A Declamation on Exclamation!!!!

Four exclamation points in that title. Not three. Not five.

Heavens, not five. Because, as the late British author Terry Pratchett opined “Five exclamation points, the sure sign of an insane mind.” Author Elmore Leonard was equally eloquent on the subject:

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Not five, and absolutely not two, since, in an article for Smithsonian.com, author Rose Eveleth queried a twelve-year-old in the know who insisted that a single exclamation point is fine, as is three, but never two. When asked about the rule’s provenance, the preternaturally wise pre-teen sagely admonished “Nowhere. It’s just something you learn.” Now we know.

You see them everywhere. Exclamation points are the new picket fence of our lexicon, perhaps because EVERYONE WANTS YOU TO KNOW HOW EMPHATIC THEY ARE!!!! Yahoo found it necessary to incorporate one into their logo and the Twitterverse is rife with them. People sacrifice their 140 characters willy-nilly just so u get how mch I rlly mean this!!!!

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Where did they come from, these slash marks that serve us when emojis aren’t available? According to experts, the exclamation point is a living remnant of our favorite dead language. The Latin expression for joy was an “I” stacked atop an “O”. And all these millennia later, some of us cannot help but express our joy, Latin-style.

If they started rationing exclamation points, I would be in trouble. I’ve been writing thank you notes lately, and when I look back over them to proofread, exclamation points abound. A sea of porcupine quills punctuate my sentences. It’s exciting to get presents! And I want you to know how much I appreciate them!!!

Why am I always plucking exclamation points from the quiver and pulling the bowstring? Other people manage to convey gratitude, or even enthusiasm, without slashing their sentences with exclamation points. Where I would gush “I’m so excited to see you!!!”, a more restrained friend would murmur a dignified greeting and you would probably feel just as welcomed, right?

Maybe it’s genetic. There are reportedly variations in the CHRNA4 gene, a cholinergic receptor that determines whether you respond with excitement or caution to any given stimuli. Perhaps I was born that way, a captive to sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), evidenced, according to researchers, by greater blood flow to areas of the brain involved with emotion, awareness and empathy. You can click here, by the way, to take a quiz to discover your own “excitability” type. At any rate, all I know is that while some people might be pleased to find a bouquet of pink peonies on their doorstep. I am breathlessly excited and must express it thusly: !!!!!!

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There they are. The dreaded five exclamation points. I can’t help myself. Incipient insanity. Underpants on head.

Have an exciting weekend!!!!!

 

 

 

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The Unhipster Goes To Austin.

I’m surprised they let me in. In case you’ve been off the planet for the last few years, Austin has struck the covenant of cool, become the haven of hip, is the place to go for all the kids in the know. I expected they would confiscate my credentials at the airport, but no, I strolled, unimpeded, right past the live band blaring that Austin sound. Live music at the airport!

First impressions: lots and lots of wide open space punctuated with gnarled freeways, on-ramps and off-ramps so intertwined that I was certain I would be spun off to Mexico at the next turn. Second impression: that lovely river. It is called the Colorado River, but after a long, contentious discussion with a friend, I was schooled by a geography lesson and a map: it’s not that Colorado River. Just a rio colorado, a river of color. Maybe they just do that to trip up the tourists?

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Third impression: Grackles! Everywhere! I only saw two kinds of birds in Austin, the occasional pigeon and vast hordes of grackles. One minute I was enjoying a quiet breakfast on the garden terrace of my hotel, and then, it seemed, someone triggered a massive alarm system. A raucous, piercing screech like no siren I’d ever heard before. It was the grackle hunching in a tree above me, screaming his unholy sermon at the diners below. You get used to it after a few days.

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I was in Austin to visit dear friends Teri and Billy, who moved there from NYC after one-too-many frigid winters and have never looked back. They have great jobs, great friends, a great newly-purchased house and are in the midst of planning a great wedding.

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They also know where to find great barbecue, and that’s what we did on the night I arrived.

No standing in line at Franklin’s for us. These guys are locals. We went to nearby Terry Black’s, where every bite was a revelation. Seriously one of the best meals ever.

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Since Teri and Billy have real jobs, I had all day Friday to myself. I walked along the river path a bit, and then across the Congress Avenue Bridge, where we’d seen hundreds of people lined up the night before to watch the bats come out. I actually prefer my mammals without wings, so I missed out on that phenomenon. Maybe next time.

