Monday, December 22, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

It's All About the Two Two!

It's all about that Twenty-two!

Keep your Twenty-one and Twenty-three!

Give me that Twenty-two!

December Twenty-two, that is.  The magical date and reason for the Twelve Two Two Fondue season.

Buckle up that seatbelt because this is the Tenth Anniversary of Twelve Two Two Fondue, founded in 2004.

Yes, Fondue XI is here in just a few short hours, so find some Swiss cheese, white wine, good French bread, more wine, some close friends and have a fondue party.  Good friends, good food, good drink - what's not to like?

If you crank back into the archives you'll find stories about previous events.  Internet friends tell me that Twelve Two Two Fondue has been held on every continent, yes, including Antarctica.

In addition to our famous cheese fondue we also whip up a triple batch of Cold Chicken Curry also known as Coronation Chicken, a dish created especially for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here's the blueprint for Cold Chicken Curry, a single batch:

Roast a chicken, cool, strip the carcass and chop/shred the meat.

Cook the sauce very gently.
  2 Tbs. mango chutney
  2 Tbs. tomato chutney
  1 Tbs. honey
  1 Tbs. curry powder
  dash Worcestershire sauce

Cool the sauce and add
  6 oz double cream
  half pint mayonnaise
  cup of sherry

Mix well.  Add chicken and refrigerate overnight for flavors to mix.

Serve cold over rice.

Notes on the recipe:  we have used Major Grey's chutney which is a mango mix and it works just fine.  I think any chutney would work.  If the mixture looks too "dry" add more cream and mayo.  It would also work adding plain yogurt or sour cream.

Cold Chicken Curry is a very nice, pleasing sweet and different dish to serve to a crowd.  We have observed the skeptical taste a small spoonful then load up their plate having never had something quite like this.

Now for the cheese fondue.

Who needs proportions!  Just mix it up, but here's a general blueprint:

8 oz emmental
8 oz gruyere
tablespoon of corn starch
2 cups dry white wine.

Grate the cheeses and mix with corn starch.  Bring wine to a simmer and add the cheese slowly stirring.  If the mixture is too thick add more wine, too thin more cheese.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nutso!

It's bad enough driving around at this time of year, Christmas shopping season, amongst people who are "not from here."

No, not from here at all.

They are all in the wrong lanes, trying to turn the wrong directions, driving too slowly or too fast - it's just Nutso!  Why can't these people shop in their own neighborhoods.  I'm just trying to get to the grocery store for some orange juice.  Is it too much to ask for the person in front of me to put down his phone and pay attention to the green turn arrow?  Apparently, so.

Then there was That Guy.

Brand new Corvette Stingray.  Red.  Dealer plates.  Six hundred horses stuck in traffic.  Going my speed, which was nothing.  That Guy would wait for a gap to appear in front of him, rev his powerful engine and leap forward, maybe, ten feet.  Then stop.  Next to me putting along in a not-Corvette.

What a loser!  Hot car, stuck in traffic, going the same speed as me.

I wish I had a red Corvette.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Modern Christmas

Pandora streaming Christmas music to my iPad linked by home WiFi to an Airport Express connected to a Techniques 200 Watt receiver driving a pair of Klipschorn concert hall speakers.

Joy to the World!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Word From Our Sponsor

And now a word from out sponsor.

To get started collecting antique maps I recommend highly the definitive book on the subject:

Collecting Antique Maps
by
Jonathan Potter


Now quite pricy on Amazon, but there you have it.

Jonathan Potter got interested in antique maps in the mid-seventies and bought maps and atlases at street markets in London.  Soon, he was able to open his own shop as an interest in antique maps grew.

I bought a copy of Potter's book in the early 90's and the first antique map I purchased was at his shop in London, Grosvenor Square.  Unfortunately, to this day, I regret NOT purchasing the Braun and Hogenberg map of London in original color for 1200 pounds sterling as it is worth much more today.

Alas, that's antique map shopping.

Anyway, back to the book.  Jonathan explores the many reasons to collect antique maps:  history, geographical interest, mapmaker and so on.

I started off collecting maps of London and the USA.  Later I branched out to collect representative maps from famous mapmakers and, thus, I ended up with a diverse collection.  My main focus, though, has been on London and most of the maps in my collection are on that subject.

What I liked about Potter's book was the no nonsense approach to map collecting.  Buy your maps from a reputable dealer or through a reputable auction. Avoid "knock offs."   Enjoy your hobby!

How can you tell a reputable vendor from a "knock off."  Fairly easily.  Knock offs can be purchased at gift shops.  Authentic antique maps, not so.


Sunday, December 07, 2014

More on Antique Map Collection


So, what is real and what is a fake?

There is the rub!  Real is what is real and fake is what is fake.  Again, clear as mud.

Let's look at the production of a "real" map. A real map is engraved by the mapmaker on wood, copper plate or steel.  It's an engraver's art.

The map is then printed from that medium to paper, then colored or not, and published in an atlas or as free maps.

The printing of the original map may go on for years.  Therefore, an "original" map may be the first printing or subsequent printings.  It all depends!

Yes, it's that confusing.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Antique Map Collecting

Why collect antique maps?

There are lots of reasons.  It's fun, it's educational, it can be profitable and it's an affordable hobby to name a few.

I've always enjoyed looking at maps.  The first time I saw an antique map up close I was fascinated by the exotic art, the colors and the fiction, yes, fiction that I saw.

That was a Herman Moll map of Africa that was made at a time the interior of Africa was totally unknown to the mapmakers.  The made it all up.  Fictional beasts and people, including cyclops and other strange concoctions.

You had me at "strange."

But, what is an antique map?  How can you tell if it's an original.

Well, I'll get to that subsequently but for now let's look at a couple of maps, one a reproduction and the other a reproduction.

What???

Check out the two maps below:


The map on the bottom is a modern reproduction.  A photocopy of the original map reproduced by lithography.  The map at the top is also a reproduction but is on "original" paper and printed by the original copper engraving.  Thus, the upper map is "real" while the lower map is "fake."

Simple, right?

Both are reproductions, but one is fake.  Well, fake-ish.

Clear as mud.

OK, so here's the blueprint for antique maps.

All maps are reproductions of the "original" which was an image engraved on wood, copper or steel.  Wood engravings are generally around 1400's or so, copper stands firm after that period until about the 1800's and steel reigns after that.

I'll discuss how you can tell the difference between wood, copper and steel later.




Friday, December 05, 2014

The Obsession

I have lots of obsessions.  To be polite, let's call them "strong interests." The come and go.  Sometimes they last a decade.  Some of the best interests have lasted a long, long time, say ten years, then faded away either very sadly or without a ripple.

It depends.

Which brings me to maps.  I've always been keenly interested in maps and could pore over them for hours at a time.  I've also been keen on Ye Olde Mappes just because they are different and, you know, Ye Olde!

I bought my first Ye Olde Mappe reproduction many, many years ago from a gift shop in a galaxy far, far away.  It was the typical Ye Olde Mappe - brown, wrinkled, singed around the edges and "antiqued" to use the term.  It was printed to look "old" in the stereotype of what "old" looks like.

It was a map of London circa 1600 and more about that much later.

