Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/30/19: *The Usual Suspects* Disappointed Me, Milk Bar on *Chef's Table*, Big East Tilts and the Zags

1. Every once in a while, I like to watch a movie again that I enjoyed quite a few years ago and see how I experience it now. I don't quite remember the details, but I remember renting The Usual Suspects back in the mid-90s and I remember being a part of conversations later, particularly in the LCC theater dressing room, when I enthusiastically agreed with others who raved about how much they loved this movie.

Something changed.

I didn't enjoy it much at all, starting last night and finishing it today.

In fact, as the movie developed, rather than being compelled by the characters and the story, I felt my apathy grow. I knew the movie was working toward a twist at the end that had blown me away over twenty years ago. I vaguely remembered what it was, but I wanted that surprise to hurry up and arrive because I wanted the movie to be over with.

The surprises that so jolted me in my forties left me unmoved and definitely not blown away today.

I guess this movie, for me, is analogous to Benedick's meat when, in Much Ado About Nothing, he quips: "A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age."

(Much ado about nothing. Not a bad description for my response today to The Usual Suspects.)

2. Before I started a mini-marathon of college basketball viewing this afternoon, I found an episode of Chef's Table on Netflix to watch. It featured Christina Tosi, the innovative baker who started the wildly successful franchise of bakeries called Milk Bar. In August of 2018, in Manhattan, Erik Martin escorted Melissa and me to a Milk Bar not far from MOMA and I ate a dish of nostalgia-filled, junky, but awesome Morning Cereal soft serve ice cream. Now I know about how Christina Tosi's will and imagination, along with some help from her friends, brought Milk Bar into being and I learned more about what she understands about people and why they love to eat what they eat and how those insights, along with her superb skills, make her franchise so successful.

3. I love watching teams in the Big East Conference play each other and conference play is now getting underway. FS1 telecasts the Big East and I enjoy their broadcasts a lot. This afternoon thoroughly enjoyed the wit and economy of Tim Brando and Bill Raftery teaming up to call the action as Villanova and Xavier squared off. Over the last two months, I've enjoyed watching Villanova gel as a team and they are increasingly reflecting the thinking of their head coach, Jay Wright. They don't have any single big stars, but their team is versatile, able to adjust to how their opponents defend them, and score by either driving to the cup or making three point baskets.

Brando and Raftery stressed in today's broadcast that Xavier coach Travis Steele had instructed his Xavier players to defend the Wildcats more vigorously beyond the three-point arc. Villanova responded early by sacrificing three point attempts for hard drives to the hoop, and, as the game progressed, three point opportunities began to open up and Villanova got some key shots from downtown. Xavier played Villanova tough, but the Musketeers had fallen behind early in this game and, despite their best efforts, were never able to come all the way back and overcome Villanova's early advantage. It was an entertaining tilt -- the final score was 68-62 -- and I can hardly wait for these two teams to tip it off again on February 22nd in Cincinnati.

Debbie and I went over to Christy and Everett's at 6:00. Christy had laid out the ingredients for taco salad, including a very tasty pan of seasoned elk hamburger and I made myself a couple of salads while watching Gonzaga paste Detroit Mercy. The Zags must be the nation's most potent offensive squad. Their offensive prowess was on full display tonight.  Immediately, they jumped out to a quick and game-lasting lead, making nearly 75% of their shots in the first half. About half way through the second half, I decided I'd seen enough of this blow out and Debbie and I returned home. The Zags triumphed, 93-72.

Back home, I had recorded tonight's second Big East matchup: the surprising DePaul Blue Demons hosted the Big East preseason favorites, Seton Hall. I was eager to see DePaul because their early season success was unexpected and was fired up to see how All-American Myles Powell would play for the Pirates after being out for a couple of games with a concussion.

Because I started watching the recording of the game before the game had finished, the last four minutes didn't get recorded so I didn't get to see these last four minutes -- live and learn. But, I was very entertained by what I did see. Both teams played hard-nosed defense, with multiple blocked shots and challenges around the rim and an assortment of steals and disruptions in the back court. Myles Powell led Seton Hall on both ends of the floor, not only scoring 27 points, but coming up with five steals and making free throws late in the game to clinch Seton Hall's come from behind victory, 74-66.

The Big East teams were successful in their pre-conference games the last two months. Last year, the teams in this conference played each other very tough in conference. I loved watching them play each other, but they were not successful in the NCAA national tournament. Once again, it looks like the in conference games this season will be tightly contested -- no one or two teams look at all dominant. I'll love that. I have no predictions about how the conference standings will shake out nor how these teams will fare in the post-season. All I know is that I love watching them play one another.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/29/19: *Casino Royale*, Winter Warmer, Meatloaf Casserole for Family Dinner

1. I waded into the world of James Bond this afternoon by watching Daniel Craig's first movie as Bond, Casino Royale. My sense is that I live in a world where many people have a highly developed idea of what James Bond should be. I don't. So I'll dispense with question number one: Did I think Daniel Craig was a good Bond?

I don't know. I'll leave that discussion to the Bond-ologists of the world.

I figured coming into this movie that the plot would be preposterous.

It was.

I figured I'd see outrageous heroics. I did. In an early foot chase scene through a construction site in Madagascar, I wondered why Bond and Mollaka, the bomb maker he chased, weren't Olympians. I've never seen two humans demonstrate such speed and endurance running long distances nor have I seen two humans who could leap like Bond and Mollaka.

Likewise, Bond proved himself to be a capable driver of various vehicles, ranging from an earth mover to a gasoline tanker to an Aston Martin and, for the most part, maneuvered them adroitly while in vehicular chase scenes, even proving himself able to punch and be punched while driving the gas tanker.

I figured Bond would experience sexual diversion.

He did.

I felt impatient during these chases and sex scenes.

I enjoyed the intrigue of his work as a spy much more and, I thought, Daniel Craig was at his best as an actor when Bond's mind was at work (in the poker scenes, for example) and when he was matching wits and his will both with the movie's villains and with his boss, M (I enjoyed Judi Dench much more than Bond's lovers).

I appreciated Daniel Craig's acting range in this movie. His Bond was complex. He was, by turns, forthright, insecure, arrogant, tender, smart, outsmarted, insightful, blind, vulnerable, and implacable. When the movie developed Bond's character, I enjoyed it much more than when the movie indulged in sensation, special effects, and seduction.

I might watch another Bond movie one day, but I'm not hooked.

In fact, watching Casino Royale moved me to want to go back and watch more subdued spy stories like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

2. By around 4:00 or so, Debbie had her family dinner preparations under control, I had returned from going to the liquor store and Yoke's for some last minute purchases, and I had finished vacuuming. We yakked for a while. I popped open a pint of Stormbreaker's Winter Coat, a malty winter warmer brewed with raspberries. I didn't expect this beer to be a memory bomb, but it was. It transported me back to 1996-97 when I first began drinking microbrews, most often at McMenamins in Eugene, both at High Street and 19th. As I remember it, at that time, beers were not as hoppy as many beers have been over the last 10-15 years. Drinking this Stormbreaker Winter Coat took me back to pints of Brown Ale, Nebraska Bitter, Kris Kringle (a winter warmer), and other maltier beers. In fact, I had some dim memories of drinking pints of less hop forward beers in England forty years ago in 1979. I enjoyed thinking back to when, in my mind, at least, hops were in the royal family, but hops weren't necessarily king, and I thought about how much I enjoy these maltier beers when the weather gets cold and a sweeter beer warms my belly and tastes just right.

3.  Debbie and I hosted family dinner tonight. Over the years, on my birthday, Debbie has often fixed me a meatloaf dinner. She offered to do it on my birthday again this year, but I said I thought I'd like a lighter dinner on the 27th, knowing I'd be eating at Waddell's that day for lunch. We agreed that a meatloaf dinner would work great for family dinner on the 29th.

And that's what Debbie prepared.

Debbie found a recipe for a meatloaf casserole. It involved lining the bottom of a casserole dish with sliced potatoes and topping the spuds with meatloaf mix and baking it for about seventy minutes.

I loved having the potatoes and meatloaf combined in a single dish. Debbie fixed a tasty side dish of kale and we enjoyed a bottle of Pinot Noir together. Christy contributed a superb cranberry/apple/currant pie served with vanilla ice cream. It was a most memorable family dinner!

Everyone got together in the living room about a half an hour before we ate and I had fun mixing drinks in my cocktail shaker: Carol and Paul requested a Chelsea Sidecar and Christy and Everett enjoyed a Manhattan. I fixed myself a gin martini and I don't think Debbie had a cocktail until after dinner when I mixed her an Old-Fashioned.

These classic cocktails are fun to mix and it's fun when family members enjoy them so much.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/28/19: College Hoops, Abby at The Lounge, Daniel Craig Festival is Underway

1. This morning I settled in for what I hoped would be a couple of pretty good basketball games. For starters, Tennessee squared off against Wisconsin. I didn't realize, though, that the Vols' point guard, LaMonte Turner was unable to play thanks to a bum shoulder. The Vols struggled in Turner's absence. Wisconsin played a disciplined game and had a terrific game shooting from the outside. The Badgers triumphed, 68-48.  I lost interest in this game soon after half time.

For a while, it looked like the intense rivalry game between Kentucky and Louisville might also be a blow out. Kentucky charged to a twelve point lead, were playing at home, and Louisville was reeling, largely because their best player, Jordan Nwora was off his game, forcing the Cardinals to look elsewhere for scoring.

Dwayne Sutton, Lamarr Kimble, and Steven Enoch picked up much of Nwora's slack and the Cardinals clawed their way back into the game and in the second half both teams staged a melodramatic, back and forth tilt. Kentucky was the flashier team (in a good way), at times, especially Tyrese Maxey, and their center, Nick Richards, was a tower of strength, both on defense and offense, even though he was playing with four fouls.

In a sporting sense, it only seemed just that these two sides who played so intensely and were so entertaining would have to go into overtime to determine the winner. In the end, though, the contest between these two hard-nosed, speedy, high-flying, muscular, often gritty teams was determined by that most pedestrian of factors: free throws. Louisville shot a miserable 9-20 from the charity stripe, including momentous misses in the OT. Missed free throws cost the Cardinals the game.

The final score: Kentucky over Louisville, 78-70 in OT.

2. When his many, many friends gathered at the Elks on June 1 to memorialize Kirk "Goose" Hoskins, I saw Abby across the crowded room, but I didn't see him afterward nor did I see him the entire summer or fall.

