Friday, September 30, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/29/16: Hour in the Pool, Black Bean Chili, Frames of Reference and Roadfood

1.  One hour of my day approached perfection:  I went to the pool and used my funny blue aquatic noodle to do a series of exercises I've learned in the aerobics class I take -- I exercised and stretched many muscles and increased my heart rate.  I relaxed afterwards for about five minutes in the hot tub.

2.  I found a recipe for ground beef and black bean chili that promised a great tasting meal that would take a short amount of time to fix. The recipe included bacon, so I stopped off at the Co-op and bought some bacon and other items. I decided I wanted a batch of meatless chili, substituting chunks of sweet potato for the bacon and ground beef.  It made me very happy that Molly and Hiram and the Deke enjoyed the chili and that they didn't complain about the slightly overbaked cornbread I fixed. Want to take a peek at this recipe?  Just go here.

3.  I thought about watching a movie this evening, but realized I just didn't feel like having visual stimulation, so I put in the earbuds and listened to a podcast episode of Invisibilia entitled "Frame of Reference" (it's here) and an animated interview, here, on Special Sauce with Roadfood authors, Jane Stern and Michael Stern.  The second interview led me to go to the Roadfood website and my visit set about thirty minutes worth of food fantasies going in my head.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/28/16: Editing My 2002 Self, Black Beans and Rice, Mental Clouds Lift

1.  As I composed different drafts of the Welcome/Opening Words and Charge to the Couple in preparation for officiating Scott and Cate's wedding, I had to remind myself time and time again that a wedding is not a classroom.  So I had to either rewrite or delete delete delete stuff that sounded good to my, say, 2002 self, but is stuffy in the context of a wedding ceremony.  The best news? I'm not working on this at the last minute!

2.  I was happy to comply with the Deke's request for black beans and rice for dinner.  It meant pulling up the vinegary, brown sugary, spicy recipe that is one of our favorites and enjoying a simple and very tasty meal.  Have I ever posted this recipe?  Hmmm.  Couldn't hurt to do it again -- it's here. (By the way, we used basmati, not brown rice, tonight -- worked fine.)

3.  To me, angst is a feeling of dread or anxiety unrelated to anything specific. It's like having low lying dark clouds hovering over my mental landscape and when these clouds roll in, I try to stay quiet, am grateful for time alone, and find working in the kitchen is a constructive response to the ache I feel throughout myself. Today those clouds started to lift, to clear out, much to my relief. It's been an episode of low level angst, but even low level angst results in distrust and saying things I regret.  That's why I try to remain as quiet as possible. I'll switch metaphors. It's like having a brief bout of the flu, only mental.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/27/16: Blood Draw, Good Kidney News, Anxiety Lifts

1.  It's so quick these days. I arrive at LabCorp for my monthly blood draw and Angela spots me, whisks me to a blood draw room, efficiently gets the label filled out, affixes it to the tube, draws my blood, and I'm done. She rarely says much, but today she asked if my monthly samples were getting to Baltimore okay. I appreciated her asking and told her yes, that I get a confirmation letter each month.

2. Later in the day, I squeezed into the Sube and dashed over to Bethesda for an appointment with my nephrologist, Dr. Malik. I had already read the lab results from my multiple blood draws a week ago and I was sure he'd be happy with how stable my numbers are. I was right. He was very happy, suggested I lose some weight, and told me to return in six months. As I left, I asked for a flu shot, got it, and soon was on my way back to Greenbelt.

3.  After a delicious crock pot chicken dinner and salad at the Diazes, the Deke and I returned to our apartment home where I did some straightening up of the material the Transplant Center in Baltimore sends me regularly. I'd been bothered that I'd received a letter telling me it had been over two years since my last full day evaluation at the center and to make an appointment.  My last full day evaluation was in March of 2015, so it hadn't been over two years.

Then I read the letter again tonight.

It actually said if it's been over two years.

I realized it was a form letter.
I had read it wrong. I realized I wasn't being singled out for supposedly being tardy.

I live with too much anxiety about messing up this transplant process.

I was greatly relieved that everything is still good.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/26/16: Into the Rhythm, Great Day with Nate, Thrash Metal at DC Brau

1.  It felt good to get right into the rhythm of exercising in the pool today at my water aerobics class.

2. After class, I sprung into the Sube and motored down to Union Station where Nate arrived from NYC on the Bolt Bus. We found each other in the station's main hall and decided to walk the over two and a half miles down to the Lincoln Memorial and take in the grandeur of the buildings and monuments of the National Mall.  Once we reached the Lincoln Memorial and experienced its awe, we decided to head over to the Tidal Basin and walk inside the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  We rested our legs a bit and then trekked back to Union Station.  I enjoyed making this trek with Nate and I always love walking among the monuments.  Even more, I enjoyed my feet being without pain and we walked in neighborhood of at least six miles. If I have landed upon the right combination of shoe and inserts and can walk anywhere from 4000 to 10, 000 steps a day, this is a substantial bit of good news as I work to maintain my mental and physical health.

3.  After joining up for dinner on Capitol Hill at the 201 Bar with Nate's two colleagues who are also in town for the conference Nate is attending, I rumbled in the Sube up H Street, turned north on Bladensburg Rd, and made a quick stop at DC Brau for a pint of On the Wings of Armageddon and a six pack of the same to take home. I arrived just in time for last call and settled into a booth and let the thrash metal music John was playing on the stereo system wash over me and move me to do a little air head banging.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/25/16: Taking Pictures at Watkins Regional Park, Nate's Coming to DC, Man Sprawled on the Trail

1.  I took some time to make sure the settings on my camera were what I want them to be, filled my water bottle, packed an extra lens, and slid into the Sube and wove my way south on MD 193 to Watkins Regional Park near Upper Marlboro, MD. It's a sprawling facility with a carousel, miniature train, picnic shelters, prodigious playground, nature center, and, to my delight, mildly challenging hiking trails. The weather was perfect -- low seventies and sunshine, and I was experiencing no discomfort in my feet. I walked the Wetland Trail and marveled at the numerous opportunities this heavily wooded area afforded me to take pictures of light and shadow and I thought more about eye-popping pictures and I realized that when something pops, I recoil, making me realize that I'm inspired to take pictures not to astonish, but to invite a viewer in.  Come in. Find quiet. Learn from this face. Enjoy the interplay between light and shadow and enjoy the shapes and textures and symmetry and asymmetry of the natural world. Do these images "pop"? I don't know. I actually hope not.  I'd rather they do something less dramatic.  At the end of the post, you'll find some of the images I created at Watkins Regional Park today.  If you'd like to see an album of such pictures, go here.

2. Before I left for this hike, I received an email from Nate Beard, who once was a student of mine at LCC and afterward became a friend and coffee and beer drinking mate in Eugene. He confirmed that he would be in Washington, D. C. on Monday, the 26th and so we made plans to meet when he arrives at Union Station at the Bolt Bus terminal.  I began to imagine how we might have some fun over the four hour visit we'll have in the afternoon. I'll keep my thoughts to myself for now, but will report back tomorrow on what we did and whether we were able to carve out a short visit to the D.C./Maryland border and enjoy a beer after its 4 p.m. opening at DC Brau.  

3.  As I was leaving the hiking area and making my way back to the Sube, suddenly I saw a young man sprawled out, face down, on the trail. An older woman -- maybe his mother -- was standing next to him and just as I was about to ask if they needed any help, he sprang to his feet. The woman looked at me and smiled, "He was taking a picture." I smiled back, relieved that he was all right, and happy that he was putting out such an effort to get the picture he wanted. "Hey!" she continued, "You want to see it?" "Sure."  I looked at the picture on the back of the camera of the trail leading out and the trees in their still summery leafy splendor looming over, their nobility heightened by the on the ground looking up angle. "That's beautiful," I said.  "Thank you!" he replied. I went on my way, uplifted. 

About these pictures: None of these images looks like what I saw with my own eyes today as I walked the Wetland Trail at Watkins Regional Park.  In order to play with the light and the shadows, I shot most of these pictures at f/8 and then used as high of a shutter speed as I could. I am experimenting with just how much darkness a picture might tolerate, yet, as I took these pictures, I thought of myself taking pictures of light. Then I edited them.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/24/16: Shoe Inserts and Eye-Popping Photos, Beer Bliss, Is Potato Salad a Salad?

