That Extra Hour

I woke up this morning, looked at the clock, and then realized with a bright surge of delight that we had “fallen back” an hour overnight.  So I rolled over and enjoyed a pleasant doze and some rambling dreams to commemorate the occasion.

img_7460After getting up, I made a fine cup of coffee and continued the celebration by walking around the house, changing the settings on all of the clocks that aren’t “smart” — which means pretty much every clock in our house except the ones on our cellphones and the computer — and relished rolling them back an hour.  I punched the new time into the clock on the microwave, and rewound the old-fashioned art deco clocks at our bedsides.  It’s all part of the ritual, as important to the proper observance of the time change as any aspect of any religious service.  Some people recite the Rosary, some people sing the Doxology, I happily engage in the Liturgy of the Extra Hour.

Because getting an extra hour on a Sunday that dawns bright and crisp and clear and full of possibilities is truly a cause of rejoicing.

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A Defense Of Fingernail Biting

I ran across this piece in the New York Times in defense of biting your fingernails, and I immediately thought of Grandma Webner — perhaps the most resolute opponent of fingernail biting in the history of mankind.  She regularly hectored UJ and me about our nail-biting habits, even to the point of mocking, with a grimace, the hands-in-mouth pose of the hapless nail-biter.

A defense of fingernail biting?  Grandma would scoff at the very notion.

1000-woman-biting-nailsThe Times piece makes a reasonable case, tracing nail-biting back to Cleanthes of Assos, a Stoic philosopher, and deftly addressing the arguments that nail-biting is gross and unhygienic.  And yet, the writer goes too far in justifying the conduct of many of those of us who just can’t resist chewing on our fingertips.  She concludes that “nail-biting pairs best not with tension and anxiety but with the moody, concentric revolutions of meditative thought” and adds:  “The urge itself may be faintly animalistic, but answering it can give rise to the kind of mental wandering that makes us more human. It’s freeing and creative, more about process than results. If the point were only to shorten your fingernails, clippers would do — but clippers are regimented and mechanical, while nail-biting is, literally, a manual art. It’s personal, bespoke, precise: You have to bite just the right nail, just the right amount. The method is traditional, and the materials couldn’t be more locally sourced. It’s the ultimate handicraft.”

Grandma worked hard to get me to stop biting my fingernails, and now Kish is the last line of fingernail defense.  With their aid and counsel, I’ve managed to stop biting my fingernails as a matter of course, and to reduce temptation at an absolute minimum I keep nail clippers at the ready in convenient places so I can always give a tempting nail a quick trim.  But when a key sporting event is on the line, I still feel those fingers reflexively reaching upward and my teeth preparing to render a satisfying snick as they chop through the keratin at a moment of maximum uncertainty.

In my case, at least, fingernail biting is clearly associated with tension and anxiety, not “the moody, concentric revolutions of meditative thought.”  It’s an old childhood habit that emerges anew at times of stress, and when the ballgame is over I still feel a twinge of shame that I’m not more disciplined and, frankly, grown-up about it.

Grandma Webner had a lasting impact.

78

6011_hamburg_07Today is John Lennon’s birthday.  One half of the greatest songwriting teams in the history of music would have turned 78 today, if he had not been felled by a lunatic’s bullet and had survived the ravages of early old age.

78 is an interesting number with a distinctive musical element to it, for those of us of a particular age.  When I was growing up, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were standing, alone and unchallenged, at the absolute pinnacle of popular music, we had a phonograph that had four speeds — 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 — so you could change the revolutions per minute of the turntable depending on the kind of record you were playing.  My parents actually had some old swing era records that played at 78 rpm, but of course the Beatles singles were 45s, and the Beatles albums, where the band really broke through the barriers surrounding popular music and changed music forever, were played at 33 1/3.  We played those Beatles records over and over, and even though I’ve heard every song more than a thousand times — no exaggeration — they all still sound as fresh and great as they did when I first heard them on an AM radio.

I never understood why turntables had variable speeds and why different records were recorded to be played at different speeds — but still, even today, 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 remain almost mystical musical numbers for me.  I really would have liked for John Lennon to have made it to 78; unfortunately, he never had the chance to make it to 45.

What a waste.

