Christmas tree redux (Christmas tree re-do)

Christmas treeTerry and I went to our (nearly) local Christmas tree farm a week ago Monday and bought our Christmas tree. We put it up and decorated it, including all of our Star Trek and NASA ornaments. On Saturday we were sitting in our recliners, minding our own business, watching Pioneer Woman on Food Network when [WHOP!] the tree fell over. Just like that. Seems the base was too small for the tree.

Terry went to Home Depot and got a new base which was too big. She went back and exchanged it for one that was (you guessed it) just right. We decided that we had had enough activity for one day and put off (re) decorating the tree until Sunday. On Sunday we did just that.

We’re happy with our (re) decorated tree, but that was excitement which we did not need.

Still, the tree is up and beautiful and solid now, and we are prepared to enjoy our Christmas.

Happy Christmas to you, wherever you are.

steak in rather than steak out

Rachael Ray’s premise for her 30 Minute Meals episode “Steak Out, Italian Style” is that if you are tempted to go out for a steak dinner you can just as easily make a great one at home. This episode tells you how.

Rosemary SteakNow I am not a big steak fan, you probably know that. But this dinner looked absolutely delicious, and I knew it was right up Terry’s alley. After I watched the DVR’d episode I brought it up via On Demand and showed it to Terry. She agreed that it looked great. I decided to make a go of it on Saturday.

It addition to rosemary steak, the meal includes Marsala mushrooms and waffle fries with Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Terry told me it was a “killer dinner,” and I have to say I was very pleased with the result. But a 30 minute meal? It definitely was not.

Now I did inadvertently leave out a couple of things. I forgot the wine for the mushrooms. (Yes, I forgot the wine in Marsala mushrooms.) And I was supposed to put crumbled bacon on top of the Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Totally spaced on that. But in reality neither were missed at all.

The comment at the beginning of the recipe on the web page says you should eat this in front of the television. Absolutely no way. This is a meal to be eaten with your significant other at the dining room table by candlelight, your faithful canine sitting on the floor nearby.

That’s what we did. It was marvelous.

On the Backs of Tortoises

On the Backs of Tortoises coverOn the Backs of Tortoises: Darwin, the Galapagos, and the Fate of an Evolutionary Eden
Elizabeth Hennessy
Yale University Press (October 29, 2019), 336 pages
Kindle edition $16.99, Amazon hardcover $22.99

We often think of the Galápagos Islands as something pure and pristine that were undiscovered until Charles Darwin showed up on the Beagle. This book will disabuse you of that notion.

As it happens the islands were discovered very early on, and were a way station for ships making their way up and down the west coast of the Americas. While the Galápagos are today a national park in the country of Ecuador, there has never been an uncontested belief that the ecology should be preserved in its natural state. Some islands in the group have been used as penal colonies and some as military bases. One island was host to a failed utopian society experiment. In the present day we learn that some locals appreciate eco-tourism and others do not.

The author provides a balanced history of the region, dispelling many myths. Towards the end of the book she candidly relates her own experiences in the islands as a researcher.

Nothing is simple. Nothing is black and white. This book makes that clear.

that was the year that was

We did not do a holiday letter this year. It is the first time in recent memory that we haven’t done one. I was simply not up to it. Or, more accurately, I was not up to writing about things which I figured people would just as soon not read about.

calendar 2019I wrote in last year’s letter the harsh medication I was taking to shrink the GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumor) on my duodenum didn’t shrink it and that I would require surgery. I didn’t think that people would be interested in my three-and-half day hospital stay for the surgery in February and the fact that I was in three different rooms during that time. I thought it would probably be TMI to write about my setback in March which put me back in the hospital for the better part of a week, and which could have been entirely avoided had I been given more complete directions about eating slowly and thoroughly chewing my food. I doubted that friends and family would care to know that I had had a tube through my nose to my stomach or that the surgical people on Day 4 finally spoke to the gastroenterological people who did an endoscopic procedure and removed two pieces of mushroom that were causing the blockage (in conjunction with the normal post-surgical swelling).

Those are the kind of things that one simply doesn’t want to put in a holiday letter, but those things informed the first third of my year.

On the other hand, people might get a chuckle to read that as Terry was finishing up her physical therapy from her knee replacement surgery (right in advance of my own surgery) she told her team that she needed to be able to pick up a thirty-five pound dog and put it on the bed, since I would be unable to do so. The physical therapy team adjusted Terry’s routine to accommodate that. And folks might like to know that our thirty-five pound dog, Tasha, now fifteen-and-a-half years old, continues to thrive.

