Breakfast Mutation

Once, I was a big breakfast person.  Mom was a charter member of the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” cult, and she insisted on our having a “healthy breakfast” before we headed off to school.

In those days, a “health breakfast” meant a big bowl of Frosted Flakes, Captain Crunch, or Quake during the warmer months, and oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, or some other hot cereal — always with brown sugar, of course — and a glass of juice, and a glass of whole milk, and probably some toast with jelly, besides.  Fortified and carboloaded with our “healthy breakfasts” and bundled up against the morning chill, the Webner kids went out to wait for the school bus and take on the world.

But over the years, my tastes and breakfast interests mutated.  Some of it was due to speed; there just doesn’t seem like a lot of time in the morning to make a big breakfast.  Some of it was due to weight; at some point, large mixing bowls of sugary cereal suddenly didn’t seem like such a wise move from a belt size standpoint.  And some of it, frankly, was just a matter of taste.  I got to the point where I didn’t like the feeling of gobbling down a bunch of food first thing in the morning.  Restricting my intake to a cup of coffee and a small glass of orange juice left me feeling a bit lighter and less logy.  And I also figured that if I limited myself to a small breakfast, that would leave plenty of room on the calorie counter for a nice lunch.

Is breakfast “the most important meal of the day,” as Mom’s creed dictated?  Beats me!  Given the ever-changing “science” of human dietary needs and food pyramids, I doubt if anyone really knows.  These days, I pretty much just for go what makes me feel better.  I suppose if I was going out and waiting for the school bus in the chill morning air, then taking a loud, rattling, 45-minute, seat belt-free ride with a bunch of other rambunctious kids headed off to school and charged up by their own intake of sugary cereals I might feel differently.

Tale Of The Scale

Our place in Stonington, like many American households, has a bathroom scale.  It’s a small, square scale — which is a good thing, because the bathroom itself is not spacious and the scale has to be wedged into a pretty tiny space.

And this particular scale, like all bathroom scales I’ve ever owned, seems to chronically overstate weight.  Does anyone else have that experience?  Are bathroom scale manufacturers part of some shadowy conspiracy with junk food producers to disappoint Americans who are trying diligently to shed a few pounds and cause them to give up hope, forget the diet, and dive once again into that bag of pork rinds?

To be honest, I don’t really use bathroom scales.  If I’m feeling especially trim, I’ll step on one in hopes that the scale will confirm my optimism, but then I see that I weigh pretty much the same as I have for the past 15 years, shrug, and decide not to worry about the scale going forward.  When I made my one use of this particular scale this summer, I noticed that it goes up to 320 pounds.  320 pounds!  It’s hard for me to imagine a 300-pounder teetering on this puny scale, or the protests the scale might make if a 300-pounder actually tried.  But it turns out that the a 320-pound limit is on the low side for modern bathroom scales.  Amazon offers a number of scales that have a 440-pound capacity.  It’s hard for me to imagine that many people who might test that limit would be using a bathroom scale, but apparently that is the case.  

Bathroom scales have an interesting history.  They first came into popular culture in the early 1900s, when life insurance companies decided that heavier people tended to kick the bucket sooner, and began publishing tables that showed ideal weights for people of certain heights and then factoring that data into coverage decisions and calculating the premiums for policies.  Setting an “ideal” weight helped to fuel a broader focus on personal weight as a measure of both healthiness and attractiveness, and that meant people needed to start weighing themselves more regularly.  Because people worried about their weight weren’t all that keen about stepping onto the penny scales at the local emporium, in full view of the public at large and neighborhood busybodies, a market for a private means of weighing yourself was created, and the bathroom scale was invented to meet the demand. 

People who obsess about their weight have rued that day ever since.

My Interview With RBG

I was very saddened to read yesterday of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, after a long and hard-fought battle with cancer.  She was one of those rare Supreme Court justices who was not only a towering legal figure, but also a titanic cultural figure as well.

As the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg was a role model and iconic figure for generations of women entering the legal profession and, more broadly, women breaking boundaries in formerly male-dominated professions of all kinds.  Her jurisprudence shows that she was a tireless, and relentless, advocate for women’s rights, but also a brilliant and careful legal analyst and deft writer whose considerable brainpower was well applied to every case that came before the Supreme Court.