1.  As I walked the path around Greenbelt Lake this afternoon, my feet felt fine and, hoping not to jinx myself by thinking this, I wondered if maybe I have, through trial and error, fashioned the right shoe and the right combination of shoe inserts.  I also thought a lot about taking pictures. Mostly, I questioned the value of the description I read often: "eye-popping" -- or the idea of "make your photographs pop". I'm not ready to post them yet, but I took pictures along the trail that I like because they are not eye-popping, not dramatic, and don't arrest a viewer's attention. They capture quiet moments of light slanting on a tree or dappling the path.

2.  From Greenbelt Lake, I drove down to DC Brau's tasting room.  I wanted to try their recently released Oktoberfest beer and then enjoy some Wings of Armageddon. I loved the Oktoberfest -- I'm not sure I have words for what I loved except to say that because it's a lager, the beer had enough taste similar to the lagers of my youth that I smiled nostalgically, but its flavors were more complicated than Lucky Lager beer, hoppier, while also tasting a little sweet, just as I had hoped it might. If it weren't for the irresistible allure of the Wings of Armageddon, I would have quaffed another Oktoberfest, but I couldn't stop myself and went to the counter, ordered a pint of Wings, and as I carried it back to seat, without even putting my nose to the rim of the glass, I could smell the citrus rising from my beer and my knees nearly buckled with pleasure.  I was in for a pint of bliss.

3.  While I drank my beers, I listened to podcasts I had downloaded. One mini-podcast from the program The Sporkful really delighted me.  The podcast featured a seventeen year old caller. She wanted to discuss her conviction that potato salad, pasta salad, egg salad, ham salad, and other salads of this kind should not be called salads.  The ensuing conversation lasted just under ten minutes and I loved her arguments -- especially when one of the hosts said that if this was a court of law she would have to tell how she had been harmed by a salad that she didn't consider a salad being called a salad. She had a story ready. It happened at her Latin Club potluck She had been told there would be salads at the potluck and she felt she came to the potluck legitimately expecting vegetable salad to be available.  But, no.  Only pasta salad. Had she known that no one would bring a leafy salad, she could have packed her own vegetables to the potluck, and, moreover, if pasta salads were not called salads, no one would have brought one in the first place. They would have known to bring a real salad.  I loved this caller. She was the Sisyphus of food nomenclature. Want to hear this discussion?  Just go here.  (And if I didn't quite get the details of the call exactly right, please pardon me. It's the beer talking.)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/23/16: Morning with the Deke, Family Dinner Out, Stable Lab Numbers

1.  The Deke and I staggered into the Sube and fought the blinding morning sun low in the east and made our way to Laurel where the Deke had a final follow up appointment after her surgery. The appointment went fine and since the Deke had the morning off, we enjoyed a rare morning cup of coffee out together and hustled over to Michael's where the Deke picked up some school supplies and I surveyed their inventory of picture frames.

2.  The PTA at the Deke's school held a fund raiser today at Joe's Crab Shack, so the Deke and I invited the Diaz family to join us and we had a good time together. I was especially impressed with Molly and Hiram's children. They behaved beautifully and Ana had a good time eating a variety of food from other people's orders -- some salmon, some crab cake Caesar salad, fries, as well as Cheerios and other bits Molly had packed for her.  (The food was chain restaurant quality -- average -- as expected -- and our server was terrific -- but, what would keep me from ever returning to Joe's Crab Shack is the loud recorded music playing in the house.  I could barely focus on my own thoughts, let alone enjoy conversation with the others at the table. Want to know why the music is so loud at a place like Joe's Crab Shack? Bon Appetit gives an answer, here.)

3.  I had blood work done on Tuesday, and I got an email notice just before I left for dinner that my results were available.  Somehow, I missed the fact that LabCorp had changed the initial URL I needed to type in order to log in to their online reporting service. I called their Help Desk, found out what to do, and PRESTO!, the report of blood work suddenly flashed on my computer screen. I rushed to the number that measures my kidney function and, to my great relief, there's been no change since April. Yes, the number still denotes that I am experiencing Stage IV kidney disease, but what my doctors and I always hope for is stability, and I am maintaining stability.  My other numbers also had little change.  I'll see my kidney doctor on Tuesday and discuss these numbers.  I'm anticipating a positive conversation.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/22/16: Greek Potatoes, Greek Kale Salad, Sleep Over at the Diaz Home

1.  I determined, via my imagination, that a Greek potatoes recipe I found had a lot of promise and so I sliced the potatoes, covered them with melted butter, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper, chicken broth, and paprika and baked them twice in the oven, once with the pan covered with foil and once uncovered.  Next time I might increase the amount of lemon juice.  These potatoes turned out great and if you'd like to look over the recipe, just go here.

2. So, the other day I bought one of those bagged kale salads at Costco and decided to Greek it up rather than use the poppy seed dressing in the package.  I lavished the salad with cherry and grape tomatoes, chopped cucumber, leftover penne, chickpeas, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese. I didn't have red onion on hand, or else I would have added that.  I mixed up my favorite Greek vinaigrette recipe (it's here) and loved how it all came out.

3. After an emotionally raw get together at Old Line Bistro with employees of the Prince George's County School District, the Deke and I wound down at the Diaz household, enjoyed the food I had prepared, and spent the night so that our car would be off the property of our apartment home to make way for Friday's repaving project.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sibling Photo Assignment #6: Still Life -- Forest Fungus

For Sibling Photo Assignment #6, Christy assigned us to take a series of still life pictures, united by a theme. Carol's pictures are here. Here are Christy's.

I came upon this forest fungus on the Cascade Falls Trail at Patapsco River Valley State Park on September 21, 2016.

Three Beautiful Things 09/21/16: Trailhead Despair, Trailhead Ecstasy, Nanticoke and Tesla and Pumpkin Down

1.  I hopped into the Sube and rocketed up I-95 and west on I-195 and made my way back to Patapsco River Valley State Park.  I went to this park a week ago and couldn't find a trailhead.  In the interim, I did some reading and looked more closely at maps and figured out exactly how to drive to the Grist Mill Trail.  I arrived at the Grist Mill Trail parking lot, put on my pack, got my camera situated, and started to lumber toward the trailhead.  Suddenly a voice descended upon me, as if the clouds had parted and I was being addressed from above, "Hey, Boss! Don't be headin' that way. The trail is closed while we clean up fallen trees and stuff." I smiled grimly, existentially to myself. I spotted the guy who called out to me, asked him a bit more about the clean up project, enjoyed our conversation, turned away, sighed existentially, and returned to the Sube.

2.  I don't have a lot of inward determination, but, what little I have welled up as I turned over the Sube's mighty engine. I might have included a mild profanity or two when I uttered to myself, "I am going to find a trailhead." I darted up River Road and in a couple of miles or so I saw a trailhead sign: Ridge Trail. I needed to find a parking place, so I barreled forward, and came upon the popular and expansive Orange Grove picnic area. I parked and walked toward the Ridge trailhead and suddenly I spotted the terminus of the Grist Mill Trail -- and saw the park's famous Swinging Bridge -- which, of course, was closed. As I turned around, I saw another sign: Cascade Falls Trail. The sound of a multitude of angels singing "The Hallelujah Chorus" suddenly rang out. I uttered a brief prayer of thanksgiving.  I began my ascent to the falls and beyond.  I had a blast. I hiked. I took pictures (kind of lousy ones -- but I will return to these falls to try again). My feet didn't bother me. I left the park feeling really happy.

