Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just Say Yes to the Now.

Someone noticed a book I was reading the other day and asked, “Why do you read these kinds of books?” The book was ‘Eckhart Tolle’s – A New Earth: Finding your Life’s Purpose’ . I took that to mean they thought I was fairly well adjusted, and I suppose, given I’ve actually written a self-help book of sorts myself, didn’t think I really needed that kind of advice. I fumbled around for an answer to the simple question, and what finally stumbled out of my mouth was, ‘because they inspire me.’ Having now had a few batches of ice cream-making worth of time to ponder the question, I feel a little better prepared to expound a bit. My deflection answer still holds to a certain extent though. Self-discovery books (that sounds better than self-help or self-improvement), often do inspire, with stories of characters achieving amazing successes despite a receding hairline and the loss of both limbs in a grotesque threshing machine accident. Who wouldn’t be inspired by Lance Armstrong’s fearless battle through cancer and subsequent emergence from looking death square in the squash to not only to continue his dominance in the sport of cycling, but to become the best there ever was.

So aside from the occasional dose of inspiration, why does one read ‘these kinds of books’?’ Does anyone really expect to pick up a book, read along for a while under that old tree in the backyard, when suddenly they get to page eighty-three and smack in the middle of paragraph four there it is, the meaning of life, hitting them off the top of the head like an apple falling from the branch that’s shading them. What do you know, if I just wear blue every day, people will treat me nicer, my dream job employer will hire me, I’ll be inspired to write that NYT bestselling novel, and will live happily ever after. I suppose a person’s life could be changed by a thought or a new idea or philosophy carefully guarded within the pages of a non-fiction, but that’s certainly not my expectation when I reach for a Steven Covey or a Wayne Dyer book.

So what is the answer to the original question of why? For me, and I apologize if it doesn’t seem as profound as it sounds in my head, it’s because a good non-fiction page-turner makes you think about stuff. Let me use this latest read as an example. As I mentioned, I just finished Tolle’s book, ‘A New Earth’. He’s the guy who wrote ‘The Power of Now’, which I haven’t read, mostly because I got the distinct feeling everything I needed to learn from the book was right in the title. His newest bestseller, thanks to a huge endorsement from Oprah, continues on along the path of ‘living in the moment’, but takes a sharp turn deep into the psych 101 rabbit hole called ego. Using statement such as…

“The ego is not only the unobserved mind, the voice in the head which pretends to be you, but also the unobserved emotions that are the body’s reaction to what the voice in the head is saying.”,

Tolle proposes that our ego is the major obstacle between us and inner peace. He believes it’s our evil ego that triggers all those negative emotional responses in our heads (e.g. I’m not good enough. Nobody appreciates me. I’m not as smart as Mary. Etc.), thus preventing us from being content in the moment. He goes on to define what he coins the ‘pain-body’ (I’ve noticed self-help guru’s love to invent terms for stuff). Translation: ‘pain-body’ is just a fancy name for ‘baggage’. Bad stuff happens to us, ‘e.g. schoolyard bully beats us up and steals our lunch money,’ parents say we’ll never amount to anything, etc., and while seemingly not affecting our daily lives, our dreaded pain-body lies like a hibernating bear ready to awaken at the first sign of spring or threatening circumstance.

Like most self-discovery books, this one’s less rocket science and more reinventing a Freudian wheel. Of course, there’s little arguing what happens to us in the past affects how we respond emotionally to events in the now. We may have never thought of it as ‘pain-body’ per say, but undeniable nonetheless. One of Tolle’s major points is that the simple act of acknowledging the existence of your ego and matching set of baggage makes you more aware and more present. This sets the stage for you to start harnessing the 'Power of the Now'. And buy his next book or attend his seminar of course.

According to ‘A New Earth’, this is what it all seems to boil down to. Tolle asks,

“What is my relationship with the present moment? Am I making it an enemy? Since the present moment is all you ever have, since Life is inseparable from the Now, what the question really means is: What is my relationship with Life? This question is an excellent way of unmasking the ego in you and bringing you into the state of Presence."