And in my view, at least, Justice Ginsburg was an important cultural figure in another way as well.  She was great friends with former Justice Antonin Scalia, even though their views on the law and its purpose could not have been farther apart.  They shared a love of opera, enjoyed socializing, and actually performed on stage in a 1994 Washington National Opera production.  It says something about the character and temperament of both Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia that they could put aside their political and legal disagreements and still enjoy each other’s company.  It’s a quality that we could use a bit more of in these bitterly divided, hyperpartisan times.

I had the privilege of actually interviewing for a clerkship position with Judge Ginsburg in 1984, when she was serving as one of the leading, up-and-coming judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and I was beginning my third year of law school.  I had sent resumes and letters to all of the court of appeals judges and was thrilled to get a callback interview with Judge Ginsburg.  (I suspect that her husband, Martin Ginsburg, a Georgetown Law professor who had taught two tax classes I had taken, may have put in a good word for me.)  Alas, when I arrived for the interview Judge Ginsburg told me, with characteristic gentle forthrightness, that she had just offered the position to another candidate, who had accepted, and she said that under the circumstances if I wanted to skip the interview she would understand and be fine with that.

I was disappointed at the news, but figured what the heck — how often am I going to get a chance to talk for a while with one of the world’s leading legal minds? — so I said if it was okay with her I’d like to stay and chat, anyway.  We spent a very enjoyable hour talking about her husband and his great teaching style and a law review article I was working on about the intersession pocket veto, an issue that had arisen before the D.C. Circuit.  Judge Ginsburg asked some incisive questions about the issues and had some interesting observations about them, and then flattered me by asking for a copy of my draft article, which I promptly sent.  I may not have gotten a clerkship out of our brief encounter, but I did get a good story and some insights into an important historical figure from the experience.

When President Clinton appointed Justice Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, I knew she would be an important Justice, and of course she was.  Today I remember not only the leading jurist and influential role model, but also the funny, dynamic person I met more than 35 years ago.  The world is a little poorer today with her passing.

On The Trail

This part of Maine is blessed with some fine hiking trails, and thanks to the Island Heritage Trust, Deer Isle has more than its share. A good hiking trail is a great place to rediscover the simple pleasure of a walk in the woods, and reengage with that inner child who has been buried under decades of life and countless layers of adult obligations. You can’t help but feel a bit like a kid again when you balance on some two-by-fours laid over the boggy areas or are tempted to skip a stone on the still waters of a pond.

It’s been a busy summer for us, and the occasional hikes have been an effective and much appreciated stress relief mechanism. As the summer draws to a close, we always regret that we didn’t take a few more, and vow that next summer we won’t make the same mistake.

Salt Intolerance

Do human taste buds and flavor tolerances change as human beings age?  Or are they just putting more salt — much, much more salt — into some foods these days?

I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both.  

I’ve definitely changed my application of salt to food as the years have gone by.  I used to reflexively salt things like cheeseburgers, steaks, eggs, and corn on the cob, but have long since stopped doing that.  These days, I rarely put salt on anything.  I’m a big fan of black pepper, and I like to apply seasonings like paprika and cayenne to give food an extra flavor kick.  But salt has moved to the back of the seasoning cabinet.

But I think it’s also true that many restaurants simply are a lot more liberal with their salting.  I’ve had to edit my list of restaurant foods because some orders are simply too salty to be enjoyed.  I’ve long since stopped getting carryout Chinese, because most places have so much sodium in their General Tso’s chicken that you kind of wonder whether the General was some kind of pathetic salt addict.  And McDonald’s fries are also at the verboten end of the salt spectrum.  Lately some pizzas also seem to be edging toward the forbidden zone.

Sometimes it’s just too tempting to try that piece of pizza, but I always end up deeply regretting it.  I find myself drinking glass after glass of water to make up for the salt intake, and I wake up at night feeling like every ounce of moisture has been sucked out of my body and you could use a straight razor to shave salt crystals off my tongue.  And then I vow that another food item must go onto the roster of banned items.  

