Thursday, December 31, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-30-20: *Bag Man* Arrives, Xi'an in Kellogg?, Another Major Loss: Depression

1.  Debbie had informed me that she ordered a birthday gift for me. The shipment was delayed. She told me to expect it to arrive in Kellogg on January 6th. Today, however, our mail deliverer dropped a parcel on the porch. I opened it and, lo and behold, the gift Debbie bought me arrived! Earlier this year, we listened together to the Rachel Maddow podcast, Bag Man, and investigative deep dive into the corrupt dealings of Spiro Agnew. I knew that this podcast had been turned into a book, also called Bag Man and it thrilled me today, as I tore open the parcel, that Debbie gave me the book for my birthday.

2.  I came across something today online that led me to The New Yorker's list of top ten cookbooks for 2020. One jumped off my monitor and suddenly it was August 27, 2018 again. Melissa and I had finished our separate tours of the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street in Manhattan. 

We met Erik at the appointed time and place and he immediately swooped us out of MOMA to Xi'an Famous Foods on W. 54th, a casual restaurant with counter service and no tables, just long counters on each side of its long, narrow room. Xi'an is a city in northwest China and its cuisine is spicy, multi-textured, and overwhelmingly delicious. We watched as workers behind the counter tore of long ribbons of handmade biang-biang noodles, a specialty of Xi'an cuisine, and Melissa and I surrendered to Erik's expertise as he ordered us a feast of cumin lamb noodles, stewed oxtail noodles, spinach dumplings, lamb dumplings, a green salad, a cucumber salad, and a stewed pork burger served on flatbread. 

Well, as you have probably already guessed, Jason Wang, whose father opened the first Xi'an Famous Foods stall in Manhattan and who has inherited the task of expanding Xi'an Famous Foods throughout NYC, has published a cookbook: Xi'an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York's Favorite Noodle Shop. 

I'll purchase it. I'll yearn to return to one of Wang's eateries. I'll assess what dishes I might be able to make here in Kellogg. Will I need to order ingredients online? Might a trip one day to an Asian market in Spokane or Missoula be warranted? I'll have to figure it out -- heck, I might be able, with a little imagination, approximate some of the dishes with ingredients available at Yoke's. We'll see.

3.  Tonight, as I did some bedtime reading, I started off by looking in the poetry anthology, Being Human, to see if any of Jane Kenyon's poems appeared in it. Two did.  If you read the third of my 3BTs yesterday, you know that Donald Hall's brief essays have me thinking about aging and loss, suffering and acceptance.

Jane Kenyon's poems deepened my reflections on loss in an unexpected way.Both poems explore Jane Kenyon's experience with the depression, or melancholy, she endured the entire span of her life.  

The first one is what one reader described as a magisterial poem about depression, "Having it Out With Melancholy".  Scroll down and you'll find it at the end of my writing. The other poem is "Back".  You'll find it at the bottom of the page.

I read these poems and began to think about my inexplicable loss of depression, the disappearance of my melancholy. 

It's hard for me to pinpoint when I began to have episodes of falling into depression's black hole, but I often think they began when I was fifteen. I remember one night going to a dance at Kellogg Junior High School. For a few weeks leading up to this dance, I'd spent many hours alone. Sometimes I'd sneak into the garage. Other times I'd sit in my bedroom. Some times I'd tell Mom I was going out for a while and I'd walk on the trail to the high school, reprimand myself, tell myself how stupid I was, all the time feeling emotional weight that I hoped the walking would relieve. That night at the dance, a girl I liked a lot was with another guy and I went harmlessly manic, proving to myself that the two of them being together didn't bother me.  I danced vigorously, even dancing on the railing about six feet above the gym floor that divided the stands from where we were dancing. It was a charade, a charade I repeated throughout my adulthood, disguising confusion and depression with similar charades. 

All through my adolescence and on into my young adulthood and into middle age, especially at home, I was prone to mood swings, outbursts of frustration and anxiety on the one hand (it looked like anger, but I don't think it was -- I think I was scared) and, on the other hand, times of being charged up, sometimes in the classroom, teaching with passion, other times (once again) out dancing, and sometimes robust, self-aggrandizing nights of drinking and talking hogwash. 

I thought it might help these mood swings if I quit drinking and from January of 1985 until October of 1996, I abstained completely from alcohol. The depression persisted. I didn't need alcohol to have manic episodes and abstinence didn't keep me from experiencing the weight of self-doubt, feeling inferior, and self-loathing, especially in the face of what I experienced as my failures and being a disappointment to others. 

