Wednesday, January 27, 2010


January 27, 2010

I use a Google app called Reader that tells me when the blogs I keep up with have updates. The set of webpages I watch include my NB friends with blogs, bloggers who I know follow Let's Do It!, a small bundle of health care sites, plus five thirty-eight (for math/politics), Paul Krugman (for economics), and Schott's Vocab (for interesting words), and a few others for their general verve and wit.

This, in theory, keeps me from constantly clicking through a list of links, hoping for an update. It also has another feature that I had not taken advantage of until recently: recommendations. If you click on the recommendations link, it shows you entries from blogs you might like based on what you already read. Since I think my blog roll represents a fairly eclectic mix of topics and styles, I doubted it would be able to pin down things I would like.

Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I took a peek at my recommendations. As I scrolled down through the various entries, the first thing I noticed was that four or five of them came from Let's Do It! which tickled my funny bone, because some computer had used an algorithm to suggest that I might appreciate/enjoy the website that I wrote. I have to admit several of the other entries were pretty interesting or funny.

It wasn't until I got to about the tenth suggestion that I really got curious about how the computer (the programmer?) would know that I would like what I saw. It certainly wouldn't appeal to everyone (or really almost anyone) I know. It was a photo of two picketers. The picketer on the far right dressed conservatively in a skirt that went all the way to the sidewalk. She was protesting some social issue or another. I can't even really remember, though I do recall that it was something that some people take extremely seriously. The sign she carried claimed whatever it was a SIN. The picketer on the left of the photo held a sign that said "Corduroy skirts are a SIN."

To you, the mystery might be why I laughed out loud when I saw that image. To me, the mystery arises from not knowing how someone I have never met could design an app that would identify that photo would appeal to my bizarro sense of humor.

Here are links to the three blogs that at the top of "recommended" blogs today:

You Dropped Food on the Floor. Should You Eat It?


Color Identifying System for the Color Blind

Sunday, January 24, 2010


January 24, 2010

I find myself looking for a way to get a transfusion of Erin Energy this afternoon.  

Of course, the semester started last week.  Funny how out-of-teaching-shape I can become with just a few weeks absence from the classroom.  That meant I was already running a little low on the energy-o-meter heading into the weekend.  Doing a lanyard workshop with seventh and eight grade Student Council members at College Station Middle School on Friday afternoon was enough to charge me up a bit.  Those young folks were quick studies and made some absolutely fantastic lanyards.  When I finish them all (maybe this evening?), we're going to try to figure out a way to display them at their school so that their teachers can check out their work and professionalize their own look by hanging their IDs from a jeweled lanyard instead of a nylon string.  

As soon as I packed the lanyard gear away and made it home, I did the presto chang-o from workshop instructor into festive occasion attender.  Walter and I had the pleasure of attending the Brazos Valley African American Museum banquet, where we had a fabulous time with our friends Al and Mary Broussard and their daughter Valeri, and where, I might add, it was impossible for me to dress too boldly or with too much style (though I gave it my best shot).   I felt like I was at a Glamour photo shoot when I looked around the room (and there were hundreds of people there!).

Yesterday Spencer and I (and Sarah, Laura, and Mary Ann) took the Jane Long Chess Club to their first tournament.  I know that few reading this would savor the experience of spending thirteen hours in close contact with eleven 6th, 7th, and 8th grade boys, especially on the car trip home where they played the game "Who Likes The Way This Smells?"  (NOTE BENE:  please feel free to imagine what buffalo jerky burps, six pairs of feet unfettered from their sneakers after twelve hours, and farts fueled by Sour Punch Twists, birthday cupcakes, Whoppers, and pizza smell like when trapped in a van for more than an hour.)  I, however, had a great day.  The guys worked really hard and kept their concentration up through all five rounds, and we made it home with way more than our share of trophies, including the second place team trophy.  

This morning Walter, my mom, and I had the privilege of attending church at A&M United Methodist Church in College Station (though I have to say that neither Walter nor I could bear to miss teaching our Sunday school class, so we double dipped this morning).  Our dear friends and fellow pediatric cancer parents Jacob and Samantha Wlison (mom and dad to the wonderful Ryan) had lifted Erin up as a possibility of being the honoree in an anthem their church was having commissioned.  That piece, composed by Dan Forrest, lyrics written by Johanna Anderson, and conducted by Craig Courtney, premiered this morning to a packed house.  I can't express how we felt during the service.  Everyone was so welcoming and supportive, and the idea that Erin's life can now be accessed by so many more people through music is overwhelming.