It turns out that Abby (Terry Absec) lived in his new house on Lake Coeur d'Alene during the summer and fall, but is now living back in his Kellogg home.

When I walked into The Lounge late this afternoon, I felt a surge of joy seeing Abby seated at the bar, sipping on a can of Oly. We shook hands and I sat next to him, and, along with Cas, we yakked for quite a while about times in the neighborhood when we were little kids, our days in Little League, eating nuts and bolts, and other fun things. In addition, Abby and Cas regaled me with tales from the 1980s. They were part of a group of guys who hung out at Dirty Ernie's.  I was away, working in Spokane some of those years and studying and teaching in Eugene the others. Even though I missed out on being a part of their hijinx and so have no stories to tell, every time I hear their stories about men's league basketball games, road trips, and escapades at Dirty Ernie's, I enjoy long and lasting belly laughs.

3. I'm not sure, but I think back in about 1973, Ed Bailey and I went to a James Bond movie at a drive-in somewhere. If we did, that would be the only James Bond movie I've ever seen.

I bring this up because I recently read a New Yorker profile of Adam Driver and learned that in the movie, Logan Lucky, Driver plays a character who lost half his arm at war in Iraq and now works as a one-handed bartender. I went online to and watch a clip of Driver's character mixing a Stoli martini; the movie clip also featured Daniel Craig playing a West Virginian convict named Joe Bang and I was very impressed with Craig's southern accent and with how funny he was.

Last week, Mary, Kathy, and I went to the movie, Knives Out, and Daniel Craig plays a private detective, again with a thick southern accent; I loved the movie and was intrigued -- I mean, I figured Craig's portrayal of Joe Bang and of the detective, Benoit Blanc, had to be vastly different than his portrayal of James Bond. How vast, I wondered, is Daniel Craig's range as an actor?

I have decided it's time to find out and so, this evening, I decided to start watching some Daniel Craig movies.

I watched Logan Lucky.

It was a blast.

Was the story ludicrous? YES! I don't know if all heist movies have juicy, junk food, ludicrous plots, but the two or three I've seen in the last fifteen years did and it's the core of what makes them, for me, a delight.

This movie plays out a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway of a ton of money.

I'll leave it at that -- except to say that I completely gave myself over to the whole enterprise and its aftermath and had a blast -- and that I found it invigorating to watch Daniel Craig play a good old boy convict with a Purex-bleached blonde buzz cut who has a preternatural understanding of the chemistry of explosives. Ludicrous? You bet! A ton of fun? It was for me!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/27/19: Starting at the Rocket, Reunion at Waddell's, Birthday Feast

1. Today marked my 66th birthday.

I began it just the way I wanted. I packed my suitcase after a good night's sleep at Aaron's airbnb, eased into the Sube, and dashed straight to Rocket Bakery for a three berry scone and a couple of cups of dark roast coffee.

One table at Rocket was filled with women who seemed anywhere from ten to fifteen older than me who seem to meet daily at the Rocket and the table next to me was filled with men a bit older than me who were musicians. I enjoyed overhearing bits and pieces of their stories about gigging over the past forty years -- venues they played in, funny experiences they'd had on past New Year's Eves, and people (none of whom I knew) they played with over the years.

2. I've known Roger Pearson my whole life. He was born on Christmas Day, two days before me, in the same hospital (the Wardner Hospital); we went to Sunday School and church together, played on the same Little League team, were basketball teammates from the 7-12 grades, played a lot of golf together, graduated from Whitworth together in 1976, and on and on.

Roger spent the Christmas season with his sister Trudi's family in Spokane and Stu organized a lunch today at Waddell's in north Spokane so a bunch of us lifelong friends could get together and see Roger.

Before going to Waddell's, I drove out to Whitworth and took a couple slow spins through the campus. I looked at the growth of the athletic area, made my way up to where only three of the six original dorms in the Village stand, admired the many new buildings that have been constructed over the last -- I don't know -- 20 to 30 years. I enjoy being on campus; agreed, physically, it's a far cry from the much, much more modest Whitworth College I attended and where I worked. But, my memories are alive, warm memories of invigorating learning, faculty I deeply admired -- no, loved --, students I loved working with, and peers who were (and are) among the finest people I've ever known.

At Waddell's, I found the table where our party was sitting: Byrdman, Stu, Lars, Jake, and Roger. I joined them and for the next two and half hours we told great stories, got caught up on present day news, discussed retirement --Roger and Lars are on the verge --, enjoyed good food, and sampled a wide variety of beers by way of flights. Every beer I sampled was excellent, whether a Winter Ale, a smokey Porter, two fruit sours, the Imperial Stout, or the house Lager.

(By the way, our server surprised me with a very tasty ice cream dish, covered with caramel sauce. I think some whipped cream was involved.)

Scroll down and you can see a couple of pictures of our party -- there you'll see six guys having an awesome reunion as great lifelong friends.

That, coincidentally, this reunion happened on my birthday made it even more fun for me.

3.  For my birthday dinner, I wanted to share a spread of cheeses from Murray's Cheese at Fred Meyer, cold cut meats, a hard crusted bread, sweet red pepper, chips and salsa, bread and butter pickles, dolmas, Kalamata olives, hummus, oatcake crackers, Honey Crisp apples (and brie cheese), and other such foods. I wanted to enjoy this spread with Pinot Noir wine.

Therefore, I stopped at Fred Meyer in Coeur d'Alene on my way home from Spokane and bought all of the above (Carol already had the wine), including about seven cheeses, ranging from strong and moldy to more mild. I had a lot of fun picking out the cheeses and making my way around the store picking out different items.

I dropped off the bags of food at Carol and Paul's, gave some simple directions about presentation, and after a short time at home, Debbie and I went to Carol and Paul's for my birthday dinner.

I had forgotten that I had also requested a "brothy" soup and Zoe came through with a splendid Chicken Pho. I had also forgotten that I agreed to have a dessert! So I was pleasantly surprised when Christy presented a ginger cookie silhouette cake. Whipped cream was definitely involved.

The dinner and dessert were perfect. I got to blow out a three candles that spelled out "60ish". That was fun and funny.

I came home with two great books from Christy: David Whyte's Consolations and an anthology compiled and edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney, Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape.

Pictures from Waddell's:

Three Beautiful Things 12/26/19: Replenishing, Happy Hour at Luna, Trivia at Poole's

1. I got myself organized for my overnight trip to Spokane and made a quick trip to Yoke's and the liquor store to replenish the pantry and to make sure we don't run out of Irish whiskey or Tanqueray gin.

2. I checked into my room located on the 500 block S. Cedar. From the top of the house's steps, I took time to gaze across I-90 at nearby First Presbyterian Church and remembered stories from the Whitworth days about how much people loved it there. I thought about the day just before classes started in the late summer of 1982 when I attended the funeral of Whitworth's recent former president Ed Lindaman. I revered Ed Lindaman, loved the innovative impact he had on vivifying the experience of going to Whitworth, and thought about how he directly and indirectly had a strong impact on how I taught and what I cared the most about in the world of education.

Once settled and after a short nap, I drove along Spokane's High Drive, eventually reaching S. Perry and 57th where I met Kathy and Mary for Happy Hour at Luna. I've never been to France, but Kathy and Mary are experienced travelers and I believe them when they tell me Luna is almost like being in a French establishment.

I started with a gin martini and then ordered half a dozen oysters on the half shell with a neat pour (which turned into two) of Basil Hayden bourbon. I hadn't had raw oysters and bourbon since leaving Maryland and I loved the taste of the Pacific Ocean followed by the smooth, slightly spicy bite of Basil Hayden. Kathy, Mary, and I talked about a lot of things, including our upcoming trivia session -- Kathy had written out a bunch of Star Wars questions and we tried to bone up for our upcoming trivia night where we knew that Star Wars was a category.

UNEXPECTED BONUS! Kathy and Mary paid my tab as a gift for my birthday coming up tomorrow, the 27th. Their generosity thrilled me and I'm very grateful. Their gift increased the already profound pleasure of pairing raw oysters and bourbon.

3. The three of us jumped into Mary's Sube and zipped a short distance down 57th to Poole's Public House. The trivia playing area looked full and the empty tables were marked as reserved. Soon, however, we were blessed with good fortune when a very kind couple in the trivia area gave us their table. They were not going to be playing trivia and volunteered to find a table elsewhere. We settled in.

As Mary, Kathy, and I feared, we did not do well answering the ten questions about Star Wars. I think we only answered four correctly.

Oh, well.

We were mighty in the other four categories and finished the night a strong second. We won a Pabst Blue Ribbon cap and some other beer-related paraphernalia as the winners of the "Common Thread" round. We sweetened our trivia effort by sharing a Dutch chocolate brownie, a warm double brownie with walnuts covered in peanut butter sauce topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I believe whipped cream was also involved. It was a dessert that gives decadence a good reputation.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/25/19: Family Gift Exchange, Prime Rib at the Lounge, Conversation Back Home

1.  Slowly, surely, and a little behind the family's Christmas Day timetable, Debbie and I piled into the Sube and blasted over to Carol and Paul's for the family gift exchange. Christy contributed a delicious roasted vegetable breakfast casserole along with a batch of Morning Glory muffins and Carol made a fruit salad. It was perfectly light brunchy board. Then, for next couple of hours we went around the family circle, opening gifts and showing them off. I spearheaded a personal mission to get Carol, Cosette, Molly, and Zoe to explain any and all Roberts family inside jokes -- like what's the deal with calling Carol Mama Llama? -- and I sought clarification about any and all gifts that were related to Batman, Star Wars, the Marvel universe, and other facts of life in 2019 that contributed to a gap of experience between me and the youth in the room. Consequently, our gift exchange was replete with wise cracks, inside jokes cracked and explained, allusions to movies and superheroes, and a lot of laughter. I left Carol and Paul's with a St. John's Red Storm hoody, a set of martini glasses, a cookbook of recipes from Palestine, a DNA kit, a night at the University Inn in Moscow (Did I forget something? Sorry if I did. Please forgive me.), and a lot of good cheer.

2. Debbie and I lounged around the house for a few hours before heading up to the Inland Lounge where Cas and Tracy had set out a prime rib dinner for anyone to come into the Lounge and enjoy. We served ourselves some food, sat at the bar, and got to talk with Cas and Tracy. It was a splendid scene. People were enjoying the food and each other in good cheer. It's a very good and generous thing Cas and Tracy do every Christmas and Thanksgiving and gives a lot of people who might otherwise be alone a good place to come, eat, and get in some good yakkin'.

