The Limited Value of Ideas

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or, They Aren’t Worth Much Until They Are Executed

So: Ideas. So very important to have fresh ideas and keep coming up with new ones, right?

Well, actually no.

Ideas are the easy part. The ground is simply thick with them. They hang around the floor in great heaps, piled high in all the corners, and all of them begging and pleading pick me, pick me! Use me! Here I am, I want to be next. You have to kick them out of the way to move through the room.

Ideas are useless until they are executed. Written up. Made. Finished and put into place. You have to do something with them to make them worthwhile. Then, and only then, do you find out the value of an idea.


You have to do something with ideas to make them worthwhile. Only then, do you find out their value.

Otherwise, they’re castles in the air. Dreams. Pretty and useless.

We all have dreams. In my I have a perma-cultured yard producing a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, chickens and their eggs, bees and their honey, rabbits and their meat; all bordered by a high, wide wild border that provides habitat for birds, critters, and predatory bugs and screens my property from the neighbors and Google Street View. My beautiful productive garden that produces value in all four seasons. That fills my pantry and freezer. That keeps us on a healthy, organic, semi-vegetarian diet that we produce ourselves thus saving us big bucks at the grocery store. My two patios of outdoor living, one for summer and one for winter, with outdoor cooking facilities and space for solar dryers and a solar oven. The bike shed taking over the end of the driveway and getting all those bikes off the Florida Room and turning that area back into living space. The performance artiness of it all: my suburban farmstead as a meditation on entropy and the passage of time. And all on an intensively managed quarter-acre.

Is this happening for my household? Of course not. Could all of this be possible? Oh, sure. But it takes plenty of work and time to make all of this happen. The idea, the vision is so easy. So seductive. So non-indicative of just how much work every single day it would take to get to this stage. And the passage of years while you wait for the fruit and nut trees to grow. The plants to fill in. The weeding that has to be done year after year after year. Not just the time learning to garden intensively (Hi, John Jeavons!), but the time then spent learning how to cope with the immense harvest. Canning, drying, fermenting, pickling, and salting; all such valuable food production skills that I don’t have. And then, I’ll have to learn to cook it all as otherwise I’ve spent hundreds of woman-hours producing compost!

Likewise with chickens. We have a place for them: The abandoned wooden play structure would convert beautifully into an urban chicken coop. All we would need to do is do it. It wouldn’t even cost very much as much of the work could be done with materials at hand. Then I could have chickens. And what would I get with chickens? Eggs. How many eggs does my household use every week? Two dozen or so? About five dollars at the grocery store? Boy, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to get chickens! And then, as the chickens age and stop laying, it becomes time to learn how to slaughter them and fricassee them.

I come from a long line of poor, sturdy German peasants, and the idea of keeping old hens as pets is appalling. You stew old chickens and eat them. That’s what they are for. Likewise, pigs, chickens and rabbits are ways of converting things you can’t eat into things you can eat. And you get manure to compost and improve your soil as a side benefit.

So there’s the idea. But do I really want to go through all that work? I don’t have to right now, as every grocery store is full of eggs and already processed poultry and pork. Isn’t it a better use of my time-management skills to stop daydreaming about my petite homestead and become a supremely skillful shopper instead and minimize my grocery dollars?

And that’s what I have done. It takes less time and less effort for me to be a skilled and fearless guerrilla grocery shopper than it does for me to go into full-on food production mode. I grow vegetables and some fruit. I don’t have any livestock. I like the idea but not the reality of the work involved. Even the garden we have is becoming too much work as I no longer have the time to cook and preserve all that bounty. So the idea of huge amounts of produce has run smack into the reality of my time and energy limits.

This past summer, I spent all of my time writing and sewing. I can’t spend two or three hours a day cooking and have time for everything else. And cooking from the garden where I have to clean every last carrot and parsnip has taken plenty of time. That organic beautifully fresh mesclun I grow? Every leaf has to be inspected for slugs. They may be organic sources of protein, but that doesn’t mean I want to eat them. So I cook every few days and when I do cook, I make huge amounts. We eat leftovers (planned-overs if you want to be nice about it) for days. When recalcitrant family members complain, the response is as you’d expect: Take over the cooking and cleanup and see how long it takes. This solves the problem.

What does this mean for the idea of a garden? It means that next year, most of the beds will lie fallow. This isn’t a bad thing, they’ll benefit from a thick coating of green manure. The soil’s flora, fauna, and fungi can reweave themselves over the year of rest. And I won’t have to deal with the enormous amounts of produce: either I spend time cooking and preserving or I watch the excess that we can’t use or give away turn into compost. So idea of big garden meets reality of work: Big garden turns back into very small garden.

But the clash between ideas and reality doesn’t stop there, but that’s a subject for next Saturday.

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Sherlock in Punch Cartoons (223B Parody)

Today’s excerpts from “The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes” looks at several Sherlock Punch cartoons. Actually, the first one has more to do with Conan Doyle, as the introduction will tell you, but they give you an idea of how Punch used the culture figures of its day to make its satirical points.

A Wellington (Street) Memorial (1895)

One of ACD’s successes on the stage was “A Story of Waterloo.” The 54-year-old Henry Irving, the dominant actor of his time, played Corporal Gregory Brewster, the last survivor of his regiment, recalling his role in the battle to a visitor. The one-act play at the Lyceum Theater on Wellington Street was an extended death scene, and by the time Brewster shouted “The Guards need powder! The Guards need powder, and, by God, they shall have it!” before expiring, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Except, that is, for George Bernard Shaw. The critic for The Saturday Review called Irving’s acting “cheap and simple mimicry” and “the entire effect is contrived by the author, and is due to him alone.” Punch’s praise below would be followed weeks later by a knighthood for Irving.


Mr. Punch’s Animal Land, the Coneydoil or Shurlacombs (1898)

E.T. Reed

E.T. Reed’s subjects in “Mr. Punch’s Animal Land” poked fun at individuals as well as familiar figures in society.


“This big friendly creature is very shrood and saggacious. If he finds a footprint, he can tell you what colored hair it has and whether it is a libbral or a conservetive — which is very clever I think. He plays all games and always makes a hun-dred. He likes to run through the ‘Strand’ with his tail in parts — all of them strong and healthy — then he collects it all together and it runs for a long time by itself.”

How Scotland Yard Detectives Are Trained (1913)

Arthur Watt

Arthur Watt (1883-1935) was a prolific illustrator whose life was cut short in a plane crash in the Alps.


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I8Media Review: “You’ve Got Mail” (1998)

I’ve been on a Nora Ephron kick the last few weeks, looking into her last book of essays (“I Feel Bad About My Neck”) and watching her movies. “You’ve Got Mail” turned out to be far better than the reviews suggested; many people couldn’t get past Tom Hanks as a businessman who drives Meg Ryan’s children’s bookstore out of business (the blatant product placement for AOL stuck in more than a few craws, too). Living in the age of Amazon, the notion of a chain bookstore driving an indy out of business carries with it a strong whiff of history. It’s like watching a movie about the Vanderbilts cornering the train market.

youve got mail review.

