New Year's Resolutions

So, been thinking about New Year's Resolutions...

What should I resolve? Should my resolutions be manageable or ambitious?? Should I vow just to start exercising again and lose weight in general, or should I vow to work out three times a week and lose 20 pounds??

Tell me... what New Year's Resolutions have you decided upon?? Okay, I admit it... not only am I curious, but I'm also always looking for new ideas! :-)

(Need help coming up with a New Year's Resolution? Luckily, there's even a random "New Year's Resolution Generator" that will help you decide!)

What news! Trade CDs for an iPod!!

I haven't tried this yet myself, but it sounds fab!!

"Millennium Music is offering to turn your old CDs into a brand new iPod. All you do is ship them your CDs and they'll estimate the value and send you back an iPod. The CD to iPod conversion looks like this:
45 CDs = 512 MB iPod Shuffle
65 CDs = 1 GB iPod Shuffle
85 CDs = 2 GB iPod Nano
110 CDs = 4 GB Nano
130 CDs = 30 GB iPod
175 CDs = 60 GB iPod"

(Trade CDs for an iPod - Lifehacker)

Dying Languages

An excerpt from a very interesting article from the New York Times Magazine to which I've added some hyperlinks for further information. (To see a sample of Kawesqar, check out the "Language Museum"...)

"Linguists now estimate that half of the more than 6,000 languages currently spoken in the world will become extinct by the end of this century. In reaction, there are numerous efforts to slow the die-off -- from graduate students heading into the field to compile dictionaries; to charitable foundations devoted to the cause, like the Endangered Language Fund; to transnational agencies, some with melancholic names appropriate to the task, like the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. Chile started a modest program, not long after the ugly debates surrounding Christopher Columbus in 1992, to save Kawesqar (Ka-WES-kar) and Yaghan, the last two native languages of southern Chile. But how does one salvage an ailing language when the economic advantages of, say, Spanish are all around you...

In two generations, a healthy language -- even one with hundreds of thousands of speakers -- can collapse entirely, sometimes without anyone noticing. This process is happening everywhere. In North America, the arrival of Columbus and the Europeans who followed him whittled down the roughly 300 native languages to only about 170 in the 20th century. According to Marianne Mithun, a linguist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the recent evolution of English as a global language has taken an even greater toll. 'Only one of those 170 languages is not officially endangered today,' Mithun said. 'Greenlandic Eskimo.'

According to
Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine, authors of 'Vanishing Voices,' the last time human language faced such a crisis of collapse was when we invented farming, around 8000 B.C., during the switch-over from highly mobile hunting and gathering to sedentary agriculture. Then the multitude of idioms developed on the run cohered into language families, like Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan and Elamo-Dravidian. The difference this time is that with each language gone, we may also lose whatever knowledge and history were locked up in its stories and myths, along with the human consciousness embedded in its grammatical structure and vocabulary.

One often hears the apocryphal story about the Inuit and their 40 words for 'snow.' True or not, it acknowledges the inherent human sense that each language, developed over a certain time and geography, is a revelation of what we call 'a sense of place.' To let languages die out, en masse, is to permit the phrase 'terra incognita' to creep back onto our environmental maps. One organization of linguists, biologists and anthropologists, known as Terralingua, is working to keep languages alive by highlighting what gets lost when they fade away...."

More from the NY Times article, Say No More
(via linkfilter)

UPDATED: For more on vanishing languages and dialects, see MMC's earlier "Dialects in Italy: A 'rosa' by any other name is a 'rusa' or a 'rodze'".

Friends and "Auld Lang Syne"

What does the song "Auld Lang Syne" mean anyway?

In 2005, I was fortunate enough to deepen my friendships with a number of "trusty fiere"!

I thought of them when I read a recent article in USA Today called "Friends in deed"... since many people that I'm fond of just happen to be guys.

And of my good "cross-gender" buddies, I'm lucky (and grateful!) to have a few wonderful close pals whose friendship has deepened this past year.

And of my few close guy friends, I'm blessed most of all to just happen to be married not only to my very, very best friend, but to the only man on earth I was clearly meant for! :-)

So, this last day of 2005, I'm truly thankful for my family who are my friends (and vice versa!), and particularly to all my favorite boys!

Many thanks again and lots of love!

"San Marco Basilica Restoration Finally Finished"

Weird Venice: San Marco Basilica Restoration Finally Finished

Newsflash: Methuselah was *only* 120 year old!

Still, nothing to sneeze at! :-)

From today's Il Gazzettino newspaper (translation mine):

"According to Mikhail Verba, a Russian scientist from Saint Petersburg who is an enthusiast of biblical texts, Noah was only 60 years old - and not 500 - when he built the ark to excape the great flood, and Methuselah reached the age of 120 years, not the nearly 1000 attributed to him. The scholar sustains that the incorrect ages were the result of an error in interpretation by the Bible's first translators of the Sumerians' system of calculating numbers, completely different from the base-10 system used today."

The holidays continue in Venice

Carnivale 2006: "Venetian lion meets Chinese dragon" - News in English - Venetian lion meets Chinese dragon

Ode to the Bellini

Not the artists, but the Venetian cocktail! (Mmm!)

Food & Dining News - Kitchen detective: Holiday cheers!