3.  As I dashed down the Baltimore Washington Parkway on my return to Greenbelt, road construction slowed traffic way down at about the same time the Deke called me and said she wanted to go to Old Line for dinner and beer. So we did. We struck up fun conversation with Joe, our server, and marveled at Old Line's always superb tap list. I enjoyed a pint of RAR's Nanticoke Nectar IPA from Cambridge, MD and for my second pint relished the most unusual lager I've ever tasted, the delightfully hopped up, souped up Tesla Lager from Sixpoint Brewing in Brooklyn. The Deke enjoyed her Pumpkin Down from Ballast Point in San Diego. She shared some with me and drinking a little at the end of the night made for a pleasant dessert.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/20/16: Walmart and IKEA, Football Interest Waning, Stir Fry and Side Dishes

1.  The Deke asked me to go to Walmart to see if I could find a wooden stool.  It's for her to sit on in the classroom.  She had already looked, without luck, for a wooden stool at Target and Home Depot, so I vaulted into the Sube and steamed up the Baltimore Washington Parkway to MD 198, found the Walmart Supercenter and uttered a prayer of thanks when I found a shelf of wooden stools, just like the Deke wanted.  This put me in the shopping mood, so I motored over to IKEA and bought picture frames and, later in the evening, I framed five 8 x 10 pictures I took back on July 3rd on the shore of Lake Michigan in Long Beach, IN.   I also framed a 4 x 6 picture I took back in 2009 of Snug and David, may they both rest in peace.

2.  This afternoon I finished watching the documentary I started last night:  ESPN's 30 for 30's The '85 Bears.  As I watched the film, I realized that I don't know anything about the current NFL season and very little about the start of the college football season. I used to dedicate hours to watching football games and reading scores and summaries of games. Those days are gone. We were over at the Diazes on Sunday and a game between Denver and Indianapolis was on in the TV room and I didn't even think about going in to watch it. It's possible that if I still lived in Eugene that I'd enjoy watching the Patriots with the Troxstar or if I were in North Idaho, I'd have fun watching some football in Byrdman's man cave.  But, all in all, I've lost interest. As I listened to the players and the coaches and watched action clips in The '85 Bears, I was surprised that I didn't feel more nostalgia or much admiration for that team or much excitement for the game of football.  So, I'm not longing for the "good old days" of football.  I guess as I get older, I just enjoy a lot of other things a lot more. Now, that said, if you are reading this and you are a friend who emails or texts me with football (or other sports) news or observations, please don't stop. I always enjoy the conversations.

3.  Without a doubt, I now spend much of the time reading recipes and cooking that I used to spend studying football stories and scores and listening to games.  I had volunteered this morning to prepare dinner and take it to the Diazes.  I decided to fix Szechwan Eggplant Stir Fry. I liked that the sauce had soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, garlic, and chicken broth, but I was concerned that it might not be enough of a meal on its own, so I did a Pinterest search of tofu side dishes.  I found a Korean recipe: "Pan Fried Tofu in Garlic Soy Sesame Sauce".  It's very simple. I fried the tofu in peanut and sesame oil and whisked together soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and minced garlic and poured it and some roasted sesame seeds over the tofu and topped it with chopped green onion.  Then, for another side dish, I sliced up some cucumber and grape and cherry tomatoes from a variety bowl of tomatoes I bought at Costco, put them in a storage dish, and poured rice vinegar over them.  It turned out that the stir fry, the rice I had made the day before, and the two side dishes combined to make a full dinner and we all enjoyed the many flavors and the way the eggplant, tofu, cucumbers, and tomatoes complimented and complemented one another.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/19/16: Packed Pool, Crash and Burn, Simple Sauce

1.  Exercising seniors packed the pool today for the water aerobics class.  I think our instructor wanted to find out who was really into it and she worked us out a little harder than usual and I enjoyed it.

2.  I spent a few hours this afternoon grocery shopping at MOM's, Costco, and the Co-op. While at Costco, I listened to a podcast episode of Snap Judgment called "Crash and Burn" and now when I shop at Costco, I'll always think of a group of rock climbers discovering a wrecked airplane filled with pot, an artist who went on a one night cocaine and scotch bender, eventually flipping his SUV upside down in Hollywood, CA, and a Lehman Brothers stock trader who flipped out one day on the floor and after a visit to a psychiatric ward, left his lucrative job.

3.  It's a simple recipe: for about 45 minutes, simmer 28 oz. of canned tomatoes with two halves of an onion and five tablespoons of butter. Ladle some over the pasta of your choice.  The Deke added red pepper flakes to hers. We both sprinkled Parmesan cheese over ours. It's called "Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce". Vickie recommended it. We thoroughly enjoyed it. You can read a little more about it and look over the recipe, here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/18/16: I'm Not the Cool Music Critic Guy, Dionysus Rules, YouTube Goosebumps

1.  Ever since high school, when I looked up to the guys who were seniors when I was a sophomore and who seemed to go to all the cool concerts in Spokane and to know what LPs were cool at any given time, I have wanted to have cool taste in music.  This desire continued through college and graduate school and into my days teaching at LCC as I listened to others who talked much more knowledgeably than I ever could about jazz and rock and roll and folk music and Bach and the Grateful Dead and sometimes I tried to sound smart and recite some catalog of Richard Thompson albums -- or whatever --, but I really never was that sophisticated in my knowledge or cool in my taste when it comes to music.  This has been on my mind for quite a while and so I made taste in music the subject of our latest Sibling Assignment and tried to come to peace with how I enjoy so much music, but I'm not much of a music critic.  If you'd like to read my piece entitled "Go Your Own Way", it's right here.

2.  This afternoon, while I was writing about my much more Dionysian than Apollonian relationship with music, I took note that my coffee mug had a small amount of coffee and half and half lying cold in the bottom and I thought it would be a fun and Dionysian thing to do to pour some brandy over that coffee and sip on it while I composed my blog post.  I was right.  It was fun and tasty and and Dionysus paid me a visit in the form of a light and pleasant buzz.

3. The Deke and I ate a splendid dinner at the Diazes and when we arrived back to our apartment home, I broke the brandy back out and decided to get out the tablet, put in the ear buds, and go on a YouTube tour of the music I'd been thinking and writing about earlier and dive into the feelings and goosebumps of music that just gets to me.  I began with Fleetwood Mac and then turned to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and The Cars and Pink Floyd and Harry Nilsson and REM with Eddie Vedder because a few minutes earlier I had watched Eddie Vedder join the Hearbreakers and I also enjoyed Stevie Nix joining the Heartbreakers and I reveled in Mike Campbell's transporting guitar solo to close out "Runnin' Down a Dream" at what I came to understand was a video recording of a 30 year anniversary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers show. I also listened to "You Wreck Me" and when I went to bed I thought back to dances in the Kellogg High School cafeteria and at the Northwest Metal Workers Hall in Kellogg and all through the night I smiled and in my mind replayed Tom Petty singing his immortal couplet:  "I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants/You be the girl at the high school dance".

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sibling Assignment #184: Go Your Own Way

I assigned the latest of our sibling assignments and here it is:

Write about how your taste in music has changed over the years -- unless it hasn't -- then write about how it's stayed the same.  If it's any help, you might write about music you didn't care much for 30 or 40 years ago, but that you enjoy today.  Work with this assignment any way that is good for you.

I think Christy could have written forever on this subject, but she narrowed down her response in this piece titled, "Only the Beginning", here.

Just a little over two months ago, I'd been to the Fourth of July parade in Long Beach, IN, overlooking Lake Michigan, and returned to my brother-in-law's lake house and my nephew Ben poured me a ginger whiskey and I thought to myself, "This would be a perfect time to listen to music played on vinyl LPs" and I thumbed through the selection of albums and, inexplicably, I decided to play Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.

I loved it.

On the one hand, loving it didn't surprise me because the songs triggered some idealized memories I enjoyed of living on Mt. View Lane near Whitworth College in the first year of my first marriage.

On the other hand, loving it surprised me a lot and my liking it helped an inner conflict of mine surface, one that I don't expect anyone reading this to necessarily understand, but that I'm going to write about anyway.

For decades, I have been in awe of and heavily influenced by friends who I regard as having sophisticated taste in music -- especially in the huge arena of rock n roll/blues/pop/jazz music.

Their influence, however, has not always been positive. Often when they stated their strong, often fierce opinions about songs and recording artists, I dived into my soul's dark self-doubt about what the music I enjoyed, most often, without careful evaluation.  I am not and have not been a deep analyzer of music. I mainly go by what moves me, even it the music commits the sins laid out by my friends.

I wish I were clever enough to list something like the seven sins of recorded music, as my friends see it, but I can't come up with seven.

