Monday, March 31, 2014

Adventures in Baby Gear: The Solid Foods Edition

Baby H is eating solids now, and the earth-mother-goddess in me really wants to be all granola-y and make all her food myself.  No buying jars for me.  Plus, it's cheaper.  And I'm nothing if not cheap.

So on Saturday I got this Infantino Squeeze Station at Babies R Us, and a Fresh Starts baby food grinder.  Jonathan went to a bachelor party, and I got cooking and squeezing.

The setup.

Steam the frozen peas

baby food grinder

grind the peas

Ground peas.   Yum yum.

ground peas go into the top of the squeeze station.  Use the pushy thingy to push them down into the pouch.

And the finished product - Yummmmmmy pouch of organic peas!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mommy Daughter Culture Day: Huntington Library

A few months ago I started doing regular Mommy Daughter Culture Days on Sundays with Hannah.  It was mid-December, I'd just figured out how to pump while driving (hands free bra and car adapter) and I was ready to stretch the pumping tether that had me staying close to home from the time Hannah had been born.  So we went to LACMA, where Hannah got a free kid's membership that entitles her to go to the museum free with an adult until she's 18 (yeah, I sniff out culture deals).

So that got us started on Mommy Daughter Culture Day.  It's a nice time for us to go do something special, it gives J a break at home, and it gives me a chance to go out and do stuff in my city that I wouldn't normally do.

Since that LACMA day in December she's been to the Norton Simon in Pasadena, the Getty, the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica, the Riverside Art Museum, and some other places which I now forget.

We welcomed Spring with a trip to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.  I've been wanting to go to the Huntington for ages - they have an amazing collection of old maps, and it seems like every time I look at a map in a history book, it's courtesy of the Huntington.

They have the most amazing gardens - 120 acres divided up into gardens from lots of different countries.  So there's a Shakespeare garden, an Australian garden, a Japanese garden (with a bamboo forest - amazing to hear the trees blowing in the wind), a Chinese garden, and a jungle garden.  Kind of reminded me of the first time I was ever at Longwood Gardens when I was about five or six, when we were walking around for what seemed like hours, and I thought I was going to die of thirst.

Anyway, that's just the grounds.  Then they have like three buildings full or art and old maps and other cool stuff.  I'm considering buying a membership so I can go more often - I can't imagine that I could ever get sick of that place.

A special highlight was that Hannah sat in grass for the first time ever.  Up here in the mountains we don't have much in the way of fresh grass, and anyway, it's been winter.  So she had a good time sitting in the grass, pulling on it, trying to eat it, etc.  And I had a good time trying to keep her from eating the grass, etc.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Geeking out on Richard III

I've been watching the Trial of Richard III on youtube - there is no end to the geekiness.

 What, you might ask, is the Trial of Richard III?

Let's start at the very beginning...

1480's.  Wars of the Roses.  Medieval England is in shambles as one family has been tearing itself apart for several decades.

Edward IV is king.  When he got married, he made a love match with a commoner, Elizabeth Woodville.  Kind of a big deal at the time.  Lots of people thought she bewitched him.  He died suddenly leaving two small sons, neither of whom were old enough to rule on their own.  Edward had a brother, Richard.  Richard wants to become king.  So Richard takes both boys and puts them in the Tower of London, for their "protection".  He says he's going to prepare them for their coronation, but really he's plotting to take the throne.  Which he accomplishes by saying that Edward had a precontract before he married Elizabeth (he gets a bishop to agree to this).  Therefore his marriage with Elizabeth would be invalid, and the children would be illegitimate.

Ergo, Richard would be king.

He has Parliament agree to it, and he gets himself crowned, and it's all good.

Except for the princes in the tower.  Witnesses say that they saw them playing in the courtyard for several months, but then there was a raid trying to rescue them.  They were moved deeper into the Tower, and not allowed to play outside any longer.  Eventually no one saw them at all, and they were presumed dead.

So the obvious choice is Richard, right?  In the late 17th century bones were found under a stairwell which match the size of the princes, and so everyone assumed that he had murdered his nephews, and that was that.

