Quote of the Day - 12/31/2011

“Why” is the only question that bothers people enough to have an entire letter of the alphabet named after it. - Douglas Adams in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time.


Why? Why? Why? Why?

It is the question young children ask again and again….the question that helps us to discover the root cause of an event. It is the essence of curiosity and our question to find reason.

It is such an easy question to ask. There is not much thinking in the formulation of the question and a lot of information to be gleaned from the answer…even if we are answering it for ourselves rather than relying on someone else.

In 2012 --- let’s ask it often and really listen to the answer.

Road Trip in December - New Mexico

I was only in New Mexico for one rest stop on my recent road trip....entering from El Paso, TX and continuing on to Tucson, AZ on Interstate 10. The pictures from that one rest stop still captured quite a lot about that part of the state: the warning about rattlesnakes (upper left), mountains in the distance...lots of rock (upper right), the fluttering flags (lower left) and the adobe/pueblo motif picnic shelters (lower right).

It was too cold to stop for long the day I went through. Everyone was walking briskly and continuing along their way.

Quote of the Day - 12/30/2011

The barren soul seems like a kaleidoscope, changing its relations at each experience, whether of joy or sorrow. How beautiful is life, when we learn how much we can be to each other, and how varied may be the relations we bear to our friends. - Harriet A. Adams in Dawn (1868)




With all the new ways to communicate that have been developed since 1868, we still are challenged to learn how much we can be to each other. All those new forms - telephone, email, texting, video conferencing - have made is possible to have a larger circle of acquaintances but not necessarily enhanced the depth of relationships. It takes effort and the value we place on relationships may drive us toward the shallow type.

Networking is a hot topic relative to career development and it promotes the idea that a large number of professional acquaintances enhances the progress of your career…they help you/you help them. The relationship may be limited to career topics (i.e. one dimensional) but useful and valuable for what you want to accomplish in your life.

The inner circle of your relationships should be deeper. These are the relationships that last over the longer term. For me, the majority are family members and the relationships existed for my whole life (for those older than me) and for their whole life (for those younger than me). Sustaining the depth of these long term relationships is something important to me; I am willing to spend time - and utilize whatever communication mechanisms work - because I want all of these relationships to evolve into the future.

Establishing new and deep relationships are the hardest of all. The extreme effort required seems daunting. If your soul’s kaleidoscope is already beautiful, do you continue to pursue more deep relationships? For most of us - the answer may be ‘no.’

Recipe of the Week: Rice Alfredo

Macroni and cheese is a well-known comfort food. My daughter has another that comes a close second: Rice Alfredo. Here's how to make it:


  • Cook your favorite rice as you usually do (we like a brown/wild blend)
  • Stir in a purchased alfredo sauce (we like Classico's Creamy Alfredo)


Serve immediately. If it is too bland for you, try sprinkling it with black pepper or one of the Perfect Pinch seasoning blends.

This is also good with other grains. We used red quinoa instead of rice this evening. It was different but still very much in the 'comfort' on a winter evening.


Road Trip in December - Arizona

Arizona in December can be cold. It may warm up in the afternoon or the chill can linger. I was only in the southeast quadrant of the state (Tucson) but it certainly lived up to my expectations: beatuiful blue skies or interesting cloud formations, pre-historic rock art, cactus,and birds.

The pictures below show a rocky mountainside at the rest stop about an hour east of Tucson (upper left), fluttering flags at the rest stop (upper right), the motif on the top of the building at a rest stop (lower right) and a very cold bird at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

The pictures below show a grouping of cactus on the left (including saguaro that were the topic of a previous post), a spiral etched into a rock on the upper right and an open milkweed pod on the lower right (lots of Monarch butterflies come through here on their way to wintering grounds in Mexico).

Some of the plants struggle with the lower temperatures. At Tohona Chul Park, there were syrofoam cups and paper bags over some of the organ pipe and young saguaro cactus to protect them from the lows at night.

This is my previous trip to Tucson was in August. Although I was not touring during that visit, the heat would certainly have encouraged only early morning excursions. In December, coats may be required in the morning; they can usually be shed in the afternoon. 