However, here are three of the sins that almost always disqualify music from admiration:

- too "poppy" -- a derisive term criticizing music for being shallow, aiming for sales, trying to be popular, lacking an edge.  A song that's too poppy can be too bright, too upbeat, too comforting, regarded as too tame, and having the bland qualities of vanilla ice cream.  I think some of my friends thought that when the Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey" became a hit, that it was proof that the Dead had become too poppy and that something in the Dead-i-verse had been compromised.

-over produced -- this derisive term gets directed at studio albums that lack roughness, are too polished, seek perfection too obsessively, that are too removed from the excitement of live music.  This is a criticism commonly directed at Steely Dan, for example, as in "Yeah, the songs are on Aja are clever, but the whole thing leaves me cold. It's so over produced."

And..... Sin #3:  Another word used to deride songs that are too poppy and overproduced is formulaic -- it's as if there is a formula and if it is followed, a record is more likely to become a hit.  This criticism can be applied to genres has disparate as country and western music and disco and all styles in between.

Maybe more than anything, music that is too poppy or over produced struck my friends as inauthentic and so when a group like, let's say Chicago, released a new album, dread always underlay the moments between unwrapping the album and playing it because maybe Chicago had sold out, become too poppy, and were over producing their albums.  When a group crosses over into the dark side of selling out, a line of demarcation gets drawn between the "real" Chicago and the "sell out" Chicago and nothing inspires the disdain of the listener with high standards more than to conclude that a group has sold out, became inauthentic, has begun to chase sales, become too commercial.

So, to prime myself to write a little bit about Rumours, I've poured some brandy over the eighth of an inch of coffee and half and half at the bottom of my "bill and diane show" mug and I have the album playing in my ear buds.

Suddenly, I'm transported back to October, 1987.

Rolling Stone magazine turned twenty years old and they published an issue featuring the top 100 albums of their twenty year history.

I lived in a good sized house back then with some fun loving housemates and, with their permission, I planned and we put on a party that featured tapes I made featuring tracks from, I think, 98 of the 100 albums Rolling Stone had listed.

It was the best party I'd ever been to, let alone the best party I'd ever planned.

I published a list of the top 100 albums for everyone's perusal and taped the playlists on the living room wall of the songs featured on the tapes I made.

It turned into a raucous dance party with plenty of food and drink and joy as we danced to music ranging from T. Rex to the Sex Pistols to Prince to The Modern Lovers.

I don't remember which cuts I selected from Rumours, but I remember the disdain one of my friends expressed as Fleetwood Mac came on. He hated Rumours. I do believe he regarded the album as guilty of all three sins: too poppy, over produced, and formulaic.

I was in no mood to argue with him about this because all I knew was I liked the sound of the album and it reminded me of living with my first wife in our pine-paneled living room in our little mother-in-law rental house next to the Hunts on Mt. View Lane and how happy I was to be newly married and that songs from Rumours used to come on KREM-AM when my poker buddies at Whitworth and I used to sit down with cheap beer and Three Musketeer bars and play penny ante.

And, so, around 1987, and for many years to come, I felt dread when graduate school friends and I got together for coffee or talked casually in the halls of Prince Lucien Campbell Hall about music, dread that I was going to rouse the disdain of who I considered my more sophisticated friends because I loved Grand Funk Railroad or Aerosmith or Steely Dan, and, while I might joke about having no taste in music, the joking was a defense.

I felt inferior. My chief tormentor.

Out of fear of being regarded a low brow dolt, I just couldn't admit that I got dreamy listening to Rumours. I loved the sound of Stevie Nix's and Christine McVie's harmonies and underneath the "poppy" surface of those songs on Rumours was regret and sadness and loss and it all connected with my own history of regret and sadness and loss -- and still does. On other occasions, I couldn't admit that when the Styx sang "Come Sail Away" I felt transported in a way that had once been reserved for Grand Funk Railroad's "I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home", but I would have no problem admitting that in my pre-Walkman days in the winter of 1983-84 I used to walk down Stevens Street in Spokane on my way to the bus playing air guitar to the memory of David Landau's licks on Warren Zevon's Stand in the Fire album recorded live at the Roxy in L. A.

Warren Zevon: Authentic, raw.
Styx: Poppy, inauthentic, cliche

I love 'em both.

So, back to the question I posed for this Sibling Assignment:  how has my taste in music changed over the years?

I'd say the biggest change is that I have eliminated the phrase "guilty pleasure" from my thoughts about music.

I'm no longer interested in apologizing for my taste.

I prefer Tom Petty to Bob Dylan because Tom Petty's lyrics are straight ahead and I can understand him in the moment. I love the Heartbreakers for their economy ("Don't bore us, get to the chorus") and I love the Grateful Dead for how they stretch songs out, take me into a world far away and I love the way their songs transport me to an imaginary shady spot on the Long Tom River where I can hear Uncle John's band by the riverside and get carried away.

I came late to Pink Floyd.  My conversion experienced happened in August of 2008 when I heard the Floydian Slips at the Cuthbert in Eugene and since that night I love to find Pink Floyd tracks and let David Gilmour carry me away with his gorgeous, transcendent playing of the electric guitar.

I no longer apologize that he's my favorite of all.  I don't know if he's the best, but I don't know how to assess who is the best -- all I know is that no one carries me into more pleasant dimensions of feeling and remembrance and soul travel than David Gilmour.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions made albums forty years ago consisting of short tracks bursting with energy and emotion and I love them.  They are nothing like the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd, nor are the Ramones, but I'm pretty sure if I were offered a handful of albums to take to a deserted island, I'd say, "Please, let me take that 1976 self-named masterpiece, The Ramones."

My musical tastes continue to expand and contradict themselves.  I only have one standard:  does the music move me in some way -- to dance, remember, dream, think, see a story, smile, weep, hope, pray . . . . ? One day I'm moved to listen to Neil Diamond and drink cheap Sangria -- and on another I want to sit in the quiet of our apartment home and listen to Glenn Gould play The Goldberg Variations and then there'll be an evening when I want to sit at the bar in the Old Line Bistro and put in the ear buds, drink a double IPA and listen to Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, and Ella Fitzgerald, among others, as part of a jazz playlist on Amazon Music.

Here's what is for sure:

I go my own way.

Three Beautiful Things 09/17/16: November Travel Plans, Talk with Mom, Greek Roasted Chicken

1.  I try to travel to Kellogg at least two times a year to see Mom and Christy and Carol. If I go out in November, I can join my friends for our annual Veteran's Day visit to the Wild Horse Casino in Pendleton, celebrate Thanksgiving with my Kellogg family, and help Mom start to get her house decorated for Christmas.  Today I purchased a flight to Spokane and will arrive in the great Inland Pacific Northwest on November 10. My only disappointment is that this year my November trip will not include a jaunt to Eugene and Portland.

2.  After I booked my flight, I called Mom, not only to tell her my plans, but I wanted her to tell me about her visit to Larry Keyser, P. A., on Friday. She and Christy definitely heard the same information from Larry and Mom seemed especially pleased that Larry had said that Mom, who is 86, had lab results that looked like a 60 year old!

3. The Deke spent the day with her stepsister, Gwen, and then the three of us met in Colesville at the Greek Village restaurant for a couple hours of conversation and story telling. I ordered a roasted half chicken with Greek potatoes and thought that if I were to ever roast a chicken just the way I want it, it would taste like this one and have the same level of moistness and tenderness.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/16/16: Mom Update, Getting My Life in (Some) Order, Dinner with Gwen

1.  Mom is under the care of a Physician's Assistant, Larry Keyser. He is patient, knowledgeable, and explains things clearly and fully. Mom saw Larry today and Christy took notes and I was very happy to read Christy's report.  Yes, Mom's heart is diseased, underperforming, and, yes, she is in atrium fibrillation. Still, her blood work looked good, the tests she's taken looked good, and Larry was pleased with her overall condition, given her age and her heart problems. Christy has seen improvement in Mom's energy level and alertness. I was seeing this, too, toward the end of my stay in Kellogg over the summer. I thought Mom showed signs of improvement when Larry, and then her cardiologist, adjusted her medications that helped her blood pressure come up and her pulse rate slow down.  Christy hopes she can take Mom on some short walks, using her walker.  This would be in keeping with the medical people's consistent concern that Mom get a bit more exercise.  It seems the efforts over the last several months to treat Mom's congestive heart failure are becoming more sure -- less of the inevitable trial and error -- and she is experiencing the benefits of her therapy becoming more clearly defined. Thank goodness Christy and Carol are on hand to provide Mom with so much support.

