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Friday, July 30, 2004

Blogscapes

Before I started blogging, the three blogs listed at the right were the only ones I visited with any regularity. Camilla's Wallflower.nu came first; I started visiting there sometime in late 2002. Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org was next, first spotted in the wee hours of January 1, 2003 - pathetically, I spent New Year's Eve that year drunk in front of my computer, but geez, the letter of introduction I wrote to her while still semi-drunk is a work of art.

I knew Bill through our mutual friends John and Rose for a few years before I knew he even had a blog. I've been stopping by IndustrialBlog pretty regularly since then, trying to smack some sense into his Dominican-corrupted head. (Jesuits ROCK! Go, Jebbies!)

Fran's funky blog 'o' love is one of my latest additions to regularly-visited blogs. Fran lives way on the other end of North America, in the province of British Columbia in Canada. She was kind enough to post a comment to my site a few weeks ago, and we've been ping-ponging back and forth since then. (Her husband bOB also has a blog, Citizen Paranoid.)

I just found out about Jen's site, Virtual Jen, about a week and a half ago. I know Jen through Bill, and from a lot of weekends we've all spent at John and Rose's. I haven't seen her in ages...not, I think, since the dreaded Vodka incident.

Each blog is different. Each one has its own texture, its own flavor. Even as Camilla redesigns her blog with near-frenetic frequency, there has emerged a continuity of what can only be described as style. The same is true of Sammie's blog, which has only been redesigned a few times since I started visiting. I think Bill has changed servers since I started visiting, but he has maintained a similar design, I think. And I have not been coming to Fran's or Jen's sites long enough to notice any changes. Of course, my own blog is just over two months old, and aside from a few minor modifications, it's just a basic off-the-shelf template.

I expected when I was thinking about starting a blog that I would be using it more as a soapbox, a place to broadcast my opinions about society, politics, movies, books - whatever crossed my mind. But that hasn't happened. Maybe it's because I spend so much time thrusting those opinions in people's faces in the physical world, I don't really feel like doing it here. No, instead what I'm doing is writing down the everyday stories I would normally tell my friends. "Getting involved" was delivered orally about four times last Friday, to various people. It's seven pages long, so you can see how my blog can save me time. "Hey, did I have something weird happen today. Check my blog!"

So what do these blogs feel like? Well, I only know what they feel like to me.

Camilla's blog is like having a conversation in a cafe with a cool and clever friend who always keeps you at arm's length. You're welcome to hang about, as long as you keep your distance, and while you're there she might regale you with snippets of cleverness or bits of coolness. Or she might just growl at you and make you wonder what's going on. But I always want to come back for more.

Sammie's blog feels more like when I was a little kid listening to my big sister tell me stories of her daily adventures. There's a warmth there, and also a touch of weirdness, a sense of other-ness which is probably inevitable when I realize that she and I live on damn near opposite sides of the planet. I hope Sammie will let me and the rest of her fans hang out in her room for a while yet, listening to her stories. (Like the time she had to drive through town with no windshield in her car...)

Bill's blog is more like what I thought mine might be like, a sort of open roundtable discussion of politics, baseball, society, and home-buying that sees a lot of information get exchanged and occasionally erupts into brawls - or at least slap-fights.

Fran's blog feels more like a bunch of seven-year-olds who have squeezed into a closet with a flashlight. Fran is holding the flashlight under her chin and giggling and cackling as she tells us goofy stories.

Jen's...I really haven't been able to get a sense of. There's definitely a girlish quality about it, in the way that the Lifetime channel or a Lisa Loeb video have a girlish feel to them. Which is not surprising, given that Jen is, in fact, a girl. Woman. Sorry. Woman.

And me? What about Another Monkey?

Well, I don't really have the same distance from this blog that I do from all the others, considering that I'm the one writing it. But the feeling I've gotten from it, and the feeling I want to convey, is this: it's a Sunday afternoon in late Autumn. The sun is sinking among golden clouds, and soon everybody will have to say goodbye to the weekend and get ready to go back to work and school. But for now we sit on the back porch in rockers and garden swings and Adirondack chairs savoring our last hours of freedom, watching the sun get lower, listening to the breeze and the leaves and the birds, and laughing as crazy old Uncle Echo tells another rambling story about his mundane but nevertheless amusing adventures. And there's lemonade and brownies for everybody, too.

Of course, it doesn't just have to be Uncle Echo telling his stories in this Bradburyesque/Rockwellian idyll. Everybody else is welcome to chime in, too. And when you do have to go, know that you're welcome back anytime. Bring a friend, if you like.

Y'all come back now, you hear?