Quote of the Day - 12/29/2011

Beauty is the universal seen. - Alfred Stieglitz (quoted in Beauty in Photography by Robert Adams)


Each of us may not know exactly how to describe beauty but we know it when we see it. The gist of what Stieglitz seems to say is that there is a universal aspect to beauty. Do you agree? How similar is our perception of beauty to that of others?

I would be more comfortable with the notion that there is a ‘universal seen’ aspect of beauty…but it is not all encompassing (i.e. there may be some perception of beauty that we all share - the universal seen - but it seems that there are obvious variations forged by culture and experience that can tweak our perception and enlarge what we as an individual perceive as beauty.

Take an example of a face of a 90 year old woman. Some of us would not see beauty in that face. Others would easily see a beloved grandmother or mother….and beauty.

Another example: the face of a model with perfect skin and proportioned features. Many people would see beauty in that face. A few would find it too prefect and, while acknowledging that many saw beauty, would not find the face all that interesting or even beautiful.

Planning for 2012

About this time every year I think about what I’ve accomplished in the current year and what I want to accomplish in the upcoming year. Today’s blog item is about the forward look….what I’ve found works best for me. It is not as simple as making a short list of resolutions although that can be a starting point.

The key ‘extra step’ is to establish some frequently taken measurement toward the annual goal. It is important to do this because for almost everyone ‘what gets measured gets done.’ Here are some examples about developing those measurements that will help you accomplish whatever annual goals you set.


If you want to take off 20 pounds and get in shape during 2012 some example measurements could be:

  • Lose 2 pounds per month for the 1st 10 months of the year and sustain your weight for the last 2 months of 2012 (check your weight weekly to know where you are in the 2 pound window for the month)
  • Average 12,000 steps per day (use the same pedometer or other measurement device for the whole year) and measure at least weekly
  • Lose 10 pounds in the first quarter (January-February-March), sustain the loss in the second quarter, lose 10 pounds in the third quarter (July-August-September), sustain the loss in the fourth quarter.

Of course, this also means that whatever you measure can warp your behavior for the negative. If you decide that the bathroom scale is your sole metric - don’t fall into the obsession of weighing yourself several times a day. You could even decide to weigh yourself infrequently but use a pair of tight jeans as a secondary metric (it always is wonderful to be comfortable in clothes that were previously tight!).

If you have a previous goal that was very successful, it may have become habit and you really don’t need a new annual goal. I had the 12,000 steps a day goal in 2011 and now it is easily achieved with the way I move through my day. For 2012 it is something I will continue doing it but it isn’t a stretch goal any more. Maybe this year I’ll do something with intensity of those steps; this is something my Fitbit Wireless Activity/Sleep Tracker measures so it would be a way to challenge myself to a higher level of activity while simply sustaining the total steps.


Establishing a goal to see more of the area you live in - hiking or museums or restaurants - is a goal for many people and may increase in importance if you already know the time you will live in the area is limited. Some example measurements:

  • Take at least one local excursion every month (make the list of 12 now or decide that you will magnet the directions/brochure to your refrig at the beginning of each month). If the activity is weather dependent, do it as early in the month as possible so that you won’t have to double up the following month.
  • Take a local vacation week and plan day trips every day of the week. Plan an excursion for every holiday rather than spending the day at home.


If you have accumulated a lot of stuff over many years…and are ready to jettison some of it, a goal for 2012 might help get it done. Here some example ways to measure your progress.

  • Spend 2 hours each week reducing clutter around the house.
  • Donate or freecycle at least once a month.
  • Wipe hard drives then take old electronics to Best Buy for recycling by mid-year
  • Participate in the neighborhood yard sale in the fall
  • Develop of month by month plan of all of the above


Sometimes a goal can be about a habit you want to change. A few years ago I decided that it would be useful for me to use my left hand for the computer mouse even though I am right handed (so I can have a pad and pen on the right side of my keyboard and the mouse will not be in the way). It took me a few weeks to get reasonably comfortable and a little longer to get totally proficient with the left hand…but now I actually am more coordinated using the mouse with my left hand than with the right. The key for a goal like this is to ‘just do it’ and discipline yourself to stick with it for some pre-established period of time. I used 2 weeks for my initial time window and by the end of the period knew that I could learn to use the mouse with my left hand and the new habit was well on its way being established.


