Monday, December 31, 2007

Year End

Another year wraps up in less than 8 hours. It's hard to believe really, but here we are. I don't normally get too into the whole New Year thing and this year is no exception. I'm going to spend the night with Child One & Two and Mrs. Agricola -- eating some hors d'oeuvre tippling a few drinks and then bed. It won't be too raucous but it's going to be a perfect night for me -- spent with family on the Quarter Acre.

Happy New Year to my couple of readers, and to anybody else stumbling across my ramblings.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December-180

This December has been the absolute opposite of last December. Last year the temperature through December was in the 50s with some days in the 60s. I actually mowed my lawn in mid-December because it needed it and had continued to grow.

This year I mowed the lawn in early December just because I got a bit psychotic about the leaves that were blowing onto it from the hill at the back of the Quarter Acre. An injured ankle kept me off the hill and prevented raking which lead to blowing leaves and the aforementioned psychosis. The temp that day was about 30 F and it started to snow as I put the mower in its shed.

It only snowed a dusting that day but last week we got two heavy winter blasts. The first came on 13 December -- a ten inch deposit of snow that absolutely crippled the region and left me in my car, stuck on 128/I-95 for seven hours. I never made it home, opting, instead, to stay at my parents' house rather than extend my 53 mile commute into an 11 hour ordeal. I'd never seen anything like that evening's commute and I've driven to Buffalo in less time than it took me cover those 35 miles between work and my folks' house.

Two days after that we got a funky Nor'easter that dropped a decent amount of snow before turning to rain. It made for some miserable and soaked shoveling but it's real, New England, winter weather. The front yard of the Quarter Acre now looks like a World War One trench system with the front walk shoveled out, a path around to the side door, the drive way and sidewalks cleared and a trench dug that permits the spotlight that I put on the front door each Christmas to actually light the door.

I've long been a fan of the pristine snow cover but this December has changed me. I love the paths and boot prints and the sled marks in the yard -- a real winter camp/adventure feeling is permeating the Quarter Acre. I'm not quite sure where to put any snow from any future storms, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Unless some crazy tropical air mass surges in from the south this Christmas should be a white Christmas, the first that I can remember in years.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A New Tradition?

Mrs Agricola built this!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Raptor On The Merrimack

Yesterday, I saw something I've never seen in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: a Bald Eagle. I was talking to the IT person at my current gig when I looked out the window and saw this large dark bird with a white head and white tail feathers swooping over the Merrimack River. It was a pretty amazing sight and it reminded that in August, after writing "Hawk vs. Crows" I had mentioned that I would post about some of the raptor activity I'd seen over the summer.

Well fall has passed as well and I never did that post, so here is a brief rundown of some of the more memorable things I've seen.

In late June Mrs. Agricola and I were at a Red Sox game. At some point in the early innings I looked into center field and saw a falcon soaring around. It alighted on the large John Hancock sign in center field, sat thee for a couple of batters and then was gone. I'm sure that it was the same falcon that I used to see when I worked in the Prudential Center.

In mid-summer a moving van nearly hit a huge Red Tail about 400 yards from the Quarter Acre. The bird swooped low across the road and banked sharply and nearly vertically up the front of the truck's box to avoid being hit. I got a great view of its breast and wings and tail feathers as I drove by in the opposite direction.

We visit Mrs. Agricola's father on Cape Cod frequently during the summer and the Ospreys are all over the place down there. As a kid it was rare to see the Sea Hawk, but they are everywhere now -- their huge nests resting atop perches built for that purpose as well as on power line towers.

Up until about a month ago I was working in Harvard Square where a Peregrine Falcon often caught my eye. I didn't see this bird too much this summer but did notice that it had returned in the Fall.

I jumped back into the freelance market in mid-November and took a job up in Newburyport, MA. I cover about 53 miles each way up I-95/128 and there are loads of Hawks along the ride. At least twice over the past three weeks I've seen a large hawk standing in the median strip, in the grass, in the same place each time. I don't why he's there but the fact that he's in the same spot leads me to believe that he's not just made a kill. His northern-Mass kin all sit in trees, but he's on the ground.

Nothing compares to the Eagle though, that was an amazing site.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Eye In The Sky, and The Street

Google launched Street on their Maps today. From the standpoint of ambition and technical expertise it's an impressive update to their Maps offering. From the standpoint of privacy I find it a bit troubling. There are people in these shots however and I'm sure they didn't sign releases. In regards to buildings there is nothing invasive about someone shooting the outside of a house or other building -- it is after all, just a building and as a structure is in the public domain -- per se. It is strange, however, to see your parent's house in great detail on a site that they neither use, nor necessarily want to be a part of (does anyone really want to have their house up there?).

Google has not yet added my street but the satellite images of the Quarter Acre are very recent. We had the house painted in July of 2007 and the new color is in the overhead shot, as is my red car. Heat and drought savaged the front lawn starting in the same month, and that's also visible. These keys make it possible for me to guess, within a very narrow window, when this shot was taken.

I don't mind the aerial shots, they are relatively impersonal. The street level shots are disconcerting. Not only are "They" watching from above, "They" are driving around with cameras and photographing our front doors.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Best Weekend of The Year

Thanksgiving weekend is the best weekend of the year. The weekend starts on Wednesday.
Thursday has a feast, followed by three more days in which to play, shop, or do whatever.

I spent a lot of time with family, did no shopping but a bunch of yard work and had three fires in my newly purchased fire pit. The yard is now basically ready for the winter and we showed up to work on Monday nicely rested and ready to tackle the rigors of the Christmas season. There is nothing like the four day Thanksgiving weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Morning of The Coyote

I went out for a run this morning, earlier than normal, and as I began taking my first few strides I noticed a coyote running down my street in front me. It was a cool experience and only heightens my sense that where I live is not as settled as it seems. The below quote comes from my running blog where I wrote about it as part of my training log:

Anyway, it was pretty dark, but the sky was lighting up in the East with the sunrise. A lady was walking a couple of dogs and I said "hello" to her as I started my run. I took a few strides, looked up and saw a coyote running very fast away from me, across the street that our street intersects, and down a hilly driveway into somebody's yard. I crossed the street to see if I could see him but he was gone into the dark woods. It was very cool, and I was surprised to see the coyote at that hour. The last time I'd seen him he was waking the neighborhood after getting into it with a cat that lives down the street -- I think the coyote lost that exchange, it must be a tough cat.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanks and Respect

I'd like to give my deepest thanks and pay greatest respects to the Veterans of this country, for the sacrifices that they have made and continue to make today. Thank you for defending this country and all for which it stands.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Big Project

Last month (8 - 12 October) Mrs. Agricola and I built a patio in the back of the Quarter Acre. We purchased our materials, staked out and squared the site on 6 October, barely touched it the following day due to a social commitment and then began excavating in earnest on Monday the eighth. We moved much dirt that first day and sifted a large amount of it in order to have good loam to use for back filling and other, future projects. The second day, Tuesday, of the project saw us moving more dirt and feeling some doubt as to our sanity for undertaking this big project. Sand and gravel were delivered on this day as well.

The paving stones were delivered Wednesday, Day 3, and dropped at the edge of the work site. By the late morning we had finished our excavations and started the leveling and sloping process. This, by far was the most tedious part of the job. Once we had the sub surface smooth and sloped we began building up a 2 inch gravel base on which we continued to check the grade before we compacted it and applied a second 2 inch gravel layer that we also compacted.



