You are viewing coneycat

[sticky post] Change in commenting policy

I didn't bother mentioning this when I wasn't posting, but I've set the comments in this journal to friends-only in the wake of a truly impressive level of spam over the past few months. I always used to screen non-friend comments and then let through anything obviously human, but the spam was such a hassle I gave up. I plan to leave it this way for a few months and then change it back to see what happens.

Sorry to anyone who might see an old Flashpoint entry or something and want to comment. :(


Aside from collective bargaining, the most interesting thing I accomplished this summer was, I finally learned to make pie.

Which is, I know, kind of small potatoes for most of my f'list, but hear me out. My problem is that I love pie and also have ridiculously high standards for the stuff, so there is no point in my even considering grocery-store pie or its ilk.

My mother is, to put it mildly, a pastry ninja. Like, the best pies in the world. [And before anyone tries to argue that no, your mother makes the best pies in the world, let's clarify right now that by "the world" I mean "my world." If I tasted your mother's pie I'm sure I'd like it, but my mother's would be better. And vice versa.] Her pastry is light and flaky and she seems capable of knocking out a pie in the time it takes me to fix a bowl of cereal.

To put it mildly, I was intimidated. However, this past summer I hauled out the Canadian Living cookbook that never lets me down, found their basic pastry recipe, and gave it a whirl. The first attempt, my pastry was a hair too crumbly (my brother told me to stop being negative, it was delicious, which is why it's always nice to have a sibling in your corner.) However, I googled "pastry troubleshooting" and determined the problem. Then followed three raspberry pies that really were pretty good, and a blueberry that's a touch sweet but otherwise fine. I've been testing them on my brother and his fiancee (which saves me eating all that pie myself!) and so far they're still alive and don't blanch when they see me coming.

The pastry, thank you Canadian Living, is working out pretty well. It doesn't roll out all velvety like Mom's just yet, but there's not a whole lot of cracking or sticking so I think I'm getting it. Right now the biggest drawback is probably the fact I keep making the pies in a Corning Ware square casserole (which Mom does sometimes and I like) and as a result I keep bunching the pastry at the edges and creating a big pastry scrunch. I originally used the Corning Ware because I wasn't sure it was worth buying a permanent glass pie plate. I think it's worth it now that I'm confident enough to try it again.

If I really get brave I'll bring one to my parents' place for Thanksgiving and ask my mother to try it.

Also, sagitare sent me a link to the Joe Pastry blog, and the recipe for Pop-Tarts is might tempting, especially since I'm invited to a movie get-together this weekend with friends. If I get brave and try them, I'll definitely take pictures!


Further to my remarks from yesterday...

Now Amazon UK thinks I might be interested in a slew of books about the DeHavilland Mosquito.

Why yes, I am. And so I will file that message immediately, before I go on another rampage.


Amazon recommendations have improved...

Maybe it's just Amazon UK who's gotten so much better, but--

Some years ago, I bought a copy of Seabiscuit from Amazon. For months afterward, every time I logged in to Amazon I was offered suggestions based on the preferences indicated by my purchases. I kept getting suggestions for things like biographies of Benjamin Franklin, based on the interest in American history displayed by my purchase of Seabiscuit.

Hands up if you think I was actually interested in the history instead of the racehorse.

Oh, put your hand down, you know better.

Ahem. I turned off that preference so I have no idea if Amazon would eventually have offered me the bio of Man O War I eventually found on my own. However, a few weeks ago I went on a history-reading rampage and bought several books about the Battle of Britain and the aircraft that fought in it. And now Amazon UK is sending me thoughtful suggestions based on my apparent preferences-- for biographies of Sr Hugh Dowding (the man in charge of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain) and Douglas Bader (WWII fighter ace) and Air Chief Marshall Keith Park, as well as memoirs of Lancaster and Luftwaffe pilots and Bomber Offensive, by Arthur "Bomber" Harris himself and--

I filed the email in my "Book Orders" folder, where it will be easy to find again if anyone wants to know what to get me for Christmas. I'm a little afraid to lead myself into temptation, lest I find myself spending on books the money I want to be saving for a house.

However, those Amazon recommendations have definitely improved!

Like Smaug with my hoard...

I don't have a shopping disorder. Honestly--I can go months without buying an item from anywhere but the grocery store. I can even walk through a book store and come out empty handed. My well-known weakness for blank journals isn't indiscriminate: I'm very picky indeed about the ones I like.

But this past couple of weeks...

It started when I innocently walked into Chapters, the local big-box bookstore, looking for a particular history book to give my dad. While shopping for his last birthday, on a whim, I picked up a hardcover history book called Foundations, by Peter Ackroyd, off a sale table and added it to his gift. Well, he talked about that book for months. And the book gave the impression it was part of a series, so I went looking, and part 2, on the Tudors, is also available in hardcover (part 3, covering Cromwell, is due in October--Christmas!)

Anyway, there I was looking at British history.

And that made me think of the Battle of Britain. So I made a lateral move into World War II history... and the upshot was I came out with two books for Dad and five for me, including The Dam Busters by James Holland.

Who, on closer inspection, wrote the big history of the Battle of Britain that I looked at when I visited the RAF Museum last summer on the London trip, I should have bought it then but didn't think it was practical to carry all day. (Stupid!)

Anyway, that one came with a "buy together!" link on Amazon (UK), to another well-reviewed book on the subject called The Most Dangerous Enemy. So, um, I did.