But it wasn't that simple.  There were a lot of people who had something to gain by the two princes dying.  Edward IV had another brother, the Duke of Clarence, who had a son.  He would have benefited.  Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the eventual Henry VII definitely benefited.

The bodies were never found, and one would assume that they would have been paraded around to show that they had died, especially to snuff out pretenders (there were several during the reign of Henry VII who said they were the younger prince who escaped from the tower - in the absence of DNA evidence there wasn't really any way to prove it either way).

Elizabeth Woodville even reconciled with Richard III, and there was talk that her oldest daughter Elizabeth of York would marry him (she eventually married Henry VII).  She asked another son who was with Henry in exile to come home to the court of Richard.  Would she have done that when she suspected Richard of killing her two sons?

So yeah, there's a lot of weird evidence both ways, and not a lot of answers.

So in the 1980's Channel 4 in the UK had a trial of Richard, where they had historians argue it out in a courtroom with a jury and lawyers.

I won't tell you what the verdict is.  But the 22 videos on youtube are pretty compelling.  Plus, the 80's hair is awesome.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Old Music Tuesday, Lent Edition: Palestrina 3, The Sixteen

I'm sitting at home nursing a cold, the last of the three of us to catch it.  Being sick with a kid is infinitely worse than being sick on your own.  Because when the kid is awake, you're awake.  And not only are you awake, but you're also keeping them company, entertaining them, feeding them, changing their diapers, and worrying about how sick they are, and if they're turning a weird shade of gray.  Plus you get to buy (and use) something called - I'm not making this up - a Snotsucker.

Anyway, I digress.

I haven't done much on Old Music lately, and I think a great way to remedy that is with The Sixteen's Palestrina albums.  Palestrina is the granddaddy of early music.  He got this title by being a prolific composer of amazing liturgical music throughout the 16th century, but it also helped that he lived until he was almost 70.

The Sixteen have several albums of Palestrina's music out, and this one is specifically music for Lent and Easter.  It opens with an 8 part Stabat Mater, which would have been sung at the beginning of Holy Week.  The Stabat Mater is one of the most interesting parts of liturgy for me.  It literally translates to the Sorrows of Mary, and depicts Mary's sorrow at watching her son being crucified.  The opening words, "Stabat Mater dolorosa" mean the sorrowful mother stood, and it goes on from there, meditating on the pain that Mary felt watching her son on the cross. Sometimes it seems morbid to me to think that most of the Western world (and much of the rest of the world) is based on a religion where the holiest week in the liturgical year starts with a mother watching her son die.

But then I think about these beautiful motets, and about how the greater message is that God understands the suffering of humanity.  Until very recently life for most people was hard.  Like, "I'm really hungry and who knows whether I'll be able to eat and I've had to go through hard labors four times because there's no such thing as reliable birth control, and I'll probably have to again and chances are if I do, I'll probably die, because women die in childbirth all the freaking time, and probably at least two of my kids won't make it to adulthood anyway, and oh yeah, the plague is coming back, and there's probably going to be another war soon because it's been fifteen years and the king is getting antsy, so, you know, that will f*ck up my life to no end, but there's nothing I can do about it, and my clothes are so freaking itchy because they're just homespun and feel like sandpaper, and yeah, have I mentioned that I'm hungry," kind of hard.

Of course I'm sure most people didn't really think about it.  Just like I'm sure that in five hundred years people will talk about how hard life in the 21st century was, when people had to cook their food, or diet to lose weight, or go to Target to go shopping, or something.  It's how life was, you didn't know any different, you didn't know it was even possible for clothes to not itch, and so you just went on about your business, burying your children and grieving for those who died in the plague as best you could, and knowing that your time was probably going to come sooner rather than later, and scratching your back a lot.

Denise Poncher Before a
Vision of Death
So people spent a lot of time preparing for death; there were lots of advice books on the best way to prepare your soul, and art everywhere encouraged people to meditate on their own upcoming demise.

These kinds of motets, like the Stabat Mater, were part of that meditation, showing that God knew and understood our pain, and that even the Holy Saints and the mother of Christ knew what it meant to watch a child die.

