Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Love With My iPad

I'm writing this blog on my iPad. This device has been a revelation. Not since my first microwave oven has a piece of technology so changed my life.

I waited until ten years after microwaves came on the market to buy my first one, due to concern about leaking radiation. When the iPad was first introduced, I waited because I already had a Kindle and felt I couldn't justify the expense. Since my primary interest in the iPad was its iBook capability, it seemed ridiculously self-indulgent to purchase a second electronic reader.

I enjoyed my Kindle and appreciated its light weight. It was easy to tuck into the pocket of my purse when traveling or when I had a dentist appointment. With my Kindle in hand, I almost looked forward to sitting in the waiting room.

I never had a problem giving up print books; it's the content I care about. Years ago, I stopped reading print editions of newspapers and found I preferred the online versions, especially as the websites improved and slide shows and videos added an extra dimension to the news. So, I wasn't surprised that I made the transition to electronic books easily.

However, there were some aspects of print books that I missed with the Kindle. The device uses locations rather than pages and I found this perpetually confusing and annoying. And the contrast was poor, making it hard to read in dim light. (The contrast issue has been improved in the next generation Kindle and the device has been made even smaller and lighter without sacrificing much screen size.) I knew the iPad was heavier, but its screen size was commensurately bigger. I'd also heard that it had backlighting, a feature that really appealed to me.

For years, I'd bothered E. with my penchant for reading in bed after he'd turned out his light. We'd tried various fixes—bedside lights with dimmers, overhead pinpoint lights, even tiny book lights mounted on my book or Kindle. Nothing helped.

Then one evening a few months ago, we had dinner with my nephew and his wife. They both had iPads and were enthusiastic about the iBook backlighting feature, whose brightness they said could be adjusted. Plus, they told me, the iBook background could be reversed from the normal black-on-white to white-on-black, which can be easier on the eyes in low-light situations.

This really peaked my interest. I decided to visit the Apple Store and take a look. Two hours later, I walked out with my new iPad and quickly became a convert.

Here's what's so great: First, the backlighting in the iBook application is fantastic. With all the lights off, I dim the backlighting and activate a feature called Sepia. This makes the print appear brown on an off-white background and is even better for me than the white-on-black option. It's easy to read and the light doesn't bother E. at all! This alone makes my iPad a worthwhile investment.

Second, the iBook uses regular pagination. I find it easy to go backward or forward without losing my place. Also, the touch mechanism for turning pages is simple, silent, and elegant. Designed to look as if you're turning the pages of an actual book, the iBook acts as a wonderful transitional device for people raised on print books. Like the Kindle, the iBook enables you to adjust the font size, a great advantage over print books.

All these iBook features are terrific and have exceeded my expectations, but what's really surprised me are the other ways I'm using my iPad. After many years of reading the newspapers on my computer at my desk, I now check out the news over breakfast on my iPad. I have a nifty stand originally purchased for my Kindle but equally effective for the iPad, and once again I can enjoy my cereal with the New York Times or the Boston Globe. The Kindle also enables newspaper reading, but the screen size and color photos on the iPad provide an optimal experience.

I bought the 3G version of the iPad so I can travel with it and use it to respond more easily to emails than with the smaller iPhone. And I can even write a blog on it! My iPad is noticeably heavier than the Kindle, but its greater versatility makes it a worthwhile tradeoff for me.

The most exciting new use I've discovered for my iPad is as a radio. I regularly listen live to WBUR (Boston Public Radio), WHYY (Philadelphia Public Radio), WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio), and WEEI (Boston sports radio). The sound quality is great and I can choose from a variety of programs. Since the iPad is so portable I can listen in any part of the house.

As I write this, my PC is in crash mode, having been infected by a trojan virus. Hopefully it will be up and running soon. Meanwhile, I feel very fortunate to have my iPad handy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Eve, 1974

1974. The year Richard Nixon resigned. The year Mohamed Ali regained the heavyweight boxing title by knocking out George Foreman during the "Rumble in the Jungle." The year Ellen Burstyn won the Oscar for Best Actress for her title role in Martin Scorsese's first major Hollywood film, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

In 1974, the country was in a recession and inflation was high, but E. and I were enjoying life in Los Gatos, California. We'd returned there after a year in Connecticut and had both gotten jobs at a music publication company, Guitar Player. We lived in a pleasant garden apartment complex and while we didn't have much money, we had enough for simple pleasures. We loved to stroll to Old Town in Los Gatos for ice cream at Mimi's Rooftop Cafe. A big spurge was dinner at Mountain Charley's.