Thursday morning, Day 4, we started laying sand and placing bricks following a pattern that Mrs. Agricola applied to a nicely done scale drawing of the site. Mrs. A actually did much of the stone-laying, and played a pivotal role in this project -- without her help I alone never would have been able to finish this project in one week. The stones were in place by Thursday afternoon, and only finishing touches remained.

Friday, we finished up by cutting some stones to fit in the layout and sliced up others to close a small gap around our steps. I may be proudest of this aspect of the job because the gap was small -- due to Mrs. A's precise design and excellent placement. The slices I made and placed in the gap make the patio look very finished.



Aside from the sheer physicality of the project (which I loved, seeing as how I'm an office worker who longs to work with my hands) some other challenges were the weather -- all week it rained, or threatened to rain and we had to battle the elements.



In-ground sprinkler pipes are also tricky when one does not mark them well. I gouged one pipe with a shovel, but had it patched up in about an hour -- including a run to the hardware store for parts. As I was securing the the edging brace that surrounds the entire structure and helps to hold it all together I spiked the same hose (see above for marking hoses well). That was a brutal thing to fix because I spiked it very close to the edge of the patio and had to dig up a chunk of lawn in order to reach it and have any room in which to work. . . I skinned my knuckles so badly working to cut the pipe that there was blood in the water at the bottom of the hole I'd excavated to do the work on the pipes. Another challenge was that while laying the stones it was raining. Our gloves were quickly soaked and useless for carrying the stones. Going glove-less exposed our fingers to sandy bricks. The grit really cut up fingertips and left behind some nice callouses -- after a painful week of healing.

That said, this was an awesome project. I used four vacation days to complete it. I got to be around my wife and kids nearly around the clock. Despite the messy weather my kids played outside nearly all day every day. We have a nice patio that will permit better use of the space behind our house and reduce the amount of muck dragged into the house from the yard -- which in this area was always damp because it's on the north side of the house and quite shady. I honestly think I missed my calling in life -- masonry seems very appealing to me right now -- and am glad that I did this project, it was an amazing experience. I got to use shovels, wheel barrows, a plate compactor, sledge hammers, stone cutters, grub hoes . . . fun!

We'd been talking about this project for a while and we finally did it. Both Mrs. A and I had a huge sense of accomplishment from conceiving, executing and completing this project and are a better team for having done it together. This type of thing is one of the reasons we moved to the 'burbs and we can't wait for the next big project.



Patio Specs
The patio is 22 feet long and ranges in depth from 4 feet at the narrowest part to 8.5 feet at the widest with a large section of it at one end being 7.5 feet wide. The depth of the bed at the edge closest to the house is 5 inches below grade. The depth of the bed on the edge furthest from the house is 7 inches below grade -- the slope is about 1/4 inch/foot. The patio conforms to the contour of the land and has a similar slope along its length. At the high edge of the patio the stones are about 1.5 inches above grade and at the low end of the grade they are flush with the lawn. We used concrete paver stones from Ideal -- a local manufacturer. We spread 2 yards of gravel into the hole and about 3/4 of a yard of sand as the stone bed. Material came from a locally based supplier of such stuff. The total cost of the project, including material, rental equipment and some new tools was about $1,600.00 -- I don't think a contractor would have done it for less than $3,000.00.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Red Sox Win It All Again!

Sunday night the Red Sox clinched their second World Series Championship in four seasons. This represents a really interesting change for long-time Sox fans. This team, we were told was never going to win the championship, they were cursed, chokers, losers, perpetually in the shadow of the New York Yankees . . .

Now they've won it all for the second time in four seasons and the reality of this event still leaves me slightly befuddled. The win in 2004 was jubilant; a euphoric and completely improbable expiation of 86 years of misery. Finally, the organization and the city had dropped its negative mantle.

This year's victory has a different ring to it, is more mellow than the 2004 win but is as every bit as gratifying as the first. This year's win validates the '04 win and makes it seem not so improbable -- both teams rallied from deep holes in the ALCS and demonstrated that this organization is one of heart and grit. Despite the fact that the payroll of this team is $143 million per annum, these players are fierce competitors who actually subscribe to an old fashioned notion of teamwork. The ownership is dedicated to winning. The front office is definitely following a plan. The manager is proving to be a fine skipper who understands the modern athlete. Each of the factors combine to produce another championship team.

As a long-time fan I never expected to witness one World Series Championship in my life and now I've witnessed two in four years. I keep telling Child One that the Sox have won as many championships in her life as they have in mine and that's pretty amazing. In 1986 when that grounder got through Buckner's legs my father stormed out of the family room, said some naughty things and then looked at me and said:

They did it to my grandfather. They did it to my father. They've done it to me, and they'll do it to you too!
They had broken generations of hearts and everybody expected that to continue in perpetuity. No more. The Sox are champions again, it's amazing and something I'm still getting used to.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Staff of Life

Mazzolas Bakery Carroll Gardens Brooklyn

Sunday Morning

Saturday, October 20, 2007

First Apt.

We owned top flr.

Bridges

New MOMA

New MOMA opened after we left NYC. New moma experience is more exploratory and you see more of collection. very cool.

This was a mobile blog post that I made from the galleries of the MOMA -- it went to a mobile blog post (my text message address was not registered with Blogger) and hasn't migrated over to Quarter Acre so I'm moving it manually -- it's all a part of my mobile blog posts from my NYC weekend.

Tanyth Berkeley

Monumental photo portraits. Passing couple. Woman says creepy. I laugh in agreement.

This was a mobile blog post that I made from the galleries of the MOMA -- it went to a mobile blog post (my text message address was not registered with Blogger) and hasn't migrated over to Quarter Acre so I'm moving it manually -- it's all a part of my mobile blog posts from my NYC weekend.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some Great Writing/Reporting

Dan Henninger has a terrific column in Today's WSJ (I think that I start a lot of my posts with that phrase). He quotes, at length, the speech that LTG (Ret.) Ricardo Sanchez delivered last week to the Press Corps. The MSM quoted from this speech and trumpeted how courageous Sanchez was to criticize his former boss.

MSM accounts all quoted "incompetence," "nightmare . . . no end in sight . . . " What they neglected to report was that Sanchez savaged the Media for the first half of the speech. When I first heard that he was going after Bush I thought what's his axe? I learned quickly when reports mentioned that Sanchez was the general in charge of the theater when the over-hyped Abu Graib pictures broke. There was his axe, and I must admit that I largely ignored it -- it seemed one more negative, MSM-hyped-Bush-is-stupid-and-Iraq-is-a-failure-kerfuffle.

Then I cam across Michael Yon's dispatch . . . . he published LTG Sanchez's remarks in full. The full story, in context, emerged. LTG Sanchez is critical and rightly so -- he commanded men and women in combat whose lives were endangered by the (treasonous) reporting of the media and the (treasonous) machinations of the incompetents in our congress and the poor PR efforts of the office of the president. It is unsurprising that the media would not report on their own savaging, they have their own narrative to fill out and must help to ensure the defeat of this country -- never let the full story get in the way of that.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blogless, Webless

I've been very quiet on the blog-front during October -- this is my first written, Quarter Acre post of the month. From late September until early October I was very busy at work. Last week I took four vacation days and built a patio behind my house. I'll do a post on that project this week, with photos of the progress etc.

