One year ago we were five days away from embarking on our Gambian Adventure. (Yes, I'm all too aware that I still have most of that trip to write about.) If our trip were this year instead, we would have had to cancel it.
The longtime leader lost a Dec. 1 election to opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow. Jammeh initially conceded, but later called for a new vote. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and others have united in criticizing him.
Jammeh's party filed a petition to the country's Supreme Court against the election, and a key court ruling is expected Jan. 10.
What might follow the court ruling is anybody's guess. Civil war could erupt. Most Gambians are happy with the regime change, but not all. The Gambia's neighbors have not ruled out military intervention if necessary, and even diplomatic and/or economic sanctions could devastate the Gambia's shaky economy.
The uncertainty has already disrupted the educations of those who are the country's best hope for progress, and it could get much worse.
In recognition of the solidifying crisis, the United States on Saturday advised American citizens not to travel to Gambia "because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future."
The U.S. State Department also ordered relatives of diplomats and embassy staff to leave Gambia and warned all its citizens to depart now, saying those who choose to stay should "prepare for the possible deterioration of security."
Per these recommendations, the Gambia's Most Awesome Math Professor is away on what she hopes will be a short visit out of the country. But of course her home, her job, her beloved students, and our new Gambian friends are left behind.
Please pray that the transition will be smooth and the disruption short-lived. If all goes well, the new president should take office on January 19, and the Gambia will embark on a new, democratic path of reform. It will be a difficult road—the Gambia is desperately poor and lacking in resources—but a hopeful one.
I'm sure my creative readers will find ways to make this even better, but I love the way it takes up just a small amount of space behind a couch, reclaims a hidden wall outlet, includes a device-charging station, and provides room for a book and a tea cup. :)
This time we tried a few new things, but made a point of revisiting some favorites.
Greenhouse Guru Mini San Marzano Tomatoes. Almost everything at the Festival is overpriced, but this is the only one I'd call an out-and-out ripoff. I was hoping for something fresh and tasty, you know, like a real tomato. This was a small bag of the kind of tomatoes I can get any day (for a much better price) at Publix. On top of that, they had been refrigerated.
Chocolate Studio Ghirardelli Chocolate Raspberry Torte. It was every bit as good as it sounds.
Canada "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce. One of my favorites. You have to special order if you want it to be cooked rare, but it's worth it. PLUS, I had gone ahead to grab a table, and when Porter found me he was bringing not only the filet but a small cup of hideously expensive but delicious apple ice wine. He was spoiling me....
France Boeuf Bourguignon: Cabernet Sauvignon-braised short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes, AND Soupe à l'oignon au Gruyère et Cognac. Old favorites that are too good not to indulge in both.
Belgium Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream. Another well-worthwhile repeat.
Craft Beers Piggy Wings: Fried Pork Wings with Korean BBQ Sauce and Sesame Seeds. This must be what you get when pigs fly. The pork was small, fatty, and bony (like a true wing), but the barbecue sauce was good.
China Sichuan Spicy Chicken. Everything at the Chinese kiosk sounded delicious, but I remembered how good the chicken was. If we return before the Festival is over, maybe we'll try something different.
We also visited the Ghirardelli booth twice this time. It's a little disappointing that the sample chocolate square is always milk chocolate caramel instead of a chance to taste more of their many, different, delicious varieties, but it's hard to complain about chocolate caramel.
For all the times we've visited EPCOT, we'd never done the Soarin' Around the World ride, so we remedied that deficiency. In contrast to most of the new rides at the theme parks around here—and despite the dire "lawyer warnings"—Soarin' does not bounce you around and slam you into the sides of the car. It only lifts you a bit into the air; the awesome effects are all from the movie that nearly surrounds you. Nor did it make us queasy at all, though it was nearly impossible to avoid flinching at some of the apparent close calls as we soared around the world, from the Matterhorn to Sydney Harbour to the mighty Iguazú Falls. You can see the ride, sans special effects (which included scents), here.
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be inside the EPCOT fireworks show?