Tom Hanks, in the age when perms still walked the earth.

But what was thought to be a weakness of the movie — how can you root for the bad guy? — turned out to be its strength. Every rom-com needs a bit of trouble for the potential lovers to work through before finding their happiness. Like all genre fiction, when the end is already set, the question becomes: How do they do it? How does the detective find the murderer? How do the lovers get together? In this case, how does the despicable man find his happiness?

In two ways: First, by putting Tom Hanks in the role. Back then, he could be shown drowning kittens and still look adorable. Second, by repenting what he did.

But the hidden sting in the movie is still there. Hanks can’t restore Meg’s bookstore to her, because he really wasn’t the villain. The villain is the system that gave the big bookstore chain better discounts, that allowed them to build a huge store around the corner from the small shop, that enabled them to drive Meg into bankruptcy. If it wasn’t Hanks, the movie argues, it would have been someone else. It’s not Hanks who is corrupt, it is New York City.

Shifting the blame shifts the moral load off Hanks’ shoulders, and once Meg realizes that, then there’s your happy ever after. This nuanced resolution shows what a writer of intelligence and imagination can do.

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A Way We Have at the ’Varsity (Holmes Parody)

Today’s excerpts from “The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes” also fall into the category of “this is what folks read back then, make of it what you will.”

223B-Punch-Cover-smallThe first Holmes Punch item was written in 1904 by R.C. Lehmann, who also did the Picklock Holes stories (see “The Umbrosa Burglary” and “The Bishop’s Crime“). It helps to know that Lehmann drew upon his experiences at Cambridge University and was an enthusiastic rower.

The second item represents the first time Punch recognized the Sherlock Holmes stories. Published in 1892, it is a review of the collected “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” and while it is a rave, the anonymous reviewer was less than enthralled with the illustrations by Sidney Paget.

More information about “The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes” can be found at the Peschel Press site.

A Way We Have at the ’Varsity

R.C. Lehmann

ACD’s recently published story “The Adventure of the Three Students,” set at a university much like Oxford or Cambridge, brought this reaction from the Cambridge-educated Lehmann.

In the most recent Sherlock Holmes adventure the guilt of reading an Examination Paper before it was issued is brought home to an undergraduate by the fact that, returning from the University Athletic Ground, where he had been practising the jump, he left “his tan gloves” on a chair in his tutor’s room. The two following extracts are taken from stories shortly to be published by Sir Arth-r C-n-n D-yle:]


R.C. Lehmann Holmes punch parody

R.C. Lehmann

It was half-past six o’clock on the evening of June 1, and Henry Blessington was walking across Midsummer Common on his way back from the river Cam, where he had been engaged with some of his friends and colleagues in practising for the summer boat-races in the celebrated College six-oared boat. His face was flushed and an air of determination sat not ungracefully on his manly brow, for had he not been the means that very afternoon of putting a stop to the notorious crab-catching propensities of the Duke of Delamere, the brawny ruffian who, in spite of his drunken habits, wielded the bow-oar on behalf of his Alma Mater. This feat had rendered it certain that the St. Barnabas six-oar would go head of the river tomorrow. As he thought of the coming triumph Henry Blessington’s blood coursed feverishly through his veins, and he proceeded mechanically to feel in the pockets of his fashionable frock-coat for his pipe and tobacco-pouch. Heavens! they were not there! As he realised his loss, a reading man, coming in the opposite direction, collided with him and trod heavily on both his patent leather lace-up boots. Smothering an oath, Blessington raised his gold-headed cane and struck the clumsy intruder a heavy blow . . .


The High Street of Oxford was a scene of tumultuous excitement. From every side undergraduates, accompanied by their parents and other more remote relatives, were pouring in crowds to the Schools to hear the Chancellor announce the winner of the Classical Greats. Every class was represented. Here a scholar of Marcon’s Hall, tastefully arrayed in the conspicuous blazer of his College Croquet Club, with his mortarboard rakishly set on the side of his head, might be seen arm in arm with two sprigs of Britain’s nobility, clothed in the pink coat consecrated by an immemorial tradition to the followers of the Turl Hounds. Following these were to be observed two of the fastest and most brilliant members of Christ Church College walking cheek by jowl with their inseparable associates, the Captain and Vice-Captain of the St. Edmund’s Hall Boat Club. The top hats which graced the heads of the two latter undergraduates had been freshly ironed and their lavender kid gloves (the badge of their aquatic prowess) shone across the High Street with a lustre that contrasted strangely with the frayed trousers and short Norfolk jacket of the Senior Proctor, whose duty it was to fine every tenth member of the assemblage.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” received a positive review, with some odd reservations, from “the Baron de B.-W.,” the non de plume of “Our Booking-Office.” “Charles, his Friend,” referred to a character type in the theatre (who would appear in the program that way) whose sole purpose was to stand by and admire the hero. It would not be the last time that Watson’s role in the stories would be seen this way.

By this time, Holmes was already part of the cultural currency, his name a by-word as a solver of mysteries. In the “Essence of Parliament” column (Feb. 11, 1893), when a member of the House of Commons disappears, the writer mused that it is “evidently a case for Sherlock Holmes; must place it in his hands.”

sherlock holmes punch parodyThe title of Mr. Conan Doyle’s new book, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” is incomplete without the addition of, “And the D.D., or Dummy Doctor,” who plays a part in the narratives analogous to that of “Charles, his Friend,” on the stage. The book is, in many respects, a thriller, reminding one somewhat of “The Diary of a Late Physician,” by Samuel Warren. This volume is handsomely got up — too handsomely — and profusely, too profusely, illustrated. For both romancer and reader, such stories are better unillustrated. A sensational picture attracts, and distracts. In this collection, the Baron can recommend “The Beryl Coronet,” “The Red-Headed League,” “The Copper Beeches,” and “The Speckled Band.” The best time for reading any one of these stories is the last thing at night, before turning in. “At such an hour, try ‘The Speckled Band,’ and see how you like it,” says the Bold Baron.

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The Joys of Exercise

Last week, we looked at why you should exercise. It comes down to a choice: use it or lose it. We lead more sedentary lives. We spend more time behind a desk than walking around. As a result, when we take in the same number of calories each day, we’re converting more of it into fat than into energy. As the elephant in the stretch pants says: something’s got to give.

This week, we’ll look at what we can do to become fit.

GF-run-exercise-home-monstersYou can improve your fitness two ways. Both require effort, time, and thought. The first way is to incorporate movement into your daily routine. The second way is actual dedicated time spent working out.