I walked over to SoCo, the hip strip of South Congress Avenue where the stores compete to keep Austin weird. Here and there a chic clothing store tucked in amidst rows of enticing restaurants and shops.

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I probably should have started my Christmas shopping at Uncommon Objects because I know someone on my list is just waiting to get a stuffed mink in their stocking.

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A highlight (among many!) of this trip was a sighting of the talented, tender, fiery, lyrical Patty Griffin in her native habitat. It was fun to see her last year at UCSB’s Campbell Hall, but she seemed far more at home on the stage at dusty Stubb’s BBQ . Just her and her very talented sideman David Pulkingham, delivering a soulful show for the standing room only (because there were no seats!) crowd. I wheedled my way to the front, where Teri found me and asked “What are you doing giving your phone number to a 25-year-old?” She caught me begging for a photo from my new friend, cellist Dan Radin who recently launched his Iron String project in Austin. He was standing next to me and I saw that he got a great shot of Patty; he was kind enough to forward it to me. Thanks, Dan!

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Austin is awash in fabulous restaurants. One of them is Josephine House where we went for a Saturday morning brunch. Yum!

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Teri and Billy have said that their Austin friends are like family, and I got to see why when I was graciously invited to tag along to a dinner party. Charming, erudite and delightful, every one of them. Of course, I did leave before the bourbon came out…who knows what happened next? Thanks so much for including me, all!

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Such a great weekend. So much fun. The Austin-ians may have felt a momentary lapse in the hipness and the weirdness during the four days I was there, but they’ve got plenty of time to recover before I head back in September. Wedding bells and barbecue – can’t wait!

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May Gray; Feeling those Jacaranda Blues.

Every year I come up with a new scheme to decamp from Southern California during the season we affectionately call June Gloom. The bowl of the sky turns over and spills over us with layers and layers of pearlish, milky fog from which the sun only emerges in time to pull down the shade for the evening sunset. Same thing the next day and the next and the next after that. June Gloom reliably lasts all month and checks out, oh, maybe in early July if we’re lucky. Sometimes it stubbornly hangs on into August, although you’ll never hear about that from the Chamber of Commerce.

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Nor will they tell you about May Gray, which has become our rather redundant lead-in act to June Gloom. And is nearly indistinguishable from it but for one saving grace: in May, the jacarandas bloom.

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Ah, the jacarandas! Why would it surprise anyone that SoCal, so reliably bent on splendor and indulgence,  boasts trees that bloom unabashedly bright purplish-blue. Thousands of tiny trumpet blooms that cascade from the trees at the first breath of wind, sticking sappily on sidewalks and consternating homeowners while delighting passersby. Here, it is sometimes referred to as “Santa Barbara snow”. (Others, I am told, have less romantic references for it.) As it turns out, the “sap” that makes the flowers so hard to sweep up is actually a byproduct of aphids that favor the jacaranda flowers and secrete a sugary substance after feeding.

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Jacaranda trees originated in South America; the name is reportedly derived from the Guarani language, spoken in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. It means “fragrant”, although I scooped up a handful of blossoms to sniff them and smelled – nothing. Maybe the word, or the trees, lost something in translation. It is also said that the Argentinian trees’ bloom is more true blue, while ours skews to purple. Botanist Kate Sessions, known as the “Mother of Balboa Park” in San Diego,  is credited with introducing the jacaranda to southern California from Mexico at the turn of the 20th century.

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I’m sure the sun is shining somewhere. Maybe in Bakersfield or Lancaster. Certainly in Palm Springs. Sometimes I think May Gray and June Gloom are our penance for the gift of living by the sea. If it was too perfect, we would never want to leave.

In a few weeks, the flowers will be gone and graceful, ferny leaves will take their place on the jacaranda branches. And maybe, just maybe, the sun will come out. In the meantime, we’ve got the blues, the jacaranda blues. Another 4 a.m. wake-up begins with the long, low moan of the fog horn coming from somewhere in the distance, announcing another morning of gray skies filled with cobwebbed tendrils of fog. Perfect backdrop for the lovely jacarandas, I suppose.

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Downtown Santa Barbara is a great place to see the jacarandas. And the sun might come out by mid-afternoon!

My bags are packed for a weekend away in sunny Texas. So I’m heading out and I’ll leave you with these lovely lyrics from the dreamy tune “Jacaranda” by songstress Catherine Feeny, who seems to have experienced a little May Gray herself:

Most days I don’t feel nothing…it’s a gentle haze, this life. We struggle to make it all right. How we struggle to make it all right.

