me onto The Base1 to show me where he worked.

I remember two things very clearly about it.  He’d written a little program that would print out a punch card with my name on it.  That really impressed me, as did the banks and banks of machines with reel to reel tapes.  It looked so cool and futuristic to me even at five.

But he said something that really stuck with me.   He was explaining the computers, what they are, how they work (more or less) and commented that when I had children, I’d have a computer I could hold in my hand that would be much more powerful than tons and tons of metal sitting in that cold room with the tile floor.

At the time, I really thought he was pulling my leg.

Usually, I’m telling this story to my students in computer classes.  I then pull out my phone (a Palm Centro) and we all share a laugh.   I’d mentioned it in passing the other night and the man of the house laughed and asked me if that was why I’d wanted a netbook so badly, and why I’m fascinated with little, powerful bits of technology.

I expect that’s part of it.   But, I’m fascinated by compact usefulness in general, though.  I mean, I make Japanese-style bento.  I can fit my lunchbox in my hand!  The idea of having a wardrobe that’s interchangeable enough that I can pack a week’s worth of clothes in a carry-on fills me with glee.  I have fifty novels on my smartphone that I can read.  My dream home these days is a Tiny House.

But, yes, it would be fun to go back in time to that twentysomething young man with the little girl and say to her, “Nope, hon. He’s not blowing smoke.  You are gonna love the future of technology.”

1There’s an R&D naval base on the Potomac where my father has spent a majority if his career.

What I've Been Waiting For

I have wanted a truly portable  computer since I was about 12.  When laptops got lighter than ten pounds, I used to fantasize about getting one, but didn’t for a long time until the price on a mid-grade laptop dropped to what I was spending on a desktop.

I was in my late thirties before I finally sucked it up and bought a laptop.  Now the one I bought was okay, really, for its time.  But it weighs about six and a half pounds, has a crappy battery (an hour if I am very lucky) and it runs hot enough that I really can’t use it without an external notebook cooler.  I can use it on an airplane, but I don’t like to.  I do use it on the train, but I’m lugging at least ten pounds worth of material and taking it out to use is a bit of a production.

That laptop is starting to show the Blue Screen of Death at about weekly intervals, which means it’s about to go to that Great Computer in the Sky in the next few months.  I want to hold off on getting a new laptop for several reasons, and have been in Serious Gadget Lust for a netbook since I first saw one.  Because of the gadget lust, I didn’t trust my justification for getting a cheap machine that is not a true replacement for a full-powered laptop.

When I got accused by the World’s Worst Overthinker of overthinking the matter (I think I bored him to tears analyzing it out loud), I just went ahead and bought the damn thing — an Acer AspireOne.  It’s the cheapest netbook on the market.

This is what I have been waiting for all my life.  I can put the freaking thing in my purse.  I get more than three hours on a battery.  How much more I don’t know.  It’s 3:35 and counting right now and I still have half power left.  I can reasonably take this to the park and write.  I wouldn’t have to be a contortionist to get it out of an overstuffed bag on an airplane.   I don’t have to lug around the heavy notebook cooler.  I don’t need something that can run World of Warcraft.  I need something that can handle writing a book.  I need something that can read a financial spreadsheet.  I need something that I can use on the Internet to get email and bid on jobs.

Oh, and I’m writing this piece right now on it

In Honor of the Day: The Pride of Gryffindor

Hey, It’s Can(n)on
Words and Music © 2006 by Tom Smith

Released under a Creative Commons Noncommercial ShareAlike License
Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R.
Harry Potter characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. Characters are used without permission. No challenge to copyright is intended, nor should such challenge be construed.

Ye’ve read the Harry Potter books, ye think ye know ’em through
But there’s something that ye may not know, and here’s a little clue:
The female of the Trio has her birthday on
Talk Like A Pirate Day so heads up, Harry and Ron!

When she found out, her eyes she rolled, an’ she went on knittin’ socks,
But Harry said, “I’ve got the gold, let’s head down to the docks,”
They traded lots o’ Galleons for a lovely brigantine,
And now they’re her young stallions and she’s a pirate queen!

Come here, ye lads and lasses, I tell ye, she’s the one,
Give a cheer and raise yer glasses, but not till class is done
Though she’s only seventeen, she’s smarter than Dumbledore,
Hermione Granger, the Pirate Queen, the pride of Gryffindor!

Her white shirt and black leather they complement her eyes,
A red sash brings it t’gether (and the boots half up her thighs)
Cap’n Hook’s a fan and Jack Sparrow thinks it’s great,
It’s in the books, it’s canon, so let’s all celebrate!

