15 February 2008

Misplaced Bliss

Two times now in the last week or so I've encountered a phenomenon I'd never experienced before. We've all responded to that email in the past, where they ask you to list all of your favorite things . . favorite vacation, favorite color, favorite cartoon. Some of the responses come easier than others. For me, it's the favorite smells that are a no-brainer. The smell of ozone right after the rain starts. Smoke, whether it's from a spinning tire or hickory wood . . just not "you just burned dinner" smoke. The other one is basil, which when torn or cut gives off one of the most pungent and memorable scents I know of.

The phenomenon I speak of happened first when my after-shave gel of choice ran out with no back-up. I scoured the bathroom cabinet for a substitute and found a sample I was given with a bunch of other products. Instead of the usual gel, this one was a spray, labeled a "toner", but in general it was to serve the same purpose. Later that day, after I'd showered and shaved, I pulled out the bottle and sprayed it liberally into my hand. As I rubbed my face and neck with it, I was overwhelmed by its scent. It reminded me strongly of the Liquid Smoke product I use when cooking ribs. The smell was strong, and there were no noticeable undertones to disguise the smoky smell. I rubbed it on my face and could think of absolutely nothing other than smoky barbeque for the next 15 minutes or so, until it faded into the background. I love that smell, but my after-shave product is not an appropriate place for it. I filed it away as only slightly ironic, and didn't think a lot more about it.

That is, of course, until it happened again. I went to wash my hands at our kitchen sink and the bottle of lavender-scented hand soap had run empty. I was covered with grease (or maybe it was grime), so there was no opportunity to run upstairs to get a replacement. I reached over and reluctantly used the basil-scented hand soap that until then was only a decoration on the counter. I washed up, rinsed and dried my hands, and then unconsciously simply smelled my hands. I suppose I was hoping that I'd love the smell . . after all, basil is right up there at the top of my list. But it happened again. As much as I love the scent of basil, it just seemed wrong when it was coming from my hands. I think the makers of these products need to put a little more thought into whether or not these popular scents they're using actually make sense in these particular products. I imagine the group of Williams-Sonoma product designers probably all agreed enthusiastically when the idea was proposed for basil-scented hand soap. It's food, people love it, we're fancy . . nice try folks, but it just doesn't work. I think maybe a big part of the appeal of these scents is that they're just so natural . . they occur and there's usually something very genuine going on to accompany them, like a rain storm, scratch-cooking, or a fire burning. Maybe I'm in the minority on this, but I stand firm in my position.

14 February 2008


Here's a hint . . look at it in a mirror. Or just take the time to spell it in reverse. It's the word "thinking", and some backwards thinking is exactly what I was confronted with this morning.

Being Valentine's Day, Mandi and I took the time to get up early and make a special breakfast for the girls. She tinted some pancake batter pink, formed them into cute little heart shapes, and sprinkled them with candied hearts. We all sat down together to eat before Avery left for school. As we finished our cleanup and hustled Avery out the door the dishwasher finished its cycle. I offered to empty it before I went upstairs to get changed, but Mandi suggested that we wait a while and give the dishes some time to dry. She offered to do it later, while Lily and I were at the gym, and I thanked her for that gesture. Unfortunately, in the words of Phil Collins, something happened on the way to heaven.

The plan was for Mandi to meet us at the gym when we were finished, then we'd all carpool to the mall to pick up a few things. When I gave her the fifteen minute warning so she could get in the car to come pick us up, she groaned that she really didn't want to get off the couch . . but begrudgingly she made her way over there. She hopped in the car and regaled her story of couch-sitting and tea-sipping, then she casually mentioned that she'd neglected to empty the dishwasher. Now please understand that by itself, that would certainly not have been worthy of its own blog post. It's her day off, I want her to relax, and it's not a big deal for me to unload the dishes when I get home from the mall. It's what comes next, however, that just baffles me.

I suppose it was in an attempt to seem not-so-lazy that immediately following her admission came the following rebuttal . . "But I did get everything out on the counter and ready for dinner tonight!" "Let me get this straight", I said. "The dishwasher is clean but not empty, there are half a dozen dishes from breakfast still on the counter that need to go in to the dishwasher, and instead of emptying it and reducing the clutter you added cans and boxes for a meal that's not going to happen for 7 more hours to it?" Huh? In whose world does that sequence of events even begin to make sense? As if the retrieval of cans from the pantry is a time consuming step in the preparation of the meal? Because you did something it's OK that you didn't do the logical thing? What just happened here? I mocked her as mercilessly as I felt comfortable with . . being Valentine's Day I didn't want to take it too far . . but I need to understand where this kind of thinking originates. Is it another one of those genetically encoded things, like over-packing and maintaining your position that you have "nothing to wear" despite a closet full of clothes? Seriously . . to me, a small amount of laziness and procrastination is far easier to swallow than straight-up irrationality. You'd think, growing up with just Mom and 2 sisters and now having the wife and 2 girls, that I'd have started figuring out all these nuances of a woman's thought processes. I guess there are just too many of them for a man to ever grasp them all.

12 February 2008

58 And Counting

The 'Big Year' birding list hit 58 yesterday, as I made a mid-afternoon trip down to the Moss Creek Nature Trail to see if there was anything I'd been missing. A few weeks ago I'd wandered off the beaten path and spotted what I thought was a Fox Sparrow (red variety) in a really dense thicket at the edge of a pond. He did not stay in sight long enough for me to capture him on film, and I was not comfortable adding him to the list without either photographic evidence or an extended view. Yesterday, in a similar thicket closer to the Trail's entrance, I saw another one. He was unusually still this time, perching on a tree branch for more than three minutes and posing like a model as I studied his markings and my field guide. He was quite large compared to the White-throated, Savannah, and Song sparrows that are so common there, and his red plumage was distinctive. His facial markings matched the illustration's patterns almost to a T, and I felt great about the identification.

Then I wandered down toward the other end of the Trail, following a male Eastern Towhee that was being shy and was apparently not as photogenic as his female counterpart. As I gave up on him and focused instead on just listening to the different songs of the birds, one call stood out and actually drew me over the fence to the water's edge. The loud, boisterous vocalizations sounded agitated and aggressive, and I was determined to seek out the source. Just as I raised the binoculars to scan the woods across the river I spotted a very large bird darting between the trees. When I pulled focus on what I initially thought was just a crow, I was startled to find a Pileated Woodpecker making all of the racket. I had seen these giants a year and a half ago on Daufuskie Island, SC and was just awed by their size and plumage. This sighting was the first time I've seen one since then, and it really re-invigorated me with respect to our Nature Trail. I've long suspected those woods across the river were home to Barred Owls and other mature forest species, but I've currently got no access to them. This sighting has encouraged me to seek out the property owners and ask permission to bird their woods.

So the list is at 58 species right now, a solid 38.4% to goal. I've still not ID'ed as many of the waterfowl as I'd like that are wintering and breeding in the local lakes, so hopefully I can push the total closer to 70 by the time migration starts early next month.

Ode on Chocolate

by Avery Eaton

I love chocolate good for me.
I love chocolate on a tree.

I love chocolate better than me.

Chocolats not better on a tree.

I love chocolate.

When it's sunny.

Now go to the kitchen.

And cook me a chocolate bunny.

I love chocolate in a bush.

I love chocolate in a house.

I love chocolate in the grass.

I love chocolate on my mouse.

When I go outside today.

And it's rainy.

Go in the kitchen and bake me a . . . chocolate candy canie.

All original spelling has been preserved for authenticity.

Here's a visual aide, just in case you think I made this up.

Now go in the kitchen and cook me a chocolate bunny! Beeyotch!