Then, fast forwarding a few years, I was on vacation in Jamaica and in a gift shop there was a little Ye Olde map of Jamaica for a dollar, so I bought it.  I even framed it and here it is:



It's a reproduction of a map by R. Bonne, an important French 18th century cartographer.  More on this map and Bonne later.

Some years later we were having dinner at a friend's house, a friend who was an antique collector and I noticed a Ye Olde Mappe on his wall and asked him about it.  As gauchely as I could I asked him in what gift shop did he purchase this Ye Olde Mappe.

Pursing his lips as if he were sucking the juice of all the lemons in the World through a very small straw, he informed me that it was not a gift shop map, but an ... ORIGINAL.

I was taken aback.  My mind reeled. What, I thought?  ORIGINAL?  Like a museum original?

He noticed my foaming, spluttering and wide-eyed incredulity and calmly said that, yes, "You can buy antique maps from dealers and other places and they're not that expensive."

I was dumbstruck.  Really?  Even me?

Well before the Internet, much less Google, I did some research and discovered a lovely book available through my Barnes and Noble catalogue, "Collecting Antique Maps" by Jonathan Potter of London, England.  I ordered the book and, thus, my obsession began.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Christmas Time!

It's Christmas Time!

How can I tell?

Christmas trees at Kroger's!

Yippee!

Yeah, that was all sarcasm.  The Christmas stuff has been out since BEFORE Halloween, but it's the appearance of the trees, to me, that really signals the start of the season.

And here they are in all their piney glory!


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Money Pit Pool


Anybody who puts in a swimming pool is nuts.  Just saying.

I had a great idea for a Non-Pool Pool Company.  I'd just put a metal box in the back yard with a slot in it.  You'd put $200 each month into the slot and occasionally $500 just for grins.   A little light would come on when the 500 was needed, randomly.  You'd get all the financial appreciation of having a pool without the hole in the ground filled with wet stuff.

Perfect.

Win-Win.  Everybody happy.  Even Mama.

If you look at a Google Earth image of my neighborhood you should be reminded instantly of Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" essay.  Every house has a pale blue dot in the back yard.  There are about 500 houses in my neighborhood and probably 499 pools.  I don't know who the smart guy is without a pool but I feel like installing one in his back yard while he's at work just to show him a thing or two.  Maybe I should just give him the option of one of my metal boxes. 

I bring this subject up because in addition to paying for pool maintenance, they don't last forever.  I know, shock-horror. Nothing is forever, except diamonds which, ironically, is what a pool represents - a bucket of diamonds.

Anyway, a phase of the Great Money Pit Project will be a facelift of the pool.  By "facelift" I mean an overhaul, redo, replacement of vast expanses of concrete and plaster, and tile and flagstones and pumps and pipes and heaters, wires, lights, lions, tigers and bears ... Oh, my!

Of course, the yard will be torn up in the process and that will have to be re-landscaped.

Help.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Money Pit

Work continues on the Money Pit, aka, Our House.

New hardwood floors are in and work just completed on the new staircase, replacing the old carpet with oak.

My builder starts his quote with Phase 1:  Demolition.

That's a fair word to use, demolition.  He means what it says, to demolish, destroy, remove and that's what happens. Demolition isn't as bad as it sounds, I just pity the guys who have to do it, but they seem to have fun and they're all young, fit and immortal.  Ah, the good old days!

Following Demolition is Phase 2:  Preparation.

Preparation is a lot of work but it makes the following phases a whole lot easier if it's done right.  Preparation is just what it says, preparing the surface for stuff to come.  Removing nails, glue, dirt, gunk and making surfaces level, square, even and tight.



The next phase is Installation which involves a lot of measuring, fitting, sanding, routing and measuring again.  The wood for our new staircase was absolutely.  Large, smooth, thick planks of oak that were so nice I kept the off-cuts.  I don't know what I'll do with them but I couldn't bear to throw them away, such nice wood.


We are still in the Installation phase with the first coat of polyurethane drying and we're going to give that about a week before putting on the second coat.  There is no rush and a job done right is a job you don't have to do over.

Do it right or do it over.



Sunday, November 30, 2014

Success Is Number 547

Congratulations to Number 547 for completing National Blog Posting Month 2014, the ninth consecutive November for this blog.

Hey, that's us!


It's a warm Sunday afternoon.  Kink is sound asleep on my lap.  He's melting ... melting!  Hot, limp cat draped over me.

The grits were good today, said the non sequitur.  No, seriously, the grits were good today.  Not too salty.  I tell you, over salt the grits ONE time in 30 years and suddenly you're this guy:


That's right the Salt Monster from the original Star Trek, "Man Trap."  Hey, it's not really a monster, it's just drawn that way.

Yes, I over-salted the grits and I nearly had my millionth batch of grits perfectly cooked.  Now, the counter has been reset to 1.  I'll put a sign in my kitchen -

Number of Days Since Over-Salted Grits:  1

Over-salting was just too easy.  I was thinking "pasta" when I dumped in the salt.  I knew it was too much but the evil part of my mind said, "So what?" and I carried on.  Big mistake.  I went from George Clooney stunt double to the Salt Monster in one fell shake.  Literally.

Today, much chastened from my previous neglect and failure I measured out the salt in my palm like I always do.  No dumping.  Just a careful, precise-ish, half-teaspoon give or take a grain or two.

So, that's it.  End of the month.  End of NaBloPoMo.  And the end, hopefully, of the Salt Monster.




Saturday, November 29, 2014

Home Again

As Dorothy said, there's no place like home.

We had a great Thanksgiving in New Mexico and my next turkey will be covered in green chili and cheese, but there's no place like home.

We arrived to a darkened house, but the mailbox was empty telling us that the neighbors had been doing their duty, and were greeted by our faithful cat, Kink, who was very, very, very happy to see us.

After a quick run to the grocery store and a light dinner we settled down for a few quiet moments before our eyes started to sting, Kink started to whimper and kick his cat dream that we realized it was time to call it a night.

Clean up can wait until the morning.  All is well in the house and it was a great start to the holiday season.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bubba Gump That Turkey

"My given name is Benjamin Buford Blue.  People call me Bubba."

One of the best scenes in Forrest Gump is Bubba telling Forrest Gump all the ways to serve shrimp.

You can boil it, fry it, sauté it, grill it, make kebobs, gumbo, soup, orange shrimp, coconut shrimp, shrimp sandwich ...

On and on for several scenes until Bubba pauses and says, "I think that's all."

Here we are the day after Thanksgiving and we're thinking about, cogitating, noodling, pondering and rubbing our chin whiskers on how to Bubba Gump that turkey.

We could make sandwiches, whip up a turkey-egg-mayo salad, concoct a curry or just eat it off the bone like wild animals.

We could do a soup, a bisque, a gumbo, a hotpot, a goulash or with white wine and mushrooms.

Turkey pot pie, turkey shepherd's pie, turkey Irish pie, turkey apple pie - er, no - or turkey surprise pie (warning: contains apples).

Stacked turkey slices with gravy, turkey with warmed stuffing and cranberry sauce, or turkey in the smoker for 10 minutes just to give that "is this smoked?" flavor.

Turkey enchiladas with jack cheese, lettuce and sour cream, or turkey empanadas or turkey tortilla wraps, turkey tostadas or turkey nachos with cheese and jalapeños.

