Monthly Archives: November 2011

Quick! What Were You Doing On November 30 2006?

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There are many things I love about my job.  Grading is not one of them.  Dealing with revisions of journal articles is another.

Right now, I’m confronted with the task of looking at a draft of a paper, last seen sometime in the fall of 2009, because it was under review at some journal for ages.  Now it’s come back to us with the request to perform some additional analysis.  Sometimes you get lucky and “additional analysis” means “add one variable and see if that changes your results”.  Most of the time you don’t get that lucky, and “additional analysis” means “add a set of variables and respecify [trans: measure them differently] a set of other existing variables, and run the model in another three ways”.  With this one, we got really not lucky, and “additional analysis” meant “reconfigure your experimental materials and collect a bunch of new data and run all of the models all over again with the new data to see if it changes anything”.

Ouch.

At least it was a request for additional analysis, and not a “thanks, but no thanks”.  Rejections aren’t any fun for the researchers.  They’re also not a lot of fun for editors.  Which is why I’m writing a blog post instead of writing the rejection for an article that was submitted to a journal of which I am an associate editor.

Fortunately, my paper (with the request for additional analysis) is really our paper (meaning, I’m part of a research team).  So there were three of us to tinker with the experimental materials and collect new data, and three of us to deal with the requested writing revisions to the draft.  Sadly, there are only two of us to deal with the additional statistical analysis, since a recurring star of this show, “Roy,” is one of the team of authors and is strictly a Big Picture kind of guy.  Envision him as the CEO, and me and the other guy as Operations Managers.  Roy doesn’t do stats.  This is actually good, in a way, because I am the Designated Computer Guru for the household, and handle all technical support and training requests for things like Excel, Anti-Virus software,  and YouTube operations.  Statistical analysis software is a cut above these items in terms of difficulty and complexity, and face it:  it’s possible to shepherd Big Picture Guys through low-level technical stuff, but it’s almost never worth the hassle.  You have to stop and unglaze their eyeballs every two minutes to start with.  And then wake them up in another five. And the end result is usually a slap on the back, a “Jolly Good Work! Keep It Up!” and the sight of a rapidly retreating back.

So it’s just as well that Roy doesn’t want to get embroiled in the stats.

The problem is that Flunky One (me) and Flunky Two (other guy on the project) were trained for different stats than the ones this paper is using.  We’re both Regression People.  I am a pretty literate Regression Person, in that I know many, many different types of regressions, including some fairly exotic practices that were developed by Social Scientists to deal with the prolific and pervasive violations of the assumptions of statistical analyses developed for Natural Sciences.  I have 24 credits of graduate statistics, quite enough for a Master’s degree in just that.  But…they are all some kind of regression.  I think Flunky Two is in the same boat, with the exception that he has some grounding in basic experimental stats as well, and understands ANOVAs.

The problem with this paper is that we got all excited about our research question and our Super Duper Sophisticated Experimental Instruments – which really are very sound, despite the misguided and limited views of the reviewer for this paper – and we didn’t stop to think about how we were going to analyze the data while we were building the experiments.

It was one of those Field of Dreams “build it and they will come” moments…only we didn’t realize that until we built the dataset and sat down to do the analysis.

Regression is a good thing, like a hammer.  You can use a hammer for many things other than driving a nail.  But you cannot use a hammer to remove a wood screw (at least, not without destroying the wood).

What we have is a dataset that has multiple dependent variables.  You can’t just bust it up and look at them one at a time, because one single subject provided a response to both dependent variables, and so they’re likely to be correlated (since the answers come from a common individual).  You can’t use plain regression with this.  You have to use a specialized tool called MANOVA.

Without going into the specifics of MANOVA (I heard that sigh of gratitude!) it’s something that you can do with SPSS, my preferred analysis tool.  Yes, it’s slightly less powerful than SAS, but it’s 95% less of a pain in the ass than SAS too, and usually doesn’t require any actual programming, which is good, because there is only room for so much stuff in my brain, and all of the slots in my personal hash table are pretty much full.