2.  I spent a lot of time today filling in gaps in my contact lists on my electronic devices and continuing to delete the names of and information about LCC students still in my contact lists. I learned more about working with google docs.  I made sure I have everything in order for my blood work appointments on Tuesday and again on the 27th. I see my kidney doctor on the 27th and go to a conference on transplantation on October 8th. I read up on the Maryland Kidney Program to understand better what assistance this program offers Maryland citizens who are on dialysis and who have transplants. I suppose it was kind of dumb to stay indoors working on all of this when the weather outside was so moderate, but my life feels less disordered and today inspired me to get going, in the near future, on a filing project I've been thinking about but haven't yet started.

3.  Many years ago, the Deke's father remarried and suddenly the Deke had seven new step-siblings. This evening, one of the Deke's stepsisters, Gwen, arrived in the greater Greenbelt-Beltsville area and she and Molly and the Deke and I met for dinner at the Old Line Bistro and had a splendid time sampling beers, enjoying our food, and yakking up a storm.  It was really fun to spend time with Gwen and doubly fun that Molly was able to join us.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/15/16: Patapsco Trail Fail, Afternoon Delight, Another Great Molly Dinner

1.  I got myself organized with water bottle and camera and leapt into the Sube and thundered up the Baltimore/Washington Parkway to I-195 and headed west to soon enter Patapsco River Valley State Park to possibly take some pictures and definitely do some walking. I had a funny time.  I went to the Avalon area. The Visitors' Center was closed. I walked north, south, east, and west and all points in between looking for a trail head.  Any trail head. I failed.  I misread maps and I needed directional signs that didn't exist. Oh -- I got a good walk in.  And the woods and river and picnic shelters and historical markers are all great -- but I'm going to go back soon and I'm determined to find a trail head. Any trail head.

2. Those pictures I took back on July 3rd of Brian, Ben, and Bill on a beach on Lake Michigan -- the ones I posted on this blog a few days ago? I decided to have 8 X 10 inch prints made of them along with a couple scenic photos and after I picked them up at Costco I went next door to the Old Line Bistro and enjoyed a mid-afternoon margarita with some truffle fries, thought more about my failures, about maps and trail heads in the Patapsco River Valley State Park, any trail head, and seized the opportunity to enjoy a half pint of RAR's gorgeous Nanticoke Nectar IPA.

3.  Last night, as we were leaving the Diazes, Molly invited us to return Thursday for dinner. She had already planned to make tomato soup and spinach salad. What she didn't tell us was that she was also going to make these tasty rye crisp cheese melt delicacies.  But, she did. What a refreshing, satisfying, and even fortifying meal. People at the table thought it was funny that I couldn't find a trail head at Patapsco River Valley State Park. Any trail head.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/14/16: Baltimore Podcasts, Waiting for the Doctor, Dancing in Coats and Slippers

1. Thanks to listening to an episode of the podcast, Sporkful, featuring NY food writer Ed Levine, about the psychology of long lines and interviews with customers in a long line in suffocating humidity in Brooklyn at the famous pizza joint, Di Fara's, I then discovered Ed Levine's podcast, Special Sauce. Upon browsing the episode list, I saw that on consecutive weeks Ed Levine interviewed Baltimore detective fiction writer Laura Lippman and her husband, writer and co-creator of The Wire, David Simon.  My hope was to learn more about places to eat in Baltimore and Laura Lippman was especially forthcoming, especially about spots in and near the Federal Hill-Montgomery neighborhood, south of Downtown, where she lives.

2.  The Deke and I roared in the Sube up to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore and the Deke told her surgeon how beautifully she has recovered from her surgery.  The doctor was had been called away to something in the afternoon and we didn't see her until close to five thirty, two hours late. The Deke graded papers. She knit. I listened to a podcast at The Big Listen and I went to Kindle and downloaded a sample (the first two chapters) from Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman's first in her series of Tess Monaghan books.  I enjoyed those chapters a lot. The Deke and I made the most of having a lot of time on our hands in a hospital setting.

3.  We had dinner at the Diazes -- we just missed seeing Hiram's dad who'd been to D. C. on business.  When we arrived, a package sat on the porch. The Deke brought it in and before long Olivia, David, and Ana were whirling and dancing and laughing with joy, trying on their new winter coats the Deke ordered for them and enthusiastically approving.  They also loved their slippers -- which became dance shoes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/13/16: No Dentist Dread, Out of Milk, Leftovers Turn Into Soup BONUS: Another Picture

1.  My lip and gums and tongue started to tingle and grow numb. Soon the dentist (Dr. J, by the way) turned on the high whine of the drill. Crown prep was underway. I flashed back to when I was a kid having teeth worked on my Dr. Norse, Dr. Brandon, and Dr. Wombolt.  I hated it, especially the smell of the drill stirring up tooth dust. Today, I was grateful that something has changed over the last several years and I am relaxed in the dentist's chair, that I can enjoy knowing that having this crown replaced will help keep my mouth healthy. Yes, I did smell tooth dust today, minus feeling the dread of my youth.

2.  I have hope that the website and app "Out of Milk" will help me keep shopping lists and to do lists better organized. I've also begun a pantry list. What should I always try to have on hand in the kitchen? To help me compose this list, I listened to podcasts from Burnt Toast and Kitchen Counter.

3. I had leftover fresh basil and basmati rice from fixing last night's stir fry and I discovered I could put them to good use my making a recipe called Lemon, Basil, and Mushroom Soup -- an earthy soup with a lemony bite. Until today, I had never piled fresh basil, thyme, cream cheese and soup stock into a blender and poured it into a soup of chicken stock, cooked basmati rice, onion, mushroom, celery, garlic, and carrots.  If you'd like to peruse this recipe -- and maybe give it a try -- just click here.

BONUS When I posted pictures from Lake Michigan yesterday, I had meant to post this one:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/12/16: Back to the Pool, Stir Fry, Pictures from July

1.  Today I really felt like I had settled back into life in Greenbelt: I returned to my swim class and flopped and splashed around, doing a variety of aerobic exercises.

2.  So that I could prepare dinner for the Diazes upon their return from a weekend in Pittsburgh, I went to MOM's and picked up some vegetables and tofu and came home and made a tasty stir fry with a lime-lemon ginger sauce served over basmati rice and it worked.

3.  I finally reviewed and edited pictures I took on July 3rd and 4th at Brian's home on Lake Michigan in Long Beach, IN.  It was fun remembering going down to the beach during the evening of the third where Brian, Bill, and Ben swam and then Ben and Bill poured the Lagavulin 8 Year Old Single Malt Scotch.  I order some prints at Costco.  Here are four of the pictures I had made:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/11/16: Sib Photo Assignment Posted, Uncluttering Pinterest, Leah and 3BTs BONUS: More Pictures

1.  I'm still getting myself settled in here in Maryland after being away for two months.  Today, I returned to photo editing -- and I still have more to do and more cataloging -- and this felt really good. To complete a Sibling Photo Assignment, I posted a series of pictures from my Saturday visit to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, here, illustrating the arrival of the end of summer. Scroll down and you can see some of the pictures I didn't use in fulfilling the assignment.

2. I completed another project today: over at Pinterest, I had one board that was growing more unwieldly by the day called "Recipes". Now I have several recipe boards, organized under headings like Eggplant, Soups and Stews, Breakfast, and several others.

3.  This evening, Leah and I had a brief messaging session trying to remember what year she took the Working Class Literature/WR 123 course from Margaret and me. Leah and I have not had much direct contact over the last several years, but we have been friends on Facebook and I always read enjoy what she posts, knowing some of what's happening in her life, and enjoy her pictures. In the past week, Leah has decided to post Three Beautiful Things each day on her Facebook page. She told me it was a daily emotional/spiritual vitamin.  We wrote back and forth a bit about this, a very enjoyable exchange, and a reminder of how much I enjoyed working with Leah at LCC and chatting with her occasionally in my office. I'm eager to read her 3BTs and, if we decide to, to continue discussing our experience with this daily exercise.

