Spending money · July 7, 2017

Most of us have our peculiar economies, conserving the smallest and most commonplace things rather than using them for their intended purpose. Elizabeth Gaskell reported that her was rubber bands. "I have one which is not new – one that I picked up off the floor nearly six years ago. I have really tried to use it, but my heart failed me, and I could not commit the extravagance." In the same way, we have things for which we would never spend the slightest money, no matter how rewarding that might be.

For whatever reasons, I hate rinsing out the coffee filter. The tap water is always cold and clammy at the logical moment, and the black grits make a mess of the kitchen sink. Putting the filter in the dishwasher is a wonderful alternative, except that I usually run the dishwasher in the wee hours of the night, after the coffeemaker is set up for the coming morning.

It took me many years to realize that I could have two coffee filters, one for active use and the other in the dishwasher. The cost of a second filter was $6.51, plus sales tax. When this idea dawned on me, I felt it was a flash of genius. Of course, I couldn't proceed right away, because there would have been a slight shipping charge. Instead, I waited until I had accumulated enough other purchases to get free shipping from Amazon.

We are not a very logical species.

Annual cheeseburger · July 4, 2017

My mother lived a very "healthy" lifestyle, as far as health is commonly understood, and tactics for promoting it are accepted. She ate a lot of salads and whole-grain bread, long before there was much idea that these were "healthy." She just liked salads and vegetables and grains. She got a lot of exercise, not as a goal-oriented chore, but because she was full of energetic love of all kinds of activity.

Despite her healthy diet and lifestyle, she succumbed to an illness of the sort to which wild horses couldn't have dragged her, if she could have understood what was going on. She didn't, but I did.

I was amazed at the diet that the obese community in her nursing home espoused. She gained ten pants sizes in a year. I worked, with partial success, to clean up the institutional diet of sugar and starch. Faced with the reality, I cleaned up my own diet. I lost 35 pounds over several months and have kept that excess weight off for over five years.

I have a cheeseburger once a year, on the Fourth of July. It's a ritual, a rite, and as with other events of the kind, one can wonder whether the celebration is a matter of high choice, or a simple marker of the passage of time. I've tried many variants and recipes, usually ending up – as this year – with cheddar cheese, a bit of fresh thyme, and a slice of onion.

As part of the ritual, I treat myself to craft beer – or ale, which I somehow prefer, without being able to identify quite why. Somehow, this year I craved stout and searched the internet for options and reviews. The top rating was for Trillium Brewing, not very far from my recent workplace. Unfortunately, I couldn't find their products close to my home. I settled for a relatively expensive ale from Kentucky, and a stout from Ipswich Ale, a quarter mile from my home. The Kentucky ale was so-so, by my taste and by the ratings I subsequently found. The Ipswich Ale stout had a rating of 100 – world class – on the internet, which matched my experience of it. As I find more and more in all things, the best answers are close to home.

Was the cheeseburger good? This year, not particularly, although sometimes before it has been. The kitchen was very smelly afterwards, though I had the exhaust fan on high and took great pains to avoid allowing grease to splash about. – I do think I'll look into the Trillium ale. We'll see if it lives up to expectations better than the cheeseburger.

Library · June 27 2017

Reading is a big part of my daily life, as are music and art. It was an oddity to have my books largely stored in cardboard boxes for many years. With the acquisition of new shelves, it feels as if a part of me that was buried is now visible and part of my surroundings. That is very satisfying.

In the end, the estimated fifty feet of shelf space needed was accurately sized to within an inch, not only overall, but in having logical breaks between different types of content. The only things that don't quite fit are a handful of oversized volumes, such as art and musical scores, as I expected in advance.

It was a very interesting exercise sorting through my books in preparation. As of present count, there are 610 volumes. Of these, 362 are in English, 91 in French, 110 in German, 22 in Italian (my most recent language), and 35 in other forms (bilingual editions or musical scores). There are upwards of a quarter of a million pages altogether.

It has been an curious and revealing exercise grouping them by Library of Congress (LOC) catalog category. It was no surprise to see that the lion's share of the books fell into the LOC "literature" groups, further subdivided by language, then period, and then author's name. It was interesting to see what wasn't there. There were no books for LOC headings U (Military Science) or V (Naval Science), and I don't expect that there will ever be. There was a single book in heading G (a curious group described as Geography, Anthropology and Recreation). That was Bruno Bettleheim's The uses of enchantment, which is really literary criticism or perhaps notes on childhood development. There was one in heading K (Law). There was just one in heading J (Political Science), a surprise to me. There were a lot in M (Music) and N (Fine Arts), as I would have expected. There were two in S (Agriculture) and one in Z (Bibliography, Library Sciences, and Information Resources). – I'd like to use the experience to identify areas where my reading is weak, especially where unintentionally so. That will take a bit more head-scratching, though.

Here, I've updated the format of the Reading pages of this web site, replacing the "Recent" lists, which have become haphazard, with "Library" lists. After a little time, this seems more logical and intuitive than any alternative I've considered. I've redone the linkage scheme and favorites listing, which is probably overdue housekeeping in any event. Over time, I'll also weed the comments on individual works to be more selective, perhaps filling out the roster with a few thoughts on old favorites.

Air conditioning · May 3, 2017

My experience has been that this area has about two weeks of summer weather that are very unpleasantly hot and humid. Somehow, I've found ways of getting through the hot spells. At this point, climate change seems a clear reality, and I'm spending most of my life at home. A noisy room air conditioner for the bedroom, which might otherwise get over 95°, has been minimally acceptable approach for hot nights, but the rest of the house gets just too hot for me to go about my normal activities.

