Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Official State … whatever

What’s your state known for?

All of the states in the United States have some special things that are taken as emblems of a particular state. For example, all states have an Official State Bird and an Official State Flower. Most states also have an Official State Tree and an Official State Song, and many have an Official State Animal (or Mammal). Other common categories are Official State Mineral and Official State Fish.

In New Mexico, the Official State Bird is the roadrunner, and the Official State Flower is the yucca blossom. Both of those are very well suited to represent the state. Other states also have good flowers and birds. Our neighbor, Arizona, has the very apt combination of the saguaro cactus flower and the cactus wren, two species that rely on each other for survival. The most popular Official State Bird is the mockingbird, the Official State Bird of Texas, Arkansas, and a whole lot of other Southern states. Oklahoma has an especially attractive Official State Bird, the scissortail flycatcher. On the other hand, Rhode Island has chosen an Official State Bird that I’m not sure should qualify – an Official State Bird should be wildlife rather than a domestic animal, a species rather than a subspecies or breed, and should encompass both genders. Much as I enjoy the high quality of egg it produces, the Rhode Island Red hen would be better named as Official State Poultry or Official State Domestic Animal. Somehow, I find it hard to imagine bird lovers with binoculars going to Rhode Island barnyards in search of a “find.”

Many states have the sunflower as Official State Flower, including Oklahoma and Kansas, where a traveler passing through in mid to late summer will see acres and acres of the sunny yellow blossoms. Perhaps the most appropriate Official State Flower is Colorado’s columbine. These five-petal flowers feature a graceful spur growing backward from the back of each petal, holding a drop of nectar to be harvested by the hummingbirds that pollinate the plant. They grow only at higher altitudes, and the color of the petals shades from the blue-violet of the high-altitude sky to the white of the snow that covers the high country for much of the year and that in the higher elevations never goes completely away.

Back in New Mexico, we have the Official State Mammal, the black bear; the Official State Fish, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout; the Official State Tree, the piñon; the Official State Mineral, turquoise; and the Official State Song, “Oh, Fair New Mexico,” written by a mariachi singer who also happened to be the lieutenant governor at the time.

We also have a few oddballs. There is the Official State Aircraft, the hot-air balloon; the Official State Necktie, the bolo tie; the Official State Vegetable, the pinto bean; and the Official State Cookie, the bizcochito. But the one that most distinguishes New Mexico from all of the other states is that New Mexico has an Official State Question: “Red or green?” In New Mexican restaurants, diners typically are given a choice about what kind of chile they want on their food – the red chile that is what the rest of the world thinks of as chile, or the green chile that is picked before it turns red and has a more fruity, fresh flavor. As far as I know, no other state has an Official State Question. For that matter, I’m guessing most states don’t have an Official State Necktie or an Official State Aircraft.

On the other hand, I do know that other states have their own special Official State whatevers. For example, I know that Maine has an Official State Cat – the Maine Coon Cat. What I would like to know is what the Official State things are in other states. So I’m asking my six or so loyal readers … what are some of the more interesting Official State thingummies that you know about?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

You are invited …

… to a very special awards ceremony

Last fall, before he turned 18, Gerald accomplished a major milestone: He earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He will be given his award at the Troop 460 Court of Honor this coming Saturday, January 19, at 7 p.m., at the Piru Clubhouse, 13200 Piru Blvd. SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The ceremony will be preceded by a buffet dinner, with food provided by Quarters BBQ, at 6:30 p.m.

We would like to invite all who have had a part in helping Gerald to become the special young man that he is today, to come and celebrate his accomplishment. If you would like to attend, please drop us a line, so we can give you specific directions to the clubhouse and make sure that we have enough food.

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Gerald’s thrift store find

The perfect instrument for a music-loving geek

For quite a while now, we’ve been buying most of our clothes at thrift shops, and Pat also tends to buy things like books. The prices are great, and Gerald especially has found some spectacular bargains.

This past weekend, he was shopping at the huge thrift shop near where we live, and he wandered through the furniture section, where there was an organ. This was not the simple chord organ that Pat and I were both familiar with from our childhoods, with a blower that sends air through plastic sound pipes (sort of like an oversized harmonica) when a key is pressed – this was a 1970s era electronic organ, suitable, even, for a small church, with several selectable voices, two keyboards, or three, if you count the bass pedals down below.

Since Gerald’s now 18, Pat and I are giving him more control of his educational funds, and music is one thing we have been encouraging, so he decided to buy the organ; it was about the price of two college admissions applications. The folks running the thrift store were glad to see it go – they were getting tired of all the customers playing around on it and making noise.

Part of Gerald’s justification for buying the organ is that having something with a diatonic keyboard allows more work with music theory, but this organ is also allowing him to study electronics as well. The organ is analog; the heart of the beast is a set of 12 oscillators, circuits with capacitors and resistors balanced to produce sound at a certain frequency, each matching one note of the diatonic scale. Additional circuits attached to those oscillators determine what octave (or octaves) the note will be in, and add secondary oscillations to produce sounds that, at least supposedly, imitate musical instruments such as cellos and flutes. Actually, they are more closely an imitation of a pipe organ imitating cellos and flutes.

The organ also has output jacks, and last night, he had it wired into his stereo (he’s taken that apart and added enhancements to it), along with his iPod, and he was working on ad-lib accompaniments to Aerosmith tunes.

