Monday, January 28, 2013

Better at the beach

If you can't live at the beach (and even if you do) a beach lifestyle magazine might be the handiest way to enjoy it.  

When our schedules eat up free time, or bank accounts balk when we start to dream of the seashore, our longings can get answered in other ways. Here's where the magazines come in. 

They convey the fresh palette of maritime colors, the cottage decor and the coastal persuasions central to our interests. They allow us to indulge in our penchant for the sea.

Coastal Living is one of my favorite magazines for this very reason. It's my maritime escape when the closest I approach salt air is salting the boiling water at the stove as I cook spaghetti.

With this magazine in tow I can dream boldly of my someday home on the coast. I can breathe in the ocean vibe. The pictures and stories speak to me. They make me happy every time.

This is why reference to an article in the February 2013 issue is appearing in this blog.

I typically page through a magazine before it's read. I flip from front to back or back to front. It doesn't make any difference. Either way lets me assess the material quickly. It tells me what's inside and where to start.

My method was abandoned with this issue as it turned out. "Why the Beach Makes Us Happy" had my attention from the moment I landed on its page. I stopped and read the article through to conclusion.  

Pairing beach and happy is like saying meat and potatoes it strikes me. You can't say one without at least the image of the other word showing up too.

The two are a natural fit for each other. They create an image that's right and clear. You don't even have to think about it to know it. 

I was curious about what author Barry Yeoman has to say on the subject of happiness and the beach. Favoring beaches as I do I've spent little time wondering why they make me happy. They just do.

When you know the science behind your affinities you can better know yourself and the object of your affinity. Better is a good direction to head even when you already know you're happy/happier/happiest at the beach.

Yeoman starts out by summing up the obvious. Our attraction to the sea is right in front of us. Blue, for instance, the color of sea and sky, is considered a calming color. 

It makes sense we look to nature to give balance. Nature uses colors as a doctor might prescribe medicine. We;re instinctively drawn to what heals and restores.

The beauty of seacoasts is another of Yeoman's suggestions as to why humans are drawn to the ocean. 

The observation is also made that a week at the beach is usually vacation time. Vacation makes it a winning bet right there.

Many of us tweak our routines or ditch them entirely when on vacation. We maybe reduce our time on electronic devices. We manage to survive, we learn, but it can feel weird and strange to cut back or let go.

Away from the office work deadlines have a faint voice. We can hardly hear them. At the beach we're more free to go with our flow wherever our decisions take us.

We're more able, in most instances, to get up, eat, dally or exercise as we choose. We can scramble the order any which way, and do so every day if we desire.

Humans need a certain amount of being in control. Calling the shots - making decisions minus the usual controls that inform decisions at home - makes the beach a particularly relaxing place to be.

Yeoman then proceeds to the experts to more broadly  examine our contentment at the seashore and help explain why it's pure joy to dig our toes deep into the wet sand. 

Scientific research will continue to provide fascinating insights into our relationship with water he tells us. 

As we come to understand the importance of these findings they in turn acquire a new value. They can help towards saving the ocean, inestimably precious for the environment as well as for our recreation.

The scientists quoted in the article get me to think about my enthusiasm for the seashore. 

Wonderful hours have been spent at many different beaches. This hasn't caused me to speculate about the precise reasons for the enjoyment.

When I poke around and give some thought to it no great revelation jumps out. My conclusions more or less line up with comments made in Yeoman's article.
Visual beauty, smells (think of the smells as a mix of sea air, sunscreen, hot dog stands and onshore shrubbery)  and the low rhythmic sounds of waves, or the crashing, smashing strength of breakers, engage the senses. 

These don't cover half the sensory cues found at the beach. Seashores, to list all their attributes, are a sensory power load.

Ocean breezes, shore birds, sunshine melting us into pools of nodding acquiescence and contact of feet with sand as we walk the beach, footprints pressing in to mark our track to meet the water, seem like a healing process to me. 

The flat ocean surface stretches to the horizon. It adds zero complexity to what our eyes take in, giving a sense of security to the view. 

Something comes together in us. We respond to the simplicity. 

Inside us, where emotions form and memories are made, we're molded by the biddable moments. We pause in them. As we find peace within nature we find it in ourselves.

The beach is restorative whether we exercise, rest, read or visit in family groups or party as friends.

It's what we do at the beach that counts. Doing it, and enjoying it, may account in part for the beach's fabled restorative powers.   

