Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Family Trees

There are lots of bits of information we "know" that we simply haven't processed.  That was brought home to me yesterday when I received a real letter soliciting my assistance in creating our family tree.  Until then, it had never truly occured to me that I am my oldest living relative.

Lately I've been become curious about my ancestors. Is it a function of aging? Every family has its own creation myths; hagiography believed by the teller is most always disdained by the listener and so it is in my family. Unrelated to (since I didn't know it was coming) the family tree search, earlier this month I began an ongoing email conversation with an man living in my grandfather's Irish village who may very well be kin. The village would be unrecognizable to my granddad, but some pieces of old tales are beginning to fit.  I'm startled by how little I "know".

Two years ago I wrote about searching for my grandparents graves.  It was a great start for the "Tree" project.   I'll likely have to visit the Mormons to locate my earlier American family members; their Irish and German ancestors are safely tucked in the churchyards of the villages they lived and died in.   I can't help but feel I'm recreating a wheel.


Monday, January 27, 2014

The birth of Commercial Aviation

One hundred years ago this month Floridian Percival Elliot Fanvil, having read about the safety of airplanes which took off and landed on water decided the time was right for commercial passenger air service "starting somewhere and going somewhere else".

Unimaginable today, a century ago the 20 mile trip from Tampa to St. Petersburg, Florida was a slog whether by steamship, train, by car or on foot.  Fanvil saw his chance, created the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, with scheduled half hour flights twice each way, per day at $5 a ride, one passenger per turn.

Former Tampa mayor Abram Pheil bought the first ticket at auction for $400.  Unsurprisingly, the first airline lost money and closed after 4 months.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

rabbie burns day

It's Robert Burns Day, the birthday of Scotland's favorite poet, and holder of the title Greatest Ever Scot. Robby can be a tough slog.  His disdain of the de'ils tongue makes it hard for a Yank to get worked up over a mouse or a haggis.

But take the time to listen to Mr. Burns.  Many of his greatest hits are on You Tube.  Hear several versions of the same work by different artists.  For your troubles you'll meet a old poet who speaks eloquently to modern concerns.

His song, Is There for Honest Poverty better known as "A Man's a Man for A' That" was selected as opening anthem for the Scottish Parliament.

Tis said Bobby wasn't much of a singer, that may help explain Auld Lang Syne.  Here is the tune as Burns intended.

Happy Birthday Mr. Burns and to Scots everywhere. Enjoy a wee dram in celebration, just make mine Hendricks. The gin that made Scotland famous.


Thursday, January 23, 2014


I feel much safer knowing that Google is protecting me from myself. Orwell may have been right after all.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The era's greatest advertising team Chiat/Day had just completed showing their latest, greatest, best ad ever to Apple's board.  They were seeking permission to spend $100,000 to air their 1 minute masterpiece during the 1984 Super Bowl, and were met by stunned silence.  It didn't look like the cash would be forthcoming until Woz said he'd pay if Apple wouldn't.  Jobs chipped in half, and the ad aired during the Super Bowl's 3rd quarter, 30 years ago today.  It was the only time Apple ever broadcast it, although it has since become an iconic Apple image.

The Apple Macintosh computer was introduced 2 days later, personal computing hasn't been the same since.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Red Green

"If you can't be handsome, be handy" 

Smarting over our defeat in the French and Indian War of the 1750's (The War of The Conquest to those north of Chicago) American's have chosen to remain willfully clueless about our northern neighbors.  The vast majority of Canadians live within 50 miles of the US yet unless they live within 50 miles of Canada, most American can't name the foreign country due south of Detroit, Michigan.

To better know their northern neighbors, the provincial governments of Canada begged Canada's most revered citizen to create and present an educational television program for American's highlighting the best of Canadian culture, sports, and inclusion.  Mr. Red Green accepted, with trepidation, the challenge.


If you have ever seen an episode it's unlikely you'll ever forget Red's homespun wisdom (think Andy Griffin), or the friendly faces at Possum Lodge. If like Mrs. T you've missed Red's program most can be found on YouTube.

I remind you of the Red Green show in order to alert you that Red is bringing Canada to the US this spring. Red is going on tour hopefully to a village near you. He doesn't hit Mayberry until May.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

the food issue

Port magazine photo

Foodies of our acquantance give Mrs. T high marks for her culinary achievements. She enjoys cooking and sharing what she has prepared.  This is obviously not the food channel, but I occassionally pass on favorite recipes or dishes that have gone over well, and often I come to you for your ideas and answers to my pressing questions. Today is one of those days.

Quinoa: fellow eaters, what can be done to make quinoa palatable or is it simply a food to be endured?