Venetian Addiction

Nan McElroy has written that Venice isn’t a dream, it's a drug. And it’s true. I realize now that I'm addicted to Venice. I experience almost a euphoria of sensory overload when I'm here, and practically a crash when I leave...

Don’t get me wrong… There’s beauty in Maine, too. But it’s a kind of beauty that’s the exact opposite of Venice… Like that of Mainers themselves, its beauty is subtle and natural, quiet and a little desolate. A nice counterpoint to a city which redefines baroque, but still it’s rather a shock to the system when I get back. Almost like peace and quiet after a rock concert… a silence so powerful that it’s nearly deafening.

I find I’m different in Venice, too. I have an immediate hankering to write prose here, to desperately try to capture these rapid-fire, fleeting sensations before they evaporate forever. But it’s a losing battle from the start. Oddly enough, though I love the city from the bottom of my heart, my husband notes that I'm quieter and seem to be sadder in Venice than elsewhere, and maybe it’s true… I’m constantly reminded of everything that’s slipping through my fingers with the interminable passage of time… everything I struggle to share before its too late, but it’s always too late.

I guess you can never step twice into the same canal… :-)

"25 Best Webcams of 2005"

EarthCam - 25 Most Interesting Webcams of 2005: Announcing the "most unique and compelling" webcams of 2005!

Music to fall asleep by...

Soporific songs - Lifehacker

Newsflash: "Italian tomb raider caught" - News in English - Tomb raider stopped with huge haul

The Christmas season continues here in Italy...

Check the late December posts of Your Daily Art for lovely, Advent-themed works!

The Drinking Song from "La Traviata"

Ah, sometimes Italian tv really does outdo itself! Tonight, Rai Uno is showing Verdi's La Traviata filmed on location in Paris and at Versailles, conducted by Zubin Mehta.

While not quite as engrossing as good opera is live (What can I say? Opera can be an acquired taste... like anchovies!), it's still quite good eye- and ear-candy!

After again hearing the "Drinking Song" or "Brindisi," I was tempted to wait until New Year's to post the lyrics, but I was so taken with them that I decided I didn't want to wait! Enjoy!!

Let us drink from the goblets of joy
adorned with beauty,
and the fleeting hour shall be adorned
with pleasure.
Let us drink to the secret raptures
which love excites,
for this eye reigns supreme in my heart...
Let us drink, for with wine
love will enjoy yet more passionate kisses.

With you I can spend
the time with delight.
In life everything is folly
which does not bring pleasure.
Let us be happy, fleeting and rapid
is the delight of love;
it is a flower which blooms and dies,
which can no longer be enjoyed.
Let us be happy, fervent
and enticing words summon us.

(Be happy ... wine and song
and laughter beautify the night;
let the new day find us in this paradise.)

Life is nothing but pleasure,
as long as one is not in love.
Don't say that to one who is ignorant.
That is my fate ...

Be happy ... wine and song
and laughter beautify the night;
let the new day find us in this paradise.

(For the original lyrics in Italian, you can check out for example the Andrea Bocelli Lyrics Archive...)

Newsflash: "Pajama Survey"

Just in time for those belated Christmas gifts...

Personally, I adore kitschy pajamas! (I'd wear 'em to work if I could!!)

Newsflash: "Accidental Acetaminophen Poisonings Rise"


Accidental Acetaminophen Poisonings Rise - Yahoo! News

Christmas Carnival!

A wonderful thing about the holidays in Italy is that the Christmas season doesn't end on the 25th, but keeps going until Epiphany!

One sure sign of the holidays here in Venice is the Christmas carnival on the waterfront.

Know the fun series, the Xenophobe's Guides? There are actually also a number of cultural differences among Italians, and so they've published the same series about them here!

In the one on Venetians by Sandro Mattiazzi called Veneziani: Figli del leone alato ("Children of the Winged Lion"), locals speak fondly of this travelling carnival that comes back every year. Some people who live in the immediate area complain about the crowds and the lights and the weight of the rides and the trucks that bear them (brought in by barge), which they say undermine the stability of the waterfront.

I don't know if that's actually true, and most Venetians instead look forward to it reappearing like Brigadoon in the winter mists, whether or not they always go see it themselves. I recall reading in Mattiazzi's book folks' saying something like, "It makes me happy just knowing that it's back."

The Confederacy and the Papacy

Interesting that one of the nineteenth-century's great inspirations for Italian unification was apparently solicited in the cause of Confederate secession...

"The Cornell Society Blog has posted some interesting 19th-century letters having to do with Jefferson Davis' attempt to gain Pope Pius IX's support in the War Between the States."

from Dappled Things

Celestial Beauty...

"Few sights in the solar system are more strikingly beautiful than softly hued Saturn embraced by the shadows of its stately rings..." (go to photo)
"Don't Gross Out the World: A Cross-Cultural Dining Etiquette Quiz."

(from Metafilter)

Advent Angel: 2 days 'til Christmas!


"Pimp My Nutcracker"

Weird Science: "Where do all the spoons go?"

Maybe to the same place as all those single socks?

"A spoonful of science.. - Yahoo! News"

Newsflash: "Want to stop snoring? Try the didgeridoo!"

I know firsthand that my better half snores, and--according to him--apparently I do my own share. I however try not to wake him up when he snores!

All I can say is, while the sample of this study is way too small to be statistically significant, wouldn't it just be poetic justice if this were the perfect cure? (Oooh, maybe bagpipes would do the same thing?!)