Tolle tries to get you to admit that your relationship with the Now is dysfunctional. And when you acknowledge this, you become more present in the moment. “Say yes to the now, make it into your friend,” Tolle preaches. I’ll leave you to ponder your own present moment in whatever moment you choose to do so.

Did I learn anything new from reading A New Earth? Probably not. Did it encourage me to think about how to be better at being in the moment? Seems it did. I had never really thought much about ego and its relationship with your thoughts and emotions. I must admit, though, I think ‘ego’ gets a bad rap. Perhaps I’m just better aligned with an Ayn Rand’s approach than an Eckhart Tolle’s when it comes to ego, aka self.

Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values. Man's ego is the fountainhead of the human achievement. -Ayn Rand

Sure, ego has a dark side ‘that guy has a big ego’, but be that as it may, I think it’s our drive to care and feed our ego that is perhaps the strongest driver of all human achievement. Ego doesn’t necessarily mean having to be ‘better’ than someone or everyone - how about just trying to be as good or great as you can possibly be? Why does it have to represent what Tolle calls ‘a false sense of self’? Why can’t we just admit being successful feels good? Why does earning the approval and admiration of others have to be portrayed so negatively, like the rich people in the movie Titanic? Of course, you shouldn’t do things just to win the approval of others. I don’t believe you should ‘need’ that approval to be happy with your successes and with your life. But I don’t see what’s wrong with admitting it feels good when something you do, create, become is looked on by others in a positive way. It can be intoxicating. It will fuel your desire to achieve again. As long as one doesn’t become all-consuming, I’m not convinced your ego, your past, and your presence can’t all coexist together happily right here in the moment.

So that’s why I read ‘these kind of books’. Hope I didn’t sound too much like a lunatic drunken psych professor. In a nutshell, ‘those kinds of books’ are just tasty food for thought.

Ice cream for thought, if you will.
On a lighter note, am I the only one that thinks Eckart looks a lot like Benjamin Linus from that kooky Lost island? Coincidence or not?...

I leave you to your now. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

One Cool Image & a Cool Quote to go with...

From a really old local postcard. Mt. Tom, long before you, me, and that other Mt. Tom's.

Check out other local images here.

And the quote on today's board...

"Aim not for what you are, but for what you could be."
- Lucas Hellmer

Enjoy your day.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Party Time, Mt. Tom's style.

This is Joe's birthday party. He chose to have it at Mt. Tom's. We host parties here just about once a week. They're generally pretty cool. A bunch of happy kids in swanky paper ice cream hats (ala. the same hats my Dad had me and my cub scout buddies wear when he gave us tours of his ice cream factory at HoJo's quite a few moons ago) watching me make a batch of ice cream. Depending on the group's attention span, which is directly correlated with their ages, how many parents stayed for the party, and how much of their goodie bag they had already consumed, they either listen intently to my ice cream making lesson, or they don't. This particular group was in the 10 year old range and very sugared up by lesson time, so needless to say, they were quite happy to entertain themselves in my ice cream kitchen. Save for a quick second for me to snap this shot.

A party lasts about an hour and a half and creates its own level of chaos in the shop for that space of time. Today, with 15 kids in attendance, the decibel level was likely comparable to an N'Sync concert. Or maybe a more hip reference would be, comparable to a David Archuletta performance on American Idol. The photo below may not look loud, but trust me.

By the way, there's my photo show in the background. Shameless plug.

In any event, as crazy as it can get in here, the parties are a win-win. Kids (and parents) seem to really enjoy them. It's a great way to fill the shop (certainly more important in the off-season). And I hope the kiddos go home with great memories of a birthday party in that cool ice cream/candy store they used to go to when they were ten. I know I remember a lot of my old birthday parties as a youngster. Especially that trip to Battleship Cove . For a dorky ten year old boy, that place rocked. But I digress.

Today's party went off without a hitch, and it seemed a good sugar-high time was had by all.

I must admit, though, that calm quiet right after everyone leaves is pretty sweet. I'm guessing it's that time, as a parent, right after you put the kids to bed, and you switch on the game or a crack a good book and a sweet Port.

I invite you and your birthday kiddos to party at my place anytime. Except 6-10pm, of course.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Summer in April.