Soarin' was the highlight of the non-food part of our visit. The other rides, Spaceship Earth (no longer sponsored by AT&T) and Journey into Imagination with Figment (no longer sponsored by Kodak), are but pale shadows of their former selves. I've included the YouTube videos for those of you who grew up with the better shows, so you can see what you're (not) missing.
Spaceship Earth is especially disappointing, as the poetry has completely gone out of it. The attraction opened two years before we came to Central Florida, and we've seen many revisions through the years. Walter Cronkite knew how to tell a story; this is probably the version our kids remember best.
But my absolutely favorite was the one before Cronkite's. I can find no video online (this was in the early 80's, after all), but you can see some pictures and most of the text at Walt Dated World. I've extracted the text below so you can compare the language with the prosaic (boring) lecture-style of today.
Narrator: Where have we come from, where are we going? The answers begin in our past. In the dust from which we were formed, answers recorded on the walls of time. So let us journey into that past, to seek those walls, to know ourselves and to probe the destiny of our Spaceship Earth.
Narrator: Now, suns reverse, moons re-phase, let us return to ancient caves where first we learn to share our thoughts-and to survive.
Narrator: Where are we now? It is the waiting dawn where vast things stir and breathe. And with our first words and first steps, we draw together to conquer the mammoth beast. It is the dawn of a new beginning, the dawn of recorded time.
Narrator: On cave walls we inscribe our greatest triumphs, a growing record of our deeds, to share with others so they too may greet tomorrow's sun.
Narrator: Ages pass and more walls rise in the valley of the Nile. Man-made walls of hieroglyphics. Then with new symbols, we unlock our thoughts from chiseled walls and send them forth on papyrus scrolls.
Narrator: On fine Phoenician ships, we take our scrolls to sea. Real scrolls simplified by an alphabet, eagerly shared at distant ports of call.
Narrator: Deep in the shadows of Mount Olympus, our alphabet takes route, flowering with new expression. Hail the proud Greeks: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. The theater is born.
Narrator: North, south, east, and west, all roads lead from Rome, a mighty network reaching across the land, welding far-flung garrisons into a growing empire.
Narrator: Glorious Rome, until consumed by the flames of excess. Imperial Rome, lost in the ashes of darkness.
Narrator: Far from the dying embers, Islamic wise men preserve ancient wisdom and weave a rich network of new knowledge linking east and west.
Narrator: In western abbeys, monks toil endlessly transcribing ancient wisdom into hand-penned books of revelation.
Narrator: At last! A new dawn emerges. The dawn of the Renaissance-and a wondrous machine performs as a thousand scribes. Now for all: the printed word.
Narrator: Our books fuel the fires of the Renaissance. It is a time to discover anew the worlds of poetry and philosophy, science and music. As our minds soar, our hands find new expression in the flourishing world of art. Behold, the majesty of the Sistine ceiling.
Narrator: The Renaissance: a beacon through the mists of time, guiding us to a new era. A time of invention and exploding communication.
Narrator: With each day come more paths, more ideas, more dreams, and we build new machines: computer machines that think, that store, sift, sort, and count, that help us chart our course through an age of boundless information.
Narrator: With these machines comes a wondrous new network of communications, a vibrant maze of billions of electronic pathways stretching to the very edge of space.
Narrator: Poised on the threshold of infinity, we see our world as it truly is: small, silent, fragile, alive, a drifting island in the midnight sky. It is our spaceship. Our Spaceship Earth.
Narrator: Now our Future World draws near -and we face the challenge of tomorrow. We must return and take command of our Spaceship Earth. To become captains of our own destiny. To reach out and fulfill our dreams.
Woman: GPC report. Odyssey is complete with position home.
Man: Can you switch to manual payload?
Woman: No problem. Manuel payload is activated. Signal from command execution.
Man: Roger. Are you getting video?
Woman: Affirmative. Delta camera is on and tracking.
Narrator: Our journey has been long. From primal caves we have ventured forth traveling the endless corridors of time seeking answers to our tomorrow. With growing knowledge and growing communication, we have changed our lives, changed our world.