"Want to stop snoring? Try the didgeridoo - Yahoo! News"

"Otter Nonsense":
In-Joke of the Week

I am the Otter...
(Coo coo ca choo!)

At left, "Otter pile" from Cute Overload!

Newsflash: "FDA Moves to Decrease Lead in Candy"


"The FDA proposed Thursday a stricter recommended limit on the amount of lead, a highly toxic metal, allowable in certain types of children's candy."

FDA Moves to Decrease Lead in Candy - Yahoo! News

800 species to save before THEY die

800 species are at risk for immediate extinction!

"Researchers claim that protecting some of these areas could cost less than $1,000 a year." (See article)

To learn more, check out the interactive map of their habitats at the Alliance for Zero Extinction.

Newsflash - "Italy Has New Fashion Celebrity: the Pope"

Italy Has New Fashion Celebrity: the Pope

"More Rings Are Found Around Uranus "

For once, I will refrain from comment...

Two More Rings Are Found Around Planet Uranus - Yahoo! News

The "Wreath" of Family and Friends

Yet another quote from Linda Greenlaw's great book, The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island, in which she talks about returning to her birthplace, the Isle of Haut seven miles off the coast of Maine, with a year-round population of just under 50!

A good half of these she’s actually related to, in one way or another. I particularly like her description which will serve as today’s “quote o’ the day”:

“Family trees in small-town Maine are often painted in the abstract. The Greenlaws’ geneology is best described in a phrase I have often heard others use: ‘the family wreath.’

But I’m not certain that the power of the “family wreath” rests strictly on blood or marriage ties...

In my complimentary Dec. 20th copy of USA Today that I picked up while traveling, the headline reads, "Budding friendships fill out the family tree."

"For a growing number of Americans," it says, "the idea of family extends beyond the old definition of blood ties. In many ways, friends are the new family." (Especially because “more than 25% of households today are composed of singles – the fastest-growing household type.”)

In fact, the article continues, "new research conducted in the United Kingdom supports what many U.S. experts on friendship say: It’s not an either/or situation. Families are not endangered by friendships. Family and friends compliment rather than compete.

‘Friends can be family, and family can be friends,’ says British sociologist Ray Pahl of the Institutes of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex [who examined questions about 10,000 respondents’ relationships with their three best friends]. ‘What we’ve shown is this process of suffusion – family becomes more friend-like, and friends become more family-like,’ says Pahl, co-author of a book called Rethinking Friendship, due next summer.”

I guess sociologists call it "fictive kinship." But I for one prefer to call it my "non-traditional, extended family"!
What's more, “as new family-like groups are being created from cadres of friends, the benefits are clear both physically and emotionally. Research has long shown that people with well-developed friendship networks live longer than people who don’t. Several studies have shown that people who have at least one close friend have greater resistance to disease and speedier recoveries and lower incidences of mental illness.” Apparently, “for the elderly, friends are a better predictor of survival than family"!
Anyway, all this is just my typically verbose way of being grateful to my own "fictive kin" for the "greater resistance," "speedier recoveries," and "lower incidences of mental illness" they lend me!

Many thanks, "bros"!! :-)

Advent Angel: 3 Days 'til Christmas!

One of the better Christmas stories...

(But, as one of my "fictive kin" says, why should we wish others peace on earth only one day a year?)

The Christmas Truce of 1914

"Relive Casanova's Venice--or not..."

Ah, Venice seems to have crossed the final frontier of souvenirs... condoms.

Perhaps the best line of the article: "'Beginning in January, the Casanova will also be sold in a seven-condom package shaped like a... gondola." (more from "Relive Casanova's Venice--or not" - Italy for Visitors Archives).

Not exactly a newsflash..."Italian women work hardest in home"! - News in English - Italian women work hardest in home

Another "Mainer" Quote of the Day

Again, Linda Greenlaw's writing about the Isle au Haut, but I think these Islanders may just be a slight exaggeration of what a lot of Mainers do in general. Or at least ones I know...

"Fishermen are not generally fearful of what others would assume to be paralyzingly scary. Islanders, too, I thought... keep a strange distance between themselves and apprehension of real danger. We fear more the collateral circumstances than danger itself. We do not fear burning to death, but we do fear that the absence of a legal fire department may prohibit affordable home-owners' insurance. We do not fear sickness or injury, but we do worry about troubling our neighbors when we need evacuation to a medical facility. We do not fear death by drowning--in fact, many Islanders never learn how to swim--but everyone loves to speculate on how long a body can survive submerged in certain water temperatures."

-Linda Greenlaw,

from The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island

Advent Angel: 4 days 'til Christmas!

Make your own Christmas carols from the Carol Maker at!

UPDATE: "Big controversy over Little Red Book"

The latest on the story of the Dartmouth student allegedly visited by DHS agents for checking out Mao Tse-Tung's book for a research paper...

Boing Boing: Big controversy over Little Red Book / "DHS visits student" story

UPDATED (12/22): And more...

Quote of the Day, ala' Maine

I love Mainers! They've got to be the most genuine, down-to-earth, stalwart folks I've so far encountered on the face of this planet. I admire their quiet perseverence tremendously, even though--as a born-and-bred Southerner and "adopted" Italian--there are plenty of occasions when their taciturn natures leave me at best flummoxed and at worst frustrated... You know who you are! :-)

That's why I absolutely devoured from start to finish a book I picked up at the airport less than 24 hours ago... The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw. After spending 17 years doing deep-sea commercial swordfishing, Linda returned to her birthplace of Isle au Haut, seven miles off the coast of Maine, with a year-round population of only about 50 souls.