They are incredibly moving to listen to with that context, and especially then followed up by the music from the rest of Holy Week, which celebrates the Resurrection, and reminds people that there is salvation available and an eternity of goodness, where the plague and medieval warfare can't touch them.

Additionally, by the time Palestrina was writing, there was another force at play in the Catholic church - the Counter Reformation.  The Reformation started when Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saint's Church in Wittenberg in 1517.  At first Rome was like, "yeah, whatevs; so some guy in Germany has a stick up his ass.  We're Rome, we don't care."  But then England got in on it, and so did most of Northern Europe, and before you know it the Pope is feeling just a tad bit threatened.

And thus comes along the Counter Reformation, the Council of Trent, and the re-branding of the Catholic church as a little less into usury, bribery, and canoodling with one's daughters (along with a giant FU to the reformers through a not-so-nice Inquisition).  Thanks in part to the long-living Palestrina, the Roman church was able to do all this with a great soundtrack.

It's good music to listen to while going through my own trials and tribulations in this sick-house (though I have NyQuil, and our colds aren't life threatening!).

Spotify Link:
The Sixteen – Palestrina Volume 3
Amazon Link:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Random bits of History Goodness: The Crystal Palace

I recently watched a few episodes of my Favorite TV Show Ever, Great British Railway Journeys; a trip from Brighton to Crystal Palace.

I first heard the words Crystal Palace used together in a sentence when my voice teacher lived at the Crystal Palace train stop in south London.  Yes, I spent a year singing alto musical pieces in a flat in south London once a week.  I can murder the female part of Children of Eden's In Whatever Time We Have, but that's a different story.

Anyway, my voice teacher - I think his name was Martin, but I forget.  For the sake of memory, we'll just refer to him as Martin from here on out - he lived by Crystal Palace, so I heard the stop called out every week,  not knowing much about what it was, other than that it was also a football club.

Then I listened to Bill Bryson's wonderful book At Home, a History of Private Life on a road trip to Sacramento, and in his marvelous way, Bryson managed to give a history of the home tying together tea kettles to salt to Ikea to Crystal Palace.

In 1851 there was a Great Exhibition in London where Prince Albert decided it would be a good idea to have a showcase of all the new and wonderful inventions and industrial achievements of the modern world.  Lots of countries, including France, the US, and Egypt attended with over 14,000 exhibits in four categories: Raw Materials, Fine Arts, Machinery and Manufacturers.

Sir Joseph Paxton, an architect and Member of Parliament designed the glass palace, which was possible by recent advances in the technology of both cast iron and glass (cast plate glass invented in 1848, which allowed for cheap and strong large plates of glass) as well as a drop in the tax on glass, which made it cheaper.  He decided to have an entire palace made only of glass, including the ceiling, and worked the geometry around it.  The plates of glass measured 10 inches wide by 49 inches long, and it took millions of plates to build the entire building, which was 1851 feet long, 408 feet wide, and 128 feet high.

The whole thing felt like strolling through the park, as he had included live trees throughout the building.  But a major puzzle to work out was maintaining a comfortable temperature - this was decades before air conditioning, and thousands of people would be walking through the building, which was in Hyde Park originally (it was later moved to Syndenham Hill in South London after the Great Exhibition).  Paxton worked through this by having external shading cloths which could be wet and the water evaporation would cool the building.  He also built in some ventilation that helped move air from the floor to the ceiling.

It would have been pretty amazing to look at, and Paxton was knighted by Queen Victoria for his efforts.

After the Exhibition, the Palace was moved at a cost of almost ten times the initial cost to build it.  A consortium of businessmen thought it would be an attraction for people to come visit, and they turned it into the world's first theme park with roller coasters, cricket matches, and even 20 FA Cup finals between 1895 and 1914.  Part of the grounds included a Dinosaur Park, with models of dinosaurs, before any full fossils of complete dinosaurs were even discovered, though they were amazingly accurate for being mostly guesses.

The poor building was extremely unlucky, though.  First off in 1861 it was damaged by strong winds.  Then in 1866 a fire broke out destroying the north end and damaging some natural history exhibits.  In 1892 someone died from a hot air balloon accident.  In 1900 a visitor was trampled by an escaped elephant.