As I tackle my mountain of silly work-related-emails I am reflecting that I spent last week, outside, working like a dog, in some nasty weather loving every minute of it. I didn't check my email, this blog or even use the web once after October 7 when I logged on to turn on my Out of Office Auto Responder -- and I didn't miss it at all. I was distinctly Ludditic during my vacation. My tools were shovels, spades, grub hoes and a wheel barrow. I didn't miss the web. I didn't miss blogging. I certainly didn't miss my gig. I thought about things to write on this blog, and that was good. I should have some fun posts over the next few weeks as I dump some of the things I pondered while digging, scraping and shoveling earth behind my house.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Conspiracy Theorists

On the morning commute today I saw a car with three, large, homemade bumper stickers. They stated that WTC 1,2 & 7 fell on their footprint at terminal velocity which is impossible without explosives . . . then went on to invite the reader to a web site.

The September 11 conspiracy theorists infuriate me because they've latched onto this tragedy not as a way to honor and bring justice to the day's victims but rather to besmirch a president they revile and also to show what a wretched country we all occupy. The motivators behind the latter are mysterious to me, while the former is typical of the left's vitriol -- which never fails to astound in its rage and depth. It's not enough to dislike the president anymore, the opposition must now vilify and accuse him of a monstrous act of murder.

I am also amazed at the lack of coherent logic in the argument that the Bush Administration perpetrated this act. After all, as I'm sure the liberal conspiracy theorist would tell you, Bush is the stupidest president we've ever had. He heads the most incompetent and corrupt administration in the history of this country. Yet, he managed to pull off an amazingly destructive, murderous attack involving 19 Saudi nationals, four hijacked planes and a black-ops demolition team to execute a plan that involved flying three planes into three of the most famous buildings in this country, and crashing the fourth into a field (it was shot down, actually, don't you know that?)and then detonating the charges to ensure that the Twin Towers collapsed. In fact, this plan was so secretive that in the six ensuing years no one involved in the plot has breathed a word of it.

Writing out the theory -- as I imagine it must play because I've not visited the site and will not lend credence to the theory by linking to it or visiting -- makes me afraid to actually share the road with such deluded people. To think that this was a US government hit job defies imagination. To think that this guy probably has a job also mystifies. I wonder what his co-workers must think as they walk by his vehicle in the company lot. I also wonder how he misses the irony of the fact that these stickers grace the back bumper of a BMW, rather than the side of a stolen shopping cart filled with someone's possessions. We live in an amazing country, except for the people who think it's not.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad Review

One of my pet peeves with MSM is its lack of follow-up -- stories are published with a distinct POV and then after the event occurs nothing is ever written again to amend or review the original article in light of following events. While I'm certainly not a reporter, nor a news outlet, I'll follow-up Monday's post about Ahmadinejad 's visit to Columbia University and backtrack a bit on my commentary on Lee Bollinger. I have to hand it Bollinger, he showed some spine by berating Iran's lunatic president. I have no issue with rudeness on this front, and bad form etc. -- as some observers mentioned on Tuesday. That's picayune nonsense.

Bollinger created a tough spot for himself (showing poor judgment with the invitation in the first place). By coming out swinging he showed himself to not be a total intellectual-wimp. He didn't do the diplomatic thing and heap praise on his unworthy speaker. For that, I applaud him. One of the unintended consequences of the event was that Ahmadinejad showed himself to be completely disconnected from reality -- something that should wake up Americans about the nature of our enemies.

How can a supposed world leader stand on a stage, in front of thousands of people, and the world media, and say that his country doesn't have homosexuals? How can we take seriously someone who claims that the Holocaust requires more scientific study to ascertain the veracity of its occurrence? This man is obviously not in touch with rational thought and yet people in certain quarters want us to negotiate with him. What do we think will come of this negotiation? The Iranians will not deal with us in good faith, in fact their definition of good faith probably bears no resemblance to ours so therefore no negotiation is possible.

Bret Stephens had a great piece, Columbia's Conceit, in yesterday's WSJ that said our ideas may be better than those of our enemies, but that won't prevent us from having to defend ourselves from them as they try to kill us. Ahmadinejad's visit proved, as if we needed more proof, what a nutter he is. Based on his performance we need to be prepared to deal with him in a way that may not appeal to rational, Western, liberal, open-minded types. That, however, is reality.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Morningside Heights Low

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slated to speak today at Columbia University. Many within the student body and Lee Bollinger, the courageous leader of that fine institution, are wrapping themselves in the First Amendment and the "openness" of the American university system to defend their execrable decision to give this maniacal, anti-Semitic hate-monger a pulpit. Will conservative protesters be allowed to contribute their view point to the debate? Because of Columbia's membership in the Ivy League they are now conferring some sort of validity on his views and giving him cover that he does not deserve.

Would Columbia give President Bush a bully-pulpit from which to defend his decisions as the leader of this country? Do I even need to answer that question? The very same people rabidly defending Ahmadinejad's "right" to speak at their institution of higher learning would be the same people laying in front of Bush's motorcade and calling him a fascist murderer for defending this country. If the "logic" on display at Columbia in inviting Ahmadenijad to their campus and then defending his "right" to speak is any indicator of the type of critical reasoning skills being imparted at that school I think I'll stay away from hiring Columbia alumni should our paths ever cross out here in the world. Finally, Ahmadenijad has no rights under our constitution, he's not a citizen of this country. For shame, Columbia, for shame.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Constitution Day

The Constitution of the United States is 220 years old today. Long may it persist!


"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. ... Done...the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven."

—George Washington and the delegates

Friday, September 14, 2007

Alive Day

Last night I watched Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq on HBO. Hosted and produced by James Gandolfini it was an inspiring, moving, horrifying and ultimately even-handed and unapologetic account of wounded Iraq War Veterans. These soldiers suffered egregious injuries, most as a result of IEDs, and their wounds are horrific. They very bluntly show their stumps, their surgery scars, prosthetic eyes and limbs. While I sometimes wanted to look away I forced myself to watch. These soldiers are fighting in a war that I support and it would have been hypocritical of me to look away.

Like anyone wounded as badly as these people were, the subjects of the show were serious and contemplative. Each is still grappling with their newly defined lives and what their injuries mean for their futures. It was an amazing television experience and Gandolfini was an unobtrusive presence -- asking questions, shaking their hands and hugging the soldiers after the interviews. Many times he was hidden by a cameraman and you rarely saw his face. Their stories were permitted to stand as testimonies to their strength, courage, luck and pluck. I don't think that they were politicized in any way. This lack of politicization, in and of itself, deserves mention in a media landscape where the soldier is a pawn in each side's never ending political chess match.

Many of these soldiers have undergone multiple surgeries -- one, 46 in 16 months -- and the care-level is a testament to the doctors and the medical professionals of this country. Many of these soldiers should, by rights, be dead. The interviewees and all the wounded and fallen soldiers, airmen and sailors deserve our respect, admiration, love and support. They certainly have mine. Everybody, war supporters and non-supporters alike should watch this show. It's important. Also, and finally, make a donation to some of the many charities that support the wounded and their families:

This is a good compendium of charities serving the military and military families. I donate to Fisher House and Operation Homefront each year around Christmas. I'm also going to donate to this organization that I learned about through this program: The Wounded Warrior Project.

God bless the troops -- the ones still in harm's way, and the ones recovering from their injuries.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years On

Six years ago today . . .

The Twin Towers, two jets, and the souls trapped on the upper floors vanished in a cloud of dust, death and destruction . . .

A sizable portion of The Pentagon, and the people who worked within were destroyed . . .

Forty people were murdered in a field in Shanksville, PA.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of the events of September 11, 2001. Mrs. Agricola and I were on a roof in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn within moments of AA11 hitting the North Tower. We witnessed UA175 hit the South Tower.