This summer the GV Jogger generously got me a great t-shirt that says “Stay Salty.”  It refers to my personality, not my taste buds.

Spider Season

The spiders of Stonington— industrious creatures that they are—have been busy these days. Every morning the grass spiders have left dozens of their distinctive funnel webs at various locations on the ground and between the flowers of our flower beds. And other spiders, not to be outdone, have left more traditional radial webs on the eaves and railings, as well as the occasional plant.

The spider activity seems to increase as the temperatures cool, and their handiwork is even more noticeable on dewy mornings. Part of my daily activity involves knocking webs off the flowers, which otherwise would look totally mummified and covered in dried leaves and other debris in a few days. And walking just about anywhere poses a risk of stumbling into stray spiderwebbed filaments.

In fact, if you wanted to adopt a scary natural Halloween look, you’d just let the spiders spin their webs undisturbed. By the time Halloween rolled around you’d have a creepy, cobwebbed house and grounds suitable for a slasher flick.

A Bottle’s Story

My latest recreational activity up here has been a project to try to expose the large rocks in the down yard and level out the ground in the process. it’s a classic pointless project. Is it necessary? Absolutely not! But it’s fun, and gets me exercise out in the fresh air, and I like to see physical results of my daily labors.

The project involves lots of digging with small tools as you work between the big rocks to lever out small rocks and level out the soil. And, sometimes, as happened yesterday afternoon, you find stuff — like the classic Nehi bottle and blue glass canning jar lid pictured above, both of which were wedged into a tiny crevice between two large rocks and covered in decades of dirt. They’ll join our collection of other bottles that have been retrieved, intact, from the down yard.

Alas, most of what I’ve dug up is shattered glass. I’ve excavated so many shards of glass that I’m convinced people must have used our down yard area for target practice or random, drunken bottle breaking. That’s why it’s cool to retrieve some intact old pieces that escaped the onslaught.

The Sound Of Hammering

Julie Andrews like to whirl around in an Austrian meadow and sing about the hills being alive with the sound of music.  In our neighborhood, lately, the hills have been alive with the sound of hammering–and it’s nothing to sing about.

Two workers have been building a one-story wooden house about 100 yards from our front door.  On every non-rainy day, starting at about 6 a.m., we are treated to a hammering symphony as they put up the structure and pound away as if their lives depended on it.

It’s made me wish for rainy days.

Hammering is a uniquely annoying sound.  It make a sharp noise, it’s repetitive, and it echoes and reverberates against the nearby hills, which just amplifies the irritation factor.  I’ve gotten to the point where I distinguish between the individual hammering style of each of the workers.  One guy uses four strokes of increasing force — bam, bambam, BAM — to get the nail flush with the planking of the roof.  You find yourself cringing inwardly as you wait for that inevitable fourth hammer blow to fall.

Oddly, on some days you don’t notice the hammering . . . until you do.  And then, once you do notice it, you can’t consciously unnotice it again.  You just hope that the workers will take a break at some point soon and let your brain cycle back to non-hammer-focused mode again.

I’m all for commerce, and it looks like the little house will be a nice addition to our neighborhood.  But I will be immensely grateful when the house is built and that infernal hammering ends.

Into Refrigerator Magnet Territory

Yesterday I took the photograph above on my morning walk.  As I looked at the sky, I thought:  “Clear skies are nice, but clouds make the picture more interesting.”

And the combination of the picture and that saying made me think, inevitably, of refrigerator magnets. 

Mom was a big refrigerator magnet person.  Some of you, at least, are familiar with what I’m describing.  The magnets always had both a picture and a saying.  And usually the combination of the photograph and the saying was aiming for purported wisdom and vaguely aspirational notions, in the sense of accepting life’s challenges with a positive attitude and sense of resolve, or maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity.  An example might be a photo of a crew team rowing on the water, and the saying might be “we make better progress when we all pull together,” or something along those lines.

The picture above with the saying “clear skies are nice, but clouds make the picture more interesting” would be a classic refrigerator magnet of that genre.  Someone would look at it as they are getting ready to make their sandwich for today’s working remotely lunch, nod at its pseudo sagacity, and eat their lunch with a renewed sense of purpose.

At least, that’s the idea.