Turkey risotto, turkey spaghetti - both white and red, turkey ratatouille and turkey je ne sais pas!

All Bubba Gumped out we settled on a family favorite:

Turkey Tetrazzini or as I call it being a chemist and all, Turkey Tetrachloride.

Here's the basic blueprint:

Set the oven to bake at 350.

Shredded turkey
Cooked spaghetti
White sauce made from butter, flour, white wine and cream.
Mushrooms, sliced
Toasted almond slivers
Parmesan cheese

Toast the almonds in a pan or oven.  Sauté the mushrooms.  Make the white sauce.   Add the mushrooms, almonds and turkey.  Adjust the mixture with cream so it's a bit sloppy.  Butter up a casserole dish and toss in the spaghetti.  Cover with the turkey sauce and stir it up a bit.  Grate a generous amount of cheese over the top, and if you like (I like!) stir it in a bit and add more on the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.

Serve with copious amounts of wine, salad and garlic bread.

Bubba would be proud.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Old Generation, New Generation

Today is Thanksgiving and I've been giving some thought to the calls I've received recently.

"Hey, Dad, how do you make sausage rolls?"

"Hey, Dad, can you send me the recipe for cornbread stuffing?"

"Hey, Dad, how do you do Thanksgiving in London?  They don't have the right stuff."

That's the New Generation starting their own family traditions, borrowing from old family traditions. The holiday season is all about food.  Food is what brings a family together and family food traditions are very strong.

I remember the year I suggested we do goose or pork or fish or something, anything, but turkey for Christmas.  The cold, stony silence was quite enough to tell me that turkey it was, lots of turkey, in fact, a Giant Macy's Parade sized turkey!

Some traditions you just don't mess with.

More flexibility and acceptance was to be had with side dishes.  We've cycled through "dirty rice" stuffing, candied yams, green bean casseroles, grilled yams with chipotle sauce, Brussels sprouts in many forms and all manner of experiment both failed and successful.

But, as we did many years ago, each family will develop their own traditions sacred and profane to themselves to be honored and handed down as "tradition" to families of their own.

Back in the day we had cookbooks and recipe cards.  We had a three-ring binder with clippings, recipes from newspapers and handwritten notes.  Our first few Thanksgiving meals were prepared by memory, guessing and following instructions from venerable sources like Gourmet Magazine,  the Southern Living cookbook and the Good Housekeeping cookbook - great references even today.

And, today, cookbooks have been replaced for all intent by the Internet where one can find a dozen recipes for any dish in seconds.  Yet, for all its power Internet recipes lack the human touch.  The details that turn a meal into a great meal, a memorable occasion.

How do you know when the pastry is "right?"  Well, you touch it like so and if it reacts like so it's ready.

How do you know when the turkey is done?  Well, you wiggle the leg or stick the instant read thermometer right here and check the temperature but also look at the color of the juice that comes out.

What's the best recipe for pecan pie?  Simple, it's on the side of the Karo Syrup bottle.  Deviate from that recipe at your peril.

Thanksgiving dinner has always been more about family than recipes.  Thanksgiving is about being together, working together and culminating in a celebration of togetherness regardless of the turkey or side dishes.  It's the process, not the product that's important.  It's all about fun, chaos, bellyache laughter, disasters, stories and perhaps a calamity or two, that at the end of it all, it doesn't matter what's on the table so much as what's around the table.

Family.  Old generation.  New generation.  Passing it forward.

I wouldn't miss it for anything!

Bacon, My Bacon

I'm always looking for new ways to enjoy bacon.

At the Savoy de Mesilla in Las Cruces, New Mexico, what was there on the menu but this -

Bacon Wrapped Dates

To be honest it could have been "Bacon Wrapped Anything" and I would have ordered.  The description went on to say that the bacon was "jalapeño flavored" meaning it would be a little spicy. My imagination shifted into high gear.  Sweet, succulent dates wrapped in salty, spicy, crisp bacon.  What was not to like about that combination!

For years bacon was just bacon, although calling bacon "just bacon" should really be a crime.  But, that's the way it was.  Bacon at breakfast, fried and served with eggs, pancakes or waffles (or all three!), or bacon crumbled on salad which in my humble opinion is a waste of perfectly good bacon.  For sure the bacon looks good on lettuce's CV, but not so much lettuce on bacon's.

Anyway, getting to the chase the presentation was outstanding and the bacon wrapped dates were even better.  See for yourself.



A less glamorous but as addictive bacon treat was discovered earlier in the year at the Silver Fox in Casper, Wyoming.  The menu read -

Bacon Knots

"What are bacon knots," I asked the waitress innocently?

Her eyes rolled back in her head, she started to make gurgling noises and drooled a bit just before going into a Meg Ryan impression from "When Harry Met Sally."  You know the one, don't pretend you don't.

After she regained consciousness she began to describe with all the tenderness and love of recounting her first kiss in the 8th grade with Lance how thick-cut bacon was literally tied into a knot, dredged in brown sugar and baked in the oven until done.

She was still in a trance when I asked, "Overhand?"

Returning to the Land of the Living with a visible startle she looked at me and said, "What?"

"Overhand," I repeated, "is the bacon tied with an overhand knot?  Or do you tie two rashers together with a square knot?  Ever tried a bowline?"

She looked at me as if I were from Mars speaking Sanskrit and said huffily, "A knot.  Just a knot.  Do you want to order some or knot, I mean not?"

Yes, please, we said and make it a double.  I refrained from making a double-knot pun because I had used up all my Good Will tokens.

Moments later our bacon knots arrived and we were not disappointed.  The bacon was cooked to perfection and the brown sugar had left just a hint of a glaze.  They were not too sweet at all and I could see doing bacon knots with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper or chipotle chili powder.

The surprise was the knot.  I wondered why bacon wasn't simply dredged in brown sugar and cooked in strips.  However, there was something about eating the knot that was magical.  It was like eating something bacon wasn't supposed to be.  Bacon could be a strip, wrapped around something or crumbled, but not served in a "chunk" like a knot.

It seemed a little naughty or "knotty" to throw out one more bad pun.  The bacon knots disappeared quickly but "knot" before I managed to preserve one for posterity.

I give you The Bacon Knot -


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stuffing the Stuffing

It's two days to Thanksgiving and all the talk around the table is about food.  Not the food we're eating or the food we ate during the day, but the food we're going to eat in two more days.

Stuffing about stuffing.

Is the cornbread baked?  Do we have the pecans and celery?  What about the pies?  Can we stuff the pies into the stuffing?

And so it goes.

I can't imagine the first Thanksgiving went like this.  Did the Pilgrims fret about celery, pecans and stuffing, or were they more worried about getting through the month without starving?

I think the first Thanksgiving was much less prepared.  More like a pot luck dinner or a dinner party than a grand event.

"Hey, Martha, I sort of invited a bunch of Iroquois on Thursday to share grits."

"What, Walter, I have nothing to wear!  How could you?  And grits?  We can't serve our guests grits.  Go get some yams or something."

Somehow I don't think Martha and Walter had "conjugal relations" that evening.




Monday, November 24, 2014

House Full of Conversations

Is this my boarding pass?

Here are the apples.  The oven is on.

I'll clear the dishes.

What time does my flight leave?

Cinnamon, who wanted cinnamon?