In the aftermath of the collapse ash and paper rained down on our neighborhood and coated the streets and stoops of our neighborhood. How do I forget that? How can I? I don't. I can't. I won't. It strikes me as profane to say that we should forget this event, and let it recede into history -- yet this is absolutely what the NY Times proposed last week . . .

We should never forget what happened in lower Manhattan. The events of that day destroyed thousands of people -- 2,966 to be exact -- and impacted countless others by turning them into widows, widowers and orphans. This day, six years ago today set us on a course that sees our armed forces engaged all over the world fighting an enemy who despises us. The politicos seem to forget that we were essentially minding our business on the morning of September 11, 2001. While some try and say that we asked for it, a sentiment that makes me cringe, I'll not slip into their vile relativism. No one who went to work that day asked for what they got. No country deserves what was delivered on the US on that day.

I fly my flag at half-staff today . I went for a run today to honor the victims (I ran down the Brooklyn Promenade not 20 minutes before the first plane hit the North Tower). I will do these things as long as I can because I will not forget this day as long as I live.

Never forget.
Never retreat.
Never surrender.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cancelling The Times

I canceled The New York Times this morning. I only took the paper on Sundays, and had suspended it for the summer. After receiving yesterday's edition I realized that I had not missed it at all. For a long time I've had no desire to support the paper's editorial mission -- seeing the physical paper back on my property reminded me to drop it. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't do this earlier, but feel unburdened to have finally pulled the plug.

When the customer service representative asked me why I was canceling I told him that I could no longer overlook the paper's rabid anti-American sentiments, nor its support for defeat in Iraq nor its hatred of the president that has infected every section of the paper. He offered me 16 weeks at 50% off, free online subscription etc. etc.. It was a values call. While the writing and editing of the paper is far tighter, and the basic qualities of its articles superior to any that appear in the local Boston papers, I can no longer provide a monthly stipend to support the publication of information with which I fundamentally disagree and which I think is detrimental to this country.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Rhythm Change

Summer is over -- though we'll still be hitting the road frequently this fall for various outings -- but the summer idyll is over. Child One started back to school yesterday and our morning execution was not up to the change. Things were hectic and excited in a way that we've not experienced since last spring. The fall is upon us and our lives have reverted very quickly to the frenetic pace that we normally maintain 9 out of every 12 months of the year.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Hawk vs. Crows

We were heading out tonight for a little family dinner to kick off the holiday weekend. As I was putting Child One into her seat I noticed three crows in the large tree in our neighbor's front yard. I said "look at the crows" and she didn't say anything. I asked if she saw them and she said "yeah." She was really engrossed by what she was seeing. Another crow flew into the tree, and then another pair. She asked me what the last bird on the wire was, and I said "probably another crow." "No," she said. "Come see."

Now, I bailed early from work today and came home and started to get the Quarter Acre in shape -- the lawn and beds are a disaster. Our cars were parked in the street and I had backed them into the drive way. Child One's booster is on the passenger side, and when we pull into the driveway head first her seat is usually on the opposite of where it was tonight. If we had not been backed in we might have missed this entire series of events.

Anyway . . . some branches in the tree in which the six Corvi now sat blocked my view of their original perch -- which was the utility wires that run up the street. So, at child one's request I changed my vantage point to see the bird she was asking me about. It was, what I believe to be, a good sized Harris Hawk. It had been sitting amongst the crows. I called Mrs. Agricola over to see and she grabbed Child Two. The hawk sat on the wire for a moment and then flew into the tree, a little distance from the crows. The crows were agitated, and giving off occasional warning calls -- a throaty, very clattering "cawwwwwwww cawwwwww."

The hawk went into action and chased one of the crows out of the tree. It was a cool sight because the hawk seemed to be about the same size as the crows (these crows are huge and the Harris is not as large as a Red Tail -- one of which we saw just before dinner, this one also spotted by Child One, the little hawk-finder). It flapped powerfully after the crow -- which was taking evasive action -- and took a swipe at its back. They flew away and I thought it was over. My neighbor had come out to watch because her dog was going crazy, and a neighbor down the street was out with binoculars because her dog must have been reacting to the events too.

As the hawk chased the first crow the other crows flew out of the tree in the direction of their chased comrade. A handful of the crows and the hawk returned to the tree very quickly (upon the return of the birds I ran in and grabbed my camera).


The hawk is just about in the center of this shot, diagonally down, and to the right of the lowest, right-most crow. Click to see the full size shot.

They sat there for a bit and then the hawk chased the crows down the street, again strafing one of the black birds along the back. I don't think the hawk actually made contact, but it must have scared the crow -- it was exciting to watch. I've seen crows and jays chase hawks, often in tandem, but I've never seen a hawk chase a crow. Nor have I ever seen them sitting so close to one another. This Harris Hawk is most likely the same one that I've seen around the Quarter Acre -- though I've only heard it this summer and not seen it since the spring.



I've had some other cool raptor sightings this summer, about which I'll blog after Labor Day. This encounter, however, was, by far, the coolest, and most interesting.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Children's Hospital Boston


Yesterday, we took Child One into Children's Hospital for an open challenge to determine whether or not she is still allergic to peanuts. She had a reaction a couple of years ago, and since then has blood tests and skin tests that were inconclusive, hence the challenge. What happens is this: we sat in a room and she ate 1/4 cup of peanuts starting with half a peanut, then a full peanut and ending with basically the full quarter cup -- all within a couple of hours. There was a slight chance that she could have gone into anaphylactic shock but there was a greater chance -- given the blood and skin tests -- that nothing would happen. Nothing did happen, thankfully, and the trip into the hospital was very perspective changing for me.

We got good news -- a potentially serious allergy seems to be in abatement. Our child is healthy (knock wood). There were many kids, that I saw, in the lobby, who are not so lucky. They and their parents didn't get good news, at some point in their visit to this place, or someplace like it. While not all were in a horrible way there were many who were visibly not well and suffering with serious ailments. The extraordinary folks at Children's were working to cure them, so they were in the right place. My problems are minor compared to what those kids and their families are going through. I'm damned fortunate. I've had a few miserable days at work -- today is another -- but thinking back to my stroll through the lobby helps keep everything in perspective. I've got a gig, I've got healthy kids (more wood knocking). I count my blessings and say a prayer for the kids and their families that I bumped into in the lobby.

Monday, August 27, 2007

In A Hardwood Forest

This past weekend we took our children into the Green Mountain National Forest Moosalamoo Wilderness Area for one night of camping. It was our maiden camping voyage with the kids and it was a tremendous success. Back in our pre-child years Mrs. Agricola and I used to camp out on occasion and we're not unfamiliar with the joys of sleeping in a tent, and living en plein aire.

We purchased a roomy tent at a summer clearance sale, bought each kid a sleeping bag, that Child Two calls his "hammock," and a nice little camp stove. We met another couple and heir daughter at the campsite and after setting up camp and getting stowed we went to the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail on VT-125 for an easy hike through the woods and the blueberry fields. It was a scorching day and we waded in a river to cool down. We found a snake skeleton, saw a huge caterpillar and ate wild blueberries, blackberries and raspberries that we found along the trail.

Child One is a little nature lover -- much more so than her parents -- and she really seems to be in her elements while walking along a forested path. She'll touch bugs, flowers, sticks and rocks that she spies along the way -- she's very observant with a great eye for detail. Child Two rode in a child backpack, hanging out from under the sun shield like a little train conductor, commenting on the passing spectacle. We got back to our car just as a giant mountain thunderstorm came crashing down us in a fierce, lightening-filled deluge.