I've recently signed a contract to have ductless air conditioning installed. My small old house was never designed for such things, but I'm hopeful that it will deliver moderate temperatures without objectionable noise. It's scheduled to be done at the end of May, taking three days' work.

Diplomas · March 26, 2017

I have made nothing of my diplomas since completing school. I gave them to my parents – who enabled them, and who cared more about the symbols than I did. For many years, they hung in the house in Fox Point, along with their diplomas.

Recently I have been making good progress at sorting through the last of the remnants and few cardboard boxes from clearing of the house there, generally making it a rule either to find a good place and use for things, or to throw them out. So, I've hung them up. I do value my education enormously, and it won't be pretentiousness for me to have them in my own study.

Aside from the general family climate of caring about learning, my mother's getting her Ph.D. at age fifty gave me a role model to follow. I am very glad that I had that example, for it worked out very well.

Organizing books · March 4, 2017

I have many books. An amazing number of them are in cardboard boxes, despite some heavy weeding and strategic placement of key items. Yesterday, after some measurement of books and furniture space and calculations, I ordered shelves for them. I'm not sure that I have the right capacity, but anything in addition to what I have now will be a blessing, and anything unused will be soon filled.

The prospect of having such a luxury as bookshelves, and a fresh start, raises the question: what will I put where? – People, if they have books, generally have them arranged in a happenstance fashion, with occasional interludes of partial organization. Size can be a determinant.

When you think about the question, how does one organize books, a rather obvious thought is that others have thought about this question before. Most of us have run across the Dewey Decimal System, commonly used in general libraries. The Library of Congress system is more common in academic collections, which mine approximates in style if not in size. There are subspecialties, such as the British Library of Music and National Library of Medicine systems.

It's an amusing question to think about, how do you put everything in the world and beyond into a logical row? Roget struggled with the same conundrum, more or less, when he set up his Thesaurus. There's no good solution, but one has to pick something.

The Library of Congess (LOC) system seems to have something going for it. Still, it is dated, with such groupings as Category B, an outdated and hopeless mishmash of philosophy, psychology, religion. (My father observed the same about the Dewey Decimal System.) One LOC subcategory is BF, psychology, which covers a lot of ground. Another subcategory is BS, the Bible. The Koran doesn't have a comparable place. My collection includes both of these books. It seems, somehow, that they should be close to each other.

I like that the LOC gives consideration to language in literature. PR, a subset of P, Language and literature, is English literature, PT German (and other northern European) works. PR encompasses French, Italian, Spanish and Portugese, which makes sense given the closeness of the languages but doesn't given the enormity of what's in each.

We'll see. I hardly will need a card catalog or electronic database with the size of my library, but it would be nice to have some order to where things are.

Gallery-going · February 25, 2017

I have started a program of visting art exhibitions and museums, an activity that was on hold for many years. I am hoping that, among other things, these visits will broaden my perspective on my own artistic activities.

I have been very struck with how much I am been looking at is a matter of the style the artists are working in, and how relatively small is the contribution of individual creativity or skill. (Of course, part of it is that museums organize their collections and shows in such categories and families.) The style usually has some apparent cultural side. For instance, early Americans wanted portraits that captured their individuality, warts and all. Their clothes didn't need to be individual, but they did need to be fashionable. Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints rarely made even an effort to display the individuality or reality of the persons represented, with the feeling that a harmonious composition was the important thing. Clothes did need to be fashionable. The artistic representations of clothes were quite flat and spaceless, appearing much like scissor-cut samples from the bolts of fabric. Indeed, sometimes the sellers of the art also sold fabrics like those worn in the pictures. I suspect that the attraction of the prints followed transients modes and styles that our modern eye doesn't notice. The were, after all, in the business of making prints! Along the Atlantic seacoast, where I live, people wanted pictures of boats, fish and ocean storms. Those were major factors in their livelihood. It was the subject matter that was – and still is, hereabouts – important, not how or how well the representation was done.

Of course, individual artists may break from the mold and head off in new directions, or simply be very talented and accomplished without being hugely original.

Sewing · January 1, 2017

I recently ran across the suggestion that sandbags are an essential of the stonecarver's craft. The author elaborates that he makes his from the legs of old work pants.

I haven't done much sewing beyond an occasional shirt button since I was young. The local dry cleaner has taken care of most of my alteration and repair needs. Manufacture of sandbags seemed a bit out of their line.

I broke out needle and thread and set to work at it. Though not a practiced seamster, I imagined that a few feet of hemming would be within my competence. It was quite a bit harder than I'd imagined, though. The thread had a way of winding around itself and getting tangled up, I guess because I unintentionally rotated the needle during each stich. Making a straight line with even stiches was a challenge.

It made me think of the times when sewing was woman's work – which it probably still is, de factor if not de juro. In the early days of my life, my mother made a lot of clothes, probably because it was cheaper than buying them, as well as being part of a wife's role. And she could buy ready-made cloth and patterns at the store, and use a sewing machine! Not so very long ago, people spun and wove by hand. Getting a new coat was an investment, perhaps something like getting a car is today. People described in their wills who should get which article of clothing.

At any rate, I eventually managed to turn out a creditable pair of sandbags. The suggestion was a good one. After short use, I don't know how I would do without them.