So I sighed, and started to do some original research on MANOVA.  Only a reckless idiot uses a statistical analysis tool that he (or she) doesn’t understand.  Playing with fire, that is.  Some weeks later, I had a sufficient grasp to start the analyses.

Only problem was that MANOVA had disappeared from the SPSS menus in a recent upgrade.

Another few weeks of research revealed that MANOVA was now available through the command line.  I hate writing code for statistical analysis.  I have had to do it, I know how to do it, but I hate doing it.  And I hated every second of doing it then, especially as I couldn’t locate the syntax for the set of options that I wanted, and the output from the procedure looked entirely – not almost entirely, but entirely – different from all of the output I could find online (because I needed some guided help in interpreting the numbers).

I battled with this for maybe six weeks, hating it all the while.  Then I got an new release of SPSS, and this one indicated that the MANOVA functionality had now been wrapped up into Multivariate General Linear Models.

This required another couple weeks of research before I was ready to run it.  And run it I did, and socked the results into the paper, and we went the paper off.

The same paper that has now come back to haunt me.  Because – in the intervening period – I bought a new computer and migrated all (or almost all) of the files over.  And I have had to change e-mail platforms two times during the period (forced changes from work), and none of those transitions offered the option of neatly importing all of my old e-mails.  The e-mails about stuff like how I ran the analysis, and which models we chose, and where the hell the numbers in the tables came from, basically.  So I’ve got the old draft, the old data file (I think it is the right old file, but since there are four versions of it, it’s hard to tell).  And all of this is from the fall of 2009.

Now, this is actually pretty common, that you have to go back and work on statistical analyses that you performed back in the Dark Ages, so I’ve got a Master Plan for such occasions.

Step 1. Load up the data file.

Step 2. Re-run the analyses exactly as they were run for the last version.

Step 3. Check the output against the tables in the paper to make sure they are the same.

Then and only then can I start tinkering with the new stuff.

Naturally, due to the myriad sources of confusion discussed above, the output and the tables for this job are not the same.  Which means I’m in the unenviable position of having to attempt to reconstruct, from the ground up, what the hell I did with this data two freaking years ago.  Yeah, good luck with that, I’m hearing from you.

Where the hell can I find Mr. Peabody’s Way-Back Machine, that’s what I want to know.

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There was more snow on the ground Oct 30 than Nov 30. We're still in the middle of our third Indian Summer, which is destroying my hopes of skiing any time soon. Between that and this revision, I'm losing my will to live.

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Domestic Harmony

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I told the subject of the following post that I was absolutely going to stick this stuff in my blog.  He objected, for fear of Notoriety, as he believes that this blog gets some kind of major-league readership.  He preferred that this material not be the subject of a blog at all, so I proposed referring to him throughout as “He Who Must Not Be Named”, as a way to resolve the Undesired Notoriety issue.  He countered with the suggestion that I simply refer to him throughout as “A Significant Male Presence In My Life”.  I find both of these suggestions unwieldy, and have decided, therefore, to refer to this individual through the shorthand of “Roy”.  I was going to just use “Voldemort” but he subscribes to this blog, and I could just envision the Significant Presence that would rear its head in the house as soon as he intercepted the e-mail and discovered that I’d been calling him Voldemort.  So “Roy” it shall be.  Consider it an homage to his desire to blend with the Authentic Down-Home Folk of this land.

So, Roy has a few major passions (other than myself).  First and foremost, not first among equals, but simply First would be America’s Pasttime:  Baseball.  The New York Yankees specifically, but he’s not particular, with the exception of the Hated Red Sox, his Baseball Tastes are somewhat catholic.  That’s “catholic” with the little “c” not the big one, by design.