Back To The Crack

Some loyal and curious Webner House readers have asked for an update on how the flower beds that I planted in the downyard earlier this summer are doing.  The answer is: good and bad.

The good news is that I have, for the most part, kept the flowers I planted in the crack between the two huge rocks from being gobbled up wholesale by hungry gangs of marauding deer.  As a result, after several frustrating incursions where the deer bit off the flower buds just as they were getting ready to burst, the flowers have actually bloomed, as the photo above shows.  The black-eyed susan plant at the forefront was the subject of repeated violation by the deer, so it’s still trying to catch up with its counterpart at the other end of the bed, which has only suffered one or two deer visits.  If you want to do a comparison of how the bed looks now versus how it looked at the outset, you can find some “before” photos of the crack here.  

When viewed from our deck, above, the crack between the rocks actually looks like a flower bed.  The bright yellow of the black-eyed susans stands out against the granite rock, and I like the purple of the phlox.  The bad new is that the Husker red beardtongue flowers planted in the middle have been a disappointment.  The plants seem to be healthy, but they don’t produce many flowers and don’t add much, visually, to the beds.  And a lupine that I planted in another bed was decimated by a slug attack.

Looking at this floral experiment with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I should have just planted black-eyed susans, which seem to do well in this soil, in the whole bed.  But all of these flowers are perennials, so I’m hoping that the beardtongues bounce back next year and strut their stuff.  

I’ve also learned something else:  gardening is really kind of fun, and interesting, besides.  In fact, it’s somewhat addictive.  Already I find myself thinking of what I might do in the gardening arena next year.  A gardener’s work is never done.

Another Reason To Make Your Bed

When you were a kid, your Mom probably reminded you — like, maybe a billion times — to make your bed.  Of course, your Mom wasn’t looking for army barracks/being able to bounce a quarter off the bed precision.  Her desires were simple:  when she walked past your bedroom, she was just hoping for a room that looked reasonably tidy.  If your Mom was like our Mom, when she reminded you — again — of the need to make your bed, she might have added that your bedroom looked “like a tornado hit it.”

It turns out that in this, as in so many things, your Mom was right — again.

A recent survey found that people who make their beds are more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep, and also are having more sex than the non-bedmakers — apparently because an unmade bed is a turn-off to many people.  Let’s set aside, for a moment, the issues of exactly how scientific the survey was, and let’s forget that second result, because this is, after all, a family blog.  Let’s focus, instead, on the notion that people who make their beds are more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep.

The survey result that a well-made bed equates with better sleep seems intuitively right to me, for several reasons.  First, I think beds that are made tend to be cooler.  “If your bed is made, the sheets are in the shade” — and I think most people sleep better when their surroundings are cool.  It’s the same reason people often flip the pillow to enjoy the cool underside.

Second, I think if you get into an unmade bed you’re going to spend the first few minutes trying to get the bed into some reasonable semblance of order, anyway.  While the members of the Made Bed Brigade have slipped between the sheets, enjoyed the cool cotton feel, and are slipping blissfully off to dreamland, the non-bedmakers are wrestling with the hot sheets and covers, trying to get them unsnarled so they can lie down in peace and comfort.  In effect, they are trying to make the bed while they are already in it.  Fussing with the bed, and getting out to tuck in the sheets or smooth the comforter, is not exactly the best way to start the process of falling asleep.

And third, most people tend to subconsciously crave order, and a made bed speaks of order.  The inner voice of your Mom has been obeyed, and you can feel good about checking one of the boxes for the chores to be done during the day.  And when you come back to the bedroom that night, your bed will look attractive and welcoming, rather than like — well, like a tornado hit it.

So, make your bed, already!  You’ll sleep better.  And who knows?  There might be other benefits, too.

The Quiet Of The Morning

I woke up at about 4 a.m. this morning, which is earlier than normal.  I tried to go back to sleep, hoping for another hour or so of shut-eye, but after tossing and turning for 15 minutes and realizing I was wide awake, I decided to yield to the inevitable, get up, and enjoy the quiet of the morning.