The periods of frequent sleep, feeling emotionally weighed down, of near paralysis worsened as I recovered from having contracted bacterial meningitis in November of 1999. I had my worst experience in February of 2005. On February 6th, I met up with Ed and Nancy, Alan and Peggy in Lincoln City at the Chinook Winds Casino to watch the Super Bowl, hang out afterward, and spend the night. It was a fun time, nothing unusual happened. When I returned home on Monday afternoon, though, I staggered straight to bed and hardly got up again for three or four days. I slept long hours. My mind was occupied with bleak thoughts and the weight of depression. (No suicidal thoughts.) Debbie took me to the Emergency Room where the medical people determined I wasn't a danger to myself. In the spring, I reduced my teaching load at LCC. My system got a good jolt of positive energy when I was asked to replace an actor who had to leave the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream and took over the role of Snug, the Joiner.

At some point, I consulted with a psychiatrist who put me on a medication for bipolar disorder. I was also taking a second psychotherapeutic drug. Intermittently, I continued to have episodes of melancholy and episodes of bursts of high energy. I felt unpredictable to myself and to Debbie. In February of 2009, I was starting to feel unhinged. Things were good at work, but, at home, I secluded myself in my study more frequently, I got careless about taking my medicine, and in early April, I contracted a case of bacterial pneumonia and was hospitalized; then, in May, I contracted a case of clostridium difficile colitis (or c diff) and was back in the hospital for another five days or so.

And then I suffered a major loss in my life. 

It took me a year or so to realize it, but I lost darkness, my old friend, that reliable depression, that experience of emotional weight, fatigue, unpredictable behavior, sadness, anxiety, madness, and jolts of high energy that had been my companion for about forty years.

In 2014, we moved to Greenbelt, MD. I continued to take the medicine for bipolar disorder, but when my primary care doctor no longer wanted to be in charge of this prescription until I saw a psychiatrist again, I made an appointment with a psychiatric nurse practitioner in August, 2015. After talking for about 40 minutes, she recommended weaning me off this medicine. So I took a half dosage for three months, returned, and she said, "Go off it completely and see me in three months." I did.

In February of 2016, NP Carolyn Clark looked at me and said, "Bill. I think you're fine. I think we're done. If problems come back, get a hold of me, but your mental health looks very good."

I don't know what happened.

In the same way that nothing in particular really triggered my episodes of depression, nothing in particular seemed to free me from them. I just know that after I had pneumonia and c. diff, I lost the experience of depression. I don't think, nor does anyone else, that my illnesses were the cure!

It's a mystery.

This is, by far, the most welcome loss I've experienced as I age. It's been over eleven years now since I've experienced falling into a psychological and emotional black hole, mood swings, the headaches I used to have, the feeling of having a fuzzy brain, and the overwrought feelings of anxiety and fear. Anxiety still crops up. Occasionally I feel the black hole pulling at me. I've learned to resist them. 

There were times between about 2000 and 2008-9 when I was convinced that depression was an essential dimension of my personality, of my identity, that I wouldn't be myself without these descents into mental anguish. This is how insidious depression can be. Depression, the chemicals, whatever, was, at times, persuading me that I needed to feel this way in order to be fully alive.  I thought I needed to be the king of pain. 

I have experienced another loss: those thoughts and that internal argument are gone. 

Yesterday I wrote that accepting my condition, accepting the facts of my life was key to alleviating suffering, especially when it comes to spending so much time alone.

I've also had to accept the reality that I have lost the depression that menaced me all those years.

Accepting this loss has been easier, but no less a source of relief. 

Here are the two Jane Kenyon poems. If you have trouble reading the title of the second one, it's "Back".

Having it Out with Melancholy

 - 1947-1995

          If many remedies are prescribed
          for an illness, you may be certain
          that the illness has no cure.
                              A. P. CHEKHOV
                             The Cherry Orchard



When I was born, you waited 
behind a pile of linen in the nursery, 
and when we were alone, you lay down 
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on 
everything under the sun and moon 
made me sad—even the yellow 
wooden beads that slid and spun 
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude. 
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death; 
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother, 
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 
I was already yours—the anti-urge, 
the mutilator of souls.


Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 
The coated ones smell sweet or have 
no smell; the powdery ones smell 
like the chemistry lab at school 
that made me hold my breath.