The closeness of beach-goers packed together on the sand can create an intense sense of celebration. 

Bright towels, warm sunlight, neon t-shirts, aromas of food and sounds of children's play teach us to associate the beach with freedom and festivity. 

The brain interprets freedom and festivity correctly. They're the champions for fun. They spell irrepressible and spontaneous and they can bring out the best in us. The brain likes this kind of thing.

It automatically pops the moment in the happy times file. Beach in the memory drawer is a prime reason it has appeal. We attach where memory is laid down.

Our connection to the sea probably has its start with life itself. We go back a long way with the sea. This is why words like affinity, contentment and satisfaction are used to describe our attachment to the sea.

It's also why, when a beach calls our name, we pack our swimwear and go. 

The beach calls but we have to listen. Its voice can go faint if we don't respond. 

While we sharpen our inner ear to hear it we wait with this certainty. We can rely on Coastal Living to get us there in the meanwhile.

Ro Giencke - January 28, 2013  




Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Marvelous Manatees

Seventy degrees is a delightful temperature.

This is especially true if it's December and back in the Midwest, where you're from, the furnaces are grinding away.

In coastal Florida, where manatees as well as winter residents hang out at this time of year, Gulf waters can cool below seventy degrees from time to time.  

A drop in temperature, whether air temperature or water temperature, is always noticed by those it affects. People pull on sweaters when it cools down but cold snaps put manatees on the move. They travel to warmer waters. 

This often is a spring, a place where warm water comes up out of the ground to make a river. The manatees stay  through the cold weather. It's critical they have access to warm water.

They seldom venture into waters under 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Death can occur if they're unable to reach a warm haven.

Crystal River is a well known viewing site for manatees. There are other places which we learned about from a visit to Manatee Park in Ft. Myers.  

A regional park within Lee County, Manatee Park is a great chance to see manatees close up. The viewing platform puts you directly above the manatees.  

A number of manatees were floating, resting and swimming in the warm discharge water of the adjacent Florida Light and Power Plant the day we were there. 

This spot becomes their winter home, a guaranteed comfort zone when a passing cool front lowers the thermometer on Gulf waters.

Getting to see these large, slow-moving, almost mythical aquatic mammals are occasions to consider yourself lucky. That's how we felt on that visit.

Being dummies about manatees, which is where the real education begins - knowing you know nothing about a subject - we wondered if manatees live in the salt waters of the Gulf of Mexico. 

We could see manatees gravitate to springs and warm water discharge areas like at Ft. Myers. We weren't as sure if they had the same ability to thrive in highly saline waters.

Park signboards and further research gave us the information and more that we sought.

Manatees can live in salt water and fresh water as well as brackish estuaries which are a mix of saline and fresh water. 

Some references mention fresh water is a requirement for manatees who periodically need to find a freshwater source. 

At a glance manatees would seem made for withstanding the transient chill of Florida winters. Perhaps its their low metabolism. They plain out aren't equipped to cope with the cold. It stresses them.

They have a self-protective instinct for the mild same as the seasonal sojourners of baseball caps and golf shirt garb who begin to migrate southward simultaneously.

The Florida manatees are a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. They're Florida's state marine mammal. 

They're properly called the Florida manatee as well as the other correct name for them, West Indian manatee or simply manatee. 

As a group their range includes southeast United States (coastal Virginia to Florida), the Caribbean and Brazil. They live in tropical and subtropical waters. 

With days warming in the spring the Florida manatees make their way to the ocean or the Gulf of Mexico to eat sea grasses. 

They've been sighted in Louisiana and Texas during the summer and along the Atlantic seaboard as far north as Rhode Island and Massachusetts. 

At the manatee park we were captivated by a mama manatee with her little one swimming alongside. Babies are called calves and it reminded me of earlier trips to Florida.

On those vacations our kids were young. They strained for just one glimpse of the big floating shapes. So keen was their desire to see a manatee they practically leaned out the car windows at every bridge or canal we crossed.

We knew manatees then as sea cows. Manatee and sea cow were very interchangeable names. Perhaps  the travel literature we picked up used the term. Sea cow seems to be less favored now.

The coziness between mama and calf was later called to mind when we read that baby manatees ride on their mothers' backs when they get tired.

This endearing bit of information didn't parley into an actual demonstration of this handy means of travel the day at the manatee park. We have to accept it as fact.  

It's easy to believe it's so. This is, after all, what mamas do when their little ones grow weary.