Friday night we were called upon to make dessert for a dinner party we were attending.  We didn't know the crowd well, but a quick look at the menu told us we needed a cardiologist's phone number handy.  A simple fruit tart would have been a let down so we went whole hog making a Chocolate Souffle.  The version created for Roy's Restaurant is needless complicated so we modified the itsybitsy version.  I trust you like lava cake.

This is better if made the night before, and can be made up to 10 days in advance for single servings, but if your house is like ours you'll find the batter too tempting to stay out of.  Serves 4

Lava Cake
8 ounces semi-sweet dark chocolate
12 Tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons of cornstarch
4 eggs plus 4 egg yolks

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a mixing bowl
In a seperate bowl whisk the eggs and additional yolks
Bring butter to a simmer in a sauce pan
Add chocolate and mix until smooth
Continue to mix until the chocolate begins to simmer along the edges

Transfer the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients
Mix until combined

Add the eggs (slowly) and mix at low speed until the mixture is smooth and sugar has dissolved
Pour the batter in a pan and let refridgerate overnight

When ready Pre heat oven to 400 degrees F
Butter and sugar (or Pam) the bottom and sides of individual oven safe ramekins
Fill ramekins 3/4 full -don't worry about making them smooth. The batter will melt in the oven
bake on the top rack for 25-30 minutes until sides are set and top not so much

Remove from ramekins and serve while hot.  You may also serve carefully from ramekins. They will be hot

Bon Appetite

Friday, January 17, 2014

Scott arrives at the South Pole

Scott at the Pole 18 January 1912
Wilson, Scott, Oates, Bowers, Evans

"Wednesday January 17,1912  Camp 69, T.-22 degrees at start. Night -21degrees.  The Pole, Yes , but under very different conditions from those expected.  We have had a horrible day-add to our disappointment a head wind 4 to 5, with a temperature -22 degrees and companions labouring on with cold feet and hands.

We started at 7.30, none of us having slept much after the shock of our discovery. We followed the Norwegian sledge tracks for some way; as far as we make out there are only two men.....

Great God this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have labored to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend to-morrow.  We have had a small stick of chocolate and the queer taste of a cigarette brought by Wilson.  Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it."
from the diary of Robert Falcoln Scott

Expecting to be the first team to ever reach the South Pole, Robert Falcoln Scott and his men arrived only to find a Norwegian crew headed by Roald Amundsen had beaten them by a month.  Scott and his men perished during their return to base camp.


has the PBS program Chasing Shackleton been on in your neighborhood?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mrs. T's Anniversary

“I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self respect. And it's these things I'd believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn't all she should be. I love her and it is the beginning of everything.” 
Me too- Toad

Today is Mrs. T's wedding anniversary. This past year has been a marathon of fun, frivolity and futility. I wouldn't have missed a minute for the world. I adore my bride. Loving her has been the greatest gift I'll ever recieve.

 Each year she asks if I'd extend my enlistment. I've previously agreed to stay on until 2500 something.  Throwing caution to the wind this year I've signed on until 3000.

Today's anniversary, like all others is Mrs. T's anniversary. I'm blessed beyond measure simply to circle in her orbit, it's her universe and I'm joyously along for the ride. I've said before and I repeat today, I did not marry my best friend, she does not complete me, she is not my soul mate. She does however make us "we", and together we are indomitable. I love her madly.

Thank you love for our wonderful life together.

From Toad: the happiest married man ever

Monday, January 13, 2014


My bride is not likely from this planet.  It's the only explanation.  Regularly, it becomes necessary for one of us to explain the cultural significance of Peter Pan collars or the importance of first Star Wars trilogy to the other.  Most recently old television programs were the topic of explanation.

Near bedtime, just after the lights are turned out, my bride turns on a previously recorded episode of Jeopardy. It's my cue that it's safe to fall asleep, at least until the final answer.  The subject was old television programs, perhaps you remember it.

The answer was to name the program featuring Tom Servo,Crow T. Robot, Joel and Gypsy.  I blurted  MST3K while my bride looked as if I had 3 heads. Mrs. T has 2 sons who were exactly the right age, at the right time, to have taken refuge in Joel Hodgson's masterpiece Mystery Science Theatre 3000.  Just saying the name makes me smile. How could she not know? She is not an absent parent   An hour thirty of 1990's Saturday night adolescent boy humor wrapped up in 1950's sci-fi movies.

 If you're female you're forgiven for not having an encyclopedic knowledge of each episode, however you can catch up on a slow night via YouTube. It won't be time wasted. MST3K was one of the best programs ever, just ask Time magazine.