I think I'm going to get that Mustang.  It's really cool.

Your flight isn't until Friday.

I found the foil, is the oven on?

Seven minutes at 450 will work.

We'll need some more pies if we eat this one.  I'm going to eat all this pie.

We're good pie makers.

We can take the leftovers and cover them in cheese.

We'll need more cheese.

We need celery, no, not for the pie.  For the salad.

Water.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Land of Enchantment

New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment.

For me that means two things:  Mexican food with lots of local peppers, and cats.

Tonight I settled on beef flautas with green chili sauce and for the cat a local named Zoe.

The food was outstanding and the cat tolerated my presence in her universe.

So far, so good.



Saturday, November 22, 2014

Raining

Raining.

Oh, the King.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Only Temporary

Eons ago, 15 years to be exact, we had a party at our house and decided to move the big Klipshorn speakers into the "Family Room."  So far, so good.

However, the Klipshorn's are "corner" speakers that require a corner to sit in.  Surprisingly, most houses today don't have two corners for such speakers.  Thus, we had to improvise and put one speaker in a corner next to the stereo unit, and the other speaker wayyyyyy across the room AND across an opening.

What to do with the wires?

Duct tape!  Yep, duct tape solved the problem of people tripping on the wires and provided a "temporary" solution for the next FIFTEEN YEARS.

Yes.  Monster Cable was duct taped to the floor in our house for FIFTEEN YEARS.  Actually, after a few days you hardly notice it, aside from the daily complaint of "When are you going to do something about those duct taped wires?!?"

Soon, I would reply, giving me another year or two grace.

Well, finally, we had our floor replaced and the contractor said, "I can hide those wires," and so he did.

So.  He.  Did.

All hail the contractor!


Look, Ma, no wires!  But, great sound.  Astounding sound!



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Carpet Out, Wood In

The great floor renovation project continues.

Today, the wood was laid in the Master Bedroom which previously had carpet.  Here's the progress:





Lots of sawing, whacking, hammering and more hammering going on late into the night.  Don't these guys ever sleep?




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Whack and Done

The great floor project continues with great progress.  Now that the floor is leveled and then environmental conditions are right, the wood goes down.

Like this:


Bang, bang, I laid it down.
Bang, bang it went down pound!
Bang, bang I laid those floorboards down.

Now the floor is down and level
We'll have a party, drink and revel
The old floor is a memory
And now we'll have a big par-TEE!

Bang, bang we laid it down
Bang, bang it went down pound!
Bang, bang we laid those floorboards down.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scrape and Goop

The great floor replacement project continues.

Today was filled with scraping bits and pieces off the old floor, sweeping and cleaning the dust and junk, and spreading leveling goop to make the floor flat.


The light pattern is from the front door reflecting off the wet floor goop.  The best part about the floor project is that I just get to watch.  That's a good thing since I have no clue what's going on.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Visit From Shiva

Shiva the destroyer visited my house today - by invitation.

My "hardwood" floors were deteriorating rapidly and I decided to replace them.  How could hardwood floors deteriorate and why couldn't I just sand and refinish them?  Well, they aren't exactly hardwood floors.  The "hardwood" is engineered by layering a hardwood veneer on a couple of layers of plywood.  Once the veneer goes bad such that sanding would expose the underlying plywood, it's not possible to apply a proper stain and finish.

Sadly, the floors were refinished about five years ago, but that application failed as you can see in this photo of the floor protected by an area rug.


The floor is not only faded and dull but if you could see it closely the veneer has degraded and pitted to a large extent.

The floor was removed by three strong, young men wielding large hammers and a nail bar, and it came up surprisingly easily.  Whack, rip, and there was a pile of rubble where once a floor lay.


Once picked up and brushed up the rooms were ready for new wood to be laid down.


Thus ends Part 1 of the renovation project.  Stay tuned for Part 2.  And 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and ...


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Back to Gilwell

Gilwell Park is a tract of land donated to the Boy Scouts in England for training and to serve as a base of operations.

The first adult training course now known as Wood Badge was held there in 1919 by Robert Baden-Powell himself.  Since then, thousands of Wood Badge courses have been conducted around the world.   Each Wood Badge course becomes Gilwell Field representing the original park where Baden-Powell held his first course.  Below is Gillwell Field at Camp Strake near Houston, Texas.


Alas, Camp Strake has been sold due to the encroaching of development in the area.  Surrounded by houses, roads, railroads and a nearby intercontinental airport, Camp Strake is no longer a place to "get away from it all," rather it's in the middle of it all.

So, the camp has been sold and this weekend was conducted the last Wood Badge course ever at Camp Strake.

This property of trees, trails, lakes and wildlife will become a network of road, houses, malls and traffic congestion.

It's very said, but only a reflection on our society and how it grows.

I'm privileged to have spent the final weekend at a Wood Badge course at Camp Strake, in the cold, clean air and still calm of dawn's light.  Farewell, Camp Strake, you leave memories with me forever.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Cat

Kink is sitting on the table.   There he is.


Kink is cool and unmoved by current events.  He's the Cat.

And There He Is.

Kink.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Peppercorns

Back in the ancient days, and I'm sure some food historian is going to correct me, and that's fine, but back in the ancient days of my childhood there was only one kine of peppercorn:  black.

You had black peppercorns for your grinder or grind black pepper in a shaker.

Black.  Nothing else.

Not so today.  Today we have a plethora (love that word!) of pepper options:  black, white, pink, green, red and shades in between.

Now I have in my house a variety of pepper grinders each filled with their individual delicacy.

My favorite?

Black.

Yep.  After all that my favorite is just plain black peppercorn.

I don't know why I bothered buying all those other pepper mills.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

OMG, Tommy Is Dead!

Tom Magliozzi has died.  Click or Clack of the Tappet brothers has died.  I don't know which one it was and I'm sure he would have wanted it that way.

Click and Clack have been part of my live for over 30 years.  I love "Car Talk" the NPR radio program and I would catch it usually on a Saturday morning when I was en route to some event, usually Scouting related.  Coming or going to a campout or some other activity.

Car Talk is, hands down, my favorite NPR radio program (unless I write about another favorite program!) because it combined comedy with facts and that's an important component to life.

Comedy and facts.

Fact:  You're going to die.

Comedy:  Die laughing!

So, to Tommy, don't drive like my brother and to the other Clacker, Ray, don't drive like my brother.

Loved you both.  Best wishes going forward.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kat Toy Snax


I don't know the name of the marketing genius who came up with the idea of "Cat Toy Snacks," but the guy clearly has never owned a cat.

Here's the blueprint:

Cat Snack in the shape of a little ball that the cat will "play" with before eating.

Around here we call those things "lizards" and they're not round.

Seriously, marketing dude, my cat is going to "play" with a snack before snarfing it down in loud, greedy, crunchy chomps?

No.  Freaking.  Way.

Here's how the "Cat Toy Snacks" went down.

"Come here, Kink old buddy, I've got some snack-o's for you!"

"Meow!"

"Here they are.  Play with them then eat them."

Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.

No play.  None at all.  Not even any interest in play.  No batting them around.  Just crunching.  And more crunching.

Cat Toy Snacks?  I think I hear the sound of a cat snack marketing guy getting fired.

