Earworms

By | May 15, 2019

It’s bad enough when you find yourself afflicted by an earworm, but you know what really sucks?

Having a song stuck in your head that you’re not actually very fond of and that you haven’t actually heard played in years — but somehow, nonetheless, which has swum up out of your unconsciousness and has taken over.

I’ve had the song “Ruby Dear” by Talking Heads stuck in my head most of the day — it’s from their final studio album, “Naked”. Not that exciting a song, pretty blah in my opinion, but yet there it is.

I suppose it could be worse: it could be “1985” by Bowling For Soup — a song I like, but which unfortunately gets stuck in my head for days. I make the mistake of playing it now and then and then I pay the price until the next snowfall.

… oh, God.

Jay’s Latest Venture Into Attention-Grabbing Idiocy

By | May 13, 2019

Back in the day, Carole and I loved the Discovery channel show Mythbusters, the show dedicated to testing the veracity and/or plausibility of various urban myths. We found that the show got old as the years went by and the producers spent more and more time milking the humor value and trying to fit as many explosions into the show as possible (to say nothing of the way that they spent the first few minutes after each commercial break recapping what they’d shown immediately prior to the commercial break, which got truly old), but along the way there really were some absolute gems.

My favorite, for what it’s worth, was the time they demonstrated that tightly sealing the pressure release valve on an ordinary hot water heater would eventually result in an explosion that basically put said water heater into orbit:

But that’s not something I care to test or attempt to replicate. Not anytime soon, anyway.

On the other hand, there’s episode 173: “Walk A Straight Line“. The guys tested the idea that a person who couldn’t see or hear (wearing blackout goggles and noise-blocking headphones or earplugs) would be unable to walk a straight line across an open field. I wish video from that episode was available on Youtube or elsewhere, but alas, it doesn’t seem to be.

Long story short: myth confirmed. Neither Adam Savage nor Jamie Hyneman were able to walk a straight line and in fact did really, really badly — looping around and crossing their own paths but thinking they were walking straight.

And that’s something easily tested — or would be, if you had a large enough, level enough field with no barriers, cars, other humans, trees, or anything else in the way. I finally stumbled across the perfect field while on a evening walk through Burlington, Vermont’s “Intervale” the other evening: a very large open area labeled “McKenzie Park” on Google Maps.


Wide open, with eight-inch-tall grass as far as the eye could see:

I said to myself, “This would be an excellent place to walk around blindfolded.”

I am probably the first person in Burlington history to make that assertion.

But anyway.

Today was cool and overcast, but not too cool: a nice day for a walk. We’re working on getting in shape for the Twin Cities Susan G. Komen 3-Day in August and since we’ve both been in major couch potato mode for the last few months, any exercise we can get is none too much. So we made a hike out of the project, starting at the CSWD transfer station on Patchen Road in South Burlington and winding up at the Miller Community Center on Gosse Court in the New North End of Burlington.

Our route took us down Intervale Road and on to McKenzie Park, where we took time out from our exercise for my little blindfolded-walking experiment.

I put in earplugs, put on a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, put an airplane sleep mask on and pulled an orange Buff headwrap down over that, and found that despite all this I could still hear ambient sounds well enough that it wouldn’t have been a fair test. So I had Carole pull up “Sounds of the Ocean” on my phone and blasted that while I walked. Problem solved. I couldn’t see a damn thing and all I could hear was the surf.

And so I started walking, trusting Carole to keep an eye on where I was going and to warn me if an unanticipated hole or other obstacle lay in my path. I carried my phone in front of me as I walked, the better to record my track on a GPS app.

I walked slowly and methodically and deliberately, my feet swishing through the tall grass and finding the footing secure, confident that I was tracing a true, straight course and that in due time Carole would stop me and say “Wow!” or “You did it!” or “Amazing!”

Um.

As it turned out, I’d started off well enough — well enough that Carole had irritably said to herself “Oh, jeez, another area in which he’s superhuman” (her words, not mine), but sure enough, I’d promptly doubled back on my path without realizing it, headed back the way I’d come, then traced a large loop. What caused Carole to stop me in the end was not that I was literally crossing my path, but that I was heading straight for a good-sized puddle that I’d somehow avoided the first time around.