You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.


Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away 
from the massive pain in sleep's 
frail wicker coracle.


Once, in my early thirties, I saw 
that I was a speck of light in the great 
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole 
human family. We were all colors—those 
who are living now, those who have died, 
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm, 
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood 
you came flying to pull me out 
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear 
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.


The dog searches until he finds me 
upstairs, lies down with a clatter 
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing 
saves my life—in and out, in 
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 


A piece of burned meat 
wears my clothes, speaks 
in my voice, dispatches obligations 
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying 
to be stouthearted, tired 
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine 
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 
I feel as if I had drunk six cups 
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder 
and bitterness of someone pardoned 
for a crime she did not commit 
I come back to marriage and friends, 
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 
to my desk, books, and chair.


Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 
but I believe only in this moment 
of well-being. Unholy ghost, 
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet 
on the coffee table, lean back, 
and turn me into someone who can't 
take the trouble to speak; someone 
who can't sleep, or who does nothing 
but sleep; can't read, or call 
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do 
against your coming. 
When I awake, I am still with thee.


High on Nardil and June light 
I wake at four, 
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air 
presses through the screen 
with the wild, complex song 
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment. 
What hurt me so terribly 
all my life until this moment? 
How I love the small, swiftly 
beating heart of the bird 
singing in the great maples; 
its bright, unequivocal eye.


We try a new drug, a new combination
of drugs, and suddenly

I fall into my life again

like a vole picked up by a storm
then dropped three valleys
and two mountains away from home.

I can find my way back. I know
I will recognize the store
where I used to buy milk and gas.

I remember the house and barn,
the rake, the blue cups and plates,
the Russian novels I loved so much,

and the black silk nightgown
that he once thrust
into the toe of my Christmas stocking.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-29-20: Cotton Luxury, Tree House Concerts Resume, Aging and Loss and Acceptance

1. Just to give myself the illusion of some degree of luxury, a while back I ordered a new set of gray cotton sheets for the bed.  In the world of bed sheets, I have no idea how 600 thread count cotton sheets stack up against other thread counts, but Debbie had bought a set of ivory 600 thread count cotton sheets earlier in the year. I liked them, decided to retire an older set of brown sheets, and so I bought the gray ones, laundered them today, and put them on the bed in anticipation of a night of fresh softness and comfort.

2. After taking a week off from performing his weekly Tree House Concerts so that he could focus on compiling a bunch of his poetry into a collection he'll publish, Bill Davie was back in action today. 

I've probably mentioned that I don't enjoy drinking cocktails or beer alone. For Bill's concerts, I don't feel alone. I'm online with longtime friends I hung out with in Eugene and at Whitworth and so it's a fun time to mix a cocktail and enjoy it while my entire self beams throughout Bill's performance. Tonight I stirred myself a dry gin martini up. I poured from the fifth of Crater Lake Prohibition Gin I received from Kathy and Rob Harper and garnished my drink with two of the plump martini olives they gave me. It was a most enjoyable drink with a slightly more herbal profile than, say, Tanqueray gin. I want to make the Prohibition Gin last a while, so when I mixed my second martini, I switched things up: Tanqueray and brine from the jar of martini olives: a quick and easy and delicious dirty martini. 

Bill rocketed out of the gates to start his concert with one of his hard-driving, slightly insane older songs, "Go". As the night went on, he played some, in his words, more "incantatory" songs, like "Notebook" and "Sway". Bill also played one of my very favorite of his songs, "Walk on the Day Before". That song is lodged in my memory, I hope accurately, with performances Bill gave in Eugene and elsewhere around Oregon -- at my house, Buffalo Gals, Smith Family Bookstore (Eugene Celebration), Allann Bros. Coffee in Corvallis, a coffee house whose name I've forgotten in Yachats, and other venues.  I have many, many friends attached to those memories and two of them, Kathy and Loras, were once again on hand to hear Bill's concert tonight. "Walk on the Day Before" helped me relive great times with Kathy, Loras, Terrie, Janet, Bill, Terri, and others. Those were times I'll always cherish and I loved having them come vividly alive tonight. 

Bill also read terrific poems by George Bilgere from The White Museum and a moving essay by Donald Hall from String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm. 

3. Upon crawling under my brand new freshly laundered cotton sheets, I read two pieces from Donald Hall's book A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety: "You Are Old" and "Solitude Double Solitude". 

