Friday, April 13, 2012

The Prodigal Returns

I hadn’t realized how long it has been since my last post. I stopped before Lent and then Lent came and went. My last post was about the return of the “solitaire monkey” and one of the things I had given up for Lent was playing solitaire. How ironic is that?
In explaining my absence I could make the excuse that I was busy with home projects. I suppose I could even post a picture of the built-in bookcases that I have finally completed. By the way, the other thing I had given up was the use of the “F word” which I had much more trouble with holding to. Apparently, it must be my favorite word, based on frequency of usage, and it also seems to be an integral part of the creative process for woodworking. But fear not gentle reader, I have made it a point of honor to abstain from profanity or other vile usage of language for which the internet has become infamous.
Now that Easter is over, I have started playing solitaire again and my running has been intermittent, even though I have a half marathon coming up in May. (The Marine Corps Historic Half is a great race. If you’re a runner, Fredericksburg is a very interesting location to run in. But I digress.) The real point of getting back to posting, however, is to get back in the habit of writing, which has been off my horizon for too long. Just as in training for a race, consistency of practice pays off in the long run, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Now if I could only figure out how to do solitaire “in moderation.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Return of the Solitaire Monkey

I realized lately that I haven’t posted anything in a while – and I know why. I have fallen off the wagon and again have the solitaire monkey on my back. There are many people these days who are addicted to various electronic drugs, “crackberry” addicts for example, and on-line multiplayer role gamers who pay more attention to their virtual worlds than to their real lives. But I am old school. In fact, I can even remember “Pong.” (If you’re under fifty, look it up.) For the longest time solitaire was pretty much the only game in town (unless you include Minesweeper and other games that come bundled with Windows). My other passion was Shanghai, a version of Mahjong that was originally only available on Apple computers but now has joined the pantheon of freebies on Windows platforms. Anyway, I used to be into Solitaire in a big way, especially when I was brain dead and needed to just vegetate. After a while I realized that I would stay up to ridiculous hours playing the game and I guess the big appeal was that I didn’t have to think at all, just react to the cards I was dealt, which, if you want to be philosophical, is the way most of us go through life. At any rate I decided at some point to just stop. There were other things that needed to be done and I could use the time better for such things as sleeping. This worked for quite a while, but recently I just fell back into the habit. At first I would just play for a set period of time, but this time frame has been stretching out lately. So, as part of my program of recovering from solitaire addiction, I will start doing other things to use my time, like writing for instance, and I hope that I can again put the monkey back where he belongs – in the Games folder on my laptop. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Old Statue of Liberty Play

There are all kinds of jobs in this world, some better than others. If you need the money, you can do just about anything, anything legal that is, to bring in a few bucks. I don’t know that there are any jobs that I would consider beneath me, but one job does stir feelings of sympathy for the individuals involved. As I was driving down the street yesterday, I noticed a young man employed as a living roadside advertisement. Usually these people are sign twirlers trying to generate interest in local businesses by gyrating a huge arrow sign to call attention to a used car dealer, a housing development, a furniture store grand opening or some such event. Sometimes they can get quite creative with little dance routines to go the extra mile for their clients. When the weather is bitterly cold, my heart goes out to all such day laborers.

But fair weather or foul, there is one particular species of human billboard that always moves me to empathy - the poor devils who have to dress up in Statue of Liberty costumes. I don’t know if this is a nation-wide thing or if it is endemic to the Washington DC area, but for some reason Lady Liberty has become an advertising icon. The costume is always the same – long robes and foam headpieces (to simulate the trademark spiked headgear of the original) in a shade of green intended to represent just the right patina of verdigris. Unfortunately, this green is more reminiscent of the shade of kitchen appliances that have long been passé. The really incongruous part is that these re-enactors are always young men. Add to this the impromptu costume additions that are often weather related, such as ear muffs or ski masks, and the overall effect can be quite disconcerting. Since it was sunny and relatively warm yesterday, the baseball cap I saw the young man wearing under his tiara just caused me to notice him more than usual.

Sometimes I feel like just stopping my car right then and there and letting them know that I feel their pain at having to do such a job, but I don’t know what would happen to me if I did. A young man who has no qualms about being dressed up as a Lady Liberty impersonator probably would freak out if some old guy came up to him and started blathering about dignified labor, so I will continue to just drive on by and keep my vague feelings of unease to myself.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Eggs

Do you ever stop and wonder about eggs? Lately I have been thinking about them for some reason. I guess it started with a discussion I had with my wife about her father’s cooking, such as it was. When her mother was in the hospital having children (my wife is the oldest of six) what she remembered most is that her father, if he was going to cook at all, made a lot of hot dogs for dinner and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Otherwise it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or cereal. I don’t know if the way you like your eggs cooked says anything about you, but I generally have mine sunny side up with soft yolks. (Her mother liked them that way too.) She likes them scrambled or fried “over hard.” When we have boiled eggs, she has hard boiled and I have soft boiled. Sometimes I get creative and make myself an omelet.

Early on in our marriage, she would offer to fix breakfast for me and ask me what kind of eggs I wanted. I would always answer “Eggs Benedict!” Needless to say, this response was always met with skepticism and derision. These days, the only time I get Eggs Benedict is when we are on a trip and having breakfast at a restaurant. Over time it has become sort of an inside culinary joke with us. Of course, travel has its own tribulations when it comes to eggs and breakfast at hotels and motels. Many places offer a “continental” breakfast (translation – no eggs), others offer hot breakfasts that provide all the eggs you want – as long as they’re scrambled. A few classy places will do eggs to order or custom omelets.