Familiar not just with Maine but also with another island community which is being steadily depopulated by natives and constantly combats the threat of complete "touristization," I found that Isle au Haut also seems to share another quality with Venice... that of being a kind of magnifying glass for hopes, dreams and emotions, not to mention the at-times seemingly eccentric personalities of the locals.

So, anyway... in Michelle's characteristic way of making a short story long, all this stands as a preface to some "quotes of the day" for this week from Greenlaw's excellent book... assorted insights into island life, life lessons, and Mainers in general (who the "Islanders" seem to be par excellence!!)

Case in point...
"My father is so methodical in word and deed that he would surely drive the average amateur home repairman mad with frustration. The two old men [Greenlaw's dad and uncle] work well together because they share an overzealous enthusiasm for being neither zealous nor enthusiastic."

Sound familiar?? ;-)

Virtual Knee Surgery

Long before the current fad of reality tv, I remember the first operations shown on "The Learning Channel." None of them were particularly attractive, but by far the *nastiest* was actually just the knee replacement surgery. Dis-gusting! And yet, strangely fascinating. You couldn't quite watch, but then you couldn't quite not watch...

Well, here's the same experience, just without the actual bone and fatty tissue (which, as I said before, was *nasty*!) Have fun!!

"Perform a long and disgusting virtual knee replacement operation with Virtual Knee Surgery! Slice through skin! Chisel bone! Thrill as you pound things into your poor, unsuspecting virtual patient, all while a guy drones instructions at you."

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Advent Angel: 5 Days 'til Christmas

Just got in and thought I'd rush to put up today's "Advent Angel" post before I collapse from jet lag...

Want to be "Santa's Little Helper"? No, not the Simpsons' version... I'm talking about an honorary elf!

Here are some links to help bring out your Christmas-elfy side!!
Your Elf Name Is...

Twinkles Twinkle Wink

Elf Snowball Fight Game! Don't hit the boss!!

Help out in Santa's Workshop!

Last but not least, you may or may not have heard of the famous "Subservient Chicken"... Well, here's what I'm going to call "your very own Subordinate Claus"!! (from The Presurfer)

"Who's on First" remade Star Wars style!

This is quite cute!

(from Metafilter)

"Web Sites Let Users Send E-Mail to Future!"

Web Sites Let Users Send E-Mail to Future - Yahoo! News

"Strange stories of 2005"

Strange stories of 2005 - Yahoo! News

On the road again...

Ah, you'd think I'd love the end of semesters. I don't actually. I'm not all that fond of transitions, and in our line of work, you get 'em fairly frequently. Not that I'm complaining! I'll freely take them, even if I always find 'em a little hard on the system... I particularly get sad missing the friends I leave behind whenever I go, even if only for a few weeks. *sigh* What can I say... I'm a particularly mushy soul!

All this is a prelude to saying that blogging may be disrupted over the next few days as we're hitting the road for the holidays. But when I sign on again, it'll be from the other side o' the pond!

See you again then, friends!!
Love, Michelle

Advent Angel: 6 Days 'til Christmas!

A quick one before we hit the road...

Christmas Trees & More!

At right... an updating snapshot from the live webcam of what should be the famous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City! (Unless it's the morning there, in which case you may see the Today Show taping. Bummer.)

HS agents' visit chills college student

As an educator who believes that sheltering students from certain ideas doesn't "protect" them but rather leaves them unready and unable to handle them critically, I find the following news item rather worrisome, if it's true.

"Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior: 12/ 17/ 2005"

(from LinkFilter)

Advent Angel: Just 1 week 'til Christmas!!

I love this site! You gotta appreciate a devout church secretary with a great sense of humor... not to mention a strong appreciation of heartfelt religious kitsch!!

"The Cavalcade of Bad Nativities" (Some of these are just so tacky that they're breathtakingly beautiful! Enjoy!!)

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"Philosopher Jokes"

Especially for our very own Marky-J... more cerebral humor!

The First Law of Philosophy
"For every philosopher, there exists an equal and opposite philosopher."

The Second Law of Philosophy
"They're both wrong."

Q: "What do you get when you cross the Godfather with a philosopher?
A: "An offer you can't understand."

"Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, 'I'd like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.' The waitress replies, 'I'm sorry, monsieur, but we're out of cream. How about with no milk?'"

(again from grow-a-brain!)


UPDATE on the "Laugh Judgment"

UPDATE: The author of the joke voted the funniest religious joke ever in the "Laugh Judgment" contest has been identified, and incredibly it's Emo Phillips!

(Personally, I thought there were other ones that were funnier--even if potentially less repeatable--but a winning Protestant joke made the whole contest seem more "ecumenical"...)

In this article, Philips includes his other surreal religious jokes, including...

  • "When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realised, the Lord doesn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked Him to forgive me... and I got it!"
  • "So I'm at the wailing wall, standing there like a moron, with my harpoon."
  • "I'm not Catholic, but I gave up picking my belly button for lint."

(from grow-a-brain)


Yet more fun quizzes of questionable utility...