Friends and family might like to know that Terry, who went on leave from Horizon Solar Power in advance of her knee surgery, went back to work after I recovered from my setback and continues to enjoy her work as a permit runner. They might care to know that at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church we finally, after nearly three years, called a rector who is turning out to be the exact right fit for the parish. And perhaps they might also be interested that I continue to manage the web site and the weekly e-news for the church.

Those of you who are connected with me on Facebook probably saw this, but those who aren’t might like to know that after six months of not being allowed any red meat, my surgeon released me from that restriction in August. Terry immediately went out to In-n-Out and got me a Double Double. It was marvelous!  And I suppose people would be interested in knowing that a CT scan in September showed no sign of anything amiss in my digestive tract. Oh, and folks might be amused that Terry was jealous that my scar disappeared more quickly than hers, even though her surgery was four months before mine.

If you remember that I was an avid baker of bread after our kitchen remodel in Gilroy you might appreciate the fact that I am baking bread once again. Our oven died and the cost to fix it was nearly half the price of buying a new stove. We ordered a Samsung model with a grill burner and convection oven before my surgery. It did not show up until I was well on the road to recovery from my setback. A perfect time to relearn my bread baking skills.

So that is our year. We are enjoying our holiday season and are looking forward to getting our Christmas tree tomorrow, which we had to forego last year as Terry’s healing cyber-knee was not up to the task.

Very best wishes to you and yours this holiday season!


I believe the first place I saw instructions for making a slow cooker whole chicken was in the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer. They were, after all, interested in interested in selling their giblet-free whole chickens. It said, in essence, put the chicken in the crock pot and turn it on. That was pretty much it.

I have done this a few times, and I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. That was, however, our dinner yesterday.

slow cooker chickenThe closest Trader Joe’s is a half hour away in the very congested town of Temecula. (I don’t know how you get from one block to the next in Temecula without getting bogged down in complete gridlock. Somehow, though, you eventually get to where you’re going.) Fortunately, however, our local Sprouts here in Hemet sells giblet-less small organic chickens, and that’s what I bought.

Shortly after eleven in the morning yesterday I put together a slightly modified mixture of Jamaican Jerk Seasoning Blend and rubbed it on the chicken. I put the chicken in the slow cooker and set it to low, so it was in the crock pot before eleven thirty. I then left it alone.

Around twenty to seven in the evening I put a rice mix on the stove and at seven o’clock I checked the internal temperature of the chicken. It was well above the required 165° for chicken. I put everything on the table.

It was a delicious dinner. The Jamaican jerk seasoning was great. And there was enough left over to seal up and freeze for two more dinners.

Sometimes a simple approach produces great results.

Something Deeply Hidden

Something Deeply Hidden coverSomething Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime
Sean Carroll
Narrated by the author
Penguin Audio, September 10, 2019
$14.99 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment, but this is the second audiobook on quantum mechanics that I have listened to in the past couple of months. The previous book was What is Real?. The books cover some the the same material, but are really quite different.

The author of What is Real, Adam Becker, has a degree in physics but works as a writer and journalist. Sean Carroll, author of the present book, is a working physicist, although he is well known for his popular books on science. Becker discusses the history, people, and politics around quantum theory in addition to the theories themselves, while Carroll sticks mostly to the science, touching on those other matters when necessary. Becker tries for a balanced approach to the various theories, which can get confusing. Carroll, on the other hand, openly advocates one theory, which can get confusing.

The dominant school of quantum mechanics is the Copenhagen interpretation, while the school that Carroll advocates is known as “many worlds.” The Copenhagen interpretation says that we should accept the the mathematics of quantum mechanics and not try to understand what is actually going on behind it (“shut up and calculate”). The other schools, including many worlds, try to explain why we get the results that we do.

The book is capably read by the author. Since he wrote the book he knows what to emphasize and what requires less stress. You can hear in his voice when he is frustrated or exasperated by a particular approach or theory.

This is not light material, and is perhaps better read in print (paper or electronic), but it’s all fascinating stuff.

Summer of ’69

Summer of '69 coverSummer of ’69
Elin Hilderbrand
Little, Brown and Company (June 18, 2019)
433 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $21.21

This novel has an interesting structure. The matriarch of the family in the story, Exalta, has a daughter named Kate. Kate has three daughters: Blair, Kirby, and Jamie. Each chapter is told in the third person, but in a rotating manner from the perspective of Kate and each of her daughters. With the exception of a short prologue and epilogue, the entire novel takes place in the summer of 1969, although there are many references to past events. The action is focused in and around Exalta’s summer home in Nantucket and on Martha’s Vineyard where Kirby has a summer job. There is, by the way, no scene in the book that remotely resembles the cover illustration.