You can imagine, now, how much I would really appreciate a little of that super-charged Erin juice in my veins, so that I can prepare for the next week.  I have another heavily-scheduled week ahead, including the much anticipated return of Odd Friday lanyarding at my house, beginning at 4:00 (or after work) this Friday.

Friday, January 22, 2010


January 22, 2010

Erin's Dream Lanyards welcomes a new partner, Jennifer Fountain and The Bead Fountain. With Jennifer's generous support we now have a good source for hardware and some of the specialty items we need to make beautiful lanyards, including perfect gold ribbon (for pediatric cancer) charms.

Tomorrow (Saturday, January 23rd) Jennifer is hosting a bead show AND ANOTHER BEAD DRIVE for Erin's Dream Lanyards. If beading is your thing, stop by her shop at 1804-D Brothers Boulevard in College Station to check out what she is featuring. While you are there, buy an extra string of beads and drop it in the Erin's Dream Lanyards basket. Let's fill the basket!

But wait, there's more. We have also added two other partners: The Fire and Rain Artisans Gallery in Killingsworth, Connecticut. 

and the Inspire Community Fine Art Center in San Antonio, Texas. 

You can now discover the art and whimsy of Erin's Dream Lanyards on display and available in these galleries.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


January 19, 2010

This morning, Willie almost earned an "A" on his morning walk, but the distance, at least today, between an "A" and a "D+" was slender. He was practically perfect for the entire walk, until the very end when he disappeared into the darkness of the pre-dawn morning and went into ninja mode (no sound, no acknowledgment of his own existence). I eventually went to the house for a flashlight and reinforcements.

After some searching, Walter found and leashed him, and together we walked back up the road. We met up with Caroline and Clara, just starting their walk. Clara remembered that today was Walter's birthday, and asked if it was a milestone date. Walter said, "At this point, they are all milestones, but this year is not a big one."

Time does move on whether we want it to or not. As a boy, Walter, who shares his birthday with Edgar Allen Poe and Robert E. Lee, thought that the holiday from school he had on his birthday every year was just for him. He later learned that Texas celebrated General Lee's birthday alongside Jefferson Davis's birthday (June 3) on January 19, as Confederate Heroes Day, and thus the break from school. Now the closest he gets to a day off for his birthday is when he celebrates with Martin Luther King, as we did yesterday.

For the second year in a row, my morning paper disappointed me by not printing the text of the "Dream" speech on the editorial page in its entirety (actually not even in its brevity either) so that I could easily read it out loud at the breakfast table. I complained about this last year, but since I had influence that approaches the isymptotic value of zero, there was no place in the paper for the speech again this year either. Why would the paper want to print it? It is only the single greatest speech of the Twentieth Century, and don't just take my word for it:,Top-Speeches-of-the-20th-Century

So here it is (it runs a bit over five minutes):

I spent at least part of the day with some fine young women doing their own small part to have a day of service. This is my young friend, Alyssa Lumpee with Erin (at a petting zoo. . .at night?):

She chose Erin's project of funding a cure for neuroblastoma for her birthday celebration this year. She invited her entire soccer team and entire volleyball team to U-Paint It and instead of gifts asked for donations to CNCF.

I guarantee these lovely ladies are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Thank you, Alyssa and thanks to all of your friends for the generous donations. These gifts are so meaningful to me in light of struggles and challenges that so many of my internet friends (Sam H., Erik, Sam F., and Syndey, just to name four) have right now.

Friday, January 15, 2010


January 15, 2010

Have you ever checked out the way professional historians dress?

They have a uniform. Mostly, they wear khaki or blue pants. Also a lot of blue shirts that button down the front. If they have to make a presentation they will put on a jacket (either well-worn tweed, possibly with patches on the elbows, or navy blue). If they are male and making a presentation, they will probably have on a tie (not this year's power color). Regardless of their gender, you would notice their footwear as "sensible."

Walter may be the exception that proves the rule.

We went to San Diego last week because Walter needed to attend the American Historical Association meetings. We stayed in a hotel with thousands of historians. As you walked along at the marina, near the shops, on the Embarcadero, into the lobby bar, you saw historians.
They were exceedingly well-behaved and interesting.