3. Back home, I happily served as the house mixologist and broke in the new martini glasses by making Debbie a couple of Chelsea Sidecars and then switched to cocktail glasses and mixed a Manhattan or two. I popped a batch of popcorn and for a couple or three hours  Debbie and I exchanged easy conversation about things that have happened while we've been apart, The Crown, and what might lie ahead in 2020.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/24/19: A Rocket Hour, The Dead and the Knicks, Brazilian Christmas Eve

1. This morning I sprang from my bed and threw up the sash and to my wondering eyes there appeared a gray Spokane morning, bereft of snow. I heaved a sigh of relief that travel would be easy today. I got cleaned up, packed my suitcase, and bolted in the Sube straight for the Rocket Bakery where I enjoyed a berry oat scone with steaming dark roast coffee.

After an hour or so, I drove to 5th and South Cedar to check out the location of the airbnb I'll stay in Thursday night and then I darted out to the airport, parked in the cell phone parking lot, and awaited word from Debbie that she was ready to be picked up outside baggage claim.

Debbie swooped into the Sube and, indeed, travel to Kellogg was easy.

2. I had some writing to do and put on a DVD of the third set of the Grateful Dead's performance at the closing night at Winterland (12/31/78) and then I traveled back in time and watched an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary entitled, When the Garden was Eden. The film centered on the New York Knicks' glory years, particularly the seasons ending in 1970 and 1973, and I got to relive my absolute love for those Knicks and their toughness and artistry.

3. Debbie and I joined the Christmas Eve party at Carol and Paul's around 3:30. I finished preparing the Pernil Assado and before long we all sat down to Brazilian dinner, featuring a seafood stew, the pork roast I prepared, a Brazilian potato salad, and a couple of side dishes. We had a merry dinner and retired to the living room for Panettone and Brazilian coffee. Zoe gave the Roberts family a trivia game for Christmas and we all played for a while. I got to be the guy who read the questions.

Debbie and I returned home. Debbie had been up since about 3:00 a.m. and wanted an early evening nightcap before she turned in for the night. So I opened my modest bar in the kitchen and mixed her a Manhattan. We got to yakkin' -- not having done so face to face for about three months -- and Debbie asked me what else I could mix and I introduced her to the Chelsea Sidecar. She enjoyed both the Manhattan and the Chelsea Sidecar and I mixed myself a gin martini and we yakked on for a while before Debbie's second wind expired and she went to bed. Soon, I followed suit.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/23/19: Cooking and Spiffing, *Knives Out* Delight, Champagne Cocktails

1. I would be spending the night in Spokane tonight, so I needed to slow cook the pork shoulder that had been marinating for the past twenty-four hours. I am cooking Pernil Assado for our Brazilian Christmas Eve dinner. I'll finish roasting it on the afternoon of the 24th. When I leave the house, even if it's just overnight, I like to come home to as clean of a house as possible, so I laundered my sheets and put clean ones on the bed; I vacuumed; I cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom. I left Kellogg about an hour or so later than I originally planned, but I left happy, happy that I completed the second stage of cooking the Pernil Assado and happy that the house was spiffed up. 

2. I rented the upstairs of one half of a Victorian house on 12th and South Oak in Spokane. I got settled in and Kathy summoned me to meet her and Mary at Mary's house and we would head to River Park Square for a bite to eat and a movie. 

I hadn't eaten at a Panda Express since one afternoon a few years ago at the Baltimore Washington International Airport, and I decided to give terriyaki chicken, Shanghai beef, and chow mein noodles a try. The food was fine, but I had a similar response this evening that I had at the airport: I won't stop everything to pile in the Sube and go have dinner at Panda Express -- but I would return in another pinch.

We went to the movie Knives Out at my request. 

I wanted to watch a fun movie, a romp, a movie filled with almost cartoonishly awful people and I wanted to watch a murder mystery with countless twists and turns get solved by an eccentric detective.

Knives Out was all of this and more. 

What I didn't know I'd see was a movie that, to me, simultaneously relished the murder mystery genre while also making light fun of it. 

I completely committed myself to this movie and the commitment paid off. I laughed, felt light-headed with delight, and gave myself over to the movie's absurdity and to the great fun the actors were having. I loved seeing Don Johnson again. Toni Colette was a delight. I was once again thrilled by the range of Michael Shannon. I left the movie wanting to watch every movie Daniel Craig has ever made -- starting, I think, with his other recent turn as a southerner, Joe Bang, in Logan Lucky. I love Jamie Lee Curtis. Christopher Plummer knocked my socks off. Ana de Armas has my full attention -- I will seek out past and future performances of hers.

Do I recommend you see this movie? I don't know. All I know is that I enjoyed its cast of first-rate actors having a ball with a snappy script, an outlandish story, a roller coaster ride of awfulness (with the exception of one character), and a tongue in cheek homage to the old-fashioned parlor murder mystery and that I see myself watching this movie repeatedly.  

3. After the movie ended, I got up my nerve and asked Mary if she might be willing to serve the three of us an after movie cocktail at her house. She happily agreed to. She fixed the three of us a champagne cocktail blending a sugar cube, orange bitters, and champagne and it was terrific. We had fun talking about the movie and all kinds of other topics and by about 11 or so we went our separate ways after a very fun evening. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/22/19: Marinating, Tales at the Prichard Tavern, The Queen's Constant Dilemma

1. First thing this morning I combined the hundreds of ingredients needed to make the marinade for the Pernil Assado (pork roast) I am contributing to our Christmas Eve dinner at Carol and Paul's. Even though nothing was cooking today, the house was filled with garlic-y, vinegar-y smells that I enjoyed very much, quickening my desire to get this meat in the Dutch oven and on the stove for its three and half hours or so of slow cooking on Monday.

2. Ed called and offered to drive up the river. It's common for eagles, many of whom are feasting on spawning salmon on the east end of Lake CdA right now, to also make their way up the river and feed about fifteen miles or so and beyond up from Kingston.

We didn't see any eagles. We'll probably try again in January. But, we did go to the Prichard Tavern for a superb hour or so. When we arrived, two other people were in the bar. A fire popped in the fireplace. We each ordered a bottle of beer and soaked in the ambiance of this legendary tavern. I admired how spiffy the owners keep it and loved how cold my bottle of Miller Genuine Draft was. Before long, the kind, hoarse-voiced woman, a little older than us, tending the bar got to talking with Ed about old-timers in the North Idaho logging world both of them have known. Some have died. Some are struggling with their health. Others are doing all right. But, however they are doing now, they left behind a ton of stories and Ed and our kindly bartender had an invigorating time swapping tales and touchingly remembering these loggers they both knew.

3. I finished the first season of The Crown tonight. The last two episodes continued to mine the very painful challenges Queen Elizabeth faces and feels as she experiences, more and more, that being England's Queen means living a life divided between being human, being a woman, being a loving sister, wife, mother, daughter, and friend and being a symbol, an impersonal embodiment of tradition and ritual as she upholds the dignity of her office and feels the constant weight, the burden of what her duties as Queen and Head of the Church of England demand of her. Those close to the Queen also feel the pain of this division, as well as the confusion, as they experience Queen Elizabeth II alternately, on the one hand, as a vulnerable human and, on the other, as what her office calls her to be, an (apparently) impervious Queen.

My favorite scene in Season 1 didn't involve the Queen. One of the subplots of Episode 9 involves PM Winston Churchill turning 80. An artist is commissioned to paint his portrait. And he does. After the painting's unveiling, the artist, Graham Sutherland, and Churchill have a heated exchange about the merits of the portrait. Sutherland and Churchill argue about the purpose of art and of portraiture and it was, for me, a gripping five or so minutes of profound discussion about the role of the artist and of arts in human life. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/21/19: The Villanova Way, Zags Waltz, Royal Emotions

1. Villanova disrupted Kansas. Villanova deflected Kansas passes. Villanova forced Kansas turnovers, hounded Kansas' bigger inside players, crashed the boards on missed shots, and scrapped, hustled, dove, and clawed. They call it playing "the Villanova way". Villanova didn't shoot the ball great, but scored just enough to eke out a 56-55 victory over the nation's top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. Watching this game was an exhilarating way to start my day.

2. Gonzaga did not eke out its win over EWU. No, the Zags' win was a cakewalk, a runaway, a waltz, a thumping. The Zags' lads creamed the boys from Cheney, 112-77. Broadcasters Greg Heister and Richard Fox lost interest in the game during the second half and invited former Gonzaga player Robert Sacre onto the telecast to talk about where he buys his suits. I fell asleep. I had fun being at Christy and Everett's and enjoyed the snacks Christy laid out for us. Everett likes it when the Zags score 100 points in a game. It was fun, but not very suspenseful, watching the fellas approach and then break the century mark. It made Everett very happy!

Later in the evening, I tuned in to the second half of Oregon's men's team's struggle against the Texas Southern Tigers a team Gonzaga shredded, 101-64 on Dec. 4th, . One of the puzzles in men's college basketball is why, when Texas Southern plays Oregon, they suddenly look like the Duke Blue Devils. Last year, as 25 point underdogs, the Tigers defeated the Ducks, in a very rare home loss for Oregon, 89-84. The year before, the Ducks won in a tight game, 74-68. When I tuned in tonight, the Ducks were behind the Tigers and the lead see-sawed back and forth. But, as he does so well, late in the game, the Duck's Payton Pritchard siezed control of the Ducks' offense and pretty much took over the game, scoring 16 of Oregon's last 18 points, including a 40+ foot heave as the shot clock was about to expire with under a minute to go.

It was shot and a moment worthy of Sabrina Ionescu (remember when she converted a similar shot against the USA National Team last month?).

3. I put college basketball behind me, poured myself a cup of brandy and hot water, and finished watching the very first episode of the first season of Inspector Morse and enjoyed it, promising myself to come back for more of this program.