Narrator: From the reaches of space to the depths of the sea, we have spun a vast electronic network linking ourselves as fellow passengers together, on Spaceship Earth.
(Ride vehicles pass by several TV screens.)
Narrator: Today our search for understanding is unbounded by space and time. Vast stores of information, knowledge from everywhere, standing ready at our beck and call to reach us in an instant. With our great network, we harness our knowledge, give it shape and form to serve us, to help create and communicate a better awareness of ourselves, and our world.
Narrator: Ours is the age of knowledge, the age of choice and opportunity.
Narrator: Tomorrow's world approaches, so let us listen and learn, let us explore and question and understand. Let us go forth and discover the wisdom to guide great Spaceship Earth through the uncharted seas of the future. Let us dare to fulfill our destiny.
My grandfather grew orchids. Or at least he tried to. Living as he did in Rochester, New York, his orchid garden was a light box in the basement. If he managed to make them bloom, I know it wasn't nearly as often as he would have liked.
When my father inherited the orchids and their setup, he didn't give them quite the attention that his father had, so it was not surprising that he had less success. He, too, lived in a climate unfriendly to orchids.
I lived for several years in the vicinity of the incredible Longwood Gardens, so it's not surprising that I've seen more than my share of orchids in bloom. I can't say that I understand the fascination they have for many people—Like Nero Wolfe. Their blooms are often bizarre, even macabre, in my eyes. But many are beautiful, and I confess to a special fondness for the vanilla orchid.
And for the blc copper queen.
It was blooming when Porter brought this plant home some four years ago. Despite a great deal of neglect, it steadfastly refused to die. There are advantages to living in a semi-tropical climate. But the orchid never bloomed again.
Until early this month, I noticed this:
Buds! And buds they stayed, growing ever so slowly.
Hurricane Matthew came, and we brought the plant into the garage for safekeeping. Both buds were as tightly closed as ever.
The next morning, the first blossom was in full, glorious flower.
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
This one, apparently, liked the ignominy of dangling from a bicycle hung from the ceiling in a corner of our garage. But we brought it in and gave it a place of honor in the house for several days, before returning it to the free air and sunshine of our back porch. By then, the second bloom was also in its glory.
As gardeners, we don't get any credit for these beautiful blooms, but I like to think my grandfather would have been pleased.
This isn't a serious "freedom isn't free" post about the price of establishing and maintaining liberty. It's about my attempt to obtain a free bagel from Panera.
I love Panera. The food is good, the service is quick, they play classical music softly in the background, and my favorite of their stores used to have the best view—field, trees, pond, cows, and birds—until the lovely countryside in which we celebrated the 1992 Sunshine State Pow-Wow succumbed to developers.
I also love that they've been having a free-bagel-a-day promotion.
Not that we take advantage of it every day, but recently I was out shopping and decided to grab a bagel. I swung into the parking lot of the nearest Panera. What was usually an ample lot had not one space available.
That's not quite true: there was one space remaining, in the "Compact Cars Only" section. No problem: our car qualifies as a compact. But it's not compact enough to fit between the two massive mini-vans that bracketed that space.
I then noticed what looked like a space in an otherwise crowded dead-end section of the lot, but when I arrived it was marked "Do NOT Park Here." Its purpose, I suspect, was to give people like me a chance to turn around, which would have been a real challenge without that space. I thought briefly of staying there just long enough to pick up the bagel, but discarded the idea for the sake of my fellow parking lot wanderers.
Instead, I decided to park in the lot next door, and walk to Panera. Only there, the spaces were aggressively marked, "Le Jean's Parking Only." Still no problem: I need new jeans, and though I suspected the store would be too pricey for me, I didn't mind the idea of seeing what they had available—and detouring for my bagel on the way back to my car.
Only it turned out that "Le Jean's" doesn't sell jeans, but rather jewelry.
I just couldn't.
