3/15/2012 American Chocolate Week

Hello, dear friends! March 14, 2012

Spring has sprung, this week we have had some pretty wonderful warm weather.  I spotted the first ladybug in the upstairs bathroom, and the first snowdrops in the garden. It has been warm enough some days that there was a warmth advantage to leaving the front door open. John brought up the screen door and hung it (and I put the small chimes on it, so the cats can ring to get in, rather than clawing the screen).  I raked the strip of garden between the south side of the house and the driveway.  I’ve opened my bedroom window, so I can get air in the night, which is wonderful. And last night there was a marvelous thunderstorm- although, sadly, I was busy and not in bed so I could just enjoy it from my bed.

I told you about the new talk show last week. I’m worried that this may be very like self published books- yes, it does create something for the small niche markets, but at the same time, without the power of agents and publicity, how will anyone in the small markets find the project. Is this just me, wasting time, talking to almost no one about things only a few people care about? I actually doubt that with paranormal activities, the sheer numbers of books, movies and TV shows in that area indicate a lot of interest. Admittedly, a great deal of it is fiction, but still, that’s a way people can sneak the subject in without putting themselves up as a target by those who want to snipe at them. Us. I do intend on continuing, as I think it will be a good experience for me, and will, for what it’s worth, will reach out to whoever in the listeners of Live Paranormal may be there. Anyway, I’ve even told the producer that I think I’d like to be every week, rather than every other week, because I have so many guests on tap, and it’ll be easier for me to remember if it’s more regular.

The most fun I had this week was a spontaneous excursion to the movies to watch John Carter of Mars on Friday. Someone had shared a link to the trailer, and I was enchanted, although I hadn’t heard about it before. I found that it was opening and we could catch a matinee (cheaper), and we just did it. I loved it. While it didn’t follow the books exactly, it was close enough that I was enchanted. Some years ago they’d done a version called “princess of mars” in which the Tharks (green men) simply were green and had tusks, but for someone who loved the stories as I did when I was young- Tars Tarkas HAD to have four arms and be 17 feet tall. Special effects has caught up with Burroughs vision.


As ERB managed to sell a dozen or so books in the Mars series, he was able to create a developed, although alien world- as he did with his mythical Africa of the Tarzan adventures. Mother told me, back when I was buying the books, that no one BOUGHT pulp fiction, you took them out of libraries. That’s what libraries were for. Of course, she also told me that no one read Science fiction except people who were illiterate, ignorant or idiot. As I recall, that was the year that Charly (from Flowers for Algernon), the Illustrated Man and 2001: A Space Odyssey came out and blew that idea away. (Of course, Planet of the Apes, Barbarella and The Computer wore Tennis Shoes were from the same period, and didn’t have quite the same literary merit.) By the time I was in college I think I had most of the books in both series available in paperback (sadly, lost in the house fire), and I loved them. The unambiguous nature of right and wrong, pure maidens, brave heros and their companions, villains who were both dastardly and unconflicted in exotic settings, with lots of action; it may not have been great writing (and I seem to remember a story that Tarzan was written in an attempt to show how bad writing could be), but it was a wonderful read. Still he managed to explore some interesting concepts- what effect would it have on a society if children came from eggs, and you didn’t know which child was the one you’d spawned, not just raised?

Willow noticed, on the way out, that they were the youngest people in the theater- frankly, those who were there tended to be my age, or maybe older. We all shared the smile of people who had run into and old friend. My reaction was that the movie was “worthy”. I still smile when I think about it.

Actually if I was going to characterize this week, I’d say that we have “woken up” from our winter hibernation. We took a huge load to the dump- during the winter it’s easy to put it off so you don’t have to be sorting different colors of glass or the dozen types of trash for recycling while your fingers freeze, and so it had backed up badly.  I’ve finally gotten around to (I blush to admit it) pack up the Christmas ornaments to get them back up to the attic), and got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed the bathroom floor. In theory I should be doing that every week, but I don’t, so there it is. Next job I’ve been putting off is cleaning the fridge. We started by having a “leftover night”, and sending way too many mystery “tupperwares” from the back out to the compost heap. Sadly, since a refrigerator shelf is more than a food deep, and they’re spaced close together, it’s far too easy to lose track of anything not near the front. We try to counter that by having “areas” or “zones” for different things- this is where cheese goes, this is where leftovers go, this is where meat goes, but things go where they can fit, and organization falls by the wayside. At any rate, something mysteriously clicked in our minds and we’ve all started cleaning and clearing and getting rid of old stuff. I think that’s another sign of spring.