So how do you incorporate physical activity in your daily routine? You do things like when you park your car (backing into the space, of course, making it easier to leave and less likely to ding an oncoming vehicle); you park as far away from the building as you can, then walk in. Use the stairs (up and down) instead of elevators and escalators. Knowing their location is also useful in an emergency. When you run errands, park in a central location and walk to as many of them as feasible rather than moving the car between each location. This saves gas, too.

When talking on the phone, walk back and forth. Most of us can walk and talk at the same time; it’s just a matter of remembering to do this rather than sitting down.

If you can be moving around while doing something, then move around.

Walk your dog. Every day. Twice a day. And give your dog long walks, not just in and out so the dog can do its business. Your dog will be so grateful, and you will learn your area, meet all your neighbors, and get into better shape.

Wear a pedometer. I put mine on an elastic band around my ankle because it didn’t work to wear it at my waist. Get the very cheapest one you can find at Wal-Mart. The expensive ones don’t work any better (I know from personal experience) but they are much more complicated to operate. It is far more upsetting to lose a $45 pedometer than a $5 one. If all you want to do is count steps, you don’t need a pedometer that will calculate calories, act as a stop watch, tell time, and track short-term and long-term goals.

The pedometer reminds you to keep moving. I check mine throughout the day to see how many steps I have walked. The short goal is 5,000 steps a day. The long goal is to make 10,000 steps each day. The super goal is to break 15,000 steps. What you discover very quickly is that you have to move around a lot to hit 10,000 steps. Two long dog walks daily (of a mile or so each) will help considerably in reaching this goal.

If your pedometer tells you that you only walk a thousand steps per day or so, then you need to get up and move around a lot more.

Pick the more strenuous option, whether mixing up a cake with a wooden spoon as opposed to a hand mixer or spading over a garden bed versus using a rotary tiller. Do it by hand, using your body, and you improve your fitness and save some energy dollars for some other use. A clothes line is a fine example: it costs you nothing other than some time to hang the wash and you get to walk back and forth outside in the sun. A dryer costs you money to run and does nothing to improve your health.

Jimmy Kimmel is not only getting healthier, but the generator attached to his treadmill creates electricity that contributes to NBC's profit margin. Win-win!

Jimmy Kimmel is not only getting healthier, but the generator attached to his treadmill creates electricity that contributes to NBC’s profit margin. Win-win!

As you incorporate more movement into your daily routine, you start to hear of other ways to do this. A treadmill desk lets you walk and type at the same time. You can buy one, or, if you are handy, build one yourself. You can put a treadmill in front of your TV set too, and use it instead of sitting down while watching a show.

If you feel particularly inspired (or cruel), hook up your TV set to a bicycle. If you or your children want to watch TV, then somebody has to bicycle enough to generate the electricity needed to run the TV. This will both improve family fitness AND cut down on excess TV viewing. Clearly a win all around.

There is, in fact, a whole host of ways to use bikes to generate power to run various small and not so small appliances. Every one of the ideas presented in this book will improve your overall fitness and save you precious energy dollars.

But only if you do them, of course. Like everything else, the road to better fitness is paved with good intentions and very little action. So start small. Whenever you have the option, do it the manual way, using your own muscles. Get a push mower instead of a power mower. Use manual hedge clippers instead of a gasoline hedge trimmer. A cross-cut saw as opposed to a chain saw. A rake instead of a leaf blower.

Yeah, it’s more work. Way more work in many cases. But it costs less, saving both energy dollars and gym membership dollars and builds exercise into your daily routine.

Keep in mind that if you are genuinely concerned about a difficult and challenging future, you need to be prepared to do all your chores manually anyway. Energy costs money. Power tools cost money. You’re going to be eating anyway and thus generating energy yourself, so learn to do what you can with your own muscles now, while it’s easy, while you can visit a doctor if you injure yourself. While there is aspirin and chiropractors on every corner. While there are all kinds of resources available to help you.

The second half of exercising is your dedicated routine. The very best exercise routine is the one you are willing to do on a daily or every other day basis. It doesn’t matter that much what the routine is: I’m not talking to you tri-athletes here, so go off and do your sweaty thing. I’m talking to us couch potatoes. If the thought of exercise makes you want to lie down with a damp tea-towel over your eyes until the urge goes away, then the routine that works best is the one you will actually do. Dig out those old Richard Simmons tapes and start moving.

In my case (and Bill’s), it was getting a Wii Fit Plus game and Balance Board to go with the Wii game platform we already had. I bought it a few years ago and I can now do the various yoga, strength, and aerobic routines daily for an hour a day. I had to work up to this level over the years and I had to learn to do the various exercises.

The Wii Fit Plus works quite well for me. It’s convenient. I know what to do. I can make my routine longer as I get stronger. I’ve been thinking about getting wrist and ankle weights to add intensity to what I do. Does this make me able to run mini-marathons? Dear me, no. Have I lost weight, gotten much more toned, and taken care of a number of physical problems? Absolutely.


The Wii Fit trainer’s now kicking ass over at Super Smash Bros. Work hard, and you can, too!

One of the interesting things I discovered is that I really do have to alternate days between strength training (what we used to call calisthenics), yoga, and aerobics. What happened is that I would focus exclusively on yoga for weeks and then notice that I was losing a little strength in my arms while gaining in flexibility. If I concentrated on strength training, then I lost some of the yoga flexibility and my joints would hurt a little more. If I focused strictly on aerobics I lost strength and flexibility.

Fortunately, the Wii keeps track of what I do day by day, so I check each day and see what I haven’t done recently and I do that routine. If I know I will be walking around all day, I choose flexibility or strength. If I know I will be sitting at the desk or sewing machine all day, I choose aerobics. If my back hurts or my joints bother me more than usual, I choose the yoga option.

I think this point is very important, especially as you get older. My elderly parents (hi mom! (76); hi dad! (80)) both still walk several miles a day and maintain their big house and yard. They also complain that their joints hurt and they are losing their strength. I say to them: find that yoga or tai chi class at the senior center and sign up! Do they listen? They do not. Aerobic activity like long daily walks is important but you still have to be flexible and strong. You are moving a different set of muscles and tendons and all those other body parts when you change your exercise pattern.

I weigh in every day. This reminds me to not eat everything in sight like I want to. The Wii keeps track of my weight over the years so I can look back and see that I have actually improved my fitness. I try very hard to make the time to do a full 50-minute session, but if I simply can’t squeeze out the time, I aim for half an hour. Sometimes, I can only manage 15 minutes but if so, then I do the most strenuous exercises so as to maximize my time. It very rarely works for me to come back later in the day and finish out my time. I’ve found that I have to get the exercise done all at once, first thing in the morning. Again, you have to find out what works best for you.

Wii Fit has made me so strong I can beat up Ganendorf at the gym. What a baby!

Wii Fit has made me so strong I can beat up Ganendorf at the gym. What a baby!