And then just a moment ago I completely lost my head and bought a trio of paperbacks all by Leo McKinstry:

Spitfire: Portrait of a Legend (2007)
Lancaster: The Second World War's Greatest Bomber (2009)
Hurricane: Victor of the Battle of Britain (2010)

Even for someone with a lifelong interest in vintage warbirds, this may be a little much.

But, once my credit card stops smoking, I promise to behave myself for a long time. At least until I get everything read.


Obituary: Josephine Pullein-Thompson

One of the classic writers of pony novels died on June 14th, aged 90.

As a horse-mad and very pedantic little girl, I adored British pony books, in which stalls were cleaned, ponies misbehaved, and most people were pretty bad riders until they'd worked at it for a while. They were better fuel for my imagination than the kind of stories in which everyone was a natural and everything came easily.

My favourite of the genre was one of hers, and a book I spent years looking for: Show Jumping Secret, which was not a pony mystery but a story about a boy named Charles and a mare named Secret. Charles has a weak leg after a bout of polio. Secret is part-Arab and has many opinions. I finally found a copy online and liked it just as much on rereading as I did when I was a kid.

Many years after that, I reread it again and realized that, except for the show jumping, Mitzi was pretty much Secret!

Anyway, she and her sisters Christine (who died in 2005) and Diana gave me a lot of pleasure as a kid. And an adult, honestly.

Here they are as girls (Josephine on the left):


And as old girls (l=r, Diana, Josephine, Christine):


A most peculiar summer

This really has been a strange summer. I've been taking vacation in odd bunches here and there, I managed to tweak my back a week or so ago so that was a setback, and nobody at work knows when to expect me in because I'm either at my desk, on vacation or in collective bargaining.

That last bit has actually been going surprisingly well, although we're certainly not going to have a deal finished by the end of July. Still, in some prior bargaining years it took months to get the two sides to the table at all, and we've actually got agreement on a whole lot of non-monetary issues already. It could still go to pieces over the monetary offer, but so far signals have been very hopeful.

Which is good, since I have never been on the bargaining team before and if I play my cards right I might never have to do it again! Be like Peter Ostrum in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I say: have one good experience and then leave it alone. (Fingers crossed.)

In other news, on July 5th we (my siblings and in-laws and I) threw a party for our parents' 50th anniversary. There were some sibling bumps in the planning (one sibling in particular is just a bumpy guy) but the party was really nice. Despite the tropical storm that brought torrential rain, high winds, and widespread power outages! (Well, it was memorable...)

No movement on the house issue just yet-- I was distracted by pain and the party, and haven't even gotten to my decluttering in any reasonable way. But here comes August. If nothing else, at the rate at which I've been buying books lately I'm going to need a house with a proper library to keep them in!


Also, racing weekend

So Saturday was the Belmont Stakes, and Sunday was the Canadian Grand Prix. By now everyone has heard about California Chrome's owner going off on a rant when his horse didn't win the Triple Crown. And by now most of us have probably heard that sense prevailed and he apologized (in print at least it looked like a thorough and handsome apology, so let's chalk that up to "live and learn, no matter how old you are.")

One thing, though: I don't follow modern racing, because I'm afraid of seeing a disaster. This was the first year in a long time that I watched the Triple Crown races-- I didn't follow Funny Cide or Smarty Jones's campaigns at all. But I do love reading about and looking at video of the classic races, probably because whatever happened has happened and I can avoid anything I don't want to see.

All of which is just to say that I'm interested in Coburn's comments more from the point of view of history than the future. There are horsemen who are sure that modern management and breeding strategies mean there won't ever be another Triple Crown winner. If there is one, the accomplishment will be proportionally greater-- and it's already a pretty damn big deal.

But make no mistake: while spreading out the races more is probably a good idea, given that modern race horses don't run on the compressed timelines they used to-- the idea of limiting the Preakness and the Belmont to only horses who ran in the Derby would, in effect, mean that a Triple Crown winner is now merely the best colt in a field of twenty. Set aside, for the moment, the fact that some trainers and owners deliberately aim at a race like the Belmont, and don't want to run their colt on the first of May. (Or, in the case of Tonalize, can't because the horse got sick and they laid him off to recover.) If you make a rule that a horse only has to beat a specific pool of colts who all took the same path he did, then that's all you're proving.

Up to now, a Triple Crown winner is one for the ages, and that's why there have only been eleven of them since 1919. It's not supposed to be easy.

All Triple Crown winners to date have faced all comers, and the fact they could reach down and beat fresh horses is what makes them great. Changing that practice would put an asterisk next to the name of any future winner. Which is fine if that's the decision made, but future owners would need to accept that their horse didn't do what Count Fleet or Citation or Secretariat or any of the others did, which is face all comers.

If a horse deserves to be named in the same breath as those eleven, then he has to do what those eleven did. (Even if it's on a longer time frame.) It's not enough for a horse to be good, or very good. He has to be great.

And if a trainer or breeder thinks they have a good (or very good) horse, they get to enter that horse in the races they choose, knowing that they could, possibly, be beaten by greatness. That's the deal.

And as long as I'm thinking about this, here's a short video about Citation. When I was in grade 5, the word appeared on a spelling list. Our teacher defined it for us. And then one of the boys pointed out that it was also a kind of small car made by Chevrolet (mid-70s!) And then I commented that Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948, because all kids are weird and I liked to read books by CW Anderson.

I also remember when Cigar was bidding to equal Citation's record of 16 consecutive wins. One of his old connections was asked what he thought of the attempt.

"I like Cigar," the old horseman replied. "But Citation... he was a nice horse."

A lovely bit of understatement!


Shelley McKibbon