Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Via Christie, here's the new Serenity Trailer, which kicks ass. A bunch of it.

Shiny.
This has clearly been arranged by Disney to promote that new cartoon with the evil penguins. I don't know how they did it, but they did.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Jack's Fork River, from the Prongs to Alley Spring
This stretch of the river is only navigable from spring through early June, and has an amazing reputation, so Billie and I have been trying for years to make it happen. But it's pretty rare to find a Spring weekend in Missouri that doesn't have at least one thunderstorm, and a thunderstorm is serious bidness when you're camping alongside the river in flash flood country.

This year, dammit, we were going to make it. Plans were made, food was prepped, dry bags were dug out of the closet and stuffed with camping gear. The forecast, miraculously, was clear, thanks to a high pressure area coming down from the north.

The distant peal of bells could be heard when we invited Nicki, and she said, "You do know it's supposed to be a lot colder this weekend, right?" Yeah, sure, it'll be fine. What could possibly go wrong? And then, again, when Billie said, "30 miles is a long trip for a kayak, isn't it", I heard those damn bells. 30 miles? Even for two days, that's quite a haul! Nevertheless! Be resolute and steadfast! Be stupid, even, if that's what it takes!

Nicki's kayak strapped to the top of Christie's CR-V, we head out Friday night through the rain (but it's supposed to clear up!). Not quite feeling the courage of my convictions, I dig out the weather radio/walkie talkie and turn it on to hear a robotic voice announce "record colds are expected tomorrow night with a low in the lower thirties. Low lying valleys in the Missouri Ozarks may read significantly colder temperaturs into the mid twenties. Farmers and gardeners are cautioned to protect young plants and new growth against freezing." Huh. On to the campsite! Billie and Emily await!

It was still raining when we woke up in the morning, but we were (mostly) undaunted. At least, none of us was publicly daunted, though we did wonder if Brett would be crazy enough to join us.

He was.

So off we went, the six of us, for 36 hours (or so) on the river. Yes, it turns out, 30 miles is a long trip, even for two days. And, yes, it was really fucking cold when we woke up Sunday morning. This was actually the first time I've ever had to shake ice off of the tent while on a canoe trip. In April.

I'm tired, sore, dehydrated, and seriously sunburnt on my face and the backs of my hands. Mostly, though, I'm in awe of my wife, who came of age in Louisiana, where a 25 degree night is a disaster of biblical proportions, who until this weekend had only car camped, and never camped in cold weather, and had never in her life done a two day float covering this kind of mileage. She broke a lot of personal records this weekend, and did it all with a smile. Well, most of it with a smile, and the rest with strength and resolution.

And for the record, all the rest of the world is a rough draft, and this particular 30 miles is what God was really trying to get at.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Rayne asks one of the big questions: How do you make friends with Death? There have been times in my life that I thought I had, but my gut knows that I haven't, or else why this knot as I contemplate the winding down of life?

Christie asked me last night if I was having mid-life crisis kind of thoughts about buying a house in the suburbs, and I told her she was my mid-life crisis. The advantage, I suppose, of entering my thirties rootless, is that the intimations of mortality that come around that time were a spur to grow some roots.

In the larger scheme of things, I still feel young (an side-effect of having friends in their 80s), but I'll be turning 35 this fall, and I want to be ready. Christie and I are talking kids, and I want to be ready. Hell, we're going canoeing this weekend, and I want to be ready. Ready, in this case, means having two epipens, since I still have this unidentified food allergy, and Christie's got a little thing with bee stings. Not to mention flash floods, earthquakes, nuclear war, the rapture, and god knows what else might happen, and in my head I've got this chorus that wants to be ready, so it rehearses every bad thing that might happen, which explains the knot in my gut that isn't likely to disappear until we push away from the bank tomorrow morning, at which point it's just Christie and I and the river, and it's all so worth it.

As long as I've taken the time to get ready.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

So, I'm sitting here at work, in my lovely cubicle directly under the metal roof, and I hear the plop, plop of raindrops, just as I'm getting ready to go downtown to meet the mortgage guy. Fine, I think. What's a little rain.

And then the plop, plop turns to plink, plink, then WHACK! WHACK! of hail. Yeah, I think I'm going to wait this out.
This afternoon I meet with a mortgage officer to find out if he finds us fiscally attractive, then tonight it's the first round of driving around the city with our real estate agent.

Wish us luck.

I can't say how much I'm looking forward to canoeing this weekend, and not having to think about this stuff for a couple of days.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Me (looking under the bed for something): Ewwwww!