Both essays explored things dear to me. Granted, I'm about twenty years younger than Donald Hall was when he wrote "You Are Old", but even at the age of 67, I am coming to grips with certain aspects of growing old, chief among them the growing numbers of things I've lost by now. I lost my golf swing and, with it, the game I once loved to play. I've lost both my parents and two brothers-in-law. It's been nine years, but I lost a dog I dearly loved. We lost two more dogs just in the last year and a half. I've lost much of my kidney function. I've lost the experience of sleeping through the night without interruption -- I make anywhere from four to seven trips to the bathroom every night. 

I'm losing memories. A Little League teammate on IOOF, Rocky Schultz, turns 67 on December 30th and I can't remember if we were also Babe Ruth teammates on the Schaffer's team. I know Ken Carter was on Schaffer's. I know Ken and I both popped into the world at Wardner Hospital on December 27, 1953.  Was Rocky, born three days later, our Babe Ruth teammate, too? It seems like it wasn't that long ago that I could have recited the entire starting lineup of Schaffer's -- but not any longer. So many things like that are gone, possibly recoverable, with others' help, but, for me, alone, gone. 

There's more, but I'm going to switch to the other essay. In it, Donald Hall relishes the many hours of solitude he's spent in his life writing for a living. Until his wife, Jane Kenyon, died of leukemia, at age 47, in 1995, Hall and Kenyon lived the days of their twenty-three year marriage combining solitude with companionship. Each day they wrote, Hall at one end of the house, Kenyon at the other, in solitude. They lunched together, napped together, were afternoon lovers, and then retired again to their solitude in the late afternoon to work some more before rejoining one another for dinner and their evenings together. 

Hall composed his essay, "Solitude Double Solitude" in his 80s, having been a widower for about twenty years. From time to time, the solitude he has cherished for much of his life descends into loneliness. He lives in isolation on an old family farm. He has fewer friends than he once did. His times of being alone are broken up by a friend Linda who spends two nights a week with him and by Carole who does his laundry and helps him with his pills. 

Starting in September of 2018 until now -- and this will continue for a yet to be determined amount of time in 2021, I've lived alone in Kellogg for about 20 of the last 28 months. Debbie took a teaching job and then did some subbing in Eugene and she's spent several months helping our daughter's family in New York. 

For about 16 of these 20 months living alone, I actively sought out activities and companionship: I went to live concerts, lectures, plays, high school basketball games, to Billings to see Hiram play with the President's Own Marine Corps Band; I went on road trips with Byrdman and Ed, hikes with Byrdman and once or twice with Stu; I took a week long trip to Oregon and another one to British Columbia and I spent a Friday and Saturday in Missoula to see a live concert and do some wandering around. Late in 2019, I began making trips to Spokane to meet up with Mary, Kathy, and Linda (we rode over together) to play trivia and I also met up with Mary and Kathy to see a movie, dine out, and hang out a bit. 

Debbie came home for nearly six months in mid-March and we decided to stay mostly isolated together in the house. 

Debbie returned to New York in August and I've been spending almost all of my time since then at home alone.

I've maintained an even emotional keel throughout this time. Any loneliness I might feel has been eased, in part, by the frequent contact I have with friends, almost entirely by electronic means, and by being in touch with Christy, Carol, and Paul regularly and by our decision that by taking precautions, we can enjoy family dinner together on Sundays. 

But, I think the one thing I've done that's been the most rational, the most steadying is to accept my situation. For the first several months that Debbie was in Eugene, my support for what she was doing never wavered. But, I desired a different way of communicating with each other than what we were doing. My craving resulted in suffering, a suffering that didn't end until I quit trying to make things be the way I thought I wanted them to be.

So maybe I can add to my list of things I've lost or am losing as I turn 67 is the diminishment of my will, the quieting down of my craving for things to be other than what they are. With this loss of craving has also come my loss of loneliness and a much fuller appreciation of all I can and do enjoy in the solitude of my life. Accepting the limitations that I've decided to conform my life to in the last 9-10 months has meant living a much more peaceful life, more peaceful than when I would pity myself or feel frustration and anger that life was not conforming to my desires. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-28-20: Day After Birthday Bliss, Curry and Egg Noodles, Reading Donald Hall

1. On Facebook today, I posted a note of thanks for all the good wishes friends and family sent me on my birthday and I then received a glorious avalanche of belated birthday greetings. As a result, memories and warm feelings filled my day. I experienced my entire life passing before my eyes as I heard from family, and friends from childhood, high school, North Idaho College, Whitworth, LCC, the Writing Project,  St. Mary's Episcopal Church, former students, former theater mates, in short, people from so many of the favorite parts of my life. Another name would appear as a reaction or in the comments and I'd think about times in the Sunnyside neighborhood, the many classrooms I taught in, life in the dorms, being in plays, family reunions and other get togethers,  worshipping at St. Mary's and all that I enjoyed doing with parishioners there, and many more of the experiences I'm so grateful for. 

