Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Very Good Sandwich

Lately I'm on a quest to create the perfect sandwich, probably a pursuit that no two people would approach in the same way. I, for example, don't want bits and pieces of some dead animal on my sandwich. (OK, I am lying already. A fish fillet can be very nice.)

Meat is just too easy. A sandwich should not be something in which the bread and toppings are an afterthought, like those pasty white buns and scalloped pieces of pickle you often get with a grouper sandwich.

No, a good sandwich is a blend of several textures and tastes, and in the experiment from yesterday: tomato (salted and sliced very thin and dusted with Parmesan), kalamata olive, thin sliced baby carrot and some Camembert cheese (just because I had it in the fridge). For toast I have this dark, whole grain nutty bread that smell great when it gets hot. And instead of mayonnaise or mustard I used a nice hot chipotle sauce.

I notice that Congress is headed toward reconciliation with the health care bill. It's a big game of chicken now. Chicken is another sandwich I don't like. Too dry. And also the dead meat.

This mid-assembly picture is pretty shaky, mostly because it smelled so great and I could no longer think straight. The end result was nice: salty, spicy, crispy, sweet, nutty, smooth, cheesy.

Today I had a tuna fish sandwich with bits of apple, almonds and chili peppers. Last night it was clam quesadillas (not a good idea after all, but you don't know if you don't try).

I'm glad Cheryl will be back home today.

I need a project pretty bad.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mom's Parrot

Sometimes a change in the weather can set things back on the right track. This weekend, for example, was beautiful, with highs in the 60s, just the perfect weather for some long walks with Cheryl and the dogs, some yard word and, finally, a chance to finish up the bedroom panelling project.

Actually, I finished the bedroom months ago. I just never finished up cleaning my office balcony--I cut all the panels out there and made a real mess. While cleaning up I took this photo of my mom's paper mache parrot, hanging just outside my office. She really liked that bird--she had it hanging from her curtain rods so you would see it when you walked up to the apartment building. If mom were still alive, I would have called her this morning (instead of writing this) and told her how I cleaned up the patio. And she would have said how proud she was of me. She took every opportunity to build up my ego, no matter how small my accomplishment.

It's nice to get back into the routine, to have a sense that things can get done in this springtime weather, and to feel that I can do them. I'm resolved to remember to tell Cheryl when I'm proud of her, which is often, and to say good boy and good girl to the dogs all the time, whether they deserve it or not.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

That Box of Buffy Comic Books

Note to future self, in case you discover some comic books in a box. See below:

Cheryl and I are big Buffy fans and have been since the show first aired in the late 1990s. So for Christmas I got Cheryl the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book series.

I could spin a good defence of why two adults would engage in what appears to be a purely juvenile diversion--after all, Cheryl is a school librarian and she needs to be familiar with the emerging and diverse field of graphic novels. And I... Well, I don't have much of an excuse. I just enjoy the story, the characters and the quirky dialogue.

I never cared for comic books as a kid. But since Cheryl introduced me to graphic novels, many of which have significant social and political themes (like Persepolis), I've become a big fan. And I could go on and on about how Buffy courses are offered in many universities, with course descriptions like this:

It is a show whose many subtexts—feminism and gender roles; issues of morality, faith and belief; the ethics of violence; the nature of society and the family—made it one of the richest social narratives ever to appear on-screen.

But to be clear: it's mostly a very silly story, and we are very silly people for enjoying it.

Also, I think redheads are pretty cute (I married one) and Buffy's sidekick, Willow, was especially cute and nerdy in the show. Later she becomes a powerful witch (and on one occasion she skins someone alive, but that was bad Willow).

Coincidentally, future self, in case you have lost your memory completely, our red-headed chocolate lab is named Willow.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Talking Dogs (it could happen)

I'm reading new book called The Link. It seems that in the 19th century, after Darwin published Origin of the Species and after people came to accept the ideas, a secondary discussion cropped up: How and why are humans better than all other animals? Many people expected a quick answer.

The first explanation put forth by the humans-are-so-fabulous crowd was that only humans use tools, but we know that chimps, birds and other animals also use tools. Our tools are much more advanced, but is that really what makes the difference?

Many animals communicate using sounds, but our language is much better. And here is where many scientists agree: not only is the human language ability better, it is unique in its ability to expand. Once we learned to talk, we just kept talking until our brains got very big. None of us, individually, needs to be very smart--as a group we just get smarter and smarter, and this allows many of us to just talk and talk with no actual intelligence at all.

Here's Bingo, taking in a deep breath of air that must contain something pretty good, maybe some hint of dog butt or squirrel feces. Unfortunately, the larynx of a dog is not physically equipped to talk, no matter how much bionic brain power the dog might have. Then why do I get the feeling he's going to say something any day now?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Is it Cold Yet?

The cold weather is back, sliding in through every crack and crevice of this old house, slipping in and seeping into my shoulder joints so that simple movements, like reaching up into the cabinets for a cereal bowl, are met with resistance.

For Willow it means be able to run and run in her pretty red fur coat. In summer we barely can walk around the block without her tongue turning blue from the heat, but today we played Frisbee so easily that she seemed to be that tireless, flexible puppy once again, ready to play all afternoon. But she chases the Frisbee with such energy that we can play only for a few minutes before we head back home, with her carrying the Frisbee the entire way.