Christie: What?

Me: There's a nasty cat hair golem under there.

Christie: Oh.

Me: No reaction to "cat hair golem"? I thought that was kind of clever.

Christie: So, you were a D&D geek. You want credit for that?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Via Julie Saltman, I bring you Idaho House Concurrent Resolution No. 29 - Commending Jared and Jerusha Hess and the City Of Preston For the Production Of the Movie "Napoleon Dynamite." Here's the best part:

WHEREAS, any members of the House of Representatives or the Senate of the Legislature of the State of Idaho who choose to vote "Nay" on this concurrent resolution are "FREAKIN' IDIOTS!" and run the risk of having the "Worst Day of Their Lives!"

Makes me miss Youth In Government.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Best Reason Not to Do Your Taxes When You're Really, Really Tired: Because it's a really easy way to make stupid mistakes that turn your taxes from "hassle" to "colossal pain in the ass".

Now if only someone could explain how "Gee, I'm not happy with the way that ceiling fan is wiggling" turned into me spending the evening crawling around in the attic...

Monday, April 11, 2005

Well, it's well after one, and I should be exhausted. And I am, actually. Physically. We're talking about looking for a new house, which means fixing all the little things that go wrong with a house over the seven years I've owned this one, most of which time I was only fixing things when they really got to bugging me, which as you can imagine, takes a while. And that's not figuring in the Ozarker's dilemma (can't fix the roof when it's raining, and when it ain't raining, the roof don't leak). Not that the roof leaks. But it's a sixty some year old house, and old houses get cracks. So why fix the crack when it's just going to need fixing again?

Mostly, though, we're just painting. The bathroom's green now, the office shelves are white, and the office walls are, well, whiter than they were on Friday. But it was fixing the garage floor that kicked my ass. Concrete work's a bitch if you're out of shape, which I am.

And then there were the nine boxes of books that came off the shelves and went into the garage.

But the sore muscles aren't what's keeping me up, it's my to-do list. My brain keeps thinking of things I need to do, and being my brain, it wants me to do them NOW, even though it's the middle of the night, and I don't have the energy, and nobody's open anyway to take the phone calls I need to make.

So, lucky you, you get to read about it.

1. Call the bank about a check that was run through for more than it was written for (because someone at the bank that holds my mortgage can't tell my nines from my fives).

2. Call my real estate agent and make an appointment to talk about houses and such.

3. Wash the siding.

4. Clean up painting crap, vacuum the spare bedroom, and put the furniture back where it belongs.

5. Second coat on the shelves in the garage.

6. Laundry. (Thanks, Christie!)

7. Taxes (this should really be higher on the list).

8. Tell my boss I need Friday off. Well, want Friday off.

9. Dishes. (Thanks, Christie!)

10. Mow the yard. (Thanks, Christie!)

11. Fill the car with gas. Buy a lighter while I'm there, because the last time I wanted to light a candle, I practically had to use flint and steel.

12. Get my allergy shot.

13. Pick up another handle for the bathroom vanity.

14. Go to the health food store for protein shake mix and chill-out tea. Yeah, that's right, I'm actually getting stressed about the need for chill-out tea. Alanis Morissette should write a song about me. Dammit! They quit carrying my brand!

15. Sit on the front porch and listen to the wind for a while. That's actually on the calendar for next weekend. In pencil.

Not all of it needs to be done tomorrow, or even this week, but that's my list as it currently stands. Now that I've got it out of my head, maybe my mind'll let me sleep, and I can stop being jealous of my snoring cats.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Rhymes with Blunt
Thanks to Mighty Girl and Smitten, I just had to pick up this month's GQ. Please note that I said "pick up", not "buy". Why? Because the rants Walter Kim's cover story on "The Forbidden Word" inspired made me think I absolutely had to find out if this poor guy was as damaged as these two dear ladies made him out to be. The answer? Not quite.

Here's the background: The forbidden word the article's written around is "cunt", and the author really seems to believe it's forbidden, since he paraphrases whenever possible. His thesis is that calling a woman a cunt is a sort of nuclear option, that doing so will end the relationship completely, and that there is never a good reason to call a woman a cunt, but that he's done it a couple of times himself because he's an insecure bastard, and he's not particularly proud of it. In between, there's a bit of nonsense about emasculating things women have said to him, something about his mother and feminism, and a lot of putting women up on a pedestal, then complaining about how they behave once he's put them there. My best guess? He doesn't actually know any women, but he's slept with a fair number of girls.