Pictures that I took Saturday, but did not post in the photo assignment:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sibling Photo Assignment #5: Summer's End

I haven't completed Sibling Photo Assignment #4.  I have to be in Kellogg to do it and and I'll get it done when I return.

Christy assigned this challenge for assignment #5:  Take a series of photos that indicate summer is coming to an end. Christy's series is here and here is Carol's.

We've had a stifling heat wave here in the greater Washington D.C. area and I thought I might beat the heat for a while by heading to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens on Saturday morning, Sept. 10th. After I'd been there about a half an hour, I had to get out of the heat, but I took some pictures.

Kenilworth is the perfect place for this assignment because the lotus and lilies hit their peak in August and as the blooms wither and the leaves start to turn brown, it's a sign that summer is coming to an end.

There were still a few lotus and lilies in bloom:

But most of the lotus looked like this:

I enjoyed how evident the end of summer was in these mammoth lotus leaves:

Three Beautiful Things 09/10/16: Molly's Wedding, Life and Death at the Aquatic Gardens, Jeff on Dead Air

1. My niece, Molly, married Travis today in a ceremony held in Carol and Paul's back yard.  The Deke and I couldn't make it to the wedding, but Christy reported how much fun the wedding and reception were with pictures on Facebook and a text message reporting that Mom did great and had a very good afternoon.

2.  I don't have my pictures ready to show just yet, but today I drove down to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, curious if maybe some lotus and lilies were still in bloom.  August is the peak month for these flowers, and, indeed, many of them had run the course of their summer life, but a few blossoms were still hanging on and it was enjoyable to stroll around and see the blooming and the decline side by side, to observe the life and death cycle.  Even though I went down at around 10 a.m., after about a half an hour of walking around, the heat and humidity were intensifying so much that I cut my visit short, hoping to return soon once this latest local heat wave cools off a bit.

3. The Deke is staying at the Diazes this weekend while they are in Pittsburgh and she and I met up at Quench for some excellent conversation and I delighted in drinking a couple glasses of Troegs mighty Imperial IPA, Nimble Giant. Then I went to Old Line for a glass of Flying Dog's Imperial IPA, The Truth, and a fried egg burger.  I got back home and it struck me that it was time for Dead Air on KLCC in Eugene. I have KLCC set up to play on my radio app on both my devices and, as I got ready to tap on KLCC,  I had another thought -- how about if Jeff Harrison is subbing for Downtown Deb on Dead Air tonight? Wouldn't it be fun to hear Jeff?  It was my lucky evening.  Jeff was hosting last night and I got to hear some excellent Grateful Dead tunes, some Zero, and then, since he was also subbing for Pete LaVelle on The Back Porch, just before I fell asleep at midnight I got to hear some Jerry Garcia and David Grisman stuff.

As I took the buds out of my ears, I suddenly realized that it was thirty years ago this month that I was sitting in my office at the U of Oregon and Jeff came by, introduced himself as a new graduate student, and told me he was looking for a job as a paper and exam grader, having heard I was teaching a section of Survey of British Literature.  We agreed to work together and our friendship got underway.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/09/16: Spiffing Up the Joint, Daft Badger and Rare Earth, Moroccan Toast

1. Any plans I had to go to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens today and get back to taking some pictures were thwarted when I walked a couple of bags to the recycling area and experienced today's duvee of over 90 degree heat coupled with a duvee of humidity. So, I decided to stay in the air conditioned confines of our apartment home and mop floors, clean out the refrigerator, do a couple loads of laundry, and generally spiff up the joint.

2.  Earlier this summer, while I was enjoying a Badgers Bounty IPA at the Daft Badger, proprietor Darrell Dlouhy, whom I've known since our freshman year at NIC, dropped by our table to shoot the breeze for a few minutes and told me he wished I could stick around North Idaho into the late summer because on Sept. 17th the Daft Badger was putting on an Octoberfest party, featuring music by the Step Brothers, Peter Rivera's band -- yes, Peter Rivera, former drummer and lead singer for Rare Earth. Good Lord. Forty-four years ago, I loved Rare Earth, especially their 1971 double album, Rare Earth in Concert, and its uni-pack styled album cover - remember?

I loved listening to this album today-- "Hey, Big Brother", "Born to Wander", "I Just Want to Celebrate", "(I Know) I'm Losin' You", and the great jam track, over twenty minues long, of "Get Ready".  The music took me back to the summer of 1972 and the boys of the Kellogg-Wallace Miners American Legion baseball team and Steve Rife's arrival at a game one late afternoon (did he drive a Pinto?) with this album blasting away on his tape deck, the first time I knew that anyone else loved this album.  I nearly came out of my uniform!

3.   Somewhere several days ago, I read about a simple meal called "Moroccan Toast".  All it requires is guacamole spread across a slice of toasted bread with a fried egg plopped on top and then seasoning. The recipe suggested paprika, but I wasn't in a paprika mood, so I just peppered the egg. I liked it a lot and can see myself whipping it up often since we always have bread, guacamole, and eggs on hand.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/08/16: My Glenn Gould Years, All Right Now Radio, Salmon Wellington

1. One day,  back in about 1993 or 1994, while we were co-teaching philosophy and writing, Rita instructed our students to work quietly at their tables and she turned on a tape of Glenn Gould playing Bach. I don't think it was the Goldberg Variations, but it might have been The Well-Tempered Clavier -- it doesn't really matter. What matters is that this was a seminal moment in my life. I'd never heard (or heard of) Glenn Gould before and hearing him riveted me, and transported me into a rare realm of sustained sublime pleasure.

At some point, I bought a box set of Glenn Gould playing Bach (and some Beethoven and others), and, as my father was dying of cancer in May of 1996, I occasionally left the house and took long walks in Kellogg, listening to Glenn Gould on my Walkman. His playing helped me find some peace in the midst of our family's crisis.

At another point, maybe around 1994, I started repeatedly watching  32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, featuring Colm Feore playing the role of Glenn Gould in a movie dramatizing his life in thirty-two short, self-contained films looking at many facets of Gould's life as, among other things,  a performer, a theorist on the aesthetics and morality of public performance (he stopped giving concerts in 1964), radio documentarian, non-stop telephone conversationalist, a man obsessed with his health and with medicine, and a musician with a deep affection for Petula Clark's "Downtown".  It is a cinematic expression of the musical idea of variations on a theme -- the idea at work in the aria, the thirty variations, and the return to the aria that constitute Bach's Goldberg Variations -- which Glenn Gould made two very different recordings of at two very different times in his life.

Last night I started and today I finished watching 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. I can't remember the last time I watched it. It's been many years.  I loved watching it again. Not only did I love listening to the movie's music and admire the ingenious approach Francois Girard took to telling Gould's story, I enjoyed reliving many memories the movie inspired:  sharing this movie with others, being divorced again, pouring hours into growing flowers in my front yard, taking my first acting classes and appearing in my first play downtown, and stumbling into email conversations with the Deke in the summer of 1997 that led to our marriage in December. In late August of 1997, the Deke came over to my house and made a superb scallops dinner for us and, after we ate, we watched 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.

Through all of this time around twenty years and more ago, Glenn Gould often played in the background and the foreground. He often played for me through the night when I put on headphones and listened to Glenn Gould as I drifted asleep, letting Bach into my dreams.

Watching the movie brought this all back to me.

2.  When the Deke and I were at Old Line Wednesday night, the music playing was just one great song after another from 20-40 or more years ago.  I especially enjoyed hearing "All Right Now" by Free and wondered if I could approximate the Old Line's house music by creating an "All Right Now" station on Pandora.  It worked.  I am way into this station and the blend of CCR, AC/DC, Lynrd Skynrd, Free, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, Edgar Winter, and others.  Yeah, I have to endure some Kansas and other stuff I'm not crazy about, but, no problem -- the stuff I love invigorates me.