Hoist the mainsil’, wind the capstan, give it all ye got,
The firewhiskey and th’ captain both are really hot,
Here’s a Happy Birthday to the girl that we adore,
Hermione Granger, the Pirate Queen, the pride of Gryffindor!

She taxidermied Pettigrew, and on the bridge he sat,
‘Cause after all, what pirate ship doesn’t have a rat?
She Incarcerous‘d young Malfoy so he could not escape,
And one Petrificus later, she made him walk the Snape!

Dolohov she’ll finish off, and Bellatrix she’ll foil,
Lucius’ll land in Azkaban and likewise Crabbe and Goyle,
She laughs at danger, thinks it’s keen — bring on Voldemor — TT!
Hermione Granger, the Pirate Queen, the pride of Gryffindor!

Now here’s the part we talk about with whom she’s lockin’ lips,
‘Cause after all, a pirate queen has got to have her ‘ships,
Some say Harry’s her true love, or Ron she will betroth,
She finally cried, “I can’t decide, I’ll have to have ’em both!”

Who’s the sassy bossy witch that all the boys pursue?
Grander than the Golden Snitch and more elusive too.
One may Seeker, one may Keeper, both know how to score, with
Hermione Granger, the Pirate Queen, the pride of Gryffindor!

And so the Seven Seas she sails, in deadly hot pursuit
of getting perfect O.W.L.s and aceing every N.E.W.T.
Some think she’s just a bookworm, but I am here ta say
She’s got this pirate thing down cold every natal day!

Come here, ye lads and lasses, I tell ye, she’s the one,
Give a cheer and raise yer glasses, but not till class is done
She’ll go down in history, the one we’re singin’ for,
Hermione Granger, the Pirate Queen, the pride of Gryffindor!
Hermione Granger, the Pirate Queen, the pride of Gryffindor!

Knitting with a Plan

There are times when I am very glad I learned to knit.

This week has been fantastic from a professional point of view, but teaching a week’s worth of all-day classes is exhausting.  I don’t know how full time teachers pull it off and not burn out.  That’s some high-energy stuff if you want to keep your students involved and engaged, and do a good job.

A seamless yoke sweater


So, the knitting.  Knitting is how I relax when I’m too brain-fried even to write a blog entry. It’s soothing with enough repetitive motion to calm me down while I watch Torchwood.

Last summer I sewed a series of garments in a plan called a SWAP. (Sewing with a Plan).  Basically the idea is that everything is supposed to mix and match well with everything else.   I had garments in black, burgundy and a floral/Japanese print.  This winter I added a capsule to it in dark forest green.  So, I have this great, basic interchangable wardrobe.

In cotton.

For the most part that’s fine. Between the fact I made shells and jackets, this means it carries me through a lot of seasons.  What it doesn’t help a lot with is those cold months of a New England winter.   Luckily,  I knit.  Getting good sweaters is no more difficult than following the Seamless Yoke pattern that Elizabeth Zimmerman explained in Knitting Without Tears and adding whatever colorway and yoke design takes my fancy.  I’ve done pirates, Heathen symbols, abstract symbols and Autobots in the yoke and turned out some warm, unique garments.

What I don’t have (yet), are several sweaters in my SWAP color palette.  Oh, I’ve got a gray, purple and burgundy one that goes okay with my black and burgundy pants and skirts.  I have a gray and purple one that goes okay with the black, but nothing else.  This sweater I just made will go with all the skirts and pants I’ve sewn quite well.   I need to sit down and plan two or three more over the course of the winter.

The thing is, these babies are warm, warm, warm.  Stranded knitting (that’s how you get the colorwork — strands of yarn carried behind the main fabric) of various sorts is definitely popular in the colder countries for a reason.  You basically have two layers of yarn for a much warmer garment.  Nordic sweaters look the way they do at least in part for practicality.  If you’re lucky enough to own a real one, you know what I mean.  So, they’re not something I wear year-round, but only when it gets really cold.

Lazy Parents Being Jerks

This Tuesday the US President is going to be giving a speech addressing public school children. Mostly it’s a “study hard and stay in school” sort of speech.

Since the Johnson administration, the President of the United States has done this, barring the Nixon administration.

Now, I’m a Libertarian, so I’m certainly at the opposite end of the current President’s general political philosophy on many, many issues.

