Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Halfpenny in the Jar

So an absence of any November posts from me at Halfpenny Orchestra pretty much scrapped my nascent efforts to contribute to the site at least once a month. But December is not yet out, and I successfully (though perhaps foolishly ... it's 1 a.m.) wrote a rant about recent Pulitzer winners and their cavalier-yet-cliche disregard for grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
Going to bed now. Not looking forward to working tomorrow. Am regretting my efforts already.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

They Didn't Have Light Bulbs Back Then

As soon as Dec. 1 rolls around, I begin listening to Christmas music. It's a vice that I refrain from 11 months out of the year, so I feel that a little over-indulgence is warranted, no matter what my co-workers think.

A couple years ago, I discovered Pandora, an Internet radio station that (in theory) selects tunes based on a sort of "music genome" experiment that finds commonalities between tunes or artists and plays songs that fit those parameters. I've heard some stuff I probably wouldn't have listened to otherwise, and I've liked it. I also like that there's a holiday feature, which keeps the Christmas tunes rolling.

The downside is that it's just some sort of equation picking each song, meaning I can hear three different versions of "Frosty the Snowman" back to back. The upshot is discovering lyrics like this:

Ella Fitzgerald, singing about Rudolph's nose: "They say if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows."

Bing Crosby, speaking: "Like a hot radish."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

If wishes were tarpans ...

Last night, while reading a Wired article about "rewilding" areas that have been depleted of megafauna, I realized that "megafauna" is one of my favorite words. Generally, it refers to animals that weigh more than 100 pounds, but it's most commonly used to describe extinct massive mammals, like mastodons and the like.

Today, I came across the phrase "charismatic megafauna," which, contrary to how it may sound, doesn't refer to smilodons who speak in tongues. The term is applied to giant pandas and other fuzzy beasts that give a cuddly face to environmental movements. For instance, polar bears have become the poster creatures for global warming issues.

And since I'm on the subject of charismatic megafauna, please take a moment to check out this book. It's on my Amazon wish list.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Blood is a big expense."

I was never a little girl, so I can't confirm the claim that the almost-life-size S'mores FurReal pony from Hasbro will truly "fulfill every little girl's dream of having her very own pony."

My wife and I were walking through Costco the other day when we came upon the 3-foot-tall animatronic beast. It's a bit frightening in person, but the best part is the caution on the side, which reads: "Assemble completely before giving to a child."

I have this mental image of a dad who didn't read the warning not understanding why his daughter woke up screaming on Christmas morning when she found the pony's head in bed next to her. Honestly, who would give their kid pony parts?

P.S.--There's a similar toy for boys, but it's a triceratops, because every little boy dreams of having his very own dinosaur. And that I can confirm.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yet Another Piece of My Time

I don't have loads of free time, but I do have a desire to be creative. And not just creative, but as productively creative as consistently as possible. Thus, Halfpenny Orchestra.

My friend Bret and I decided to record some music under that name a few years back when we began participating in the annual February Album Writing Month challenge. He registered the domain, but we never really found a use for it until now. We recently grabbed our friend James-- another guy who thinks enough like we do to be compatible, but different enough to make things exciting--and turned the website into a sort of public accountability circle for our endeavors.

The goal is for each of us to regularly post something original (a story or photo or essay or critique or what have you) each week. That's the goal. Realistically, at least for now, it may be each month. But hopefully as we're spurred on or spurned on or whatever, we'll increase our output.

We've each already written one post, but didn't feel like that was enough to announce to the world. Now, I've actually written a second post.

The cork is out of the bottle.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

You Know You Have to Pay for Them Here, Right?

Guy in Borders on his cell phone: "I'm at the library. I'll call you back."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Big news!

Hattie has some big news to share over at her blog. Without giving too much away, it involves her being a big sister. Oh, wait, maybe that's too obvious ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

This is not an Ostrich

We've taken several trips to Avila Valley Barn with Hattie recently. She loves looking at all of the animals, as do about a thousand other people, most of whom prove that we've come an irreparably long way from our agrarian past here in America.

I can understand, maybe, how people watching the emus call them ostriches. Maybe. But I have to shake my head at the people who call chickens ducks. Maybe these people just can't see or hear very well?

On our most recent trip to the barnyard, I witnessed two boys--maybe 8 or 9 years old--visiting the goat pen.
Boy 1: Look! Baby horses!
Boy 2: No, they're baby donkeys ... (this delivered in a voice thick with an undercurrent of "duh!")
(My wife added that another boy I didn't hear came up and identified the goats as little camels.)