3.  Early in the day, Molly and I made a plan for each fixing something for dinner at the Diazes tonight.  I had Greek pasta salad made and ready to go and Molly said it would go well with the "salmon thing" she was going to make. That "salmon thing" turned out to be Salmon Wellington" -- salmon, spinach, onion, and other stuff baked inside a flaky puff pastry shell.  Good Lord! What a delicious dinner and an excitement to my cooking imagination.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/07/16: Clearing My Directory, ESB at Old Line, Gene Hackman as Harry Caul

1.  It's been over two years since I left LCC and I had email contacts in my directory that went back eight or nine years. Today I decided to clear out the over one thousand names of former LCC students out of my directory and remove the group email lists I had set up for certain classes.  It was fun to have some warm memories return, triggered by some of these students' names, fun to remember how much I enjoyed so many students over the years at LCC.

2.  The Deke's school held parents' night tonight and we went to the Old Line Bistro beforehand for dinner. The last two or three times I've been to Old Line, I considered ordering Denizen Brewing's Lowest Lord Extra Special Bitter (ESB).  It's an English-style ale, a bit more sweet than bitter, and it has what I think big time beer tasters call a biscuit-y quality.  Well, whether its taste quality was biscuit or toffee or something else, I loved this beer and wished that more brewers concocted ESBs.  Drinking this beer brought back memories of drinking ESBs in Eugene with the Troxstar and I wished he'd been at Old Line tonight and could have added his ESB expertise and enjoyment to the evening.  Just for the record, I ordered a plain burger with a fried egg plopped atop the beef patty.  Awesome.

3.  While the Deke was meeting with parents at the school, I watched a second movie of my dream Gene Hackman-between-1970-and-1975 triple feature.  How many times have I watched The Conversation? I'd guess between fifteen and twenty times and every time Gene Hackman's portrayal of Harry Caul deepens my uncertainty about the existential dilemma of how we humans are, at the same time, islands of isolation, left with the burden of creating meaning out of an essentially meaningless existence, while also connected to others, especially as the results of what we do begin to take shape. As an expert in audio surveillance, Harry Caul lives an isolated and paranoid existence. In this movie, he is confronted, as he had been earlier in his life, with the fact that he cannot simply spy on people, satisfy the clients who hire him by selling them taped conversations, and remove himself, morally, from the sometimes mortal consequences of his work. Harry is a superb technician, but his isolated life renders him incapable of really understanding other people -- not his occasional lover, not those who work for him, not his competitors, not his clients, not the woman hired to seduce him, and, most of all, not those whose conversations he records.  It makes for a brilliant movie and Gene Hackman's complete inhabitation of Harry Caul haunts me every time I watch this movie and unsettles me long after the movie ends.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/06/16: Clean Teeth, Hamburger Stew, Return to *Scarecrow*

1.  After talking with Philip at the Verizon store about this and that regarding my smartphone and tablet, I headed over to the McCarl Group's dental offices and left with the refreshing feeling of having had my teeth cleaned and polished. It's hard to believe that in my senior years I enjoy this so much, especially given the way I dreaded dental visits in my youth.

2.  As I pondered cooking dinner for me and the Deke, I thought it might be a good idea to take a break from coriander and turmeric and garlic and lemon and tomatoes and the other things that make Mediterranean food such a pleasure and go for some U.S.A. cuisine, that is, something milder.  I found the perfect recipe on Pinterest: a ground beef stew seasoned only with salt and pepper. It was easy to make and I hadn't even thought about how it was also comfort food, good for my Kellogg soul.  So, if you, too, are looking for a simple recipe where the flavor of the meat and vegetables carry the day, not a lot of seasonings, you can find the recipe, here.

3. Back in the fall of 1982, as I started life anew, freshly divorced, in a generic apartment on N. Colfax Road in Spokane with a temporary full-time instructor's job at Whitworth, I bought myself a television and a Betamax video recorder and I went crazy watching movies.  Over the Christmas break in 1982, a friend from graduate school, Michael Quigley (R.I.P.), came to my apartment -- and later joined our family in Kellogg for Christmas -- and he and I went on a movie watching tear, renting armloads of movies from the video store where I had a membership, and one of the movies he introduced me to was Scarecrow (1973), featuring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino.

I loved watching that movie during one of our marathons. I never saw it again and over the last several years I've tried to find it on Netflix and Amazon Prime and other sources without success.

I never thought I'd see this movie again.

But, this evening, I did an "Al Pacino" search on Amazon Prime, not even thinking of Scarecrow and there it was, available to rent (or buy).

I loved watching Scarecrow again. I loved entering, at the movie's start, into a bleak California landscape that Samuel Beckett might have created, where Max and Lion dance toward beginning their friendship without saying a word and then enter into a trip across the USA hitching rides and hopping trains.

As the movie unfolds, it explores more and more deeply these characters' dislocation and alienation from everyday American life, their illusions, and their growing need for each other.

I won't give the story away.  I will say, however, that I loved the loose, nearly plotless structure of the movie and the room director Jerry Schatzberg gave the actors in this movie to improvise -- many scenes played to me like improvisational games we used to play in class when I took Improv at LCC -- and the freedom Pacino and Hackman had to peel away and reveal the dark and loving complexities of the characters they played.

In the end, Scarecrow might be seen as adding yet another film to the huge canon of American Dream movies. Scarecrow doesn't affirm the American Dream, but the dream of a pursuing a prosperous future drives both men, even if their dreams are illusions sinking into delusions.

A final note:  If I owned a movie theater that showed movies no one was sure to come to, I would love to screen a Gene Hackman triple feature of the roles of his I most admire, played between 1970 and 1975 -- and I would be leaving out The French Connection -- maybe I would show it by itself another day!  Here's the triple feature:

I Never Sang for my Father
The Conversation

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/05/16: Hellbender, DC Brau, Mediterranean Dinner

1. Normally, tasting rooms in the breweries in our nations's capital don't open until 4 o'clock on Monday -- if they open at all, but this Monday was different. It was Labor Day.  Four breweries sit within about a half an hour of our apartment home in NE Washington, DC and I'd been to three of them (DC Brau, Atlas, and 3 Star), but never to Hellbender. That changed today. I zipped down New Hampshire and after a few turns on a few streets I found the cul de sac at the end of 2nd St. NE where Hellbender is located. I ordered a flight of Red Line Ale, Ignite IPA, Te Pahu Pale Ale, and Bare Bones Kolsch.  These were tasty beers and I relaxed for quite a while, listening to conversations in the room and thinking about how much I enjoy low key times like this in these DC breweries. Today, it was so low key, I was able to concentrate and read another chapter or two of A Lincoln. 

2.  DC Brau is only about three miles or so from Hellbender and I thought it would be fun to pick up some Corruption IPA for dinner at the Diazes tonight and to buy a sixer of On the Wings of Armageddon for our apartment home. The small tasting room at DC Brau had plenty of customers, but I spied a chair at a little round table against a wall and bought myself a pint of Corruption and slowly enjoyed its hoppy and, to me, slightly nutty, splendor and started reading Jay Parini's compact biography of Jesus, a contribution to Kindle's Icon Series.  I enjoyed the introduction a lot and thoroughly enjoyed being back in the friendly confines of DC Brau after a two months absence.

3.  I buzzed by our apartment home and picked up the shakshuka sauce, the batata harra, a half dozen eggs, our container of crumbled feta cheese, parsley, and my electric frying pan.  I arrived at the Diazes, set up the frying pan, got the leftover eggplant, chickpea, tomato casserole out of the fridge, combined it with the shakshuka sauce (a perfect combination), and poached the eggs on top of the sauce. The shakshuka was relatively mild but the batata harra was more spicy, complementing each other, and, served with the pita bread leftover from Thursday night, we had ourselves a top-notch Mediterranean dinner.  I was very happy that the Deke, Molly, and Hiram enjoyed this meal.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/04/16: Kitchen Therapy, Shakshuka and Batata Harra, Greek Pasta Salad

1.  As it turned out, after an afternoon trip to Columbia, Molly recommended that I save the food I prepared for dinner tonight until tomorrow. No problem. I needed to cook today to settle down my restless mind today and it worked and this food might even taste better tomorrow after sitting for a day.

