Official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama

This February 2009 photo released by The White House Feb. 27, 2009, shows the official portrait of first lady Michelle Obama taken in the Blue Room of The White House in Washington. (AP Photo/The White House, Joynce N. Boghosian)

Audacious informality

Even in a gown (this picture has been cropped and doesn’t show the floor length of her gown), our first lady looks strong. There have already been complaints about the lack of sleeves on her dress. Haters are saying that it’s too informal and too revealing.

I love it that she shows off her arms. It’s an elegant show of strength. We are not living in a society in which women have to cover themselves up and it is appropriate that the woman who is married to the leader of our free society reveals her physical power in an understated way. Those arms of hers are amazing.

Shrinking cookies and cake loving goat

Photo courtesy Lunds & Byerly’s

Here in Minnesota we have Lunds & Byerly’s, a family owned grocery chain. Lunds & Byerly’s prides itself on the shopping experience they provide for customers which includes free samples, free cookies for kids, in-store cooking classes with noted experts (at the St. Louis Park location), courtesy grocery carry out and home delivery. I shop at the Ridgedale Byerly’s frequently on my way home to St. Paul from Minnetonka.

So, I was there recently with my daughter and, as is our norm, I asked for a cookie for her (she is 12 years old and still loves getting the kid’s cookie at the grocery store and the free lollipop at the bank but often feels shy to ask for one.) The bakery specialist said “Of course!” with a big smile and a gracious manner. She had a sheepish look on her face when she handed my daughter a very small cookie though, and added as if in apology,  “We’re having to give out smaller cookies now because of the recession.”

I would probably have just thought they were sampling out the mini cookies if she hadn’t said anything (if it were me, I wouldn’t have said anything — why bring thoughts of the recession to your customer’s mind when she’s shopping?). But knowing that they were doing that, I started looking around to see what else they might be skimping back on and — sure enough — no samples!

I am not complaining. It is not like consumers are entitled to food samples and free cookies. I am just making an observation: you know you are in a recession when the cookies shrink and the samples disappear.

Photo of goat courtesy of Kentucky College of Agriculture

A cake a dog and a goat

And here’s a story about a different type of  “free sample”, one that involves a cake, a dog and a goat.

The Capital Times reports:

Goat breaks into home, eats cake

TOWN OF WESTFORD — What do you get when a
goat follows a dog into a house?

For Sherry Shirley of Westford, the answer is
a big mess.

When she opened the front door of her home on
Lake Road to let her dog in Saturday morning, a full-grown goat
burst into the house, jumped onto a kitchen counter and helped
itself to a freshly baked chocolate cake, according to the Dodge
County Sheriff’s Department.

Deputies responded to a call from Shirley at
11:43 Saturday morning, but a neighbor had dragged the goat from
the home by its horns before officers arrived, patrol captain Molly
Soblewski said.

“The goat didn’t do a lot of damage. It
knocked some dishes to the floor that broke and began eating the
chocolate cake she had just made,” Soblewski said.

The chocolate cake caper, however, was far
from a perfect crime. Deputies followed the goat’s tracks to a
nearby farm on Mill Road and had it behind bars by 12:35 p.m.

Soblewski said the owners of the goat will
not be cited.

“It was just an unfortunate circumstance,”
she said. “I feel sorry for the lady, but it is kind of funny.”

So, I guess Ms. Sherry Shirley of Westford  can now say that her baking is so good that a goat once broke into her house for one of her cakes.

Family living in cave faces foreclosure

Unable to refinance, Missouri family puts their cavern on eBay

ABC News reports:

You’ve heard plenty of stories about foreclosures, but the latest victims of this brutal recession are about to lose their cave.

That’s right. For nearly five years, Curt Sleeper and his family have
lived in a cave. His mortgage is about to come due and, like millions of other Americans, he can’t refinance.

So now, the 17,000-square-foot, subterranean home is being auctioned off on eBay.