Things cleared up quickly, though all night distant heat lightening flashed across the sky and small bursts of rain continued to patter down us -- though I'm not sure if it was drops from trees or actual showers. Before dinner we found a red eft -- which is a newt in the terrestrial phase of its life. We ate a delicious meal and the kids darted around the campsite, playing pirate, jumping off a log and watching the fire we had roaring in the site's pit. Bed was easy, and the kids drifted off into a good sleep as if they'd slept in a bag in a tent their whole lives.

After a huge breakfast on Sunday morning we packed up, walked across the Goshen Dam, threw rocks into the Sugar Hill Reservoir and then spent some time in Middlebury before returning to the Quarter Acre. It was an amazing experience and we had a blast. It was so wonderful to see my kids just reveling in their surroundings, getting dirty, playing imaginative games with nothing but sticks and some chalk and crayons that were brought to the site. With no TV, no electricity, none of the comforts of a house, they were completely at ease and enjoying themselves.

It was moving -- almost to the point of being beyond words. I saw my children in a new and different light and love them even more than I did before we left (as if that were even possible). They amaze me, all the time, in so many ways that each day is a wonder. But with every little moment of wonderment comes a tinge of melancholy that each new experience marks a first and a last. Time is fleeing and my babies are growing up before my eyes. I think that my children have helped to make me more aware of my own humanity -- and with that deeper awareness has come a greater sense of my own mortality. In my children, and in the accretion of events that comprise our life together comes the sense that there isn't enough time and that there never will be.

It's beautiful. It's sad. It's wonderful. It's life in the best sense of that expression. We sucked the marrow out of our time in a hardwood forest, away from the distractions of the modern-American-suburban-life. We emerged a more tightly knit, happier family.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Unexpected Sights

I opened my front door this morning to retrieve the papers and saw a humming bird, hovering above eye level, just in front of the front stoop. I think it was a female Ruby Throated Hummingbird, but I'm not a great identifier of birds, and the view was so brief that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to positively identify it. I called to Child One to some see the hovering, gracefully-beaked bird but it flew off just before she got to the door. It was very cool because I've never seen a hummingbird on Quarter Acre, so this was a welcome site.

(Speaking of rare, about two weeks ago I saw a Baltimore Oriole. They are rare visitors to the Quarter Acre, though I typically see about one each year.)

Another cool thing that I observed, also this morning, was a red dragonfly that shot straight up in the air from its spot in the lawn to grab a fat, slow-flying bug. Mrs. Agricola and I both saw it and it was an impressive bit of wild kingdom with our morning coffee.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Understanding

I picked up this video via Little Green Footballs. This Marine says what the elite in this country need to hear with more eloquence, understanding and passion than any member of the elite could ever muster. Semper Fi, and thank God for people like SSG Lawrence E. Dean II.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August

August is a wonderful, but bittersweet month. It is the month in which the summer really seems to be at it fullest with scorching hot days, lots of native, fresh fruit and vegetables, warm ocean water and gentle nights. August is also a transition month between high-summer and the onset of fall. The light is changing visibly as Earth begins to shift on her axis to bring about the change of seasons, later, chilly dawns and earlier sunsets.

Summer is clearly ending, but it's time. Summer is fun, and wonderful but it's exhausting and we live like gypsies -- hitting the road for this and that, and returning to the Quarter Acre to sleep before heading off to work for five days before setting off again. I find myself ruminating more in August than I do in the other summer months. While trying to suck the marrow out of what remains of summer I begin the mental cataloging of another summer of memories -- children's birthday parties; beach days on Cape Cod; the annual trek to Champlain; cigars on the porch; family cookouts . . . It's amazing that Labor Day is upon us, that another summer is winding down and the seasons will change once again.

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus -- Virgil

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

756*

Barrels of ink are being spilled on this, and have been spilled ever since it became apparent that Barry Bonds would break Hank Aaron's Home Run Record. I don't have much to contribute to it except to state my uninterest in the achievement of Bonds. He played longer than Aaron; he used performance enhancers; he is a miserable human being.

Hank Aaron still holds the record in my book, even after his classy, videotaped concession speech. Will Bonds be as classy when A-Rod breaks his record in six or seven years? Bonds is a truly, and supremely gifted ball player. His involvement in the madness of steroids basically destroyed his name and forever cast a shadow over his accomplishments and the game. The real tragedy of the 756, however, is not that the record was broken -- records are meant to fall. The real tragedy is that one of the truly great records in all of sports was broken in a way that doesn't jibe with most people's notions of fair play. As a result, something that should be celebrated has bred further cynicism in the public. We're all a little worse off today, now that Hank Aaron is number two on the all time home run list than we were on 7 August, 2007 at 8:50 PM PDT.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Crickets

I was beginning to wonder, as summer has rolled along, where the crickets were. Nights spent porch-sitting were oddly quiet as the Quarter Acre's insect population seemed to be entirely absent -- with the exception of mosquitoes.

I'm not sure what it is about memory and knowledge but I always remember, and associate summer and crickets. This is the first year I've been conscious that crickets emerge later in the summer. Or, perhaps, there was something different about this summer -- it has not gotten truly hot until recently. I am certainly no entomologist but I now believe that perhaps cricket activity is linked to temperature -- because with the hotter days and nights has come a cacophony of nocturnal insect noises. Over the past week or so, the chirping and trilling of crickets have been deafening. It's a welcome addition to the summer porch lifestyle -- increasing the sense that we are somewhere other than our backyard and lending a more exotic flair to the mellow proceedings.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who Needs A Summer House?

All summer long I've been asking the question, "who needs a summer house?" We've essentially been living on our porch for the better part the summer -- we eat breakfast out there, the kids eat lunch out there, we take dinner out there in the evenings and then hang out on the porch after the kids are in bed. We've spent a large part of our time this summer in the fresh air, in a relaxed setting, largely bug free (thanks to a new screen door). Spending as much time on the porch as we have this season we've come to feel like we're away when we're not. Score another one for the suburban casa.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

NH Sky

Damaged Chipmunk

This morning, on the way out of the house I noticed something moving in my front beds. I bent over to look and saw a chipmunk. It moved pretty quickly away from my gaze to hide itself and I noticed something odd about it: it's back legs and tails were black, and the legs did not seem to be moving.

I changed my vantage point to look at the poor beast and noticed that indeed its legs were black and dirty (hopefully, rather than entirely infected and gangrenous) and that the animal was paralyzed from the waist down. The chipmunk must have been hit by a car, maybe one of ours, I do not know, and was hiding out in our beds. It was sort of gross and sad, all at the same time.

Summer Reading

I've been doing some reading this summer. Here's my list and some thoughts on what I've finished.

The Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova
A creepy book about vampires in which the heroine, through flashbacks, reveals her, and her family's, confrontations with Vlad the Impaler. Beautifully written and set in locales all over Europe -- but heavily focused in Romania -- this was a fun read. It's one of those books that's both a page turner and intelligent. Vampires creep me out, so that added a layer of extra fun for me.

The Russian Debutante's Handbook
by Gary Shteyngart
Mrs. Agricola has been telling me for a long time that I need to read this book. I'm glad that I finally took her advice. Laugh-out-loud-funny in parts, Shteyngart skewers mid-90s hipsters, grungesters, the Russian Mafiya and immigrants in Ameriva. His hero, Vladimir Gershkin, is a bumbling nebbish until a crazy misunderstanding in a Miami hotel sends him to the Republic Stolovaya and the city of Prava where he comes up with schemes to enrich the local mobsters, and himself. Like most adventure stories, it ends with our hero living in the 'burbs . . .