Los Gatos was a backwater in those days. No one had yet heard of personal computers, let alone the notion of Silicon Valley. As New Year's Eve approached, E. and I didn't have any special plans—no big party or fancy dinner. Instead, we decided to see the latest disaster blockbuster film, Earthquake. We may have gone with friends or maybe we went alone. That detail has been lost in the mists of time, or at least in the fog of my memory. But I do recall the film experience vividly.

I was only 25, but I was already a world-class worrier. The fact that I lived in a major fault zone had hardly escaped my anxious attention. I became especially nervous in confined or crowded places—in an elevator or a crowded theater, for example.

When Earthquake came out, I felt some trepidation about seeing it. But I had read that the action was set in L.A., so I hoped it wouldn't hit too close to home. The film was playing at the Century 25 Theatre on Saratoga Avenue in San Jose, not far from Los Gatos. The theater itself was a marvel of sixties architecture, a domed structure with state-of-the-art seating and technology. New Year's Eve was the first and only time I saw a film there.

2005 photo of the Century 25 Theatre (by Kevin Collins)
The dome was impressive, but the real thrill was Sensurround, a sound system that utilized a series of large speakers and a 1,500-watt amplifier to pump in sub-audible "infra bass" sound waves at 120 decibels (equivalent to a jet airplane taking off). The idea was to simulate the sensation of a real earthquake. For me, it succeeded almost too well. As the on-screen destruction got underway, with Charlton Heston in the leading role, I couldn't help imagining that the Bay Area had actually been hit by a quake and that the enormous dome would soon crash in on the audience.

Sometimes the best antidote to fear is confronting it. Earthquake may have showcased Hollywood at its most melodramatic and over the top, but sitting in the darkened theater with all those decibels rumbling around me proved cathartic. I emerged from the theater exhilarated and delighted to be on solid ground. I didn't stop fearing earthquakes but as 1975 began, my concern faded into the background.

I never did experience an earthquake while I lived in California. Ironically, the only time I ever felt one was in Boston, when I was jolted by a small quake whose epicenter was in nearby New Hampshire.

Now that I spend time in Miami, I've got a great idea for a disaster film—Hurricane. If that film ever gets made, I'll be the first person in line for a ticket.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bright Lights, Big Spider

I first noticed the spider yesterday evening, sitting patiently on its web outside my window. I'm fascinated by spiders and very brave about looking at them up close when they're on the other side of a window. I wanted to photograph the creature but decided to wait until the bright light of morning.

When I opened the curtains today, though, the spider was nowhere to be seen. Not knowing much about spider habits, I thought it might have moved to one corner of its web, hidden from my view by the window frame. I went outside to take a look but couldn't find the spider anywhere.

Only when darkness began to fall did I see the giant arachnid back in the center of its impressive web, its outline clearly visible in the fading light, but its markings lost in the dimness. My only option if I wanted a picture was to try a little flash photography. Here is the result. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Garage Band Blues

On the last day of summer, I found myself inside a garage, with no time to take a walk and enjoy the gorgeous weather. Enough to give anyone the blues. At least I had my iPhone camera along, so I could play around with it. These experiments may get tedious before long (for me as well as for you). But for now, here are my garage band blues. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Roof Redefined

I've always liked the irregularity of the architectural asphalt shingles on my roof and their neutral palate suits my desire not to draw attention to myself or, by extension, to my house. But digital photography opens up whole new realms of possibility. A roof becomes a geometric pattern, becomes a pink palette, becomes an imitation pointillist painting. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Newport Portfolio

Ornate ironwork on the Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island

I've been AWOL from this blog for a while but a recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island has inspired me to return and share some photos of my experience. I began enjoying photography last year, when I discovered how easy it was to take pretty good shots with my iPhone. And nothing heavy to carry!

I also found that I enjoyed embellishing my blog entries with photographs. And I began to get a sense of what I enjoy photographing. Wildlife certainly tops the list. Animals, birds, even insects—all are endlessly fascinating. I also became obsessed with sunsets. Beyond particular subjects, I love creating a composition that feels right to me. Whether architecture, people, or landscapes, I've found to my surprise that I have very strong opinions about what looks good.

A few months ago, I graduated from my iPhone to a Panasonic Lumix, a point-and-shoot camera (as opposed to a single-lens-reflex camera with a viewfinder). In Newport, I missed having the viewfinder as the sometimes-brilliant sunlight made it hard to see what I was about to photograph. But my Lumix does have a 12x optical zoom, which enabled me to capture many shots previously impossible with my iPhone.