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Down wit da clown

No, not George W. Bush. I'm just givin' props to my man Mickey D., a.k.a. the Funkmaster of Fries, the Raging Redhead, the Clown Prince of Burgers, Ronald McDonald. I've recently had a chance to watch a good deal of the documentary Super Size Me. It's good, stomach-turning fun, and it makes two points: 1) You should not eat McDonald's - or any fast food - for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, or you will die; and 2) You can't count on judges to follow their own written statements. (You'll have to watch it yourself to see what I'm talking about.)

McDonald's shouldn't be too afraid, though. I've had two meals from there in the two weeks since I first saw bits of the movie. One was a traditional supersized Extra Value Meal (the Fillet-o-Fish or Whaler or whatever the hell their "fish" sandwich is called), mainly ordered to see if the contention that McDonald's has discontinued the Supersize option was true. (It isn't. And a supersized chocolate shake, mmm...good thing that meal was my breakfast, lunch, and dinner for that day, all at once.)

The second meal was a Go Active! Cobb Salad with Chicken and without dressing. I don't know if them not including the dressing was accidental or intentional, but it was just as well. I really wanted the meal for the free toy, a pedometer (or "Stepometer", as they call it, probably out of fear of confusion by slack-jawed yokels - you know who you are - who think that all words that start with "ped" are evil. Seriously. I know of someone who objected to the word "audiophile" for the same reason. People are stupid. Very stupid. But where was I? Uh-oh, I've still got the parentheses turned on.)

Anyhoo, I had this delightfully overpriced salad on Saturday and I've tried out the ped- er, Stepometer for the last two dogwalks. Yesterday's walk was my "standard" walk, a circuit of about half of this fair city, and that came in at 6,083 steps. Today was a modified version of the straight-out-and-back walk I did last Friday - modified to avoid any feuding clock-radio carrying couples. (If you didn't read last Friday's epic Getting involved, you don't know what I'm talking about. Even if you did, you might be fuzzy on the details. I recommend that you print it out - all seven pages, so make sure there's paper and ink in your printer - and set it aside for your next trip to the Reading Room.) Anyway, this modified-out-and-back came in at 6,495 steps.

So who knows what tomorrow will bring? It might even rain hard enough to keep us indoors, for the first time in over two weeks. (Weekdays only.)

So, yo, lissen up. You want a funky fresh Stepometer like Master B. - I mean, Master D.B.? You wanna be the hippest hijo in the hizzy? Then get yo' fat punk ass down to Mickey D's and order yourself one of them bitchin' cool Go Active! meals. And throw away the dressing. You might want to skip the supersized chocolate milkshake, too.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Self portrait

And now, in response to no demand whatsoever, a self-portrait! This was done freehand on my Wacom tablet using Corel Painter Classic, in a single color of "Thick and Thin Pencils". So why is the keyboard so dark? I have no idea. Maybe I was using the side of the virtual pencil there.


Self portrait Posted by Hello

Satanic Goat sketch

Here's a traced sketch of the Satanic Goat, done with Corel Painter Classic and my Wacom Graphite Tablet. The image on the photograph is just over 2 inches tall. I sketched it in "pen", and then applied watercolor, grainy water, and used the fine-point airbush tool to add in the background. I've had this thing for two years now, and this is the first time I ever used it to trace an image.


Satanic Goat sketch Posted by Hello

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Getting involved

When I woke up yesterday morning at 4:00, I switched on the TV to the channel that was showing a rerun of the 11:00 news from the night before and a constant weather radar sweep. The weather looked like it would stay clear for a few hours, but the meteorologist on the news mentioned something interesting: the air might smell of smoke, the smoke from the forest fires burning in Alaska. Two years ago, I had experienced this with smoke from fires in Canada, but Alaska was much farther off. I wondered if I would be able to smell it.

As I stepped out of the house with my dog, I realized two things: I could not smell the Alaskan smoke, and it was raining. Lightly, but still raining. Technically, the air around me might have been so hot and humid that the water in it was simply falling out, but in any event we were going to get wet. We soldiered on regardless.

I chose a new route today, straight across town along a ridge that didn't have much in the way of hills. We made good time and covered a lot of ground very quickly. Sometime soon I have to get a pedometer to measure out my steps. By the time we reached the turnaround point, a half-hour had passed. Right on schedule.

If I can smell a lot in cool, moist air, I can smell much more in hot moist air. Too much. The air was an assault on my sense of smell. No Alaskan smoke, but there were plenty of other odors: stale cigarette smoke from this house, a rotten orange from that one, the smell of daffodils several days past bloom - what that smell was doing there, I have no idea, since daffodils came into bloom three months ago, and have been dead for close to two months, so maybe this was just some other flower gradually spoiling. There were musty and mildewy odors too.

There was something else. After the turnaround, at about 5:40, the sky had brightened enough to see - at least to see the bats that were swooping down and circling my head. I've never encountered bats on a walk before, and I've certainly never before had them circle my head at a distance of five feet, as though I were bearing an insect escort. Maybe there was a bat nesting ground nearby. I don't know.

