Renewable resources

Sarah used a phrase in the context of relating a conversation she had with a married female friend of hers – this friend’s husband had a cold which thoroughly knocked him out of daily life, rendering him incapable of caring for their child or doing very basic tasks. The phrase was, “it’s not just a cold, it’s a man-cold.”

I was quite tickled by this – I don’t get sick that often, so any time I do my drama center kicks into overdrive (making up for lost time?), so I can imagine the annoyance which must come with dealing with a sick, overly dramatic, somewhat helpless husband. There are only a few words I know which are formed with the prefix “man-” in this manner: “man-purse” and “man-boob.” (If I’m missing some, please point them out!)

So this is relevant today, because I have a wicked man-cold – it’s unfortunate that the bodily humours theory has been refuted: I could be a rich man! I’m loaded with this renewable, minimally-carbon-emitting, organic (hehe) resource! I could hire BP to drill for phlegm, although they’d probably miss and drill into someone else’s sinuses instead (h/t PG for that line).

So, ugh. I’ll try not to be a baby about it, but waaaaaaa!

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I have found favor in the eyes of God

Sarah and I experienced something tonight, and I found it moving in a spiritually profound manner.

We went to hear the most recent of the Dumbarton Concert series, which in this case was Andrius Zlabys performing Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I and Adam Neiman performing Chopin’s Preludes, Op. 28. I had expected to hear all of the Bach, and then all of the Chopin, but in this case, the program was structured as alternating pieces according to the ordering Chopin used.

The sheer beauty of the pieces brought tears to my eyes multiple times – Bach’s no. 24 in b minor and his no. 16 in g minor were particularly striking: I heard in Zlabys’ performance the hints of walking basslines such as would be fully at home in a modern jazz band, and the edifice Bach created has formed the basis of pretty much all of western music. Chopin’s no. 15 in D-flat major does a phenomenal job of capturing the emotion of a single line of music – he reveals depths formerly hidden, and it is sheer joy.

I hear their passionate music / Read the words that touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures / The secrets that set them apart
When I feel the powerful visions / Their fire has made alive
I wish I had that instinct / I wish I had that drive
Rush, Mission

Hearing these excellent performances of some of the finest works ever written for keyboard instruments, I realized that, like Salieri, I have the ability to appreciate genius in composition without being one myself; unlike Salieri, I see this as a sign that God has favored me in showing me beauty. I will never create a work which is their equal; however, I can appreciate the things that they have done and allow it to inform and uplift me – my eyes when closed see the majesty of the works of God which He shows to me via their work. And thus, I feel the blessing of the Holy One, Blessed is He.

Energenesis

I sense a longing, incomplete
Each day’s stimulus, replete with the same tension
And then imagination grips me in her hands to fall
into the distant lands boundless and open
I lie helpless and hoping for what I do not know
yet when I’m shown what seed to sow
In the harlequin’s old crown
Sweet destiny of new renown
Till adventure come to take
And new lands for their own sake
All fires burn it is well known
Yet unconsumed longing shown
To walk unhindered by and by
To have more than earth and sky.

A Few Good Men

Code Monkey pointed out an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the growth of a new cadre of young men – these are the ones who eschew those pursuits which are traditionally viewed as “manly” – notably settling down and providing for a family.

I have only seen a sliver of this- my religious community (Orthodox Judaism) bucks the nationwide trend of delaying marriage, and what are often derisively referred to as “traditional family values” are very much the norm in that community. It is a rare person who declares him or herself a committed singleton, and most of the singles are deeply unhappy about the fact (although many put on a brave face in public, and others are stoically resigned). Working in technology tends to mean that most of my coworkers are male and adept at differential equations, and thus don’t quite fit the description of the men in the article. Even earlier, I spent my teens and early twenties in Utah, which certainly is a statistical outlier with regard to marriage and the like. Heck, growing up, I didn’t think it was unusual that lots of my acquaintances had five or six siblings.

And regardless of the people around me, I’ve always been someone who desired a “settled” family structure and dynamic – if Sarah were asked, I’m reasonably certain that she’d say that I was both more interested in and more ready to be married than she was during our courtship.

However, the sliver I have seen has, like duct tape, a light side and a dark side. On the one hand, why precisely should we have to put away childish things? I think that nerf weaponry sounds like a great idea, I was thrilled to now have fuzzy 20-sided dice in the car, and my band is working on our fourth album. On the other hand, some of the pursuits embrace a certain dissolution – either in terms of recapitulating the collegiate drunken-conquest scene, in lionizing faux-achievement (video games / rock band / etc), or sublimating the desire for achievement into an unbalanced work / life arrangement.

The gripping hand, however, is that a balance needs to be struck. There are tremendous pressures to achieve higher and higher watermarks of success, and the attention given to Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother business (which would be silly if it weren’t busy being sad) is merely the most recent example. Consider the discussions about schools: we talk about graduation rates as though that is a measure of success of the school, when we have instead optimized them for warehousing rather than instruction. Consider the rhetoric about college attendance – that “everyone should be able to attend” and the like. The DC Urban Moms show that this drive begins prenatally; the tiger mother was apparently late to the party. The dark underbelly of that drive is the unasked question: “to what end?”