On Newport's Cliff Walk, for example, I saw a seagull wrestling with a dead fish. The tide kept coming in and threatening to carry the fish out to sea and the gull kept repositioning itself in an effort to hang onto it long enough to finish eating. Only setting my zoom at the full 12x enabled me to get the following photographs.

A group of cormorants sunning themselves on a rock appeared so distant to my naked eye that I wasn't sure at first what kind of birds they were. The zoom not only helped me get a decent photograph of them but allowed me to make a positive ID.

Later, I saw a flock of birds massed on the slate roof of one of the immense Newport mansions overlooking Cliff Walk. The zoom came in handy here, too.

The Cliff Walk afforded many gorgeous views and interesting edifices. One of the more charming examples was this Chinese tea house.

By afternoon, dark clouds had rolled in, creating different photographic opportunities. I like the idea that this shot taken from the roof of my hotel borrows something from Dutch landscapes, with modern cruise ships added.

Here's a genuine Dutch landscape, Salomon van Ruisdael's View of Deventer Seen from the North-West (1657), for comparison.

A walk down to the harbor gave me a chance to visit the Newport International Boat Show. While the mere thought of being at sea makes me queasy, I love to look at boats and I got a kick out of the boating scene at the show—lots of Top-Siders, lots of drinking, lots of camaraderie. And many boats for sale. The colorful banners of the different boat builders really caught my eye.

In the waning days of summer, I couldn't resist taking a picture of these lovely yellow blossoms, soon to be covered by autumn leaves.

All the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Signs and Portents

In my last post, I described the medical crises that led E. and me to decide that Cosmo should be put to sleep. But there were also several strange coincidences and happenings that reinforced our conviction that Cosmo's time had come. If I were a religious person, I might interpret these events as divine intervention. Instead, I prefer to call them signs and portents.

The first of these occurred the day before Cosmo's death, as E. and I returned home from a walk. I was telling E. that I had decided to stop agonizing about how we would decide if and when the time had come to euthanize Cosmo. I said I believed we would just know. Suddenly, E. exclaimed "What's this?"

It was our stone bunny statue, which stands in the flower bed adjacent to our front walk. The bunny had fallen face-down in the soil. That bunny has stood on the same spot since we moved into our house ten years ago. In fact, it's at least as old as Cosmo, having adorned the garden in our prior house as well. The statute has survived nor'easters and blizzards without ever toppling over.

E. quickly righted the bunny and re-set it on its appointed spot. We shrugged off the occurrence, but it rattled us nonetheless. A sign that we should think about ending Cosmo's life? Hardly, yet in retrospect it seemed a portent of Cosmo's own shocking collapse the following morning from a massive seizure.

That evening, E. and I watched the last episode of the first season of Deadwood, an HBO series set in the late-nineteenth-century American west. One of the characters is a minister who begins having seizures in an earlier episode. Eventually, the local doctor realizes that the poor man has a brain tumor. By the last episode, his condition has become dire. His seizures are terrible, with his limbs and head contorting uncontrollably. The doctor prays that God will take him. Finally, in a strangely moving scene, one of the main characters enters the room where the minister lies and, while embracing him, smothers him with a handkerchief, euthanizing him.

The next morning, when Cosmo began having his own terrible seizure, as I tried to hold him and comfort him, E. and I looked at one another. "The minister," E. said. The way Cosmo's limbs and head contorted reminded us of the seizure we'd watched on the television drama the night before. The minister's seizures had finally been stopped by a mercy killing. Was this a sign?

Now rewind to just a few short moments before Cosmo's seizure began. Until then, it had seemed like an unremarkable morning. E. had taken Cosmo out for a brief walk and Cosmo was sitting on his mat in the kitchen, as usual. I was preparing a bowl of cereal for myself. Cosmo normally liked to wait until I began eating my breakfast before eating his food. Prior to sitting down at the table, I glanced at the latest New Yorker to see if there were any articles I wanted to read. My eye was immediately caught by an article by Atul Gawande. Its title — "Letting Go - Rethinking end-of-life treatment."

Although I knew the title referred to human end-of-life dilemmas, I immediately thought of Cosmo and set the magazine on the table so I could read the article. I turned toward Cosmo and noticed that he was trembling. I knelt down beside him and petted him. He seemed to calm down. I stood up to get a spoon for my cereal and when I glanced at Cosmo again his limbs were contorted and I realized he was having a very strong seizure. So, rather than reading an article about end of life, the next hour found me considering whether to actually end my dog's life. Another sign? I'd like to think so, because somehow that allows me to pretend that Cosmo's fate was predetermined and not merely the result of a coldly rational decision.