I also watched the 8th episode of the first season of The Crown. In it, Queen Elizabeth II must navigate the difficult tensions growing within her immediate family. Her husband, Philip, turns out to be a maligning travel companion on their several months trip throughout the Commonwealth; the bitterness between the Queen and her sister, Margaret, continues to grow, even fester; and, finally, Queen Elizabeth II's grieving mother finds the duress in London unbearable and goes on a holiday to the extreme north of Scotland where she openly criticizes her daughter as being unequipped for her office. With these characters openly expressing anger, bitterness, envy, grief, and exasperation, this was the rawest and most emotional episode I've watched so far.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/20/19: Laughter and Dismay, Knowledge is Power, Tough and Tender

1. Yes, reading Lucy Cooke's hilarious descriptions of the sexual proclivities of bats, finding out that the male bat is particularly well-endowed between the legs but lacking in brain size and that the female bat is quite promiscuous, made me laugh out loud.

At the same time, Lucy Cooke, in The Truth About Animals, in her chapters on the bat, the stork, and the frog examines the history of human superstitions, whacky conclusions drawn by naturalists in the past, and human acts of cruelty practiced upon these animals, especially the bat.

In my reading today, my responses alternated between boisterous laughter and profound dismay and sadness. I laughed when I read ideas from past centuries, ideas like aviary transmutation and one writer's certainty that storks disappeared during the colder months in Europe because they flew to the moon.

But, while modern science has disabused us of many misconceptions about animal reproduction, migration, and other behaviors, by and large humans have been a menace to these animals in other ways. War, electricity, landfills, and other human activity and inventions have contributed to the reduction of species and animal populations. So has the introduction of invasive species. Frogs have suffered terribly around the world because of other frogs being transported to non-native habitats.

Have you seen the 1988 short documentary film, Cane Toads: An Unnatural History? Much like the writing of Lucy Cooke, this is a movie that is simultaneously very funny and unsettling as it explores the disastrous results of the cane toad being introduced in Australia.

In other words, I'm finding that Lucy Cooke's book is, yes, a study of the truth about animals, but it's very much a study, also, of the truth about humans and, whether we humans like to hear it or not, our record in relation to the animal kingdom is a very mixed one, and, too often, deadly.

2. Scientia potentia est. It's a Latin aphorism meaning knowledge is power. It's also the title for Episode 7 in the first season of The Crown. This episode examines Queen Elizabeth II's education growing up. It was not a broad education -- no history, literature, science, mathematics, or other emphases of the traditional liberal arts. Primarily, she was tutored to understand Walter Bagehot's book The English Constitution. The Queen wants to learn more, fill in the gaps. She requests a tutor and from him she learns that her expertise regarding the English Constitution is a vital source of power. I'll leave it at that and not spoil what happens in this episode regarding the maturation of Queen Elizabeth II.

3. I let that episode of The Crown settle in for a little while, having been moved by Claire Foy's work, and decided I'd like to be moved more.

I can always count on Brenda Blethyn in her role of Vera on the program of the same name to move to tears.

It happened again tonight as Vera leads an investigation into the stabbing of a teenager and the world of drug dealing in the coastal town of Peyton in "Cuckoo",  Episode 2 of Season 9.

In one of his sermons, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that when Jesus instructed his disciples to go into the world and be "as wise as serpents" and "harmless as doves", he was telling them to be tough-minded and tender-hearted.

That's Vera.

In this episode, Vera's movement between toughness and tenderness were vital to her success in cracking this case. I'll leave it at that except to say that her toughness and tenderness moved me.

It was 10:00.

Normally, I'd be in bed by now.

But, possibly because I'd drunk a cup of hot chocolate and brandy while watching Vera, I wasn't ready to hit the hay.

I'm not sure, but I think once, a few years ago, I started to watch the first episode of the very first season of Inspector Morse

I have no memory of why I didn't finish it.

Tonight, I returned to it. I enjoy Inspector Lewis a lot and I'm interested in watching Endeavor, so I thought I'd get going on watching Inspector Morse.

I didn't finish the episode -- I will, though. I don't have a very advanced film analysis vocabulary, and, maybe I'll figure out how to say this at a later time, but I was very impressed with the way Inspector Morse was filmed and its way of telling a story. The best I can do, right now, is say that it seemed more like a movie I might watch at an art cinema house than a television program. I wish I could say why, but I do know I really enjoyed the texture of this episode every bit as much as I enjoyed what was happening in the story. I look forward to finishing it soon -- and not waiting several years.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/19/19: Setting the Record Straight, The Old and New, Terps Fall to Seton Hall

1. Yes, I enjoy how Lucy Cooke zeroes in on quirky animal behaviors -- for example, sloths spend much of their time hanging from branches. But, when it comes time for one of their infrequent bowel movements, sloths s-l-o-w-l-y descend to the forest floor, dig a small hole, and deposit their waste bricks in it. Their dung serves as a kind of Tinder app, communicating information about their readiness to make whoopee. Speaking of whoopee, sloths might have been David Bowie's inspiration when he wrote the famous "Ohhh wham bam thank you ma'am" line in his song "Suffragette City". It seems that while in all other things, the sloth moves unhurriedly, when it comes to coupling, the sloth, according to Lucy Cooke, is remarkably hasty.

So, yes, I enjoy learning such oddball facts about eels, sloths, hyenas, vultures, beavers, and bats. But, even more, I enjoy Lucy Cooke's efforts to save the reputations of these creatures. She has dug deep into writings from past centuries about animals, in publications called bestiaries. Often, these bestiaries had a moral purpose -- they were often written by Christians -- and that purpose was to demonstrate how the behavior of the "lesser" creatures of God's creation could be seen as providing us humans with moral instruction. Quite famously, the sloth was so ill thought of that its name was synonymous with the fourth of the seven cardinal/deadly/capital sins. (By the way, these bestiaries tended to write exaggerated praise of the industrious beaver and just flat made up stuff to inflate the beaver's reputation.)

Lucy Cooke's book is titled The Truth About Animals because she sets out to set the record straight, to help us see not only the oddities of these animals, but their contributions to the well being of the world around them. For example, by preying on carrion and with their skill to efficiently pick the bones of the dead clean with great speed, vultures help stop the spread of disease.

On the one hand, as Lucy Cooke wittily discusses that the genitals of the female hyena look like a penis, her humorous treatment of such eccentricities in the animal kingdom makes me laugh; on the other, as she unfolds each animal's place in and positive contribution to the larger reality of interconnectedness in nature, her insights excite me.

2. I watched and enjoyed a couple more episodes of The Crown today. As the story examines Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and tells the story of Princess Margaret's romance and hopes to marry the divorcee Peter Townsend, a "commoner", Season 1 is becoming more and more defined by the conflict between royal tradition and modernity. The Queen herself often finds herself wedged between, on the one hand, the formidable forces within Buckingham Palace committed to maintaining the long standing traditions of royal life and conduct and, on the other hand, other forces, like her husband and her sister, who are urging the Queen toward changing things up a bit. I'll leave it at that, except to say that, for me, this conflict between the old and new is at the heart of what, so far, gives The Crown its gravity.

3. I like to think of the University of Maryland's basketball teams as "my old home teams"; I say this mostly in jest since I lived such a short time in Maryland and never ventured the twenty minutes away from Greenbelt down to College Park to watch either team play in person.

Nonetheless, I tune in, whenever I can, to watch one "of my old home teams" play. Late this afternoon, the men's team played Seton Hall.

I didn't expect it to be much of a game. Maryland had only lost one game this season and Seton Hall looked to be in a tailspin, having lost its two leading scorers to injury: Myles Powell (concussion) and Sandro Mamukelashvili (broken wrist).

Now, some of you reading this blog post might remember that a while back I wrote that I thought Myles Powell would help Seton Hall by trusting his teammates more and not putting so much of the Pirates' scoring burden on his own back.

Tonight, against Maryland, Seton Hall demonstrated that, for at least this game, they have some excellent talent beyond Myles Powell and Sandro Mamukelashvili. Tonight, Seton Hall played tight and fierce defense and discovered that Quincy McKnight, Anthony Nelson, and Jared Rhoden have some scoring capability.

Heavy underdogs, Seton Hall outhustled Maryland and eeked out a gritty 52-48 win over the Terps.

No one on this hobbled Seton Hall team is equal to Myles Powell. But, when Powell returns, I hope he'll look to McKnight, Nelson, and Rhoden for more support, help them gain confidence; I might be dead wrong, but I think Seton Hall will be a stronger team if this happens.

So, what about my old home team? They looked discombobulated against Seton Hall. The Pirates' variety of defenses seemed to confuse them. They never found a rhythm on offense. They had over a dozen shots blocked and turned the ball over nearly twenty times.

The Terps looked lost to me, out of synch, unsure of themselves.

They have a talented team, but it's in a slump right now and the Terps have some work to do to get themselves in sych, better organized, and believing in themselves.

They did not look confident against Seton Hall.

I found that both surprising and disconcerting.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/18/19: Pernil Assado Shopping, Testicular Wonders, Zags and Smog

1. I don't like doing things at the last minute, so I bopped into Yoke's today and bought two pork shoulders and the other ingredients I need to prepare my contribution to our family Christmas Eve dinner featuring dishes from Brazil. I'll be fixing a Kellogg/North Idaho approximation of Pernil Assado. It requires being marinated for twenty-four hours, being slow cooked, and then roasted. I'm spending the night of the 23rd in Spokane before picking up Debbie at the airport Christmas Eve morning, so I'll be thawing the pork on Saturday, marinating it on Sunday, slow cooking it on the morning of the 23rd, and roasting it at Carol and Paul's upon returning from Spokane on the 24th.

2. In the early chapters of her witty and informative book, The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke gives eel and beaver testicles much of her attention. Eels do not develop sex organs until the very late stages of their maturation and their lack of sexual identity puzzled naturalists for centuries -- no one has, after all these centuries of studying eels, actually witnessed eels spawning -- it's one of the great mysteries of natural science. And it's only been relatively recently that eel enthusiasts have put together what Lucy Cooke calls the great eel genital jigsaw puzzle.

Beaver testicles are another source of Lucy Cooke's energetic fascination. As she unfolds the history of misconceptions about the beaver, one of the most famous whoppers was that the beaver would use its chain saw strength Bucky Beaver choppers to castrate itself when being tracked down by hunters who were after beaver balls, famous for their medicinal qualities. Well, beavers don't autocastrate. Nor is their junk external. If you'd like to learn more about these musky sacs and other fascinating misconceptions and truths about the Ipana poster boy, grab a copy of The Truth About Animals. I can hardly put the book down. Next up: the sloth.