Yesterday was the town elections, and the girls and I went. John declined because he says he has no way of knowing who to vote for. The big question on the ballot this year was whether things should be voted for in town meeting or just go straight to the ballot. While we’re going to be at Lunacon this weekend, and so will miss it, I still voted for keeping questions so that people can discuss them at meeting. It’s one weekend a year, for goodness sakes, and people should be willing to show up to hear what their neighbors have to say about an issue. If not, tough on them (or me).

Sunday I was pleased to be home to be able to attend one of Lyrion’s “salons”. She’s revived the old custom of inviting interesting people to sit and talk. How often to people gather just to converse- just for the pleasure of it? So once a month she invites folks in. If my living room were suitable I’d love to do that myself. The theme of this month’s salon was the stories that shaped our lives. I think it really took off when we stopped thinking in terms of books we read or were read to us as children and started talking about episodes of old TV shows, or movies that stuck with us. Those are the stories we share in this culture. I doubt anyone who knows me would be surprised that I enjoy talking to other people. There’s also a pot-luck aspect, and I since I was thinking Steve might come up and go along, I though I’d take some homentaschen (since I was pretty sure he hadn’t had any for Purim, which was last week), but he didn’t feel up to the drive. I didn’t really see any reason not to make them, although having made the pastry, when I looked around, the apples (which I assume we’ve always got around) were not to be found, so instead I put on a layer of almond paste and sliced pairs, and topped them with a drizzle of honey, and scattering of sliced almonds (to make sure people knew there was almond in it. You can’t be too careful about allergies these days). So eating and talking- a good afternoon!

It got started a bit late, we think, because of everyone being disoriented because of the Daylight Savings Time shift. I had it in my head that we set the clocks back on Sunday night, so I hadn’t done it Saturday and was a bit surprised to see the clocks (that John had lined up with the computers) when I got up. Oops, that meant I had less time to bake, and got there about 15 minutes late myself, but so did others. I’m sure that my rant about how useless DST is has gotten boring, but I did find this quote this week: When told the reason for daylight savings time the Old Indian said: “Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.”

One of the things we briefly mentioned was the upcoming solar flares (supposed to be big on Monday). I started thinking how stupid I’d feel if they did actually screw up electronics I can not afford to replace. I was thinking about the people who build their houses on flood plains, or seismic faults, or don’t evacuate when warned that they should, and didn’t want to be one of those people. I know that I do not know how these things work.  So I turned my computer off, then I mentioned it to Willow who looked it up on the internet and reported back to me that solar flares might make especially good aurora borealis, but if they had any impact on computers it would be messing up the waves between satellites, not jumping through our wires to frag our hard drives. So I turned it back on, and updated my websites.

Another thing that we’ve been talking about was Mercury going retrograde. Now in the circles where people pay attention to Astrology it is fairly popular to talk about “Mercury Ret” as the boogeyman on which you can blame just about anything three times a year- for enough days that it’s almost half the year. For goodness sakes! In a chart a badly aspected mercury would probably indicate that you should be careful about things to do with communication and trade, but the popular version is so silly it even makes me scoff. And I’m pretty open minded. I just try to avoid being so open minded that my brain falls out. I was really pleased to see an essay by Chris LaFond who is an excellent classical astrologer explaining just how silly all this Mercury retrograde stuff was.

I hate to admit it, but so much of my interaction with people these days is over Facebook. The articles I read, the opinions and informations exchanged, the pictures of people’s kids and grandkids, and backyards (as well as lots of pithy epigrams and bot mots, pictures of cute kids and posters with bad spelling) come through that venue.

People vent there about the little things that bug them. This gives us all a sense of being there and sharing the frustrations, knowing that since it bothers others, it’s not something wrong with us when similar things get on our nerves. We also express sympathy, or congratulations. I try to share positive things, since I think we experience what we put our attention on. Every day I try to mention five things for which I’m grateful. Today Kat shared with me (apparently she had it going through her head all last night and since she woke up a variant on the old camp song that goes “Boomdeahda, Boomdeahda, Boomdeahda, Boom boom boom boom” (We had the usual discussion about whether it shares a tune with Heart and Soul.) The current version comes from a Discovery channel ad where the various stars of different shows say that they “love the mountains… (and arachnids, egyptian kings, tornados, explosions) … the whole world all it’s craziness”. She wrote one about the things she loves and challenged me to do so too, so here it is.