Now, round Tater Tots?  Yeah, I'd go for those!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Squirrels

It's a good year for squirrels. By that I mean the trees are dropping nuts aplenty and the squirrels are bigger and more numerous than I've ever seen them.

Also, the squirrels seem to have figured out how to dodge cars - less squirrel pelts on the road.

Today I noticed a particularly large squirrel today climbing the big oak tree in the front yard.  He had a mouth full of nuts and was grabbing more and was so heavy that the branch he was on nearly touched the ground.

Happy squirrel.

I also noticed around the lawn a bunch of acorns.  Clearly the squirrels had a lot of work to do to get that mess cleaned up.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Porky Stewy Thing Revisited


OK, here's the blueprint:

Pork chops or sirloin slices or pork whatever, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
5-6 tomatillos, chopped
4-5 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded
can of any bean, optional
some chopped carrots
chicken stock, or Knorr stock cube 
water
time - about 2 hours.

Put everything in a pot and cook it for two hours.  Spice it up with garlic powder, cumin and chili powder if you like.  Or not.  Salt to taste.

That's it.  Two hours is the main ingredient.  Just let it simmer on low and you have dinner.  Serve with toasted tortillas and vast quantities of red wine.

You can thank me later!


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Polar Express

Or Vortex.  Or whatever it's called.

"Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's coooooold out there today!"

Groundhog Day.  A favorite film of mine.

Cold weather.  I love cold weather.  You can always get warm in cold weather but it can be a problem getting cool in hot weather.   That's my view and I'm sticking with it.

When I lived "up North" I used to get LL Bean catalogs about this time of year advertising all manner of flannel.  Why flannel has to come in red/black/yellow checks I have no idea, but I loved the thought of warm flannel on a cold day.  "Up North" we got the LL Bean catalogs starting in August which, I think, it got cold up where LL Bean lived in Maine.  "Down South" of "Up North" where I lived any signs of winter didn't appear until nearly Thanksgiving, not Labor Day.

Still, it was great to look at all the warming things I could buy.  Flannel coats, flannel shirts, flannel socks and so forth.  I bought them all and couldn't wait to break them out at the first sign of the temperature dipping below 80.

Moving along, we moved to the Deep South where LL Bean is more a legend than a clothing outlet and stories of cold revolve around the day Grandpa wore socks with his sandals.  Why, you'd have to live in a meat locker to wear flannel.

The newspapers would report, "Man wearing flannel shirt dies of heat exhaustion."  Terrible would it be.

So, the LL Bean catalogs simply stopped coming.  For years I was deprived of super models wearing ear-flap hats, long flannel shirts and boots.  Oh, the humanity!  It's simply too hot down here for flannel, super models or not, and sales must have been suffering so much the the old Beans just gave up on us.

Until this year.

I was amazed to find a flannel-filled LL Bean catalog in my mailbox just the other day!  Glorious flannel bikinis, tank tops, t-shirts, shorts and scarves.

Well, it appears that LL Bean has been watching the Polar Vortex and, yes, it's going to get chilly-willy down here in Bayou City.

Flannel time!

That remains to be seen.  Meanwhile, I think I have some old LL Bean flannel socks tucked away deep in a sock drawer and I might haul them out.

Meanwhile, LL Bean, could you do a few more photo shoots with your flannel super models?  Just a suggestion.






Saturday, November 08, 2014

Up and Back


The drive up and back today wasn't too bad.

The drive up was about 40 miles in the early morning and there were reports of road works, but I got a tip to take the Krufker Express to Tollway and south to Jefferson and west to Ella and home free.

That worked.

Word came later that the road works announced earlier wouldn't start until night so it was clear sailing down the Beltway to home.

That worked.

So, up and back both worked for different reasons.

I drove about 100 miles today just to do some teaching and inspiring and stuff like that, and I often drive farther and longer to do the same thing.

But think back 50 or 100 years and that would have been a several day trip.  Who traveled 100 miles, round trip, in a day?  Nobody!  That was insane.

Not to say that what I did today was not insane!  That's something to ponder

Friday, November 07, 2014

Stuck in Traffic

Whenever I travel in a new city I always enjoy the traffic reports even though they mean totally nothing to me.

This report makes sense to me because I've lived in Houston, Texas for nearly 20 years:  the Gulf Freeway is backed up all the way down to NASA One and traffic is normal around the Loop with some congestion at 290.  Coming in from Katy it's backed up at the Beltway but clear to the north.  Time from The Woodlands to downtown is about 45 minutes.

OK, that report covers a lot of Houston which is approximately 60 miles by 60 miles square.  Yep, it's that big.  On a good day it takes you an hour to cross Houston east to west or north to south.

It takes some time here to learn the short names like "Loop" and "Beltway" and where they are in reference to other parts of the city.  Katy is to the west, The Woodlands are in the north and NASA One is down south.  So, if I hear that the Gulf Freeway is backed up ... who cares!  I live in the southwest and it doesn't affect me at all.

And that brings us to a "foreign" city.  The traffic reports are the same and sound like this to me:

Oh, don't get on the Krufker Parkway this morning, it's a par-KING-lot.  Better to take the 20 down to Planters and across to the Parker and up the 9 to 10 and merge to 70.

Uh, right.  Where am I, Siri?

*boing*  Where am I Siri?  I don't recognize "Where am I Siri."  I suggest you are in a certain creek without a paddle.

My advice is to stay in the center lane, follow the big truck about half a mile ahead and when he changes lanes, you change lanes.

Krufker Parkway?  Really?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Back to Pork

Well, I got the word that beef tomato sauce dishes were out and something else had to be in.

Sorta vague.

But, looking  back over 30-plus years of cooking I realized that I had fallen into many ruts.  There was the Chicken Kiev rut.  The Beef Bourgeon rut.  The Dirty Rice rut.

Each rut a nice place to be but not nice to be for too long.

Apparently, I'm in a "tomato sauce" rut.  Whoa!  What?  I love tomato sauces!  They're the basis for many recipes including chili, curry, stew (previously touted!), spaghetti and many, many other dishes.  How could tomato go so wrong?

Well, it's because tomato-based sauces became the staple rather than the exception.  They became stale, not fresh.  Ordinary, not exciting.

So, how to address this dilemma?  Obviously to embark on a bunch of non-tomato recipes until tomatoes are back in fashion!

That shouldn't take more than a decade, right?

We'll start tonight with pork chops in wine sauce with cream and mushrooms.  I think this is going to be a winner!


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Smokin'

I struggled with smoking meat for many years.  Too hot, too cold, too smokey, not enough smokey - it was a mess.

Then I stumbled on the secret:  the CookShack smoker.

Smoking angst done.

Put the stuff in the smoker, press the ON button and wait 6-7 hours.

Today was an example of that.  I smoked 6 lbs of salmon with hardly any effort.  I just brined the fish filets, patted them dry and put them in the smoker with some chunks of apple wood.  Six hours later the perfectly smoked and salted salmon came out to great acclaim.

I'll freeze them in small portions for future enjoyment.




Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Ewwwww, Stew! (Not!)


Not to criticize my Mother, but I will her cooking.  Now, all of us revere our mother's cooking because that's all we knew.  But, as a student of cooking and a spawn of my mother's cooking I feel I can be some authority about the things she got wrong.

Like most things.

