Lucky New Year

My mother's good luck tradition for New Year's Eve was black-eyed peas.

I never liked black-eyed peas.

So when I grew up, I switched to Brussels sprouts. What are your New Year's traditions?

Here are pictures of my sprouts recipe:

These are the ingredients, except I didn't use mustard seed. I thought I had pulled out the caraway seed.

I cut the sprouts in half. For New Year's, there must be 12.

Ah, here are the caraway seeds.

Fry them gently. I think the fancy-pants people say sauté.

Being Polish, I finish off my sprouts with gnocchi.

(I'm not going to ask the color of your underwear.)

Last Ride of the Year

As an addendum to the recent bicycling post: after dropping off a cat at the airport, I took a bike ride along the American River. All that stuff I've been thinking about how I might not be getting much distance up here in the hills but I must be building up stamina is just bunk. Down in the flatlands, I did 21.5 miles, but my legs were completely wobbly afterward. Still work to do.

EOY Lists: Books I Read

Sure, a blog is pretty self-indulgent. So I get to show you all the books I read in 2012. Here's a picture.

(Picture made by putting a tag in LibraryThing on the books as I read them.)

I count that as 56 books finished this year. I hesitate to count the Amber books because they're so small; on the other hand, some of the Miles Vorkosigan books are novel omnibuses, so it balances.

It was a good year for reading, though not so much for Book Tales. I wonder if those might not be all out of my system. Only time will tell.

My three favorites:

  • The Last Crossing (Guy Vanderhaeghe). I picked up this book while in Toronto because I heard about it on The Next Chapter podcast. It's a western, set across the US border. I'm not generally a fan of westerns, but I liked this tale about two English brothers searching for a missing third brother.
  • Railsea (China Miéville). This is an alternate imagining of Moby Dick, with ships replaced by locomotives and the whale replaced by giant burrowing moles. A great ride every second.
  • Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell). The movie was pretty good, but I loved this book. I came into this one thinking that the writer was just trying to show off, but I came out impressed with his range. Each story segment reads as if it were written in the time it portrays. Mitchell does a good job with switching styles.

On top of all that, all of the Miles books are candy, really. I couldn't pick one up without burning through it in a day. And I've talked before about my addiction to Shadow Unit.

And, of course, BUGS! has my story in it. (I have a chapter in a non-fiction book coming out soon, but I didn't do much fiction writing this year. I intend to catch up in January.)

Did you read any good books this year?

EOY Statistics: Bicycling in Nevada County

Rides 2012: 23
Rides 2011: 28

Well, this year I fell below averaging a ride every two weeks. However, with a ride on the third of this month, I did cross off my big goal for the year: I made at least one bicycle ride from my house in each month of the year. I think it says something about the weather here that I was able to do that without any special gear -- although it can get very cold and wet in the winter here, there do seem to always be gaps of beautiful weather. (Today was almost such a day, but I decided to go for a long drive instead of a bike ride.)

I thought I had taken more longer rides this year, but this chart fairly clearly shows I'm holding steady on distance (or maybe even losing traction).

But I still like the Rorschach plot that the year's rides makes on Google Earth. That's Scotts Flat up in the corner.

EOY List: Podcasts

Well, now that we've gotten through that holiday, our attention can turn to the end of the year. To me, EOY means it's time for retrospection and review, but I have to admit that this year is still too raw for me to look back on with any objectivity or in any way that I can see ever doing in public, so I'm going to finish the year with lists and statistics.

This post is about podcasts. I'm a big fan of podcasts, in a way that I was never excited about radio, really. Music, for me, is too highly personal to really mesh with any given DJ, so it's difficult to find new tunes. On the other hand, I also quickly grow tired of the music I already know about. I like to listen to people talk with some level of intelligence or humor or, ideally, both.

Of course, I also host a podcast, though I have trouble getting a critical mass of folks together to do it often enough. Here are two lists: My 9 Favorite Podcasts and 3 Podcasts I Wish Existed.

The Abbot's Nine Favorite Podcasts

These are the nine podcasts that throughout 2012 I would go to first if there was an episode in the catcher. They are in alphabetical order. Obviously, this list is limited to podcasts I have heard of, that I listened to this year, and that are still (as far as I know) in production. (I would list The Thumbcast and Nancy Pearl's book review show, for example, but they're gone.) I purposely made this 9, so you don't think of it as a Ten Best list.