Use palmistry to determine how funny or sexy you are in just 5-7 easy steps!

Nice to know that I don't seem to lost either one... Although it is a bit sobering to realize that I'm apparently funnier than I am sexy. Hopefully the two aren't related! :-)

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More fun but otherwise pretty useless quizzes...

Take the quiz:
What Trojan-war era woman are you?

Warlike. Strong. Brave. Queen of the Amazons who came to fight for Troy, killed by Achilles.

Quizzes by -- the World's Biggest Yearbook!


Take the quiz:
Which Tarot Arcana are You? (women)

High Priestess
Hidden influences at work, unrevealed future. Creative forces of the subconscious, the female side of the brain at work for the artist, poet and mystic. A woman of great intuition, inner illumination.

Quizzes by -- the World's Biggest Yearbook!


I am The Empress

The Empress can refer to any aspect of Motherhood. She can be an individual mother, but as a major arcana card, she also goes beyond the specifics of mothering to its essence - the creation of life and its sustenance through loving care and attention. The Empress can also represent lavish abundance of all kinds. She offers a cornucopia of delights, especially those of the senses - food, pleasure and beauty. She can suggest material reward, but only with the understanding that riches go with a generous and open spirit. The Empress asks you to embrace the principle of life and enjoy its bountiful goodness.

What tarot card are you?

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Advent Angel: 8 Days 'til Christmas!

Want a little Holiday Humor? In some of these cases, it's truly *little*! :-)

Some examples...

  • Q: "How do sheep in Mexico say Merry Christmas?"
    A: "Fleece Navidad!"

  • Q: "If Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus had a child, what would he be called?"
    A: "A subordinate claus!"


Advent Angel Update: "Popular toys of the last 100 years!"

(Including the little known fact that Play-doh apparently was originally invented to clean wallpaper! Plus more!!)

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You think it's easy, but it's *knot*!

Not only am I thoroughly artistically-challenged, but I'm knot-challenged as well! After years of backpacking, camping, canoeing, whitewater kayaking, etc., the only knots I can still regularly tie are for my shoes (and I'm even still using two bunny-rabbit ears for that!)

But after several investments in various "Knots for Dummies" kits, this may finally be my salvation!

"Do you know your Bunny Ears from your Double Overhand Stopper? How about your Klemheist from your West Country Whipping? Well, don't worry, neither did we until we stumbled across Grog's site. With the care and attention only an expert (or a fanatic) can muster, Grog presents frame-by-frame animated examples of exactly how to tie good, strong knots for the boating, climbing, and fishing enthusiast. You'll even discover that there's more to caring for rope than you might think. Grog's painstaking attention to detail is a marvel to behold and, for some people, could prove to be an invaluable resource. After all, a well-tied knot could be the difference between sink or swim."

Food for Thought...

"Bush and the Safeguards of Liberty" from Dappled Things

Vatican Christmas tree lights up! - Vatican Christmas tree lights go on


"The Siege of Venice"

The Independent > Reviews > "The Siege Of Venice"

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More Fun with Architecture!

As a child of the late twentieth century, I never paid much attention to concrete architecture, since it was just so ubiquitous.

Not until I saw live and in-person Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, that is! (The canopy over the walkway to the property's guesthouse is not the single most spectacular feature of the house, but it is actually the longest cantilever of the structure, and took a thirty-six hours' continuous concrete pour to achieve!)

Want more spectacular concrete architecture? Check out Liquid Stone: New Architecture in Concrete, "a nice round-up of contemporary concrete architecture, with some stunning pictures, from the National Building Museum. Be sure to follow the 'Featured Projects' link on the right..." (from Metafilter)

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Advent Angel: 9 Days 'til Christmas

The Advent Angel was dozing on the job yesterday, so let's make up for it with two links today!

That big ice storm's made it up to Maine. (Wanna see live pictures?) So in keeping with today's theme...

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Newsflash: "Stoned Owl Hides Out In Christmas Tree"

Workers at the local animal sanctuary have named him "Cheech"!

NBC 4 - News - Stoned Owl Hides Out In Christmas Tree

(from LinkFilter)


Newsflash: "Scientists Figure Out Why Mona Lisa Smiles"

Scientists Figure Out Why Mona Lisa Smiles - Yahoo! News

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No, not the mafiosi! :-)

"During the Baroque period, from 1600 to 1750, male sopranos comprised about 70 percent of all operatic singers. Since women were forbidden to 'exhibit themselves' in sacred vocal music, parts in compositions were entrusted to boy singers or to men artificially imitating the sound of the female voice. But boys could no longer be used after the beginning of adolescence when the 'break' in the voice occurred. The castrato voice offered a solution to this difficulty. Castration prevented the necessary flow of hormones and arrested growth. Afterwards the castrato would have the high voice of a boy soprano, but the lung power of a full-grown man."

A movie was even made about one of the more famous of the castrati, Farinelli...

UPDATED (12/16): Want to hear what a true castrato sounded like? Here's a (scratchy) 1902 recording of the last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, singing "Ave Maria."

Want even more info on these unusual performers? Check out this huge index!

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Newsflash: New home for Marcus Aurelius!

New home for bronze symbol of Rome!

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"Don't ever dare to take your college as a matter of course - because, like democracy and freedom, many people you'll never know have broken their hearts to get it for you."

-Alice Duer Miller


Advent Angel: 11 Days 'til Christmas!