What precisely is all this preparation supposed to prepare us for? Will it enable us to take more joy in a sunny day? Yes, getting a good job is a nice thing. Yes, being able to pay both the phone bill and the gas bill without having to worry about it is a nice thing. But is all of this so necessary? I propose that some of the dissolution that the WSJ is finding among young men is in fact a necessary outgrowth of their reaction to being so over-programmed – the right preschool leads to the right prep school leads to the right college leads to the right grad school the right grad school leads … where again?

Perhaps the antidote is a little introspection and self-determination earlier on, and for folks to remember that failure is by far the best teacher.

Two Simple Machines

This post contains links which are Not Safe for Work (NSFW), so if that’s a problem, don’t click on anything. Those links which are NSFW are marked as such.

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A friend of Sarah’s told her about something amusing, and so she and I checked it out. Specifically, the Liberator, wedge/ramp combo (link NSFW) – I admit to having been tremendously skeptical at first glance, because the website is extraordinarily cheesy, and also because the idea of sex furniture struck me as somewhere between absurd and extremely kinky. Also, the name “liberator” seemed a bit pretentious – like it should have something to do with toppling a dictatorship or something – but we investigated, and eventually decided to go ahead and buy this last year.

I am happy to report that my initial skepticism has been dispelled.

It turns out that the wedge/ramp combo (link SFW) is the most popular of their shapes. The simple machines (link SFW) mentioned in the title are specifically the inclined plane (i.e. the ramp) and the wedge (which can be thought of as two joined inclined planes) – in physics, a simple machine is something which serves to change the direction of force; in this usage, they serve primarily as a platform or support rather than directly as a tool.

The basic construction of the shapes is a stiff but pliable foam, similar to the construction of physical therapy shapes, and it is covered with a felt-y washable fabric. The fabric is designed to have a high coefficient of friction, meaning that the shape will tend to stay in one place rather than sliding laterally under force. This is far superior to a typical pillow, which will tend to slide around on sheets or a blanket or what have you. Further, the elevation of either the wedge (small) or the ramp (larger) is much higher than what you would get with even several pillows – these do not compress very much under weight (more like a mattress than like a pillow), so they can open up lots of intimate possibilities which may have been closed off due to joint fatigue, muscle issues, or the like.

Because of the felted fabric, the wedge and inclined plane will “stick” together, allowing the users to decide precisely where they want them. Obviously these can be adjusted for individual heights, and that’s an absolute necessity: the distance from the point of the wedge to the edge of the ramp needs to be about the length of the torso of the person lying face up on it, and most couples (including us) have torsos of significantly different lengths. Further, the person lying on it can be face up or down, and the comfortable length will vary tremendously.

So far, I’ve mentioned good things about it; there are a couple of downsides as well. First, the shapes come with relatively form-fitting dustcover-style cases, but the covers fit pretty tightly, and it can take some doing to get them zipped up. Second, because they are not compressible, unless you have a humongous bed, you’ll probably want to put them somewhere else when you are sleeping, and that means that you need to have a place to store them, which also means that using them requires a little planning. Finally, because they’re so much higher than pillows, they generally don’t fit under covers, and it’s easy to get cold – the easy solution to that is to have an extra (washable) blanket hanging around.

So all in all, I’d give the liberator shapes a strongly positive recommendation – they have oodles and oodles of other shapes which might be good as well, and they also sell actual furniture (although that could make having company a little weird).

Applesauce

12-15 apples of various varieties (I tend to get 4 granny smith, 4 gala, and then the rest whatever happens to look good at the instant – recently it was fuji/honey crisp/braeburn)
crock pot
ground cinnamon
ground cloves, ginger, allspice, nutmeg

Peel the apples and coarsely chop them (not the cores, because cyanide isn’t your friend). Toss them into the crock pot, add several shakes of cinnamon and a pinch of the other spices.

For those of you who like precision, it should be three parts cinnamon, and one part each of the other spices.

Add about a shot of water (just enough to wash a little of the spices to the bottom), and cook on “low” overnight. DO NOT OPEN THE LID. After the time has elapsed, remove from heat, stir well, and enjoy.

Gluten-Free Hallah

One of my popular recipes is gluten-free “hallah”, which I make for Sarah regularly. It freezes well, and is pretty tasty. If you’re used to regular bread recipes, the only surprise will be that the bread tends to fall apart during kneading etc – gluten is the protein which provides the strength to most breads, so that is to be expected. I put “hallah” in quotes because this has no ingredient which qualifies as mezonot, and so to anyone who is not koveah seudah on it, it would just be shehakol, and there is no quantity where one would need to take hallah from it (per the opinion of RDBF, although that’s normative halakhah.