Eight days have passed since Cosmo's death. I'm still struggling with the trauma of putting him to sleep, but a little less so during the past couple of days. I've realized that I've been using my guilt about being the agent of Cosmo's death as a way to avoid facing my grief. There's never a right time to lose an animal you love, even if all the signs tell you it's time.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Making the Decision to End Our Pet's Life

I still can't believe Cosmo is gone. As hard as it feels to lose him, there's something especially haunting about having been the one (along with E.) who decided to end his life.

I never thought it would come to this. While I knew that many pet owners put their ailing pets to sleep rather than allow them to suffer, I preferred to imagine that Cosmo would remain healthy until he was very old, then would simply go to sleep on his comforter beside our bed and never wake up. Unfortunately, that's not the way it happened.

By the time Cosmo reached his thirteenth birthday this past June, he had significant health issues. Controlling his seizures required ever-higher doses of medicine, which put his liver and pancreas at risk. Recently, he began showing a variety of disturbing symptoms — excessive thirst, excessive hunger, hair loss, panting, fatigue, muscle weakness, and a distended belly. In addition, he injured one of his front legs, so he had to be carried up and down the stairs.

Due to the muscle weakness and leg injury, Cosmo couldn't accompany us on long walks. We still took him for strolls around the neighborhood, but often he had to be carried most of the way. In retrospect, I can see that Cosmo's quality of life was eroding before my eyes, but the decline was gradual enough that I remained in denial for a long time.

Then Cosmo began showing signs of incontinence. His excessive thirst, which led to excessive drinking and an over-full bladder, was taking its toll. This new symptom couldn't be ignored. Cosmo had been totally house-trained by the time he was eight days old and had never had an accident in thirteen years. A little Googling regarding the incontinence revealed that, combined with all his other symptoms, Cosmo probably had Cushing's Syndrome, which is caused by excess production of cortisol, a steroid. I took him to the vet, where tests confirmed that he indeed had Cushing's.

Cushing's is an awful disease when left untreated, but the vet told me that a new medication, trilostane, could treat Cushing's with great success by suppressing production of cortisol. She was optimistic that if we could get both the Cushing's and Cosmo's seizures under control, he would feel well and function well again. So, we started him on the trilostane.

We'll never know exactly what happened on that fateful morning to cause a seizure a hundred times worse than the mild partial seizures Cosmo had always experienced before. The massive seizure took place on the fourth day after we began the trilostane, just as it was reaching effective levels. Apparently, the suppression of cortisol due to the trilostane had a catastrophic affect on Cosmo's body's ability to regulate his seizures.

Once Cosmo began seizing, at around 7:45 a.m., he didn't stop. Despite the seizure's severity, Cosmo appeared to be conscious, making the situation all the more heartrending.

I felt immediately that the trilostane had something to do with the seizure, since absolutely nothing else had changed in his treatment. I realized we faced a terrible choice — if we were able to get the seizure under control (a big if), we could stop giving Cosmo the trilostane, but then the Cushing's Syndrome would continue to worsen. On the other hand, if we kept Cosmo on the trilostane, we risked another horrible seizure, something I couldn't bear to think about, for Cosmo or for myself, either.

At 8:30, when my vet's office opened, I called her. Cosmo's seizure hadn't stopped. While she offered a couple of treatment options, like trying a different seizure medication, she felt that it made sense to consider putting Cosmo to sleep. But, of course, she left the decision to E. and me. We agonized for a while, then called and arranged to bring Cosmo to her office at 10:30 a.m.

Though I had always hoped Cosmo would live a long, healthy life and pass away painlessly in his sleep, during his last weeks I had faced the fact that if I wanted to prevent him from suffering, I might have to intervene and have him euthanized. I wondered how I would know if and when the time came. Despite Cosmo's worsening health, he still sometimes acted like his normal, adorable self. How could I choose to put him to sleep while he still had a reasonable quality of life?

But that was exactly the point. I didn't want Cosmo to suffer. I wanted him to die before his life lost all joy. As it was, I wasn't really sure whether or not Cosmo was in pain. A few years earlier, he'd had a terrible tooth abscess that was discovered during a routine dental cleaning. As far as I could tell, Cosmo hadn't been in any pain from the abscess, yet the dental vet told me it probably hurt him a great deal.
"Dogs are stoics," he said.