To get ready for the Ireland trip next month, we went shopping today at an outdoor sports store, complete with its own ski slope inside and populated with frustrated Florida backpacker/explorer/skiers. Ireland is rainy all year long but is also windy and cold in March. I bought some thermal underwear, a fleece jacket and raincoat, and I may actually need them here, just to stay comfortable in this house.

I suspect that our new insulated Pella windows are doing their job to keep out the cold, but we have leaky old windows and doors throughout the house, like in the bathroom downstairs, where the curtains ruffle when the wind blows outside and where the toilet seat feels like a ring of frozen steel. At least, it feels that way to the touch--I'm not going to actually sit on it...

My dream project is to build new windows and doors for the house. No one, not even the extreme do-it-yourselfers on the web, thinks this is a good idea, especially not in hurricane-battered Florida. Which makes me want to do it even more...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The R and C Words

While in college I worked at what was then known as the Arkansas Children's Colony, in a section of the facility then known as Level 1. Profoundly Retarded. I worked with kids who had severe learning disabilities--giving baths, changing diapers, feeding kids who couldn't feed themselves, and so on. It turned into a full-time job for me, and I worked there for about seven years.

Years later I was at a party and I mentioned to someone that I "worked with retarded kids at the Children's Colony." A girl standing nearby took great offense. "First," she said, "the word is not 'retarded' and, second, the place is now called the Human Development Center. The word colony is offensive."

Of course, she was a snotty little witch, but she also was right about the "R" word. We have no control over the English language. Words evolve. At some point in the recent popular culture, the word retarded, or especially the shortened RE-tard, was abused until it became an insult. But colony? Maybe not the best choice of words, but hardly offensive. I shot back to the girl, "That's what it was called when I actually worked there." (I'm not very good at conflict.)

The "R" word has cropped up again, this time in the political landscape with Sarah Palin playing the role of snotty witch, that is until she realizes that her snottiness might implicate some powerful friends.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Finally, some Chopin

Today was the day. I was determined to record my Chopin piece today and finally, after all this time, put everything right.

Years ago I was living in Little Rock and playing music at night for truckers and bikers. As much as I enjoyed their company, I missed my school days, so I enrolled in UALR to take piano lessons and some music classes and to play violin in the orchestra. Who knows, maybe I could find some people that I like?

One day I was playing piano in one of the practice rooms, struggling with a Chopin piece that I could never play, and still can't play, though I am closer than before. The Fantasie Impromptu is a great monster of a piece. I remember sitting there, working on the first section. In the practice room next to me was a guy I recognized from the orchestra--a flute player and first-class jackass. When he heard my feeble attempts, he started playing the same piece, not great, but easily better than me, as if to say "I'm a flute player and even I am a better pianist than you." I should have gone over and congratulated him, but I felt small and embarrassed. And, as I said, he was a jackass.

Of course, I'm on the Internet now and am empowered to make statements to the world whenever I like. Now I can make everything right. I've been working on the piece for a few days, and today was the day I would record the first section (if only a few seconds of it) and let that flute player go flute himself. But I just can't play it fast enough and I can't play it without mistakes, ever, but especially not when the video is on.

So I went on YouTube to listen to some different recordings. And I was reminded that music like this should and can only be played by a real pro, not by a do-it-your-selfer with issues. This recording, in particular, is really nice. Big waterfalls of sound.

In the meantime, I'll keep practicing this piece. It's OK that I'll never play it--I just need to remember to have fun.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Link

Things are starting to fall into place. This morning I found the shiny crystal thing that our CIA-engineering puppy Bingo took from the man in the hat. I had guessed the crystal was some super chip, and that Bingo had simply taken it to another agent at the bowling alley, but there it was this morning, under the blankets where he sleeps. (I didn't touch it.)

And then all day today Bingo has seemed distracted, like he very much wanted to tell me something. When I went out this afternoon to do some yard work, he wanted to go along and supervise, unlike Willow, who has no interest in the yard and who now seems to be on permanent holiday (as am I) from projects around the house. That's OK. The yard really is a mess.

We were very encouraged to see new growth coming from the bare branches of our sad and cold-ravaged Turks cap bushes. Amazing, when you consider it, how the plant knows what to do. I'm reading a good book now called The Link, a present from my agent chief in Arizona. It has given me some new thoughts about how plants and animals adapt to change.

Most living things are pretty fragile--in the short term. My mango tree would soon die if it were moved only a few hundred miles to the north. I would certainly not make it through a winter in Minnesota. And yet all life on earth has always migrated, constantly (if slowly) adapting and adjusting. The book does a good job of explaining how the continents float on a big core a magma, always moving, north to south, east to west. The land, and the plants and animals on top, are always on the move. You adapt or move on.

Which brings up the matter of hybrid life forms, like the insidious cybernetic Sri Lanken biobot weevils, which have been absent form the yard since the freeze. Are they sleeping? Can they adapt? Does an artificial life even need to sleep? Are they just waiting for the Turks cap to recover so that they can continue to eat it (despite all my efforts to stop them)?

And then Bingo fixed his eyes on in the bushes. He froze, with that look he gets when he's uploading his visual stream to the central office. Why was he so intent in helping me today? And why this sudden interest in the yard and in the Turks cap?