Now, my mother was known as a "good cook" and possibly a "great cook" but if there was a recipe that was received by the family as, "Ewwwww, stew!" then it requires a more detailed analysis.

Why "Ewwwww, stew!"  I think it stems from the thin sauce, scant spices and general tastelessness. 

I know, that's harsh.  But, my Mom served a thin gruel when it came to stew.

What astounded me about this whole thing was my immediate success at making my first stew by simply following a recipe from Southern Living Magazine!  How simple is that?  I just followed the recipe and the stew came out saucy and meaty and flavorful and spicy and all the things that the stew of my childhood lacked.

So, there you have it.  Rebellious son disses Mom's stew.  Headlines everywhere.

I think where my Mom went wrong was not giving the stew enough time to cook.  I won't imagine her constraints on time because I was a kid and not privy to the adult conversations at that time, but I think it was simply not enough time.

If you give a stew about two hours and let the ingredients cook together and simmer then you will have a successful dish.  If you try to hurry it - disaster.  Thin, weak, tasteless and what I remember having as a kid.  Maybe there just wasn't time back then.

Now that the weather has turned and it's November I'll be doing a beef stew, and I'll let it simmer on low for at least two hours and I'll adjust the spices just so and add a grate of nutmeg at just the right time.

Because, you see, beef stew in November is a comfort food.  It's the sort of thing you look forward to, not go, "Ewwwww, stew!"  No, there will be none of that Ewwwwww-ing in my house.

And I'll bake a batch of scratch biscuits to prove it!

Tincture of Time.  That's what a good stew takes.  A rich, thick meaty sauce chock full of vegetables is just what the doctor ordered for a cold-day meal.



Monday, November 03, 2014

RIP Sandy the Cat


Sandy the cat died this year.  He was 21 hooman years old.  Sandy was a friend to all - people, kids (who aren't really people, right?), dogs, other cats and, well, everybody.  Sandy was truly a friend to all.  The one characteristic that universally stood out with Sandy was his Purr.  He had a great Purr Box that could be heard across a room, through walls and beyond.  It was loud, it was heartfelt, it was genuine and it was Sandy.  Everybody who met Sandy would exclaim, "Oh, what a loud purr!"  And that was Sandy.

Sandy got lost twice, both times after a move.  The first time Sandy got lost he went down a storm drain as he had done many times - in a different town - and got lost in the subterranean labyrinth.  We thought he was lost forever, but a month later he returned home, thinner, dirtier but happier.

The second time was after we moved from the "drain" house to a new house and Sandy went walk-a-bout and didn't return home for several days.  Then, one evening, we had a knock on the door and there was this young woman, a veterinarian student, with Sandy in tow.  She was on her way home, stopped at a stop sign and noticed this cat sitting on the corner looking lost.  She pulled over and found that he had a collar and tag.  She called us up to say she had "Sandy" and we directed her the few blocks to our house.  He never got lost again!

In his final years, Sandy got more feeble, unable to jump on chairs or climb stairs.  He spent his time sleeping, eating and puttering around the ground floor.  In his final days he slept a lot and finally just stopped.  I found him lifeless on the kitchen floor by his food bowl looking fast asleep but that long, long sleep we all will enjoy when our time comes.  Sandy's time came and he peacefully slipped into the next realm where he is undoubtedly chasing mice and birds and eating Kat Chow.  RIP Sandy.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sour Dough Starter

Some many years ago I started a Sour Dough Starter and it was active for about 7 years.  Then we moved and I never got it going again.

I love sour dough bread, rolls and pancakes but it takes some time and preparation to make.   In ye olde days the starter was made by combining a ball of dough with a little milk or just water, covering the ball with a cloth and letting it "ferment" in the kitchen.

In modern times a sour dough starter can be made with a packet of bread yeast, nonfat dried milk, flour and a jar, but the basic idea of letting yeast grow in dough and using that to seed a loaf of bread.

Annual Cold?


I just reviewed my 2013 NaBloPoMo postings and learned that I had a cold this time last year.  Well, hello déjà vu, my old friend, I'm here to comfort you again.  Yep, two weeks of sudden sniffles, scratchy throat and the kind of stuff that drives you to Nyquil-ville.

Not bad, though, one mild cold in a year.  Could be a lot worse.  I survived the Flu Attack of 1991 and still remember that episode:  hunkered under the covers, talking to the doctor on the phone such that he said, "Uh, don't come in, OK, I'll just drop some antibiotics by parachute and you'll be fine ... or not."  Sage advice.

Speaking of sage advice I once got some advice from a doctor that I clearly misunderstood, that caused great hilarity in a certain pharmacy and I'm sure they still tell the story.

During an annual physical I mentioned that my wife was in the throes of a flu attack and sneezing, coughing, stuffed up, aches and pains and all the stuff associate with a flu attack, or flu-like.  I asked if there was anything I could do to help relieve her suffering.

He told me, "Tincture of time" but what I heard was "Tincture of thyme."  I was not aware of the idiom at the time but I proved myself an idiot of the time a few minutes later at the pharmacy.

After perusing the shelves and discovering Tincture of Clove, and Tincture of Garlic and Tincture of Mint, I was unable to find Tincture of Thyme, so I went up to the pharmacist and asked him, "I'm looking for Tincture of Thyme, do you have any?"

The pharmacist looked at me for a long time and finally said, "We're fresh out.  Come back in a week."

There was something about the look on his face, the twinkle in his eye, the smirk on his lips, the suppressed guffaw in his throat that indicated to me that I had been had by the Second Oldest Trick in the Book.

On the way home my poor brain figured it out and I had one of those "D'oh!" moments.  Not the first, not the last.

And the Oldest Trick in the Book, according to the popular commercial is, "Lookest over there.  Ha, I madest thou look."

Yeah, there is an oldest trick in the book.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014

Well, it's that time of year again.

It seems like yesterday that it was that time of the year again:  National Blog Posting Month.

Write a blog post every day during the month of November.  Simple, right?  Yeah, well look at this blog.  I've definitely fallen off the wagon with just  few postings the entire year.  Pitiful.  Like last year I could blame Facebook, Twitter, Vine - oh, look a squirrel - and a host of other distractions but the bottom line is lack of discipline and dedication to the art of writing.

It takes some effort to write every day and I greatly admire my author friends who write from 10 to noon, or 5 to midnight, or 3 to 4 AM - or whenever on a regular basis.   "That's my writing time.  I never miss my writing time," they coo.  Alas, I am way too easily distracted to adhere to that kind of structure.  As a professional procrastinator I have enough projects that have ripened to the point of rotting that my life is anything but structured.

Write a blog posting?  How about that messy garage, sure could use some straightening up!

Write a blog posting?  Ugh, have you seen the office, that round table has had stuff sitting on it for TWO YEARS!

Write a blog posting?  Oops, need to go to the grocery store and pick up dinner.

And so it goes.  (Thanks, Kurt.)

Every year I say, "This year is going to be better, different," and each year is more or less the same, playing catch up, running around, and, you know, that garage is still a mess and the stuff on that round table will sit there another year.

I think it boils down to committing to a task.  Commitment.  I'm pretty good about that once I set my mind to it.  I guess the problem is that I don't set my mind too often or maybe to the right stuff.

So, here's to NaBloPoMo 2014.  I've been doing this since the project started in 2006 and never missed a year, never missed a day.  At least in November.