So, as it turns out, on the day of my birthday I contemplated what might lie ahead (and I don't know), but on the day after my birthday, I looked back and remembered countless people I've enjoyed knowing over the last 67 years and the things we've done that I've enjoyed so much, a source of great joy all day long. 

2. I had some fun tonight making a slightly different curry dish. I braised a half an onion, sliced, in a deep puddle of yellow curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, and lime kaffir leaves.  I added a handful of shrimps to the sauce. Once the onions were tender, I poured a handful or two of Amish Wedding wide egg noodles into a pot of boiling water. Once the noodles were cooked and drained, I poured the curry sauce over them. Until today, almost every time I'd made a curry sauce, I served it over rice. But, I love the wide noodle dishes in Thai restaurants. I didn't have any wide Thai noodles on hand, but I figured the Amish noodles would be a tasty stand in. 

They were. 

While now I'm ready to pour curry sauce over any kind of noodle (or pasta), I hope, one day, to travel to an Asian market in Spokane or Missoula and buy some Thai noodles for this dish. (Or maybe I'll order some online.)

3. Recently, my copy of Donald Hall's book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, arrived in my mailbox. When I don't put myself to sleep working an acrostic puzzle, I read selections from this book of short essays (or notes). I don't know if this book's contents were arranged in a purposeful order, but, if they were, I'm missing out because I'm skipping around. Hall's notes are flashes of memory. In one series of short pieces, he remembers, one by one, poets he's known or encountered over the decades, including Theodore Roethke, James Dickey, Robert Creely, and other men. He recalls, in another part of the book, interviewing T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore, reflecting briefly on these experiences as a prelude to when, in high school, he interviewed Boris Karloff following his performance in Arsenic and Old Lace. Hall explores the changes, and some of the indignities, of advancing toward the age of ninety. For example, when his handyman installs an electronic garage door, Hall repeatedly forgets to open it and demolishes it several times by backing his car into it.  In time, on a local road, Hall totals his car. His days of driving screeched to a halt. 

This is one of a handful of books of short essays I've recently purchased. Soon, once I've read some more Donald Hall, his place at the table beside my bed will be taken by Carolyn Bly, Brenda Peterson, and Aimee Nezhukumtahil. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-27-20: Turning 67, Sazerac Lab, Prime Rib Family Dinner

1. Today I turned 67 years old. Unsure what to make of this fact, I turned my attention toward a couple people whose lives took a turn toward rejuvenation at age 67. 

When Debbie turned 67, just six months later the school district in Eugene offered her a job as a long term substitute teacher at the school she used to work at, reuniting her with colleagues she hadn't worked with for several years. The move to Eugene reignited her life as a musician and singer. Living in Eugene again meant spending regular time making music with Laura Kemp and Peter Wilde, forming a new performing group, and gigging from time to time again. The teaching work was challenging. Debbie met the challenge and, from my point of view, she seemed rejuvenated by living in Eugene again with its great beers, widely available fine food, vigorous music scene, proximity to Patrick and Meagan, and other invigorating possibilities. Then, starting in October of 2019, Debbie became vitally involved in helping care for Adrienne and Josh's newborn, Ellie, and, now, for the last four months, upon returning to New York, Debbie has contributed to Ellie's care, helped Jack with his schooling, and become central to helping the Langford family make its way through the pandemic. 

Then I thought about Everett. He turned 67 years old in 1997, the year he and Christy got married. He lived another twenty-three years with Christy, joined with her in a happy marriage. They combined forces  to beautify the country property they lived on outside of Kettle Falls, make trips around the Pacific Northwest, especially in Washington State, and camp. Everett became an ardent Zags basketball fan. He and Christy surrounded themselves with dogs, cats, chickens, and rabbits. They moved to Kellogg where  Everett enjoyed the last years of his life living in Kellogg. He and Christy continued their life of gardening, home improvements, caring for dogs and cats, local travel, devotion to the Zags, and, for about two years, giving attention and care to Mom. 