In November 1936 the whole thing caught fire and collapsed after a small office fire expanded and 400 firemen and 89 engines couldn't put it out.  The glow was visible from 8 counties, and Winston Churchill declared that it was "the end of an age."

Nowdays, Crystal Palace is a premiership football club, and I have no idea how they're doing because I only pay attention to Tottenham now, who are apparently just out of the Champion's League thanks to their recent loss to Chelsea.  Don't rely on me for any other in depth football analysis.  But you can watch this cool video with images of the Crystal Palace if you want to see more.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Before #Occupy: Coxey's Army

Here's a fun fact:  Over 100 years before the #Occupy movement, there was Coxey's Army, a protest march from Ohio to Washington in 1894, the second year of a depression that, up until that point, was the worst the country had ever seen (up to 25% unemployment in cities).

I am interested in Coxey's Army for a few reasons.  First, it was one of the earliest organized labor protests during the Gilded Age, as people were starting to realize that having lots of manufacturing wasn't any good if your workers were starving.  Second, they wanted Washington to help the country out of the depression by starting public works projects.  Congress sneered at this at the time - many still believed that unemployment was a sign of disfavor from God, so it would be sinful to mess around with it.  Plus, it was an anathema to the prevailing laissez-fair hands-off economic theory. It wasn't until the New Deal Congress in the 1930's, 40 years later, that we saw government take a proactive role in trying to do something about unemployment.

Jacob Coxey was a businessman from Pennsylvania who made money in Ohio and lived a patrician sort of lifestyle breeding horses.  Before practical joke names like North West, he even named one of his children Legal Tender.  But eventually he became an anti-monopolist, and a politician.  He led an "army" of protesters across the Allegheny mountains starting in March 1894, marching to DC, gaining supporters along the way who would bring them food and supplies.  The size of the march varied and estimates are between 5,000 and 12,000.  Apparently about 2,000 actually got to DC, and just when Coxey was about to start his speech at the Capital building, he was arrested for walking on the grass.

Fifty years later in 1944, Congress gave him the blessing to give his speech.  Here's an excerpt:

"The Constitution of the United States guarantees to all citizens the right to peaceably assemble
and petition for redress of grievances, and furthermore declares that the right of free speech shall not be abridged. We stand here today to test these guaranties of our Constitution. We choose this place of assemblage because it is the property of the people. . . Here rather than at any other spot upon the continent it is fitting that we should come to mourn over our dead liberties and by our protest arouse the imperiled nation to such action as shall rescue the Constitution and resurrect our liberties."

Apparently L. Frank Baum was one of the people watching and following the Coxey's Army progression, and many people think that there are political echoes of it in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as Dorothy, the Scarecrow (American farmer), Tin Man (industrial worker) and Cowardly Lion (William Jennings Bryan) marched to the Emerald City (the Capital) demanding relief from the Wizard (the President).  

Coxey's Army is often brought up in the same breath as the Pullman Strike where the workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company (sleeper railway cars) went on strike in 1894.  Pullman was one of the first Company Towns, and during the 1893 depression he lowered wages for workers while keeping rents steady and also increasing dividends paid to investors.  There were riots and 50,000 striking railway workers, with Grover Cleveland eventually stepping in to break up the strike.  

Here's a documentary put together by the Massillon Museum in Ohio and available on youtube.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Week in Books

I try to switch up my reading to keep things fresh, and have recently started having multiple books going at once (something I never did before, but I also haven't read this much with such regularity before - a side effect of the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations on Screen Time).  So at any given time I am reading:
- something scholarly and intelligent, which I can use to make myself sound smarter than I really am.
- something fun and kind of guilty - the equivalent to a sitcom.  I can read it before bed when I'm ready to pass out, and it doesn't really matter if I don't digest it all at once.
- some kind of self-improvement book - right now it's How to Be A Productivity Ninja.  I can read these in quick breaks when I get 10 minutes, or in little bites at lunch.
- an audiobook for the car and my baby-free walks.  I used to be pretty good at keeping up with the news via NPR in the car, but I've pretty much stopped caring.  I turned on Weekend Edition during our Saturday Morning Faff Around The Kitchen Time, and in the first five minutes I heard about Russia invading the Ukraine, and a former Olympian's murder trial starting.  Same shit, different day.  I went back to my audiobook.