  • BackStory with the American History Guys. I like the way these Virginia history professors walk through a topic by dividing it into the centuries of the US experiment.
  • The Dead Authors Podcast. Paul F. Tompkins plays an HG Wells who uses his time machine to bring authors to be interviewed for a modern audience. This is a literate and funny improvisation show that doesn't release often enough.
  • Double Feature. I hardly ever watch the movies these guys (much younger than I) watch and discuss, but I very much enjoy the way they pair two films and then pick the movies apart. Plus, they are extraordinarily punctual and regular in their releases.
  • Doug Loves Movies. Comedian Doug Benson hosts various other comedians as they play the Leonard Maltin game, a movie-based variation on Name That Tune, and other movie-related games. Generally, half the time is spent on pre-game banter and half on the game itself. I particularly like the Build-a-Title game.
  • How Did This Get Made? Three hosts and a guest watch and discuss a very bad movie. It's always negative, but somehow it's never mean.
  • Nerdist Writers Panel. This is a panel discussion with various television writers. I don't have a TV, but I'm always fascinated by the way that writers rooms seem to work. I'm coming to the conclusion that software development is neither straight engineering nor simple art; the collaborative and contentious environment of television writing might be the closest other profession.
  • The Next Chapter. This is a very literate podcast from the CBC. Shelagh Rogers is a delight to listen to as she speaks with poets and authors with respect.
  • Thrilling Adventure Hour. This is old-time serial radio written and performed in front of a modern audience. The show rotates episodes of several different series. My favorites are: Sparks Nevada is an Old-West-Style marshal stationed on Mars, Captain Laserbeam is a superhero show for kids, and Beyond Belief is a sophisticated drinking couple (a la The Thin Man) who reluctantly investigate the supernatural.
  • 99% Invisible. This is a really short podcast that purports to examine the architectural world around us, but is always full of fascinating little bits of information and "ah-hah" descriptions. Every other episode has something that works its way into my coaching.

Which podcasts do you listen to regularly? Why doesn't my spell check recognize "podcasts"?

The Abbot's Podcast Wishlist

There are so many podcasts that it is often difficult to locate new ones. On the other hand, when you do find them, they often don't update very often (or have stopped without notice), or they offer a lot of repeats, or they just aren't quite what I'm looking for. So, here's my list of podcasts that I think ought to exist, but don't (as far as I know).

  • Do Over. For each episode, we watch two movies back-to-back: the second movie is a remake of the first. The episode is recorded partly after the first and partly after the second. We'll compare them to each other both from a structural and execution perspective, but also from cultural and personal perspectives.
  • The Abbot Loves Novels. So, there are a lot of movie discussion and game shows, why can't we have one focused on books? I like the format of Doug Loves Movies, so we'll play a series of games but with book contents and titles as the main ingredient. (Also known as Double Sleepy Naptime.)
  • Person In The Street. Everybody should get a shot at a good NPR-style biographical interview. With the right questions and good listening, I think everybody's life can be presented in an interesting way. This podcast takes "normal" people and helps them tell their fascinating stories.

I pitched a show to NPR once that involved bringing people from unrelated disciplines together to talk about solutions to problems they have no direct experience with. I was so disappointed when it didn't get taken up. Now that podcasts are so easy and cheap to make, there's really no reason that any show you wanted to make should have to get approval before you try. The world truly is different than it was just a decade ago (not different enough, of course, but that's another podcast: read a science fiction story from the Golden Age (30s-50s) and compare the vision of the future to our current state. We complain a lot about how we don't all have personal jet packs, but I'll be there are a lot of things we do have (or have better).)

What would you like to have a show about? Would you like to help create these?

A Tree Grows in Oakland

Oops. I forgot to give this Wee Toaty Explorer the publicity he needs. This was from Oakland at the beginning of last week.

I found such a sad little tree.

Somebody is hanging out at the tree.

He's a bit chubby.

This is another in the continuing series of wee toaty explorers, a project to keep me busy while I'm on the road. A nice summary is here. The whole set is available if you click on Wee Toaty Explorers.

If this doesn't scare you off from Christmas

nothing will...

Via Flickr:

R.C. Croes / Anefo


Sinterklaas tapt miljoenste glas bier bij Cafe Hoppe , Amsterdam
30 november 1970


Sinterklaas pours the millionth glass of beer at Cafe Hoppe, Amsterdam
November 30, 1970

Hebt u meer informatie over deze foto, laat het ons weten. Laat een reactie achter (als u ingelogd bent bij Flickr) of stuur een mailtje naar:

Please help us gain more knowledge on the content of our collection by simply adding a comment with information. If you do not wish to log in, you can write an e-mail to:

Meer foto’s van het Nationaal Archief zijn te vinden in de fotocollectie op

Eggplant Parmesan

I admit it: I didn't take step-by-step pictures because I didn't think it would turn out so pretty and tasty.