For Your Health, Get Out Of Town

What’s the best way to avoid being laid low by the flu bug as we head into flu season?  It might be that getting out of town is more effective than getting a flu shot.

crowded-subway-istock-458985557A recent study has concluded that big cities have longer, “more vicious” flu seasons.  One of the researchers in the study explained:  “Larger cities have more organized movement patterns, and these patterns connect pockets of high population density together.”  The density factor is significant given how flu is transmitted.  As the researcher noted:  “Flu spreads from person to person by virus-bearing moisture droplets that an infected person exhales or coughs or sneezes out. This creates what you can think of as a moving cloud of risk around an infected individual.”

“A moving cloud of risk around an infected individual,” eh?  Make you want to go sit on the bus or the subway with a bunch of potentially sick strangers, doesn’t it?

None of this is a surprise to anyone who’s had kids, because it’s just the “preschool effect” writ large.  Once your kids go to preschool and are exposed to a bunch of other germy, sniffling rugrats, you suddenly notice that everybody in the family, including you, is sicker than they’ve ever been before.  Preschool undoubtedly helps to build up the immune system of children, because it is a living testament to the communicability of every different kind of cold, contagion, and virus.  Cities, and particularly mass transit settings in cities, are like one big preschool, where that “moving cloud of risk around an infected individual” is a lot more likely to find you.

Last winter’s flu season was a particularly savage one, and is estimated to have caused 80,000 deaths and a record number of hospitalizations.  If you want to avoid the bug this year, you might just want to get the heck out of town.

Dreamcatcher Morning

When you have a special, private place that you especially enjoy, it’s a wonderful thing. For me, one of those special places is our snug, screened-in back porch on a weekend morning. It’s a great place to sit and drink coffee and chat, with the sounds of the neighborhood in the background.

Some years ago we got a dreamcatcher in connection with our nephew’s wedding, and we hung it from the back porch ceiling, close by the screen. It’s one of the things that makes the back porch special. On breezy days it twists lazily to and fro, and on absolutely calm days — like today — it’s delicate construction is framed against the blue sky outside, and you can admire its spidery beauty.

Traditionally, Native Americans hung dreamcatchers over special places, like cradles, as a form of protection against evil spirits. It’s a good thing to have in your own special place. In fact, these days, who couldn’t use a dreamcatcher?

Thinking About Dreamland

Last night I slept very soundly, with lots of dreaming to keep my brain occupied while my body recharged.  I don’t remember what my dreams were — I almost never do — but I do remember thinking, as I was dreaming, that these dreams were very entertaining.

1100_story_babysleep_co-sleepingWhen I awoke, I thought about what a marvelous thing dreams are.   One second you are observing and participating in a curious, often inexplicable place where anything can happen at any moment and storylines can casually shift and twist and morph without it seeming at all unusual.  Then, after you awaken, your experiences in dreamland vanish in the blink of an eye and you’re back in the actual world where the laws of physics and basic linear reality once again hold sway.  Sure, you can have terrifying nightmares that give you the creeps even after you awake, but for the most part dreams are pleasant enough — nonsensical and crazy, to be sure, but non-threatening.

I found myself wondering whether my parents ever explained the process of dreaming to me.  I don’t remember whether they ever did, and I don’t remember explaining dreams to our kids, either.  Every mammal seems to dream — anybody who’s seen dogs run in their sleep knows that — and I remember watching our newborn boys’ eye movements as they slept in their cribs, knowing that they were dreaming and wondering what in the world infants could possibly be dreaming about.   By the time they were old enough to have developed the language skills needed to have a meaningful conversation about it, they had been sleeping and dreaming for years and had long since grasped the difference between dreamland and real life.  I suppose that’s why we never had a talk about the process of dreaming, as opposed to trying to interpret individual dreams.  Perhaps dreaming is so basic and reflexive for mammals, and humans, that it is understood on an intuitive level, with no explanation required.

Before And After

We’ve been working on the lower yard this week. It was totally overgrown, with weeds that were knee high in some spots and a bunch of spindly chokecherry trees blocking the visibility of the huge granite outcroppings and the nifty birch tree growing out of a crack in the rocks.

We wanted to see what the yard looked like with the overgrowth cut back and the chokecherries chopped down. Fortunately, Russell is skilled with a weedwhacker — a great invention if there ever was one — and I can manage a saw and clippers. Together we tackled the jungle-like growth, and after a few days of cutting, sawing, clipping, and raking we cleared away the underbrush and ended up with a lower yard that is neater, cleaner, and (in my view, at least) a lot more visually appealing. The before picture is above, and the after picture is below.

Incidentally, yard work like this also makes you feel like you’ve really earned that cold beer at the end of the day.