Thursday, December 31, 2009


Miriam and Alice have each grown very fast recently. Miriam's measurements are on the left (or top, if your page is narrow), Alice's are on the right (or below):

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The National Aquarium, Baltimore

We started with the dolphin show, and then walked through the many displays of sharks, rays, tropical fish, local seascapes, and the big Australian exhibit. We ended with the remarkable jelly fish room. It's a fantastic aquarium.

Miriam's second favorite animal is frogs, so they are well represented. Sharks are her seventeenth favorite, but they aren't easy to photograph.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

White House Christmas

This morning we went to an exhibit of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors from the 2200-year-old tomb of the Chinese Emperor, as I illustrated here. Then we walked to the White House to see the Christmas tree, the giant menorah for Hanukkah, and the other Christmas displays. Around the tree are many little villages with lots of toy trains. A huge bonfire burns in a deep pit, and there's a small building housing Santa's workshop.

As we stood in line, we saw Santa's Naughty-Nice-O-Meter, and lots of toys being built and packed up for Santa's sleigh. Finally, we arrived at Santa's seat. First Miriam and alice met one of the elves, and then they talked to Santa and told him they wanted lots of books.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

New Tea Set

Here in my china cabinet is the magnificent and tiny tea set that Carol made me! The cups are only around an inch high.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Armageddon" by Max Hastings

Armageddon is the horrifying story of the last months of World War II. In fact, this book leaves me unable to say anything. I learned too much about the unmitigated suffering of innocent people, especially children, and the corruption of so many who could have been good. See my food blog for a few thoughts on the unimaginable mass starvation that the book described.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My New Bike

Here is my wonderful Hanukkah present. Note: I tested it briefly without a helmet but when I took a ride, I wore mine. It rides beautifully. What luck that we have a brief respite from the deep cold we've been having.

Hanukkah Song

Happy Hanukkah!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout's book Olive Kitteridge is irresistible. I really couldn't put it down, and that doesn't happen to me very often. A friend loaned it to me yesterday morning, and I've finished reading it.

Olive Kitteridge is a set of nearly independent stories about the people of a town in Maine. Sometimes the story is about Olive, but in some stories there's barely a single glimpse of her -- she appears at a party or a concert, and the character who is central to that story thinks about his or her reaction to Olive. So it's a composite picture of Olive from many points of view. Her students from her career as a junior-high school math teacher, other teachers and colleagues, people with stores in town, her son Christopher, her husband Henry, women that Henry is attracted to (but never is unfaithful with), men that she's attracted to (but never is unfaithful with) -- all see her, but never quite know what's going on to make her act as she does.

Olive is not likeable, but she's horrifyingly clear-sighted. What often makes her unlikeable or odd or gruff or moody is that she sees everything so clearly, and offends people by her reactions or by what she says. Some stories take place when she's younger, but most of the stories are about her late 60s and early 70s, when she's fat, unhappy with herself, and fully clear that everyone gets sick and dies in a depressing and often undignified way. She has no patience for euphemism or comfort on this topic, and is brusque if people treat her as a old woman or try to gloss over what she can't help seeing.

Vivid events and characters make the stories individually very readable and enjoyable. Every other story is inside the mind of a different character, alternating with stories of Olive herself. Each story, whatever its center, advances your understanding of Olive and how she seems to people. In contrast, another novel I read recently, Brooklyn, is 100% inside the mind of the main character, but is named Brooklyn because that's what it's really about, while this one is not about the town where events occur, but about a character who sometimes only pops up for a moment.

The most amazing story in the book (which my friend who loaned me the book also singled out) is about Olive's son's wedding. Olive can't stand the woman her son has chosen, but tries to act like a normal mother of the groom. However, she overhears people making snide remarks about the flower-patterned dress she made for the wedding. She snaps, and acts up -- among other things, she steals one shoe and a bra from the bride's closet. We follow her thought process as she goes through with her bizarre action, hiding the objects in her large purse under a piece of blueberry cake that she plans to enjoy alone -- she doesn't want to eat with all the other guests. I can't quite capture the unique quality of writing that makes this such a good story.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mona Lisa at work

From Reuters:
Paris's top museums shut on Wednesday and the Mona Lisa kept her fans waiting as staff went on strike, protesting against cost cuts that they see as a threat to priceless art.
I'm just wondering -- is Mona Lisa a union member?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

More on Typewriters

From the Guardian online, another article about Cormac McCarthy's typewriter and the views of other authors who used these obsolete machines. Don DeLillo and Frederick Forsyth are the lead examples of typewriter users who insist that typing -- nothing electronic -- must be part of their creative process. Hemingway, we learn, "liked to bash away at a 1940s Royal between bouts of drinking, fighting and chasing women and bulls." And Jack Kerouac typed 100-plus words a minute, which prompted Capote to say: "That's not writing, that's typing."