While visiting the emus, I also overheard a mom explaining to her 3-year-old how dinosaurs turned into large, flightless birds and another telling her kid to keep his hands away from the chicken wire: "They'll peck your fingers off." These aren't necessarily comments made in ignorance; they just made me laugh.

I'm generally torn when I visit a place like Avila Valley Barn. I am aware that I am a parent of a young child and a member of the visiting crowd, yet I still find myself frustrated with the parents and the crowds, wishing they weren't out and about like I am--or at least that they would act civilized. Bill Buford writes in Among the Thugs, "The crowd is not us. It never is." I shake my head at the pushing and shoving and inane, shouted comments, but later wonder whether people were shaking their heads at me when I, for example, technically cut in line to buy ice cream with the Rookses. And I hate it when people cut in lines.

Maybe I'm a hypocrite. Maybe I'm an elitist, even though I despise entitlement. Whatever I am, here's a picture of Hattie with a baby horse:

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

When We Were Very Young

This photo of Hattie reminded me of an illustration from A.A. Milne's poem "Corner-of-the-Street," but it reminded me of the text to "Lines and Squares":

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I'm ever so careful to watch my feet,
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who treat on the lines of the street,
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, "Bears,
Just look how I'm walking in all of the squares!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Overheard at Bel Frites

With apologies to this blog's younger or more sensitive readers, here's a line from an interesting late-night/very-early-morning conversation I recently had with a random stranger at downtown SLO's Bel Frites, a restaurant that serves only fries, dipping sauces, and Belgian beer.

Obviously drunk guy: These fries are the best thing to happen to me all night, and I got laid earlier.

Monday, August 18, 2008

No more Sunny Baudelaire

For quite some time--months now--Hattie Rose has resembled the youngest Baudelaire orphan from the popular children's book series. She has had four teeth that, though not particularly sharp, she's used for biting. Her favorite thing to crunch is ice, which she asks for by name along with a vigorous head nod and chest rub to indicate "yes please, and how."

In the span of the last week and a half or so, Hattie seems to have been getting in at least six new teeth. Finally! Maybe, once her teeth are in, she'll stop shrieking for an hour and a half when Sarah tries to get her to go to sleep. Her gums don't seem to bother her when she's awake and playing, but as soon as the lights go dim and she's confined to a bed, she starts. In fact, I hear her right now.

Maybe she's just stubborn? I mean, both of her parents can kind of sort of be a little willful sometimes ...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Old MacDonald Got Confused

I found this graffiti at a bus stop at Cuesta College.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Wheels on the Car ...

Our four-door Honda Civic hit 100,000 miles on the way back from to SLO from Fresno. Neither Sarah nor myself could recall ever having visited the lovely city before. This particular Fresnic journey was to see Sarah's brother Deven perform in a Steppenwolf play (he had a role that Gary Sinise originated) at Fresno State's Summer Arts program, and we also visited our friends the Ischs. Isches? Ischi? Jeremy and Leslie.

It's no San Luis Obispo, but Fresno wasn't as bad as everyone always makes it out to be. It was about 100 degrees outside, but it felt more like upper 90s. We'd go back.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Overheard in Atascadero

So the "Overheard in San Luis Obispo" posts that I'll be sharing with you occasionally actually apply to the whole county. This most recent dialog comes from our recent visit to the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero on their Ice Cream Zoofari night. Something about the taste of vanilla sundaes and sprinkles mixed with the scent of serval urine didn't quite work for me.

The setting for this quote is early evening. A Channel Island fox has just come out of his lair and is inquisitively looking at guests eating ice cream.

Woman: Why does that fox look all healthy and chubby?
(A family member begins, somehow, to answer this question by explaining that zoo animals are often well cared for.)
Woman: (Disdainfully) How much you want to bet that when they rescued it from somewhere it was skinny?

Editor's note: I know that the animal pictured with this post isn't a Channel Island fox. The photos of the fox didn't turn out well.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Man vs. Nature

It's one of the basic conflicts in narrative literature, right up there with Man vs. Self and Man vs. Society.

This morning, when Sarah settled onto our futon to check her e-mail, she noticed an ant in the carpet. Then another one. Then another. And another. Soon, we had traced a trail--right across a pile of clean, folded laundry--to cracks in our fireplace and bookshelves. We're not sure to what they were making a trail: that damp rag? that It's-It wrapper we accidentally missed while cleaning up from dinner last night? that empty container of Gerber Graduates Finger Foods Peach Puffs that Hattie uses as a drum? There were ants here and there on all of those things, but they mostly looked like they were still deciding where they were going to concentrate their efforts. Nothing had been settled on.

