Monday, June 29, 2009

Math and Michael Jackson

J. and I don't have any particularly strong connections with Michael Jackson, since he was a bit before our time (Thriller came out when we were babies). But we did start talking about how one can possibly spend over 400 million dollars (MJ died over $400 million in debt).

$5000 we can grasp pretty well: trip to England, new bike for J.
$100,000: pay down mortgage
$200,000: buy a farm

Anything beyond this range exceeds the grasp of my imagination. How do you spend $1 million? $10 million? When I try to think of this as pocket change, which it seems to have been for MJ, I am stymied.

J. calculated that, in order to spend $400 million in 10 years, you would have to spend $3.62 every second, non stop. Without sleeping. That's like buying some outrageous Starbucks concoction every second for 10 years. Yikes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tiny dogs

I had a friend who had a pug named Banshee. She was wild. Banshee always got so excited when he came home, that she would start running circles around the living room, gaining speed until she was hurtling herself from sofa to chair to floor to fireplace and back round again. Eventually wearing herself out, she would collapse on his lap and remain inert for a little while. We could pet her then, without her going deliriously nuts with joy from the attention.

Here's an animated short about the "cruel but really adorable world of underground pug fighting":

Friday, June 26, 2009

To glove or not to glove

I went through a spell in elementary school where I wore a glove on one hand, copying Michael Jackson. It looked a little funny for me to be signing with one bare hand and one covered hand, and my teachers tried to get me to take it off. I refused--one has to suffer for fashion, you know.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flowers out back

We planted some flowers around the deck in the backyard. J. and I wanted native plants, tenacious flowers that can fend for themselves once they've been established. We started small, so the border around the deck looks scraggly. Each plant looks lonely, swimming in a sea of bare earth.

I go and look at them frequently every day, leaning on the deck and peering down at them from above. I count the new blooms on the coneflowers and examine the asters which seem to be stuck in time. Bumblebees bump among the blooms of the bee balm, their happy drone drifting on the breeze.

, I want to say, as if all my desire for growth can be encapsulated in a little word that, when directed their way, will impart the force of life. Instead, I just look at them a lot.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's past is past

Things we've done lately:

  • cooked hobo sandwiches in embers from J.'s perpetual woodburning in the back (we have a pile of deadwood to get rid of)
  • planted coneflowers, coreoposis, asters, bee balm, and "oranges and cream" (not sure what the real name is)
  • painted the living room
  • saw the movie "Up," which is really, really good
  • shared a pasta arrabiata dish and chocolate souffle at Bella Notte
  • watched the cats pounce each other
  • competed in a bike race in the Red River Gorge (where J. was disqualified for doing something that protected him and the other riders: classic case of disobeying the letter of the law, but fulfilling the spirit of the law)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The relationship between math and free beer

Last night, J. and I came home via the meandering Rte 25, rather than the interstate. As we approached Old Clay's Ferry Bridge, a narrow bridge eclipsed by the newer bridge towering far overhead, we saw a group of foolhardy young men wearing lifejackets and swimming trunks. Apparently, Riptide Bar and Restaurant had offered free beer to anyone stupid enough to jump off the bridge, and these guys were stupid enough (and tipsy enough) to volunteer.

We pulled over to watch. One by one, they stepped off the bridge and plunged inelegantly into the brown water below. I think one guy was unfortunate enough to smack full-body onto the surface of the river (I'm sure this has happened to all of us at least once when we were kids and learned through painful experience that water actually has surface tension).

Never one to pass up an educational moment, Jon calculated the approximate distance between the bridge and the river, using the formula:

p = p0 + v0t + ½ at2

He knew several of the variables. Every second a body accelerates with gravity, it increases its speed by 32 feet per second, ignoring air resistance and our trivial distance above sea level. This number is a. We also assumed that each guy's initial velocity relative to our reference point (the bridge, p0) was 0--in other words, they were just stepping off the bridge, not jumping up or down. This number is v0. We knew that it took each guy approximately 1.5 seconds to embrace the water, so we used that for t.*

p = 0ft + 0fts-1*1.5s + ½ 32fts-2*1.5s2

Which gives us the answer 36, so we can make an educated guess that the bridge is between 30 and 40 feet above the water.

Now you've learned something for the day.

*J. helped me write this paragraph

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another one joins the fold

Hearty congratulations to my friends who have just welcomed a baby girl into the world. I have been eagerly anticipating this event ever since I saw 4 crows on a tree in Asheville, NC a week ago.

One for sorrow: two for mirth: three for a wedding: four for a birth: five for silver: six for gold: seven for a secret, not to be told: eight for heaven: nine for hell: and ten for the devil's own sel [self].
[1846 M. A. Denham Proverbs relating to Seasons, &c. 35]

How nice to be able to do nothing but be a baby, and bring such joy to your parents and their family and friends. I think they remind us of the joy of being alive.