On the way back I decided to stop by the bakery to put in an order for cupcakes. The bakery is on the next street down from the street we had walked out on. It's become a favorite of people at work as I've been bringing in cakes and cupcakes and donuts for birthdays and whatnot. A few years ago it became a tradition that whenever somebody was leaving our department we would get a cake from my local bakery. As the rate of departures accelerated due to a situation I may describe someday, we realized that if we kept up this tradition we would surely die. So now we have a cake, or cupcakes, or donuts no more than once a month.

The bakery is located just across the street from our "new" municipal complex - built in 1976, I think. It boasts a large firehouse on one side of the street, and a long, low Municipal Building with a built-in Police Station. Quite impressive. Sometimes.

We walked along the firehouse side of the street. As we crossed over to the block where the bakery is located, I noticed a man and a woman come out of one of the houses just past the bakery and begin walking towards me.

They walked side by side, and appeared to be engaged in an animated conversation, which at 5:55 in the morning seemed a little inconsiderate toward their neighbors. They both wore jean shorts, and the man was shirtless and, I would soon notice, shoeless. At one point, while they were still over 100 feet from us, I saw the man swing his arm out as though to punch the woman in the mouth. She grabbed her mouth and bent over, slowing her pace. Laughing? Was this some private joke?

I was about 10 feet from the bakery door when I realized that the two people walking toward me were not having a friendly, animated conversation. They were fighting with each other as they walked.

The woman looked at me. She said, "Sir, would you please walk me to the police station?"

But...the bakery...cupcakes...work...I thought. I did a quick situational assessment.

Both of them were in their late 20's or early 30's. Like most people, they were both smaller than me. The woman had a bedraggled look to her, while the man was stocky and well-muscled and carried an air of barely suppressed rage. He also carried a small, squarish object with a cord that I couldn't immediately identify, but which I didn't like the looks of. It looked heavy and had corners to it, and looked like it could do some damage if it were swung at the temples or the base of the skull. Rear speaker from a car stereo? Possibly. The object was in his left hand. As I faced them, he was on my right. My right hand was wrapped by Haley's leash. I am semiambidextrous, and can use my left hand almost as well as my right, but it would be difficult to maneuver with a dog anchored to my body. If it came to that.

The police station was 100 feet away from me. The object in the man's left hand posed a potentially serious threat to the woman. I wanted to order cupcakes and go home.

"Yes," I replied.

We turned and walked alongside them - the man on the left, on the street side, the woman in the middle, and me with my dog on the right. If the man attacked the woman I would be in a poor position to defend her. Oh, well.

As we walked the couple continued to bicker. I got the sense that they were arguing their cases before me. She had trashed his apartment, he said. She countered that he only damage she had made was the hole in the wall where he had smashed her skull. He complained that he had come home from work at 4:00 in the morning to find her, uninvited, at his place, having broken things, including the clock radio he was carrying. She reminded him that he still owed her that money. I simply didn't care. I just wanted to get them to the police station where, if they continued along the path they were heading down, they would both wind up being arrested within 5 minutes.

We crossed the street and walked to the alley behind the Municipal Building where the police station was located, and got a surprise.

They were closed. The lights were on, but the doors were locked. Their hours of operation were clearly marked on the door.

The scene became surreal as the three of us began banging on the doors and windows, trying to attract the attention of anyone within. To no avail. I briefly wondered if maybe the half-dozen police cars parked behind the station were alarmed, and if maybe we could attract someone's attention by setting one off. I quickly thought better of it, and resumed pounding.

After several minutes of this, the man announced that he had had enough and was heading back to his apartment - to trash the place so that he could blame it on her, the woman assured me. When we had arrived at the police station, the man had wisely thrown away the broken clock radio he was carrying into a large garbage can placed incongruously by the police station's main door. This was probably a good idea, because if he had walked into the police station carrying an air of barely suppressed rage and a potentially deadly weapon, he would probably have been immediately maced, cuffed, and thrown into a cell. Without the object, he posed marginally less of a threat than with it, so I felt some of the danger to the woman may have passed.

After he left, the woman and I (plus Haley) walked around the municipal building looking for signs of life, but didn't see anyone. I realized the best bet would be to call 911 and get patched through to the city dispatcher, who could arrange for a patrolling policeman in a squad car to meet up with the woman. Unfortunately, neither of us were carrying cell phones, and the closest pay phone was back the way we had come, half a block past the bakery.

Dammit, I needed to order my cupcakes. We walked to the bakery carefully, keeping an eye out for potential ambush. I stuck my head in the bakery and placed my order for 15 chocolate and 15 vanilla cupcakes to be picked up later in the morning.