Trailing a goodly distance behind Baseball – and here, I can’t even write this without thinking of Sam the American Eagle muppet pausing in conversation before reverently uttering the word “Business” – so, behind <pause> Baseball <in reverent tones> is Celebrity Gossip.  This will come as a surprise to many of the casual acquaintances of Roy.  But yes, many times I have been dozing in this individual’s company only to be awakened by a burst of Dramatic News involving some wholly unfamiliar celebrity.  The best thing about this particular attribute of this particular individual is that I have minimal ability to recognize faces due to some high-temperature-induced brain damage 20+ years ago, and he always lets me know when I’m looking at someone in a movie that I ought to recognize.  This, in contrast to Another Significant Male Presence In My Life, we’ll call him “Alan” who uses these opportunities to mock me. Especially with respect to my continuing, chronic, and pervasive inability to recognize Robert DeNiro or Meryl Streep.  Really, the only celebrity face I can recognize with any consistency at all is Steve Buscemi, which probably tells you all exactly how big my problem is. But Voldemort Roy just tells me “You know that guy, he’s [insert name here].”

Third on the list, behind <pause> Baseball <pause> and Celebrity Gossip, is what I can only think of as Hairy Chestnut Advice Columns.  No, not like Dear Abby or Ann Landers.  Nor like the Ethicist or Mind Your Ps and Qs.  No, I’m talking about chestnuts so hairy they bring to mind Rip Van Winkle.  I’m talking about chestnuts that are well beyond the age to vote or buy liquor, chestnuts that are instead wondering whether it’s a good idea to start taking Social Security payments now, or wait another five years.

And most of these chestnuts involve Health Tips.  Usually, heaven help us, Tips About Eating.  And occasionally, Tips About Exercise…but usually Tips About Eating.

Tonight is a Prime Example.

Roy comes downstairs as I’m wrapping gifts (Thanksgiving being over and all).  He says “I just learned some great new things from the web!”

Oh, God, Here We Go Again is what I thought.  But, because I am a dutiful and respectful spouse individual, what I said was “Oh, really?”

That’s when I found out that these Tips involved Holiday Eating.

And they included such gems as “Have a few extra glasses of water before you go to a party because it will fill you up and keep you from eating so much junk.”

I’m thinking “This is news?” Because I am pretty sure I read the very same tip 35 years ago in one of the Prevention Magazines that my granny used to keep in a stack next to the toilet in her house.

Then Roy elaborated.  “And there was a list of Most Dangerous Holiday Foods To Avoid!”  And he’s saying this stuff in the Reverential Tones that I’m accustomed to hearing from octogenarians reporting the results of a consultation with a Famous New York Doctor.

My enthusiasm had chilled, somewhat, as I recognized this as Conversation Number 21: Regurgitation of Hackneyed and Obvious Wisdom of the sort that one usually associates with slow-moving grocery-store checkout lines.

It chilled further as I extrapolated to Obsession Number 8: Slavishly following (and repeating) eating advice of grocery-story checkout periodicals.

That’s when he sent the Capper: “Yeah! You know what they really warned us against? Swedish meatballs!”

That did it for me.

“Swedish meatballs? Are you fucking kidding me?” I said.

“And Lobster Thermidor!” he added.

“Swedish meaballs and lobster thermidor?!?!” I said. “Holy shit, how old is this article?  I haven’t even seen a Swedish meatball in at least 20 years.  And lobster thermidor? The last time I saw that was at a restaurant in San Diego in 1998, and I have never seen it at a party.”

“These are office parties.” he said.

“Office parties?!?!  Who the hell has office parties anymore, in this economy?  Let alone office parties with chafing dishes full of Swedish meatballs?  And an office party of any kind with lobster thermidor?  Do you think that investment bankers (these being the current incarnation of Wretched Excess) eat lobster thermidor?

“Well,” he said. “Probably those are things to avoid.”

“Yeah.  If it’s 1982.” I said.

There followed a conversation about the likelihood that some bone-head at Comcast (the purveyor of these bits of wisdom) had just resurrected some ancient and withered article from the News Morgue from 1958.

“Well,” he said. “They also say to avoid eggnog.”

OK.  I don’t even know where to start with this one.  Eggnog?  Who the hell drinks eggnog if they’re even remotely worried about calories, cholesterol, or any other health-related factor?  I don’t need a retro news clip to tell me that eggnog isn’t healthy.