Sleeper is asking $300,000 for the home but is also looking preferably
for somebody to refinance his mortgage. After all, he and his family
did put five years of their lives into building the three-bedroom,
two-bathroom house into the cave. (During construction, Sleeper, his
wife and their two kids lived in tents in the back of the cave and
washed dishes and laundry in buckets. Their third child, a son, was
born last week in the cave.)

Link to full story.

Photo via ABC News

Link to photos of cavehouse


Among the many reasons that modern day cave dwellers choose to live in a cave and transform the rough basics of nature into domicile and comfort are: tradition, economic necessity; environmental and artistic reasons.

Cave dwelling is very popular in Southern Spain. In Benalua, a suburb of Guadix, everyone lives in a cave. In addition to the cave houses (casas cueva), there are cave theaters, cave restaurants and cave spas. In Granada Province, cave dwelling has existed at least since the Arab invasion of Iberia in the 8th century. In fact, Granada Province has the largest cave dwelling population in Europe.

In Cappadocia, Turkey, famous for its cave dwellings, the troglodyte lifestyle extends to elaborate hotels, like the Gamirasu Cave Hotel.


Annette Marie Hyder

Here at the root of things
I can hear the hushed sound
of the quiet of the grave
(without the irrevocability)
and listen to the things
that are normally not on my radar.

My newly unfurled bat ears
rub their velvet against
the growing pangs of stone
and the music of cold
that is almost as deep as time.

I begin to hear something
that sounds like the bones of things,
like the very marrow of those bones,
singing to me of the first cave, the first opening
breached, of rock’s grating groan.

The voice that I listen to has a name.
The name I hear is Endurance.

Does this Tuesday make my butt look fat?

Today is Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras Day or Shrove Tuesday. It is a day
when Christians eat all they want of everything and anything they want. It is the day before Ash
Wednesday and is a day given over to excess. In addition to food and drink, the day is celebrated with festivities and parades.

Pancakes play a significant role and here is a link to different kinds of pancakes around the world.

According to Wikipedia:

Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent
because they were a way to use up rich foodstuffs such as eggs, milk,
and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The
liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure.

An interesting note about Mardi Gras and its attendant carnivals and festivities, from

Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale,
meaning “farewell to the flesh.” Like many Catholic
holidays and seasonal celebrations, it likely has its roots
in pre-Christian traditions based on the seasons. Some believe
the festival represented the few days added to the lunar calendar
to make it coincide with the solar calendar; since these days
were outside the calendar, rules and customs were not obeyed.
Others see it as a late-winter celebration designed to welcome
the coming spring. As early as the middle of the second century,
the Romans observed a Fast of 40 Days, which was preceded
by a brief season of feasting, costumes and merrymaking.

In addition to fasting, Christians give up something special
that they enjoy. So, Fat Tuesday is the celebratory opportunity to
enjoy that favorite food or snack or special something that will be given up. Sort of a glut before the going without.

Visitors to town
These visitors for carnival
bring many strange gifts

Annette Marie Hyder

Fat Tuesday comes into town

she wears beans on her fingers

and a confession crown


Pancakes mantle her

chickens peek forth from her feet

She is robed from head to toe

in good things to eat


Excess runs alongside her

(in comparison a thin bellied pup)

whining and worrying

trying to keep up.


The gaunt frame of Lent

limps not too far back

with hands full
of emptiness
and sacks full of lack


Forty days of sacrifice
forty days of denying

an honor for Christians

to commemorate their Lord’s dying


and then rising again

to conquer even grim death

with celebration of life

of resurrection and breath.

Obama: A man of letters (and envelopes)

Envelope: The coffin of a document; the scabbard of a bill; the husk of a remittance; the bed-gown of a love-letter. — Ambrose Bierce

Question: What starts with an e and ends with an e and has a single letter in it?
Answer: An envelope.

President Obama receives thousands of envelopes filled with letters. They pour into the White House
Correspondence Office each day from Americans who have taken
the time to sit down and write to their president. Does the president return that courtesy by sitting down to read any of these letters? Yes he does. President Obama takes the time to not only read, every day, a selection of the letters that are sent to him — but to answer some of them as well. It’s been said that he does this because he doesn’t want to get isolated in the White House, away from the experiences of the American people.