I walked the woman to the pay phone and took my leave. I advised her to stay away from the apartment and stay away from him, and then Haley and I completed the last half-mile or so home.

So what happened next? I have no idea. When I went to pick up my cupcakes a little later there were no police cruisers or ambulances waiting outside of any houses near the bakery. I haven't heard about any assaults or murders in town today. But who knows?

Odds are they will not keep their distance from each other. They will probably have a violent confrontation in the near future. I just don't know.

I guess I'm not cut out for the big city, where "not getting involved" is a rule of life. And the rule of the rural regions is "What you do is your own business," at least according to the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe I'm temperamentally suited to the neighborhood structure of the suburbs. Maybe I belong right where I am.

It's nearly 4:00 in the morning. I've been up for nearly 24 hours. I think it's time to go to bed.

Friday, July 23, 2004

So...very...weak...

I wussed out of k8's big show last night. In fact, I think I was in bed before she even got started. I made my decision not to go after the third time I nodded off on the way home yesterday. That was when I realized that maybe I needed to catch up on my sleep.

Of course, going to sleep at 9:00 just meant I was wide awake, fully refreshed, at 10:00. And 11:30. And 2:00. And again at 4:00, at which point I decided to just stay up and watch the rerun of last night's 11:00 news. (It's shown in a half-sized window on the same channel that shows a continuous weather radar sweep of the area. Ain't life grand?)

So we went for another walk today. And wound up getting into a bit of an adventure.

Which I will have to tell you about later. I need to get out of the house a little bit earlier today, so I'd better get moving.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

CD release parties and ragweed

Just wanted to let everyone know that I'm still here. And it's still not raining in the mornings. So I'm still walking my dog every morning.

I want to go out to the CD release party of a local musician tonight, but that will totally screw up my schedule. The show allegedly starts at 9:30, but she's playing with a few other people, and they'll probably go on first. She might not go on until after 11:00, which means I won't be home much before 12:30, which makes getting up at 4:45 a bit of a challenge. (I'm usually in bed no later than midnight. I don't sleep much.)

Hell, my dog and I walk past her house most mornings. Maybe I'll just knock on her door (at about 5:30 AM) and see if I can pick up a CD in person.

There are things you miss if you're not out and about in the morning. The dawn, for one thing. Smells, for another. High humidity and cool morning temperatures enhance the sense of smell. The sweet smell of honeysuckle, the grape smell of Dutch clover, the peppery smell of ragweed. There's quite a bit of ragweed about, which will be a problem for me in about two weeks, when my eyes will feel like they're gonna bleed and my skull will try to leak out through my nose. Cleverly, I'll be at the beach during the height of this allergy season, so the ocean air should do me some good.

Better get ready for work soon. Make sure you check out Sammie and Camilla's sites if you get a chance. Bill's Industrialblog, too! And Fran's blog - see the comments on "Satanic Goat Door Warder". (Just watch out for the "daily horoscope" program that might try to install itself on your computer if you go to her site. That's new.) Fran's looking for comments from somebody other than me, so please give her some!

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Standard blog entry #45

I've actually taken the weekend off from dogwalking. Even when I was doing it years ago, I think I allowed myself weekends off. I usually make up for it on Saturday with several hours of lawnmowing, but Sundays are generally a strict day of rest, focused solely on making other people work.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but my churchgoing habits have been forcibly changed. The diocese has eliminated Sunday masses at the nursing home (the place where I've attended mass since my grandmother was a resident there), although I hear they still have mass on weekdays. This is sad news for the residents. Sunday masses provided a spiritual anchor for them, giving them a continuity with their previous lives; most of them have been lifelong churchgoers, and it seems unfair that they should have this taken away from them in their final years. Really, this is something that pisses me off quite a bit. The diocese has been consolidating parishes and closing schools all over the area. Some of this is understandable, the result of a shifting and dwindling regional population. But it seems to be being pursued a bit more vigorously than is called for. I suspect that this phenomenon is not restricted to my diocese. Perhaps this is a nationwide belt-tightening action in an attempt to subsidize the payoffs to the victims of those priests whose sexual crimes have brought the entire Catholic Church into disrepute?

Priestly sexual misconduct is hardly restricted to the United States. The shameful abuses of the Magdalene Laundries - an extrasocietal prison/slavery system for Irish girls and women - were dramatized in Peter Mullan's horrifying 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters . Recently, according to CNN, a "vast cache of child pornography and photos of young priests having sex has been discovered at a Roman Catholic seminary" in Vienna, Austria. Nor are such things restricted to the Catholic Church. Members of the religious hierarchies of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a. the Mormons), to name just two examples, have been accused of sexual misconduct as well. But neither presents as large or as obvious a target as the Catholic Church.