Before the visit we pictured manatees as quiet creatures. Their wide expressionless faces give them a dreamy look, which might come to all of us if we floated submerged below the surface much of our while

It came as a surprise, therefore, that manatees can be embarrassingly noisy. They have a raucous snort when they come up. The snort is through their air holes when they lift their heads out of the water.

The sound is of someone stertorously clearing their throat or blowing their nose. 

The sound startles you. It assails the ears. It disturbs the peaceful silence which is the mesmerizing swirl of their  swimming forms, with an occasional thrash of fins thrown in.

The snort generates the same reaction as a social gaffe in polite circles. I don't think of manatees as altogether quiet since then. 

We learned manatees are related to elephants. Size, wrinkled skin and herbaceous diets are things they share. The nails on manatee flippers are like elephant nails too. 

In the manner of a mother with a somewhat unbeautiful child you have to love manatees and elephants for themselves. The enchantment, for those who see them as cute, doesn't begin with their pulchritudinous charms.

Adult manatees grow to about ten feet long. A few make twelve feet. Manatees typically weigh between 800 and 1200 pounds although 3500-pound manatees are recorded.

That's pretty good heft considering they forage on what we humans, if it was our diet, would describe as lettuce and other greens.

The plant-eating manatees consume the equivalent of nearly a tenth of their body weight every day.

Their daily intake converts into fat which makes manatees heavy and solid and helps them float in the water. In this they're unlike monkeys which we visited at the zoo next. 

Monkeys are muscular and have very little fat. Luckily they're arboreal. They're at home in the trees where fat for water flotation is not mandatory.

Manatees have a flat broad rounded tail which acts as a paddle and helps propel them. The front flippers are for steering and digging up plants to eat.

They have small eyes and the muddy water they frequently inhabit doesn't let them see far. They rely on a keen sense of smell and they also hear very well. 

Many manatees have scarred backs. The scars testify to their encounters with the boating public. An unfortunate number of manatees are hit every year by inboard motors and propellers.

Boaters in coastal Florida are cautioned with signs of the presence of manatees to prevent and reduce death or injury from boat props.

Manatees are on the endangered list throughout their range. They have a high mortality rate especially in association with human activity.

Other mortality factors with human association include chemical pollution, loss of habitat and entanglement in fishing line. Cold weather and red tides, along with low manatee reproductive rates, also play a part.

School kids are often the first and most vocal in understanding and expressing the beauty of manatees and their importance to the environment and the world.

Perhaps it's the young who see innocence best and see it in particular in this gentle aquatic mammal.

The swimming, resting, floating actions of the manatees catch the beauty of the greater world and tell of ancient rhythms of life that still bear heeding. 

The marvelous manatees compose an important story. They aren't something that's had its day and is outdated and replaceable by modernity. 

The modern world, if we're to get it right, must learn to be in partnership with all living creatures and the earth.

It is to our good to do so and be so. It may assure that one day we're not the manatees facing a tenuous hold on ever more fragile space.

Ro Giencke - January 23, 2013


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Inventor's way

Holiday lights brighten the grounds of the Edison winter home in Florida through the Christmas season.

The historic residence, a must-see stop at Ft. Myers, is interesting at any time of the year. 

The festive night glow which emanates from the Edison estate in the long dusk of December is a special touch.

It's a reminder that this spot celebrates Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb.

We had a chance to visit the Edison winter home this past Christmas. It's not our first visit. We came here years ago when the kids were young.

Somewhere in the family albums is a photo from that visit. They're side by side, in shorts and grins, under the enormous banyan tree. 

Edison's banyan tree was the largest tree we'd ever seen. It seemed to spread out like the network of electric lighting that came from his brilliant invention.

A visit last year gave us the chance to do justice to the site as a learning center. 

The warm sunny January afternoon did much to revive our chilled Minnesota bones.

The sky was an exceptional blue, even as viewed by Florida standards. The Caloosahatchee River flowed serenely past the former Edison estate. 

The first thing I learned is that Edison found his future riverside property a place of beauty while searching for a good source of bamboo for his scientific investigations.

We came away with heads informed with new knowledge. One of the things that stuck was the friendship between Edison and Detroit car maker Henry Ford. 

Edison invited Ford to his Ft. Myers retreat. Mild climate might have been the original drawing card, but the easy association between the two families made them good neighbors with Ford's purchase of the home next door.