On Saturday, a few people started showing up in those places that didn't look like historians. They had really big, well-coiffed hair, very "un"-sensible shoes, and a lot of animal-print clothing. They pulled multiple, shiny wheeled bags, and carried the biggest purses I have ever seen in my life. Every single one of them wore bling bigger than my hand somewhere on their body. By Sunday morning the dribble had turned into a stream, then a deluge.

The convention that was following directly on the heels of the AHA Annual Meeting (which has met since 1884 and who counts among its former presidents several American Presidents like Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, as well as the authors of many books you have read, if you read Pultizer-prize winning histories), was the meeting of the Mary Kay Leadership Team.

The hotel personnel practically gave themselves whiplash making the transition.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


January 12, 2010

As if escaping from temperatures in the teens, in favor of temperatures in the 70s, isn't enough, here's what else I enjoyed when I skived off last week.

NOTE BENE: For those of you who know Max's sister Hannah and brother Nicky, you will know I didn't have to photoshop this shot to make it perfect.

This second shot is the sunset at Dana Point, named for adventurer and author Richard Henry Dana, author of Two Years before the Mast, and other books, both fanciful and academic.

I will be back to reality tomorrow.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


January 7, 2010

Because I strive to be a good person and good friend (note the use of strive, not succeed) I will not write a long post rubbing in the fact that I left Texas this morning before the arctic blast hit and am now clicking away on the keyboard in the bright sun and warmth of San Diego, California with no plans to return until the rest of you chase the icy weather away from my home. Instead, I will just note that my situation improved markedly when I stepped off the plane at 11:00 a.m. local time this morning.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


January 5, 2010

Two weeks ago, on the Tuesday before Christmas, I called my sister from Albertson's, where I was doing some light shopping, and as you may remember, redeeming my stickers for pots. I didn't call her about the grocery list or the pots. I speed dialed and screamed: "There's Valentine stuff out all ready!" (Actually more like "THERE'S VALENTINE STUFF OUT ALL READY!") which I found utterly and completely appalling, since I hadn't at that point finished my Christmas shopping.

Now I'm about to pimp a Valentine's day idea to you.

I absolutely can't tell you what a great time Walter, Davis, and I had on our chocolate tour. So much fun, that I think it would be an ideal gift for you to give to someone you care about and want to share a good time with.

My young friends (this is what I call Erin's friends and their parents who have so generously adopted me as their Erin surrogate) gave me chocolate for Christmas. My first inclination may have been to horde it, but there was so much, it begged to be shared.

As I wrote before (but am repeating because I think you should try it, too), we tasted a certain type of chocolate every night and rated it on five dimensions:
sensory (how it looks and smells), sweetness, bitterness, smoothness, and resilience (how long the taste remains after swallowing). In hindsight we would add two more categories: balance and extras, so we could assess how well the first five categories blended together for the TCE (total chocolate experience) and so we could rate the add-ins that we found in many of the bars (including mango, chili, almonds, cashews, and orange).

In the end, we didn't agree on how we ranked each chocolate. I chose the Chocolove bar, mainly because I think it had the most subtle balance between sweetness and bitterness. Davis fell in love with the Lindt Intense Orange, and Walter experienced his favorite the second night when we had the Lindt Chili. None of us would turn any of the other choices down, although Davis kept the Endangered Species in his net primarily because of the social programs of the company (10% of net profit donated to support endangered species and their habits, plus a re-usable wrapper) rather than the 88% cocoa content.

If you are keeping track, here are my top scorers in each category:

Sensory: Endangered Species and Intense Orange
Sweetness: Intense Orange
Bitterness: Divine, Pastilles, Endangered Species, and Dagoba
Smoothness: Lindt Truffle, Chili, Seeds of Change, and Chocolove
Resilience: Chili and Endangered Species

If you take my advice, you will get to see your best beloved every night for as many nights as you buy chocolate bars. What a deal!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


January 2, 2010

I noticed a lot of "start fresh," "set goals," "turn over a new leaf" comments on blogs and facebook yesterday. You have to admire the optimism of this time of year. Anything is possible. I'm a case in point. Last year's entry on New Year's Day found me waxing poetic about teaching Willie to come when I called. I armed myself with a plan and gold treats. We made progress. Really.

Of course, the other common element to most resolutions is that they very rarely persist over the long haul. Again, I am a case in point. I walked Willie, Teddy, and Uma yesterday. I stuck to the off-leash route (down Charlotte Lane towards where it dead ends into the Stasney Ranch, along the fence line of the Leisure Lake property, through the picnic area, across the dam, and back down our own road) because it was a positively lovely day and I wasn't in a hurry. No sooner had I made the judgment to pass by the "leash road" short cut, then I realized my mistake.