Beyond that, why in the hell am I so concerned about small amounts of overindulgence at the holidays?  That’s the freaking point of a holiday.  It’s a time when you don’t worry about that shit, and you indulge yourself, and you stay up a little too late, and you eat a little too much, and you drink a little too much, and you have a little too much fun.  And then you go back to your sober, sensible, righteous Real Life.  What the hell kind of Party Pooper looks at a bowl of eggnog and prissily opines that it’s not healthy?

We knew better than this in Texas.  I don’t remember anyone in all the years I lived there, during the holidays, sneering at a carton of eggnog because it’s not healthy.  Or, for that matter, going oh, no, I can’t have more than one beer, I can’t afford the calories.  I swear to God, this sanctimonious shit makes me want to go out behind the house and chain-smoke an entire pack of Camels (unfiltered).  And I don’t even smoke.  It makes me want to eat Fried Twinkies, and Funnel Cakes, and huge sausages, and drink an entire case of beer at one setting.  I just can’t stand the judgmental rubbish even if it’s not directed at me.

Not that Roy was directing any judgmental rubbish at me…he wasn’t, and wouldn’t.  He was directing at himself and I could tell he was on the verge of turning into Goody Two Shoes.  Why? Because the Puritanical Spirit never died, my friends, it is alive and well in New England.  It’s not about Worshipping the Devil anymore.  It’s other stuff, like Smoking, and Drinking, and Having Politically Incorrect Tattoos, and Eating Unhealthy Foods At The Holidays.  The spirit is infectious.  Save me.  Send eggnog and brandy and high-density fruitcakes and pates and smoked oysters and caviare.  Don’t send me lobster thermidor or Swedish meatballs, though, because my Vice Fest isn’t retro enough to include bad taste.  Might as well float me an Aspic.  Ugh.

Woo! This Is Some Kind Of Special Day!

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I don’t know what is going on, but there are so many people at the farm that I thought there must be a mistake and we were having a Horse Show!  I hear you say, but why would that be a mistake, Huey?  And I say, because I did not have a bath, and no one braided up my mane, and that always happens before a Horse Show, and there is no way that we are having a Horse Show here and me not be in it!  So that would be a huge mistake if all these people were here for a Horse Show.  I think I must be wrong because no one had a bath yesterday or got braided, which would mean that none of us are in the Show.  So I do not know why there are all these people here today that do not live her and are not riders of the horses that live here.

But I got ahead of myself.  I am having a whole Special Week!  First, my rider came out and got me and it was cold, and she saw that I had put a rip in my rain coat on the back.  It was a very little rip, but she was not happy about that at all.  She asked me “Huey, how did this happen?” and I said “I do not know?  What do I care if my rain coat gets a rip in it?” and she said “Good point.”  I really do not know but probably it happened when I was rolling in all the great new sand that is in my paddock now.  The rider thought it might be Clay biting my coat, but I told her she was a real silly if she thought I would let Clay put his teeth anywhere near my back!  I would kick him good if he tried that, and he knows it! So, of course, it was not Clay that made the rip.  While the rider was making this big silly deal out of my little rip, and I was standing very patiently in the cross-ties waiting for her to be done so I could know whether I was just going to get brushed and go back with Clay, or if I was going to have to work, guess what showed up?  Yes.  The Hay Truck.  I did not realize it was Hay Truck Time!  My rider said I had to go out of the ties and into my stall so the Hay Truck could come, and that was good because I got to watch all of that hay. And I got to think about how much of that hay I am going to eat.  Every bite of it, if I get my way, that is how much.  I guess my rider was in a good mood because she stopped talking about the little rip and instead, she snuck me a handful of hay and put it in my grain bucket.  I was happy and I made my special Food Noise just for her, so she would know!  Then the Hay Truck went away and I got to come out of my stall, and there was hay all over the floor.  Just ready for me to put my nose down and eat it right up!  But the rider did not let me do that, because she is mean.  I had to go back in the ties and then work.  I was still happy from all that hay, though, and I was a Good and Smart horse, everyone said so.  And it was good.