Ford didn't reside at his craftsman style bungalow through the full season. He typically was here for several weeks instead. This period often covered the time in February when his friend Edison had his birthday.

At Ft. Myers and elsewhere ideas were constantly hatched and thrashed out between these two fecund and industrious minds and others in their close group. Talk was lively and plans were always in the making.

This year our visit to the Edison home was abbreviated. We subtracted from the visit to add time to another stop on our list.

Manatees were coming in numbers to the power plant warm springs east of the city and we had only so much time to see both. 

With manatees the main attraction the Edison home was streamlined to a tour of the Christmas decorations we'd heard about. 

The holiday trimming and lighting throughout the grounds makes this a great Christmas visit either by day or at night.

My favorite part of the tour turned out to be very close to our starting point. It was the garden-size plot of decorated Christmas trees near Mrs. Edison's garden.  

The plaques beside each tree indicate this is an annual decoration project undertaken by area schools. 

Each tree had the ornamental spin given it by a classroom or by an entire school. . There were many instances of very creative ornamentation. The inventive touches would have made Edison proud.

Several of the trees had quotations from Edison and Ford. The framed sayings were  suspended from the boughs.

Some of the wood frames were made from broken pieces of rulers. The rulers were of the kind that every kid had in their desk when I was in grade school. 

The rulers brought me back to my classroom days. It had the effect of making the decorated trees seem more than the finished art which draws an admiring audience.

The rulers provide a sense of the thinking that goes into decorating each tree.They call to mind first classroom assignments by which we're instructed to use our creativity or come up with some design as a team goal. 

The rulers also evoke the labs where Edison applied scientific methods to explore, record, revise and discover his findings. 

The rulers, by their measured increments, represent the careful experimental approach that underlies the core of scientific discovery.

Edison said genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. His research lab on the Edison estate gives proof to his observation.

Scientific advances almost always come from the slogging grind of the tried and rehashed until some new breakthrough is revealed.

Digging into my handbag for paper I took down a number of the sayings which decorated the trees. Here they are:

I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work.  (Thomas Edison, 1847-1931)

To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. (Thomas Edison)

When everything seems to be going against you remember that an airplane takes off against the wind.   (Henry Ford, 1863-1947)

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.  (Henry Ford)

Do not find fault, find a remedy.  (Henry Ford)

The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time. (Thomas Edison)

If we did all the things we are capable of we would literally astound ourselves. (Thomas Edison)

And this, attached to a Christmas tree as I recall, was just too cute not to record and share: "Dear Mr. Edison, Thank you for helping Rudolph light the way  XXXOOO Kids Everywhere, Rayma C. Page Elementary"  

As you study the Christmas trees it's obvious students get the concept of recycling. Their decorations proves that recycling can be resourceful reinvention. 

As an example, one tree used crushed metal cans as ornamental pendants. The reimagined cans dressed the boughs with the glitter of silver tinsel. They dazzled in the sunlight.

January and its new start attitude is a good time to look again to Thomas Edison. 

Perseverance, the courage to call a dead end not a failure but a fresh start, and the willingness to work hard and persevere all were Edison's way. 

It can be our way if we make it so. It can lead us into a productive, satisfying and growth filled year.

Ro Giencke - January 15, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Google art gallery

Life can never be ordinary with new things to discover all along the way. 

That these finds often derive from ordinary and daily occurrences is perhaps the happiest discovery of all.

My newest find came by way of some general conversation which tells you how much can be learned through the simple art of visiting. 

The subject came up as things do when different topics are touched upon in a random and relaxed way with friends. 

Some particular bit of knowledge or piece of experience is remarked upon and you realize here's a gift you wouldn't have come upon or not as soon or as easily.

The discussion was about art and someone mentioned art galleries. Collections fortunate enough to have viewed came up.

A comment was made about how much world art there is to see. A sigh rose from one or more at the unsaid sad truth. At our age there's finite time and resources for all the galleries we still want to get to. 

The valuable tip dropped among us as if the collective intake of breath around the table at the thought of artistic offerings likely to be missed was too much to bear. 

In a group there's always one who has an edge on knowing about things. This friend spoke now.

"Try Google art gallery," she urged. The quiet that followed told her all she needed to know. Once again she'd have to fill us in.

We learned that entering the words Google art gallery into the computer search engine can whisk us to impeccable art galleries almost anywhere. 