Back in my car again, I returned to the Panera lot, took one more, longing look at the sub-sub-compact space, eyed the other cars circling 'round in the vain hope that one of them was leaving—and noticed that the "1 Minute Parking Only" space had opened up.
I can do this!
Out of the car, pause to hold the door for an over-loaded waiter, into the store, through the (surprisingly very short) line, swipe the Panera card, grab the asiago cheese bagel, out the door, into the car, and on my way home in 60 seconds.
If you don't count the initial 10 minute adventure.
As Porter handed me the large, wrapped, rectangular box, he told me that my birthday present came at the recommendation of a friend from choir. I confess that my heart sank a little. As dear as our choir friends are, there's not one of them that knows me well enough to have any idea what would or would not make a good birthday present.
I was wrong.
It turns out the recommendation was general, not specifically for me, and Porter made the connection with the occasion. But even he had no idea how successful a gift it would be. Neither did I, at first.
It's an RTIC tumbler. It holds 20 ounces, and is so well insulated that if you load it up with ice and a cold drink it will stay cold for hours. (I'm told it's equally good with hot drinks, but mine's a summer birthday, so there has been no occasion to try that out.)
But what, you ask, makes that so special to me?
It's a matter of the right innovation at the right time.
I like to keep a drink handy throughout the day. It's usually a cup of tea, even in the summer. I've often thought water would be better, for several reasons: drinking more water, not drinking quite so much tea, and having something cold instead of hot in the summer. But It's never quite worked out. Ice melts quickly here, and I'm not much in favor of lukewarm drinks. True, hot drinks cool quickly, but that's what microwave ovens are for. Whenever my tea cup goes missing, I'm most likely to find that I've left it in the microwave.
Glasses of water are more prone than mugs to being knocked over and spilled—not a happy thought when working near electronics. Water bottles are safe, but I get annoyed having to open them every time I want a drink. Moreover, no matter what the container, ice water makes it sweat profusely, either making a mess or sticking to the coaster—or both, as the coaster falls off with a loud clatter and a spray of water all around.
I know—First World Problem. Whine, whine, whine. I'm not justifying my complaints, but explaining why the RTIC tumbler was perfect for me.
It keeps my drink cold. It can still be knocked over, but less easily than a glass, and the lid makes a spill less extreme. You don't need to use a straw, but I like to, and the opening is just right for the large-diameter straw I prefer. The insulation makes it comfortable to hold, and the cup doesn't sweat at all.
Sometimes, the best way to encourage a good habit is to have the right tool, and the insulated tumbler turned out to be the perfect too for me. I still enjoy my cups of tea, but now I'm drinking a lot more water instead.
Ice cold water on a hot summer day, there, handy, whenever I want a drink. Nailed the habit of better hydration in one simple, inexpensive gift. Priceless.
Caution: The cute Swiss flag sticker is not original equipment. Porter bought a tumbler for himself as well, and we needed to distinguish them. His has a blue-and-white Luzern flag sticker.
There aren't many movies I'm so excited to see that I'll venture into a movie theater, but Hidden Figures is one of them. A movie about mathematicians and the early space program? I can't wait. The embedded YouTube trailer will probably not come out. Something has gone wrong and none of my embedded videos currently work in Chrome, Firefox, or IE—at least not for me. On the other hand, they do work on my phone, so I don't know what's going on. But this link will take you there in any case.
One year ago I was part of a spectacle that entertained a small segment of the population of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and gave their emergency responders a chance to exercise their vehicles. I guess life in a small town like Old Saybrook must be a little on the slow side, even in the high season of summer, if capsizing a small boat and swimming to shore causes so much kerfuffle.
This year, Noah, now 10 years old, invited me for another sail in his Sunfish. It was at that point that I realized I had left my bathing suit at home, but that did not deter me: the wind was fresh but not difficult, and what were the odds we'd capsize again?
Pretty good, apparently. After several minutes of uneventful, enjoyable sailing, it happened. One moment we were coming about, or jibing, I don't remember which; the next we were in the water. I'm a little hazy on just why—I think I heard later that a sheet wouldn't release from a cleat, or something....