During the week before his death, I did have one indication that Cosmo was in pain. When holding him, I was always careful not to put pressure on his distended belly. Nevertheless, during that last week of his life, when I picked Cosmo up, he would sometimes breathe in with a catch in his throat and then emit a long sigh. He sounded sad, as if he were hurting.

In the end, the magnitude of Cosmo's final seizure made it clear that the time had come. I'm grateful that I was home when it occurred, so I could hold him and offer some small comfort to alleviate the terror he must have been feeling. I'm also grateful for the loving care he received from my vet. She sedated him so that he fell gently asleep in our arms, then took him from us to administer the fatal dose of barbiturate that would end his life.

Despite believing that we made the right decision at the right time, I nevertheless have experienced guilt in addition to grief. It's hard playing God. But I'm comforted by my conviction that Cosmo wouldn't blame me. He loved me unconditionally. An old New Yorker cartoon expresses my feelings perfectly — "Please God, help me be as good a person as my dog thinks I am."

Cosmo in better days

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cosmo, June 15, 1997 - July 29, 2010

Cosmo on July 17, 2010

I'm sad to report that our beloved Cosmo passed away yesterday after suffering a massive seizure. When the seizure didn't abate, I spoke with the vet and E. and I made the decision to have him put to sleep. This was done gently and humanely. E. and I were able to hold him while he fell into his final slumber.

In a subsequent post, I'll talk about the agonizing decision to end Cosmo's life, but today I want to share some thoughts about the love that my pet brought into my life.

Cosmo was my constant companion. At home, he followed me everywhere and would gladly have accompanied me to restaurants and other venues, if only he'd been allowed. He stayed next to my desk while I worked. Aside from an occasional bark if he heard an airplane or spied a bird through the window, he was content to lie by my side. If I worked too long without taking a break to play with him, he'd let me know by carrying a squeaky toy over and reminding me.

The house feels empty without him. Although he weighed a scant 7½ pounds, his presence was all around. Returning home to quietude instead of his invariably-happy greeting will be hard to bear. Reading or watching TV without being able to hold him on my lap won't feel the same. And I'll miss our riotous play periods, with Cosmo chasing a toy I'd thrown and ferociously pouncing on it, then joyously carrying it back to me so he could triumphantly go "through the tunnel," that is, through my bent legs.

Cosmo loved E. and our two sons. Each had his own special relationship with him. And Cosmo made all of us better people. We loved him and, by extension, grew to love other animals. We felt a kinship to other pet owners, having learned firsthand about the profound bond that can arise between people and their pets.

Cosmo trusted us. Tiny though he was, he never seemed to fear that we'd step on him or inadvertently kick him. Miraculously, we never did. Well, almost never.

We tried to give Cosmo a life filled with only good things—kindness, attention, plenty of food and water, a warm comfortable environment, long walks with his pack (our family), and countless opportunities for play.

I believe the seizures he suffered for many years must have scared him, since he never lost consciousness during them, but I also believe that he felt comforted when E. or I held him while they lasted.

We also held him during that last awful, unending seizure. I fervently want to believe that in his final wakeful moments, as the sedative that would put him to sleep also allowed his seized-up muscles to relax, Cosmo felt that we had helped him feel better one more time.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Now for Some Short Stories

After I stopped writing poetry but before I turned to personal essays, I tried my hand at short fiction. I had fun writing stories and I probably worked out a few neuroses along the way. I even had one story published in a literary journal.

Fair Isle Press Logo
I've already published a book of my poems, Full Circle, on Fair Isle Press, the electronic press E. and I created to publish free electronic books in PDF format. Now, I've gathered eight of my short stories together in an e-book called Love Objects, which is also the name of the first story in the collection. 

You can access the e-book by going to Fair Isle Press, then clicking on Manuscripts and selecting "Free ebook" for Love Objects.  Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New and Improved Turkeys

Really, the same old turkeys as those featured in my blog post of a few days ago, but seen in a different photographic light. I've finally figured out how to use my new point-and-shoot digital camera.

These are the very first photos I've taken using the camera's zoom feature. The entire point of a point-and-shoot is that it's extremely easy to use. Nonetheless, it took me a couple of days and intense scrutiny of the almost-inscrutable operating instructions before I could manage to insert the battery, set the clock, and understand the various shooting options. Finally, I took my first picture, then realized that the camera's internal memory had only enough memory for one picture and I hadn't yet purchased a memory card. That finally arrived yesterday, so I was able to take the pictures featured here.