But I have a question for you, the parents who are up in arms about our current President giving this speech, and about it being shown in schools:

What is the MATTER with your parenting that you’re terrified of a fifteen minute speech?  My word, people, if you’re that scared, check out what’s going on in the school every day.  I’ve read my child’s textbooks and review his homework assignments.  Don’t you?  Don’t you talk to you children about them?*

You don’t like President Obama? You don’t like schools being used as propaganda machines? Fair enough. Neither do I (Like schools as propoganda.  President Obama, while I often disagree with his politics, seems an honorable man and I expect I would enjoy a dinner party with him). However, that’s been what public schools have been used for since most of your great-grandparents have been going to school. I find it curious that you’re only finding this dangerous and freaking out now.  Haven’t you been talking to your children all along?

You want your kids to understand your values?  Spend time with them.  Homeschool if you’re really that worried.  Turn off the damn television  (a worse propaganda machine than a public school where your child is permitted to live at home with you could ever dream of), have dinner together at night and quit over-scheduling them with all sorts of activities that relieve you of the onerous chore of getting to know the human beings your children actually are.

Will they always agree with you if you raise them “right”?   Probably not.  My parents taught me to think for myself. It worked and no, we do not share the same opinion on every subject.  In fact, I’d be astonished if my parents claimed to share the same opinion on every subject between themselves, even on the big stuff.  Neither do my son and I, for that matter.   But I feel quite confident, because we’ve talked about it, that my son’s opinions are the result of thinking things out rather than automatic reaction to propaganda.

And ya know, I’m okay with that.

*Though, A Children’s Story by James Clavell is assigned reading in my household.

Big Plate, Tiny Bento

A Packed Bento

The Same Food, But On a Plate

I did this mostly as an experiment for my No-S Diet, though I was pretty sure of the answer.   The plate on the right is what I’d put in a bento box, though arranged in a more compact fashion.

It makes an interesting point about portion control as well as eating a variety.  I’m generally much more careful to pack a variety of itty-bitty portions in a bento than I am when I put a meal on a plate1.    But it does show that the “one-plate” rule of the No-S Diet is some pretty decent portion control!

So, when you go on about the “tiny” bento boxes, realize it’s just that it’s compact.  The plate isn’t a “tiny” lunch to most people’s minds!

1I’ve also become constitutionally incapable of eating an apple without cutting it into something cute. Please don’t laugh at me. I’m helpless in the face of it, and therapy probably won’t help.

Giving Up Hard Core

I’ve gained more weight than I’m happy with.  I’ve not been as active as I should be, and I’ve been doing a lot of snacking on bread in spite of the bentos.

So, back to No-S, and getting in at least a small workout every weekday.  That’s sustainable and non-invasive and doesn’t have the Forbidden Food Fallacy.  I recognize allergies and medical conditions are one thing.  I don’t have that problem.  My problem is a simple problem of mindless snacking, especially in the evenings. No-S solves that problem quite well.  If it hurts when you do that, stop doing that. Simple. (Y’all know simple and easy aren’t necessarily the same?  Yeah, figured you did!)

For exercise, I can:  Go for a walk, put in a swim, do a shovelglove session, do a weights workout at the gym or do bodyweight exercises.  Any of those counts, and I’m allowed to follow whim as long as I am doing something. I can go hard or not as I like.  It’s the consistency I’m worried about rather than any progress issue.

My goal here is habits rather than progress.  That’ll take care of itself, but going hammer and tongs at fitness and lifestyle goals doesn’t work. I know it.  And still I keep trying to do it.  Why I keep doing it when it doesn’t work, I don’t know.  Well, yeah, I do.  I’m an intensity junkie.  That’s dandy for some things, but it’s not serving me here.

So the goal itself is consistent habits.  I may eschew even weighing myself.  Eat three full meals a day (if you don’t snack, the meals need to be comfortably substantial to get the right amount of food), and have a treat on weekends or holidays if I want them.   I won’t track what I eat or the calorie content, but simply eat three single-plate (or bento box) meals a day.  Honestly?  My meals are pretty decently healthy, so it’s not really a concern.  It’s all that nibbling that’s the real problem.

I won’t track my fitness progress other than whether or not a workout happened out every weekday.  Right now my real problem is that I get all excited about a goal and get all into it and then burn out.  That’s not serving me.

The point here is that I’m spending far too much mental energy on problems that could be solved simply with consistent moderate habits.    Goodness knows it worked with housekeeping.  My house is adequately neat and I do not spend my life cleaning house.   So I expect it’ll do nearly as well with my body as well.