Whatever the cause, this flip was a piece of cake compared with last year's. We were closer to shore and therefore not in danger of being driven onto the causeway, our greatest problem last year. Noah had a year's growth on him, and this time needed no help quickly righting the boat.
The tricky part came when I tried to climb back on board. Despite having written, in last year's story, about the wisdom of climbing in over the stern instead of the side, I completely forgot that advice. I did remember my own determination that if I capsized again I'd take off my life jacket, because that's what makes it so difficult to climb back aboard, though I didn't do it. I would have, but decided to make an effort first, and after a couple of tries, developed a successful strategy. Since the life jacket would not slide along the deck, I would give a strong kick with my legs, which lifted me briefly and made it possible to make forward progress by pulling with my arms. After a few heaves I was back in place, and we were sailing once again.
Why was I able to get back on the boat this year when I didn't succeed a year ago? A number of factors, I suppose. My new strategy, the fact that the water was less rough and we weren't worried about crashing into the rocks, and certainly the arm-strengthening swimming and brachiation exercises I've been doing. Oh, and one more thing: my absolute determination to get on our way again before some well-intentioned but interfering onlooker called 911....
Noah is a remarkable person. Barely 10 years old, he handled himself like a pro. He didn't panic; he never even got upset. He just fixed the problem. Best of all, unlike most of the rest of the world, he never thought about who was to blame. He didn't yell, he didn't accuse, he didn't apologize. Capsizing was just something that happened and could be fixed, so he quietly did what needed to be done. That's character.
So next year I'll be happy to capsize with him again. I hope this time I remember to bring my bathing suit.
Having grown up without air conditioning, I remember the days when it was important to turn off lights that you weren't using—not merely to save money, but because lights made the room warmer. One advantage to the trend toward fluorescent and LED bulbs is that they don't do that so much.
On the other hand, I don't want incandescent bulbs banned, because sometimes you want that heat. I can keep my composting worms from freezing on a cold winter's night by simply turning on a light under their coop. If it had an LED bulb, they'd freeze to death.
The new, highly-efficient incandescent bulb developed by MIT won't help me with that problem. Nonetheless, I'm glad to hear about it, since (1) it can be cheaper than the flurescent and LED bulbs, (2) it's safer, and (3) it gets the colors right.
It has been more than 40 years since the U.S. military draft ended, and I believe many who did not live through it are in danger of not understanding how cruel it was. If not, why have I begun hearing calls for it to be reinstated? Military personnel are public servants in the fullest sense, and there's a world of difference between a servant and a slave. Military service is an honorable calling; who would want it defaced by the coercion of those who recognize neither the calling nor the honor?
When "mandatory volunteerism" came to our high schools, I was less than impressed. I know the Swiss require military training (or alternative service) of all their young men, but that's not one of the many aspects of Swiss life I'd like to adopt. Besides, if we were to try it in the U.S., I greatly fear the pressure to include women in the draft would be irresistible, and I see too many disastrous (if unintended) consequences to be at all comfortable with that.
Hooray for the all-volunteer military! May it stand until all wars cease.
But whether their deaths came in circumstances of chosen service or of forced servitude, it is fitting to remember and honor all who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It's an important feast day in the church.
This means, among other things, that we sang St. Patrick's Breastplate in this morning. That always makes me happy.
Did I mention it's a feast day?
What better day for eating the incredible Publix Chocolate Trinity ice cream?
If Today.com can broadcast this, I guess I can, too.
We've known Rebecca since before she was born. Her husband, Erik, is the ultimate romantic, from his fairy-tale proposal to this incredible announcement of their pregnancy.
A few other people have been impressed by the video: last I looked, it had nearly 20,000 views on YouTube since it was posted less than a week ago.
I was going to say I can't wait to see what they'll come up with when the baby's actually born ... but on second thought I'm sure that sleep will be 'way higher on the priority list than making a film.
Congratulations, Rebecca and Erik!