The morning after this Jeopardy escapade, an email recommend Jerry Seinfeld's internet series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  The first episode I came across featured Joel .  Coincidence?


Happy BD LJ

Saturday, January 11, 2014

spalding gray

Today is the tenth anniversary of Spalding Gray's death. I miss seeing him perform. Mayberry was a regular stop during his monologue tours, Mrs. T and I never missed a show.

A table,  a notebook, and a man telling his life's stories, what could be harder? Yet, each night audiences, within the first sentence or two became spellbound. His monologues were theatre at its best.  Spalding's pacing, use of  the correct word, his attention to the minutest detail, and his audience's willingness to accept  Spald as their new best friend, made his created world an enchanted place to visit, even when the subject was dark and scary.


Thursday, January 9, 2014


The King was in his counting house looking for his money

Today's entry, from Project Gutenberg, is  a story published in the December 22, 1920 edition of Punch Magazine.  Although nearly 100 years old, it still works.  Try it, you'll like it.


Wine merchants must be kind men. So many of those who have sent me their circulars this Christmas-time have announced that they are "giving their clients the benefit of some exceptionally advantageous purchases which they have made."

But it is not the humanity of wine merchants of which I wish to speak. It is the intriguing epithets which they apply to their wines. And I have entertained myself by applying these to my relatives, an exercise which I find attended by the happiest results.

"Fine old style, rich," is, of course, obvious. It applies to more than one of my Victorian uncles. "Medium rich" to a cousin or so. More subtle is "medium body." This must be Uncle Hilary; he takes little exercise nowadays and his figure is suffering. Soon he will be "full-bodied" or "full and round." "Elegant, high class" is my Cousin Isabel. "Pretty flavour" also is hers. "Fresh and brisk" is Aunt Hannah. And could anything be more descriptive of Aunt Geraldine than "delicate and generous"?

For "great breed and style" (used, I see, of a claret) I should, I fear, be obliged to go outside the family; and "recommended for present consumption and for laying down" I only mention because it leaves me wondering to what other uses a fine fruity Burgundy could be put. But here is a noble one: "Of very high class, stylish, good body and fine character." I have tried this on several relations without being entirely satisfied about it, and I have finally decided that I shall keep it for myself.

Toad- fit for laying down

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


"January 8th is also a very important day for the principality of Monaco. It was on this day 717 years ago when a Genoan thug of some ill-repute, Francois Grimaldi, disguised as a monk in hood and robe, knocked on the palace door in Monte Carlo after dark. When it was opened, Grimaldi, already with scabbard in hand, murdered the man, and with his men entered, killed the reigning prince and  took over. Seven centuries later, the Grimaldis are still firmly ensconced in the palace in Monacoville, in the land that Somerset Maugham (who lived nearby) referred to as “Sunny place for shady people.” As well as a large contingent of retired ex-pats living comfortably and quietly in a tax haven over looking the beautiful Mediterranean."

From The New York Social Diary

Monday, January 6, 2014

Nollaig na mBan

Today is the christian feast of the epiphany, believed to be the day 3 kings (wise men) visited the infant Jesus.  In rural Ireland the day is known as  Nollaig na mBan (a day when women traditionally took a rest from housework). 

My mother, bless her soul, was the daughter of English hating, Irish immigrants who arrived in America at the end of WWI.  Though born in America, her childhood was filled Irish legends and stories of classic Irish writers ringing in her ears, many of which she passed to her sons. 

James Joyce was too anti-catholic for inclusion in her childhood canon but in later years mom came around to The Dubliners, Joyce's short story collection. She said it was the only Joyce she understood. 

The Dubliners, several of the stories taking place on January 6, revolve around the alternative meaning of epiphany, that ah ha moment when you see things in a new way, discover what's been lost, or what you never had. The Dubliners final story, The Dead, may be one of the greatest short stories ever written.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Not on Captiva

Our family was gifted a weeks use of a condo on Captiva Island on the gulf coast of Florida. Mistakenly, we let the kids choose when to go; they did not select the first week of January. Instead we're hunkered down, all walks are cancelled, the dogs can relieve themselves in the bathtub.

If you too are so afflicted be extra careful for yourself and pets. This too shall pass.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Time for a Change

Since Christmas is rarely warm in Mayberry I have a difficult time imaging the holidays held in mid summer glory as celebrated by our friends down under.  In fact, after giving the matter serious consideration, and with my foot firmly planted I've decided that Christmas, Kwanzaa (do we still have that?) and New Year's are due for a makeover.  My plan makes perfect sense, the 1% will love it and wonder how they've done without, which in turn will make the remaining 99% clamour for their opportunity to make the 1% better off.