I used to use Namaste Perfect Four blend, which is a mix of tapioca, rice, arrowroot and xanthan gum, but then learned that the hashgaha (kosher supervision) which it has (square-K) is not considered reliable in my community, so I changed over to Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-purpose Baking Flour. There isn’t a huge difference in the use of the products, but the BRM comes in smaller packages – about one bag makes 9 rolls.

First proof yeast: heat some water to a bit over yad soledet bo (but not boiling or extremely hot). Put one packet of yeast in a good-size bowl with 1/4-1/2 cup sugar, mix a bit, and then add about 3/4 cup water. Stir a bit, and wait for about 10 minutes – the yeast should get good & foamy.

While waiting, beat three eggs (eggs need to be checked for blood spots individually), and add about 1t salt to the eggs. Once the yeast has proofed, add the eggs, about 3 cups of flour, 2t white vinegar, 1/4 c oil, and some honey (maybe 8 squeezes or thereabouts). Mix very well with a paddle or spoon. The dough should be relatively stiff.

Take a piece of plastic wrap, and put a bit of oil in it. Put this plastic wrap over the dough in the bowl (the oil is just to keep it from sticking), and cover the bowl with a towel or apron. Let rise for about an hour.

Beat another egg.

Preheat the oven to 325°. Take the dough out, and knead on a breadboard. You’ll need to add a bunch more flour to keep it from sticking – that’s normal. After kneading, slice off a 1″ thick piece, and roll a snake of it. Tie this piece into a simple overhand knot, and place on an oiled baking sheet. Do this with all of the loaf, brush the knots with egg, and bake for about 20 minutes (until deep golden).

If you want to add seeds, do that after brushing with egg. If you want to add cinnamon and/or raisins, do that during the kneading. If you want to add cardamom, add that during the initial mixing.

Attitude Adjustment

I had a useful reminder of the value of perspective today. Sarah’s stepmother was driving us to the airport, and we were all talking about neighborhoods. In discussing Georgetown, I lamented the price – I wish more of our friends could afford to live here long-term – and said that was the primary problem with the neighborhood. I offhandedly mentioned the overbearing governmental intrusion into everyday affairs here (aside: the Old Georgetown Board is chartered by the US Congress, and is not accountable to any local authority or plebiscite, and Georgetown residents do not have representation in the US Congress).

Sarah’s stepmother is from Mexico, and she chastised me for not recognizing how good we have it here – while government bureaucrats can cause frustration, they are overwhelmingly not corrupt. She regaled us with stories of the inspectors in Mexico demanding bribes from her family’s businesses – the health department was more expensive than the police – and left me with a remarkable sense of gratitude that we do not live in a place which is bereft of the rule of law.

Party like it’s MIM

Sarah and I went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale today, and on the whole I’d give it a thumbs up. It’s laid out by continent and then by country, occasionally with sub-regions inside the country. In the North America / US region, there are a couple of very elaborate sections on the Martin and Steinway factories. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Steinway was American – for some reason I had thought that he was German; but in any case, the description of the techniques used in their construction brought to mind Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, which is a fine and profound work.

I think my favorite of the non-North American musical sections was from Mongolia (!) – the ensemble included a two-stringed bowed lute that had tones which were quite pleasing to my Western diatonic ear, and yet exotic at the same time.

The museum has a couple of neat layout items:

  • You get a wireless headset which lets you hear the music of the individual countries as you approach the display. This worked most of the time, although there were a few kinks, and a few cases where the displays were close enough together that one overlapped the other.
  • Downstairs, there was a “family center” which seemed to be a place to take young children who needed to run around and make noise. It appeared to be soundproof. This is the best idea I’ve ever seen at a museum, and I wish more would do this.
  • There is an “experience” room, which includes a bunch of instruments which can be played. We were in there at the same time as a school group, so it’s fair to describe it as “cacophonous.”
  • Directly across from the cacophony was their conservation/preservation room, where you can observe ongoing preservation activities. Neat!
  • But the best part was that near the entrance there was a room filled with all sorts of neat guitars, and right outside the entrance was this:
    air guitar at MIM
    The sign next to the empty case reads “air guitar, made of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, dreams.” This is proof that they have a sensibility which is entirely suitable for talking about music.

It’s a neat museum, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the Phoenix area.

The title comes from the museum’s logo: “MIM” which I find impossible to read as anything other than “1999.”

Impressions

Sarah and I came to Phoenix to visit her father, who is being treated for an unpleasant chronic illness. Since coming, I’ve had several reminders of how different life is here than in Washington.

  • There was a pawn shop we passed which included a sign advertising firearms, and specified that they were a great place to buy an AK-47.
  • We went to one of the two Kosher grocery stores, and after a while we were able to get the attention of the proprietor – they had lots and lots of room for shelves, but not that much stuff on them. They also had lots of different varieties of sweet wine, and a couple of dry wines.
  • We went to Wal-Mart to get the makings of a kosher kitchen, and that really struck me: Wal-Mart gets a lot of hate from pretty much everybody in DC, but it cost us about $100 to get everything we needed even down to the color-coded dishes, flatware, and knives.
  • There are a lot of folks who ride motorcycles without helmets.