Just off the Georgetown Pike (Route 193) in McLean, Virginia, right across from the CIA, you can step back in time to 1771 at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. This living history museum is small enough, and inexpensive enough, to make a great "rest stop" for travellers along the frenetic I-95 corridor. Our most recent visit coincided with one of their Market Fairs, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the exhibits, eating the "18th century" food, and chatting with a remarkable wandering Gypsy fortune teller. I had always associated Gypsies with Europe, but learned that many came to Virginia, particularly after being told that being Gypsy and being Scottish had become mutually exclusive.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 23, 2005 at 10:13 am | Edit
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Sometimes I like the Frazz comic because of its references to things that have meaning to me but are relatively obscure (like the trebuchet), and sometimes I like Frazz because it mentions things I know nothing about myself. The reference to David Mamet in today's strip inspired a Google search that led me to this Salon interview. Movies, television, and modern culture being an alien landscape to me, I have not seen any of Mamet's films, but the interview reveals—and conceals—a character so interesting I'm inclined to change that.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 17, 2005 at 8:59 am | Edit
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Let the Baby Drive, by Lu Hanessian (St. Martin's Press, New York, 2004)

Recently we opened a bottle of wine of far higher class (and expense) than I could hope to appreciate. (I can occasionally enjoy half of a small glass of wine, but my discernment rarely goes beyond "I like this" or "I don't like this"; I can distinguish red from white with my eyes closed, but "redolent of old oak with faint hints of chocolate, raspberry, and mushroom" is beyond me.) After my first sip or two, I said, "This isn't my kind of wine." By the third sip I had changed my mind, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the bottle over the next few days.

That's how I feel about Let the Baby Drive. I saw it advertised in The Compleat Mother magazine, and borrowed it from our local library. For the first several chapters I was thinking, 'Yeah, this is mildly interesting, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Why does this lady make such a big deal out of life with a newborn, something women have been handling for millennia? She is 'way too focussed on herself, her angst, the minutiae of her feelings." (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 at 9:18 pm | Edit
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On Saturday we went to the Central Florida Fair, old-fashioned fun with rides, a midway, cotton candy, and hundreds of exhibits. I particularly enjoy the 4H and Future Farmers of America presentations. What I like best, perhaps, is that it is SO NOT DISNEY.

alt This year I again visited my favorite fair vendor, Our Vital Earth. I like them because they sell worm condominiums. That's Porter's term for the product, which I like better than the official name, Can-O-Worms. Whatever the appellation, it's a nifty system for dealing with home garbage. The tiered container (shown here expanded) takes up about as much room as a large kitchen garbage can. You put your organic garbage—scraps (except meat and bones), grass clippings, leaves, newspapers, dryer lint, old cotton socks—into one of the three trays (the bottom tier holds liquid) along with the garbage-eating worms. When that tray is full, put another on top; the worms migrate upward as they run out of food. After a while the worms are out of the bottom tray, leaving fine fertilizer behind. Water and worm urine collects in the bottom; the resulting liquid makes a good, natural insecticide as well as fertilizer. (They also say it's good for sunburn, but I don't think I'd try that one.) It's supposed to be a rapid, odorless process, big in Australia, where I'm told the device is often kept in the kitchen. I'd probably opt for the back porch, but the one I saw at the fair would not be out of place in a kitchen. It smelled better than most garbage cans.

We have no affiliation with Our Vital Earth, nor any other Can-O-Worms seller. We don't even own a worm condo; I just think it's a cool idea. And we may get one yet, once I figure out how to keep a straight face when arranging for a worm babysitter when we go on vacation. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 14, 2005 at 5:58 pm | Edit
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In the Presence of My Enemies, by Gracia Burnham with Dean Merrill (Tyndale House, Wheaton, Illinois, 2003)

In May of 2001, Martin and Gracia Burnham took a one-day holiday from their busy work in the Philippines for the New Tribes Mission, celebrating their 28th anniversary at the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan, a Philippine island province in the South China Sea. Their 29th anniversary would mark a year’s captivity among the Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino Muslim terrorist organization with ties to Osama bin Laden. They would not reach their 30th anniversary. Kidnapped from their beds along with several other people at Dos Palmas, the Burnhams were held for ransom under horrific conditions until a less-than-successful rescue attempt by the Filipino army on June 7, 2002. Gracia, wounded, was the only hostage to survive the rescue. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 24, 2005 at 12:52 pm | Edit
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The Virus and the Vaccine: The True Story of a Cancer-Causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed, by Debbie Bookchin & Jim Schumacher (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2004)

Let me state at the outset that I am in favor of vaccinations. I’m very grateful to all those folks whose work has given us some measure of victory over so many horrible diseases. (And to the animals involved, whose sacrifices are usually even greater.) That said, it needs to be more clear that those little jabs to which we subject ourselves, our babies, and our soldiers, are neither miracle nor magic. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 22, 2005 at 7:30 am | Edit
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The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, by Stephen R. Covey (Free Press, 2004)

Strictly speaking, this is not a review of Stephen Covey’s new book. The 8th Habit is in great demand at our library, so all I have done is read through it, making little attempt to think about the concepts, much less apply them. (I still have a long way to go in applying the concepts from Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First.) I will, however, allow myself a few comments: (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 3, 2005 at 9:08 am | Edit
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The Virus Within: A Coming Epidemic, by Nicholas Regush (Dutton, 2000)

I know that my brother had roseola when he was 14 months old, because I found mention of the episode in one of my father’s journals. Although it was not documented, I assume the rest of us also contracted the disease. Most children do, before they are two years old, often with symptoms so mild they evade diagnosis.