Some valiant soul scanned the ENTIRE 1979 Sears Wishbook!

For those of you too young to remember, since Sears very cleverly got out of its century-plus-old catalog business in the early-nineties, just before the current catalog shopping fad hit...

The "Sears Wishbook" was an annual event! As one commenter put it,

"It’s such a coincidence you posted this, I recall many pre-Christmas plannings as a kid flipping through the Sears catalog and writing down page numbers and item letters to hand off to my parents in hope of getting some of the items for Christmas (and I would)..."

And on Boing Boing, the author of this project remarked, "For many, the Sears Wishbooks were the (then) modern day equivalent of A Christmas Story's Higbee's Department Store front window."

It's so true! For my sister and I, it was kinda like toy-voyeurism!! We weren't too concerned at the time about cost, since we believed of course that Santa would bring what he thought we deserved...

I just recognized my beloved "Fashion Plates" on page 539 that Santa brought me one year, along with the unicycle, pottery wheel and rock tumbler that I kept asking for, but that Santa--in his infinite wisdom--must have realized that the risk of personal injury, industrial-scale cleaning disasters and noise pollution were far too great to be worth it! :-)

Not to mention the Star Trek stuff I adored! (Okay, okay... I admit it! I was totally in love with Mr. Spock when I was seven. I don't know... he just seemed so intelligent and logical but secretly so deeply sensitive! What a dreamboat!! *sigh*)

I have to admit though that one thing that kind of stuns me now is how expensive some of this stuff was at the time! Wanna check? Here's an inflation calculator! The $150 remote-controlled airplane would cost something like $425 today and the Atari 400 personal computer (complete with the legendary cassette tape data input drive!) would set you back over $1550!

Want more fun from the ghosts of Christmases past? For my sister's (and Dale's!) generation, here's a 1986 "ToysRUs" circular! (I already spy Teddy Ruckspin!!)



Newsflash: "Zzzzzz, Wha? OK, I Guess I'll Move..."

"EFFORT, Pa. (AP) — A black bear is going to have to find a new spot to hibernate. As earlier reported in Out There, the bear has been sleeping under a porch in southeastern Pennsylvania. But Wednesday, wildlife officials moved it.

A couple of kids in Chestnuthill Township discovered the bear under their porch several days ago. The house isn't far from where 20 kids wait for their school bus.

State game officials estimate the snoozing bear weighed as much as 700 pounds.

The male bear was tranquilized and taken to state game lands several miles away.

Officials say the same bear had attempted to make his winter home underneath another porch two years ago." (from Fox News)

"Kitten War!"

Are you ready to rumble?!

Kitten War! May The Cutest Kitten Win!

(Warning: This site is adorable and can be strangely addicting...)


Advent Angel: 12 Days 'til Christmas!

Socrates once apparently said, "Get not your friends by bare compliments, but by giving them sensible tokens of your love." In fact, anybody who knows me knows that I love giving presents. Not just any ol' presents, but ones that I try to tailor pick for each of my friends and family!

They could, however... (and often do!) cost less than a buck-ninety-eight! And actually a quick jaunt to the mall this past weekend honestly left me vaguely nauseated from some of the massive, stressed-out conspicuous consumption there! Want to know how inflated Christmas costs have gotten? Check out the "PNC Christmas Price Index" to find out how much the "Twelve Days of Christmas" would set you back these days! (Hint: it's at a 21-year high!!)

Of course, the perfect "sensible token of your love" need not be expensive, or indeed cost anything at all... Check out those tenacious "culture jammers" Adbusters' "Buy Nothing Christmas" site! Otherwise, try a good ol' "White Elephant Gift Exchange" or "Yankee Swap," or the classic "Secret Santa" (with your very own FREE online "Secret Santa Organizer" here!!)

Unfortunately, as we've already established, I personally am totally artistically challenged, and, while I am trying to cut back, I still rely on retail for most of my gift-giving needs. That's why I thought I'd post some links to some unusual Christmas gifts here... to spare you whenever possible the seasonal commercial hell of the mall, not to mention help you find the perfect rare and unusual token for those you love most!

First of all, I've already posted about imaginative potential gifts that cost next to nothing in my "Ode to PVC"! (Piping, that is!!)

Now, some really unusual stuff (which may or may not be exactly cheap, but could suffice as the one super-special gift for those unusual people on your list!)

UPDATED: Another of Don Jim's typical highly-insightful posts re: "The War on Christmas"


Fun with evolution!

Whee! I've been promoted from an "insignificant microbe" to a "multicellular microorganism" in the blogosphere ecosystem!

Nice to know I'm making progress!! :-)

"First, though, a statement of principle. The goal of the Ecosystem is, and has always been, to provide as accurate as possible a measure of the relative popularity of blogs. It is imperfect: it is now, always has been, and always will be. But as long as it is taken with the appropriate grain of salt, I still believe it can provide a useful metric of how blogs are doing in their quest for visibility and recognition throughout the blogosphere." [more from TTLB FAQs...)

Who are then are at the top of the blogosphere food chain? Find out here!


Another Quiz of Questionable Utility: The "Draw-a-House" Personality Quiz

Hmmm... we've already established that I'm artistically challenged, but the personality test results here seem a bit contradictory, eh?

