Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Better dresser

My slice last week touched on the topic of salad dressing -- specifically, one enumerated here, a delicious amalgam for drizzling on several kinds of greens. It lands at that synergistic taste intersection of tart, sweet, savory, and intriguingly spiced.

When I reused leftovers as part of dinner with family visiting from afar, my nephew repeatedly gushed about what he called "the best salad I've ever had." Those leftovers gone, we decided that we needed to make another batch. So, he and I set to work the next rainy afternoon. He read the ingredients from the recipe; I collected them from cabinets and pantry. He held the measuring spoon; I tapped seasonings into it. When my clumsy bump delivered too much cayenne to the spoon, he said, "Guess we'll just add more honey," speaking like someone who knows his way around a kitchen. Needless to say, the second-draft dressing proved to be an equally big hit.

The morning after our teamwork, I was thumbing through a book of quick writing prompts by Paula Borque, called Spark! In it, she quotes author Rachel Naomi Remen who advised: "Often finding meaning is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways" (81). Turns out Remen's words apply to the not-necessarily-mundane world of emulsifying vinaigrette. Making that salad dressing the first time was a fine, satisfying experience; repeating the process with my nephew and seeing familiar moments anew through his sparkling eyes was memorable.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Ten observations, hold the metaphors

In a New York Times Smarter Living column on Monday, editor Tim Herrera explored ways to counteract people's prevailing sense of over-stimulation and under-focus. One way to resist the world's constant clamor for our attention, he noted, is to look closely without technology's mediation. Herrera shared a strategy used by Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing: "Report 10 metaphor-free observations about the world this week." Here are mine, from the past 36 hours:
  1. The morning temperature in my apartment was 77° Tuesday morning, six degrees warmer than the day before.
  2. After a weekend when I hiked and biked many miles, my legs ached with fatigue Monday whenever I walked up or down stairs.
  3. A man who sat near me in the library had two bottles of Powerade on his desk; he finished the blue one and kept a green one in reserve.
  4. An electric bus I rode had less robust air conditioning than the gas-powered alternative from which I had disembarked earlier.
  5. Speaking of buses and hurt legs, I saw a man using a cane to get on and off mass transit. His cane was decorated with a collage of flower stickers.
  6. Paprika, cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, onion, salt, honey, mustard, cider vinegar and sunflower oil made a tasty, tangy dressing to toss with toasted almonds, poached chicken, and spinach.
  7. Taking groceries out of their bags was a counter-intuitive way to fit more of them into my bicycle panniers.
  8. I counted fifteen lines of water arcing from a lawn sprinkler.
  9. There are many places in the world about which I know little, including the Philippines and Moldova.
  10. The classroom where I'm learning this week is in a college hall that opened in 2007, and it has zero windows.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Recalculating route

Technology leads, via multiple paths, to unintended consequences. Exhibit A is this news item from last month. Exhibit B is me and my wife sitting in holiday traffic last weekend. In an hour, our car had crawled about two miles along a jammed two-lane highway. We suspected, having traveled this road before, that a traffic light miles ahead was responsible for the back-up. Sitting shotgun, my wife popped open a maps app in a Quixotic quest for alternate routes.

Moments later, she said: "You could flip it and save about 15 minutes." So I u-turned.

She directed me to make a right onto a nondescript side street. That set us (and a half dozen other vehicles, presumably with the same intel) trundling along chunky junior-varsity pavement, winding through a once peaceful valley. In less than two miles, its twists connected back to our same highway somewhere farther up the queue. Of course, we had to rely on the patience of other motorists in the jam to permit our alternate merge from the smaller artery.

"Take the next exit," my wife said.

I slid off to the right, heeding my wife's and the digital navigatrix's cues. We paused at a stop sign, turned left to cross beneath the highway underpass, turned right onto a frontage way for a fraction of a mile, then right again to reach that confounded stoplight, which obligingly turned green to let a handful of cars including ours through to the now open road.

No doubt, we made up a little ground, but my inner Ethicist couldn't help but wonder: Were our tech-fueled machinations part of the problem, creating needless cross traffic that clogged the works more than necessary?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Words's worth

Despite the better part of half a century as a reader and half that time playing a professional part focused on teaching young people about using the English language, I still thrill at the pleasure of meeting new words. Prinked, for example. An author threw that curveball my way recently, in the context of describing holiday lights in Amsterdam: "a city prinked-up for Christmas" (Tartt 647). Kind of like gussied up, I inferred from a mix of context and background experience, but with the added suggestion of strings of winking bulbs. Later, an online dictionary taught me 'prink' is a synonym for primp or preen, two words already in my mental lexicon.

This relish for words hasn't always been one I've tasted with such contentment. I can recall younger me working a crossword puzzle, getting to one of those cruxes where a single letter remains missing at the intersection of two answers -- the hole in an otherwise complete smile. Running vertically as I remember was STR_P. I can't recall the horizontal sequence. Needed a vowel, I knew. Trial and error led me to: Strap? Strip? Strep, even? The clue referenced shaving. The cross-ways clue, I realized demanded an 'o.' I hesitated to write in that letter, though, because: Strop? What was that? In that distant era, I reached for an actual dictionary, rather than some smart phone. I looked up 'strop,' a strip (!) of material used for honing a blade. Even as I (resentfully) filled in the missing 'o,' I threw a side-eye glare at the crossword creators and the esoterica they deployed.

Now I can smile wryly that I have a brain pocket prinked-up by 'strop,' plus my own word-stuffed blog entry.

Work Cited

Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch. New York: Back Bay Books, 2013.