I also started doing sit-ups. I can now do 70 sit-ups a day. Every day. I started with five sit-ups and very gradually, five at a time, worked my way up to my current level. When it stopped hurting to do five, (and I work in sets of five), I did ten. When ten got to be easy, I started doing 15. And so on and so on. Pick your exercise and start with a small number. Then, very gradually, do more.

Now that I do 70 sit-ups a day, I can say that you do not get anything approaching a six-pack. Maybe if you do 700 sit-ups a day you might see that muscle definition. My abs are in far better shape than they were, but since I still have a goodly layer of insulation over them, its hard to see the improvement. I can feel it though. My back works better and so do my intestines.

What matters, in the end, is doing the exercises. If it hurts, then scale back a little. That no pain, no gain mantra is what buys boats for orthopedic surgeons. Don’t pay any attention to it. And don’t pay any attention to those gym rats who tell you that you aren’t doing enough. Or shaming you because of how you look and how you jiggle. This is another reason to begin exercising in the privacy of your own home. Start where you are and gradually, gently, do more. Keep in mind that it is far easier to criticize than it is to do, so some of the people who are saying rude things about your baby steps into fitness may be secretly jealous that you are exercising at all (and they are not).

There are plenty of exercise videos at any library so you can try out a routine for free. Most, if not all, of the game platforms have exercise games available. Again, it matters more that you find a routine that you like and are willing to do on a daily basis. So go down to the library and try out the books and tapes they have on hand. Watch those You-Tube videos to get an idea of what a crunch is. Books aren’t always as clear as you could want.

When you find a routine you like, then buy the video. If you get bored with the same old thing, find a few routines that you like and alternate them. The key is doing it. Every day. Don’t forget to incorporate all three types of movement into your routine: flexibility, strength, and aerobic.

Really, the hardest part by far in exercising is overcoming your own inertia and then, even harder, is making the time. That pesky time management thing rears its head and you have to sacrifice some other thing that you do in order to find the time to exercise.

Eventually, you may want to venture out into a gym. I think, before you do this, you want to be already dedicating daily time to a work-out routine. Gyms cost money and you have to spend even more time as you have to include travel time back and forth and showers and changing rooms and such. Your living room does not have these issues. But, a well equipped gym will have way more options available and people who can show you how to use them.

If you decide to go the gym route, then ask around. What are the local facilities like? Does anyone you know use and recommend them? Go for a visit. Get short-term trial memberships. Don’t spend any money until you are sure you will actually use the gym on a regular basis. If the gym or its staff and patrons makes you feel uncomfortable, fat, out-of-shape, or any other negative feeling, then I guarantee you, you won’t ever go and use it. So shop around.

Other options include yoga and tai chi classes to improve your flexibility and strengthen your joints or martial arts and self-defense classes to improve your personal safety. Again, shop around and try things out as much as you can before laying down a lot of money and a big time commitment. If you won’t do it, and you can’t or won’t spend the time, then the finest gym or aerobics class in the world isn’t worth the money.

If you are fortunate enough to have an employer that offers exercise classes, gym memberships, or other get fit, get healthy programs, then by all means, take advantage of them. If your employer doesn’t offer health options, then stop by human resources and ask if they can be made available. If enough of your co-workers stop and ask for dedicated time to work out, then even Catbert might be persuaded to add health and fitness programs to your company’s benefits package.

It is especially important that you spell out how a healthier, fitter workforce will tend to need less medical care. A fatter, sicklier work force will cost more and be less productive. Knowing this might be enough to get your employer to offer a company wide fitness benefit package. If your company does add this kind of program, after you have asked for one, then sign up right away and use it! Show through your actions that you meant what you said about wanting to exercise on company time.

So look over your options. Add exercise to your daily routine by doing things the manual way. Then add an actual exercise routine to your day. Aerobics, lifting weights, yoga, tai chi, calisthenics, swimming, bicycling, sit ups and push ups, martial arts; it doesn’t matter as long as you start exercising at something. Pick what you like and get moving. And as you get fitter, add more exercise and keep stretching yourself.

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The Umbrosa Burglary / R.C. Lehmann (Sherlock Holmes parody)

Today’s excerpt from “The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes” is also drawn from R.C. Lehmann’s cycle of stories about Picklock Holes. This one makes fun of Holmes’ habit of breaking the rules to achieve his ends.

One passion that played a major role in R.C. Lehmann’s life was rowing. He learned the sport at Cambridge, wrote books of instruction and poetry about it, and coached teams, often without pay, in the U.S., Germany, even at rival Oxford. He built his family home, Fieldhead, on the shores of the Thames in Buckinghamshire, where he could row at his leisure and, later, teach the sport to his children. Perhaps some of Fieldhead found its way into Umbrosa.

sherlock holmes parody

“Propelled by an athletic young fellow.”

During one of my short summer holidays I happened to be spending a few days at the delightful riverside residence of my friend James Silver, the extent of whose hospitality is only to be measured by the excellence of the fare that he sets before his guests, or by the varied amusements that he provides for them. The beauties of Umbrosa (for that is the attractive name of his house) are known to all those who during the summer months pass up (or down) the winding reaches of the Upper Thames. It was there that I witnessed a series of startling events which threw the whole county into a temporary turmoil. Had it not been for the unparalleled coolness and sagacity of Picklock Holes the results might have been fraught with disaster to many distinguished families, but the acumen of Holes saved the situation and the family-plate, and restored the peace of mind of one of the best fellows in the world.

The party at Umbrosa consisted of the various members of the Silver family, including, besides Mr. and Mrs. Silver, three high-spirited and unmarried youths and two charming girls. Picklock Holes was of course one of the guests. In fact, it had long since come to be an understood thing that wherever I went Holes should accompany me in the character of a professional detective on the lookout for business; and James Silver though he may have at first resented the calm unmuscularity of my marvellous friend’s immovable face would have been the last man in the world to spoil any chance of sport or excitement by refraining from offering a cordial invitation to Holes. The party was completed by Peter Bowman, a lad of eighteen, who to an extraordinary capacity for mischief, added an imperturbable cheerfulness of manner. He was generally known as Shockheaded Peter, in allusion to the brush-like appearance of his delicate auburn hair, but his intimate friends sometimes addressed him as Venus, a nickname which he thoroughly deserved by the almost classic irregularity of his Saxon features.

We were all sitting, I remember, on the riverbank, watching the countless craft go past, and enjoying that pleasant industrious indolence which is one of the chief charms of life on the Thames. A punt had just skimmed by, propelled by an athletic young fellow in boating costume. Suddenly Holes spoke.

“It is strange,” he said, “that the man should still be at large.”

“What man? Where? How?” we all exclaimed breathlessly.

“The young puntsman,” said Holes, with an almost aggravating coolness. “He is a bigamist, and has murdered his great aunt.”

“It cannot be,” said Mr. Silver, with evident distress. “I know the lad well, and a better fellow never breathed.”