2. When she and Camille visited us back in May, Danielle fixed shakshuka, a versatile dish featuring eggs poached atop a spicy tomato sauce. It's simple to make and I loved the way the smell of onion and garlic and red pepper being sauteed and the added aromas of oregano, basil, chili powder, chili pepper flakes, cumin, and paprika simmering in the tomatoes deliciously filled our apartment home.  Later I boiled some red potatoes, let them cool, cut them up, and coated them with coriander seeds, turmeric, lime juice, and red pepper flakes that I had sauteed in olive oil. I transferred them into a bowl and sprinkled dill weed and fresh parsley and some more red pepper flakes over them. We'll have a spicy Mediterranean (Lebanese) potato salad, called batata harra, to eat on the side with our shaksuka on Monday.  (By the way, the batata harra also calls for cilantro, but one member of the family can't eat cilantro -- so I'm thinking I might buy a bunch and have it on the table.)

3.  Saturday night, I boiled a box of penne pasta and today I turned the pasta into a Greek pasta salad by adding grape tomatoes, cucumber, Kalamata olives (and some brine), red pepper, chopped red onion, feta cheese, and parmesan cheese and dressed the salad with Greek vinaigrette.  The salad rested in the refrigerator all day and I served myself a bowl around 9 p.m. I had bought blueberries on Saturday and suddenly I thought the blueberries would add a sweet layer of taste to this salad so I dropped a handful into my bowl.  For me, it worked. I wouldn't be ready to serve blueberries in Greek salad to others without their consent, but this move got me thinking about different possibilities for blueberries and soon I dove into recipe websites, seeing if any of my ideas appeared in recipes.  They did. There could be a pork tenderloin with blueberry and kiwi salsa in the future here at our apartment home. And some other experiments....

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/03/16: Stocking Up at Costco, Shakshuka Coming, Reindeer Heart Tacos

1.  I worked today to replenish our food supplies since returning to Maryland on the 22nd of August starting with a trip to Costco. We now have cans of tomatoes, a good store of pasta, miniature containers of guacamole and hummus for the Deke to take to work, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and other things.

2. I was going to finish my Saturday shopping spree at Weis grocery out near Laurel. I go here because of a tip Phil gave me several months ago about them carrying 12-packs of Polar seltzer water. To my dismay, when I arrived at Weis, a sign was posted that the Weis company would soon be shuttering this location. I walked the aisles for a while, sad to see so many empty shelves, but I did find a couple of boxes of Polar water, purchased them, and made my first trip to MOM's Organic in College Park in several months and bought the rest of the groceries I had listed. I'm poised now to fix Sunday night dinner for the Deke, Molly, Hiram, and me: I'm going to make shakshuka for the first time and I"m also going to put together a Greek pasta salad to have on hand.

3. When I got back to our apartment home after a splendid ribs and mashed potato dinner at the Diazes, I watched an episode of Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse.  This episode took place in Sweden and featured New Nordic cuisine. It was fascinating, especially his visit to Niklas Ekstedt's restaurant (called Ekstedt) where he cooks gourmet New Nordic dishes with no electricity, only the open flames of wood-fueled fires.  He jokingly referred to it as Game of Thrones cooking. Emeril Lagasse was especially impressed with the smoky gameyness, burst of tart lingonberry, and the crunchy texture of the fried moss in one of Ekstedt's signature dishes: reindeer heart tacos.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/02/16: Get to the Store, If Music Be the Food of Love, Will Hermine Pass By Greenbelt?

1.  I enjoy cooking and part of the fun is reading recipes.  It's time for me to do some serious grocery shopping, so I got on my tablet and started reading recipes, thinking about what I might enjoy preparing, what others might enjoy eating, and started jotting down a grocery list. I got so caught up in thinking and imagining and reading, however, that I never made it to the store.  Saturday.  I'll go to the store Saturday. . .

2.  On Amazon Prime Music, I've been listening repeatedly to a playlist called "50 Great Classic Jazz Songs" featuring Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn, John Coltrane, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Ornette Coleman, Ella Fitzgerald, and a host of other artists. Today, I switched things up a couple of times. First, I left Amazon and went over to Pandora and played the Oysterband Station, featuring everyone from Mark Knopfler to Flogging Molly and enjoyed my dive into a variety of Celtic folk rock/Celtic punk tunes. Then I went back to the days of being freshly divorced, being at my short-lived peak in graduate school, and living and teaching in Spokane and listened to The Cure and Modern English and David Bowie and Flock of Seagulls and a host of other bands and performers from over thirty years ago, first on the Alternative 80's station and then on 80's New Wave.  "If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it. . . "

3.  It looks like Hermine will pass east of us here in Greenbelt, but even with this apparent good news, I keep checking my weather app. to see if the path of the storm is changing and if we will need to hunker down.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 09/01/16: Mom Update, Eggplant Revival, Double Travel to the Past

1.  I called Mom this morning and she sounded good. She reported on her doctor visits, the stability of her daily blood pressure and heart rates, and visits from Rosie and Jane and her pleasure having Zoe in town.  I was happy to know that, along with spending good time with Christy and Carol, that Mom is seeing other friends and family, too.  I was disheartened to learn, however, that with her next pain clinic visit still a month or more away, Mom is having pain in her lower back and elsewhere.

2. I made a stop at the Shoppers supermarket, and, among other items, I bought two eggplants. Back home, I fixed a cinnamon-y, garlic-y, Middle East styled eggplant, chickpea, and tomato casserole to serve at dinner with white rice, feta cheese and chopped Kalamata olives, and pita bread on the side at the Diaz home.  I subscribe to an electronic New York Times recipe newsletter and this recipe came from a dream edition of this service:  "Our 10 Most Popular Eggplant Recipes"!

3.  As I had hoped, it was good for my spirit and my imagination to start reading Dr. Ronald C. White's book A. Lincoln: A Biography. I think the last time I talked to Ron White was in about 1982 or 1983 when he participated in the ordination of Lorraine (Robertson) Stuart at the chapel of Whitworth. So, even though it's been over thirty years since I've heard Ron White speak or had conversation with him, I can hear his voice in this book. I recognize some of his vocabulary and the book is triggering memories of how I remember the mind of Ron White working.  So, the book is a double pleasure: I'm enjoying learning more about Abraham Lincoln and I'm enjoying being in the company of Whitworth's former chaplain and my boss for a year -- forty years ago.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Three Beautiful Things 08/31/16: Enrollments, Cold Case Revisited, Back to the Old Line

1.  I completed the enrollment for my health benefits and completed the health assessment. It's not that difficult, but every year I am happy to complete the process and, this year, to have it done two weeks ahead of time, not at the last minute.  I must have been in the enrolling mood. I also signed the Deke and me up for a free educational transplant conference being held on October 8th just north of Baltimore called The Transplant Journey.  I know. I really know how to have a good time.

2.  I finished reading a  true crime book, commissioned by for Kindle, entitled The Killing Season. It's a grisly story about murders in Grand Junction, CO back in 1975 and how one of these cases, a double murder, lay cold for about thirty-five years, but was revisited a few years ago and a man was tried and convicted for these crimes. Later in the day, I listened to the story's writer, Alex French, be interviewed on the podcast, True Murder.  I'm going to take a break from true crime stories. I think I'll read Ron White's biography of Abraham Lincoln -- starting just over forty years ago, Ron White was the chaplain at Whitworth and I worked for an academic year for him as a Chaplain's Assistant back in 1976-77.

3.  The Deke ate dinner with and spent the night at the Diazes and I haven't quite stocked the pantry in our apartment home yet, so I vaulted into the Sube and whizzed up to the Old Line Bistro for dinner.  I sat at the plank and Kristin, a favorite server of ours, was working the bar.  Kristin is a low-key person and even though she didn't say anything, I could tell she knew I hadn't been in for about two months and, without a word, she acknowledged my return to Maryland and the Old Line by taking my pint glass when it was nearly empty and giving me a complimentary refill of Flying Dog's incomparable Imperial IPA, The Truth.  I, too, am very low key at the bar, and silently thanked her with a slight head nod and a warm look.  I enjoyed my burger and fries and topped off my dinner with a Kirsch Gose from Victory Brewing.  Gose is a tart, almost sour, style of beer and I love drinking such beers after I've eaten a meal and, for me, drinking this beer was like having a biting, unsweetened cherry cobbler for dessert. It was very satisfying.