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
I've read eight of eleven of McCarthy's published works and list him as one of my all time favorites. I must admit though, that I was put off by the fact that this book was a selection of the Oprah Book Club -- I almost didn't read it, but because I did almost buy it as a hardcover in December, '06 before it received so much "recognition," Mrs. Agricola picked up a copy for me. Unrelentingly grim, as one would expect a tale of the post-apocalyptic world to be, this book also contains the most human relationship I've encountered in a McCarthy book. Very much a writer of biblical prose, and unafraid to probe man's darkest impulses, many of McCarthy's characters are essentially allegorical representations of good, evil, debasement etc. The unnamed father and son in this book are definitely allegorical, but they are also incredibly human, especially in their love for one another and their will to survive. It was an awesome, deeply moving book that ends (and this in no way gives away the ending)in poetry.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

USS Harry S. Truman

Great piece by Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal about the USS Harry S. Truman. It's the people and the openness of our society that make our military so wonderful, and he captures that eloquently in his final paragraph (we actually let Chinese naval officers tour our carrier? Are you kidding? America is an amazing place.).

No doubt the Chinese will one day figure out the mechanics of landing planes at sea--and of catapulting them off the deck. I wonder if they'll ever get the human element right. The men and women of the Truman are here as a matter of their own free will in order to defend our collective right to live freely. That's more than a matter of mechanics. It's a matter of spirit: the true source of the Truman's awesome power, and of its beauty, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Happy Birthday

Today is Child One's fourth birthday.
She got a bike.
We were outside at 6:45 AM riding it up and down the street.
It was a classic moment.

Happy Birthday, and many many more!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Summer Surge

There's been much ink spilled about "The Surge" currently underway in Iraq. I've linked to some dispatches from Michael Yon, reporting from the front lines, as well as articles appearing in the Wall Street Journal. Depending on which pub you read we're losing (NY Times, Boston Globe, MSM in general); things are going well (WSJ); or thngs are hard, but the pros in our military will prevail (Yon). I'm not a Pollyanna, I think that things could have gone better in Iraq had we taken a more aggressive stance and killed people while taking and holding ground.

It appears that we are doing this now with Gen. David Petraeus's Surge. From the non-MSM it sounds, if given time, then we will actually win in Iraq. Victory in Iraq is what we all should be hoping for but sadly we're not. The Dems are running on a platform of retreat, surrender and defeat and some Republicans are growing wobblier by the day in their support of the war. As I mentioned in an earlier post we have to win this war and winning this war should be all that anybody cares about. As a nation we go apoplectic about the the success or failure of our sports teams -- how can we roll over for this?

While the insipid and cowardly politicians who supposedly run this country play politics and strive to hang onto their cushy gigs, our armed forces are slugging it out and winning. They need to be given time to win -- but that's what the pols and the MSM don't want. How un-American.

Jeff Jacoby, the lone conservative voice at the Globe has a great paragraph in his column today:

Political correctness is no strategy for victory. Islamic fascists will not hate us less if we avoid all mention of the theology that inflames them. Winning the war the jihadists have declared -- the war of Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb -- begins with moral clarity. Denial is a luxury we cannot afford.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Declaration of Independence

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

[Column 1]
Georgia:
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

[Column 2]
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

[Column 3]
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

[Column 4]
Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Delaware:
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

[Column 5]
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

[Column 6]
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Massachusetts:
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Connecticut:
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

Sunday, July 01, 2007

New World

This week Peggy Noonan has another terrific article entitled Letting Go. This is my favorite passage from it:

My grandfather had his struggles here but never again went home. He'd cast his lot. That's an important point in the immigrant experience, when you cast your lot, when you make your decision. It makes you let go of something. And it makes you hold on to something. The thing you hold on to is the new country. In succeeding generations of your family the holding on becomes a habit and then a patriotism, a love. You realize America is more than the place where the streets were paved with gold. It has history, meaning, tradition. Suddenly that's what you treasure.
Happy Fourth of July. We're off on vacation this week.

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Gem

Wakefield v Texas

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tall Bike



This is the second time I've seen this guy in the past week or so. I don't normally comment on my photos but this one deserves a little context. This picture was taken at the corner of JFK and Mt. Auburn Streets in Harvard Square. The guy's head must be 9 feet off the ground, and he was hanging onto the street sign for balance while waiting for the light. The bike has a little battery pack on the left, rear side and it powers some speakers that were playing Rush.

I showed the photo to some colleagues and one of them knows these folks, or at least of them. They are called SCUL, and there are many bikes, pulled from trash heaps and reconfigured or engineered from scratch. Check out Armada to see the number and styles of bikes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not So Sure . . .

On my morning commute I saw a guy who must have weighed 270 lbs. -- if he weighed a pound -- riding an old Kawasaki or Honda motorcycle. The bike was not a rice rocket, nor was it a high end cruiser -- just one of those 200CC beaters with the boring paint job. He had on a big, silver, full-face-shield helmet, a gray polo shirt, jeans and Ugg boots. It's the Ugg boots that spur this posting, my first in a while, because they put the scene over the top in terms of ridiculousness. Grown men shouldn't wear Ugg Boots, especially not 270 pound men riding old, beater bikes on 80 F mornings.

This is a petty, pointless little post but absurdity reigned.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Storm Sky

Two Good Posts

Two good posts from Michael Yon -- a freelance journalist in Iraq (former Special forces guy too).

Be Not Afraid
Operation Arrowhead Ripper Day One

Obviously the main stream media missed this buildup because, the war is, you know, lost.

God Bless our troops.

Happy hunting.

Institutional "Confidence"

Here's an interesting excerpt from the Wall Street Journal's "Best of The Web Today" email about a Gallup Poll rating Americans' confidence in American institutions:

*** QUOTE ***

The percentage of Americans with a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in Congress is at 14%, the lowest in Gallup's history of this measure--and the lowest of any of the 16 institutions tested in this year's Confidence in Institutions survey. It is also one of the lowest confidence ratings for any institution tested over the last three decades. . . .

Of the 16 societal institutions tested in Gallup's 2007 update, Americans express the most confidence in the military. They have the least confidence in HMOs and Congress. Americans have much more confidence in "small" business than in "big" business.

*** END QUOTE ***

The survey suggests Americans are generally grumpy; all the institutions surveyed showed a decline in confidence since last year except HMOs and "big business," which held steady at 18% and 14% respectively.

Newspapers, meanwhile, have a confidence rating of 22%. Eat your heart out, Nancy!

-- James Taranto

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pilgrims' Progress

Sunday, we headed to Plymouth to dine with Mrs. Agricola's father -- he lives on Cape Cod and it's mid-way between our plots of land. I hadn't visited Plymouth in perhaps 25 years. What I remember from that trip was the sad little Mayflower II and the even sadder, caged-1620 Plymouth Rock surrounded by flotsam and seaweed.

The Mayflower II seems sadder today, surrounded by fencing so that you have to pay to see her hull. We didn't even see Plymouth Rock . . . what was really surprising in Plymouth however, were the people. At the risk of sounding like a snob (which, basically I am, I suppose) the visitors to Plymouth on Fathers' Day were somewhat . . . louche. There were lots of mullets, bad tattoos -- some acquired in prison -- lots of smoking 120 Virginia Slims and Marlboro Reds as well tons of Harleys.