I almost always have a goal related to journaling since it helps me keep perspective on everything happening in my life. At first my measurement was ‘write something every day’ - there was no length or quality metric. Then I used ‘write a page a day’ and went through times when poems became my popular form of entry because it would make a page pretty quickly. This year I may go with a word count metric…something like ‘1000 words a day.’


So - do your goals for 2012 and get a fast start on all of them at the beginning of the year!

Quote of the Day - 12/28/2011

Music is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work. – Dr. Lewis Thomas (quoted in Piano Lessons: Music, Love, and True Adventures  by Noah Adams)


There are so many ways to listen to music today. It can be with us every moment of our day. But is it really playing the same role Dr. Thomas described?

There are times it seems that music is the way we build a wall around ourselves to block out the parts of the world we don’t particularly want to be in rather than making any effort at all. It can be like ingesting something that modifies our biology to numb or heighten…somehow change…our perception of the world.

Making our own music may be closer to what Dr. Thomas was thinking about. Doesn’t everyone sometimes hear their own personal music in their head? I’ve often wondered if it is the summation of our auditory history being rearranged and uniquely played back - sometimes as recognizable scores and sometimes totally new music. The composers among us are the ones that succeed in writing it down in a form others can read.

Does the history of music reflect the cultures of history (i.e. the way our brains have been changed by culture)?

Saguaro Variations

The saguaro cactus - a symbol for deserts, inhabitant of the Sonoran desert. I took a number of pictures of them in the area around Tucson, AZ recently.

The first picture (above) is of a saguaro 'forest' on a rocky hillside. The pictures below are a reminder of the wildlife - particularly birds - that depend on the saguaro for food and homes. Note the way the plant tissue hardens/heals around the hole made by a woodpecker (right pcture below).

The pictures above show on unusual saguaro growing on the campus of the University of Arizona. It formed a very different structure at the top than the normal branches. There is a small branch near the base of the cactus (shown in the right picture) that looks more typical. In the pictures below, there is an atypcial saguaro on the left (unusual apex, holes where 'eyes' might be....think 'octo-saguaro'!) and a close up of the beginnings of a branch on a more typical saguaro.

Quote of the Day - 12/27/2011

Trust is to society what oil is to machinery. - Margo Adair in Working Inside Out.


Trust seems to be in such short supply in public forums recently. The problems we face are being addressed with grating gears….that may be stripped in some places already (to continue the machinery analogy). To what extent is the lack of trust responsible for the failure to resolve problems? Sadly - it may be the root cause.

As individuals, we can observe the impact of trust on the people we interact with frequently. If trust is there, the interactions are easier and, seemingly, less complex. We can make assumptions about the relationship and usually be right. If there is a misunderstanding, it can be quickly resolved and the relationship is not damaged. If trust is not present, relationships are hard. We tend to eventually end a relationship or association if we cannot develop some elements of trust.

On the macro scale, the complexity of trust between groups of people, cultures, organizations, etc. can be overwhelming. It is hard to develop a path to increase trust unless it begins to occur spontaneously. Worse - the option to ‘end the relationship’ is often not possible. News about what is happening in our government and other governments around the world often includes indicators that trust is in very short supply and the individuals that may want to change the scenario to begin developing (or redevelop) trust are strangely silent. Trust requires more thought than a sound bite; the trend in society is not to value, or even acknowledge, deeper thinking.

As a representative democracy, the electorate must trust the people they elect to represent them. If we do not, then our responsibility is to participate in the system sufficiently to elect people we can trust.

Somehow the ‘oil’ for the society machinery must be replenished. 

Tradition: Shopping the After Christmas Sales

The day after Christmas….and we get up early to start our quest for bargains.