Now, only if we had NaGarTidyMo I might make a dent in that garage mess ...

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Connections - October 5th

They come and they go.

October seems to be that transition month between the seasons, September being so fickle.  Go away, September, you're drunk!

October is serious stuff.  October doesn't hold back  October is the source of epic loves and epic losses, the harbinger of winter with her festivals, heralding the end of the year.  October means the leaves are going to burst into golden splendor.  October spells childhood's end and the maturing into a deep, fulfilling relationship against the coming cold, the finality of the year.

Epic loves have their roots in October.  Deep roots gripping the heart and entwining the soul; roots that don't simply disappear even if cut.  Epic loves are flames that aren't simply blow out but in face of  the approaching winter smolder and give warmth.  Epic loves are worth saving lest they be smothered by cold indifference and neglect.  October inspires.

It's a mistake to look upon October as superficial, given to whims or impulsive gestures.  October holds.  October doesn't forget.  October is always.

So, to my October-born friends and especially my faithful, devoted Kink the Cat, I reach out to you all in silent tribute, with love and understanding.  James Hetfield wrote, "Never cared for what they do, Never cared for what they know, But I know"  October knows.

One light that did go out on this day was a person I admired greatly for his strength of character, resilience in the face of adversity and for an intuition that can only be described as genius, and that is Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs.  Steve died on this day in 2011 and we'll have to learn to "Think Different" on our own, now.  A flame extinguished in October, let's hope it's the exception.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Connections

Sometimes it's necessary to break old connections to make new connections.

It's a lot like moving to a new town.  In your old town you had your work, your schools, your grocers and merchants and friends.  In your new town you have to establish new connections.  Often you can keep the old connections, especially friends, but, in time, even those may fade away from simple lack of intimacy, neglect or distance.

Out of sight, out of mind.

A man I know had an interesting observation.  "Sometimes you just need to go down a new road."  I asked him what he meant by that and he said, "I have no idea."

But, he was right.

Sometimes you just need to down a new road.  More likely than not it's not a "new" road, in the sense of being created last night.  More likely it's an old road, been there for years, that you just never went down.   Easy to miss.  Difficult to make a part of your habits.

A new road you travel could be daunting for those around you.  You may have to break old ties to establish new ties, old relationships to new relationships.

The thing about exploring new roads is that you don't know what you'll find, but if you've been on the road for a while you should be confident that it will be OK.  Perhaps some of those old relationships will be rediscovered anew with new insights, new interests and new adventures.

Or, some of those relationships will remain at the fork in the road.  Forever lost.

My favorite strip cartoon, Calvin and Hobbes, ended in 1995, or did it?  In that final panel Calvin and Hobbes are in a forest with new-fallen snow.  Calvin remarked something like, "It snowed last night! Isn't it beautiful?  A clean slate?  What should we do?"  Then Calvin says something like, "It's magical!  Let's go exploring!" and off they go down the hill.

Who knows what they will find.  New friends, old friends?  New relationships, re-newed relationships.  It's all a matter of time and, possibly, opportunity and whether one is prepared to take that opportunity when it comes by.

Yeah, let's go exploring!  The past is not dead, deeds are not done, they are simply on another path and perhaps those paths will cross and cross and cross.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Newman

"Your drink, Herr Newman."

"Danke," Newman replied absently, making no eye contact.

Newman surveyed the restaurant.  The newlywed couple from Room 202 occupied a centre table,  embarrassing themselves as usual, feeding each other and pretending to be impossibly in love.  It was an act, of course.  Herr Newlywed began an affair with his office assistant years before his nuptials.  Eventually Frau Newlywed would catch on but, until then, life is a cabaret, no?

Newman knew these things.  Newman knew a great many things.  That was his job - to know things.  Secrets.  Dangerous secrets.

Lost in a fantasy involving a threesome between Herr, Frau and the office assistant, Newman failed to notice the blonde's arrival.

"Hello, Newman."

"Hello, Muse," Newman replied without looking up.

Muse showed no reaction but Newman knew she was annoyed by him using her code name in the clear.  That's why he did it.  He enjoyed annoying the Muse.  Later, Newman planned to really "annoy" the Muse and the thought of her chipmunk noises caused a vague stirring in his loins.  Focus, he thought, focus.

Muse sat down and ordered a Hendrick's with a slice of cucumber, no ice.

Newman allowed himself a tiny smile, just a tightening of the lips at the thought of Muse liking it "straight up."

"Down boy," Muse said, "and cheers."

They clinked glasses.

"So," Muse said, "you have news?"

Newman paused for effect.

"Yes.  Nothing earth-shattering other than I've located agent Kirsch, who later this evening will become ex-agent Kirsch."

Muse's heart pounded as she fought for composure.  Kirsch!  The most secret of secret agents.  Totally invisible and completely devastating.  Kirsch!  Could it be true?

"Are you sure?" Muse probed.

"Quite sure," Newman replied, "In fact she's sitting over there, the corner table by the exit."

Muse pulled out her compact, flipped up the mirror and regarded the long-sought Kirsch.  She didn't look like much.  Muse imagined her as a librarian.  Kirsch sat alone, her back to the wall, head down and scribbling furiously into a journal.

"Hmm," Muse muttered, "not much to look at.  What tipped you off?"

Newman swirled the ice in his glass, an unsophisticated gesture that irritated Muse, as did most, to be true, all, of Newman's gestures.  She knew they were all fake, anyway.  It didn't matter.

"Penmanship," Newman announced with a flourish, "penmanship."

Muse stared at Newman as if he was covered in leeches and imagining the horror the leeches felt.

Muse leant across the table, her face inches from Newman's and whispered, "Penmanship?"

"Ah, Muse," Newman sighed, "someday maybe far in the future if you stick with me and pay attention you will learn to pay attention ... to details.  They say the Devil is in the details but it's the details that will send our adversaries to the Devil."

Newman allowed himself a brief chuckle and smile, celebrating his witty observation.

Muse, unmoved, repeated, "Penmanship?"

"They all make mistakes, you know," Newman lectured as if to a particularly dim student.  "I managed to observe Kirsch's journal while pretending to admire the garden."

Muse thought, "You probably admired her tits, too," but let it pass.

"Beautiful penmanship," Newman continued, "and in ink.  It was the ink that caught my interest.  What kind of writer writes in ink?  A Number Two pencil is the rule according to Stephen King.  Ink, never."

"Hardly damning," Muse objected, "penmanship and ink.  What does it prove?"

"It fits the profile we constructed for Kirsch.  Deliberate, careful, never makes mistakes.  What kind of writer fits that description?  None!"

"What are you going to do?" Muse asked.

"Ah, well, Miss Kirsch is going to have an 'accident' this evening.  Apparently her hair dryer fell into the bathtub.  Such an unfortunate accident."

"But, what if you're wrong?  What if it really is just a writer and not Kirsch?" Muse inquired.

"No matter," replied Newman, "no matter.  In the grand scheme of things.  We'll move on and start the search anew.  No matter."

The waiter appeared with their orders which they ate in silence.  After dinner, Newman paid for the meal and they retired to their room for the night.

The morning was bright and sunny.  The hotel opened the patio for breakfast and most early risers enjoyed the sun and mild temperature.

