Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   action-packed Christmas
Sunday, December 25 2011
Christmas was one of the few conventional rituals that my family observed (if only in its most secular Christ-free incarnation). And, though now I am married to an atheist Jew, December 25th continues to be an important day full of rituals. They begin in the morning and continue well into the evening (the latter part being from Gretchen's tradition of "Jewish Christmas").
Gretchen has taken on the role of stocking stuffer so that I still get socks filled with mysteries every Christmas morning. There's no tree (that would be too much for Gretchen), but the stockings were the best part of my Christmas tradition anyway. This morning I got my customary flask of brandy (this year it was once more Hennessy Cognac, which it tends to be in good financial years). There were also cashews (though these were "curry cashews" and tasted a bit too much like soap), tamari almonds, various small candies, a robot pencil sharpener, and a harmonica. I doubt I've blown on a harmonica in 20 years, but it's like riding a bicycle, and it's impossible to play them out of tune.
There had been a tall cardboard box back in the mud room in recent weeks that I suspected was a Christmas present, though I'd been unable to figure out what it was. All I knew was that it had come from Best Buy. It was indeed a gift for me, and even once I had it open, I wasn't immediately sure what it was that I was looking at. Was it a telescope? Diving equipment? But then I saw the Dyson logo. It was a premium-brand vacuum cleaner!
It might seem odd for me to say that I was delighted by getting a vacuum cleaner, but you have to understand that I do most of the vacuuming in the house, and to have our nine year old noisy workhorse replaced with a lighter, quieter machine with better suction is a real benefit to me. I'm not sold on the "ball" thing that Dyson touts as a revolutionary advancement in vacuum-cleaner mobility, but the device is a pleasure to use, gorgeous to look at, and it really seems to work well.
Since I get gifts at Christmas, it's only fair that Gretchen also get gifts. So this morning I brought a large plastic container into the living room and put three gifts in it: a new non-stick frying pan I'd bought yesterday at Sears, a bottle of Svedka Vanilla vodka (I know Gretchen likes Stoli Vanil, but the liquor store had been out of it), and a new wallet from that Gretchen had said she wanted.
A new tradition that has become part of our Christmas is to go down to Ray and Nancy's house in Old Hurley and hang out with them for an hour or so. Gretchen told me she likes doing this so I can "have" a Christmas tree. (And Ray always harvests his tree from the spindly White Pines growing on our septic field.) We got down there and hung out with Ray, Nancy, Nancy's parents, and Deborah. Ray busted open a bottle of champagne and made mimosas, and then we all went to the living room to watch people open their presents. This year at least five of the gifts took the form of hats. And two of them where zany paper dolls made by a local artist who, word has it, suffers from mental challenges.

The next activity of the day was a dog walk with Deborah and her dog Al-Lou at Boodle Hole, a wilderness gorge north of US 209 between Accord and Kerhonkson (41.820679N, 74.272642W). I'd been there once before, and Gretchen has been there several times. The last time she was there, she spent several hours looking for Sally only to find her at the parking lot with the car. I was determined that she not get lost this time, so while Deborah and Gretchen praddled on endlessly and obliviously, I acted as baby sitter, making sure Sally didn't linger too long at a delicious fragrance or wander too far from the trail. We hiked a half mile or so back until we ran out of trail, and then climbed the eastern escarpment to find a Christmas Tree plantation on the plateau above (I'd been up there, but had forgotten what was there). We headed back in the general direction of our cars along the edge of the plantation, managing to cut across a large bow in the gorge we'd hiked up. Everything was going well until we got to the end of a promontory and needed to go down the steep slope back into the gorge. Sally decided at that point to go charging up the escarpment and back along the fence keeping her from the Christmas trees. Since she's deaf, we couldn't just call her back; once we lost visual sight of her, we might never find her again. So Deborah went running up the hill and after her, followed eventually by Gretchen. When a couple minutes passed and nobody came back down, I climbed up there too, only to see and hear nothing. I was utterly alone in the forest. I tried calling out, but there was no response. It only took a few minutes for me to be separated from my party.
Unlike the others, though, I had an intuitive sense of how to get back to the cars. So I headed down the slope in that direction, calling out the whole time and listening for a response. Eventually I heard one, though at first it was difficult to pick out from the rushing sound of the creek down in the gorge. But as I went down the slope, the sound grew louder and more obviously Gretchen's voice. Deborah and Gretchen had somehow managed to stick together and retrieve Sally (now leashed with Deborah's belt). They'd also found their way to the trail we'd walked in on, though they didn't know it yet. Deborah said that she'd run after Sally to keep her from disappearing, but had been outrun. Eventually Gretchen managed to get her, but it had been such a difficult victory, she was reluctant to unleash her. But I knew that Sally knew that we were on the trail and that all she'd do at this point is lead us back to the car, which she did. It all ended up being a lot more exercise than any of us has gotten in months.