The Harley riders kept cruising up and down the street, back and forth, for much of the afternoon. It reminded me of what goes in other seaside towns along the coast of Massachusetts and New Hampshire -- especially at Revere, Nantasket, Salisbury and Hampton Beaches. I'm not sure what it is about seaside towns like these that attracts this social element and what compels them to cruise the strip, though I have a theory. Three of these four towns are near old, yet still operating, nuclear reactors -- Seabrook in NH, and Pilgrim in Plymouth. Perhaps there is something in the air that attracts these people. I am all for nuclear power, but may have to reconsider my support of it until I can do some more research into the social element that congregates in towns near the reactors.

Miles Standish, John Smith and the other Pilgrims would hardly recognize Plymouth today. When you go to Revere, as we did Friday with my father, you expect the seediness so you're ready for it. The seediness of Plymouth, however, shocked me -- though I'm not sure why, tourist destinations always have a less than lovely underside when you scratch the surface. Be that as it may, we'll leave the seaside strip in Plymouth to the inked, mulleted and smokey masses.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Flag Day

I pledge allegiance to the Flag
Of the United States of America,
And to the republic for which it stands
One nation, Under God
Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Eerie Yelps

We finally saw the Sopranos finale last night, and I'll write more about it in another post, though I may need to see it again to successfully parse it all out. When it was over, Mrs. Agricola and I headed up to bed. As we did we heard one of the creepiest sounds either of us has ever heard. It sounded slightly human, but for a couple of yelps I thought it might be a turkey. After hearing the eerie, sharp noise a couple more times I knew that it was definitely mammalian.

I looked out the window and saw a small, pale yellow colored animal that looked like a neighbor dog -- but it was too late for that animal to be outside -- or a large cat (but not big enough to be a lynx or something like that and the noise, which was continuing was not feline at all). It was half in the shadows and half in the light of the arc-lamps so it was not entirely clear what I was looking at until it moved and started to walk like a dog.

My wife ran over to look too but the animal had moved into full shadows. We grabbed some binoculars and though the animal was in shadow I could distinctly see its pointy head, skinny waist and a long bushy tail -- it could have been a fox, but it's light color is what makes me think it was a coyote. It had stopped yelping, and was sitting at the end of a neighbor's driveway. Lights were coming on up and down the street because of the commotion but the coyote sat there very calmly before slinking off between two houses, returning to his home, no doubt, in the marshes along the Charles River.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On-Demand Fiasco

The Sopranos ended its run this past weekend.

I still have yet to see it.

Sunday night I was exiled to my basement by a hen party held by Mrs. Agricola. I'm not sure why it happened when it happened but there was some complex algorithm of other Sunday night, all-female get togethers at which neighbor-ladies gather to watch the execrable Desperate Housewives over the past two years which we have never hosted . . . I can't pretend to understand.

I didn't mind too much however because I knew that I'd catch the finale On-Demand, Monday night. Except that I didn't. RCN -- stellar cable provider that it is -- was unable to deliver HD HBO and On-Demand on Monday night. After several abortive attempts to get On-Demand to work I spent 30 minutes on hold before connecting with a service rep.

The guy was very nice but he, and, so he said, the entire organization didn't know why the outage was happening. Ninety percent of his calls dealt with the same issue last night. It appears everybody was trying to catch the Sopranos finale On-Demand and the RCN system couldn't handle the load. He also posited that a Saturday night firmware update may have been responsible, but no one knew for sure. RCN seems to have a tremendous IT department -- a system wide firmware update and/or high traffic basically crippled their system on a pair of nights that they should have known would have been very high traffic nights.

Last night's call was our third in two weeks for poor On-Demand performance, and our patience is wearing thin with RCN. That they are IT-incompetent should not surprise me because RCN sends monthly bills every other month, and they never once reached me when I'd established email billing. For this service I pay $137 each month.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ingenuity Gone Wrong

To gain access to the attic of Quarter Acre we use fold-away stairs. I don't know how or when this stairway was developed, but it definitely strikes me as a bit of nifty American ingenuity. The door -- which is in the ceiling and faces the floor below is attached to the frame with some hinges so that it pivots up and down. On top of the door panel, inside of the attic, is a set of stairs, comprised of three parts, each attached to the other with hinges so that all pieces lie flush on top of one another and with the back of the door.

In this way about 7.5 feet of rise, and probably 9 feet of run fit into a footprint 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. The real business end of the stairs though is the pair of heavy springs and folding iron arms that run along the sides of the main stair section. The metal arms offer rigidity to the whole structure when it's opened. The springs, I learned this afternoon, actually keep the whole thing from falling open. I discovered this when one the springs wrenched the metal arm out of the frame, ripping one bolt completely out of the wood and bending the other.

One of the springs never laid flush with the back of the door, it always hung up over the top of the main portion of the stairs (it now strikes me that the stairway may not be plumb, and therefore was racking). I would move it off of the stair and align it -- no big deal, until this afternoon. The whole episode startled me and then freaked me out -- had the other bolt that holds the arm in place sheared out of the wood like its neighbor I might have been hit in the face with the whole apparatus.

I pulled the arm out of the frame and detached the spring. I left the door down -- because it would no longer stay up -- and cut two pieces of 1x3 that I screwed into the ceiling -- through the molding of the door into the frame -- with high quality screws securer the door. Now I, or Mrs. Agricola will begin calling around for prices on these doors and add another to-do to our list to replace our "bit of nifty of American ingenuity."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

First Recital

Child One performed in her first-ever ballet recital on Saturday 9 June. As can be expected from 5 troops of little girls between 3 and 6 years of age it was incredibly cute. I'd never been to such an even before and it was interesting to see how they did it: one of the older girls at the ballet school danced in front of, and to the side of the little ones who were supposed to follow her lead. Some did passably, some did nothing except look into the crowd for their parents, and others became fascinated by things on the floor and directing their teammates where they should be.

Child one did very well (we think), and though she said she preferred her tap numbers, we all think that she did better with the ballet portions of the recital. I doubt that this was a first step on a lifelong journey that will see her feted in The New York Times at the end of a 20 year career as a Prima Ballerina. the first recital was important because it was one of those childhood firsts that bring the little one such joy -- being on a stage, wearing pretty costumes, having everybody in the family (including beloved cousins who also dance!)come out to watch. If it were not your child I could see how it would be a torturous hour-plus way to spend a Saturday. As a father though, it was a true and pure moment that won't soon be forgotten.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Peggy Noonan on "The Sopranos"

Peggy Noonan has a great piece in The Wall Street Journal this morning about "The Sopranos." That Peggy Noonan watches Tony, Carm and all the other paisans surprises me, a bit. She is one of the best writers out there today, and writes with such tremendous grace, intelligence and elegance that I find it somewhat jarring that she sits there on Sunday nights and watches the Brutes of Jersey, just like I do. That she writes about the show with such spot-on insight is not at all surprising. I read her observations and wish I could even make half of them. She's terrific. My favorite line in the piece is this classic:

. . . everyone's a gangster as long as he can find a gang. Those who don't are freelancers.

I was a freelancer for a long time, perhaps that's why this line resonates with me so much. But, more so, it resonates because we all want to be a part of a gang. I have long thought that the Sopranos masterfully tapped into that sense of loss and disconnection that is so prevalent in our world today and that is a central reality of the modern American Experience. In essence, this blog, and maybe all blogs, is about this grappling.