The sky is swallowed up in a mountain, leaving nothing in its place. It’s a gentle haze, this life. We struggle to make it all right.

Jacaranda, good to see you…you’re looking’ very well, my friend. You’re looking’ very well my friend.

Life seemed almost colorless until you came around, around again. Most days I don’t see no one, nobody but you and this window that I’m looking through.

Jacaranda, good to see you, you’re looking  very well my friend. Life seemed almost colorless, until you came around, around again. Until you came around, around again.

 

 

Posted in Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Annoyances of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

xoxo moms.

It is the hardest job in the world. It is the BEST job in the world. Soaring joy and sometimes crushing heartbreak, theirs or yours,  and long after they are raised and gone you are still on your knees either pleading their case or giving thanks for small mercies.

Best wishes this weekend to all the moms, grand-moms, step-moms, new moms, hopeful moms, would-be moms and stand-in moms. There is always a child of some age in need of  a mother’s love and God bless every woman who forgets herself for that moment and gives and gives and gives again. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Posted in All Things Family | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Awesome Australorp.

The dead of winter, even in California, is not exactly baby chick season. It is a time for hens and their keepers to hunker down and dream hopefully of the coming time of daffodils. But I needed chicks and I needed them now, so we grabbed our coats and scarves and headed up the road one chilly day in mid-January to Dare2Dream Farms. Farmer Jeremy led us into a room where a few hundred newly-hatched chicks peeped away, huddled on stacked trays like cupcakes in a bakery.

It being January, the breed choices were limited. I knew I wanted a Buff Orpington, so that was easy, like choosing a vanilla cupcake. From there I decided to just try new flavors – I’d never had a Rhode Island Red. And, from the name, alone, an Australorp sounded interesting. Farmer Jeremy scooped three little peepers from the trays and home with us they came. Nothing exotic, just basic standard-fowl chickens.

Yet Ava the Australorp stole my heart from the get-go. While Bella, the Buff Orpington,  coolly regarded her new surroundings (cardboard brooder on the bathroom counter – she was not terribly impressed) and Nugget the RIR murderously pecked at her siblings, Ava cocked her little head upwards and looked right at me with her kohl-lined eyes. She seemed more trusting than the other two; if anyone was going to run around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, it wouldn’t be her.

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Three days old; Nugget the RIR, Bella the BO and Ava the Australorp.

Australorps are as bumptious a concoction as their name. Black Orpingtons from England were imported to Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century, where they were bred with Minorca, White Leghorn, and Langshan chickens to create an optimal production chicken. Indeed, a storied Australorp hen set a world record when she laid an amazing 364 eggs in 365 days.

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A woman minds her flock in 1900’s Queensland, Australia. I wonder if the dark birds might be Australorp pullets. (Pinterest image)

As they gained popularity, these highly-valued production birds crossed the ocean again, imported back into Britain and into the United States in the 1920’s. Breeders sought a name that would distinguish the breed from Orpingtons and finally settled on the Australorp, honoring both their breed and geographical heritage.

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Ava at one week.

I knew that Australorps had a reputation for being docile. I didn’t know that Ava would be so calm as to make Bella, the Buff Orpington, a breed known for its stateliness, seem skittish. Or that Ava’s feathers would be so irresistibly soft. She’s like a feather duster with feet! And then there is that “beetle-green” sheen which is the breed standard for Australorps – who knew she would be so pretty?

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See the green sheen to Ava’s feathers?

At three months of age, the “three graces” as I think of them, are officially pullets, gaining size and confidence as they grow into hens. They are about half-way to their point of lay, so come end of July we should be awash with eggs.

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Is this what they mean by a chicken in every pot?


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Ruling the roost this morning.

While broodiness has largely been eliminated from most breeds by commercial breeders (a broody hen doesn’t lay eggs) the Australorps have a reputation for occasional broodiness, as do the Buff Orpingtons. I’m hoping that Ava or Bella will eventually go broody and perhaps raise a few more exotic chicks for me by and by. In the meantime, I’m enjoying these girls, especially the sweet, soft, well-mannered Ava. Australorps are awesome!

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Posted in All Things Poultry, Chicken Facts | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I see the moon.

Has the moon ever shone more beautifully than this past week?  Couple of nights ago we indulged in our favorite two-hour vacation. Left the dogs behind (sorry, dogs) and drove over to Hendry’s Beach for a sunset dinner at the Boathouse perched right there at the edge of the sand. And what luck we had!