Oh, but it did. Yum.


The joys of streaming video. I just spent my Sunday evening watching the original 1984 version of Footloose. I had never seen it before, which is odd because I was a high school student when this came out. Also, I was a high school student who had moved from a (more-or-less) northern city to a smaller southern community. (Huh, I wanted to capitalize "southern" but not "northern." I think that says something about the identity of both.) Also, I led a revolt of the high school students so that we could be allowed to dance if we wanted to.

OK, that last sentence is not true. Dancing wasn't illegal in Maryville, Tennessee. But a lot of the kids were not allowed to dance or listen to that devil's music. And we didn't even have a car wreck to blame. And I can tell you that I felt a lot of what Kevin Bacon's character felt, except that I was neither athletic nor popular. I'd have been more likely to fight for a good game of D&D. Still, it's strange that I never saw the movie.

The joy of streaming video is that I then immediately watched the 2011 version of Footloose. And watching them so close together was instructive because there isn't a whole lot that is different between the versions, but what is is significant.

In some ways, the writing is better in the 2011 version. There's more tightness; it's as if the 1984 movie was treated as a first draft and 2011 is the polish. There are ways in which the interactions in the 2011 version actually felt more realistic to my memory of the experience than the 1984 version (though the hair in 1984 was spot-on). I suspect that's because the language constraints of 1984 movies kept them a little behind what was being spoken on the street swearing-wise. On the other hand, there is no possible world in which a town that is so uptight as to legally ban underage dancing would allow its high school to have such a lax dress code.

The 2011 version did a better job of humanizing the pastor. I mourned the loss of the book burning (because I think it demonstrated the philosophical underpinning of the preacher that had been warped by the accident), but showing us the accident right up front and then beefing up the conversations between father and daughter helped explain the breakdown better, I thought.

On the other hand, starting the movie with the kids listening to the original Footloose song while they drove into death seemed to blame the first movie for the accident!

It was nice to see more skin tones in the newer version. The pothead was more like the potheads that I remember. Most of the other changes didn't really affect my experience of the movie one way or the other, I think: the pretty girl's risk taking was much more focused on only sex, whereas in the original she had a range of risky behaviors; the bus race was a little more exciting than the tractor chicken, but the tractor chicken was a slightly better example of the male posturing that was going on; the fight at the end was less gymnastic, I guess.

Unfortunately, though, the second movie does a few things that break the story. For a start, setting it in the present, where everyone has an iPod and can wiggle wherever they want, makes the premise more farfetched, IMHO. I don't doubt that there are communities in Georgia where the closest city is 2 hours away, but that's pretty remote for most of the audience these days, both because of the growth of southern population centers and what I imagine is increased mobility for the youth. The 1984 jump to a bar across county lines seems more realistic. The constant ticketing for noise violations smacks more of My Cousin Vinny than a serious attack on rights.

But the biggest problem is introduced by the 2011 version for no reason that I can see and it undermines one of the most important scenes. In the 1984 version, dancing is outlawed completely. In 2011, the film goes out of its way to point out that it is "unsupervised" dancing that is against the law. School and church dances are still legal. In fact, one of the characters says there's an annual multi-church dance.

Now, I'm not saying that a church-sponsored dance is all that great a thing; however, this kills the council speech. I mean, it's great and all that the pretty girl gives him some Bible passages to quote. And in the 1984 version, that makes sense: the community is all "dancing is never good." So showing Bible people dancing with God's blessing is all to the good. But in 2011, we've already acknowledged that God-sponsored dancing is OK. All of the passages are about celebrating or communicating with God. How does that justify allowing dancing on their own when there are perfectly good dances being done at church?

Now, what I was expecting was this to be setting up a different speech. We get the separation of church & state spiel between the northerner and his uncle early on (who is clearly on the kid's side the whole time when on screen but badmouthed when off screen), but it doesn't lead to anything with the council. With that variation in the law, they should have gone down the route of church/state separation and freedom of expression. The pandering to the religious folks by validating their own scripture doesn't really advance the idea, especially with the law change.

Or maybe they should have just left it as it was in the original, which was good enough.