"A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again," to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again," to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."
--G.K. Chesterton

Monday, June 15, 2009

Books in time

I tend to have odd associations between places I've been and the books I was reading while I was in those places.

Most recently, when Jon and I were getting onto the interstate after a time trial just outside Shelbyville, KY, I had an intense recollection of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which I had been reading the last time we were in Shelbyville for a bike race. We were on the merge lane, a scrappy bit of pavement with humps of broken asphalt littering the shoulder. I glanced at the grass and scrubby bushes bordering the lane, and the black and green cover of American Gods popped to mind, down to the part of the book I had been in the last time we were on this merge lane (the protoganist had died and was making his way through the underworld before being called back).

Here are some other associations I have:

Whenever I pick up my tattered, yellowed 1970s paperback copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, I am mindful of my parents' family room: the beige walls, nubby carpet, couch with the faintly plaid pattern. The window by the couch is covered with green ivy, and what light comes through is pale, weak with rain.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows goes hand in hand with our old living room from South Broadway Park. I remember tracking the progress of the sunlight across the hardwood floor every time I looked up from the book when I was reading it for the first time, and so this book comes with connotations of hardwood warmed with light, patterned by the shadows of leaves.

That's all I can remember for now. Until I pick up the next book.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The things we wear

Jon has forbidden me from wearing the following:
  • fanny packs

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The mouse takes the cheese

Sometimes I wonder about the origin of events, especially for the oddball ones, like the Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake held every year near Gloucestershire, England. Do people sit around bored and come up with these ideas, or was there some wacky once-in-a-lifetime occurrence (like someone accidentally dropping a round of cheese down a steep hill) that made someone think: "Hey! Wouldn't it be absolutely hilarious to get a bunch of dumb daredevil people to chase a piece of cheese? Wouldn't it be even more funny if they chased it down a really steep hill?"

I think this particular race is even more compelling because the objective is cheese. Cheese has the enviable quality of rousing even the most sensible person into doing something he might never condescend to do otherwise. I guess it depends on the cheese. Not Kraft cheese squares, or those ubiquitous blocks of cheddar cheese lining the grocery store shelves, but cheese with names that fill your mouth: camembert, gorgonzola, boursin. Cheese with flavors that evoke pleasure or disgust--so intense as to leave no room for ambivalence.

My perception of the conference that I'm currently at in Asheville, North Carolina skyrocketed a million notches when I saw that they were serving good cheese at the opening night reception. Not those little squares of cheddar, swiss, and colby jack, but giant hunks of rich cheese (I think one was a kind of blue cheese) that you were free to cut into. I had to restrain myself from carving off fistfuls of cheese.

It's cheese. What else is there to say?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Representations of humanity milling around a furniture store

J. and I stopped at IKEA on our way to his race in southeastern Ohio. IKEA is great for people watching. You see the older couples walking slowly through the bookcases, pondering ways to organize all the stuff they've accumulated over the years. There's also tons of expecting couples (why do all the girls seem to be 8 months pregnant every time I go to IKEA?) who walk around with very serious expressions, quietly debating the merits of this or that piece of furniture. The guy usually looks a little frazzled, while the girl is peacefully serene, off in whatever la-la land they go to when the baby is imminent. Then there's the college aged kids, who come to look and look, but rarely buy anything.

A few people jumped out at me:
--a nun buying blue potholders that perfectly matched her dress
--a group of young German Baptists girls, wearing smart white caps and perfectly handmade dresses in a variety of calico prints
--a wannabe Sid Vicious who graciously looked after his grandmother

Water everywhere

Jon and I had a character-building adventure this weekend. We were in south-eastern Ohio for a race. Rather than stay in a hotel, we decided to check out the campground at Lake Alma State Park. We set up the tarp at the edge of the RV city and settled in for the night, cozy atop our blow-up airbed (hey, why not? we didn't have to carry it).

Then the thunderstorm rolled in. Normally, while we're out hiking, we stay pretty dry when it rains, since we can pick spots on elevated terrain, and the ground will absorb the rain. Not so in this campground. The earth was packed so hard, it was like concrete. The rain had nowhere to go, and so the paths through the campground turned into streams, and the campsites turned into little ponds.

We stayed dry on top of the airbed, even as the water started to stream over the plastic tarp on the ground beneath us. It came so quickly, we didn't have a chance to move our bags to safer ground. So our clothes got wet, and our shoes soaked through.

At least it was a warm day, so no worries about catching a chill.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Stepping into a painting

The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke, by Richard Dadd

This painting makes you feel as if you are part of the action, peering through the foliage at the fairies, who are unaware of your presence.