As we New Englanders well know, if you don't like the weather, wait a minute. As for the weather this week, stellar. 80's for a few days even. Sounds like things could change tomorrow, but for now, this looks to be another quick entry. So much to blog, so little time. In the meantime, under the category of 'people are good', let me share one from yesterday.

A woman comes in the the shop and says to me, "Do you remember me from yesterday?"

Of course I served what seemed like twenty-three hundred people the day before, but I kept my cool and said, "Sure I do! What can I do for you today?"

To which she shyly replied, "When I bought my ice cream from you yesterday, you accidentally gave me change for a twenty, and I only gave you a ten."

Then she handed me nine dollars.

I tried to refuse it, but she and her conscience wouldn't hear it.

"I couldn't sleep, I had to come back." She quietly responded.

I'm confident she slept soundly that night. And so did I.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ah, the sweet sight of green.

As I've ranted about often over these past waning winter months, it's the color in the landscape that we miss for all those cold months. So isn't it cool that green is slowly returning to our world. And like what always seems to happen, one day soon we will wake up to leaves on the trees and everything will be green and alive once again.

I know, nothing profound here. Sorry but that's the best I can do. It's been 80 degrees all weekend, and it feels like mid-July business which is certainly a good thing. It's just a little bit of shock to go from a comfortable jog to a full-out sprint. Certainly can't complain about busy, just gotta get used to the fast pace and try to ride out this stretch of fine ice cream weather before the summer crew returns from college. Until then, it's just me and Katie, Taryn, Mi-Mi, and Montana. And plenty of Red Bull and fruit roll-ups.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Back on the List!

After a one year hiatus when the Valley Advocate 'Best of' poll combined the Valley and Springfield, Mt. Tom's is back on the 'best of' list. I realize whenever you say you got 'third' the inevitable question you get is 'who came in first, second...' So if you must know and can probably guess #1, check it out... Best of Ice Cream

Mr. H. may have a much bigger market, and I don't think he's awake late at night worrying about Mt. Tom's breathing down his neck, but hey third in the Valley, including Springfield, and the gazillion Friendly's restaurants, I'll take it. As for Bart's at #2, time will tell...

Thanks a lot to all who cast me your vote. Much appreciated!

And congrats to fellow biz owners for making the list: Sunrise Bakery, Tavern on the Hill, Night Owl Records, and any other local winners I haven't heard about yet.

And in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, if you're looking for a short essay contest to win a free trip to NYC, might I suggest this one.. ABCNews Best Scoop

Ok, self-inflicted pats on the back are over now, must go make ice cream. 70's weather, finally!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Flowers on Film.

Well, that's not entirely true. It's flowers converted from bits and bytes and megapixels to photo paper. Matted, framed, and hung on the wall for you to see and hopefully enjoy. I'd like to invite you to my show this weekend. It's part of Easthampton's monthly, ArtWalk Easthampton. This month's event is tomorrow (Saturday, April 12th) from 5-8pm. The featured artist at Mt. Tom's is me. or is it I? For two reasons. Number one, because it's my shop and I get to choose who shows on my walls. And number two, I took a bunch of cool shots last month at the Smith College Bulb Show, and I thought the set would make a nice little show. But I'll let you be the judge of that.

I hope you can stop by to check it out. If you can't make it tomorrow for the walk and the free coffee and buttercreams, the show will stay up for a month. Come by anytime.

Like last time, I'll try to post a link to a flickr version of the images, for those reading from afar.
Here you go.

Thought I'd also share some words I came across recently. They seemed appropriate to go along with a show about flowers...

“Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature. The first recognition of beauty was one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness. The feelings of joy and love are intrinsically connected to this recognition. Without our fully realizing it, flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves. Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged, would become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and formless.”

Eckhart Tolle, from A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

More signs of Spring.

The crocuses are out. It's finally 60 degrees. And the Red Sox finally played their home opener and got their 2007 World Series rings. Indeed, all is well again with the world.