Chronicling the mundane events of life, the seasonal changes, the work that goes into maintaining a home, a piece of property and ultimately a family and sharing it with the world is a way to contextualize and understand our world as it it exists, in the here and now. This is another strength of the Sopranos. Tony lives in a world which is a sub-world of the one most suburbanites occupy. Despite the anarchy of infidelity, murder and greed that fill it, Tony's world -- at least the one in which he was raised as the son of a boss, and which he struggles to maintain -- is governed by rules.

These rules, relics of a collective past are being eroded at every turn and he has lost his moorings. At many points throughout the run of the show the characters talk of the rules, of being made, of doing time to legitimize their stature. Just this year Michael, before his murder, spoke of Ommerta -- which he violates with "Cleaver;" and, Phil Leotardo said they "make guys without the blood and the sword and the cross." As a viewer I often got the feeling that the characters were pretending to be gangsters, and modeled themselves on TV gangsters. Somewhere, the transfer of the knowledge of what made a gangster was ruptured. Most likely this was caused by depictions of the Mafia on TV and in movies -- both of which serve as peripheral, silent characters throughout the run of the show. Just as media transforms and distorts the relationships within a more "traditional" family so it did within Tony's crew.

He, like us, is struggling with this world in which not much seems to make sense, in which our foundations are assaulted at every step by the various forces that wish to topple the traditional edifice in which most of us were raised. Tony is us, without morals, without scruples and with blood on our hands. His struggles with the modern world reflect our own.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tree Service

Earlier this week the remnants of some named-tropical-depression (Barry, I think) came through the area and brought some funky, humid air, lots of rain and some moderate winds.* Moderate though they seemed, the winds, took down a large chunk of a tree in my neighbor's yard. The felled-section landed on his house. It didn't seem to do much damage but the tree whole needed to be removed. This morning, a tree crew showed up and began cutting.

Twenty years ago (wow!), as a callow youth, my first job was working on a tree crew. My Mother's, first cousin's in-laws (if that's not a Boston-familial connection chain . . . ) owned a tree company in the Boston area. I remember being too young to work, but people telling me that when I turned 16 I'd go work for that crew -- and so I did.

It was hot, dirty, dangerous, hard work. It brought me in touch with some unsavory types (gun charges, manslaughter charges) and afforded me the opportunity to drive trucks (when legal), use chainsaws, chippers, stumpers and bring my lunch to work in a cooler. One summer I got hit in the head and got 30 stitches. I was tanned. I was strong. My hands were hard and my arms were covered in scratches. I earned $8/hr, $12/hr for overtime. Basically it was the best job that any 16 year old could ever ask for.

It also taught me the value of a buck, how hard it is to earn a living and what it means to work. Some days, like this morning, I miss that job even though it would be unrealistic for me, at this point in my life, to go and do that work. But it was honest labor, with tangible results that got me outside, kept me active and put cash in my pocket. Working in advertising, you play a big game, all the time -- jacking your salary by moving from job to job producing disposable paper and electronic deliverables. It has its moments, it can be hard in terms of stress, and it can be fun, sometimes, but it's a service based industry with few tangible results.

Of course, when we are successful our clients move units, post profits, see their stock go up, spend more money with us, we profit etc. etc. but it's all, on many levels, theoretical. I take pride in successfully executed campaigns that move the needle; but, I guarantee that I'll remember the day we took down about 360 feet of White Oaks (6 trees on a piece of property -- and the only day I ever felt bad about how I earned my money because the trees were healthy and beautiful) longer than I'll ever remember some campaign selling servers. Am I glorifying my teenage work experience? Of course I am, but it has stood me in good stead, and taught me some of the most important lessons of my life.

*How we can have a named storm already, prior to Hurricane Season, is beyond me. I think it's the result of people with an axe to grind over global warming who start naming every moderately strong tropical system that blooms anywhere near hurricane season, but that's a post for another time.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

6 June 1944

Sixty three years ago today, the United States and its allies -- Britain, Canada, France & Poland -- stormed the beaches, and glided via parachute and glider into the fields of Normandy. This daring move started the final climactic thrust into continental Europe that would, elven months later in May 1945, end the war and the Third Reich.

The courage of those troops, and the daring of their commanders to attempt such a landing are unparalleled. I can only imagine the terror of waiting for the ramp to drop on a landing craft or the green light telling you to jump into the night, over hostile territory. I can only admire the professionalism and courage that it took then to fight and accomplish the mission. Thankfully, we were on the winning side of that conflict and thankfully we had leaders who felt it necessary to win, and permitted the armed forces the latitude they needed to do so.

Take a moment today, and recall the courage, sacrifice and honor of the men who invaded Normandy, all those years ago. They are growing older, and someday there will be no veterans of World War II left among us. It is our duty to remember them and what they did on 6 June 1944, now and always.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Attributes of Manliness

City Journal has a nice review of a book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden (Collins, 288 pp.), that sounds like a great little read. The reviewer says that the authors of the book, brothers, "set old-fashioned male virtues on two stout heels." He then proceeds to quote a quote from the preface that I think is good advice for boys of all ages, and something that one needs to remind oneself of:

“Don’t grumble. Plug on. . . . Don’t swagger. The boy who swaggers—like the man who swaggers—has little else that he can do. . . . Be honest. Be loyal. Be kind. . . . Remember that the hardest thing to acquire is the faculty of being unselfish,” which is “. . . one of the finest attributes of manliness.”

-- Sir Frederick Treves, Bart, KCVO, CB, Sergeant in Ordinary to HM the King (1903)

Monday, June 04, 2007

(Cigar) Smoke Gets In My Eyes

I smoked my last cigar probably ten years ago. This past weekend I smoked two.
On Friday night, Mrs. Agricola and I kicked off the summer in style and finally set up the porch and invited our neighbors over for a drink.

We were drinking Italian and French Roses when our neighbor pulled out a couple of cigars -- Cubana Julianas (I think) that we smoked without delay. My parents had stopped in, after an evening out, and it was a very convivial time. The company was great, the wine was flowing and the smoke was floating. As I worked my way through the cigar I remembered why cigar smoking is so pleasurable -- especially when smoking terrific cigars and drinking good wine while sitting on a porch on a warm, late-spring night with great company.

The second cigar, a Macanudo, was smoked yesterday afternoon at a boil that we did with the same neighbors (Boil, Boiled, Fed). It sparked the appetite between rounds one and two of the feed. While it was not as delicious as the Friday-cigar, it was still pretty good. A weekend of good smoke, good times, and good food make for a difficult Monday transition.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

More Liberal Bumper-stickers

Coming into work this morning I saw another stupid, liberal bumper-sticker:

"Support Our Troops By Telling the Truth"

What does that mean? Can we define "truth?" To what "truth" is the owner of that car referring? Is it the the liberal "truth" that Bush lied? The liberal "truth" that the war is lost? The liberal "truth" that war solves nothing?

The great irony of the liberal bumper-sticker-displayers crying for troop support by "telling the truth," "bringing them home," etc. is that they don't support the troops because they don't support the troops' mission. They want to bring them home to score points against the stupid and hated W, and really don't care at all about the troops. Listening to liberals speak of the troops they actually regard them as country-boy-hicks (lots of Red-Staters) with retarded social views (no gays in the military, you know) who aren't smart enough to do anything else but carry a "gun" in the American Imperial Army . . . (Jean-Francois's "joke"). It makes me crazy that the troops have been so politicized by the Left in the service of the Left's political aspirations.