Sunday, July 6, 2014

J. K. Rowling and Flannery O'Connor

I picked up J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy at Palm Springs Airport yesterday afternoon, before boarding my flight to Salt Lake City, and then on to New Orleans.  The book is billed as Rowling’s first novel for adult readers. 

The first line, "Barry Fairbrother did not want to go out to dinner," reminded me of the first line of Flannery O'Connor's short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, "The grandmother did not want to go to Florida." Curiously, in short order, both Barry Fairbrother and the grandmother were dead.

A number of the characters in The Casual Vacancy seem familiar, not because I've read Rowling before, which I haven't; I've never read Harry Potter or seen the movies. Rowling's characters in The Casual Vacancy have some of the same moral qualities as O'Connor's characters, who I'm very familiar with. For example, Fats Walls reminds me of Hazel Moats in O'Connor's Wise Blood. Or, Shirley Mollison, who reminds me of Ruby Turpin in O'Connor's Revelation

I've only just begun The Casual Vacancy, but I'm drawn into the complex characters and their relationships to each other.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Shotgun Lovesongs

A few months I heard National Public Radio commenter, Scott Simon, talk about Shotgun Lovesongs, a novel by Nickolas Butler. I was taken by the piece and ordered the book from my mobile phone as I had my coffee and a bagel at Brugger's. 

I was drawn to Lovesongs because it sounded like the book was about friendships and place.  I like friendships, especially those that are long term.  I also like "place" as a human theme.

Even before I got my copy of the book, I contacted members of a bookclub that last met over a dozen years ago and told them about the book. One of the bookclub members recommended that we read the book and meet online to discuss it.  

The book was everything that I'd hoped it would be, including good friendships, a strong sense of place, complexity, warmth, surprise, understated heroism, and good doses of redemption. 

Lovesongs is written differently. Each chapter is written in the first person point of view of a character. I had to catch on and I wrote down notes on each character to keep things straight in the beginning. That style takes a while to build a framework for who is who and their relationships. But it works for this book. Once the framework was in place, which was about the first half of the book, the story takes off with intensity. At that point, I couldn't wait to get to the next page.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Clouds in the desert

Palm Springs, California

Container Gardening

My attempt at container gardening is having mixed results. Containers require a lot of attention to watering and sun exposure. I just retuned from a three-day trip.  In preparation, I moved the containers to a less sunny location on my balcony in hopes of protecting the plants from the intense summer heat. That didn't go too well. My tomatoes survived, but many of the other plants, including the sage, which is a dry plant, didn't do so well.  I have a five-day trip coming up, so I'm moving some of the plants inside to my kitchen, where they will get sun, but have more protection. Watering is still an issue.  We'll see how this goes.

I've decided, however, to draw back on trying to grown a large variety of herbs.  It's not going to work. I'm going out this morning to get succulents to replace many of the herb pots. I travel quite a bit and realize that I can't give the containers the attention they need. I was surprised that being a way three-days would stress the herbs so severely. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Short take: What happens when ...

What happens when a person intentionally tries to treat others better? For example, when talking to a telephone service representative? You know, someone who is anonymous and you'll never deal with again.

It's hard to do so. It's easier to quip back at people, rather than to great the service agent warmly before communicating my concern - even if I've had to wait for 20 minutes to get to a human being. Then communicate my concern, listen to the service agent's response with patience, and then work through what I hope can be done to satisfy or resolve my concern. I've been aware of that recently; and, to be honest, it's worth the effort. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


I've heard people say that MIT changed their lives. I'm one of those people. That's why I enjoy going back every year. Although I didn't attend the Institute, I spent five very good years in the administration. Those years were pivotal in my career.

Here are some photos from my current visit.

MIT sits on the Charles River and faces Boston's Back Bay neighborhood.

MIT sailing.  The "T" on the sails is for "Tech" - one of the short names for MIT.

The Stata Center is one of many interesting buildings at MIT.

Monday, June 30, 2014


I heard a reference yesterday that is sticking with me. It was that erosion was the big threat to a rock. Think, the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon.  Subtle.  What happens when erosion happens to the values a person holds dear, or to guiding values? Does one lose something important?  Does one become desensitized? Uncaring? Frightened? Brazen? This conversation can go in multiple directions.

It would be a healthy exercise to recall decision points in life where things went well, or went poorly, and to look at what triggered a good decision or a bad decision, and then follow the thread.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


The napkins are laundered, and ready for the next dinner party.

Very Brief Update

It's been a while since I posted an update on the move. I haven't done much with "projects."  In fact, it's interesting how I've settled in and many of the improvement projects seem less urgent than when they initially made my "to-do" list. That's not to say that I won't get to them. Yet, the cost of getting moved and settled rapidly escalated, and I've decided to slow that pace down. There's nothing urgent that needs to be done.

I have completed furnishing my home, and I must say that it is very comfortable. The projects that are still to get done are cosmetic and will be done in course.

Friends came over for dinner last night, which was a lot of fun. Here's the menu:
  • Grilled salad (romaine lettuce, green and yellow peppers, avocado and red onion)
  • Grilled fresh wild-caught Alaskan salmon with grilled lemons and fresh herbs from my container garden
  • Tomato jam
  • Gelato 
  • Toasted coconut cookies
It was fun harvesting herbs growing on my front porch.

Last night was fun because making dinner with friends was a big deal to me as I looked at condos. I have plenty of counter space, and one of the kitchen windows opens up to the front porch, where the grill is, so everyone stayed connected as we moved around the grill and the kitchen.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Learning to DIY: Week 2

Here's an update on the condo I just bought. I still haven't moved in.  Although it was marketed as "turn-key" - it wasn't.  I'm at the point, now, where I can move in.  These are the projects that were completed this week:
  • I hired a painter to paint the guest room. The purple is gone.  I chose three colors:  flat white ceiling, sage green for the upper wall, and putty (dark tan or light brown) for the main wall. This room has a white molding going around part way up the wall.  I chose a third color to add interest to the vaulted ceiling.
  • Carpeting: I contracted to have the carpet installed. A friend's dad got me a remnant of pretty amazing carpet:  He arranged for the installation.
  • I also had a plumbing problem: the water regulator was bad, which caused the water pressure to be inconsistent and too high. That was taken care of by the home warranty.
  • And, I had the ADT alarm system removed because it was very large, and it used wired telephone technology, as opposed to cellular. That honking system was like an albatross that I wanted removed. ADT sent a technician over today and it's gone.
So far, all the projects were hired out. That's true. I had nothing to do but to make the arrangements and write checks to pay people.

What did I do:
  • I cleaned, cleaned and cleaned again: I scrubbed both porch decks (entry and master bedroom), cleaned the kitchen and lined the cabinets, cleaned both bathrooms.
  • My big DIY project was removing all the painted over mount anchors stuck in walls. The previous owners had a lot of stuff screwed in the walls. Everything is gone now. 
  • I repainted the walls where wall mounts had been, and where the security system was installed.
  • I also cleaned the blinds in the living room and kitchen - they were filthy. 

True, I've not taken any big risks, but, so far, all of the things about the condo that annoyed me are taken care of.  I just have to get moved in!

About the move, I need to pack up my apartment. The motivation isn't there because I still have 7 weeks before I need to get out. Today, however, I started to feel that tension of not begin rooted.  The new place is very nice, clean, organized, etc., and the apartment is a wreck because it's partly packed up.  I can't live like this!  I need to be in one house.

I plan to shop for living room furniture tomorrow. I'm going to Crate & Barrell.

Here's a photo of the painted and carpeted guest room. (Before and after.)