ABC News reports:

Every day President Barack Obama is handed a special purple folder.
The folder contains ten letters, and every day President Obama takes
time to read them.

Are they from world leaders? From members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Members of the intelligence community?

No, these letters have been culled from the thousands the White
House Correspondence Office receives each day from Americans who have
taken the time to sit down and write to their president.

“They help him focus on the real problems people are facing,” says
Axelrod. “He really a absorbs these letters, and often shares then with

In his first week in office, President Obama requested that he see
10 letters a day “representative of people’s concerns, from people
writing into the president,” recalls Gibbs, “to help get him outside of
the bubble, to get more than just the information you get as an elected

Says Axelrod, “he did it because his greatest concern is getting
isolated in the White House, away from the experiences of the American
people…The letters impact him greatly.”

Read the full article here.

Related links:

How to write a letter to the President of the United States of America
Dear Mr. President: Kids Share Hopes for President Obama in new book (Thousands of kids detailed their hopes and expectations for President Obama in letters and drawings as part of a worldwide
Correspondence of the Presidents of the United States of America

National Cherry Pie Day

Photo courtesy of chefseattle

Not only is it National Cherry Pie Day today, but February is National Cherry Month.

Cherry soda, cherry blossoms, cherry Lip Smackers, cherry pie and a-cherry-on-top are all little sparklers with which to celebrate National Cherry Month.

So have a great Friday, grab a slice of pie and enjoy the cherry goodness.

The cliché of cherry-stained-lips
Annette Marie Hyder

He says:
When you are near
nothing comes to mind
but cherry-stained-lips and sky-blue-eyes.
And even in my thoughts these clichés
clang together like empty cans
to crush against my inner forehead
like the Neanderthal guy
that you bring out in me
all Caliban lack of grace.

She says:
Don’t underestimate
the appeal that a hairy knuckle
bent with gentleness can bring
or the way your confusion
can cause my heart to swing.
That  forehead crushed can
has left its dent along your inner skin
and I am strangely drawn
to mark it with a kiss.

Terry Pratchett receives knighthood

Photo courtesy of

Sir Terry

BBC News reports:

Author Terry Pratchett has been knighted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace for services to literature.

Sir Terry, 60, was named in the New Year Honours list.
Best known for his hugely popular Discworld series of comic fantasy novels, he has sold more than 55 million books worldwide.

Aged 60, he announced in December 2007 he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He has since campaigned to raise awareness of the condition and improve research funding.

Philosophical humor of the highest order

Sir Terry Pratchett’s books have been translated into 33 languages and have made him a millionaire. He excels at pitch-perfect parody and surreal satire.

I love the entire Discworld series; my favorites are: The Hogfather, Small Gods, Wyrd Sisters (Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are two of the funniest characters you will ever come across,) The Truth and Night Watch. If you love to laugh out loud, to be endlessly delighted by a clever author’s way with whimsy and to come away from such an escapade inadvertently thinking deep and philosophical thoughts — you should give one of his books a try.

Woman’s hair weave stops bullet, saves life

Photo courtesy

Bullet-proof weave

“You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent their making a nest in your hair.” — Chinese Proverb

A woman’s weave acted like a bullet-proof helmet, shielding her from deadly harm and saving her life. She survived the attack with only a headache.

Fox News reports:

KANSAS CITY, MO – Briana Bonds literally came within a hair’s breadth
of dying late Wednesday night after her tightly-woven wig somehow
stopped a speeding bullet.

Bonds, 20, was in her car in a convenience store parking lot when a man
flagged her down and told her that her ex-boyfriend still loved her.

She replied, “Well I don’t love him,” then Banks says she heard
gunshots as her ex-boyfriend, Juan Kemp, allegedly opened fire from
behind the second vehicle.