And then the next day, the rider came again.  And she made a noise about the hole in my rain coat, and said she was worried because it was going to rain and then I would get wet and cold.  I said, I am a horse, silly, I can take some cold and wet.  But she did not listen to that and said she was going to do something about it.  Something turned out to be putting a piece of shiny tape on the hole so that it would not leak.  But you would not believe how much Clay wanted to mess with that piece of shiny tape.  He was a real pest about it.  But! Before that with the tape, guess what?  It turned out I was going to have to work again, but before my rider put on the saddle, she showed me my new saddle pad, and it was white with scribblies on it, and he pointed at the scribblies and told me that it was a word, and that word was “Huey”.  She said that now everyone would see us coming and they would know that they were so lucky to be seeing Huey the Wonder Horse, and that a lot of people would die with a smile on their faces because of that.  I do not want people to die when they see me.  That would be scary.  But she said it was just a figure of speech, and she meant they would only be happy that I was there.  Horses do not have a figure of speech, and I do not know what that is, but I do know what it means when people are happy that I am there.

It means carrots.

Or, at least, sometimes it means carrots.

Well, that day was very strange because it did not rain until I went back to the barn for dinner, and I was so happy to see all that huge pile of fresh hay in my stall, just for me, with no other stinky horse looking at it or putting cooties on it.  It was all in a big block, that hay, but I know what to do about that.  I put my nose in it and I open my mouth as wide as it goes, and I shake my head on the hay block and then it falls apart and it spreads out.  And you know what it is then?  More hay.  That’s right.  I can turn a little old block of hay into a giant pile of hay.  It is like I am magic.

So I had made my magic and there was my giant pile of hay, and then guess what?  My rider showed up again!  She never comes two times in one day!  And she doesn’t come at night, only in the morning!  I did not know what she was doing there.  I did not really care, either, to tell the truth, because, after all, I had a huge pile of hay, and nothing is more important than that.  But she came into my stall and you know what she had?

Another blanket.  Yes.  She took my nice blue blanket with the shiny piece of tape off, and she put a different blanket on.  I do not think this new blanket has a hole.  It also fits different than my old blanket does.  But it is OK.  And everyone says “Oooh” because it is green, and the old one was blue, and blue is good, but green is My Color.  So now I am one super Special Horse, because I have many blankets, and they look beautiful on me, and I have a saddle pad with my name on it so everyone knows that I am a Special Horse!  And the best part?  I did not have to stop eating for the rider to put that new blanket on.  I got to get dressed and eat at the same time!

I was glad about that new blanket yesterday, because it did rain, tons, and it was also very cold, and I do not mind being wet, and I do not mind being cold, but I do not like to be cold and wet.  And the beautiful new blanket kept me nice and dry.  And then, you know what all that rain did?  Right!  It made mud.

So, new blankets, and a special saddle pad, and the Hay Truck, and fresh mud.  A horse could not be happier!

Or I did not think a horse could be happier, right until today.  As I said, the farm is like a Horse Show with lots and lots of people in the house and coming to see the horses.  Clay, of course, wanted to show off with his silly fake carrot.  He said we should make a game, and he would give me the carrot and then I would give it back to him, and this would be fun.  I do not think it sounds like fun.  I would rather stand in the sun and mind my own business and think about hay.  But Clay was being a total pest, he was in my face and trying to give me the carrot over and over and over again.  Then my rider showed up!  She had my brand new halter but she was not wearing her boots or anything, so I did not think I was going to have to work, which is nice, because I did not feel like working.  And she said “HUUUEEY!” like she does when she might have a carrot, and Iw was going to go see, but that dummy Clay started in with his carrot instead.  “Huey!” he said “You do not have to go over there for a carrot! I have one right here!  See!  Take it, take it, take it, take it!!” and I said “I have told you one thousand times, that is not a real carrot.  Get it out of my face or I will have to bite you.”  and he did not, so I showed him that he was going to get a bite.