This year there were no big items on the list. We wanted some special ornaments to fill out my daughter’s tree for next year….the annual purchase of mascara (a year seems like a good rhythm to buy new even if the old is not used up completely)…some heavy gloves to replace a pair that had somehow become a single recently (i.e. one glove was lost making the other one useless).

We were out of the house by 6:15 and back by 10:15. We are not die hard shoppers. The sales were successful for us in the sense that we got everything on the list and successful for the stores because we bought a bit more than we intended….mostly bed linens which weren’t on the list but the prices were too good to pass up. We also got a very large plastic bin to store the 30 year old artificial tree until it’s  needed again next year.

And a good morning was had by all.

Quote of the Day - 12/26/2011

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. - John Muir


Imagining a plant or an animal as a totally independent entity is an easy model but not very useful because it does not approach reality. We need to think in terms of systems and relationships. It is complicated and can sometimes become too hard to comprehend. The simplifying assumptions we make can lead to decisions that result in consequences no one anticipated.


Some examples:


  • We kill off predators because they are a danger to us and kill livestock but then we have an overpopulation of deer in urban areas. Their major ‘predator’ becomes the automobile.
  • We use fertilizers to increase yields of agricultural crops but then the incidence of algal blooms that kill fish occur more frequently.



The natural thread we ‘tug’ connects it all and our understanding is often not deep enough to anticipate the consequence of the decisions we are making. The key is to realize this…not be paralyzed by it. Decisions will have to be made but they should not be made with a point objective always overriding the knowledge - however incomplete - of the thread that links that change to ‘the rest of the world.’

Quote of the Day - 12/25/2011

Because the gods are baking winter cakes

Powered sugar sifts over the yard

In slow motion, hushed as thought.

Bare trees resemble sticks of cinnamon.

-        Diane Ackerman in I Praise My Destroyer: Poems (Vintage)


The quote of the day is a snippet from a poem - a word picture of an idealized Christmas morning.


Not many of us actually achieve that ideal but it is nice to think about all the same. Powered sugar snows never cause traffic problems so their beauty on the grass and bushes can be easily appreciated as an essential of the season. Of course the bare trees that resemble cinnamon sticks may happen almost every year. Thinking about them that way reminds me how much a associate the smell of cinnamon with winter holiday cooking.


What if you don’t live in a place that any of this is in the scene from your window today? Just imagine….or embrace the beauty of the scene you have. This is a day to enjoy…be present for it.

Gleanings for the Week Ending December 24, 2011

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles I read this past week:

A Guide to Wassail - history and good holiday fare!

Holiday Images from Cassini Imaging Team - Saturn and its moons

Planets Dazzle Holiday Skies - At dusk - Jupiter…Venus. At dawn - Mercury, Saturn, Mars

Triple Citrus Cupcakes - Orange, Lemon, Lime…Wow!

Winter Solstice: Patterns of Darkness and Light - Observations from Joanna Paterson

A Prosthetic Eye to Treat Blindness - Sheila Nirenberg’s TED talk…hope this or comparable technology will be available for people with macular degeneration soon since sight is so important to quality of life for everyone and that it may lead to better treatments for deafness as well.

David Zax’s 10 Favorite Technologies of 2011 - How many of the 10 have you heard about previously?

50 most Innovative Companies - Take a look at Technology Review’s 2011 list and suggest ones for 2012

Quote of the Day - 12/24/2011

Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. - Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire.


Where is your ‘one true home’?

Is it a desert…mountains…plain…forest…shore? Or does your ideal have more to do with the people that happen to be in a place?

The ideal place for me would be rolling hills or low mountains with some mixed deciduous and pine forest and some more open areas. There would be small streams that bubbled rapidly during rains and froze several times in the winter. However, my ideal home has more to do with people than place; if my family were not in the place with me it would not be home at all no matter how ideal the place itself happened to be. Meaningful work is also a requirement to form ‘home’ so the place needs to accommodate that either nearby or within.

What if you had the opportunity to live in a place for a year --- to witness all the seasons in a place very different from where you live today? Where would you choose? Do you think of any of those places as more ‘ideal’ or ‘right’ than where you live now?