Fortunately, the turkeys have continued their afternoon visitations to my backyard, so that gave me another opportunity to photograph them. Although these pictures were taken using a zoom, the turkeys were well aware of my presence on my deck, not far from them. Notice that they aren't running away. While the adults do appear alert, they don't manifest any fear. They seem to regard me as their nosy neighbor. So long as they don't trample my flowers or take up residence on my deck, I'm okay with that.

I clearly have some work to do on composition and camera steadiness before I can claim mastery of my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7. But by the time that occurs the baby turkeys will probably be full-grown. So following the dictum of carpe diem, I hereby humbly submit the latest chapter of my turkey chronicles.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Turkey-Friendly Zone

I've declared my yard a turkey-friendly zone. The wild turkeys that live in my neighborhood must have sensed that because not only have they been fruitful and multiplied, but they've taken to strolling through the yard on a regular basis.

Ungainly though turkeys may be, their little offspring couldn't be cuter. What is it about babies of almost any species that make them so endearing? (Not counting insects, of course. Seeing multitudes of baby insects can only be described as disturbing.) The other day, one of the young birds wandered a bit far away from its siblings. I got rather close, trying to take a picture with my iPhone. Guess what? Baby turkeys can fly! Not so sure about their enormous parents, though.

I do love seeing the turkeys near my house, but sometimes they get a bit too close for comfort. When the adult bird in the photo below began to explore under my deck, I decided to shoo it away—large birds produce large droppings and I didn't really want to have that amid the gravel. But I didn't get too close while entreating the bird to leave. I've heard a story or two about turkeys attacking people and, with the bird's children right around the corner, I thought it might be in a protective mode. Fortunately, as I approached, the turkey fled in the direction of its family.

I have to call the turkey "it" because I haven't a clue about its gender. How do you tell a male from a female turkey? Another conundrum for the uninitiated bird watcher. I can report, though, that a total of twelve babies have been accompanied during the past few weeks by three very watchful adults.

Much as I've been delighted by the large brood populating my yard in recent days, I'm hopeful that some of them will eventually fly off to other neighborhoods. I would be no match for fifteen adult turkeys. And my little toy poodle, Cosmo, would be completely beside himself.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wine With Lunch, or Not

Wine with lunch seems such a pleasant concept, but it's not one that works for me.

Today, I was a guest at a lovely 60th-birthday lunch. The setting was delightful, a whimsical Cambridge restaurant with magenta walls, accented by a riot of other colors. Before we sat down for lunch, the wait staff circulated with glasses of white wine. My hands were empty. I felt thirsty. I took a glass.

So delightful, so elegant, so likely to make me dizzy. Or drowsy. Or even give me a headache. I took a sip. That was it. After half an hour or so, we sat down to a delicious meal accompanied by good conversation. During the course of it I took one more sip of my wine. That was enough, almost too much.

Yet, had it been dinner, I surely would have enjoyed the whole glass and perhaps even indulged in a second one. The time of day seems to have a profound effect on wine's effect on me. All around me, friends imbibed, chatted, laughed, forgot the way time marches on. I forgot I hadn't had any wine and let the enjoyment of being with women I'd known for decades intoxicate me.

When it came time to leave, hugs all around, and off I went to the parking garage, along with two friends. I took out the keys to my car. Got in the driver's seat. Glad I hadn't been drinking.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Started, or Not

One of my major issues in life is getting started. Perhaps you think I'm describing simple procrastination. Certainly it's a form of procrastination. In my case, though, it's paired with a seemingly paradoxical compulsion to answer every email as soon as I receive it, leave no dish unwashed, and repair every household defect as soon as it's discovered. Perhaps I'm suffering from a case of screwed up priorities.

Inertia sets in when I think of moving on from whatever I'm doing and beginning something else. Once I manage to overcome my inertia and start the new activity, it quickly becomes absorbing, but then it's hard for me to stop and move on to the next task.

Getting started writing this "daily" blog can be a challenge. Sometimes, like yesterday, I fail entirely to get started, giving the lie to the "daily" concept. Once I do begin, though, I can work on it indefinitely, usually to the detriment of Cosmo's walks, laundry, dinner, or whatever item is next on my agenda.

I would love to find a strategy that gets me over the "getting started" hump. I've noticed that the activities I find hardest to start are often those I ultimately find most rewarding—writing this blog, working on my website, conquering a mechanical challenge (like learning to use my new camera), or doing regular exercise.