I am not one of those who believe that everything was better back then.  In many ways then was a deeply troubled place whose few golden moments of triumph appear monumental only to those accustomed to modern ways.  When I was a lad, American holidays, with few exceptions, were fixed stars on the firmament.  Presidents Washington and Lincoln's birthday fell on their birth days. Memorial Day was the last day of May, Labor Day was....

One of the surprising triumphs of the past age was that mostly the federal government worked for the people.  The governmental powers looked up one day, observed that neither George nor Abe was around to blow out the candles, and agreed their 2 birthdays  could be combined into 1 President's Day held on a Monday.  And so it was, and it was good.  So good, other holidays were moved to Monday, and it was good.

Friends, it is time to move Christmas and New Years.  Not to Monday, but to Saturday.  Jesus may or may not have been born 12/25.  His birth date while significant is less so than the Christian's belief in the fact of, and his observance of the Nativity.  Fixing Jesus's birth  to the last Saturday of December does nothing to diminish the sanctity of the feast, and in fact will strengthen family bonds, especially for those unable to be with their family when Christmas falls mid week.  

New Years Day on the other hand...  Does anyone remember the religious significance of the day, or are the holiday's ancient pagan roots what come to mind?  New Years gets bumped to the first Saturday of January, likely gets a name change, and becomes bigger and better than ever.

Think about it.  As they used to say, "in your heart you know he's right."


For our friends down under:  Mayberry is anticipating a foot of snow tonight and -24 C temps for the next several days. Wish you were here, or I was there.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What the gym won't tell you

So you've decided to join the gym for New Years, congratulations, you've done the right thing.  I've watched a number of resolutionaries come and go over the years, and have learned there are a couple of things the gym folks would rather you didn't know which are in fact fairly important.  Since they won't tell I will.

Exercise is important, it's necessary for health, it's necessary for maintaining weight loss.  It's good for your brain and better for your body. It is also a lifetime journey. If you've been away for a while, leave your phone, IPOD, tablet and book in the car and become reacquainted with the sound of your body at work. The inner silence and lack of distraction is rewarding.

Most resolutionaries stop going to the gym within 3 weeks.  They are physically sore, disappointed and have gained weight.  While exercise is a necessary daily ingredient for most it is a lousy short term weight loss tool.  If your reason for joining the gym is to drop 10 pounds by Mardi Gras quit and join Weight Watchers instead.  Then come back. You'll be happier you did.

In the short run you are unlikely to lose weight at the gym. Here's why. Newbies often join with a not overly motivated friend, gym time becomes social and neither of you is likely to work very hard.  Friends become tired or sore, talk themselves and you into leaving early (it's dark out and cold in January).  Exercise will also make you hungry, so feeling virtuous you stop on the way home for coffee and a snack, or begin eating as soon as you hit the door and unexpectedly consume more calories than you had just burned.

So why go?  As Oprah taught you, those who know better do better. The only one way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you burn. If you stick with your new exercise regime, and use it as one of several tools, you'll see body fat converted to lean muscle.  Vigorous exercise burns calories. Weight training, using low weight levels, sculpts flab into lean muscle mass. Women won't bulk up lifting weights.

I urge you, please GO TO THE GYM, regularly.  Stick with it, it's not a 30 day fix despite what the commercials say, it's a journey that begins each and every day.  Some day you'll even begin to like going.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My annual New Year's resolution gift to you

I like you just the way you are.

However, if you are hell bent on making New Years resolutions have the decency and courtesy to avoid those self esteem destroying, I'm gonna lose 25 pounds by swimming suit season, types. I'll all for self improvement, but self delusion is unseemly.

Allow me to offer the toughest resolution suggestion you have yet encountered. Tough, yet mind numbingly easy, if only you change how you see the world. You will find that if you utilize its simple principles, over time, it will improve every aspect of your life. And its free.

With heartfelt thanks to my old boss, Hap Lignoul, and author Douglas Adams I call it NMP. Let NMP become your mantra. NMP, as in Not My Problem.

Imagine sitting at home worrying if your doofus sister called the repairman, or scheduled 3 calendar conflicts. Instead of stewing about it, remember NMP. It's not your problem, so do not give it another thought.

Kimmie putting on weight? Bummer. NMP
Is your neighbor overly friendly with the mailman? NMP
Did Karen order the office supplies? NMP

What I am suggesting is, that if everyone tended their own garden, and keep your nose out of everyone else's, the world would be a happier place. Your stress levels fall instantly. Your blood pressure falls. You live a longer and healthier life.

Your near adult children may learn price paying, once they see you love them enough to let them fail, HARD. Focus on what you are responsible for, and leave the rest. It's not your problem.

Try it, I dare ya.