Recipe of the Week: Simple Baked Chicken

This is my daughter's 'chicken for company' recipe.

1-2 pounds of cut up chicken (boned or boneless; good single serving sized pieces)

3/4 cup orange juice

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

3/4 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon pepper


Mix together all the ingredients except the chicken in a large measuring cup. Pour half into a baking dish that can be easily covered. Place chicken in a single layer in the baking dish and pour the rest of the liquid over the chicken. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

Bake uncovered for 1 hour at 350 degrees F. 

These are good served with Sweet Potato Wedges.

Mosaics in West Texas Rest Stops

The highway between Fort Worth and El Paso, Texas is quite a long one. When I made the trek recently I was prepared with a book on tape, healthy snacks, and lots of caffeine...but it was actually more interesting than I expected. The mosaics at the rest stops depicting the essence of west Texas almost made up for the coldness of the stops (buildings not heated and sometime open to the wind at the rafters!).






Cowboy boots and a charging bull










A cowboy with more placid cows. Note the prickly pear cactus in the lower right.

The picture on the left side provides a close up of one of the deer shown in the more complete mosaic on the right. Not all of the mosaic pieces are the full square size. There are some small pieces that make the antlers and the head....and the tail.




A grasshopper oil well...a frequent site in west Texas. There are also lots of wind turbines (probably increasing all the time) but there is not yet a mosaic for them.








Last but not least ...

A Longhorn with a Live Oak in the background. I took several pictures of this mosaic and the lighting caused the color to be different in each one. This one is my favorite because it seems to imply a golden sunset.



Fort Worth Botanic Garden Christmas Decorations

The Christmas decorations in the Garden Center at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden were well done and prompted me to think about decorations more broadly. The first group of pictures are non-tree decorations....there were carolers, a Santa in green rather than a red, pots of poinsettias, wrapped packages and an elf that looked a bit like a 'nut cracker' without teeth. There were green wreaths above it all with red magic hats/rabbits/white gloves/wands. What kind of things to you do for Christmas decorations (other than the tree)? I do flags from the stair railings, a pine code wreath, Christmas cards from the last 15 years or so under plastic on the table, attached to all the metal doorways in the house and anywhere else I can display them. Cards are too beautiful to recycle after just one year!

The trees at the Garden are decorated with nature/outdoor themes: there was one with acorns and tendrils, another with birds and dragon flies, a stylized tree with flowers, and a tree decorated with golden deer with antlers and stars. I don't have a theme for my tree; my strategy has been more toward family history with some ornaments over 40 years old and others hand made by children (or me) documenting our talents over the years. It would be interesting to contemplate trees that are themed to match the interests of the people in the family. Some would be readily available - insects for an entomologist, stars for an astronomer or physicist, matchbox sized cars for anyone that worked in the automotive industry.

Enjoy the beauty of the season in your area!

Fort Worth Botanic Garden Conservatory

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden has a small conservatory that is a good place to wander through on a cold winter day....full of moist warmth and lush plantings. I selected some of the macro photos from my visit for the montage below.

FW botanic garden conservtory.png

I also enjoyed the gift shop and holiday decorations of the Garden Center building. The holiday decorations will be the topic of my posting tomorrow.

Road Trip in December - Oklahoma

The vast majority of my previous visits to Oklahoma have been in the summer so going in December was different. The route was new to me as well. It felt like the Oklahoma I remember best as soon as I pulled into the welcome center after crossing the red river from Texas: natural stone building, Indian (tepee) motif for the picnic table covers, a buffalo and dinosaur skull in the visitor center lobby. The casinos along the highway always surprise me because they have sprung up since my childhood. They seem foreign to me even though they play a significant role in the economy these days.

People are friendly in Oklahoma too. A person at the welcome center offered to take a picture with my camera so I could be in the picture and a person getting gas at the next stop I made commented about how far I'd come after doing a double take on the Maryland license plate on my car.

oklahoma in December.jpg

Oklahoma has 'mountains' that seem more like hills but they are mostly rock and there is a 'pass' in the Davis Mountains (middle bottom of the picture block above).