I love my garden, I love the country air,

I love my family because we’re all “out there”,

I love doing art, and learning great new things,

and I love sharing them, with other human beings (I know- bad rhyme- tough!).

Boomdeada, boomdeada, boomdeada, etc.


I’ve also been sharing my collected list of holidays on facebook and live journal- some people like that, although I’m not sure it’s worth the minutes I spend checking to make sure that what’s in my file is right. Many calendars are lunar or have other variations, not to mention that you can’t trust everything you see on the internet, so I like to check and make sure I’m not telling someone that it’s a holiday because it was that on the same date three years ago. For example, Purim (a Jewish holiday) and Holi (a Hindu holiday) were both the same day this year, but I have no idea if they are always the same day. I’m pretty sure it was because it was the full moon- but I’m not sure there aren’t other factors involved. Holi is an incredible celebration where people throw colored powder at each other (or douse them with colored water, sometimes these days using super-soakers, although it used to be done with scoops from buckets),  or they even have cans of colored foam these days. People wear either white, or old clothes because they know this is going to happen. I have to assume that all of these hijinks take place outside. It sounds incredibly fun, but in early March in New Hampshire, maybe not so much- although if there’d been a recent snow, that could be pretty cool too.

Today was Pi day- because March fourteenth is 3-14 and Pi is 3.14 (159etc.), so Kat made cherry pies, and we had quiche for supper. (the 10th was Mario day because sometimes you can write the day Mar10 and that looks a bit like “Mario”). Some holidays are because of ancient traditions we’ve forgotten, and some are made up because someone is silly (talk like a pirate day) or wants to promote their product and can get a bored legislature to pass it between important business.

As the light increases, and I’m waking up earlier, I’ve been listening to the news more often (as well as catching stories on Facebook). I heard about potentially dangerous chemicals being found “even” in “green” products. Some argue that “the government should protect us”, but I disagree. The government should, I believe, protect our ability to judge for ourself by requiring accurate labeling. I don’t want the government to make decisions for us. There’s a lot of variety from person to person, and we may need different solutions. If the government was asked to deal with it, it would pick a single solution that worked best for what they figured was the greatest number, and the people for whom it was a bad choice would be stuck. Some people don’t want to make their own decisions, but tough, give us the information, and anyone who doesn’t want to decide can ask someone else to think for them. Let the rest of us think for ourselves.

I prefer to concentrate on the good news. I hear public transportation is increasing. I cheered the Lakota who put up a roadblock to keep the Tar Sands pipeline trucks from using their roads (to avoid the surcharge for the damage heavy roads does to State roads). Of course the Lakota are doing it because they refuse to be party to a project that stands to cause so much environmental damage. Go them!

The Keystone XL would be built over the Oglala Lakota Nation and Rosebud Sicanju Plate. Enbridge has had 610 pipeline spills (14 in the first year), and still hasn’t cleaned the 2010 Kalamazoo watershed one. I love to hear about people doing the right thing.

Here’s a bit of not so positive news, that I think people should still know- if you don’t want to- skip this paragraph. Have you seen ads for air fresheners lately? Even I’ve seen some on the internet.  1,4-Dichlorobenzene (1,4,-DCB) is a chemical found in the majority of air fresheners, toilet deodorizers, and mothballs.  It can be found in the blood of 96% of Americans.  It has been linked to lung damage, is a known carcinogen, and it is actually an EPA-registered pesticide.  Studies found it to increase rates of asthma. It works by attacking the receptors in the nose, and thus eliminates the sense of smell.  This is how the new generation of air “fresheners”, such as Febreze, function.  They are literally using chemicals to destroy customer’s sense of smell, and thereby creating the illusion of “freshness”.  The user only smells an air freshener for the first minute or so, after spraying these chemicals, then the nose cannot smell anymore.  These chemicals cause intentional damage to the nose, which is claimed to be temporary.  No long term studies have been done to test the effect to one’s senses with chronic exposure.  Remember that anything inhaled is immediately absorbed into the blood through the lungs.  No tests have been conducted for cancers or organ failure with extended usage. (this is the source of this information:

http://healthwyze.org/index.php/how-air-fresheners-are-killing-you.html?sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4d682d2bdc78dba2%2C0   ) I’ve never used them because I thought a cover up was foolish- clean it instead. But this is worse than covering up. People just don’t know what they’re using. Sigh. I remember how annoyed I was when I discovered that the reason MSG made food taste more intensely was because it was a meat tenderizer and was dissolving the surface off your taste buds down to a more sensitive level. My sister use to love just licking it off her hand! And mother used to let her! We all assume everything around us is safe!

Back to more up-beat stuff!

We’ve been making reservations for upcoming events- like Pennsic. $300+ out now, and we expect $3000+ in later. We were terribly clever and made a copy of the map of our trailer and saved it in the computer so that we can just pull it up next year. The Pennsic Merchant website has a wonderful feature: you can click- “load last year’s application”, then go over it to check for any changes, and don’t have to fill out all the same material again. I think that’s brilliant! We also have an application from the Wilton Street Festival ($20) and have a couple others to get off. Paperwork, feh!

Despite my best intentions, I have ordered more books from Amazon (used copies of the Barsoom books to replace the burned ones). I’ve had more problems recently that I’m used to having.  A couple days ago, I got a delivery (an historical Atlas of Asia- I really wish I’d ordered it sooner to have it here while I was watching the Chinese history course). When I opened it, the shipping was down as $12, not $4. I called and was told it was a two-day delivery. I know that I’d have had to click something to have made that happen, and I did not, so I insisted they refund the difference. (Historical Atlas of Africa, from the same order arrived the next day, properly priced, so it’s good I checked the paperwork, because I’d really never have noticed the difference in time of delivery.) Then I just got an email saying that they were refunding the money for Mastermind of Mars- that the PO, had informed them that they had no record of this address. This address where they’ve probably delivered several hundred packages from Amazon, addressed from the same computer program I used this time, over the last years (and in the last few days). What’s up with that? The seller, who I contacted, pointed out that they have no control- they just do what Amazon tells them. The other seller wrote back and asked me to please let Amazon know, because they don’t listen to the sellers when the sellers tell them that their computers are making mistakes. Considering how integrated computers are into our lives, it’s rather disturbing when you see this kind of mistake happen. What caused it? You push the same buttons, and something different happens? That’s not supposed to be possible. They always tell you that YOU must have done something different because the computer couldn’t have. But it does happen. Who knows why? A piece of dust in the works? a virus? (solar flares?) Billing is one of the least worrisome problems that computers could screw up. Gods help us if people ever lose the ability to over-ride them!

In the area of what other people have been doing, Mark came over last week and took Smoky back to the vet. Smoky’s put back on a little weight, and that’s good. Maybe because fleas were bothering him, maybe because we’ve started feeding him baby food again. We treated all the cats for fleas- Smoky with the standard commercial version, Freya with a gentle one because of her skin problems, and Zoloft with a “natural” version, which has left her smelling VERY minty. The first night I slept with my window open I couldn’t really tell because she chose that night to sleep on my pillow for the first time in a while. The first few days when I pet her, my hands would smell minty.

Kerensa got a chance to chat which he hasn’t recently. He, like Mark, had suddenly gained a lot of weight and insisted his doctors do tests. (They told him insurance wouldn’t cover it, so he paid for it himself. Since he has CFS they figure that any symptom he has is simply another in the CFS cluster.) It turned out his thyroid was on the fritz, but with treatment he’s taken off they estimate about 50 or 60 of the pounds he’d gained. There’s another case of trust your own judgement- if you think there’s something off in your body, insist that the doctors take you seriously and look until they figure out what’s wrong!

Cathy corrected me that it had been four years since she worked outside the home. She must be thrilled to be back at working as a physical therapist- where not only do you get the wonderful feeling of knowing that you are helping people, but you get paid for it too.