But then the rider was there and wanted me to go in the halter, and I said to Clay, “When I get back, I will show you why you need to leave me alone when I say to.” and he laughed like a maniac and said “Hahahahah! You aren’t going to show me anything!” and then the rider said “Clay, buzz off!” and made the rope snake to him.  She didn’t make much of a snake, just a lazy silly snake, but still Clay could not help it and ran away.  He didn’t run away far, because it was a silly snake and he was a silly horse for running at all.  I did not move a muscle.  And then I said “You are a chicken, Clay. I will see you later.” and then my rider started walking forward and I went with her.

We always go right to the barn and I get brushed and combed, but today, instead, we went right into the ring.  I was confused, but I am a Good Horse, and we went up to the fence and the rider said “Ho” and so I stood there waiting to see what would happen next.  Then some people came up.  I knew one of them, I think he belongs to my rider too, but the other one was little and old.  And my rider said yes, the woman was little and old but wanted to meet me because I was so Special, and that I should behave myself because there was a treat.  I thought it might be a carrot, because what is better than a carrot?

Well, I will tell you what is better than a carrot.  An apple that is what.  And the little old person had part of an apple on her hand, and I smelled it and I said “YAY!” and I ate it right up.  I do not even remember the last time I had an apple.  Then I saw that there was another apple, so I went right for that too!  And then, because I am a Smart Horse, I realized that there might even be more apples, and I was going to go right over there and sniff these people all over to find the apples.  But then a piece of the fence flashed right up in front of my face and it scared me.  It scared me so much I forgot about the apples.

My rider laughed and said “Here is another apple, Huey” and I was so happy then that I forgot about the scary fence.  And I remembered I was going to get all the apples out of these people, but the rider said I was not behaving nicely and I was being too pushy, and she made me walk around the ring for a while.  I had to do some small circles, too.  Then I was not so crazy about the apples and I could behave myself again, which was good, because then there were also carrots. And I did not have to work, and I did not even have to stand still to get brushed and combed.  I just got to eat apples and carrots, and go right back to the paddock.  Hahahah. I got back to the paddock and I said “Clay, you punk with the fake carrot! I just had real carrots and real apples! I am a more lucky horse than you are!”  And I am.  I am the luckiest horse ever.

Oh, my gosh. New blankets, the Hay Truck, a Special Horse saddle pad, and apples and carrots? This may be the best week I have ever had!

Things I Am Thankful For Today*

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I’m thankful for Jeff, Buster, and Huey, of course. And health for all of the above.

I’m thankful that everyone in the household has a good job.

I’m thankful to have my mother-in-law and brother-in-law here to celebrate with us, and even more thankful that she keeps kosher, which means she can’t eat food cooked in my pans or off of my dishes, which means we have an excuse to get the entire Thanksgiving meal as take-out from the kosher caterer, which means my cooking involves heating things up for a half-hour in a 350 oven, and Jeff’s clean-up involves quantities of saran wrap and a trash-sack.  And the food is surprisingly good, too!

I’m thankful that my step-son is independent enough to want to celebrate Thanksgiving with his friends in Arizona, and that he’s confident enough to be willing to cook the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and cranberry sauce, and that he’s smart enough to call me and his mom for plenty of help.  And that he’s really proud of himself – he should be. His First Turkey!  It’s a big moment!

I’m thankful that we’ve ticked off all of the possible natural disasters for this area that do not involve 1) divine wrath, including bizarre plagues, or 2) collision with celestial objects.  Whatever it is, tornadoes, floods, ice, blizzards, earthquakes, and hurricanes, we’ve done it already this year.  We can afford to be jaded at this point.  I am also thankful that I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on this semester, because the floods, ice, hurricanes, and blizzards all came concentrated in one semester.

I’m thankful that the freak late-November warm-up means I get to keep riding Huey because there is no ice on the ground, and makes it easier for the work crews to finish cleaning up after the last natural disaster before the next one hits.  And it means that they’re almost done fixing the road for the next-to-last natural disaster, and that will be done before it’s Plow Time.  And it means that so far, I haven’t had to drive home from work in a snowstorm, for which I am also thankful. And it also means we’re going through less heating oil, which is good too.