Swiss yards tend to be small because land is precious and the population is dense. Even so, they come up with some very clever and often beautiful ways of not mowing lawns. Here are some of the creative yards I've found within a short walk of Janet's house. (Click to enlarge)
Cascades of beauty.
Along with much of the rest of the world, I mourn the unexpected loss of a wonderful musician.
About the musician born Prince Rogers Nelson I feel nothing more than normal sorrow due at the death of any human being. His heyday was after my time (I was too busy raising babies to care about the music scene) and I don't like his style of music anyway.
But nine days earlier the world lost another amazing musician: my own cousin Mike. He was two years younger than me, but the shock and sorrow of his death is far more than just a sharp reminder of my own mortality.
We were not particularly close as children, growing up as we did half a continent (and for two years, half a world) apart, in a day when communication and travel were far more difficult than they are now. But I was deeply moved when in later years he attended Janet's Eastman School recital, and—thanks to Facebook—we had recently begun to become reacquainted.
Mike was one of my favorite sorts of Facebook friends: an example of how people who differ markedly in political leanings, social attitudes, and lifestyle can still express their views freely while listening to one another and respecting each other's humanity. Much as I love having friends who agree with me, disagreeing with respect is such an important (and famously lacking) skill that in some ways I appreciate that even more. Except for the use of the term enemy (opponent would perhaps have served my purpose better), I'm reminded of a quote from C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle: "Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?"
But Mike and I did not have nearly enough time to enjoy and explore that relationship. We had barely begun. I had no time to appreciate properly his musicianship, much less his heart of compassion for the lonely, the weary, the down-and-out.
Truthfully, much of Mike's music is a bit too dark for me, and it's not the style I generally prefer to listen to—though far, far closer to my own taste than the music of Prince!—but that doesn't stop me from recognizing and appreciating his considerable talent and skill.
Here's one of his songs, the best of the recordings I could find on YouTube:
You can learn a lot more about Mike's music at http://www.mcubedmusic.com/ and http://michaelmclaughlinmusic.com/. At the first link you can hear songs from his album, Part of the Plan. The second features his newest album, just recently released: Spare Me Some Humanity. The latter makes me grieve all the more that his career was cut short, because I love the increasing influence of world music on his compositions. At this site you can hear more from Spare Me Some Humanity, but alas only brief excerpts of each piece.
Of course my cousin was much more than his music ... but his music is easier to write about.
Rest in peace, Mike.
Do you remember Kathy's friend B. who met us at the airport in Banjul? He's also a math major who sometimes comes to her for tutoring. I'm certain that Kathy and I arrived at this plan independently, even though we were both math majors and roommates at the University of Rochester, but it turns out we each sweeten our tutoring sessions with cookies. We even have a particular kind designated as "math cookies"!
Having enjoyed Kathy's math cookies when we visited, I thought it would be a good idea to send B. a package of my own math cookies. You know, to see whose work best. :) But apparently our cookies are doomed to avoid that head-to-head contest.
I knew it would cost much more than the cookies are worth to mail them to the Gambia. But for years I've been mailing care packages to college students and Hallowe'en candy and other trinkets to our Swiss grandchildren; I don't mind occasionally paying more in postage than the value of the items sent. But the cost to send the wonderful Priority Mail Large Video Box is now $33.95! Sadly, this is still the least expensive way to send cookies, by a considerable margin. And that's not just because it's more expensive to mail something to Africa; the cost to send the box to Switzerland is exactly the same. When I wrote about it in November of 2011, I could use that box to send up to four pounds of goodies overseas for $13.25.
This is crazy. What else has gone up over 150% in less than five years? Are you making 150% more than you did in 2011? Does gas cost 150% more? Bread? Houses? Anything? Apparently the IRS is not the only Federal agency to have a grudge against ex-pats.
So dear B. will not be getting his cookies, unless I can persuade Kathy to use precious luggage space to bring some home with her next time she visits the U.S. Even dearer grandchildren will also suffer from this USPS outrage, I'm afraid. It's still cheaper to mail packages than to visit in person—but a lot less fun.