And yet, if you watch the short video clip Carole took, I look so purposeful, don’t I?

Hmph.

I guess the Mythbusters were right. It is pretty much impossible to walk a straight line when you can’t see or hear where you’re going. Even when you’re more or less certain that you’re doing exactly that.

Critters

By | May 10, 2019

I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside Blacksburg, Virginia, the son of a Virginia Tech physics professor and a librarian. Our house was outside town on a 23-acre hilly piece of land that had started out as pasture and that we’d allowed to grow up into woods. We didn’t really have neighbors in the traditional sense; there was a large dairy farm on one side of our property line and the house of one neighbor off in the woods in the other direction, but not so close that you ever ran into them. (The cows we had a more personal acquaintance with, on the other hand, but more on that in a bit.)

We had all kinds of critter experiences when we were kids. We had squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, skunks, a fox a time or two, and a bobcat that lived out in the pine trees that we’d occasionally glimpse at twilight. We had a zillion songbirds and Mom, a bird lover, dutifully kept birdfeeders full of seed twelve months a year. Deer were an everyday occurrence — so much so that we really didn’t pay much attention when they walked across the lawn, or at least, that’s how I remember it.

Dad didn’t hunt and had posted our property against hunting, but that didn’t stop some of the local jackwagons from trespassing. Dad would go just about berserk when he heard or saw hunters on our property, especially if they were near our house. One total asshole shot a fox dead in our front yard while we were having lunch one Saturday and I believe Dad wound up chasing him about a half mile into the woods shouting imprecations.

Then there was the possum. Mom and Dad and my brother were out of town at a conference one night in the summer of 1985 when I was just out of high school and hadn’t gone off to college yet. I heard something outside the house rustling in the dead leaves and grass — it sounded for all the world like someone walking around out there trying to be quiet, like they were looking for the best spot to break in. I shouted out the window “go away”, “get lost”, etcetera, hoping that they wouldn’t decide to force the issue now that they’d been heard and challenged. But the noises didn’t stop and it started to really skeeve me out. After some thought, I called the cops — “there’s something or someone poking around outside our house” sounds pretty stupid when you find yourself saying it to a 911 operator, but I had no idea what else to do.

A half hour or so later (during which time the noise continued unabated) a Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy showed up with a Blacksburg Police car in tow (we were outside town limits, but I guess it was a slow night) and they poked around out back for me. They said they didn’t see any person or persons out there, but they did see a possum that looked rabid — it was “acting funny”. So they shot it. And left it for me to dispose of.

And that was that… until I went out the next morning with a shovel to dig a hole and, well, dispose of the corpse… and it was gone. I assume that even the most apathetic sheriff’s deputy is capable of dispatching a standard possum, rabid or otherwise, so I didn’t figure that the possum had recovered and crawled away. Instead, well, I’m guessing that some other animal came along, found the fresh (rabies-infected) meat, and said “thanks!” Yeah, I know. I felt pretty stupid when I put two and two together; I should have done something with the carcass right away rather than leaving it for morning.

As for the cows — well, Mr. Price’s cows got bored a time or two, and they pushed down the fence that separated our property from the dairy pasture. And as cows will, they went off for a stroll, most of them heading up the hill along our dirt-and-gravel driveway to our house. I believe that I was the first to notice them one of the times; I glanced out my bedroom window early one Sunday morning and saw, in place of the black walnut tree that normally dominated the view, a bunch of cow derrières. Dad called Mr. Price, and Mr. Price showed up with some of his employees and a truck or two and in short order, Bessie and Mabel and company were removed and restored to their proper place next door.

Only the story doesn’t end there. Mr. Price asked Dad what he could do to make amends and Dad cannily offered to accept a load of manure to be used as fertilizer for our large vegetable garden. Upon delivery, we spread it liberally and tilled it in and went on about our lives.