I’m thankful to be living in a town where the Official Response to the Occupy movement was for the mayor to provide the protest with a conveniently-located port-a-can and to broker a deal with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship downtown to let the Occupy people camp on the lawn so that the cops wouldn’t wind up in that awkward position of having to waive the rules about camping in the city parks for the protestors when they don’t waive them for the vagrants and junkies.

But what I’m most thankful for, at this present time, is that when the trunk latch on Jeff’s car broke late yesterday afternoon with his mom’s and brother’s luggage in it, including my MIL’s medications, and wouldn’t open at all, and he had to take it to the dealership at 4pm on the day before Thanksgiving, that they were open, and that the guy was willing to help, and that when the first four  things he tried did didn’t work, he had a fifth thing to try that did so they were able to get the luggage and drugs out…what I am thankful for is that this didn’t happen with Huey’s blanket in there, perfuming the carpet and padding, and the rest of the car.  It’s good that my MIL has her blood-pressure pills, but it’s even better that I won’t have to Hear About It every time the repaired trunk opens and wafts a blast of Eau du Horse into my husband’s face.  He’s a good sport, and has a generous heart, but, like everyone, he has his Limits.

*Thinks I am not thankful for: the shitty economy and the fat cats who ruined it, the large number of my friends and acquaintances who don’t have jobs or who are underemployed, the damage to the climate that caused the freak-warm-up that has also destroyed any prospect of skiing in the next 10 days, and the birds that have been camping in the juniper tree behind the house and crapping non-stop on my car.  At least, I’m not thankful that they chose my tree.

In honor of the day, here is a truly incredible, very easy cranberry sauce.  If it wasn’t rude to serve things at a holiday dinner that you know other people can’t eat, I’d be making it right now.  As it is, I’ll just make it later in the week:

Ingredients

1 C water
1 C (packed) dark brown sugar
12 oz package cranberries
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1 t Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt

Combine 1 cup water and brown sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add cranberries. Simmer until berries burst, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in thyme, mustard and salt. Cool completely. Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Makes about 2.5 cups.  You’ll never eat that crap from the can again.

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Why Huey Is Like A Truffle

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No, I don’t mean the soft-ganache-surrounded-by-a-shell-of-dark-chocolate truffle.  I mean the original truffle.  The one that grows in the ground.

The following arises out of a series of earlier conversations with my spouse.

Conversation 1
“I read your blog post! Do you love Huey more than you love me?”
“No, it just sounds like I do.  Sorry about that.”

Conversation 2

“What’s up?”
“I’m reading your blog post about Huey’s jacket.  It’s hilarious!”
“Oh!” “What part of that is hilarious?”
“Huh? Did Huey’s jacket really cost 600 dollars?”
“No.  That is 600 denier.  It is a measure of the mass of fibers making up a piece of cloth.  The new jacket should be stronger.”

Conversation 3

“How was Huey this morning?”
“He was awesome!  Super cute!  The hole in his jacket has grown.”
“Is that OK?”
“I don’t know.”

Conversation 4

“Honey! We need to go to the barn right now!”
“Right now? But it’s a quarter of 6 and we’re supposed to be meeting people in Amherst at 6!”
“Huey’s new jacket just arrived! I need to take it out and put it on him right now so that he doesn’t get sent into the turnout tomorrow morning in the pouring rain wearing the jacket with the hole on his back and get soaking wet, freezing cold, and die of Horse Pneumonia!  If I don’t go right now, I will have to go out myself in the pouring rain to bring him in and change his clothes, and he’s already be wet, and I will too, and we will both die of Horse Pneumonia!”
“Ah, OK, then.”

Conversation 5 takes place after we truck out to the barn, I do a quick change of old coat for new coat in a dimly lit stall while Huey is determinedly chomping on his flakes of hay like he’s worried they’re going to be extinct in the next 30 minutes, I bring the old (torn) coat back to the car, throw it in the trunk, drive to Amherst, have a beer with friends, and return home, after having forgotten in the course of lively conversation about the earlier events.  We have pulled the car into our pitch-dark parking spot behind the house.