So my guilty pleasure/sitcom book last week was Hollywood Forever by Christopher Herz.  It's a novel about an out of work actor who flips out at a DMV, which sets in motion a whole bunch of dystopian stuff, ending in him starring in a reality tv show that actually does turn into reality.  It reminded me a lot of Arthur Neresian, whom I loved about 10 years ago.  Where Neresian captures the angst of NYC so perfectly, Herz gets all the fake-Hollywood-obsessed-with-image-and-twitter-followers stuff.

There were also two pretty steamy sex scenes, which, despite the fact that they were written by a man, were still pretty good and better than anything in 50 Shades.  But we all know how I feel about that, and I won't go down that road again.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cool Women in History: Nellie Taft

I've been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism about, well, Roosevelt, Taft, and journalists (as the name would so cleverly imply).  Doris Kearns Goodwin was actually my university's commencement speaker the year I graduated, though I don't really remember much about it except for how hot it was.

Anyway, I've been interested in TR for a while after reading about his time as the police commissioner of NYC in Richard Zachs' Island of Vice.  He was a Victorian in every sense of the world; upset with himself because he married again after his first wife died, for example, and trying to get rid of the brothels and saloons with the vigor and energy that only a Victorian mixed with a Puritan could muster.

But I do like his brand of Republicanism.  If he was running today, I'd totally vote for him.  Conserve the resources.  Get rid of sweatshops.  Balance corporate freedom with humanity and responsibility.


So one of the things I'm loving about this book is learning about the inestimable Helen Herron (Nellie) Taft, wife to William Howard Taft (President after Roosevelt and famous for not a lot except being really fat and possibly getting stuck in a bathtub) (though it didn't actually happen).

Nellie was a badass.

She grew up in Cincinnati Ohio, and her parents were upper-middle-class-trying-to-be-upper-class.  She grew up around great wealth, but her father struggled to pay for his sons to go to college, and when it came to be her turn, he said they couldn't afford it, despite her desperate pleas.

The idea of finding a husband and settling down didn't appeal to her.  She had been to the White House with her father, a law partner of Rutheford B. Hayes once for an official dinner, and she had decided that she was much more suited to living an exciting life with lots of intellectual challenges than simply being a nice wifey.

She was musical, and practiced the piano 5 hours a day, eventually going to a music college and then she taught at a boys school, much to the chagrin of her mother, who thought it would ruin her socially.  It had the opposite effect though, making her a person of interest to all her friends.

She started a literacy Salon where each week she would meet with some friends, and they would talk about books.  The young, jovial, recently-back-in-Cincinnati-after-graduating-from-Yale lawyer Will Taft came to one of her Salons, and the two became good friends.  It wasn't love at first sight, but rather a growing friendship where they discussed ideas, and Will enjoyed being challenged by her.  Eventually he realized that he was in love with her and proposed, which she declined at first.  Taft wasn't one to give in easily, and he eventually persuaded her that he would be supportive of her intellectual interests, and not force her into some old fashioned stereotypical role of what a wife should be.  She obviously was persuaded, and agreed to an engagement.

When first engaged to Will, he wrote her a letter in which he wondered whether they would ever be in Washington in any official capacity, and then remembered that of course they would - when she became Secretary of the Treasury.

Nellie was the chief driving force behind Will Taft's political rise; she was his campaign strategist and manager, and pushed him further than he ever would have wanted to go on his own.  If she had lived today, she probably would be the one running for President.

Sadly her tenure as First Lady was disappointing to her, as she had a stroke in 1909 and was paralyzed on one side.  She eventually regained some of her capacity for speech and handled some of her duties again, but she would never be the same.

Her enduring legacy is something that makes Washington famous now - the 3000 cherry trees she planted as First Lady, which blossom every year and are the focus of a huge festival.