The site, I found out later, goes by the name Google art project. It's the better name of the two to use in accessing the collections. It's like hopping on the express when you want to zip downtown.

The beauty in this viewer's site is there are no air tickets to purchase to get to the cities with these fabulous art collections

There's no luggage to pack, admission prices to consider, schedules to plan around or viewing queues to wait in.

A friend with whom the Google site was later shared responded as I expect many of us feel who are in possession of this information. "Nice that I can see some great art without putting on snow boots."

It's stupendous, and even bigger than that, to have art from around the world at your fingertips. 

The Google art project is a lengthy list of participating art galleries and museums. 

Choose the gallery you wish to visit. Scroll through its collection and click on the artwork you want to bring up, study or learn about.

With another click you can enlarge any painting or piece in the collections. This feature is amazing. 

The detail it reveals is incredible. It allows the kind of scrutiny, managed at your computer screen, that once was reserved for the specialists.

You take in the patterns in the woven fabrics, the richness of the folds of material, the exquisite workmanship in the design of the jewelry and the delicate tints of the flowers in the gardens and bowers.  

You've never studied paintings quite like this. You can give a picture any amount of your time and always come back to it. 

You can be as academic as you wish. Click a Details button and information about each piece comes up. It's an art education immersion course as you craft it to your fit.

Wanting to know more about the Google art project I found a Wikipedia entry that explains the Google site and talks about its start.

In almost every undertaking the start holds the energy for much of the rest which follows and the article covers this aspect of the story very well.

The Wikipedia entry in its entirety was a helpful read. I recommend it before you begin browsing the Google art project.

This project stands out as a collaborative effort. For a moment appreciate the resources that had to be linked to make this site happen. 

All this was building quietly but with the resolve that comes when great ideas meet great champions of those ideas.

I began looking through the art collections during the holidays. 

The Renaissance period of art with its vivid colors, and its artists known for their tender Madonna and child interpretations, seemed most apropos as a start. 

Manger scenes, done by various Italian masters, caught the wonder and innocence of the Christ child born in a stable. 

These works, with the reverence accorded the scene, and the simplicity of the figures brought together by his birth, added something special to my holiday season.

I'm not concentrating on favorite pictures as I browse the site but will do so as I gain expertise. 

With practice the search will go more efficiently. For now I'm content to pause at a painting that has some quality that compels me and then move on to another. It's like picking bouquets in a field of flowers.

Landscape backgrounds are my current interest as I scroll through the paintings. 

The backgrounds appear put in almost as afterthoughts in some paintings. Others are very realistic right to individual trees or the stones in the faraway towers.

The individualistic brush strokes and the care or casualness with which distance is conveyed in each of the landscapes make me realize we all have backdrops to the story that is us.

Some of us have origins and experiences that are clearly discernible like the sharp backgrounds in some paintings admired at the Google site.  

Others of us have back stories that are hazy unless someone stands really close in. Even misty and undefined backgrounds give a certain impactful dimension to the story. 

This becomes the first lesson, applicable to art and life, taken from the Google art project.

Growing up in a rural area I'm moved by the agricultural themed paintings. I never lived on a farm but am familiar with the hard vigorous life that was farm life then. 

The toil and wages of the physical life are in the depicted farm workers as they labor at harvest or rest at the edge of their work.

Eyes, hands and pose of the bodies catch the nobility of work and also the compression of spirit when work is never finished or physical capacity is exceeded.  

The paintings are usually without false idealization. The strength and weariness come through. 

Some pictures are breathtaking for the pastoral restfulness they convey. The laborers become part of this rosy aspect which tends to soften the reality.

Portraits of the rich and working class, gypsies, ruffians, sailors, children, the elderly seamed with life, the young blue-eyed Napoleon coming to the height of power, and royals with their equally imperative stance, are all ones to get to know. 

We presume some glimpse of their inner life through their outward mien. The proud and the humble, arrogant and modest, movers and shakers and least among us are represented that we may learn from them.

I'm anxious, as I settle into a more thorough review of the Google project, to spend  time with the Impressionist works I like so well. 

Some of the artists are old friends, so much have they given me as they catch the light in their work. 

They are Camille Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Vincent van Gogh and many more, whose works I've stood before in art galleries or studied out of books. 

Google art gallery is an invitation to renew ties with these who influenced and decided early artistic tastes.

Ro Giencke - January 8, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Zatarain's for a new start

I used to love the thought of a new 

Its appeal was the possibilities which, like clean new paper, had no prior mark on it.