I like sleep as much as the next person, but I also don’t really mind those days when absolute wakefulness comes early.  Mornings are definitely a special time here.  It is so quiet that your ears almost begin to ache as they search for any hint of a sound, and the thrum of a car on a distant street heading toward the harbor, or the cawing of a crow in one of the neighborhood trees, seems almost deafening.  The headlights of pick up trucks turning onto the road toward Greenhead Lobster flitter briefly across the walls, and there is a faint taste of salt in the pre-dawn air.  After last night’s rain, the sky was clear as crystal, with the morning constellations at first standing out brightly against the broad sweep of the Milky Way, and then hanging on to the west before being overwhelmed as the first glimmers of daylight emerge to the east and the dim outlines of the rocks below our deck start to emerge from the nighttime gloom. 

Mornings are a good time to stand outside and enjoy the silence and then to putter about, straighten things up, put the dishes away, turn to some random Mozart on the Idagio app, and enjoy that first steaming cup of coffee and the coolness of the air.  On mornings like this you need to relish the moment and let all of the senses run free.  I’ll be more tired than normal tonight, for sure, but for now I will enjoy the quiet of the morning.   

Seeking Skillet Suggestions

We’ve got a cool new helper in the kitchen.  Dr. Science and the GV Jogger sent us a skillet as a housewarming gift, to help round out our very limited supply of Stonington cooking implements. 

The skillet was hand forged by the skilled blacksmiths and treated by the artisans at the Lockhart Ironworks of Logan, Ohio.  It’s a beautiful piece of work that even came with a cool mini-skillet that we’ve hung in a place of honor on the magnetic strip that runs along one wall of our kitchen.

I’ve always wanted a true skillet, which is one of the most versatile cooking devices you can have.  Skillets also can become kind of heirloom items that get passed down from generation to generation.  So, I want to make sure I treat this skillet with the care and respect it so richly deserves.  The key is to make sure that the skillet becomes properly seasoned and develops a natural non-stick surface.  The Lockhart Ironworks note says that it has already pre-heated the finished skillet and treated it with a layer of coconut oil for seasoning purposes.  It recommends that we apply a thin coat of our “preferred oil” and cook a meat that is rich in fat or oil during the first few uses to help with the seasoning process.  And of course the skillet needs to be carefully dried and oiled after each use to prevent rusting.

So, I’m seeking instruction and guidance from my internet friends.  What should our “preferred oil” be, and what are some good meats to cook to help establish the desired seasoning and achieve the patina that will move this skillet into heirloom territory?  Suggestions would be much appreciated!

Harbor Dreamscape

A heavy fog moved ashore last night, leaving the world mist-shrouded and opaque for my walk this morning. As I walked down Main Street toward the center of town, this scene seemed hauntingly familiar. It reminded me of a vista from a dream, where everything lacks sharp edges and seems somehow unfinished.

A Visit To The Shack

It’s been years since I’ve had my hair cut by anyone but the Platinum Stylist.  After a disastrous experience getting a hair cut on a Florida vacation several decades ago — when I emerged from the barber shop looking like a patient who’d gotten a bad buzz cut during a stay at a ’50s-era mental institution — I’ve learned that you should just find somebody who cuts your hair well, as the PS does, and stick with them.  So I do.

But the coronavirus affected that approach, as it has affected so many others.  After going three months without a haircut, I just couldn’t take my shagginess anymore.  And in Stonington, getting a hair and beard trim means going to one place — Suzy’s Scissor Shack, housed in a quaint little building on Main Street near the post office.  I walk past it every day on my morning jaunt.

In addition to being a real tongue-twister, Suzy’s Scissor Shack is strictly a one-chair affair, where you are tended to by Suzy herself.  I am happy to report that she did a great job of freeing me from all of those annoying long hairs and returning me to my customary reasonably professional look.  And while I sat we got a chance to chat a bit about everything from Stonington to lobstering to the issues involved with small businesses, like Suzy’s, trying to navigate through the red tape for the PPP loan program.  It was an educational half hour where I feel like a got a glimpse of what it’s like for a person to run a small business in modern times.

It feels very good to have lost the shagginess, thanks to Suzy’s deft clipping.  And now I know that, if I need a haircut up here, I can rest assured that I will be in good hands.