“I speak the truth,” said Holes, unemotionally. “The induction is perfect. He is wearing a red tie. That tie was not always red. It was, therefore, stained by something. Blood is red. It was, therefore, stained by blood. Now it is well known that the blood of great aunts is of a lighter shade, and the colour of that tie has a lighter shade. The blood that stained it was, therefore, the blood of his great aunt. As for the bigamy, you will have noticed that as he passed he blew two rings of cigarette-smoke, and they both floated in the air at the same time. A ring is a symbol of matrimony. Two rings together mean bigamy. He is, therefore, a bigamist.”

For a moment we were silent, struck with horror at this dreadful, this convincing revelation of criminal infamy. Then I broke out:

“Holes,” I said, “you deserve the thanks of the whole community. You will of course communicate with the police.”

“No,” said Holes, “they are fools, and I do not care to mix myself up with them. Besides, I have other fish to fry.”

Saying this, he led me to a secluded part of the grounds, and whispered in my ear.

“Not a word of what I am about to tell you. There will be a burglary here to-night.”

“But, Holes,” I said, startled in spite of myself at the calm omniscience of my friend, “had we not better do something; arm the servants, warn the police, bolt the doors and bar the windows, and sit up with blunderbusses — anything would be better than this state of dreadful expectancy. May I not tell Mr. Silver?”

“Potson, you are amiable, but you will never learn my methods.” And with that enigmatic reply I had to be content in the meantime.

The evening had passed as pleasantly as evenings at Umbrosa always pass. There had been music; the Umbrosa choir, composed of members of the family and guests, had performed in the drawing-room, and Peter had drawn tears from the eyes of every one by his touching rendering of the well-known songs of “The Dutiful Son” and “The Cartridge-bearer.” Shortly afterwards, the ladies retired to bed, and the gentlemen, after the customary interval in the smoking-room, followed. We were in high good-humour, and had made many plans for the morrow. Only Holes seemed preoccupied. Once I heard him muttering to himself, “It’s bound to come off properly; never failed yet. They wired to say they’d be here by the late train. Well, let them come. I shall be ready for them.” I did not venture at the time to ask him the meaning of these mysterious words.

I had been sleeping for about an hour, when I was suddenly awakened with a start. In the passage outside I heard the voices of the youngest Silver boy and of Peter.

“Peter, old chap,” said Johnny Silver, “I believe there’s burglars in the house. Isn’t it a lark?”

“Ripping,” said Peter. “Have you told your people?”

“Oh, it’s no use waking the governor and the mater; we’ll do the job ourselves. I told the girls, and they’ve all locked themselves in and got under their beds, so they’re safe. Are you ready?”


“Come on then.”

With that they went along the passage and down the stairs. My mind was made up, and my trousers and boots were on in less time than it takes to tell it. I went to Holes’s room and entered. He was lying on his bed, fully awake, dressed in his best detective suit, with his fingers meditatively extended, and touching one another.

“They’re here,” I said.


“The burglars.”

“As I thought,” said Holes, selecting his best basket-hilted life-preserver from a heap in the middle of the room. “Follow me silently.”

I did so. No sooner had we reached the landing, however, than the silence was broken by a series of blood-curdling screams.

“Good Heavens!” was all I could say.

“Hush,” said Holes.

I obeyed him. The screams subsided, and I heard the voices of my two young friends, evidently in great triumph.

“Lie still, you brute,” said Peter, “or I’ll punch your blooming head. Give the rope another twist, Johnny. That’s it. Now you cut and tell your governor and old Holes that we’ve nabbed the beggar.”

By this time the household was thoroughly roused. Agitated females and inquisitive males streamed downstairs. Lights were lit, and a remarkable sight met our eyes. In the middle of the drawing-room lay an undersized burglar, securely bound, with Peter sitting on his head.

“Johnny and I collared the beggar,” said Peter, “and bowled him over. Thanks, I think I could do with a ginger-beer.”

The man was of course tried and convicted, and Holes, who had explained how he had been certain that the burglary was contemplated and had taken his measures accordingly, received the thanks of the County Council.

“That fellow,” said the great detective to me, “was the best and cleverest of my tame team of country-house burglars. Through him and his associates I have fostered and foiled more thefts than I care to count. Those infernal boys nearly spoilt everything. Potson, take my advice, never attempt a master-stroke in a house full of boys. They can’t understand scientific induction. Had they not interfered I should have caught the fellow myself. He had wired to tell me where I should find him.”

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Suburban stockade introductionJust like our bodies are meant to sleep, our bodies are meant to move. These days, most of us don’t spend hours and hours in a field hoeing beets and weeding. We don’t walk for miles every day. We don’t haul water, look after livestock, chop down trees, tend fires or really cook from scratch whereby you start with a live chicken, a vegetable garden, and a pile of whole wheat flour (that you ground yourself) and turn those raw ingredients into chicken stew with dumplings. And wash up by hand afterwards.

Labor-saving devices really do save labor, I will never give up my washing machine. I’ll give up a lot of appliances before the washer goes. I will joyfully hand-wash dishes if it means I can keep my washing machine. Hand-washing all your clothing, linens, towels, bedding, etc is stunningly labor- and time-intensive. One of the very first things that women did, as soon as they had any spare money at all, was to either hire out the laundry or get a James Hand Washer (Review at Paratus Familia Blog). But I digress.

exercise james hand washer

James Hand Washer in use, from Paratus Familia Blog.

We all used to live far more strenuous lives that involved huge amounts of work and exertion. This change isn’t a bad thing: very few of us in the first world drop dead of exhaustion by age 50 anymore. But it does mean that since physical fitness is no longer built into our day-to-day routine, we have to work at it.

I am not talking about being model thin either. There are plenty of thin people who can’t run a mile without gasping for breath. Being thin does not equate to being fit. It is perfectly possible to be overweight (not hugely of course) and have better cardiovascular fitness than that skinny person over there who can’t walk five miles and spade over a garden bed.

You get a stronger heart, better wind, more endurance, more strength and flexibility by using your body every day. A stronger body is healthier and more resilient. You are better able to move when you have to. You may never have to run down 55 flights of stairs after a terrorist attack, like many did on 9/11. But you will be better able to take care of your loved ones if you take care of yourself.

My dear husband, Bill, and I are both 54. Time and miles are both putting their marks upon us. Yet I am now in far better physical shape than I was ten years ago. I’ve lost forty pounds, and I did it because I exercise an incorporate movement every day.


I could choose to decline, bitching all the way, or change how I lived.

Why did I do this? It was starting to hurt too much to not exercise. My hips hurt. My knees hurt. All my joints hurt. I couldn’t do the things I used to do. If I had to do some strenuous (or not so strenuous) gardening, I would be crippled for the entire next day. My future was clear: I could choose to decline, bitching all the way, or change how I lived.