3. Well, yes I can put the book down when it's time to watch the Zags men play basketball. I crunched across the snow in our front yards and popped into Christy and Everett's stadium seating in their tv area to watch the Zags thump the North Carolina Tar Heels, 94-81 -- a score that doesn't really reflect how wide the scoring margin was at different stages of the second half.

Now, granted, North Carolina is experiencing a rare lousy season. It's a very young team and one riddled with injuries. All the same, Gonzaga once again demonstrated their versatility and balance. Their scoring came from all points of the compass, inside, near the cup, and outside, beyond the three point line. At times, the Zags were a little sloppy with the ball. I thought as they built a wide lead they lost some of their concentration and intensity, but these periods of slacking off a bit were short.

It's been fun watching this team develop cohesion and continue to improve, to grow. I doubt they've peaked and will continue to mature as the season progresses.

Back home after the game, I watched the "Act of God" episode of Season 1 of The Crown. The episode portrays a deepening of the Elizabeth/Churchill relationship and portrays the aging Prime Minister's hubris as he confronts the terrible crisis when London was poisoned by toxic smog in December of 1952. Alongside this story, the episode shows us Queen Elizabeth inquiring more deeply into the meaning of the monarchy through conversations with her grandmother, Queen Mary, widow of King George V, played exquisitely by Eileen Atkins.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/17/19: Eels and Pliny the Elder, Trivia Night Triumph, Charly's Nocturnal Schedule

1. I received notice that The Truth About Animals, the Lucy Cooke book I had held at the library was ready for me to pick up. Perfect. This gave me a good reason to walk uptown. As I trudged along Cameron Avenue, Shawn pulled over in this truck, called out a hello, and we yakked for about fifteen minutes. On my way to the library, I dropped off my Avista bill in the drop box.

I started reading Cooke's book at the Bean. Suddenly, I was transported back to February of 1979 when I visited the south of England coastal town of Rye, one of my favorite places during that three month tour of England. Lucy Cooke grew up in Rye. When she was about seven, her father sunk a Victorian bathtub in their back garden and Lucy Cooke became preoccupied with populating the tub with marine life, creating her own backyard ecosystem. My visit to Rye was sunny. In the morning, I enjoyed sitting in the back garden of the bed and breakfast, working The Guardian crossword puzzle, drinking tea, looking forward to another day walking Rye's cobblestone streets, searching for another cask conditioned ale to try at yet another pub. Now, I add to my memories the thought that nine year old Lucy Cooke was, at the same time, populating her tub with frogs, newts, beetles, skaters, and other little creatures, preparing herself, as it turned out, to become the renowned zoologist she is today.

To my delight, Lucy Cooke opens The Truth About Animals with her chapter on eels. I haven't had a single sip of Russian River's perfectly balanced, narrowly distributed Imperial IPA, Pliny the Elder, since June 17, 2014 at Sixteen Tons, the night Debbie and I had an impromptu good-by gathering before we left Eugene for Virginia and Maryland. What I didn't know that wonderful night at Sixteen Tons with Steve, Debbie, Mark, Loren, Bingham, Jay, and Sherri - with Thomas at the taps -was that the historical Pliny the Elder was himself a naturalist. He was intrigued by eels and the mystery of how they reproduce. If I ever again have the good fortune of quaffing another pint or bottle of Pliny the Elder, his theory will be on my mind: in his exhaustive study, Naturalis Historia, Pliny the Elder concluded that eels reproduced by rubbing themselves against rocks and "the scrapings came to life". This was not Pliny the Elder's finest moment, but the beer brewed in his name is among the finest, and I loved having my new found preoccupation with eels and my longstanding love of beer merge in this way.

2. I decided to take advantage of the current favorable travel conditions and drive to Rock City Bar and Grill on South Regal in Spokane and play trivia with Kathy and four other people from the apartment complex where she resides. Mary wasn't feeling well tonight and stayed home.

Tonight's questions focused on the holidays and festivals of December and different new years. They tested not only our knowledge of Christmas, Christmas traditions world-wide, Christmas songs, and Christmas movies, but what we knew about Hanukkah, Kwaanza, Rosh Hashanah, New Year's in Brazil, and other celebrations and traditions.

I helped a little bit tonight. I knew Natalie Wood played the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street; I know Jimmy Carter wrote A Christmas in Plains; I was correct in thinking that on the eleventh day of Christmas the gift was eleven pipers piping.

Overall, though, it was on the strength of my teammates that we were tied for the lead with two other teams after the regulations thirty questions and then triumphed in sudden death overtime.

Our team, the Nutcrackers, won a bottle of Chardonnay wine and a funny little trophy. I had a winning ticket during one of the between rounds drawings and won a bag of Hershey Kisses. I also came home with the box of Milk Duds a teammate won, but didn't want to keep.

3. My drive to Spokane and the drive back were both uneventful and easy.

I had been concerned about leaving Charly from 4:30 to 10:00, but she was fine when I returned home.

Charly is on a new schedule these days.

When it's time to go to bed, she wants to join me.

Then, about 2:00 a.m. she starts to whine.

She wants to eat -- so, I lift her off the bed, take her to the kitchen, and she has some food.

Having eaten, she doesn't want to join me back in the bedroom and assumes the place she spends much of her days, on the living room rug.

I go back to bed alone, never quite sure if Charly will soon begin whimpering again because she wants to go outside. Sometimes, Charly makes up her mind before I go back to bed and goes out right after her 2:00 a.m. feeding; sometimes she waits 30 to 60 minutes; sometimes she doesn't need to go out at all until I'm back up at 7:00 or so when I feed her again.

This all works out well for both Charly and me. As it turns out, I'm up often during the night going to the bathroom. Charly's hunger and my bathroom visits often pretty much coincide.

More important, Charly is old, but she's not having accidents in the house. No matter the hour, Charly is very good about letting me know she wants to go outside and I am happy to work with her.

It's funny. Sometimes, even with snow on the ground, Charly will go out, do her business, and then sit in the backyard and ponder; sometimes, at 2:00 a.m., she will drag herself to the back of the yard and do some exploring.

I never know.

But, as John Milton wrote: "They also serve who only stand and wait."

(Sometimes, I sit.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/16/19: Curried Pork Chops Braise, The Past is Never Gone, Elizabeth and Jack Frost

1. I was sitting here at home, staring at Wardner Peak, wondering what to fix myself for dinner tonight. I suddenly remembered that I have pork chops in the freezer in the basement. I also have coconut milk. I thawed the chops. I created a layer of sliced onions in the bottom of the Dutch oven, put the chop on top, and surrounded the meat with chopped celery and sliced mushrooms. Meanwhile, I heated up a plug of yellow curry paste, combined coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce in a pan with the paste, warmed it up, and poured it over the other stuff in the Dutch oven, added some leftover black olives from Thanksgiving and about half a bunch of cilantro. To finish, I opened a bottle of hard apple cider and poured some in, hoping to create heat, sweetness, and saltiness in this dish.

I cooked this over low heat on the stove top for several hours and made a pot of rice.

Later, around dinner time, I laid down a layer of jasmine rice in a bowl, scooped out a pork chop, put it over the rice, and then covered the rice and meat with the curry/cider liquid and some mushrooms, onion, celery, and black olives.

It worked.

2. If I binge watch a television series, the episodes all run together. I like having them stand apart from each other to some degree. I admit, though, when I finished watching episode 3 of Season 1 of The Crown, it was tempting to rush right into episode 4. Episode 3 took a step back in time, reminding viewers of King Edward VIII's abdication, and explored how this traumatic event never ended. It's very much alive in 1952 when the former Edward VIII, now the Duke of Windsor, returned to England for his brother, King George VI's funeral. Elizabeth II has ascended to the throne. Immediately she must negotiate tricky situations with her grandmother, mother, and husband, along with the Prince of Windsor and, especially, Winston Churchill.

Shakespeare's history plays help us see, if we needed to be told, that history exists always in the present. The past is never finished. What happened is always happening. Likewise, The Crown is portraying this same truth in human life. The past, even if forgotten, lives on and I look forward to future episodes of The Crown to see how the new queen comes to grips with this reality. She certainly came to a reckoning with it in Episode 3.

3. The apps on my Vizio contain a bunch of average, but informative, documentaries about music, politics, sports, and a lot of other things. I watched one of them today, The Story of Queen Elizabeth II.  It provided an overview of the life of Elizabeth II, from her childhood to about 2011.  All of the interviewees were media people and others who support the monarchy; the movie viewed Elizabeth II favorably, intelligently, and, I'd say, a bit protectively.

I also watched another episode of A Touch of Frost. It featured a murder witnessed by an autistic teenager obsessed with outer space, stars, constellations, UFOs, and beings from other planets visiting Earth. As if this case wasn't thorny enough, Frost also worked, simultaneously, on trying to find a divorced couple's missing child and on figuring out who was behind a rash of recent home burglaries.

DI Jack Frost has a soft heart for underdogs and a contempt for police bureaucracy. Both were fully in play in this episode, "Close Encounters".

Monday, December 16, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/15/19: Eels and Sloths, Royalty and Vera Stanhope, Family Ham

1. After finishing up some morning tasks, I settled back into the Vizio room and watched the last half of "The Mystery of Eels". Astonishing. My current interest in eels began with Lucy Cooke's discussion on Radiolab (the episode, "Silky Love" is here) and so I put an order into the library for her book, The Truth About Animals and I watched Lucy Cooke's scintillating TED talk on the sloth, here. For others of you who might be, like me, slow moving, Lucy Cooke's insights into the virtues of the sloth's life in the slow lane are both inspiring and reassuring.

2. I'm not binge watching The Crown. I watch no more than an episode at a time. It had been around a week since I watched the first episode of Season 1 and today I watched the second. It's much like watching Shakespeare's history plays. For starters, it's fiction. The story is grounded in historical events, but I'm not looking to this series as a history program. Much like Shakespeare, the creators of The Crown have written compelling drama, deep studies of human character, and a vision of how these characters respond to and perform under pressure and stress. Much like the characters in Shakespeare's histories and tragedies, because these characters hold high positions in their world, their behaviors, actions, idiosyncrasies, and emotions are magnified and I think that we, as viewers, get a clearer, enlarged picture of our own character and how we behave and act in our much less lofty lives.