The Brass Cat, my favorite local pub, held its annual Red Sox opening day gala. It's always cool to stroll into a roomful of people happily tipping cocktails and cheering on their favorite team. It's especially cool when it's the middle of the day on a Tuesday when you know 95% of the people in the place have either called out sick or have gladly sacrificed one of their precious vacation days to partake in the festivities.

The Cat does it up right. Raffle prizes between innings. Sox stuff for all. Free hot dogs and plenty of high fives to go around. The high fives were especially generous this year since our Sox won the game by five to zip. This year's event was a little tricky to schedule. Usually, it's held for the first game of the season, whether it's home or not, but due to some Major League Baseball marketing madness, the Sox first game was at 6:05 am in Japan. Rumor has it, the Cat brass did inquire with the liquor commission as to a special permit to pour beers at that hour, but their request was graciously declined. Which is probably good because as die-hard as Cat Sox fans are, I'm not sure the room would have been as packed for a breakfast ballgame.

In any event, seemed to me like a great time was had by all. The Sox won. Bill Buckner threw out the first pitch and got a giant cheer from the crowd (seems all is forgiven thanks to fading memories through twenty years and two Red Sox world championship banners since his infamous error). Steven Tyler from Aerosmith sang God Bless America after the seventh inning. Neil Diamond sang Sweet Caroline. Check those out over at my favorite Sox blog Red Sox Monster.

I like to contribute to the Cat's festivities by sending over a bunch of cups of ice cream for the hookeying fans. It's usually my version of a Green Monster flavor. Last's years GM was red peppermint pieces and white chocolate bits (red sox and white baseballs), and I think a swirl of fudge thrown in for good measure. The year before I added Cocoa Krispies to the batch for that new guy (then) Coco Crisp. Well, it seems this year I had a little bit of a creativity block on a Monster recipe. You may think it a cop out, but I instead resorted to a crafty rework of the names of a couple popular flavors. I'm sure you could probably come up with something more creative, but here are mine.

Wait for it.

Wake Batter. Cake Batter and Tim Wakefield, in case you're not a diehard Sox fan and Mt. Tom's go'er.

Big Poppi-mint Stick. If you don't know who Big Poppi is, you must have just returned from two years on a peace mission in Sudan.

I was back at the base making ice cream when the 'hey, ice cream here!' calls went out by my drinking buddies Matthew and Kevin, but I'm told both the Wake Batter and Big Poppi-mint went fast. And as it turned out, drinks were on Mike, the cool owner, for me later that night. Certainly not the reason I sent it over, but much appreciated none the less. Thanks Mike.

And in case you didn't make it this year, I recommend you put it on your sick day schedule now before you forget.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Is there a lapidary in the house?

Don't worry, I haven't started putting rocks into my ice cream. We ice cream makers must always be on the lookout for inclusions that might chip a tooth. No, what you see above is the 'before' shot of a bunch of rocks about to go into my new (for Christmas) rock tumbler. I think I know what you're wondering now. Why would anyone want a rock polishing kit for Christmas? As if knowing what an 'ice-out' was, could I get any nerdier? You ask good questions.

Before I explain where my interest in the lapidary arts comes from, here's the new toy. Jealous yet?

When I was a kid, I remember my grandfather had a rock polisher. It was tucked away in a corner of his old decrepit detached garage. My brother and I would rummage around out there, looking for anything we could make into a weapon or a fishing pole. It was many years ago, but I still remember that slow and steady crunching sound eminating from the barrel of gramp's rock remake contraption. I swear I can clearly recall the smell of that musty garage - a gourmet medley of engine oil, dried lawn clippings on an old push lawnmower, and grit from that rock polisher. Why would I not want to recapture that aura in my own basement?

The magical thing I remember about that polisher is you put dingy old agates into it, add some metalicky powder, turn it on, and next time you open it, out come beautiful, colorful, shiny stone works of art. As a seven year old boy, I had no idea the process actually takes over a month and is actually a fair amount of work for both polisher and the human supervising.