Declining, I will say right now, would have been easier by far; also far more painful. It was reaching the point where every staircase was becoming an effort to use as it hurt my knees so much. I could not lie down comfortably because my hips hurt. I took a lot of pain meds and they helped, a little. My weight led directly to gallbladder disease. I had to have surgery. That was painful and unpleasant too. I didn’t like the way I felt, I didn’t like the way I looked, I didn’t like the way I was aging.

So I started getting more serious about what I ate and how much I exercised. I started walking more. I tried to eat less and better. I bought a Wii Fit Plus package and started using it. I bought a bicycle which I still can’t use as it hurts my knees too much. But I’m getting there. I hope to be able to start using it in the spring. I got a pedometer. I got a dog, to encourage still more walking. Muffy really is multi-functional: security, varmint control, company, and exercise equipment all in one.

As I said, I now weigh about forty pounds less than I did at my peak but this is just a guess, as I avoided scales like the plague. Am I still overweight? Oh, you bet I am! I’d like to lose another thirty to forty pounds. It is true that I will never even approach that perfect weight for my height without living through the zombie apocalypse. But I can now outrun slower, fatter people to escape the zombie horde and isn’t that what counts?

And I feel so much better. My knees don’t hurt, my hips don’t hurt. I sleep better. I can work outside without crippling myself for the next few days. My simple yoga routine means my joints don’t hurt and I am far more flexible. My incredibly basic aerobic routine means I don’t get out of breath. My stupidly basic strength training routine means I can do heavy yard work without a day of agony afterwards. My back doesn’t routinely hurt anymore. I can walk a few miles at a stretch with my dog. I take a lot fewer over-the-counter pain meds.

All this wonderfulness only cost me time and effort and plenty of it. Not very much money, just what I shelled out for the aforementioned Wii Fit Plus game and balance board. The bike was some money but I should be able to use it by the spring as my body gets stronger and lighter. A good pair of sneakers. A pedometer to remind me to keep moving. I check my steps throughout the day and that keeps me motivated to keep walking around.

The time and the effort are actually far harder than spending the money, even for me. What can I say? I don’t like to part with my hard-earned bucks. But the time! the effort! Spending cash is a one-time evolution. Fitness is earned, an hour at a time, day after day after day. So yes, a large expenditure of time and effort is needed to feel better every day.

The time needed to work out requires, of course, more of that pesky time management. I now exercise (dedicated exercise time, I mean) about an hour a day. This is time that I can’t spend cooking from scratch, writing for you, dear reader, sewing my wardrobe of coats, gardening, doing research, or any of the other hundreds of things I need or want to do. This time doesn’t include daily dog walking or any of my daily work around my home and yard. It is exercise time. I do my routine; I get on with the day.

Making dedicated time to exercise each and every day is really hard. Because we only get 24 hours a day, it is a guarantee that you will have to sacrifice something else to find the time. Now if you spend a few hours a day watching TV or aimlessly surfing, you have the time available. You just need to get motivated. But if you already use all of your time productively (be honest!), you get to make hard choices as to what to give up.

The other hard part of exercise is making the effort. You block out the time and then you get hot, sticky, and sweaty. There are people who will tell you that magical endorphins will appear and you will genuinely love how you feel, while you are exercising. This has not been true for me. I will say that as I get in better shape, I feel better while I exercise but it isn’t ever rainbows and unicorns, blue sky and candy canes fun.

I put on the mindset that I need to exercise to feel better in every part of my life and so now I just get on with it. What finally worked for me was a) finding a routine that I could stick to, and b) focusing on how my muscles stretched as I moved through said routine. It has to be kind of Zen for me. This mental discipline has taken a lot of work. It certainly didn’t come naturally for me.

So I exercise every day now. Both dedicated time and whatever I can incorporate into my day. My example has even led to Bill working out.

Wii Fit has made me so strong I can beat up Ganendorf.

Wii Fit has made me so strong I can beat up Ganendorf.

Like me, Bill was never a gym rat. But like me, he was finding out, as he aged, that he didn’t like how he felt. Exercising for him was a mental struggle as well as a physical struggle.

But he got started. In the last year, Bill has lost twenty pounds. He now walks twice a day. He has his own dedicated exercise routine. He feels a lot better. He looks better. For him, it was a matter of recognizing that he had to do body maintenance every day, like brushing his teeth. Like me, he had to make time for his program, time that he couldn’t spend doing something else. He has to be more focused when he is writing as he has less time overall in which to write. That twenty-four-hours-a-day issue: you never get less, but you never get more either.

Is it worth it to him? Absolutely. Is it worth it to me? Yes, absolutely. And we encourage each other to keep at it. Better health, better focus, better flexibility, better shape. So we exercise. Every day, both dedicated time and as part of our daily routine.

Next week, we’ll talk more about the specifics.

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‘You Are Here': Hadfield’s Eyes in the Sky

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes. Chris Hadfield.

Even as ebooks stamped into our lives, there is still a niche for printed books that iPads, Kindles, Nooks and other models cannot fill. That is the picture book, the coffee-table book. No device’s screen size or image resolution can compete with the convenience, beauty and ease of reading a large book spread on the table before you.

chris hadfield you are herechris hadfield you are here“You Are Here,” a surprisingly inventive collection of photos taken by astronaut Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station, demonstrates also that ebooks are also useless when books use inventive layouts or designs. The ability to use contrasting images are lost when you have a single small window. The impact of larger pictures would be lost when viewed piecemeal (no, scrolling doesn’t help). And forget about color pictures on the black-and-white Kindle Touch.

But we are not here to bash ebooks, but to praise “You Are Here.” There is a lot to point to. As someone who has viewed hundreds of NASA pictures for an unpublished novels, I wondered just how many more photos of Earth I could bear to see.

Turns out the answer is quite a lot. Hadfield, who made a YouTube splash singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the ISS, displays a sharp eye for both unusual geography. His photos show that human-modified landscape acts as an essay or biography that reflect the minds of their creators. We can read hubris in the developments encroaching on Mount Etna in Sicily. There’s hope in the circular irrigation fields in Libya. Manhattan by day and night shimmers with energy both human and electrical. For sheer beauty, there’s the abstract of browns from the Everglades mingling with milky greens off the Florida Keys.

you-are-here-manhattan-day-nightEven nature takes pen in hand. The rivers in Bolivia twist and turn; loops that grow too close get cut off, creating accents marks of ponds. The coastline of northern France breaks like a wave onto Montpellier. Along the Rio Parana in Argentina, nature and humans collaborate, creating a silver town on the north shore and a greenish-brown swamp on the south side.

“You Are Here” is a perfect storm of a book: a combination of elegant and evocative photographs and informative and thoughtful commentary that can inspire you to reflect on how ingeniously we have made the earth our home.

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Clean Your Life with Sleep Hygiene

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sleep hygiene

Basic sleep hygiene consists of first: admitting that you need to sleep!