After watching this episode of The Crown, I switched gears, although I stayed with British programming, and watched the first episode of the ninth season of Vera. I was introduced to Brenda Blythen years ago at the Bijou Theater in Eugene through her work in Mike Leigh's movie Secrets & Lies and I'm sure I've seen her in other movies. I loved watching her today as DCI Vera Stanhope as she and her fellow detectives worked their way through a labyrinth of local history and local secrets to solve the murder of young forensic psychologist.

3. Family dinner tonight was at Christy and Everett's. When we walked in the door, Christy handed each of us a smashing holiday bourbon drink with tones of cinnamon, cloves, (maybe orange), and cranberries she makes and I enjoyed mine a lot. After this cocktail and some crackers, and cheese, we enjoyed a beautifully baked ham. Christy served it with a terrific potato dish, a crisp green salad, and a fruit salad. We yakked about all kinds of things -- versions of A Christmas Carol, holiday parties my sisters have hosted and attended, the latest developments on Fox's The Masked Singer -- a show Christy and Carol rave about, but I haven't tuned into -- and other things. As we snacked on sesame cookies and truffles for dessert, we also nailed down our holiday/birthday meal schedule and now we know what meals we are having when, not only for Christmas Eve, but for my birthday and Christy's. Our plans are solidified and look really fun.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/14/19: Intro to The Kennel, Vodka Success!, Presidents Cup and Eels

1. Another trip to the Lilac City lay ahead of me today, made possible in large part by Carol and Paul agreeing to let Charly have a day at his favorite house in Kellogg -- theirs! I dropped Charly off and was buoyed by what good shape I-90 was in. The freeway was wet, but no snow, slush, or ice.

I arrived at Kathy's apartment in plenty of time and soon we joined Shannon, piled into her car, and made out way to the McCarthey Athletic Center, well, The Kennel,  to watch the Gonzaga women's basketball squad play Texas Southern. I'd never been to The Kennel. I was enamored with the place, especially its scale. I admired how the concourse that rings the arena is so close to the seating areas, making access to our seats very easy, and, making it possible, in certain spots to have a good view of the court from close to the food vendors, Zag swag area, and rest rooms. The Kennel is, by major college basketball standards, a small arena. It seats 6,000 people. (North Carolina's Dean Dome, by contrast, seats 21,750; the Matt at the U of Oregon seats 12,364.) The arena was nearly filled to capacity today, but it was not a boisterous crowd and, because the game was such a mismatch, there wasn't much for a crowd to get loud about anyway. I tried to imagine what The Kennel must sound like when a game is close and the fans (especially the student section) gets boisterous. It must be thunderous.

The Zags jumped out to a quick lead right away, having little trouble scoring from the inside and from the perimeter against the far inferior Texas Southern team and just kept pulling farther and farther ahead, winning 80-45. I'd love to share my assessment of Gonzaga's team, but after watching such a mismatch, it's hard to tell just how good they are. 

I had a fun afternoon, though, and am especially happy that I got to be in The Kennel!

2. Shannon dropped Kathy and me off at Kathy's apartment and, before long, we headed to the southern branch of Waddell's Brewpub and Grille for a casual dinner.

I left Spokane on a mission. Christy loves Smirnoff's Peppermint Twist Vodka. It's a seasonal product, isn't on the shelves very long, and was sold out in the Kellogg, Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls, and State Line liquor stores.

Would it be available in Washington State? My original plan had been to see if it were available at an Albertson's on 57th Ave., but, after I dropped off Kathy, I forgot I was going to go up there, and turned north, not south, on Regal.  My next move was to check out the vodka shelves at Total Wine in Spokane Valley.

Christy asked me to buy four bottles. At Total Wine, three were in plain sight, but upon closer examination, I spotted a peppermint stripe near the back of the shelf, mixed in with some other vodkas. I snatched bottle number four.


3. Back in Kellogg, I needed to pick up Charly, but when I checked on the Presidents Cup, the competition was nearing its end and the result was still in a bit of doubt. It had been a stirring day for the USA. Led by Tiger Woods, the red-shirted Yanks charged through the singles matches, winning seven points and needing one half a point to clinch the cup. I was frozen with anticipation. Charly could wait. So could the Zags. I'd find out later how the men's game turned out.

As I settled in, Aussie Cameron Smith sank a bold putt on 17 to defeat Justin Thomas and earn a late point for the Internationals. They still had a pulse. Then, I watched as Matt Kuchar and Louis Oosthuizen both struck crisp irons close to the pin on 17. If Kuchar could win this hole, it would guarantee him a half a point in this match and win the Presidents Cup for the US side. On the green, Oosthuizen played first and coaxed his devilish putt down a wicked little slope to within inches of the cup, but the ball slid by the hole. Kuchar's putt was less slick, a little flatter.  He confidently and cheerfully stroked it. The ball disappeared. The USA completed their comeback and soon would joyfully hoist the coveted cup.

Now I could pick up Charly.

Now I could deliver the vodka.

Now I could listen to Christy recap the Zags' game.

And I now I could sit quietly in the Vizio room, click on my Smarty Pants TV's PBS app, and find an episode of Nature that would feed my latest source of intrigue.


I didn't quite make it through the entire episode before retiring for the night, but I now understand even more about this mysterious and ambitious migratory fish.

The eel is unreal.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/13/19: Slushy Walk, Golf, Timbers and the Lounge

1. It was messy out, but I wanted to get in a twenty minute walk and made my way through the slush and puddles to the liquor store, replenished my whiskey supply for future Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds, and walked back, a little damper, a little chilled, but the movement was good.

2. I enjoyed an afternoon of Presidents Cup action. I almost lost track of and forgot the scores because I enjoyed watching the very basic experience of how these players tried to best the Melbourne Royal course and deal with the elements. The USA needs to win 7 1/2 of the 12 points available in the final session's singles matches to win the cup again. I don't quite know when I'll get to tune in on Saturday since I'll be in The Kennel watching the Zags women, possibly having a bite to eat, and then making my way back to Kellogg.

3. I left the afternoon's Presidents Cup action before it ended to join Jake, Carol Lee, Ed, and Nancy out at the Timbers Roadhouse. We had a fun dinner and, afterward, I checked up on Charly, took her outside, and then headed up to the Lounge for one cocktail. I got to yak with Cas, continued yakkin' with Carol Lee and Jake, and, before I went home, Harley and Candy joined us and took us all down memory lane talking about the many live music concerts they've attended over the years.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/12/19: Paradox in Shakespeare, Swimming with Eels, Fairport Convention Movie and Golf Drama

1. Sometimes I grumble a bit about what is not available in the Silver Valley: no movie theater, no Episcopal church, no thriving live music venues, no college campus, and so on.

I do my best to quickly set this grumbling aside. After all, just within the warmth and security of my house, I can experience a wide variety of pleasures, excitement, and cultural stimulation.

Take Wednesday night and all day Thursday, for example.

For starters today, I woke up this morning with the last thing I did Wednesday night on my mind. I read parts of Stephen Greenblatt's introduction to Much Ado About Nothing in the Norton Shakespeare. I don't know Greenblatt's total argument in this essay just yet, but in the parts I read, he looks at the violent language that co-exists with the comedic action in the play. A quick example would when Leontes describes Benedick and Beatrice's confrontations as "a merry war" and a "skirmish of wit". I'm not able to write anything insightful about this juxtaposition of "merry" and "war" nor do I have any insight to offer about Leontes using a term drawn from military battle ("skirmish") to describe the Benedick and Beatrice's ongoing efforts to outwit each other when in one another's presence.

But, having read the play countless times, taught the play in Shakespeare courses, played the role of Antonio in LCC's 2006 production of the play, seen several performances in Ashland, and watched it performed countless times on film, I had never paid attention to the violent language and images at work even in its scenes of hilarity.  I'm going to read Greenblatt's full essay and get a better sense of what he conclude from his analysis.

2. Several good things came my way today. Kathy has an extra ticket to watch Gonzaga's women's basketball team play Saturday afternoon and when Mary and Linda couldn't accept Kathy's invitation to join her, she asked me. I get to see basketball played in The Kennel for the first time!

Christy rapped on my door and gave me a holiday loaf of lemon bread -- and, as it turned out, she needed some sesame seeds and I had a supply to give her in return.

Stu and I worked together online to arrange a lunchtime get together at Waddell's in North Spokane on December 27th so that as many people as possible can see Roger P. who will be visiting his sister in Spokane over the holidays.

I also learned that a friend's biopsy report contained good news.

3. It was a superb media day, too.

Right here in my warm little house, I was introduced to the animated, energetic, brilliant, and very amusing naturalist, Lucy Cooke. She was the guest on the first segment of Radiolab's recent show entitled, "Silky Love", a vivifying dive into the world of eels. I got a little bit distracted while I listened to this program and am going to return to it, but when I did focus on it, I thoroughly enjoyed Lucy Cooke as a guest on this episode and laughed out loud as she narrated the often hilarious history of luminaries through the ages, including Aristotle and Sigmund Freud, who have tried to figure out how eels reproduce.

I'm ready now to go to my Smarty Pants TV and to YouTube and search for documentaries on the eel. Moreover, having done a little research, I have discovered that there's a good reason I always see eel on sushi menus. I read today that eel is a very tasty fish. Next time I'm out on a sushi feeding frenzy, I'm ordering eel. What's more, I read more about eel sauce. I've seen that several shushi rolls include eel sauce, that it has a sweet quality, and I'm thinking it's about time for me to order a sushi roll a.s.a.p. that includes eel sauce and see what I think.

Not long after swimming with eels, I happened upon a 72 minute 2017 documentary on YouTube entitled Fairport Convention: Folk Heroes. Somehow, over the past few years, Fairport Convention had all but disappeared from my thoughts and my home playlists. I loved this documentary. I especially loved hearing Simon Nichols, Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson, and many other musicians who played in later configurations of the band, talk about how Fairport Convention forged the genre of folk-rock music in Great Britain and about the history of the band, their collective desire to create a small revolution in folk music, and why they made personnel changes as the band's identity and approach to music solidified.

Intellectually, this film was very satisfying and it also reawakened my deep feelings of joy from nearly thirty years ago when I first heard Richard Thompson perform live and developed (a now extinct) collection of cd's and lp's featuring many musicians who either played with Fairport Convention or were in bands with former members of the band -- I loved those recordings of Ian Matthews, Dave Swarbrick, Sandy Denny, Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, Richard and Linda Thompson and many others and these recordings led to my enjoyment of other bands like The Oyster Band, Tempest, The Battlefield Band, and many others.  Those were also the days when I subscribed to the enthusiastic folk-rock magazine, Dirty Linen, a publication that helped me greatly and joyfully increase my music listening tastes. Needless to say, for just over an hour this afternoon, my mind raced and my heart swelled as listened, digested, and remembered.