"Based on the drawing and the 10 answers they gave this is a summary of their personality: You are sensitive and indecisive at times. You are a freedom lover and a strong person. You are shy and reserved. If you've drawn a cross on each of windows, you always want to live alone. You are very tidy person. There's nothing wrong with that because you're pretty popular among friends. Your life is always full of changes. You will avoid being alone and seek the company of others whenever possible. You love excitement and create it wherever you go. You see the world as it is, not as you believe it should be. You are not a romantic person by nature. It also safe to say that others don't see you as a flirt. You don't think much about yourself... This house has been added to a street! A street is a collection of houses drawn by people you know. The road your house is on is called 'MonkeyFilter-Avenue.'"

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"Bill Nye, the Science Guy" for Grown-Ups!

"The Eyes of Nye"

(from Metafilter)


Cute Overload!

"At Cute Overload®, we scour the Web for only the finest in Cute Imagery™. Imagery that is Worth Your Internet Browsing Time. We offer an overwhelming amount of cuteness to fill your daily visual allowance. Drink it in!"

A mere sample here...

Plus the great following comment!

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Venice's Guggenheim Museum Expands to the "Cursed" Ca' Dario

As Henry James wrote at the turn of the twentieth century of the Dario Palace in his Italian Hours :
"...the delightful little Palazzo Dario, intimately familiar to English and American travellers, picks itself out in the foreshortened brightness. The Dario is covered with the loveliest little marble plates and sculptured circles; it is made up of exquisite pieces--as if there had been only enough to make it small--so that it looks, in its extreme antiquity, a good deal like a house of cards that hold together by a tenure it would be fatal to touch. An old Venetian house dies hard indeed, and I should add that this delicate thing, with submission in every feature, continues to resist the contact of generations of lodgers."
But this lovely little jewel-box of a palace can't seem to find a buyer brave enough to risk a pesky lil' death curse...

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Architecture in "Aeon Flux"

Immensely enjoyed a mini movie marathon today!

Strangely enough, the real star of the show had to have been the architecture (left) of "Aeon Flux"! (Using real locations like Berlin's "Chapel of Reconciliation" at right...)

I was surprised not to find more about it available on the web. But here's an excerpt about Aeon Flux's setting of "Bregna" in the film's production notes on its official website (with some hyperlinks added by me...)
"The characters of Aeon Flux live in the walled city of Bregna, ruled by Trevor and Oren Goodchild. The filmmakers’ vision for Bregna was far from the overpolluted, gritty future worlds seen in other films; rather, they strove for a hyper-sanitized environment – one that dissembles the sinister intentions of its rulers....

Bregna is a walled city that protects its citizens from nature. The last city on earth, it is surrounded by overgrowth. It’s a small, protected place with no interaction with the outside world. The filmmakers found what they were looking for – that combination of yesterday and tomorrow – in the buldings and gardens of Berlin and Potsdam, Germany. The Bauhaus architectural style, which Walter Gropius popularized as director of the Bauhaus art school from 1919 to 1928, exemplified what Kusama wanted to achieve on screen. The Bauhaus belief, that the union of art and technology could bring about new social conditions through the creation of new visual surroundings, underscores the principles that guided Kusama’s choices in creating the look of the highly controlled and contained city-state of Bregna, where ordinary citizens are constantly under surveillance and nothing is quite as it appears to be.

With clean, unbroken lines, the geometric modernism of Bauhaus design fit perfectly with the stylized but organic look of 'Aeon Flux.' 'We’re looking at the most beautiful thinking on form anywhere," McAlpine said of the Bauhaus Museum, which doubles as Una Flux’s apartment complex. 'It’s the last building Gropius ever built and we’re working with some of the most pure architecture imaginable. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.'

Location managers Christian Alexander Klempert and Matthias Braun combed the buildings and gardens of Berlin and Potsdam, and found an almost surreal combination of stunning modern and historic architectural wonders. 'There were astonishing places that had never been photographed, ranging from the 1700s to the 1960s,' says McAlpine, noting that, until recently, these places had been behind the Iron Curtain. 'We had access to amazing 400-year-old architecture as well as incredible modern designs, all of which had beautiful
curvatures and geometric shapes to them.' The filmmakers’ chosen locations include the parks and palaces of Potsdam’s Schloss Sanssouci and Buga Park (right) and Berlin’s Maria Regina Martyrum.

Peter Chung, creator of the animated series, feels that the filmmaker’s dedication to 'getting it right' paid off. 'In Berlin, I saw the crew filming Charlize [Theron] on several sets, all of which were in real historical structures with all the texture and functionality of lived-in spaces,' says Chung. 'The locations of the movie look and feel very real, while seeming to have been lifted straight out of the animation.'
In fact, the preexisting settings were every bit as gorgeous as the rest of the film's art production, and I can't wait to learn more about it! (I'm no expert, but they often reminded me of some of my favorite pavilions at Venice's Biennale modern art exhibition... Like Sverre Fehn's Scandinavian pavilion, with trees growing right through his design... even though it's much, much more linear!)

(More on Fehn at the official Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate site!)

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Still yet more fun but useless quizzes!!

What Animal Were You In a Past Life?
You Were a Swan

You are a spiritual soul who sees into the future.

You are also good at interpreting dreams - those of yourself and others.

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Newsflash: "'Holy' Funyun sells for $609"

"Funyun said to be shaped like Virgin Mary and baby Jesus..." (more via Metafilter)


Advent Angel: 14 Days 'til Christmas!!