Hilderbrand effectively interweaves a fictional family saga with actual events of that summer, including the war in Vietnam, the moon landing, and the Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddick incident. Kate’s son Tiger was drafted and is serving in Vietnam, Blair’s husband is a scientist who is at Mission Control in Houston for the moon landing, and Ted Kennedy is a guest at the boutique hotel on Martha’s Vineyard where Kirby works.

The novel maintains momentum throughout; it rarely if ever lags. Hilderbrand reveals some interesting twists near the end and ties things together relatively well. Summer of ‘69 is good summer escape reading even in December.

why we still get a print newspaper

At our house we spend a lot of money on our print newspapers. Getting a newspaper delivered has gotten quite expensive in the past couple of years, and we’re spending more than I would like, but we persist.

One reason that we persist is that newspapers are part of our daily routine. We read the Los Angeles Times and the Riverside Press-Enterprise weekday evenings when we put our feet up and enjoy our aperitifs. Another has to do with the cartoon below. Newspapers do a public service in their reporting, even if the newsrooms are severely scaled back from what they once were.

Then there’s the fact that our democracy is in danger. Newspapers can help protect it. That alone is reason enough to subscribe.

cartoon about newspapers

NPR’s Book Concierge 2019

Book Concierge listI write about this every year, but it is well worth the annual mention. NPR has released its 2019 Book Concierge, and it is delightful as always. If you haven’t checked it out before and you’re a book lover you are in for a treat.

National Public Radio compiles all of the books it has reviewed throughout the year and assigns multiple categories to each. You can then view the books by category. But what is really cool about the book concierge is that you can mix and match categories. For example, you can select Staff Picks and For Music Lovers. Or you can select Book Club Ideas and Historical Fiction. With 369 books in this year’s catalog, that’s a lot reading choices for you.

My favorite category is Seriously Great Writing. What surprised me was how many books in that category I have read this year. Here’s a rundown of the books I’ve read in 2019 that NPR considers Seriously Great Writing.

  • The Source of Self Regard by Toni Morrison – To me this was a sort of mixed bag. There are many genres in this collection: essays, speeches, and meditations as the subtitle indicates. I suspect that I might have chosen another Toni Morrison book to find the best of her writing, but as a memorial to someone we just recently lost The Source of Self Regard belongs in this category.
  • Horizon by Barry Lopez – Lopez is, after all, the dean of living nature writers and this book is a highly readable account of his sojourns in the last couple of decades.
  • The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine – This is an absolutely delightful novel about twins who were born sharing a private language, grew up loving words, and took different paths in their language journey as adults.
  • Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino – I listened to the author read her own essays in the audiobook version. If you think think that millennials are not up to standard as generations go, read this book. You will change your mind.

And then there’s:

  • Floating Coast by Bathsheba Demuth – I read the prologue of this history of the Bering Strait as a Kindle sample, bought the e-book, got part way through the first chapter and returned it for a refund. There was just too much about how whales and other mammals are killed for survival and for profit in the region. But, yes, the writing is seriously great.
  • Nobody’s Looking at You by Janet Malcolm – I read the Kindle sample and decided that the subject matter didn’t interest me. But that’s no reflection on the writing.

Yes, that’s only a handful of books out of eighty-eight, but at least I seem to be making some good choices with regarding to my book reading.

those new eyeglasses

You may recall that I was looking forward to picking up my new eyeglasses. I had ordered two pair, progressive and single-focus for the computer. The verdict after a couple of weeks: I am delighted.

new glassesFor the progressive lenses I ordered a slightly larger frame than what I had before, so when I’m driving I sometimes need to move my eye to a little different spot on the lens, but that’s fine. In church I realized that I can hold the hymnal or the Book of Common Prayer out in front of me rather than trying to peer out from under my glasses. And it’s more pleasant watching television.

My new computer glasses make sitting at my desktop PC very pleasant. It’s now most enjoyable to work on my blog there. Using my iPad with my lap desk while sitting on the bed in the evening is also much more comfortable.

I made sure the frames were different enough to easily distinguish between the two. My computer frames have a somewhat rounder shape than the progressive ones and they also have an additional bridge piece across the nose that is not on the progressives. If I have taken both pair off I immediately know which one I am looking at. (And in any case, if I get up and walk around using my computer glasses I definitely know that I am wearing them. With the previous pair I could get up and take Tasha for a walk and be halfway up the block before I realized I had my computer glasses on.)

I’m pleased.