Then we went on vacation to Texas and New Mexico and Arizona for a couple of weeks. It was one of those classic 1970s Great American driving vacations — the whole family in our green Chevrolet Beauville van (metallic mint green paint and everything) crisscrossing the desert Southwest in search of adventure. What we didn’t know was that the real adventure was waiting for us at home…

… in the form of the most heinous, Amazon-jungle-like spread of invasive weeds you’ve ever laid eyes on. Our beloved vegetable garden was completely choked with deadly nightshade and other fast-growing botanical monsters strange to behold. That manure, we came to realize, had been full of the seeds of every organism on the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service list of “Plants To Avoid”. And talk about fecund — that “fertilizer” had more than done its work. Certainly, we’d expected to have to do some weeding when we came home from being away for a couple of weeks, but we hadn’t expected weeds four feet high.

So yeah, the garden was a complete loss for that year. I think we eventually just walked away from it, waited until fall when everything died, and then burned it in hopes of incinerating the seeds left behind.

Thanks, cows.

At the end of the day, though, I think the memory of our house and its peripatetic population of wandering wildlife that I most cherish is the day the bicycle tire showed up on the doorknob of the guest bedroom.

Yeah, I know. “Bicycle tire”?

We were having lunch one Saturday around 1975 or so, when I’d have been around eight and my brother Rob would have been about five. Rob went off to the bathroom mid-meal and when he came back, he announced that there was a bicycle tire hanging from the doorknob of the guest bedroom. None of us had any idea what the hell he was talking about, so one of us went and had a look.

I can’t say “you guessed it, it was a ___________” because almost no one guesses correctly.

It was a sizeable black snake, which had somehow gotten into the house and slithered up the wooden door of the guest bedroom and, not having been content with doing that, had draped itself over the doorknob and was hanging, half on one side of the doorknob, half on the other, suspended at its midpoint as it were… and seemed content to remain there. I hadn’t known that snakes could basically slither right up a vertical surface; in fact, I don’t think any of us had. Nor do I have any idea why, having gotten into the house in the first place, the snake had chosen to go up an otherwise ordinary bedroom door. But there it was, eyeing us thoughtfully as we all trooped down the hall to see what was going on.

As I recall, Mom retrieved a large wastebasket and a wire clotheshanger and persuaded the snake off the door and into the wastebasket, whereupon it was returned to the great outdoors and allowed to resume the even and lowly tenor of its way.

It wasn’t that we were unused to black snakes, incidentally; there were lots of them in the woods around our house and we’d occasionally see one sunning itself on a log or on the driveway. We weren’t especially bothered by them. We had other snakes as well: copperheads a time or two and I won’t say I didn’t see a rattlesnake once, but my memory may be conflating a snake seen in my back yard with a snake seen at the local science museum (such as it was).

Snakes were no big deal.

A snake on a doorknob, on the other hand… well, that was just strange.

Diet progress, week 4

By | May 5, 2019

Four weeks in, I’m down 20+ pounds and my BMI just went below 30, which means I am back in the land of “overweight” and out of the land of “obese”.

So there’s that.

Arachnids

By | May 4, 2019

Being me means things like finding a bag of plastic tarantulas in your bongo drum bag and going “oh that’s where I put those.”1I posted this to Instagram the other day and Carole thought it was really funny. So, I’m resharing it here to immortalize it, so to speak.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I posted this to Instagram the other day and Carole thought it was really funny. So, I’m resharing it here to immortalize it, so to speak.

Aurora Chamber Singers Babylon

By | May 1, 2019

Hi, everyone! I’m a member of the Aurora Chamber Singers and our spring concert is coming up on May 11!

If you live within two days’ drive of Burlington, Vermont I hope you’ll mark your calendar and plan to attend.

This will probably be the single greatest, most exciting concert any of us will ever take part in, either as performer or as audience member.

Remember all those people who say they were at Woodstock, even though actual attendance was only 400,000 or so? If everyone who says they were there had actually been there… well, let’s just say there’d be a lot more 49-year-olds named “Flower” or “Sunshine” roaming around today.

The same is going to be true of this concert (we cannot guarantee an actual open-air “love-in”, but we can’t guarantee that this won’t happen, either) … and you want to be one of the people who can truthfully say “I WAS THERE!”, don’t you?

Of course you do. So please make plans to attend.

What’s on the program, you ask?