And, there was more to come.

I transitioned smoothly from the last images and sounds from the documentary, featuring clips from the 2017 Festival at Cropredy (the annual Fairport Convention reunion, and so much more!) celebrating the 50th anniversary of Fairport Convention's formation, to the Royal Melbourne Golf Club for the second day of competition between the USA and the International side.

For much of the day, it looked like the International side would repeat their accomplishment of the previous day and flatten the USA. But, as the last three matches wound down it was if the USA side was suddenly possessed by the spirit of Great Britain's Ian Poulter, one of the most thrilling players in pressure situations in team match play I've ever seen. First, Patrick Contlay made a midrange putt on the 18th hole his team needed to win their match; next, Justin Thomas repeated Contlay's feat and the USA won a second point for the session; in the day's last match, Rickie Fowler had to make a tricky six foot putt for par to preserve a tie in his team's match. He succeeded -- and about 45 minutes earlier it had looked like he and Gary Woodland would be defeated in this match.

I'm not very partisan about these matches. I love watching great golf and and I love the drama of match play. The way the USA finished out this session was brilliant, gutsy, dramatic, and (the team can hope) inspiring. Will this great finish that rescued the USA from entering the third day nearly insurmountably behind bolster the Yanks? Will it serve as a jolt to help them keep scrapping and possibly overcome the three point lead the International side currently holds? (To win the Presidents Cup, the International side must win 9 points over the next two days; the USA must win 12).


But, I think a jolt of emotional uplift can be short-lived.

If the USA comes back, overcomes the International side, and wins the Presidents Cup, I think it will be because of these factors:

  • The USA is a more deeply talented team and over the course of the competition, its depth of talent could very well translate into more matches won.
  • On Thursday, I thought the USA players demonstrated that they are understanding better how to play the golf course. Team Captain Tiger Woods commented on this after the second session -- and he's been a model for how to play Royal Melbourne. Given the green's quickness, steep slopes, and many undulations, the wiser players will not fire shots directly at the pin, but, as they hit approaches, factor into their shots' placement the speed of the greens and way the ball will roll down these slopes and up and down these undulations. Woods emphasized that on this course, players must realize that a shot that ends up 15-20 feet from the pin can be a very good shot, possibly the best that could be hoped for. Shooting directly at these pins on these greens can often result in shots that roll off the back of the green and pose difficult pitches or chips coming back to the green. It will be interesting today to see if the USA players consistently choose targets on the green that may leave them longer putts, but that will be safely on the green, not in trouble.
  • The USA team, overall, is more experienced in international team match play. If the USA can shrink the International side's lead and this contest tightens up, it's possible that the USA will perform better under pressure because of their experience.
But, you know what? You never know! I'm just looking forward to watching as much of the action as I can before I join Jake, Carol Lee, Ed, and Nancy at the Timbers at 5 for Friday evening dinner and picking up the action again when I return home. 

I'm stoked. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/11/19: Got Moving, *Much Ado About Nothing* Home Festival, Pres Cup Shocker

1. I felt less like an old brown bear today, less like hibernating. This afternoon, the snow and rain stopped and I got dressed (a good start) and took a walk for about twenty-five minutes to nowhere in particular. I just looked back in my blog and see that on November 17, 2018, I wrote about Dr. Cullen, who, in 2014 back in Maryland, advised me to walk twenty minutes a day and that I'd had trouble getting motivated to do this in Kellogg. Some things don't change much. I've been having the same problem a year later, but today I snapped out of my lethargy and walked aimlessly around the neighborhood. It was a short walk and felt great. It might be the start of a turnaround.

2. The other pleasure I haven't experienced for quite a while? Listening to podcasts. This morning, I returned to the Folger Shakespeare Library's podcast, Shakespeare Unlimited and listened to an interview with Kenny Leon. This past summer he directed Much Ado About Nothing for Shakespeare in the Park and this production was been featured recently on PBS's program, Great Performances.

Kenny Leon assembled a cast of black actors and set the play in 2020 in Aragon, Georgia, about an hour from Atlanta. In his production, war has broken out in the USA. Leon discussed how he and his cast created a play not only populated by black actors, but a play that audiences experience as having organically risen out of a black community. The play opens with Beatrice, played by Danielle Brooks, singing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" and, soon, three other women in the play join her and weave "America the Beautiful" into Brooks' performance. It's stunning.

Later tonight I went to the PBS app on my Smarty Pants TV and found that this production is available for me to stream. It was late, so I knew I couldn't watch the entire production tonight, but I watched the first act or so and I loved it. The opening which stunned me in the morning, moved me this evening, seeing it on the television. I love watching performances of Shakespeare that explore (for me) uncharted territory in setting, music, dance, casting, intoning of the poetry, and overall vision. What I saw in the first act did all of this and I was moved by seeing and hearing this play I love, and that I have performed in, presented in such an original fashion, bringing the play alive in fresh and revealing ways.

Before I turned off the television for the night, I went to my Smarty Pants TV's Prime Video app and found the 1993 Kenneth Branagh film version of Much Ado About Nothing, a movie I loved so much when it was released that I went to the movie theater about five times in the first seven days it played in Eugene to watch it again and again. I hadn't watched it for several years. But after watching the first act of Kenny Leon's version, I just wanted to remind myself of Branagh's sunny, joyous, and gorgeous approach to the story. I had a blast and relived that glorious summer of 1993 when this movie occupied my entire being.

I don't compare things often. I can rarely answer the question, no matter what we are talking about, "Which did you like better?".  That held true tonight. I don't see any good reason to compare Kenny Leon's production to Kenneth Branagh's (or, for that matter, to the gorgeous black and white film version of Much Ado About Nothing that Joss Whedon made in 2012). While I am watching each production, it is as if the one I'm watching is the only version of Much Ado About Nothing that has ever been made. I find myself completely absorbed in what is playing out before me, with no thought of which one is better or which one I like more.

I love them all.

3. Before my late evening Much Ado About Nothing mini-festival, I had watched several hours of Golf Channel's coverage of The Presidents Cup live from Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia.

The USA side is heavily favored in this competition. Historically, the USA has dominated the Presidents Cup, only losing once, back in 1998. The 2003 Cup ended in a tie.  The competition began in 1994 and features a USA side playing an International side composed of non-European players from outside the USA (the Europeans play the USA in the Ryder Cup).

Today was the underdog's day.

The International side astonished the world of golf by winning four out of the five fourball (better ball) matches played today.

It's hard to pin down why the strongly favored USA side suffered such a lopsided loss.

I thought, from 8,448 miles away in my Vizio room in Kellogg, Idaho, that on this first day of matches the International team knew the Royal Melbourne course better, did a better job of putting themselves in position to make sound shots into the greens, and had a better understanding of where to hit the ball onto Royal Melbourne's slick, sloping putting surfaces. As a result, the International side had a better day putting than the USA.

I will be interested today to see if the USA side manages the course better on Thursday after gaining more experience on it today. The USA will be sending out two players for today's matches who didn't play on Wednesday. I don't know what difference this will make.

Down 4-1, it's mandatory that the USA  plays itself out of this significant deficit in Thursday's matches.  Otherwise, winning the Presidents Cup will be very, very difficult. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/10/19: Hibernation, Rotini Dinner, Remembering Phi Slama Jama

1. Winter is setting in and I feel like a bear. My entire physical being seems to have a will of its own and its desire is to hibernate. I've got to gather up my inward powers and resist my body's urges to just sit around, lie around, and take naps. Today, however, I did not succeed in resisting these hibernating instincts. It was frosty outside. The house was warm. I had puzzles to solve and basketball to watch. For much of the day, I was a lump.

2. I did pull myself out of my hibernating stupor long enough in the afternoon to go to Yoke's and purchase some groceries. I fixed myself a pot of rotini, put a generous slab of butter on the pasta, added black beans, and topped it with Parmesan cheese. I once listened to an episode of a podcast -- I think the podcast was Burnt Toast -- and people were asked what they fix when it's after midnight, they've been out on the town, and they want to quick meal. No one said rotini topped with butter mixed with black beans and covered with Parmesan cheese, but that would have been my answer and, as a meal toward the end of a hibernating day, it was perfect.

3. I tuned into the Baylor-Butler basketball game and enjoyed Butler's valiant comeback in the late stages of the game. Butler came into the game undefeated, but couldn't score on its last possession and Baylor escaped with a 53-52 win. Earlier, I had watched the late stages of Penn State defeating previously undefeated Maryland, 76-69. I've seen several teams from the Big 10 conference play in the last few weeks, including Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State. I am anticipating a string of donnybrooks as these teams enter into the meat of their conference schedule. I am eager for these tilts to get going.

I decided to end the night by watching another documentary from ESPN's 30 for 30 library.

I chose the story of the University of Houston's electrifying basketball team in the early 80s. The film's title was the same as the team's nickname: Phi Slama Jama.

Houston played in three straight Final Fours (1982-84), including the championship games in '83 and '84. They never won the title. Most memorably, Houston lost the 1983 title game to the underdog North Carolina State Wolfpack in one of the most stunning upsets in the history of the tournament.

I loved this movie. I loved reliving how the Houston Cougar program and its players, mostly guys who had been overlooked by more elite teams, not only formed a dominating team, but revolutionized college basketball with their high flying enthusiasm and wide open dunking style of play.

I remembered watching their loss to NC State. I was in my generic apartment on Colfax Road in North Spokane, rooting for the Wolfpack. Tonight, I relived the disbelief I felt about thirty-six years ago as the film reminded me that with about six minutes left in the game, the fast, powerful, high scoring Houston Cougars went into a slowdown offense. This was before the NCAA instituted the shot clock. Houston's stalling offense killed their momentum, opened the door for the Wolfpack to foul Houston's poor free throw shooters (Michael Young and Alvin Franklin), regain possession, score, and keep the contest close. It was a befuddling strategy employed by Cougar coach Guy Lewis and, in the end, the Wolfpack won the game, 54-52, on a miracle: with the game tied, NC State's Dereck Whittenburg heaved a desperation last second shot from at least thirty feet that fell short, but Lorenzo Charles converted the miss into a startling game-winning dunk at the buzzer.