Let's make one thing clear: I was born in the midwest in 1970, so I was, at least theoretically, one of those guys who got to see the before and after of feminism. As I understand it, this is supposed to have damaged me in some way, but I don't get it. Because both my parents worked, I was exposed to a broader range of professional possibilities, from computer programmer for the steel industry to ... computer programmer for the insurance industry. I grew up self-sufficient, and knew from a pretty early age how to iron, cook and do laundry, all of which helped a great deal when it came to the girls and women my age, most of whom couldn't do any of those things. Except ironing. They can all iron, though they won't do my ironing, so what good is that?

So, anyway, feminism = good. Period.

But what about that word? Obviously, it's carries a powerful emotional load, or else Kim's article wouldn't have triggered as strong a reaction as it did. But not to all women, or else Christie wouldn't have shrugged and said, "What's the big deal?" And I know he's wrong when he says, "You'll never hear a woman use that word to describe herself" Maybe I just hung with a salty crowd in my younger days, but I can't count the number of times I heard, "I am such a cunt!" over a beer at the Du-Kum Inn. Or maybe that was just Jen. It's certainly possible.

No, I don't use it in public. But in certain circumstances, when you want to call a thing by its name, and you're not being medical, I happen to think it's the best of all the available options. It's got roots, roots that go back thousands of years, and it has cousins in every Indo-European language. It's precise. It doesn't refer to a cat, container, silk purse, sow's ear, or anything other than what it is. It doesn't sound like something made up by third graders. So, while you'll probably never hear me say it, it's one of my favorite words.

While we're on the topic, I've got to mention my least favorite: pudenda. Sure, it's medical, but it's Latin for "that which must shame". That's fucked up.

Oh, and as far as Walter Kim's essay, I'd like to introduce him to a new word: synecdoche, and explain that the problem was probably less the word he was using than it was the feelings behind it.

Monday, April 04, 2005

RIP Mitch Hedberg, a funny, funny man. More here
Christie: Wait a minute, Paris Hilton's designing jewelry now? Look at this: "Multi-Cross Necklance"? She should be screaming, "It burns, it burns!"
Definitely worth a read (and the pictures are killer):

"“I came really close to having it cut off,” Giles McKewan says of his horn. I am visiting him in the modest log home in upper Michigan, where he has lived for the past 40 years. It’s a chilly October afternoon. Giles has a fire going in the fireplace. He offers me a glass of scotch and a strip of venison jerky, which he makes himself in the smokehouse behind the garage. His living room is clean and sparsely furnished. A very impressive collection of animal trophies hangs on the shellacked wooden walls. Over a dozen bucks, an elk, a black bear, a wild turkey and, oddly, a couple of squirrels. Giles sees me puzzling over the squirrels and he explains: “When I was practicing taxidermy, I didn’t want to mess up with the big game...” The squirrel on the end table next to Giles stands on his hind legs, holding a copper ashtray. Giles taps his pipe into the ashtray, then packs the bowl with fresh tobacco and lights up. In the swirl of pipe smoke he makes a strange apparition with his white hair, wizened face and five-inch horn growing from between his eyes."

This is not fiction, by the way, it's a medical journal.

Update: This is fiction, but still way cool and worth reading. The tilde in the URL made me suspicious, and I should have went with that. Between you and me, let's call it a late April Fool's.
I've searched years for an image worth tattooing onto my body, all to no avail. It never occurred to me that ingredients might be an option. If I'd know, I totally would have gotten a "Duck Fat" tattoo. But now it's been done, so I'll just have to keep looking.

Friday, April 01, 2005

When datamining has your head about to explode, it's time to make soup. But when you can't make soup, you can at least write down a recipe you've been using for over a decade.

Lentil Soup - a simple, inexpensive meal for lots of people, featuring a pleasant amount of chopping.
Makes roughly a gallon of soup, enough for a sizeable party of people.
Takes 30 minutes of prep time, but should cook for a good 3-4 hours before serving.
Korzybskian Disclaimer: Making soup is more of an art than a science, and I have never in my life used a recipe to make this soup. To quote my old friend Bones, "It ain't done until it tastes good."

Roughly 4 cups dried lentils. French lentils are best (those are the little dark green ones), but use what you can find.
Some other grains, like wild rice, barley, or whatever floats your boat. Not much, just a 1/4 cup or so, for variety.
1 large white onion, diced.
4-5 cloves garlic, crushed.
1 large can diced tomatoes.
2 carrots, diced (roughly 1/4 inch pieces).
2 pieces of celery, same.
2 quarts of vegetable and/or chicken broth. (You can get away with using boullion for this if you're on a budget, or forgot to get it at the store.)
Assorted spices, including dried basil, thyme, oregano, chili powder, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf.
Possible accoutrements, including (but not limited to) vegetable boullion.

Heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a big soup pot. This recipe makes a gallon of soup, but that's after it's cooked down for a while. I use an 8 quart le creuset bouillabaisse pot because it heats evenly, is the perfect shape for soup, and makes a deep resonant chime like a Tibetan singing bowl when I hit it with my wooden spoon. But for years I made it in a $10 stock pot from Wal-Mart, and it tasted just as good. Well, almost as good.

Use medium heat, just enough to make the oil shimmer, not enough to make it smoke. Toss in the chopped onion, then the garlic. Cook them, stirring regularly, until the onion starts to go translucent. Add a couple of tablespoons of chili powder. Stir some more, then add the lentils. Stir these thoroughly with the onions, garlic, and chili powder. They'll soak up most of the oil, and you'll start getting some brown stuff sticking to the bottom of the pan. It's okay. To a very slight degree, you're flavoring the lentils. Mostly, though, you're cooking them while they're still dry, which means that they'll stay firm in the soup, instead of falling apart when you add the liquid. This is very good, because otherwise you end up with lentil soup the consistency of a chalky milkshake, which is not very tasty, in my opinion. Add the other grains, and keep stirring for a couple of minutes.

Dump in the can of diced tomatoes. Stir them in, and use the liquid to deglaze the pan (i.e. scrape up the brown bits). While they're cooking, fill the can up with water and dump that in, too. Now, add the stock and kick the heat up to medium high. If you're using boullion, just add a few quarts of water and a few boullion cubes. The cubes will dissolve as the water boils, but you can break them up a bit to speed the process. Now's also a good time to toss in the dried herbs and grind in a good bit of pepper. I use about a tablespoon of each, and one or two bay leaves, depending on how big they are. (Food snob alert: I think fresh bay leaves taste better than dried. I bought a little bay laurel tree a few years ago, and keep it in my kitchen window. The reason I prefer fresh is more likely the pleasure I get from snipping a leaf off my own personal tree than any actual taste difference.) I'll usually put in a pinch or so of dried red pepper flakes. It's not enough to really make it spicy, but it adds a nice nuance.

Now's a good time to peel and chop the carrots and clean and chop the celery. Once they're chopped, dump them in. Add a quart or so of water and a teaspoon or so of salt, cover the pot, lower the heat, and let it cook for a couple of hours. How low should the heat go? It depends on your pot. Basically, you want it to keep simmering, but not reach a hard boil or burn to the bottom of the pan. With a heavy lid, low should be plenty enough heat to keep it going. With a lighter one, you might need the heat a little higher.

Why the extra water? Peace of mind, mostly. I have actually burned this soup before, and the smell was atrocious. By adding plenty of water, you can go play video games, watch a movie, work in the garden, or whatever, knowing that your dinner is simmering peacefully in the kitchen.

After at least an hour, go taste the soup. The lentils should be soft, and the broth should be pretty flavorful. If it tastes a little weak, it's okay, because you're going to cook off some of that extra water. If it tastes really weak, then there are some tricks you can use to improve it. More herbs help, as does more salt. As far as salt goes, I think most people are too timid. It's not as bad for you as most of us think (in fact, it's essential for survival), and we're making a big friggin pot of soup here, so a sprinkle isn't going to make much difference. That being said, it's easy to add salt and impossible to remove it, so don't over do it. (That's one reason chefs like sea salt; it's actually not as salty-tasting as table salt.) There are two great tricks for making the broth heartier: boullion and miso. Miso, if you've never used it, is a fermented soybean paste found in the refrigerated sections of most health food stores or grocery stores that have a decent Asian food section. It's salty, rich, and pretty much inedible on its own, but great stuff for sexying up a broth!

If you add anything to the broth, you're going to want to let it cook in for a while. Do this with the lid off so that the extra liquid can cook off. This is a soup, so you want plenty of broth, but not too much. Ideally, I like there to be enough liquid so that if you let a bowl of the soup settle, you'd have about 3 inches of lentils at the bottom of the bowl, and about an inch of liquid above that.

Okay, now you're on your own. At this point, there are always some last minute adjustments to be made, and like the man says, it ain't done until it tastes good. One last tip, though: serve it with a good crusty bread for sopping up the broth, and another piece for cleaning the bowl.
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