This second part I quickly discovered during the past month of my lapidary initiation. The polishing process takes four steps. Each runs a week or so, and each involves a different strength of abrasives addded to an endlessly rotating stone water soup. The extreme makeover process begins with 60/90 grit followed by 120/220 then a prepolish compound and finally, a dose of polish compound. The first two steps are where most of the action takes place, which might explain why the barrel needs to be opened every day during this time. This allows the gases to diseminate, like opening a window, as you can see in the shot you just passed. I don't think the polisher would explode if you didn't do this, but I had no plans to find out, so I dilligently released the non-toxic rock gases as recommended in the instruction booklet.

I believe the shot above is after step 2 (120/220 grit in case you aren't taking notes). I almost abandoned the entire project after the first then the backup belts broke. This forced me to shut down the operation for a week while I patiently waited for replacement parts. I'm happy to say the breaking belt issue has been resolved with the new and obviously better belts from rockpolishingbelts.com, or some such.
So here we are, five weeks since I set up my new rock polishing kit from Santa. Was it worth it? From a practical standpoint, probably not. I've now got a pile of smooth and shiny rocks that are about half as big as they were five weeks ago. Maybe I'll make a keychain or cool necklace out of the more interesting pieces. Or perhaps I'll just add them to my bell jar of smooth and shiny rocks I've collected over the years. Dare I say my pet rocks , if you'll indulge me the bad 70's reference.

So let's just throw out practical for a minute and see what we have left. I got to relive and savor a nice little memory of my youth and think about a great guy my Dad called Dad. His name was Joe, and he was just a hard-working family man. Who just happened to have a rock polisher in his garage.
There are definitely a few tasty metaphors in here too, something about life smoothing out our own edges, a thing of beauty takes time, good things come to those who wait...

Just for the record, one of my other off-season hobby adventures was brewing beer. Perhaps if polishing rocks and watching ice melt hasn't lit any fires under you, this may be a bit lower on the nerd scale for you. But come to think of it, I did learn how to use a hydrometer this time...
Thanks for listening.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ice-out on the Nashawannuck.

What a difference a couple days makes. The shot I took from nearly the same spot on Monday showed the pond to be still pretty well iced in, much to the chagrin of those two ducks. Well, I looked out my window yesterday and voila!, no more ice. This shot was taken this morning.

In case I've peaked your curiousity about 'ice-out' dates, here's some data for you, from the U.S. Department of the Interior - US Geological Survey. Check it out. They don't actually track the Nashawannuck Pond. The Pontoosuc Lake is the closest in western MA, not even sure where that is. And it seems the person responsible for writing down the date must have gotten bored or died sometime in 1998 or early 1999 because the data just ends. In any event, in 1998, ice-out on the Pontoosuc Lake was 90, which I think means around April 3rd. So it looks like we're right on target this year, if not a little early, even if it has felt like the endless winter.

Look on the bright side, if you lived on Joe's Pond near Danville, Vermont, you'd be looking at four more weeks of ice. Seems like the U.S. Geological Survey could use itself a Homer Fitts for Pontoosuc Pond. Check out their little contest. There must be a Homer Fitts-like character around here willing to track the 'ice-out' date and time (I can't believe it's that specific!).

In case you're curious how serious ice-out contests are judged, this is Joe's Pond's official declaration of an ice-out:

All that you have to do is to enter a bet on the exact day and time that the ice on the pond melts in the spring sufficiently to sink the 40-pound concrete block. The block is attached to a rope which, when the block falls through the ice, pulls an electrical cord out of a plug on the shore. The cord is connected to an electric clock which stops when its power is cut.

Heck, maybe I'll sponsor an ice-out contest for the Nashawannuck Pond for next year.

Ice cream for the Ice-Out.

Yah, that's it. Now, now I just gotta find a 40 pound concrete block and a Homer Fitts.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Happy Spring?

This shot wasn't taken around Christmastime, or in the dead of January winter, or even during the short but snowy February. No, this one was taken yesterday. March 31st. The winter that keeps on giving.

On a brighter note, today it's in the 60's, albeit a bit dark and dank. Gotta love New England weather. We'll take it.

And on my morning run today, I watched the Fish and Game truck stocking the Nashwannuck Pond with trout. Thank goodness for the small signs of spring.

I'm sure these ducks would be happy to have the ice give them back the rest of their pond.

May no one make you a fool today.