Nor is this a recent phenomenon. What is new is the fact that these things are coming out in the public, rather than being kept quiet by paying off the victim or shaming the victim and his (or sometimes her) family into keeping their silence. Now that the veil of silence has been lifted, more and more incidents are becoming known.

After my grandmother had her stroke but before she finally entered a series of nursing homes, she stayed at my parents' house where she would watch the daily broadcast of the mass from the local diocesan cathedral. A number of priests held mass here, but her favorite was one we shall call Father Ranxerox. Fr. Ranxerox was a small, young priest who looked like he was practically lost in his vestments. She called him "the boy priest", and she always enjoyed his sermons. One day I ran into him in the local mall, and I stopped him and told him how my grandmother was a big fan of his. How weird - the priest turned TV celebrity!

A few months ago, Fr. Ranxerox was busted for sexual misconduct with a minor. Just last week, a more serious series of accusations were made against him. For only the third time since she died, I'm actually glad my grandmother isn't around to see this. (The other two times were the Columbine shootings and the September 11 attacks. My grandmother was always a huge news junkie, and either of those two events would have been too much for her.)

Whew. I certainly didn't plan on going in this direction when I started to type 50 minutes ago. But here we are. Nothing really standard about this blog entry, is there?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Dog is a Harsh Mistress

My morning walks with my dog have rearranged my schedule more than I expected. My clocks are now set at 4:45 AM and 4:48 AM, and I find myself praying for a rainy morning that I can use as an excuse to get out of going. But no, regions all around me are being pounded with 13 inches of rain, and we are just experiencing normal summer storms. Every morning has been beautiful so far.

Despite the implication of this post's title (a Robert Heinlein reference; First dogwalk in ages was an Irvine Welsh/Trainspotting reference, in case you didn't get it), Haley isn't the one getting me up to take her for a walk. I've been consistently up before her. But I know she enjoys the walks a lot, and I don't want to disappoint her.

We generally leave the house no earlier than 5:00 and no later than 5:20, and walk for at least an hour. Our pace is somewhere between a stroll and a saunter, and all of our routes involve hills of some sort.

It's interesting seeing my hometown at such a pace. I'm noticing things I don't normally see when I'm driving through town at 25 miles per hour. For example: we have a lot of churches. I mean, a lot. I can think of a dozen right off the top of my head, but I think there are at least twice that many. And they come in a range of denominations: Roman Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many others. No mosques or synagogues, as far as I know. Still, not bad for a city of less than 11,000 people. Someone could write a pretty interesting book just on the architecture of all the different places of worship in town.

More people have gardens than I knew, and people keep their gardens a lot nicer than I realized. An awful lot of people grow Rose of Sharon, which is in bloom at this moment. I have seen a lot fewer trashy yards than I expected.

The weather for tomorrow morning promises to be nice once again. I have some bills to pay, and then it's off to bed. 4:45 will roll around soon enough!

Satanic Goat Door Warder

At long last, a photo of the Satanic Goat Lawn Ornament! It has moved from my kitchen to just inside my front door, where it plays its concertina and invites visitors to join it in its dance of eternal damnation!

Okay, maybe it looks more like a ram than a goat. And it's supposed to look like aged bronze, not polished stone. But still, it's pretty freaky.


The Satanic Goat Lawn Ornament Posted by Hello

Monday, July 12, 2004

First dogwalk in ages

For various reasons, I have decided to resume my long-suspended exercise program.

I'm getting back into it in the reverse of the order I left it. I'll start off with walking my dog, Haley, and maybe eventually resurrect my beaten-up and welded-together NordicTrack. (Maybe I'll just spring for a new NordicTrack. Better yet, maybe I can find a lightly-used one on the secondary market. Most people haven't used theirs as long and as hard as I used mine.)

I've been building up to this for a while. On Saturday, my dog Haley got her midsummer shave. She no longer looks like a collie in a luxurious orange coat; now she looks a bit more like a yellow lab. Sort of.


Haley, July 12, 2004 Posted by Hello

After prepping her with a dose of flea and tick treatment, she was ready to venture out into the wilds of semi-suburbia.

I have two alarms set to go off at 5:00 AM and 5:03 AM. Usually I am awake a good 45 seconds before the opening notes of Coldplay's "Clocks" begin playing on my CD clock radio, and I manage a micronap between hitting the snooze bar on that alarm and hearing the far ruder sound from my more conventional clock radio's alarm.

On a typical morning I will play with the snooze bars on these two clocks until at least 5:30, letting my distorted sense of time in my hypnopompic state give me the illusion of long stretches of additional rest, more than I would have experienced if I had simply slept an extra half-hour. But not today.