We immediately began shaking out the clothes outside, when I noticed that our lawn was overrun with weeds: dandelions, black murdoch, and more I can't identify. Obviously, weeds like that don't spring up overnight--or maybe they do. While Sarah treated all of the ant entryways with clove oil and vacuumed the carpet, I hunkered down on the grass and tried to rip out as many unwanted plants as I could by the roots. Hattie chose to help me with chores by tearing off leaves from the tallest offenders.

After we'd been at our gardening endeavors for a while, a shadow fell across us. Then again. And again. I looked up to see a turkey vulture circling us. It was quite low in the sky--unlike the ants, it seemed to have made a decision about what it wanted to eat. I scooped up Hattie and went inside.

By early afternoon, as I type this, the ants have been evicted, the lawn is mostly grass again, and the turkey vulture is gone. Still, I feel that nature got the upper hand today. I hope that nothing goes wrong when we go to the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero this evening.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

No, Really, Summer is for Blogging

A couple weeks back, I declared that I post too infrequently on this blog. Then I promptly continued to not post on this blog.
So, in the true spirit of pressing forward or stabbing westward or whatever, I'm diligently adding another chapter to the chronicle.
Actually, this post will serve as more of a window into other sites that occupy my time, and will thereby also serve as more of window into my soul.
Late last year, I began another blog, a secret blog, on which I keep track of typos I find in books I read. I've kept it mostly under wraps for a while, mainly because most of the books I read are fantasy novels aimed at young adults. If you ask me what I'm reading now, I'll probably tell you The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Oxford Professor of Economics Paul Collier, which is technically true, but for every two pages I progress in that book, I read approximately three other books in which the main character discovers he has magical abilities, befriends some sort of talking animal or inanimate object, or both.
Anyway, you can find my other blog at Book Typos. It's not perfect, so don't think you're clever pointing out mistakes on my blog pointing out other people's mistakes.
My other recent find is GoodReads, on which you can track what books I've read, am reading, and plan to read, as well as all of that information for various friends of mine. You should join up, too. It's like LibraryThing meets some social networking site that I won't name here.
And if you do checkout my reading proclivities, please don't make fun of me for plowing through the Twilight series.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

It's June--almost July, actually--and I've decided that summer is for blogging. Truth be told, I've been using some of my time off to catch up on friends' blogs, and I've realized that my own attempts have been less than ... frequent.
I started this blog shortly after Hattie was born, just about a year ago, and my hope for this next year is that I'll contribute more. Sarah, too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Overheard in San Luis Obispo

One of my favorite Websites is Overheard in New York. If you've never seen it, it's basically a regular collection of quotes that people, you know, overhear in New York. San Luis Obispo is a far cry from the Big Apple, but I hear things. Today, for instance, I passed a homeless woman I see around town sometimes on a bench outside of my office. She was holding a Bible close to her face, fanning the pages, but looking around shiftily. As I passed her, she looked at me and said, "If your name is Satan, begone!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Happy Birthday!

March 1 was Grandma Miller's birthday. Here are some of the fun times Hattie has had with her recently ...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hattie learns to type

A couple of nights ago, Hattie managed to cruise across the hearth and discover Ryan's vintage Underwood typewriter. She spent about 20 minutes carefully pushing a key, then reaching to touch the letter that popped up in response to her actions. She approached the typewriter with awe, curiosity, and respect, never banging on the keys or playing with it they way she does with other toys. She is truly Daddy's little girl.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Plastic bread and circuses

I really, really love Playmobil people. I have a Playmobil pirate and a Playmobil mummy that "unwraps" to reveal a Playmobil pharaoh.

Playmobil figures and sets are the bright paradoxes of the toy world. They manage to be detailed in their simplicity. Practically every character has blank, staring eyes, a fingernail crescent of a smile, and C-shaped hands--and women tend to sport uniform under-eye lashes--but the variety of "costumes" and snap-on accessories is fairly staggering. The themes range from the typical farm, zoo, and rescue team cliches to scaled-down sports arenas, sea ports, and a "leisure" category that boasts little plastic people sunbathing on a yacht (the Blue Marlin), racing around on jet skis and ATVs, and picnicking outside of a family camper. Anyone who's checked Commonplace in December might remember that we own a Playmobil nativity set, something that, I believe, Lego has yet to produce.

Tom's Toys, a shop in downtown San Luis Obispo, usually has a Playmobil set of some sort or another featured in its window. For the last month or two, the set-up has been sitting under a banner that says something along the lines of "The Triumphant Procession of the Romans."