We have some new neighbors. I have never met or even seen them. They moved in late last fall when Walter and I were in Louisville for a long weekend. We noticed their existence only because when we returned from our trip we observed seven police and deputy cars blocking that part of the road (after, apparently, a stake out and some other "official" type investigation maneuvers). I do see a truck and a car with darkened windows speeding down Charlotte Lane and turning into their driveway on mornings when I walked the dogs before 6:00.

I have never tried for a closer look because the house is backed pretty far from the road and they have signs that say PRIVATE PROPERTY! NO TRESPASSING! POSTED! BEWARE OF DOG! spaced every eight or ten feet along the fence and gate that run by the road.

So, yesterday morning, as I moseyed along the road hoping to spot a pyrrhuloxia, I noticed that Willie had caught a scent and was wandering towards those neighbors' driveway.

Forgetting the elusive pyrrhuloxia, I called to Willie, but he had already started down the driveway. That's when I caught on that he was intently involved in a game of Follow the Leader, with Teddy as the leader. Uma was also playing.

I upped my effort, calling, whistling, clapping my hands, cajoling, threatening, pleading, scolding.

The more I tried, the more they ignored me and the further away they wandered. I tried the trick of walking on down the road without them, on the theory that they would respect me and assume that whatever I was doing was more important and more interesting than what they were doing (readers who know dogs will be ducking their heads and politely gaffawing behind their hands on this brainy idea).

I returned to the property line, wondering what
PRIVATE PROPERTY! NO TRESPASSING! POSTED! BEWARE OF DOG! really means to someone who is, at a minimum, a person of interest to the police.

I stood, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, intently trying to make eye contact with at least one of the dogs. I tried to figure out which dog might, on this occasion, be susceptible to mind control or guilt or getting to be the Mother's Pet. I patted all my pockets in my much-pocketed overcoat, hoping to find a morsel of meat, leftover from the time, months ago, that I had been faithful about my dog training and willing to have pockets with grease smudges and a vague scent of beef permeating all my clothes.

My mind wandered to the failed Burger King experiment from Christmas '08, when It introduced meat-flavored cologne. At the time, I had made jokes about the body spray designed to smell like grilled beef like everyone else with any sense. Now I was considering how much I would pay for such a thing, just on the chance that I could attract my dogs back from a scenario that I was thinking was going to end a lot like video game rated "V" for violence, when my unknown neighbors would come busting our of their back door and open fire on my trespassing pooches.

After about twenty minutes, when no neighbor appeared (thank goodness for late hours on New Year's Eve) and no dog showed any sign of recognizing me, I decided to cross the adjacent neighbor's fence and approach from the vacant pasture next door. I got close enough that the dogs could actually see my facial features (I tried both the I've-got-a-great-surprise-for-you look and the you-are-a-bad-dog look.). They each, in turn, looked me in the eye and wandered off in the opposite direction. Because of their great powers of concentration, the savory flavor of the garbage they had discovered, and their general unruliness and disobedience, they saw no great need to come to me.

And I was still unwilling to cross the posted fence to retrieve them.

Eventually, no thanks to anything I actually did, they decided they were through. When I finally had them all back on my side of the fence and away from the site of their lawless behavior, I snapped all three leashes on and we continued on our walk. It only took fifty-five minutes to make our usual 1.1 mile loop.

I spent part of that time wishing I had kept up with my plan from a year ago to train them all to come when I called. Mostly, I contemplated what I could do to change my ways so that I could add new things to my repertoire (like consistent dog training) and actually stick with them.

The key for me seems to be attaching a new activity on to something that I already do habitually. For instance, I noticed a few months ago that I was getting stiffer (particularly first thing in the morning and particularly in the neck and back) as I got older. I knew that I should copy Walter by sitting in the bedroom chair as soon as I got out of bed and do five minutes worth of neck and back stretches. I also knew that I would never stick to that. Some morning I would forget. Or I would get in a hurry, or I would sleep and skip it.

Instead, I started doing my neck stretches during my morning walk with the dogs. I am very diligent about their walk (if I'm not, they make me pay later in the day by attacking the garbage cans, tearing up things, or knocking things over). I've figured out how to do eight different neck and back stretches in rhythm with my stride, as I walk along Blue Heron Road.

Now, if I could just attach all my desired, new habits to my old stand by habits, I would have it made.

What do you do to train yourself to a new habit?