I've discovered that it helps to make a to-do list. I love the process of checking off the items I've accomplished and I feel motivated to finish everything I've put on my list. When I have a lot to do, it makes the tasks seem more manageable. Only problem—most of the time, I can't get myself to make a list in the first place.

Probably if I had a paying job, this wouldn't be an issue. A sense of obligation would push me to transition efficiently from one task to the next. While I love having the flexibility of working on my various projects at home, I seem to lack the requisite discipline to maximize my productivity in such an unstructured environment.

On the other hand, there's much to like about an unstructured life. Yesterday, E. and I went out to lunch on the spur of the moment, then did some errands together. I like being available for the unscripted events life offers. Maybe productivity isn't the be-all and end-all. Still, when I plan to write my blog mid-morning, I'd like to get started before dinnertime. Come to think of it, I'd like to get started cooking dinner before dinnertime. Maybe in my next life.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


To me, New Haven has always been synonymous with Yale. In the 1970s, when we lived in Middletown, Connecticut, E. and I occasionally visited a friend who was studying musicology there. I remember that the campus was gothic and there was a place that had great milk shakes. That's about all.

In 2002, E. and I traveled to Yale with our son, Alex. We exited the freeway, drove a few blocks, parked, then gathered with other parents and their kids at the Admissions Office for a college tour. I mostly recall anxious students asking questions about AP credit. After the tour, we left as quickly as we'd come, not even pausing for a snack.

I don't recall seeing a downtown back then, but there is one, complete with skyscrapers, as I discovered this weekend while visiting my older son, Aaron, who's working in New Haven this summer. In fact, Aaron works in the Connecticut Financial Center, the tallest building in the city. The Financial Center, with its powerful verticality, stands in contrast to its next-door neighbor—City Hall, a beautifully restored old edifice augmented by a new wing.

The government and business district is adjacent to the New Haven Green, a historic common area located in the center of downtown. According to the Wikipedia entry on New Haven:

The Green is a traditional town green (commons) and was originally known as "the marketplace." It was completed in 1638. The Puritans were said to have designed the green large enough to hold the number of people who they believed would be spared in the Second Coming of Christ: 100,000.

Across the Green lies Yale's 260-acre central campus, so while government workers, businessmen, lawyers, and bankers engage in municipal and commercial activities, the university always looms in the background. While Yale may not exactly be considered New Haven's savior, improved town-gown relations, initiated by Yale President Rick Levin, have been beneficial to the larger community, with Yale providing financial support for a number of New Haven's redevelopment efforts.

During our visit, we ate dinner at a terrific restaurant, the Union League Cafe, sampled ice cream at Ashley's, near the Yale campus, and explored the downtown area.

We didn't entirely neglect Yale, however. Our visit to New Haven wouldn't have been complete without a pilgrimage to the statue of Nathan Hale in front of Connecticut Hall on the Yale campus. Hale, who has been designated the state hero of Connecticut, graduated with first-class honors from Yale College in 1773.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Know It's Hot

When the dog can only last outside for about a minute, sweltering in his fur coat.

When I have to water the flowers three times a day.

When my next-door neighbor offers to hose me down after he waters his flowers.

When the book that arrives from Amazon feels toasty, as if it's fresh out of the oven.

When my car thermometer registers 104.

When I offer the mail carrier cold water and she accepts it.

When I'd rather keep the windows closed (and crank up the AC).

When it's too hot to take a walk at 8 p.m.

When I can smell the asphalt on my driveway.

When I feel like writing about the weather.

Lest I complain too much, I remind myself that this is what much of the east coast looked like only a few short months ago.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Portland Meditation

Portland, Oregon has a reputation as an environmentally-friendly city. It's also a technology-oriented locale, with Intel as the area's major employer. In addition, from what I could tell during my recent brief stay there, it's a mellow place. So, I wasn't surprised to come across the "First Annual Portland City Sit," an outdoor meditation gathering right in the center of town.

When I wandered by, the "Sit" hadn't yet attracted many participants but the skies were sunny and the welcome mats were out.

Technology coincided with karma when a participant in the "Sit" couldn't resist checking his smart phone, maybe to clear his texts and emails before meditating, so that during meditation he could clear his mind before getting back to texting and emailing.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Flying Toward the Setting Sun

When I left my house in Newton, bound for the funeral of E.'s cousin Art in Portland, Oregon, I expected an emotional journey. I knew Art well and his untimely death had shocked and saddened me. I anticipated that my time in Portland would be intense, but I didn't imagine that the flight itself would be filled with unpredictability and drama.