Since eggs are alternately regarded as either healthy and “excellent sources of protein” or unhealthy and “evil sources of cholesterol” many places offer “yellow eggs” (with yolk) or “white eggs” (no yolk). It all comes down to who you believe, I guess, but I prefer “real” eggs and to just enjoy them (in moderation of course). And I don’t care whether they are white or brown, either. Which brings to mind a scientific study I read about somewhere that concluded that no matter how eggs are prepared, they taste the same. Of course, in setting up the tests, they prepared eggs in different ways – then they put them into blenders and pureed them to a yellow paste, so apparently color, texture and consistency are not considered part of “taste” from a scientific point of view.

As for my opinion on that age old chicken and egg controversy – no contest, the egg came first.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

English as a Second Language - For Cats

Cats, especially kittens, can get into all kinds of trouble at the least provocation or opportunity. While we don't mind most of their antics, we do want to lay down some ground rules for acceptable behavior. Take our cats, Gadget, Birdie and Albert, for example. We know that when we are not looking, they will be up on tables and counters looking into whatever seems interesting. But we have decided to draw the line at getting up on the dining room table while we are eating. So we have embarked on a program of using the same simple phrases and trying to be consistent in their use. "No, get DOWN!" These words are usually reinforced with action, lifiting the offending kitten or kittens, for example, and placing them on the floor. Sometimes this is emphasized with a look into their faces to establish eye contact while saying the words.

So far, Gadget doesn't seem to get up on the table during meals as often, but is older (and therefore heavier) to pick up and put down. Birdie does not seem to be able to take NO for an answer and keeps coming back. Albert seems to understand and will get down. Or he will play on my wife's sympathy and go to her. Her method of compromise is to put Albert on her lap and pet him. If he doesn't want to stay on her lap, he gets put down.

As far as my relationship to Albert, we have come to a sort of understanding. At the far end of the dining table, I usually have my laptop set up and, in order to make the keyboard easier to use, have the back end propped up on the edge of the carrying case. Albert has decided that this soft-sided case is a comfortable spot to be and most times seems content to stay there, so I let him be. Unfortunately, as I am writing this, Albert wants to come around to the other side and have me pet him. He is now on my lap and seems a bit too interested in the keyboard. So it seems his next homework assignment will be the phrase "Stay off the keyboard!"

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Comfort Food

Lin Yutang, the Chinese writer and inventor, once wrote "What is patriotism but the love of the good things we ate in our childhood?" While, as a veteran, I don't know that I agree with him about patriotism, I do think that many people have memories of foods that we fondly recall when we are troubled or long for simpler times when the world seemed friendlier and more ordered. People from many different ethnic backgrounds have particular foods that are often associated with holiday traditions or family gatherings. Nothing can evoke the past like the aromas of such foods wafting from a kitchen.

For my wife, what she recalls most vividly is her Hungarian grandmother's chicken soup. While her grandmother would often skimp on ingredients for other Hungarian dishes, her soup was marvelous. To begin with, she made all her noodles from scratch - all kinds of noodles in all kinds of shapes and all different sizes. Then there were the vegetables. But what stayed in my wife's memory were the carrots - scrubbed, not peeled and in big chunks. But the crowning achievement was the taste of the broth itself. My wife was only able to duplicate it once and is not even sure how she did it. (She thinks it might have something to do with the use of the whole chicken - including the feet. I don't know if that could be true, but these days, the only raw chickens that have their feet attached are made of rubber.) Anyway, coming from a family of six children, her memories of family meals at her grandmother's house were of the big bowls of soup they all filled up on before the main meal was served. I find it interesting that whatever else was served at those meals did not seem all that memorable to her.
As we face this new year, with its new challenges and new stresses, maybe it would do us all good to think of a comfort food that we have not enjoyed in a long time and prepare it by our own hands, in our own kitchens, from family recipes handed down through the generations. As we share these simple joys with our own children, perhaps we can build fond memories for their futures.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Godzilla Kittens

     Many years ago, I bought my wife a doll house kit, a two-story, two-bedroom house with a wrap-around porch and real cedar shingles. We built the doll house and have had it for years, but we never finished it completely. It has gone through many moves and has suffered various degrees of neglect, but we would not give it up. Currently, it is sitting in the bay of the dining area of our house on a cabinet, surrounded on three sides by windows.
     As fate would have it we now have three cats: Gadget, a female black cat about nine months old and two kittens about eleven weeks old, a gray male named Albert and a gray tabby female named Birdie.
     Birdie is a natural climber and early on figured out how to climb onto the doll house. When one of my sons brings his three cats (Bandit, Brillo and Cammo) over for a "play date" (or when we are "cat sitting" for him) they all like to climb it and squeeze through the picture windows that never got finished and climb up on the roof. Albert, however, being a straight ahead sort, figured that he could just climb up the front of the cabinet. We could always tell when he had tried this approach because all he had succeeded in doing was to pull down the books on the shelves of the cabinet.
     Lately, however, Albert has learned that an indirect approach works best, that is from a chair to the cabinet. Now we are treated to epic kitten battles that would make Toho Studios proud. We may not have a miniature model Tokyo for an actor in a rubber Godzilla suit to destroy, but what we lack in production values is made up for in live spontaneous action. Free kittens may cost a lot in upkeep, but they are a great entertainment value.