First, we caught a glimpse of a gray whale lumbering through the Santa Barbara Channel, so close to shore you could have swum out and given it a pat on its mottled back. And then, as we left (had to get back to those dogs) we were treated to the beginning of a most beautiful moonrise.

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It was rising in the east, peeking over the rise of the Mesa, where it is supposed to be, right?But as I watched it, I remembered an evening a few years ago when I looked out the window and saw what appeareda spectacular moonrise in the western sky.

We’ve all seen a pale moon here and there in the daytime sky, staying out after curfew. But rising in the west? It was either the beginning of the apocalypse or I’d been carrying around some major misinformation all my life. Doesn’t the moon rise in the east and set in the west like the sun?

So I finally looked it up and yes, order is restored. The moon rises due east and sets due west twice a year at the fall and spring equinoxes. It wanders about from there depending on the time of year, rising north or south of east and setting north or south of west.

But then, how did I see it rise in the west?

It was a new moon. According to earthsky.org “On the day of new moon, the moon rises when the sun rises. It sets when the sun sets.” As the new moon was setting, it was apparently illuminated by the setting sun. A different way to say “Goodnight, Moon”.

Not sure why it took me sixty-some trips around the sun to notice the moon, but better late than never. I see the moon and the moon sees me – from wherever it happens to be that night.

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A much better photographer than me got this beautiful moonrise shot (edhat image):

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Posted in Animal/Vegetable/Mineral | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

25 Seconds in New York City.

It always comes down to the moments in New York: anything can happen and something usually does. There are the usual pleasures – family and friends, and the quotidian annoyances – tourists lagging on the sidewalk; holding your breath in the subway elevator because who even knows what happened in there to cause that smell.

And then there is the weird and the wonderful. A hearty embrace from a complete stranger, just because. A cluster of onlookers on Central Park South, all eyes upward – what could be happening? Something up above. It’s…it’s…oh my gosh, it’s a pair of raccoons mating in a tree in Central Park. You don’t see that every day. Or maybe you do. It’s the city. Be prepared for anything. A wayward pigeon might need to be rescued from a storefront display window. Yup. That happened, too.

It’s the moments you remember. Here are twenty-five of them that I loved:

Watching spring unfold in Central Park was a highlight of this trip. The grass is always greener on the other side, of course. Willowdell Arch.

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We visited Daniel and his kitties at his new apartment. Daniel and Sandro here. “He’s mine,” says Sandro, “you can’t have him!”

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The CE and Daniel outside Diner in Williamsburg, dreaming about those coffee-cream-filled doughnuts. Mmmmm.

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After brunch, we took a walk on the High Line. Some guy brought his tortoise out for a sun bath. Of course.

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Easter Sunday at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian.  A gorgeous welcoming church. According to Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston,”Jesus is on the loose!”

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It was a little cold that day for Daniel to smile. “Just.Take.The.Picture.Please.

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All smiles now, though. The Plaza. Brunch at the Palm Court.

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Jamesy.

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The weather was all over the place. Some days were wintry, but these flags brightened the front of Saks Fifth Avenue.

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Some days the sun came out. Makes you feel ten feet tall.
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But no mistake about it. Spring is here! The mallards in Central Park can’t be wrong.

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We always walk across the Park to have lunch at Beyoglu. Oh, that bread. And the cacík. The best.

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We also enjoyed a swanky lunch at The Modern with Angie.

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Taylor looks handsome and happy. He got new shoes (oh, not that he needed them…) and a steak dinner at Landmarc.

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We finally got to Peter Luger with Daniel and Christina. Wow! Steak. And schlag. Lots and lots of schlag.

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Sometimes the evening light is so beautiful in the city you just have to stop and appreciate it. Ninth and 47th.

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Thanks to our friend, Ashley, we got to go backstage after the play. Sadly, the pies, we discovered, are not real. But I can report that Jesse Mueller is even prettier in person!

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This dessert is totally real. And so are the calories:-( Vanilla Meringue at Cafe Fiorello.

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As long as we’re on the subject, full disclosure. A Pavlova at Balthazar.  In my defense, I did walk eight miles that day…

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Many thanks for Sunday and Josh for the invite to the reception at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. A special evening with such special people!

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It’s always so hard to say goodbye to the city. One last walk to say farewell to the fountain at Lincoln Center.

Until next time, NYC. xoxo

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