Crossing Borders

R. Nathaniel Dett Chariot Jubilee
Listen to the Lambs
America the Beautiful (Katherine Lee Bates)
Howard Hanson Song of Democracy (Walt Whitman)
David Conte Three Mexican Folk Songs
Frederick Piket Sea Charm (Langston Hughes)

The concert celebrates music with ties to Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The two 20th century cantatas by African-Canadian composer R. Nathaniel Dett represent our neighbor to the north. U.S. composer Howard Hanson’s Song of Democracy sets words by Walt Whitman, and Frederick Piket’s song cycle Sea Charm sets the deeply moving words of Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes. David Conte’s arrangement of Three Mexican Folk Songs completes the border crossings.

We’re talking “total consciousness expansion” here, people.

I don’t want to see any of you sitting around on Sunday the 12th weeping openly because you missed this once in a lifetime experience. Mark your calendars now!

Once again, that’s:

Saturday May 11th, 2019 7:30 PM
College Street Congregational Church, Burlington

Tickets available via flynntix.com or at the door.

 

Be there, or be square.

A Thousand Miles, And Still Walking

By | April 27, 2019

October 3, 2008 — a thousand miles ago

2019 marks my 12th year taking part in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day 60-mile walks.

When I started participating in 2008, I didn’t really expect to be here 11 years later still fundraising. I don’t know what I did expect — did I expect a cure would be swift in coming? Answer: probably not. I’m a realist.

Did I expect that by 2018 I’d have walked a thousand miles (not even counting training walks) during Susan G Komen 3-Day events? Um, no. I think that’s a number I never dreamed I’d reach. (I walked my thousandth mile last fall in San Diego, for what it’s worth.)

Most importantly, did I expect we’d have made great strides in detection and treatment? I don’t know, but we have. Mortality from breast cancer is down and the odds get better each year.

I wish I could look forward over the next decade and know what the future holds… but obviously, I can’t. (If I could, I’d probably go bet a lot of money on the outcome of sporting events and/or buy a lot of lottery tickets, and then I wouldn’t need to fundraise because I could just donate my billions around like a house on fire and have done with it.)

Given that none of us have actual crystal balls with which to predict the future, all we can do is create the best environment possible for the search for a cure. It’s similar to how we till and fertilize and mulch our gardens in the spring hoping for a bumper crop of vegetables come summer and fall. I hope that money raised now will lead to research over coming years which will lead, in time, to the breakthroughs that will transform stage IV metastatic breast cancer from a likely death sentence to a treatable condition.

This year I’m going to take part in the 2019 Twin Cities Susan G Komen 3-Day as a walker (it’s in August) and then I’m going to crew the revived (back after several years off the schedule) New England 3-Day in September. As usual, I have a $2,300 fundraising goal to meet in order to walk.

I would be very grateful for your support. Thank you for all you’ve done to help make the world a better place, and thank you in advance for any fundraising support you can lend.

My donation URL is http://www.the3day.org/goto/jayfurr — and thanks!

Weight loss update: Week 2

By | April 21, 2019

This is a follow-up to Weight loss update: Week 1

I did not lose any weight this week. However, I have decided that since I already eat a pretty reasonable diet — breakfast/lunch/dinner-wise, anyway, I’m going to focus on getting more physically active, and hope the weight loss comes along as a result of that.

This past week I walked from work to rehearsal of the Aurora Chamber Singers rather than driving, and walked back at the end to pick up my car. Round trip about a mile, but that’s something. And then today Jay and I walked 4.5 miles.

I really, really, really want to get back in the habit of doing a daily walk at lunch and to doing yoga classes after work. The reason I haven’t been is twofold: on Mondays and Tuesdays, when I could’ve gone to a class or something, I’ve been too lazy and tired after work to trudge the whole block to Sangha Studios on Pine Street in Burlington for yoga. And on Wednesdays and Thursdays I have rehearsal of musical groups I’m in. And on Friday, I guess I tend to want to leave that open for doing something with Jay. Of course, I could do yoga on the weekends.