We boarded our Alaska Airlines flight early and everyone was seated and ready to go five minutes before our scheduled departure time of 4:50 p.m. A flight attendant announced that we'd be pulling away from the gate momentarily. But we didn't. We just sat there.

Twenty minutes passed. Then the captain came on the speaker system to inform passengers that there had been a "minor" security breach at Logan Airport which had resulted in the airport being shut down for about fifteen minutes, during which time all departures had been suspended. He assured us that the airport had reopened and that although the queue of departing flights was now quite long, we would leave shortly.

Another ten minutes passed and a flight attendant announced that our departure would be slightly delayed while we awaited the boarding of two more passengers, who had apparently been held up during the security breach.

When E. and I arrived at the airport, the weather was hot and sunny, but the forecast had mentioned the possibility of severe storms during the late afternoon. Now, looking out the airplane window, I could see black clouds filling up the sky to our west. I wasn't optimistic. Sure enough, the captain soon let us know that because of concern about tornadoes to the west, no westbound flights could leave. Tornadoes! They're rare in Massachusetts, but the weather apparently reflected my apocalyptic mood. I didn't relish the idea of being in a crowded airplane with a funnel cloud approaching. But I had no choice.

The flight attendants invited passengers to get up, stretch, use the lav, turn on cell phones. Accommodating of them, but not encouraging. E. and I chatted with our seatmate, a nice fellow from Portland. The man behind me began cracking jokes and people contacted friends and relatives to let them know the situation.

I called my son, Alex, who was back at the house, dog-sitting for Cosmo. The house was directly in the path of the storm and, sure enough, Alex said it had been wild and windy a few minutes earlier. Soon the wind and rain came directly over us, rocking the plane a bit. But no tornado materialized.

Once the rain let up, we left the gate, then parked near a runway for a while, then returned to another gate. Finally, three hours after our scheduled departure time, we took off for Portland, flying toward the now setting sun. From then on, the flight was uneventful, but the drama wasn't over.

About halfway to Portland, as we still pursued the setting sun, I noticed a gorgeous black cloud with an anvil shape, the characteristic form of a thundercloud. At first, the cloud looked solid black in the fading light, but as we approached it, I could see flashes of lightning within it. We were flying south of the storm, where the skies were clear, but we were exactly parallel to the massive cloud, so I witnessed a spectacular display of lightning.

I know the storm was enormous because it took at least half an hour to fly past it. During that time, I was riveted by the dramatic lightning flashing within the cloud and also toward the ground. The photo I took of the lightning is entirely inadequate to convey the brilliance of the spectacle, but was the best I could manage using my iPhone camera through the airplane window.

What impressed me during our slow progress past the immense storm cloud was its appearance of permanence. It seemed filled with vital energy, as if it would never dissipate. I thought of Art, whose energy and joie de vivre made him such a vital life force. It's hard to believe he's gone.

As we left the storm behind, the sun finally set in the western sky. Like most of us, Art had his stormy moments and his sunny days. But few of us have lived life as fully as he. I, along with a multitude of friends and family, will miss him.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The High Line and Hudson River Park

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit two beautiful public spaces in Manhattan—the High Line and Hudson River Park. I saw the city through another lens, transformed by environments that combine nature with thoughtful design to create havens for city dwellers.

On the High Line, one sees the city from a new perspective. Built on former elevated railroad tracks on the lower West Side, the High Line meanders several stories above ground. Elegant plantings provide a charming immediate environment, while views of the Hudson and the surrounding cityscape yield surprising and lovely longer-range sights.

One can see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island shimmering through a window of buildings and a pedestrian bridge.

New and old construction along the High Line adds interest. It's uplifting to see the Meatpacking District and Chelsea in a new light.

Hudson River Park is a great place to walk or bike on a warm summer day in Manhattan. A cool breeze comes off the water and the old piers have been re-invented as parks and playgrounds.

Ancient pilings have been left in place, forming sanctuaries for fish and wildlife.

Across the river, the skyline of Jersey City looms impressively.

And a look back at Manhattan yields a striking view of the Empire State Building. 

I love the energy of Manhattan. When I walk among the city's skyscrapers, I'm amazed at what human beings have accomplished. But when I visit the city, I also long for space, sky, and greenery. The High Line and Hudson River Park offer a unique combination of the man-made and the natural.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.