Today I was up after the first alarm. No time to check the TV to see if the missiles had been launched or the aliens had landed at Washington, D.C. No, this morning it was up and at 'em time, just a few seconds to redirect my circulation before springing out of bed and waking up Haley. Her tail drummed a happy sound against the washing machine in the laundry room, her favorite spot to sleep.

After a quick stop to perform morning ablutions, pull on a pair of shorts (for decency's sake I decided not to walk around town in my underwear), throw on an overshirt, stuff a small plastic bag in my pocket (for cleanup, if necessary), and pull on my Ron-Jon's cap with extra-long visor (minus the silly flames), we were just about ready to roll. I snapped on Haley's leash and was almost out the door when I realized I had nearly forgotten my house keys. A quick trip back to my pants from the day before yielded the vital pieces of metal, and we were off.

We walked along a path we had never taken before. It would result in a round trip of something like two-and-a-half miles, which doesn't sound like much unless you're a pair of old, out-of-shape dogs like us who haven't been on a walk of any great distance together in several years. The trip out wasn't bad, since it was mostly downhill. But I expected the sky to be a little brighter at a few minutes after five in the morning just three weeks after the longest day of the year. Instead it was a mottled gray. Oh well.

When we reached the turnaround point and it began to rain, I realized that maybe I should have taken a minute to watch TV this morning.

So there we were, as far out as we would get on our walk, at the bottom of the long, steep hill that leads from just a few yards above the river level to the ridge where my house sits, as the rain came down softly and gently, leaving us both undeniably wet.

Well, there was nothing to do but slog back through the rain. It wasn't too bad, although I was practically dragging Haley by the time we got home; a few more blocks and I would have had to carry her. I toweled her off once we were safely in the house, stripped off my soaked hat and overshirt, and got to the business of making coffee and breakfast.

Not an auspicious start to my new exercise program. I was sore and tired much of today, and I am sure Haley was too. It is supposed to rain through the night and into tomorrow morning. But I'm sure Haley will jump up, bright and early tomorrow morning, hoping to go for another walk. I'm not sure I'll be able to say no.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Pancakes and Apple Fritters

I decided to make pickles this weekend, inbetween mowing my lawn, tending my garden, and repainting a garden swing. So it was fairly upsetting to realize that I have misplaced my grandmother's recipe for "24-hour Pickles".

It's not quite that horrible. I have not lost it; my friends will attest that I never throw anything away - well, hardly ever. I have multiple copies scattered around the house, and I may even have a scanned copy saved on this computer. The biggest problem is that I have already bought the pickling cucumbers, and my dill is just right, and the garlic I bought two weeks ago won't stay fresh much longer.

It's not a difficult recipe. I may even be able to recreate it from scratch. It involves water, vinegar, sugar, and salt, boiled together and poured over sliced cucumbers, garlic, and dill in a clean glass jar which is then sealed and allowed to sit at room temperature overnight, and then transferred to a refrigerator. Do not open for at least 24 hours after you made them, and keep refrigerated at all times. I added my own touches by adding whole peppercorns, cloves, allspice, and crushed red pepper, all in very small quantities.

Still, I'd rather have it than try to fake it. A computer is a convenient place to store recipes, but it always seemed a bit extravagant to use something with the computing power of a PC as a replacement for a box of index cards. (Almost as extravagant as using it to play solitaire, but I digress.)

So, anyway, to avoid any future loss, and to effectively share them with the world and possibly posterity, her are two of my grandmother's recipes that I haven't misplaced.

Egg Pancakes
I usually double this recipe.

1 egg
2 heaping tablespoons of flour
enough milk to liquefy
dash of salt
dash of sugar

Beat together all ingredients to a thick liquid consistency. (I usually beat the egg first, then add the flour slowly and then the milk. Salt and sugar are added last.)

Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. (I use canola oil in a non-stick pan; she used Crisco - vegetable shortening - in a well-seasoned cast-iron frying pan.)

Pour in mixture in sizes of your choice. (I usually pour three-inch circles which expand to about four inches; she would make smaller "silver dollar" pancakes.)

Fry until top of pancake loses liquid sheen, then flip. (She and I both use spatulas for this. Since I use non-stick cookware, I use a wooden spatula, because even plastic can scratch after a while.)

Fry other side only briefly, since most internal cooking took place during the first step. If first side of the pancake is burned, reduce heat.

Remove pancakes from pan and place on plate layered with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Reduce heat as you go, or the last batches of pancakes will burn.

I usually take my pancakes with Karo corn syrup, which is how she would serve them.

Apple Fritters
Healthier and more filling than pancakes. Well, more filling, anyway.

3 medium apples
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (not baking soda)
3 tablespoons + dash sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons + a bit more lemon juice
1/4 cup teaspoon* salt

Start by slicing the apples. My grandmother always peeled them, but I like to leave the skins on for the added fiber and pesticides. (Make sure you wash the apples first.) I usually cut the apples into chunks about 1/2" thick, 3/4" wide and 1" long. (Precision is not imperative here.) I usually use firm tart McIntoshes, but you can use what you like. I once tried using Granny Smith apples, but the resulting fritters had an unpleasant overtone of plastic for some reason.