He has made a couple of visits to New Mexico Tech, and he has expressed admiration for the electronics setups he has seen in some of the dorm rooms – gaming systems constructed of several game playing devices and computers all wired together for power and speed. If he goes to Tech, I suspect he’s going to add the organ to the mix. Tech is well known as a place where things get blown up, but I wonder whether the powers that be will appreciate it if he starts playing Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue” and blows the roof off of the building.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Poetry Corner: George Ella Lyons

A beginning-of-term exercise

Last fall, shortly after I learned I was going to be teaching a section of English 0550, I saw an article in the local newspaper about a teacher who took this poem and adapted it to an exercise for his elementary-school students. The poem, titled “Where I’m From,” is about the poet’s background, and her sense of self, coming from rural West Virginia. The exercise was for the students to read this poem and then, based on a template, create their own poems about “Where I’m From.” This, I figured, would be the perfect beginning-of-term exercise for English 0550, where about two thirds of the students come from someplace that English isn’t the primary language, and even the English-speaking students have varied backgrounds.

When I went to the newspaper’s website to download the article, including sidebars of poetry from the teacher’s local students, I couldn’t find it. But when I did a search on the Internet, I found a template – not exactly the same as the one that the Albuquerque teacher used, but close enough.

First, let’s look at the original poem, by George Ella Lyons. You can find the poem itself, plus a writing workshop project inspired by the poem, here.

Where I'm From
by George Ella Lyons

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the black porch.
(Black, glistening
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush,
the Dutch elm
whose long gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I'm from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I'm from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from perk up and pipe down.
I'm from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I'm from Artemus and Billie's Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments-
snapped before I budded-
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Here is the template that I found, created by Fred First, that students can use to create their own “Where I’m From” poem. You can find the original template here, plus First’s own “Where I’m From.” I’ve taken the liberty of correcting a couple of typos in the original.

The WHERE I'M FROM Template

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description... adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I'm from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail), and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

Finally, here’s my own “Where I’m From”:

I am from the night shift, from Central New Mexico Community College and after-hours fast food.

I am from the postwar low-budget tract house, solid masonry, Pueblo style.

I am from the umbrella catalpa and the cottonwood, the two saplings that became monarchs by the time we bought the house.

I am from turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and red hair artificially maintained after Mother Nature stopped doing the job, from Munzy and Grandma Seeger.

I am from the love of words and wordplay, and from just plain being curious about everything.

From “Don’t dilly-dally on the way home from school” and “It’s five o’clock, time to feed the cat.”

I am kinda sorta Presbyterian, went on church mission trips to build houses in Mexico (solid masonry, no catalpas).

I am from California and Arkansas and New Mexico with little bits of all over the place, macaroni and cheese and fried okra.

From the blind date that my parents met on at the same college where I met my husband; Uncle Charles who got tired of waiting for the U.S. to join WWII, so he went to Canada to join the RCAF; Great-Aunt Anne who was both a career woman and the sole support of her 13 younger brothers and sisters in the 1920s.

I am from no particular place, no central records. I am just me.

Here is the challenge for all of the eight or so regular readers of this blog: Create your own “Where I’m From” poem and post it on your own blog, or if you don’t have your own blog, put it in the comments here. I bet most of you will be more creative than I have been.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year’s what?

This whole resolution thing is way overrated

Yeah, this is supposed to be the time of year when we think about the coming year and what we plan to accomplish during it – never mind that such promises as we made last year and the year before and the year before that have all gone by the wayside.

I see it again and again: We all promise to ourselves that this year, for a change, we actually will get into a fitness routine and a sensible diet in order to get into better shape; this year, for a change, we will get out of our comfort zones and do something new and challenging; this year, we will make the weather, our boss, and other factors obey our wishes, so we can accomplish what we want to.

And every year, we start out with good intentions, but then we never carry through. Oh, yeah, we get all of the motivational hogwash, especially in the beginning, but it’s not enough. In fact, the motivational books and tapes and speeches just make us feel that much more inadequate – at first, well, we must not be applying enough mindless optimism, or else everything would be falling into place; then we begin to realize how ridiculous that optimism is. “Don’t worry, be happy” – clearly, if we’re not happy, we’re not applying ourselves in the right way, not working hard enough at not worrying. If we just smile enough, all of our problems will vanish.

Yeah, right.

The problem with this whole concept of resolutions is that they are doomed to failure. We’re encouraged to set lofty goals, but for the most part, these goals are unrealistic, which means we’re guaranteed not to accomplish them.

Once a year, I’m faced with a similar problem at work – I’m supposed to evaluate myself and set goals for where I want to go in the coming year. Apparently there’s something wrong with being content with where I am; I’m supposed to want to go someplace beyond that. So I fill in the forms with some generic platitudes about professional development and stuff like that, and I hope that said platitudes will be enough for the powers-that-be. This past year, the forms got more specific, and I was supposed to “reflect” on my skills and accomplishments. I wrote a few sentences – enough to fill the space on the form. The form was returned to me, with a note to look up samples of “reflection” online – it turns out that, since this was an electronic form, the size of the blank was not indicative of the length my response should have been; what was really being asked for was more like an essay. I was told that the powers-that-be would let the matter slide, but for the coming year, I had better come up with some deep “reflection.”

I am left wondering, what is wrong with me, that I’m happy where I am? I’m getting mixed messages: Don’t worry, be happy – but you shouldn’t be satisfied with what you have now; you should want something more.

Well, yeah, there are things that would be nice, such as having more financial security. But that’s not what the big resolution thing is about. It’s about wanting to accomplish “something” of importance, to be noticed, to be part of a bigger picture, to be more than ordinary. What the motivational people fail to point out is that only one percent of people can be in the 99th percentile. We’re nearly all going to be ordinary, and to have any wish to be anything other than ordinary is unrealistic.

No, I’m not advocating a life of “quiet desperation” – if anything, I’m arguing against the unrealistic expectations that lead to that feeling of dissatisfaction.

So I’m not making any resolutions this year.

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