You could make fancy loops across the paper. You could draw horses or write lines of verse directly into the margins. 

You could color your way through the entire stack filling every page. It was the whole idea. The new year, like a sheet of paper, was all yours to use.

Later I came to think of the new year in terms of the calendar. 

In my family as I grew up we had a calendar that hung on the wall.

It went up January 1 and generally not a day before. The calendar, in its way, was clean new paper which represented all the new year to come. 

It was a relatively short time ago, as you consider the rapid transformation brought about by tablet technology, that the wall calendar was a major home furnishing.

Almost every family had a calendar on a wall or inside a cupboard or pantry to consult. It appraised us when rent was due or bills needed to be paid. It was the organizing tool around which families kept the rhythm of their lives. 

The calendar dates didn't fill with as many activities as they do now. We had more free time. But time, in a way, is never free. It has its obligations. The calendar has always served to remind us of the fact.

The calendar we used was given out by the downtown stationery and office supply store during the Christmas season.

Year after year the calendar kept the same space on the dining room wall. It paired with our rotary phone as our communication and planning center although the duo was never thought of in those terms. 

Putting calendar and phone together wasn't an intention to be efficient about phone calls and making appointments. But instinct and experience are pretty good at getting things set up in a sensible way. 

The calendar was big and it had big numbers. You could use the calendar like an eye chart if you ever wanted to test your vision. 

This came in handy in fifth grade when a note came from school advising my eyes be tested at the eye doctor's.

Without glasses the dates on the calendar were fuzzy no matter that I stood quite close. When I put on my new cat's eye glasses the same numbers were easy to see clear across the room.

Below the calender was an inset of two calendars. One calendar was of the previous month. The other was next month's calendar. Their numbers, ant-size compared to the main calendar, could be read from a distance too.

From providing a kind of eye exam to counting days to Christmas our house calendar earned its keeps.

This calendar didn't have pictures (there wasn't room). But we had other calendars that did. These calendars were gifts and were typically Christmas gifts. A spot was always found for them.

Removing a gift calendar from its wrappings was a big deal. We were excited to go through the calendar pictures.They were like revolving art. Each photo was on display for its appointed time to be replaced by another.

The pictures brought us into a larger world. Their beautiful scenes were never wasted nor was anything that was a gift or free.

They were places which photography made imaginable to us as children, as TV and wider travel were also starting to do. 

One calendar I remember in particular arrived in the mail every year for my father.

At some time he'd made a purchase of surveying equipment. The equipment came from Switzerland or had some Swiss connection is my thought since the calendar pictures were of Swiss scenes.
This calendar showed the pristine beauty of vertiginous Switzerland.

I recall pictures of icy blue alps, summer scenes of cows pasturing on verdant slopes and winter ski lodge panoramas which gave me some of my first inklings of the lives of the rich and famous.

The objective with all the gift calendars was to find the month with the prettiest calendar picture. 

My wish was that the prettiest scene would be my birthday month. You want your birthday month to be outstandingly lovely since the month belongs to you. 

Disappointingly my month always fell short. It was almost always among the least attractive which is pretty sad when you figure the chances.  

It was as if every year the photographer dug himself into a creative hole by the time a picture had to snapped for my month. 

Maybe the photographer went for a coffee break or took a nap as my month came along and went by. 

At any rate the designated picture often looked like an afterthought. The quality improved immediately thereafter to conclude with a frosty white December scene.

My sister noticed this tendency after it was called to her attention a certain while. She began to sympathize. 

"It does seem they cheat you out of the good pictures," she observed. It's like balm to have a sister on your side.

I still look at calendars to see what's been made of my birthday month. 

And my sister will make special note to tell me when an exceptionally good calendar picture has been put with my month.

As we get older the calendar take on more importance than the pretty pictures which come with it.

It's more important than the activities we jot down within the squares or the special occasion days sprinkled through the sequence of months.

We start to recognize that the calendar is our travel record through life.

It is witness to the grace and growth that blesses us each year. It companions us and sees us through.

It's made me less ready to bid the year farewell. The casual "nice to know you" sign-off just doesn't work anymore.

Definitely I'm less keen to part roads with it. I'm inclined to hold on because of the  familiarity. 

The common and known, which once made it less attractive than the untried and untested in the wings, has become dear.

As I've adjusted my stance so has the new year. The fresh start, so awaited in younger days, has taken into account my inner change. 