After the apples are sliced, sprinkle them with a dash of sugar and a dash of lemon juice and set aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients together. Because you're mixing lemon juice and milk, you may want to follow this suggested order of ingredients:

1. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together in large bowl.
2. Beat together eggs and milk. Mix into dry ingredients.
3. Gradually add lemon juice to batter. Batter should begin to toughen as the juice is added.

Set this batter aside for a few minutes. Begin heating your oil in the pan, starting with high heat. (Lower the heat to medium after the first batch is done.) Again, I use canola oil in a non-stick pan, but you can use whatever works for you.

Batter should begin to form pores in its surface as the lemon juice and baking powder battle each other in the depths of the bowl, gasping out bubbles that move slowly through the mixture.

At this point add the apples to the batter. Depending on the size of the apples you used ("medium" is such a subjective word) you may find that the volume of the apples exceeds the volume of the batter. This is fine.

Your mixture may now look like chunks of apples lightly coated with a batter. Which is what it is. See, I told you it was healthy.

CAREFULLY drop dollops of the mixture into the heated oil. The apples may contain a lot of water on the surface, so the oil will sizzle and spit as you add them. Be prepared to get burned. Cooking is not for the weak or faint-hearted.

After you have dropped in the first batch, put a lid on the frying pan. This will help cook the fritters evenly, and will help keep your stove and cooking area from becoming covered with a thin film of oil. DO NOT walk away to watch cartoons, or pick up the newspaper and begin reading it, or get on the phone, or step outside to see what a beautiful Saturday morning it is. These are all excellent ways of burning your fritters. Trust me.

After about half a minute or so the first side should be done. Take a peek and you will see that your batter has miraculously puffed up to several times its original volume. The first side is done when the top is no longer glossy and a sharp border begins to form around each fritter.

Turn the fritters over and briefly fry the other side.

Remove and drain on paper towels.

Reduce heat after the first batch.

If at any point you must add more oil, you must again heat it to high heat, and then lower the heat after the new first batch to avoid burning subsequent batches. Otherwise your first batch will be flat and oily.

Apple fritters can be eaten plain, but traditionally they are eaten with a light dusting of powdered sugar. You can mix cinnamon or lemon juice with the sugar if you like, or even have them with syrup.

***

My grandmother died nearly six years ago, and she last cooked these things more than ten years ago. But these recipes allow her to live on.

I found a recipe for 24 hour pickles online that looks a lot like the one my grandmother used. These weren't original or unique recipes; for all I know they came from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. But they are tastes of my childhood, and tastes that I will always associate with her. Try them, and enjoy!


*Fixed 12/9/2011. I've read this post a dozen times since I wrote it and never noticed this error. That's very weird.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

And now, a word from our sponsor

I like to think of myself as an observant person. Put me in a situation where social interaction is the norm, and I'm more likely to pull back and observe how other people interact. In one of my previous employment incarnations, it was my job to observe how processes varied based on specific measured data, and to determine whether this variation was of the normal sort or of the sort that required action.

Yessir, nothing gets by me. Eyes like a hawk. Most of the time.

I just noticed a few days ago that there's an ad banner at the top of my blog page. These ads are provided by Google, and I have no control over them. This seems only fair, since Blogger is a part of Google, and Google is providing this service and space for free.

But I noticed that the ads themselves seemed a little peculiar in their subject matter. One was for the Conservative Book Club. Another was for the Republican Book Club. At the bottom of the ad is a little tag that says "Related searches". While these particular ads were showing, the "Related searches" included "Condoleezza Rice", "Dick Cheney", and "national security advisor" - all mentioned in my June 27 post.

Looking at my blog as I write this, I see that the current ads are for "Patriotic Party Supplies" and "The Santa & Holiday Shop". Okay, those must stem from my reflections on the Fourth of July.

What fun. So maybe I do have some control over the ads. By salting specific words into my posts, I may be able to steer the ads in a certain direction. I'll have to think about where I want that direction to be.

In the meantime, I can't help but wonder: what sort of ads did my Satanic Goat Lawn Ornament post spawn?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Radio interference

I think there was something seriously wrong with the ionosphere yesterday.

I first noticed it as I came out of the shower. My normally excellent bathroom radio, tuned to NPR's Morning Edition, was getting terrible reception. I tried fiddling with the dial for a bit, and then realized that the reception varied depending on where I was standing. Now, I am a big guy, but I'm usually not able to interfere with FM radio reception. But yesterday I was.