Back at the house, Julius (aka "Stripey") kept following me around and acting extra crazy, and I couldn't figure out why. But when he got a chance he began sniffing my fingers enthusiastically and I suddenly figured out what he wanted. I'd found some catnip growing just outside the Christmas tree farm and, because it's an unusual thing to find at this time of year, I'd picked it and put it in my coat pocket. Evidently Stripey could smell it and it was driving him crazy. So I ended up dividing it three ways between the cats who were around: Sylvia, Stripey, and Marie (aka "the Baby"). They were all delighted. It ended up being their best Christmas ever. This was particularly true for Sylvia, who (of all the cats) made the most use of a cat fort I made for them in the dining room. It consisted of a the cardboard box that the Dyson vacuum cleaner had come in coupled with the plastic bin that had served as Gretchen's gift box.

Deborah also joined us later for both our Jewish Christmas activities. The first of these was dinner at the Little Bear. Before going there, though, we stopped in at the house in Bearsville that Sarah the Vegan is housesitting for the winter. Sarah was gone for Christmas and needed us to feed three dogs (two big drooly Labradors and a gassy inbred Boston Terrier with heart problems named Gus) and her cat, Wilma. You may remember Wilma because she used to be our cat. She used to lord over her domain from the ottoman in front of the woodstove, making life so unpleasant for the other cats that Gretchen sought a new home for her. Sarah proved ideal; she lives in the City with no other pets, and Wilma hates the outdoors. Judging from how Wilma looked tonight, she's thrived under the new administration, packing on some extra pounds and somehow recovering from an incurable ear infection that had smelled like ass. Wilma wasn't delighted in the way that dogs are upon reuniting with a long lost friend, but she was plenty friendly. She's still the kind of cat who will suddenly take a swing at you if you don't pet her precisely the way she wants to be petted. By the way, feeding those three dogs was a big complicated ordeal. They're all on medications for various ailments, the result of purebred lack-of-vigor and immune systems stunted from excessive policing of their nasty food desires.
Since whatever happened that made the China Rose not as good as it used to be, the Little Bear has been the best Chinese restaurant in the area. And because Woodstock is a various Jewish village, tonight the Little Bear was packed with people. We actually had to wait for a table, which was a little unusual. We started with a big soup course and moved on to a number of things, including "stuffed tofu," which was divine. Near the end of the meal, I poured myself a shot of Cognac into my tea cup.
The three of us reconvened at the Hudson Valley Mall and caught the 9:50 showing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (we decided on this after much research and a poll Gretchen had conducted of her Facebook friends). Gretchen had read all three books in the trilogy and seen the Swedish version of the film, but all I'd done was read a couple reviews at I don't really have much of a mind for mysteries; I don't pay enough attention to clues along the way and I have difficulty keeping the characters straight. While I could follow and appreciate the title heroine's character development scenes, the other thread was a complete bore until she joined it. But then I couldn't follow what was going on, what with the photographs they were poring over and the after-hours investigation of the old records at the big corporation. By the time the serial killer was revealed, I couldn't even remember what scenes (if any) he'd been in before or what (if any) clues had led to his unmasking. Then, though, the movie sort of worked for me, for about ten minutes or so until what I thought was going to be the ending. But there were two other plot resolutions left to happen, the best of which was when the title heroine went to Switzerland and did a lot of badass financial stuff requiring both her leet hacker skillz and her ability to look good in expensive clothes. The thread resolution where the missing girl turns out to be, well, I won't spoil it for you, but it was particularly implausible. One last thing: what was with all the references to Nazis? Are Nazis a big thing in Sweden? Tonight's experience wouldn't have been so bad with a normal-length movie, but this one went on for two hours and thirty eight minutes.

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next