Although roseola was officially described in 1910, and studies in the early 1950’s led scientists to believe that it was caused by a virus, it was not until the 1980’s that the virus was isolated and named: Human Herpes Virus-6 (HHV-6). What was being discovered about this virus would have roused great concern, had not the attention of the scientific and medical communities, and the media, been overwhelmed by the more obvious medical problem of the time: AIDS. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 30, 2005 at 9:35 pm | Edit
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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor, by Ken Silverstein (Random House, 2004)

In June of 1995, the Federal Government swooped down upon an unsuspecting Michigan subdivision, where a teenager's efforts to build a nuclear "breeder" reactor in his backyard were bathing his neighborhood in dangerous levels of radioactivity. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 14, 2005 at 9:13 pm | Edit
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Lime Daley is the name of Jon Daley's Internet hosting and embedded hardware and software systems company. It is also the name Porter gave to a great drink Jon and Heather invented. For the curious, here is the recipe for a Lime Daley:

ice to taste
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 drops Boyajian lime oil
1 twelve-ounce bottle Blenheim “Old #3” (red cap) ginger ale

Put ice in a tall glass. Add lime juice and lime oil. Slowly pour in Blenheim. Stir well. Be prepared for the strongest kick a non-alcoholic drink can have. (To remember the proportions, think “3, 2, 1, blastoff!” It’s appropriate.)

(I predict LimeDaley.com will be a powerful business.)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 10, 2005 at 1:21 pm | Edit
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With the nonchalance of season passholders, we spent the day at EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival. The park was not crowded by their standards, but it was by ours; we prefer to go when time spent waiting in line is minimal. Today, however, we found ourselves in line again, and again, and again…each time at a small booth with a long queue, that featured a different country’s food and drink. Portions were appetizer-sized, and prices were Disney-sized, but the idea was great. If the portions had been any larger, we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy so many tastes. It helps to have a partner in this situation: you wait in this line, I’ll wait in that one, then we’ll meet and share the food. It was a strategy that worked well.

Waiting in line was a social event, too. Floridians seem to have made an easy transition from exchanging hurricane preparation tips while in line at Home Depot, to exchanging food recommendations while waiting at EPCOT. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 16, 2004 at 8:55 pm | Edit
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I suppose we should be watching the presidential debates tonight. But I already know how I'm going to vote on that race. (We need to have debates for the local races, where I'm not yet convinced.)

Nonetheless, Porter—after a grueling week of work—was in the mood for a mystery story. I checked out Blockbuster online to see what we might expect, and found a good assortment of Agatha Christie, Inspector Morse, Rumpole of the Bailey, P.D. James, even a couple of Dorothy Sayers. (Alas, no Father Brown stories, nor Ngaio Marsh.) Thus encouraged, we paid a visit to our local Blockbuster store.

What a shock! They've remodelled since we were there last, and their movie stock has been considerably diminished. More than half the store is now given to game rentals and movies for purchase. There is no longer a "mysteries" section. When I asked the clerk for help, he told me that any mysteries would be scattered around, probably in "drama" or "action." There is no way to browse for a good mystery. Next I asked if they had any Agatha Christie movies in stock, only to learn that there was no way for him to answer that question, as his computer only allowed him to look up movies by title! "You mean," I said, disbelieving," that unless I come into this store knowing exactly what it is I want to rent, you can't help me?" Apparently. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 8, 2004 at 8:37 pm | Edit
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I don't remember if we have the Olympics or the hurricanes to thank for this, but for one of those occasions we had the television on long enough to hear an advertisement for the PBS show, The Question of God with Dr. Armand Nicholi. It caught my attention because Dr. Nicholi's popular Harvard course of the same name was featured in the Boston Globe while we were living in Massachusetts.

Subtitled C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, the program interweaves biographical information on the two men, quotations from their writings, and a seminar-like discussion among an eclectic group of serious thinkers. Alas, I was too busy to give the two-part, four-hour show the complete attention it deserved, but I saw most of it, and I haven't been so impressed with something on television since Ken Burns' The Civil War. The intellectual quality of this show is as far above normal PBS fare as normal PBS fare is above the rest of television.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 4, 2004 at 11:57 am | Edit
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One consequence of having had to keep a weather eye out for hurricane news is that our television set was on quite a bit recently. I'll save my comments on the generally repulsive nature of what we saw for another time.

There were actually a couple of shows that qualified as interesting enough (and un-raunchy enough) to keep my attention for a while. One of these was Medical Investigation, which we found on NBC from 10 to 11 p.m. Friday nights. I can be grateful that the hour is so late, as I'm less likely to be tempted to seek it out. For it is just the kind of story I love: a mystery, and a medical mystery at that. In fact, in at least two of the stories so far the plots were lifted directly from the wonderful—and true—medical detective stories of Berton Roueché(More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 2, 2004 at 9:31 pm | Edit
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