Not everybody's happy to see the arrival of good ol' St. Nick...

(This is a hoot! Enjoy!!)

SCARED OF SANTA GALLERY: Tis the season to be scared witless

"Tomb raiders on trial in Italy"

Tomb raiders on trial in Italy!

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Advent Angel: 15 Days 'til Christmas!

Reindeer Round-Up!

It's raining reindeer today at "MMC"!

The Inflatable Reindeer Quiz!
(How many can you count here?)

Say it ain't so!
You Are Dancer

Carefree and fun, you always find reasons to do a happy dance.

Why You're Naughty: That dark stint you had as Santa's private dancer.

Why You're Nice: You're friendly. Very friendly.

Last but not least, there seems to be a black "sheep" in every herd!

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More White Stuff...

Ah, Mother Nature's playing Advent Angel... It's the first big snow of the season here in Southern Maine, and the weather outside is frightful!!

Don't believe me? Check out these live webcams...

Made me think of a fun lil' poem I first heard last year...

"It's winter in New England
And the gentle breezes blow,
Seventy miles an hour,
at fifty-two below.

Oh, how I love New England
When the snow's up to your butt.
You take a breath of winter air
and your nose, it freezes shut.

Yes, the weather here is wonderful,
So I guess I'll hang around.
I could never leave New England
'Cause I'm frozen to the ground!"

(from Bissell Blog)

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"Grow ice-cube spikes in your freezer!"

Appropriate fun for today!!

"Ever wonder why some of the ice cubes in your ice tray have little spikes?" Okay, I admit it... I have! Now, here's how to make 'em deliberately... (You know you want to!!)


Advent Angel: 17 Days 'til CHRISMUKKAH!

I love the enthusiastic union of cultures! And what better than "Chrismukkah": the joyful celebration of the advent of the Christian "Light of the World" together with the Jewish "Festival of Lights"?!

Looking to get into the Chrismukkah spirit? Here's some great links to start!

And little mood music! (Don't miss 'em... Both are fantastic!!!!)

Enj-OY! ;-)

UPDATED (12/10): Want a novel menorah? Check out these!!

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Newsflash: "Earth's Magnetic Pole Drifting Quickly"

I'm no scientist, but why can't I shake the feeling that this can't be good? (Maybe I've seen too many environmental disaster movies...)

Earth's Magnetic Pole Drifting Quickly - Yahoo! News


Happy B-Day Marky-J!

What Does Your Birth Month Mean?
Your Birth Month is December

You love life and exude an outgoing, cheerful vibe.

Blessed with a great sense of humor, you can laugh at adversity.

Your soul reflects: Celebration, success, and wealth.

Your gemstone: Blue Topaz

Your flower: Narcissus

Your colors: Indigo, green, and blue-green

Hey, own it!!

Love, 'Chelle

P.S., F.Y.I. - Another world for "Narcissus" is the "Daffy-dil"!! :-)

"Weird DNA Products" Weird DNA Products


Advent Angel: 18 Days 'til Christmas

A parody of "A Christmas Story", animated and re-enacted in less than 30 seconds by, well... bunnies.

(from Boing Boing)

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Newsflash: "Lazzaretto Nuovo Turned Over To Venice"!

Veniceblog: Lazzaretto Nuovo Turned Over To Venice

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Advent Angel NewsFLASH: THE House of Lights!!

Remember this blog's "Advent Angel" ode to Christmas lights back on December 3rd? Here's an encore!

Not quite as amazing as the first video (which you can see in high res on a clip from the Today Show here!) but it still begs the questions, "Who is this guy? What's his electric bill? And why haven't the neighbors taken a chainsaw to his display yet??"

Here, at last, is the answer! (And from the horse's mouth here!) BTW, the electric bill's apparently only $150 more than usual! (More on Christmas light electric bills from a couple of years ago...)

Want to make your own? Carson Williams of Mason, Ohio gives you the instructions! How about controlling somebody else's display? Apparently, you can do that here (not to mention contribute to a charity!!)

But, alas, alack! Newsflash: As of yesterday, the Carsons' light show is apparently no more, but not because of the neighbors... It was the Fire Department!
"So much chaos has been caused over a huge local Christmas display, that its creator had to shut it down. Carson Williams put up the elaborate light display at his Mason home and choreographed it all to music. But so many people have been flocking to see it that it's caused a traffic jam in his subdivision. Williams tells FOX19 that there was a car accident in the subdivision Tuesday and the police couldn't get to the scene because of the congestion. So he's decided to shut it down indefinitely..."
(Maybe they'll have him do the town hall next year instead?)

Where to get your Christmas light fix now? Check out Planet Christmas: "The Home for Christmas Displays"! Or try Want something more old school? See the "Antique Christmas Light Museum"! (from Metafilter)

UPDATED (Dec. 12): "Rocky Mountain News says the Christmas Lights Webcam is real this year In 2004, this guy fooled the world with his web site that claimed you could view and control his Christmas Lights. But at least according to the Rocky, he's doing it for real this year. Their exhaustive "Can we prove this is a hoax?" writeup is quite funny. The Christmas lights webcam has raised almost $3,000 for the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research so it is benefiting a good cause. Wonder what the neighbors think of Griswold's 26,000 Christmas lights blinking on and off?" (more from Metafilter)