“Do you have an umbrella?”
“No, why?”
“It’s raining. Pop the trunk so I can see if there is one back there.”
“What the heck is this?”
“I don’t know, but it stinks like hell.”
“Huh.  Is it a tent?  It handles a lot like a horse blanket.”
“I really don’t know, but I can’t believe how much it smells.”
“What do you mean? It smells…OH! It smells just like Huey! Yeah! It’s his horse blanket!”

No, I was not kidding.  I think Huey smells WONDERFUL.  Oooh.  Like fresh hay, and spicy horse skin, and some leather, and a lot of indefinable something-or-other, but it’s intoxicating.  That’s when the penny dropped.  He’s like truffles.

I love truffles.  I don’t have much of a sniffer, thanks to decades of chronic, low-level damage from hay fever, but I never have even the slightest difficult in determining – instantly – that truffles or truffle oil is being deployed in the kitchen of any restaurant I visit.  How can you mistake it?  I walk in the door, and even if the cook has opened a bottle of truffle oil two hours ago to dot on some piece of pate as a garnish, I know. I can only think, at those times, of Toucan Sam, the Froot Loop bird: Follow my nose! It always knows! oranges…lemons…cherries…truffles.

I will always order whatever it is that they’re cooking with truffles.

And when it comes out, I plant my nose over it and inhale, like someone who’s just been plucked into an airlock from the surface of the moon.  The scent of truffles gets up my nose and tickles the front of my brain.  It doesn’t exactly provide a buzz but it’s closer to being a buzz than anything else.  The smell locks on to some receptor in my brain and hijacks all of my thought processes.

I eat them, too, but eating them doesn’t hold a candle to smelling them.  The smell is mesmerizing.  It is hypnotic.  It is primitive.  Calgon? Please.  Truffle scented bubble bath, that’s the way to really experience an Escape.  I don’t even know where I am escaping to – just that it is some place where I don’t think…think…uh…did you say something?

The thing is, the small part of my brain that is not completely enslaved to the Aroma of Truffle understands that truffles actually smell like dirty gym socks.  Or used jock straps.  And things equally…inviting.  The bigger part of my brain does not give a damn, because who ever knew that dirty gym socks smelled so…so…so…uh, what was I saying?

Another thing about truffles.  You need like 1 part per 1,000,000,000 trillion air particles, and after 10 seconds, all 1,000,000,000 trillion air particles will smell…exactly like truffles.  They’re…contagious.  Pervasive.  Pungent.  Aromatic.  And did I mention, intoxcat…intoxi…intox…uh, where was I?

So. How is Huey like a truffle?

There is no amount of him that is Enough, let alone Too Much.

His personal aroma is earthy, spicy, intoxicating.

It also has a supernatural ability to perfume anything with which it comes into contact.  Fabrics, other skin, people, internal furnishings, appliances, and large volumes of air molecules.

The question at the front of my mind is this:  do all horses smell the same?  Does Huey smell great to all other horse people, or does he just smell great to me because he is mine?  Is that why he is mine, because he smelled so good to me? (don’t laugh – people have picked spouses on this basis before)  Do I smell as good to him as he does to me, is that why he likes me so much?

In a less philosophical mode, the blanket is presently perfuming our three-season porch.  I confess to an academic curiosity over whether the adjoining kitchen and dining room will also smell like Huey by the time I come down tomorrow.  I also wonder how long my porch will hold onto this wild, wonderful, earthy aroma.  And whether the neighbors will eventually notice it.

My husband is desperately hoping that the trunk will miraculously no longer smell like Huey by the time he picks up his mom at the train station tomorrow.  I am pretty sure I know the answer to that one. Good thing his mom is a horse person.

The Big Excitement today, other than the fact that I came to the barn twice, and brought a saddle pad with "Huey" embroidered on it the first time, and a brand new raincoat to get filthy and torn the second time, is that today was Hay Truck Day!