It waits to walk with me instead of impetuously pulling me forward into the new. More quiet, both of us, we match our steps one to another. 

The new year, with the ups and downs that life hands out, or which I have a hand in, will take on the mantle of friendship. It'll be there steady and true. It'll see me through.

It 's as if we both know time does just sort of melt away. Maybe it's exactly this preciousness of time which is at the heart of New Year's festivity.

We were talking about New Year's at Christmas when family was home. The discussion came about through the rice dessert, an old family recipe, which we make every year. 

The dessert, of Norwegian American origin, is on our holiday table every year. I've written about it. (Chapter 8 in my online book Days of Grace, Years of Understanding)

It wouldn't seem the holidays without rice porridge. This time we switched out spices on it. We made it New Orleans style.

Zatarain's New Orleans Style Rice Pudding is from our grocery store. I wasn't looking for it.  

The shopping cart with the balky wheel came to an unexpected stop in the cooking section where Zatarain's was assigned a top shelf. 

The sticky cart wheel broke my concentration. It was enough interruption for me to glance away from the shopping list held in my hand. I looked up and there was Zatarain's. 

Why I fastened on it I'll never know but once eyes locked it had its hold on me.

It said New Orleans Style on the box in fancy cursive. I hesitated. It seemed next to heresy to court the thought of buying it. 

We had nice Norwegian rice porridge to make. The white rice, in its one-pound plastic bag, was already in the cart. 

My hand reached for Zatarain's making the decision for me even as my mind continued to debate it.

Zatarain's sounded an interesting alternative to the recipe always used. At home I conferred with my daughter. She and I are the rice porridge fans. It was important she was okay with it.

She was equally curious about Zatarain's. Maybe it's the iconic jazzman on the box that decided her. Here was rice pudding with life to it.

Zatarain's, we learned from the box, has been around since 1889. Its longevity makes it a New Orleans tradition. 

Our family climbed into Zatarain's cheering section 123 years after it got going. It shows it's never too late to start a new tradition or borrow from someone else.

Turning the box around she saw that turmeric is listed as an ingredient. Turmeric would certainly be a different taste from the cinnamon called for in the Norwegian porridge recipe.

Both make wonderful and not very nuanced flavorings. Turmeric has Cajun kick and this gave it the edge. For the record turmeric is a tough ingredient to be placed against.

Let it be known that the family recipe was never at risk. Zatarain's won't run it out of town. Nevertheless, the New Orleans rice pudding was more than worth trying.

As board games were underway the rice pudding was done on my watch. It takes its own time and won't be rushed.   

A spoon regularly whisked around the saucepan to prevent the rice from sticking as it cooks is smart if not absolutely necessary. 

It's always a relief when the rice kernels soften signaling the pudding is nearly finished cooking.

The fragrant steam of the seasoned rice made the house aromatic with unfamiliar aromas. 

I thought to add raisins while the rice simmered in the milk. As the raisins swirled in the creamy cooking mixture a picture of a grandly presented dessert took shape.  

All it needed was bananas and whipped cream and both were on hand. It'd be a signature dessert that would put New Orleans in our rooting section.

"We're going to have a dessert that tastes like Christmas, New Year's and Mardi Gras all in one" I announced, removing the saucepan from the heat.

I was feeling clever. Here had been devised a holiday dessert which skirted daringly toward the flamboyant.  

Creative originality rested like a crown upon my head. A winner's sash would look no less than appropriate pinned across my blue apron. 

Entering the kitchen as we cleared the holiday table my daughter noticed the empty Zatarain's box. It was on the counter as it had been left, with the stove top directions turned toward me to read.

"Here's your recipe. Right here. Bananas Foster Rice pudding." She pointed to small print within the red box on the back panel. 

All my originality went poof like spills evaporated to ash in a self cleaning oven. 

I hadn't scored with an original dessert. The proof was on the box in the form of the recipe. My fancy dessert was already invented. 

Missing the small print is what happens when you don't wear your glasses. The calendar told me that way back in fifth grade.

**Zatarain's Banana Foster Rice Pudding (recipe is from box)

Prepare rice pudding as directed. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup heavy cream to boil in 2-quart saucepan on medium heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes or until slightly thickened.  

Remove from heat. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon rum or vanilla extract. Spoon rice pudding into dessert dishes. Top with sliced bananas. Drizzle with sauce.

Ro Giencke - January 1, 2013