I'd forgotten, until tonight, that NC State's Bennie Anders slightly deflected and nearly stole the pass out front to Whittenburg and that Whittenburg retrieved the deflection, putting him in a lousy position to hoist his last second howitzer. Just by inches, Anders missed actually stealing that pass. Had he succeeded, he would have punctuated Phi Slama Jama's high altitude season with a game winning slam.

The soul of this documentary was the story of how Bennie Anders' basketball career and his life unraveled in the years following Houston's loss to NC State.

After several years, he vanished.

So, while this movie examines the on court rise and fall of Phi Slama Jama, simultaneously it tells the story of former Wolfpack players Lyden Rose and Eric Davis going on the road in search of Bennie Anders.

I'll leave it at that.

If you want to know if they were successful, you can buy the film for $1.99 through Amazon Prime or do what I've done and subscribe to ESPN+. It makes the entire 30 for 30 catalog available.

You might find other ways to find the film that I don't know about.

Or, an online search of Bennie Anders will take you to his Wikipedia profile.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/09/19: Staying Home, Seafood Chowder, Stu and I Were Peacemakers

1. I'd been out and about quite a bit the last three days. Today, I paid attention to some things, like my laundry, at home and I rested, worked some puzzles, and thought about places I might go and people I might try to see in the not too distant future.

2. I thawed a couple of quarts of crab stock and went to work on making an improvised fish chowder. I had a few chunks of mahi-mahi in the freezer along with a bag of shrimp, so I thawed those and I sauteed onions and celery in butter. I chopped up a cauliflower (I sub out cauliflower for potatoes) and cooked it, along with the onions and butter, in the stock. I added the shrimp and mahi-mahi. Meanwhile, I combined butter, flour, half and half, and stock in a frying pan over heat, cooked it until it thickened up, and put it in the soup, tried to sense how much it was thickening the soup into a chowder, and added more half and half. At the last minute, I decided to add corn. I cut open a bag, thawed out the kernels in the frying pan, and added them.  I had added some seasoning (salt, pepper, Old Bay, and garlic powder) to the chowder. It turned out pretty good. I had myself a  bowl or so of warming chowder and have a couple of quarts left over to eat later in the week.

3. In conversation with Stu today, it turned out that he remembers me being central in our efforts to keep Greg (Crush) H. and Spike from engaging in fisticuffs at the Fort Ground Tavern about 45 years ago.  It turns out, I drew upon my vast experience as a mediocre outfielder for the Kellogg-Wallace American Legion baseball team and distracted Greg with conversation about players from CdA I had played against and that he might know. At the same time, Scott worked on getting Spike to leave. For both of us, the exact details are fuzzy, but we both agree that neither of us wanted a fight, neither wanted to see a fight, and that we are happy that our quick thinking and gift of yakking spared the Fort Ground Tavern a brawl.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/08/19: Return to the Fort Ground, Hunt Gulch Visit, Zags Win During Magic Carpet Ride

1. When I was a student at NIC, I enjoyed drinking beer and playing pool at the Gray family's Fort Ground Tavern, near campus, and I enjoyed it when Dad and I went there. It was a blue collar bar, popular with men who worked at the nearby lumber mills and other industrial places. For example, I spent a lot of time with a woman in 1984-87 whose father worked at Kaiser Aluminum in Trentwood. He frequented the Fort Ground Tavern. So did old men, maybe retirees, who sat at the bar, chain-smoked unfiltered cigarettes, and cast a wary eye at me and other college dudes who walked through the door.

Back then, I enjoyed day drinking at the Fort Ground Tavern, dropping in after classes, usually with Bacco, shooting some stick, ordering cheap pitchers of Rainier, and, sometimes finding Kellogg's own Mike Hauser, back home, going to NIC, after being terribly wounded in Vietnam, enjoying his own frosty pitcher of beer and ready to rack 'em up with Bacco and me.

One night Stu and I went to the Fort Ground Tavern and ran into Spike. Greg H., a muscular slow pitch softball home run king, was also there and, as the night deepened, Greg said something that evidently offended Spike's sense of family heritage and he wanted to fight. For all I know, the offense happened in the parking lot -- or else we all stumbled out there -- and Spike was ready to rumble. Well, Stu and I knew Spike's fighting history in the Silver Valley. It was not good. Neither of us wanted to see Greg H. pummel Spike. The details are fuzzy, but somehow Stu (or maybe the two of us) got Greg and Spike to enter into mediation and Spike left with his face and body intact.

For Stu and me, our night at the Fort Ground was over and we headed to Denny's where I devoured a patty melt, fries, and a few cups of coffee, my favorite post-tavern meal back then.

The old Fort Ground Tavern closed about 14-15 years ago and soon the new owners remodeled and renovated it into a homey new establishment now called the Fort Ground Grill.

When Ed, Mike, and I met this morning at the Fort Ground Grill, I hadn't been there since my junior year at Whitworth when Dad and I enjoyed a few post-game frosties after an NIC-CSI basketball game.

This morning, the place looked so different to me in its layout and decor, I was having trouble remembering what it had been like forty-five years ago. But, no problem. I didn't need to remember. I set my mind to the task at hand: breakfast.

Mike, Ed, and I not only enjoyed yakkin' at the Fort Ground, but we were very impressed with the attentiveness of our servers, the friendliness of the place, and, most important, how delicious our food was. I ordered Eggs Benedict Florentine and every drop of the Hollandaise sauce -- even the glob I splashed on my shirt -- was terrific, the eggs were perfectly prepared, and the hash browns were crispy and tasty.

I see that this renovated Fort Ground Grill closes at 8:00 in the evening, suggesting to me that if someone insults your family heritage and you are spoiling for a fight, the Fort Ground Grill is not the place to come. Things have quieted down at this grand old spot.

2. After breakfast, Ed, Mike, and I congregated at Ed's house in Kingston, piled into Ed's Camry, and blasted up Hunt Gulch to visit Becca and her husband and baby, Mara, and Cleeve. Sue was with a bunch of our Class of 72 classmates in Coeur d'Alene. Becca and her family live in Reykjavich, Iceland and, over coffee, Mike, Ed, and I learned more about Iceland and, off to the side, I had some good conversation with Cleeve.

3. Before tonight's family dinner over at Carol and Paul's, Christy, Everett, and I watched Gonzaga and the University of Washington play a tight and exciting basketball game in Seattle. Thanks to some superb ball movement against the Huskies' match-up zone defense that resulted in some easy baskets and thanks to Killian Tilley and Joel Ayayi scoring clutch three point shots late in the game, Gonzaga held on to the small lead they held for most of the game and defeated UW, 83-76.

When I sat down at Christy and Everett's to watch the game, I didn't know that I would be going on a Magic Carpet Ride tonight, but, sure enough, seated alongside play-by-play broadcaster Roxy Bernstein was Mr. Ride Captain Ride Upon Your Mystery Ship himself, the Commander-in-Chief of Carpe Diem, Bill Walton.

At selected moments during the game, Walton commented on the basketball action.

But, if you listened, tonight's Bill Walton acid trip into interstellar space included, among other things, his long, heartfelt tribute to Bill Russell, a sweet story about his mother and a library book, intermittent discussions of books by Timothy Egan (Walton seems especially fond of A Pilgrimage to Eternity), a thumbnail history of basketball players who came from Philadelphia, and his frequent citation of an unnamed poll or study which named Washington as the finest state in the USA. I thought surely, at some point, the old Dead Head would detour from his usual jam band discussions and comment that the Huskies' Nahziah Carter is Jay-Z's nephew, but I guess, for now, hip-hop isn't on trippy Bill's radar.

After the game, we made our way to Carol and Paul's and Carol greeted us with a festive Tom and Jerry, a family tradition. Carol served a green salad, a bowl of savory, delicious, and slightly boozy bourbon meatballs, and a cauliflower side dish. We had a piece of banana cake for dessert. 

Christy and Everett are broadening Riley's horizons these days and brought him along to see how he'd get along at Carol and Paul's house and with their dog and cats. I don't think the cats ever appeared. It took Riley a while to really pay much attention to Sadie. Riley seemed nervous about being in an unfamiliar place, understandably, but he had a lot of human support and made it through the evening just fine, albeit with some bewilderment and whimpering.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/07/19: Relaxing Morning in Spokane, Quiet Afternoon, Enjoying The Lounge

1. I have stayed at several Airbnb rentals over the past year or so. I've been fortunate. The units I've stayed in have been quiet and I have particularly enjoyed peaceful mornings in these places.  Today, around 8:00, I left the apartment long enough to have a chocolate croissant and most of a cup of coffee just a block or two away at Rocket Bakery (14th and Adams). The woman working at Rocket topped off my coffee when I got ready to leave and I returned to the Airbnb unit, made myself comfortable on the apartment's couch, and wrote in my blog and finished my coffee, and thought back over the previous afternoon and evening with Hugh, Stu, Lars, Kathy, and Mary. I relived how happy I'd been all day and relished the afterglow I felt this morning. I finished writing. I indulged in a long, hot shower. I packed up my suitcase. I leapt in the Sube and headed back to Kellogg. It was a peaceful and restful morning.

2. I stopped briefly in Coeur d'Alene and filled up the Sube at Costco and purchased a 12 oz half Americano/half steamed milk at a coffee stand. I picked up Charly from Carol, happy and relieved that her stay with Carol and Paul had been easy. Back home, I worked Jumble puzzles, napped some, ate some warmed up mashed potatoes with bacon, and continued to feel grateful for the awesome trip I'd had the day before in Spokane.

3. Ed called. We decided to meet uptown at the Lounge. I hadn't been to the Lounge since the night of the Elks Spaghetti feed. I enjoyed seeing Cas -- I really enjoyed it when he handed me my fantasy baseball winnings of fifty dollars! -- and had a good session yakking with Ron DelCamp. After a while, Ed arrived and so did several people who'd been at the City of Kellogg Christmas Party across the street at the Elks. I yakked a bit with Cas and mostly sat quietly, sipping on a gin and tonic, while people all around me were telling stories and laughing about stuff. When I decided to leave, I stopped by where Harley and Candy were seated down the bar a ways and we talked about the Crab Feed coming up in February and I learned a bunch about all that lies behind buying the crab and putting on this feed. I will eat my crab this year with a deeper appreciation for all the work that goes into making this annual -- and very popular event -- happen.