For the time being (and who knows how long?), I will continue to live meaningfully within the restrictions I've placed upon myself during the pandemic. Up to this point, it's been astonishing to me how much I've enjoyed my life staying mostly at home -- it's been years since I've read so much and enjoyed such variety in my reading; I write in this blog for a couple of hours every morning; I've continued to broaden my life as my own cook and as a contributor to Sunday family dinners; the internet has helped me keep in daily contact with friends I've known forever from Kellogg, helped me deepen friendships with friends from Whitworth, kept me in touch with Eugene friends, provided ways to enjoy live music, especially performed by Bill Davie (and some others), and opened up the world of poetry to me in expansive ways. I've enjoyed watching movies, watching college basketball games, listening to podcasts, finding new music to enjoy, and completing word puzzles. 

I'm not a restless person. I'm not chomping at the bit. I take each day as it comes. All the same, I look forward to being out in the world again -- I want to dine out, drive to Canada, go to Eugene, visit the Oregon Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean, rejoin my breakfast pals at Sam's on Saturday mornings, hang out at the Lounge, enjoy beers in tasting rooms and tap houses, return to live music concerts, go on local road trips and join up for food with Stu, Byrdman, Ed, and others, and get together with Mary, Kathy, and Linda again, whether we return to trivia or do other things.  

I'm patient. I'm content with life in my bubble. I'm very happy that Christy, Carol, Paul and I have family dinner on Sundays. Moreover, I'm open to the hope that, having turned 67, my life might move forward in energizing ways I haven't yet imagined. 

2. I started a new, very small scale project on my birthday today. Carol and Paul gave me the spirits and the bitters needed to make a classic Sazerac, so this afternoon I opened up my mixology lab and practiced mixing this delicious drink.

Carol and Paul also gave me a book entitled, Sazerac, and I studied the recipe it included for a Classic Sazerac, but I didn't understand it completely. So, found a helpful video on YouTube and then I got it. Making this cocktail requires both a mixing glass and a separate glass for the drink itself. Once I figured that out, the drink was pretty simple to make.

First of all, the glasses for the drink itself should be chilled. So I put Old-fashioned glasses in our freezer.

To make the drink, I started by dropping a sugar cube in the glass and I shook about three or four dashes of Peychaud's bitters over it and smashed it with my muddler. I then measured out an ounce and half of cognac, poured it in the glass and added ice cubes. I stirred this mixture for about twenty seconds or so.

I took a chilled glass out of the freezer and measured about a quarter ounce of Absinthe and rinsed the interior of the glass with the Absinthe for about ten to fifteen seconds and disposed of what didn't attach to the glass.

Then I strained the contents of the mixing glass into the drinking glass.

I had cut strips of lemon peel. I squeezed the peel, yellow side down, over the drink and then rubbed the rim and interior of the glass, above the drink, with the peel, and discarded it.

It's a short drink, but a potent one. It combines the aromatic pleasures of the Absinthe, bitters, and lemon with the layers of flavor provided by those ingredients in addition to the Cognac and the sweetness of the sugar.

Just to make sure I was well-practiced before I mixed his drink for Christy, Carol, and Paul over at the Roberts' house later, I went through this process twice. 

I think I got it down.

3. Christy, Paul, Carol, and I like to enjoy a prime rib dinner at some time over the holiday season. In the past, we've enjoyed this dinner on New Year's Eve, Christmas Day (when Mom was with us), and, I think, on New Year's Day.

This year we didn't have our usual big Christmas Eve dinner focused on the food of another country and had a light meal on Christmas Day, so we decided to have our prime rib dinner as our last Sunday family dinner of the year -- and, coincidentally, my birthday was on Sunday.

So, technically, this wasn't a birthday dinner (at my insistence), but it sort of was. 

But whatever it was or wasn't, there's one thing that cannot be disputed: it was awesome.

Carol prepared the prime rib perfectly. She also made a batch of velvety Yorkshire pudding, the perfect side dish for prime rib. Christy made an awesome creamy, pillowy, and  cheese-y potato dish called slow cooker loaded mashed potatoes.  Carol and Paul broke out a delicious bottle of Pinot Noir. Its light fruitiness complemented the richness of our meal perfectly. For dessert, Christy made a Paula Deen trifle featuring brownie bits, peppermints pieces, and light and fluffy whipped cream (and probably more, but I was falling into a food coma and may not identified everything!).