I didn't notice anything much on the way in to work. I listened to the radio long enough to get confirmation that Kerry had picked John Edwards as his running mate (not John Edward, the fraud who likes to tell people he can talk to their dead loved ones - "Is there anyone here who has an older male who's passed? Anybody? No? How about an older female? Mother, aunt?.. Come on, work with me, people!" - but John Edwards, the guy who charmed his way into second place in so many of the Democratic primaries), and then I popped in a mix disc that I made for a friend's wedding a few weeks ago. (This was a backup mix disc that never got played because it turned out that the music was not appropriate for the crowd there, and there were so many live musical performers it wasn't even needed.)

We don't get to listen to the radio at work - after we were purchased a year and a half ago, the new company made some new rules, and these included eliminating the radio that had been piped through the building. So my first opportunity to pluck signals from the ether came at the end of the day when I finally got back into my car and tried to listen to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air while driving around trying to pick up some items for the beach. Instead I just got static.

I live and work in a mountainous area, so as I drove around I kept playing with the radio, trying to get something, somewhere. Stations would fitfully flutter into coherence and then dissolve into static. I reached out of my window to see if maybe someone had removed my antenna to use in hand-to-hand combat, but no, it was still there. I started to wonder about whether some internal connection had come loose, and whether I could investigate this without causing certain damage to my car. I decided to wait it out. After a while I started to pick up a voice...Terry Gross, on the NPR station I had started out trying to listen to.

I did some shopping at a Target a few miles from where I work. On the way home I engaged in my very bad habit of calling my friends from my car phone. I work late, and I have a long commute home, and many of my friends go to bed early, so often the only time I can talk to them is in the car, on my ancient and powerful bag phone.

As I drove home, my friend asked me where I was. I saw a mile marker up ahead and did a bit of rapid computation and realized I was nearly 40 miles from home. As I reported this information, I noticed my friend seemed very unenthused. And quiet. I realized that my phone had just dropped a call...something unusual for an ancient and powerful bag phone, which draws its power directly from my car's battery.

After I was a bit closer to home, I called my friend again, and the same thing happened.

Gradually I noticed that radio stations were coming back. There was still about an hour to go before sunset. I wondered if maybe something funky was going on in the ionosphere, the layer of the atmosphere that radio stations are bounced off of. I had heard of weird things happening during solar eruptions, but I had not read anything about any unusual activity during my daily visit to the New Scientist website.

As one final check after getting home, I took a look at the plot of the Northern Auroral Oval. In the event of any wild solar activity, the croissant-shaped ring of auroral activity would enlarge and intensify, possibly even brushing the northern U.S. with auroral activity. Nada. Zip. Less activity than I had seen in a while.

(People in the Southern hemisphere - you know who you are! - can judge their odds of seeing the Southern Lights here.)

So what caused the poor radio reception, and the dropped calls? I don't know. Maybe it was just me, a loose connection on my car's radio antenna and a bit of bad luck with my phone. Maybe it was just ordinary atmospheric fluctuations. I'm wondering if anyone else noticed anything wrong with radio reception on Tuesday, July 6, 2004?

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Fourth of July

Well, I survived the last two weeks at work and have managed to make it to the great American midsummer holiday: the Fourth of July.

For anybody out there who doesn't know, the Fourth of July commemorates the day in 1776 that the British colonies in America declared their independence from England and declared themselves to be the united (sic) States of America. Sort of. The date is a little fuzzy, and the whole story is really a little complex, what with the way communications worked back then (this was all before the Internet, so Thomas Jefferson couldn't just write a blog entry with a link to the official Declaration of Independence site.) But July 4, 1776 is the date printed at the top, so by George, that's the day we celebrate.

And how we celebrate! Hot dogs and hamburgers and watermelon and pie and beer and all sorts of good stuff! And then we go to legal public fireworks displays, or we declare our independence from the tyranny of laws by setting off our own illegal and dangerous fireworks shows, blowing off a statistically predictable number of fingers in the process. (Public displays are by no means 100% safe, either, and when they go wrong, they frequently do so spectacularly, killing and injuring dozens in the process.) And then, to cap off our weekend of celebrating the birth of our nation, a not insignificant percentage of us then get drunk and drive home on our nation's streets and highways, killing and injuring a statistically predictable number of people in auto accidents, and sometimes even themselves.

Ideally, I will spend tomorrow passed out on a friend's couch with a belly full of pie and beer, trying to forget everything that has happened at work these last two weeks, and trying not to think about the fact that a four-day week like we have next week only means that we will have less time to get the same amount of stuff done - or possibly more stuff. And I will crash there, and wake up on Monday relaxed and refreshed and ready to take on the world again. But maybe not. In any event, I'm planning on spending the whole day in a state of blissful indolence. I think the Founding Fathers would have wanted me to do that.