Oh, and I got a call this afternoon, Jane had suggested me as a cover artist to her friend Lynn. I figured that was just hopeful talk and hadn’t taken it seriously, but she’s going to send me chapters this weekend so I can send her preliminary sketches for her book cover. She’s seen the paintings I did for Jane’s books, and I told her (like it was just normal for me) that I charged $600 per painting, half up front, half on completion, and she just kind of sighed, and said “if that’s what it costs…” and accepted it. I was kind of nervous about it, but I suppose that that’s what professional artists are supposed to do. (I’m just too used to having people say “If that’s what it costs, I guess I can’t afford it.”)

What have I been reading- more of the Anthropology textbook articles. I finished the God and Mankind comparative religion course. The professor mostly talked about what religion does- mostly from a Christian perspective- what the big questions are, and how it answers them. That goes along with the anthropology stuff I’ve been reading, but I still felt that in something called comparative religion more equal time should be given to some of the other religions. Starting Peoples and Cultures of the World.

I watched several films this week that didn’t leave much impression- I caught an older version of The Borrowers from 1973 with Eddie Albert that I sent for after seeing the Secret World of Arrietty. We’re also all passing the various Borrower’s books around, (Afloat, Afield, Aloft, & Avenged) and I bought a copy of Poor Stainless, because it was a new title to me, but it seems to have been an included story in the Borrowers Aloft. I hope at some point to see the version of the Borrowers made by BBC last year with Christopher Eccleston. I still haven’t found it in Netflix or by Interlibrary Loan, and I’d love to find one of the 1992 version with Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton. It’s fascinating to me what different directors and producers choose to do with the same story.

I got one called Smart People, because it had Dennis Quaid who I like. It was a “family” comedy of a common trope- the repressed widower being moved in on by a “wild” brother who teaches him to loosen up- to the point where he can get a romance. This one had a few twists, to my relief, the irresponsible free-wheeling brother also learns from living with the rest of his family. I liked that at the end he admitted that he was still pretty screwed up but he’d work to be less of a jerk. No one in the story was not screwed up at least a little, but as the title said, they were smart people and would work on it. I finally got a copy of Ghosts and Witches of Olde England, which was apparently a rare disc, and after seeing it, that’s OK. Don’t bother looking for it, it’s a lovely travel-log, but had about nothing about ghosts or witches in in. Feh.

I enjoyed the first couple of disks of the TV show Fringe (as in fringe science: making people transparent, accelerated or slowed aging, precognition, electrokinesis, etc.) As opposed to Hex, where I really only liked the lesbian ghost, I liked most of the characters in Fringe- from mad scientist who treats all sorts of bizarre things with nothing more than fascinated interest, to his hyper-intelligent son, to the FBI chief who looks like a bokor. I’ll try another disc or two and see how it holds up. I really enjoy the way they treat things others see as “occult” as simply advanced science.

The two movies that will probably stay with me longest are two with Christian Bale. I’ve liked him since Newsies, and Treasure Island, and figured I’d see where he started out. Empire of the Sun is a stark story based on the real “adventures” of the author J. G. Ballard in China during the second World War. His handling that role at 13 or 14, pretty much showed what he could do. I understand that his performance in American Psycho achieved cult status, but I’m not into psychos, so I may or may not ever see it. I think his performance in Swing Kids was simply excellent. One ceases to be amazed when an expert shows expertise. On the other hand, the film was incredible.  It’s worth watching just for the dance sequences. I don’t think I ever really appreciated the jitterbug or other swing moves much before this. But mostly it was how it handled the very important themes. One of the greatest questions that haunts the 20th century is how could the normal people of German have let the Nazi system grow until it did such horrible things? This film shows the erosion and the strengthening of the resistance of the “Swing Kids” to the Nazi movement. It’s the kind of movie I think I could watch and find something more in time after time- but probably won’t because the material is just too painful. Somehow they did manage to leave one with a sense that while individuals might be crushed, neither hope, nor the possibility of goodness would be. Considering the material, that is amazing. But then, it’s based on reality, and in reality, there were so many different kinds of people in Germany at the time, each coping in his or her own way. As we look at some of the candidates in the current Presidential campaign openly promoting their views that some people do not deserve rights of self determination- whether gays or people making their own medical decisions, we have to face many of the same challenges. It may not be easy to say “that’s ridiculous” in the face of such confident claims, but if enough of us don’t find the strength to do that, we could lose the rights we take for granted.

Ah well, see what happens when I put off writing too long and end up writing after midnight! Until next week.


“Why oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill?” Cypher in the Matrix