Basic sleep hygiene consists of first: admitting that you need to sleep! That you most likely do indeed need seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Then you rearrange your schedule and say no to a host of things (that pesky time management thing again) so you actually go to bed with the lights out at 10PM in order to get up at 6AM. 10PM to 6AM is eight hours. If you have to get up at 5AM then you have to go to bed, lights out, at 9AM. And then you sleep. You don’t keep your phone by your bedside, you don’t read, you don’t watch TV, you don’t keep checking your email, you lay quietly in the dark and wait for sleep. No electronic devices with alarms or blinking lights to keep you awake anywhere near you.

Keeping to a lights out routine can be very hard. All that work left undone calls to you. All that must see TV, books, surfing, games, etc that you want to see, read, do; calling and calling for your attention. Block them out as best you can and stick to a schedule. Sleep specialists say that you should get up at the same time on weekends as you do on weekdays. We still don’t do this, even though we stick pretty well to lights out at 1030PM. My DH will get up if he doesn’t feel the need to sleep more. I nearly always want more sleep so I tend to sleep in until — gasp — 8 or even 9AM on weekends.

Dark matters. You don’t want any lights. Room darkening shades and room darkening drapes help immensely to block out unwanted outside light. They also make it possible to sleep in the day, if you are so unfortunate as to do shift work. Room darkening shades and heavy drapes muffle sound and act as insulation against the cold. Look for the section in Fortress Peschel on windows and draperies for more information on how, exactly, you should proceed with your window treatments.

After you get rid of the outside lights with the room darkening shades, get rid off all the blinky lights that distract you inside the bedroom. The only light in our bedroom when we sleep is the red numbers on the clock radio. It is high enough up that they aren’t inline with my eyes and I have to make a conscious effort to look at the numbers. Not seeing the time is a big help for insomniacs by the way. I’ve gone ahead and put a piece of black electrical tape over the blinking light on the carbon monoxide detector. It would flash every minute, a tiny strobe light. You don’t want this. Taping over the light did not affect the functioning of the CO detector.

My whole house is done up with room darkening shades and heavy drapes. This provides much needed insulation against the cold, sound deadening — always a big help with outside noise —, and keeps sunlight from filtering into the rooms when you don’t want it too. Early morning? It stays dark. Have to go to bed before it gets dark outside? No longer a problem. My house is designed to bounce light from room to room via mirrors and high gloss walls so if I let light pour into the living room via its windows, that light very quickly spills over into the bedrooms waking us up. Thus the room darkening shades in rooms that don’t seem to need them.

I do keep a nightlight in the bathroom to make it easier and safer to use at 3AM. I get the lowest wattage bulb I can find at the supermarket and keep the door partially closed to keep the light contained in the room where it needs to be. It is slaved to a photocell so the light turns itself off during the day.

I’ll repeat: get rid off all the electronic devices with lights on them other than the alarm clock. None of that stuff should be in the bedroom with you. Get rid of your partner’s distractions too, as they are also distracting to you.

You say you need to be in touch all the time? Really? Are you on call for ambulance duty? Will the world come to an end if you get some sleep? Graveyards are full of people who thought they were irreplaceable. Every single one of those people was wrong. They got replaced and life went on.

Bedrooms should be reserved for two functions: sleep and sex. No home offices, no libraries, no TV watching, no craft stations, no exercise equipment. None of that stuff. We do have to use our bedroom to store clothes in the closet so we can get dressed but this is a very minor offense compared to having a work station next to the bed, training your subconscious to realize that someone somewhere wants you to get back to work. The closet should be tidy enough so you can close the doors and keep that clutter away from your mind and body. Clutter is distracting too. It reminds you of all those not done jobs. Keeping the bedroom reasonably neat doesn’t just keep you from falling over your shoes; it might make it a little bit easier to fall asleep.

I will admit that we do read in bed. This can be a no-no for many people. Your reading material does matter. Stimulating books like Stephan King horror novels don’t make the best bedtime reading. I tend to read sewing magazines and soil management books before lights out. They aren’t what you call hugely exciting and they haven’t caused me much of a problem. If reading in bed causes problems, then read less stimulating books (tax code law!) or drop the books all together. See what works for you. Whatever you do, don’t do your reading on a platform that invites other distractions. Processed tree carcasses (i.e., real books) don’t invite in the outside world like an iPad will. Kindles are somewhere in the middle; no one can call you and you can’t check your email but you can have dozens of titles to choose from, all begging for your attention right now.

In addition to the room darkening, I’ve decorated the bedroom to make it more conducive to sleep. The walls are a deep midnight blue with sparkly silver and gold stars on them. I made them out of contact paper and they are stuck up all over the walls. There are spatters of silver model airplane paint on all the walls, looking a lot like the Milky Way. The drapes, rug and bedding all reflect this night time sky theme. The original idea was to make it more conducive to sleep for my DH when he worked evening shifts. A darker room is just easier to sleep in. It turned out to help my insomnia, just a little. So even if you paint the rest of your house sunshine yellow and arrest me red, don’t make your bedroom loud and crazy. Soothing, calming, cool, dark and serene is your goal.

Other basic things you can do: don’t eat after 6 to 7PM. This cuts down on the risk of acid reflux. Ice cream right before bed? The sugar buzz will keep you awake. No coffee or any other caffeine products after 12NOON. Cut way back on your caffeine in general. It stays with you far longer than is widely realized. Alcohol doesn’t help you sleep. A glass of wine can be soothing and relaxing but after you go to sleep, a few hours later you may be restless, wake up, and then be unable to fall back asleep. More alcohol will not make it better. Experiment and see what helps you.

One of the most difficult aspects of sleep hygiene is your partner. If your partner snores, has restless legs, coughs all night long, talks in his sleep, sleepwalks, thrashes about like a gaffed fish, wants the bedroom the opposite temperature you need, works bizarre hours, comes to bed at random intervals, insists on having her smartphone on all night (the president might call!) and totally denies that he is your reason for sleep deprivation, then you have a real problem.

Sleep studies always ask about your partner because they are so often the reason you can’t sleep. Sleep study questionnaires also ask whether or not you sleep better when you are away from home. Same set of reasons, really. What keeps you from sleeping at home and can you fix it? Good sleep hygiene is very dependent on having a partner who doesn’t try to sabotage your efforts.

If your partner can’t or won’t change, then you get to suffer. This is the reason for separate bedrooms. This solution has its own set of drawbacks (where are you going to put your snoring husband, especially if you can hear him throughout the entire house?) but it may be your only hope if you can’t stand earplugs. Some of the above conditions can be fixed: sleep apnea treatment can cure snoring. Others are predicaments that have to be managed as best you can: irregular work hours are an excellent example. Keep in mind that fixing a few things that interrupt your sleep (lighting and electronic devices come to mind) may make other issues easier to cope with.