“They was going past me, zoom, zoom and the window was shattering,”
said Bonds. “Oh Lord! I am alive! Am I dead? What’s going on? I’m not
even 21 yet!”

Bonds said that her head snapped forward a little when the bullet hit
her, and that there was a small amount of blood, but that she never
lost consciousness.

“In the back of my head, it was like bam!” said Bonds. “That’s how it felt. It was hot, you could feel it.”

Bonds sped away from the store to another parking lot where she called
police, who found the 40-caliber slug tangled in her hair. Police say
that her weave prevented it from penetrating her skull.

“One of (the bullets) hit the back of my head. Luckily, it didn’t go
through because the back of my wig,” said Bonds. “My wig had stopped
it. It was hanging in my hair. It was about this small scrunched up.”

“I’ve been wearing it for years. I’ve invested a lot of money into this
weave,” said Bonds. “It saved my life. It saved my life.”

Police arrested both Kemp and the other man in the car, and the pair
now face charges for the shooting incident in Jackson County Court.

Pisanello, Luxuria, fifteenth century

From royalty to courtesans

Wigs and weaves have been worn throughout history by men and women as varied as kings and queens, actors, geishas, barristers, and  bishops. Wigs have even been worn on the genitals (they are known as a merkin when worn so.)

At various times powdered, pampered, shellacked and pomaded, wigs can be costly and high maintenance. I’m sure Ms. Bonds feels hers is worth its weight in gold.

Relevant links:

History of wigs from Wikipedia
O Henry’s short story The Gift of the Magi
“Poetry Wig” by Revlon
Definition of slang term wiggin at

Brick icicles

Photos courtesy of tbsf

Dantean ruins

This abandoned Russian fortress looks like it sprang from Dante Alighieri’s mind, for his Divine Comedy — as an entrance to hell. The reason behind the melted bricks? The fortress was
used by the Russian army to test the influence of a Russian alternative
to napalm inside of brick houses. Due to the very high temperature of the napalm alternative, the bricks started melting
just like ice melts in the spring to form icicles. These icicles, however, are of red brick.

These icicle bricks are a grim reminder of the violence of war. They are also hauntingly beautiful.

Images and explanation via tbsf and English Russia. Large scans of these ruins can be viewed at those two sites.

Mouth of Stone
Annette Marie Hyder

In the echoes of these ruins
is a voice of bricks and stones
that speaks as clearly
though without breath
as any voice of flesh and bones.

Haute couture stilletos out of your dreams — your nightmares!

Photo courtesy of

Taxidermy and couture result in grotesque pair: the $43,000 Dovima by Roger Vivier

Designer Bruno Frisoni, for Roger Vivier, thinks you would like some dead animals on your feet. Not the usual cowhide or alligator though — he’s thinking special, he’s thinking rare and he’s thinking nose-tilting finery along the lines of petal-pink dyed taxidermy birds delicately perched on each toe of the shoe known as “The Dovima.”

Gilding the lily, wearing the bird, screaming luxury

Each dead little bird’s head is adorned with gold and encrusted with crystals. The shoes are further embellished with 24 ct gold-coated mesh, semi-precious stones, jet, satin ribbons, silk chiffon and diamanté. They are kissed with crocodile-skin fashioned into dainty rosettes and made lovingly by hand.

Every pair comes with special protective
crocodile or snakeskin platforms that attach before you wear them to
keep the shoes from ever touching the ground. There is a three month wait after you order them, but think of all the fun you can have finding the perfect bag to go with them while you breathlessly await their arrival.

These shoes look like something Tim Burton would come up with if he did couture, like something Gilda-the-Good-Witch-Gone-Bad would wear, like a shrieking poem to gaudy excess. They scream luxury. These must be intended to delight and enchant the fairytale princess within. They make me think of Cruella DeVille.

Remember the nursery rhyme, Banbury Cross?

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes

Here’s my riff on that for “The Dovima”:

Spend $43,000 on heels in recessionist times
While inflation’s hard fingers crush nickels and dimes

With gold on her heels and birds on her toes
She shall have ridiculousness wherever she goes