Kirsch sat at a table overlooking the garden when Muse arrived.

"What do you want, bitch?" Kirsch asked, not looking up from her journal.

"It takes a bitch to know a bitch, bitch," Muse replied.

Kirsch looked up, regarded Muse and said, "What do you want, bitch?"

Muse sat down and said, "A coffee American and a croissant, please."  The waiter, standing nearby nodded slightly and moved away.

When her order arrived, Muse slurped some coffee and bit the croissant in half.

"Busy night?" Kirsch inquired not looking up from her journal.

Muse swallowed the croissant, took another slurp of her coffee and mumbled, "Newman."

Kirsch stopped writing, looked up and said, "Newman?"

"Yes, Newman," Muse continued, "it seems he had an unfortunate experience."

Kirsch allowed herself a little smile and said, "Cyanide?"

Muse paused for effect and said, "Cyanide can be traced.  No, peanuts."

Kirsch stopped writing, looked up smiling, "Peanuts?"

"Yes," Muse continued, "peanuts.  Newman was deadly allergic to peanuts.  He kept an epi-pen with him at all times.  At dinner last night after he told me he had identified you I put peanuts in his food."

"OK, I can see that," Kirsch replied, "but why didn't he use his epi-pen?"

"He did," smirked Muse, "I replaced the contents with water."

"Newman died in agony?" Kirsch looked amused.

"Oh, yes," Muse confirmed, "and his last sight was my tits waving in his face.  I mean, I'm not a total monster.  I'm just a bitch."

Kirsch looked at Muse, pulled her close and gave her a long, wet kiss.

"You're not a bitch, Muse," Kirsch purred, "you're my bitch."



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Unfortunately True Story

Claire,

Per your request to obtain the original, certified copies of Certificates of Live Birth re:  You and Mom, I went upstairs to look for them and the funniest thing happened.  I looked out the window and what did I see but a big, old squirrel!  Big as day, right out there on the golf course.  I exclaimed to Kink, "Look, a squirrel!"  Then I ran downstairs, out the back door, across the yard to the gate, but the lawn guys had tied the gate with a wire and by the time I got it untangled the squirrel had run away.  I walked up and down the fairway looking for the squirrel, but he was gone.

So, I went back through the gate, wired it shut, went back in the house and, I guess, I got confused because I forgot all about the Certificates and made myself a sandwich, instead.  It was a good sandwich, too!  I bought some rye bread that Mom doesn't like which means I get to eat it all and slapped on some roasted turkey breast, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato and a slice of dill pickle (expiration date: 2010 - extra sour).  After cleaning up I checked my Facebook statuses, wrote some LOL comments and someone commented about "certificates" and I remembered, "Certificates!"

I went back up stairs to look for the Certificates of Live Birth and, wouldn't you know it, as I walked by the big window something told me to look out on the golf course and, lo and behold, there he was - the squirrel!  Kink saw him, too, because he went right up to the window, pawed it and meowed as if to say, "Hey, that big, fat squirrel is back out there!"  What could I do?  I ran downstairs, out the back door, across the yard, unwired the gate and I just got a glimpse of him diving into the sand bunker.  I ran to the bunker but I was too slow because he had scampered off.  But, he left a cute trail of tracks in the sand.  I had to get a picture of them but I left my iPhone in the kitchen.  I ran back to the gate, across the yard, in through the back door, grabbed my iPhone and ran back to the bunker.  Unfortunately, some golfers beat me to it and had raked over the tracks.  If I could find a "sad" emoticon I would put it here.

Once again, having been distracted by the squirrel, I lost track of my original task and read the paper, did the Jumble (it was easy!) and went through the mail and decided to clean out the kitchen Junk Drawer.  That took me about an hour and all I ended up doing was taking everything out of the junk drawer, playing with it and putting it back.  At least it's neater looking.

Now it was getting late and Kink came in meowing for dinner and I gave him that and Mom came in asking when dinner was so I started working on that and before I knew it the day was over and I was brushing my teeth.  Brushing, brushing, brushing - the thought of "Certificates" came through my mind and I made a mental note to go into the kitchen and make a physical note to remind myself to do that first thing in the morning, after breakfast and coffee, of course, but by the time I finished brushing my teeth that thought had vanished.  If I had remembered to keep my iPhone with me I could have made a Fail dot Com video of me failing to write the reminder, but I didn't.  Too bad, it would have gone viral!

I hope you are keeping warm in Chicago and remember, layers, layers, layers.  If you need anything from us just send me an email or a twerker or something and I'll get right on it.

All the best,
  Dad-0

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Stand Down

I mark time by the Christmas Tree stand.

I take down the stand in December.  I put up the stand in January.  Thus, the year, a passage of time is marked.

It seems to me that I'm repeating this cycle faster and faster.  No sooner than I put the stand up then I'm taking it down.  The back up.  And down.  Up.  Down.

It's shocking to me the acceleration of time.

Eons ago we had this very tiny, itsy-bitsy Christmas Tree stand.  Appropriate for a toothpick or the size of tree we could afford back then.  Our first cat, Natasha, loved to climb Christmas Trees but she weighed a lot more than our trees so we would find tree and cat flat on the floor every morning.  Eventually, we just decorated the tree horizontally and left it that way.

As time went on and our ceilings elevated we were able to buy taller and, therefore, thicker trees requiring a new stand; a robust stand that could "stand" both a tall tree and a couple of cats.  This we found and it has been our stand for many years.

A few years ago we bought a humongously tall tree, well over eight-feet.  It's trunk was at least six inches in diameter, but our stand did the job and that tree was as magnificent as our Christmas morning.  A wonder to behold.

In recent years we have settled for smaller trees, around seven feet in height and well within the tolerance of our stand.  It's worked out well since the cats no longer have an interest in climbing Christmas trees.  I guess  there's no fun in climbing a tree if it's not going to fall over and cause a ruckus!

Which takes us to today.  The Christmas Tree is on the lawn awaiting the recycling truck, the Christmas decorations are back in the loft and I dis-assembled the stand, oiled its parts, put it back in its box and stored it in the garage on the top shelf where it lives.

I have no doubt that I will go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow, only weeks before Christmas and be told,

"Hey, you need to get the Stand down, we're buying a Christmas tree today!"

Yeah, I know.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Bows


I love bows.  Christmas package bows.  Red, green, silver, striped, I love them all.  I love them so much I keep them.

Forever.

In a giant bag.

That's where bows go to die because I - never. use. them. again.

My bows.  

Nobody touches my bows.  They're in the bag.  Safe.  Safe from you, bow stealer!

Yeah, that makes no sense but it's what I do.  Send me a present for Christmas and put a bow on it and I will carefully, like a surgeon, preserve the bow and put it in my bag like some kind of Predator collecting skulls.  Oh, and if I can collect some of the wrapping ribbon, too, that's like Predator pulling out a spine.

Not quite as creepy.  Right?  Srsly, right?

Anyway.

This year I resolve to use my bow collection for good.  I can't say I've been changed for the better, but because I have my bow bag, I've been changed for good.

OK, you can look up that reference.  However, if you get a package from me with a bow on it, rest assured it was a loved bow, a treasured bow and a bow just for you.

P.S.  If you feel inclined to send the bow back to me I've included a SASE.  Love and kisses.