Another thing to look at is your bed. Is the mattress collapsing under you? More than twenty years old? Big enough for you and your partner and your four cats and the dog? The dog can be trained to sleep in his own bed, on the floor, thus freeing up some space. Training cats is a lost cause so close the door (and listen to them meow on the other side all night long), get a bigger bed, or live with it. If you wake up every day with a backache, a new mattress may help quite a bit. Unfortunately, you won’t know for sure until after you purchase one. If you sleep better when you are not at home, the mattress may be the culprit (or one of them) so this is worth looking into.

When you shop for mattresses, take your time and do your homework. Expect to spend some serious money to get a better mattress and box spring. Get warranties so if the new mattress doesn’t make your sleep better, than you have some faint chance of getting your money back. New bedding is expensive and a pain to do, so do the easier sleep hygiene stuff first.

sleep hygiene

The white noise machine we use lets us listen to the ocean waves, waterfall, trains, city noises and other soundscapes.

If noise or tinnitus is a distraction, then a white noise machine can help. I have tinnitus: that constant ringing static in the ears. There is very little to be done about it, other than maintaining healthy blood pressure. The white noise machine helps mask the never ending buzzing that tinnitus gives. A white noise machine can also help mask ambient outside noises too. We finally bought one about two years ago and it really helps. It’s the Ecotone model ASM 1002. We listen to ocean waves all night long. DH likes it and I don’t hear the endless buzz and crackle my ears never stop giving me quite as much. If you are concerned that a white noise machine will keep you from hearing prowlers or other potential problems, set the sound at the lowest level that works for you; upgrade your locks; and get a dog. Or learn to live with the noise, outside and inner. I like our white noise machine so much, that I’ve already decided that we will replace it within seconds of our current model failing. I might even pay for same-day shipping from Amazon, because it means so much to me.

Lastly, start training your mind to sleep. I attended a sleep doctor’s lecture and he said that we have a kind of switch in the brain. On means being awake, off means being asleep. But it isn’t always easy for the brain to realize that it needs to turn off. So you give it a pattern to recognize that tells your brain, “It’s time to shut down”. What I learned to do is make word lists.

Every night, as I’m laying there in the dark, I focus on my word list. A word list should be just complex enough to keep you from losing focus and boring and soothing enough to encourage your mind to shut down. The two lists that I have used are fruits & vegetables and animals. This sounds dopey but it really does work.

For fruits and vegetables, make a list of every single one you can think of, in alphabetical order. That is, apples, apricots, artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocados, bamboo shoots, bananas, basil, beans, beets, blackberries, blueberries, bok choy, boysenberries, breadfruit, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, continuing until you get to the end of the alphabet with yams, yuca root, and zucchini. Do this every night and after a few weeks you begin to train your brain: “oh, I recognize this list. It’s time to sleep”.

I also use the animal list: aardvark, aardwolf, adder, Afghan hound, Airedale, Akita, akula, albatross, alligator, alpaca, anaconda, anchovy, ants, anteaters, antelopes, apes, armadillo, asp, ass, and aye-ayes proceeding through the alphabet ending at last with yaks and zebras. When I started with animals, I could go through the entire list and then restart with ‘A’. Now, after months of training, I tend to fall asleep long before I reach ‘P’.

When I wake up in the night (which I do routinely), I start the list again. And I tend to fall asleep quicker. This list routine only works if you do it faithfully. It needs to become a habit. Your brain needs to be trained to recognize that it needs to shut down and sleep. Whatever you choose, it needs to be calming, repetitive, and just involving enough that your mind doesn’t drift into anxiety patterns but boring enough to let your brain relax.

The word list was my last step in improving my sleep hygiene and it really helped. I learned it from a book on sleep called “Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health” by Michael Breus. The trade paperback version was retitled “Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great through Better Sleep.” There are now plenty of better sleep books out there as well as resources on line. I look at them all, even though there isn’t much that’s new to me anymore. So why keep studying sleep hygiene? It reminds me how important my sleep is, and, sometimes, I come across something I had never thought off. I had never heard of the word list trick before and so that book, full of otherwise duplicate information (for me) was absolutely worth reviewing.

Good sleep hygiene is so important. Better sleep will make you feel so much better. When you are awake, you will be more focused, more even tempered, and better able to do every job on your list. Your health will improve. Your weight will be a little easier to manage (not much, but a little). There aren’t many downsides to sleeping better, other than having to say no to things you want to do. But if sleeping more forces you to be better organized in your day so when you are awake, you are focused and more productive, how did you lose?

So improve your sleep and improve your resilience. When you take better care of yourself, you can take better care of everyone else. Next we’ll tackle exercise. Also vital, also time-consuming, and also very much worth doing.

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Parnell Hall ‘Safari': Bumble in the Jungle

parnell hall safari book coverIt’s been years since I’ve seen Stanley Hastings, the P.I. who does the best he can with what he has. I had read a couple of Parnell Hall’s books in the 1990s and loved them. “Suspense” and “Scam” were traditional murder mysteries enlivened by the presence of a detective who was clearly fighting above his weight and unsure of anything. The fact that he knew this, yet still doggedly pursued the truth made it easy to root for him. How can you not have hope for a man who says, “There’s a lot of stuff I don’t understand. I was born not understanding.”

So when I was offered the 19th Hastings book, Safari: A Stanley Hastings Mystery“>“Safari,” I thought it was time to get back in touch.

“Safari” is set in Zambia and Zimbabwe, far from Stanley’s native Manhattan. Stanley and his short-suffering acerbic wife, Alice, have spent an inheritance on a low-budget wildlife tour that promised close encounters with lions, leopards, hippos, giraffes and other tourists. Their trip into the bush is interrupted when a guide is found with a dented skull under a tree bearing heavy sausage fruit. It looks like an accident from a combination of sausage fruit and gravity, and the safari moves on. But Stanley suspects murder. He’s correct, of course, but not until another body or two is found, and the possibility grows that one of the tourists was responsible.

After about 20 years absence, I still find Stanley funny. He still stumbles through a case, still determined to find the truth. He’s also older, which gets him into trouble with Alice when he encounters a nubile member of the group. When she tells him, “you’re funny,” he thinks, “I wanted to die. I didn’t want to be funny. Not to a girl like that. To a girl like that, funny was a pejorative to a guy like me. Funny was what you called your old uncle Wally, the one who never married.”

I don’t recall Philip Marlowe having that problem.

The other major comic motif is Alice’s disdain for her husband’s brains. In the early books, she pops up from time to time to add a bit of pepper to the plot. As part of the party, her derision is so constant that you’d wish Stanley would go find a sausage fruit tree.

Dorothy L. Sayers described her novel “Busman’s Honeymoon” as “a love story with detective interruptions.” Change “love story” to “photographing animals eating each other,” and that’s “Safari.” Don’t worry about trying to solve the mystery; Stanley wraps it up in the last two chapters. Treat the book like a real safari, and take pleasure in the journey, not the destination.

Parnell Hall on Safari

Hall posted some videos on YouTube from his African journey that formed the basis for “Safari.”

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