“Concert season” will be wrapping up soon with concerts of the Aurora Chamber Singers on May 11 at the College Street Congregational Church in Burlington (information here) and Me2/ Orchestra at Lamoille Union High School in Hyde Park, VT on May 18. (information here). (There’s also a concert of Me2/ Orchestra in Montreal on May 11 but I can’t go because of the Aurora Chamber Singers concert the same night.) Once rehearsals wrap up for the summer, it’ll be a lot easier to get exercise in.

It’s also easier when Jay’s in town because he can guilt/harangue me into going to a yoga class after work or come by and drag me out on a walk. Burlington (where I work) has lovely walking trails, especially along the waterfront, and I work a block from the waterfront.

Then, too, I plan to start aikido lessons once the concerts are over. I’ve already got my gi (the white jacket and pants that you wear while out on the mat) and made connections at the local dojo on Pine Street (also a very short distance from my office).

So I do have plans. I just need to stop making excuses to myself and carry them out.

 

Diet Update: Week 2

By | April 21, 2019

This is a follow-up to Diet Update: Week 1.

On Sunday of last week, my weight stood at 243.8. I weighed myself after coming in from gardening this afternoon and my digital, WiFi-enabled scale dutifully registered my weight as 237.4. For what it’s worth, my weight two weeks ago was 252.2.

I know. That’s impossible. No one loses fifteen pounds (okay, 14.8 pounds) in two weeks unless they’re on the Bataan Death March.

There are factors that can skew the numbers — am I hydrated or not? Have I, er, been to the bathroom? I have to assume, given my results just now (again, 237.4, down 6.4 pounds from a week ago), that I am:

  • somewhat dehydrated
  • er, “empty”

At the end of the day, I do have a theory. I’m losing weight because:

  • I’m crash dieting, eating 1200-1600 calories a day of mostly vegetarian protein sources
  • I’m getting a bit more exercise (multi-mile walks twice in the last seven days)
  • I’m shedding the excess water that my blood pressure medications have caused me to retain.

I know water retention due to medication is no joke; last summer they tried me on a drug called Bystolic and I promptly put on about ten pounds. In one week. They took me back off it — the excess weight almost immediately went away.

So here’s my theory: something is causing my body to start shedding the excess water it’s been retaining ever since I went on those meds. Maybe it’s the longer hours of daylight. Maybe it’s the significant reduction of my food intake. Maybe it’s getting a bit more exercise — I’ve gone for walks twice this week (and I should have done more).

It’s a mystery.

“The Frosted Pop-Tarts of Credit Unions”

By | April 21, 2019

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a tale of silliness.

Whereas:

  • Carole hates processing her personal email. A lot of it is stuff that’s only somewhat important, if that, and she finds it frustrating to have to sort through it all.
  • I read incredibly fast. I can’t sing worth a damn and I’m overweight and un-athletic, but I can read really, really fast.

So… Carole has me process her inbox for her and let her know what’s actually important. I draw the line at reading all the email content — I go by the sender, subject, and the first-line preview that Gmail gives you. So if you’re wondering if your private emails to Carole are getting read by me first — actually no. I just mark things that look unimportant “read” and leave the rest for her to follow up on.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this process. Chief among them are the “customer surveys” that various organizations and merchants send out now and then. I know Carole’s never going to do any of ’em, and I know that in the long run, what one person says in response to a “how do you like us” survey from one’s local supermarket (for example) isn’t really going to matter much.

So I fill out the surveys Carole gets in her email, and I tend to be very, very silly.

My attitude is that “some poor bastard has to sit there reading all the responses to the free-text comments at the end of surveys, and I might as well give them a little dose of surreality”. For example, I went through a period a year or two ago where my answers to just about every survey had to do with the pending zombie apocalypse (and I say that as someone who’s never seen a single episode of The Walking Dead — I just thought it was funny).

Generally, I do all this with no expectation of ever hearing back from the merchant or organization who sent out the survey, even if I tick the checkmark that says “you can contact me about my responses”.

But… well, we got this card:

And inside we found this:

And we opened it and we found this (click to enlarge to full size):

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

 

But it gets better.

They actually called up as well and left a voice mail thanking Carole for “her” survey response.

Apparently, “Carole” really made their day.

You know what, though? I have no idea what I said in that survey.

Except, of course, that apparently it involved frosted Pop-Tarts.