We had started dinner with the Sazeracs I mixed. I think everyone enjoyed them. I'll find out for sure when we have another get together and find out whether people say yes or no when I offer to mix a Sazerac again! 

Thanks to Christy, I returned home with two wonderful gifts: the recent biography of Adrienne Rich entitled The Power of Adrienne Rich and a sampler pack of Jameson's Irish Whiskey miniatures. Cosette made me a ziplock bag of Nuts and Bolts (also known as Chex Mix). Earlier in the day, I opened a gift from the Langfords and now I can sport a T-shirt representing Jack's elementary school. I also opened my third gift from Rob and Kathy Harper. On our anniversary, they gave us a martini glass, for Christmas a bottle of Crater Lake Distillery's Prohibition Gin, and today I unwrapped a second martini glass and a jar of plump green martini olives. I see both dry and dirty martinis in my near future!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-26-20: Zags Cream the Cavs, FaceTime with Debbie, Salad Dinner

 1.  I spent much of the morning in anticipation of what I thought might be a competitive basketball game early in the afternoon between Gonzaga and Virginia. 

It wasn't. The Zags blasted Virginia, 98-75. 

From the get to, the Zags blistered Virginia. Virginia started the game with a turnovers on consecutive possessions. The Zags turned them all into points and streaked to an early double digit lead and never looked back. The bulk of Gonzaga's scoring came from red hot Corey Kisbert (32 points) and the crafty, powerful production of Drew Timme (29 points) in the paint. The Zags' teamwork, ball movement, speed up and down the court, and joy playing together made the game fun to watch. 

2. Debbie and I, for no good reason, have never jumped on FaceTime together until today. We had an easy conversation this afternoon. Jack came on briefly and introduced me to his new lizard, Billy Bob. I think Billy Bob is a bearded dragon, but I'm not sure. Debbie updated me on a variety of things happening around the Langford house -- Ellie becoming more independent, Jack back at school a couple days a week,  Adrienne and Josh working away at their jobs, Debbie's new books to read, and more. 

We might do this FaceTime thing more often, now that we broke the ice!

3. I had a quart of Mediterranean Chopped Salad left over from Christmas Day -- well, truth be told, I didn't eat any of it on Christmas -- and so I had a very satisfying salad dinner tonight. I added ribbons of salami to my salad tonight and was very happy I came up with this idea. I also finished my delicious plate of frosted sugar cookies from Christy and, before I went to bed, I enjoyed two slices of Carol's fruitcake with a cup of Ghirardelli hot chocolate. 

I closed out the night reading a restaurant review in the latest issue of The New Yorker and, as I fell asleep, visions of Old World styled bagels danced in my head. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-25-20: Family ZOOM, Weighty Gift, Dinner Delivered

 1. I deeply appreciated a  Christmas gift today that came from Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom (I like to call it ZOOM!). Thanks to ZOOM, I could stay home in my bubble today for the family gift exchange and join in with Zoe, Travis, Molly, Carol, Christy, Paul, Riley, Sadie, Clark, and the thought of Leo who were all together at the Roberts' house AND have Debbie join the gift exchange from her basement room in Valley Cottage, NY. 

I just can't take this for granted. I can't measure how happy was I to be able to participate in the gift exchange, stay in my bubble, know Debbie was joining us, and know that the rest of my family understands and accepts my caution?

Here's how happy: I showered! I put on a brand new pair of L. L. Bean khaki trousers! I wore a buttoned down shirt! With a collar! I decided not to look like the haggard unkempt paranoid isolated anti-social old uncle/brother with unbrushed hair all akimbo wearing a pair of hole-y faded gray sweatpants and a ten year old Lane Community College hoody.  

2.  This year, back on January 29th, before Kathy and Mary arrived at the Riverbank Tap House to play trivia,  I ordered a Rye Whiskey Sazerac -- a drink I'd never ordered before. 

At family dinner the following weekend, I told my sisters and Paul and Everett about this drink and how I'd been in correspondence with a Eugene friend, Melissa, who loves Sazeracs, and I bemoaned my outcast fate that I didn't think the Kellogg Liquor Store carried neither Peychaud's bitters nor absinthe, the Sazerac's foundational ingredients.

Well, I don't know if this is exactly how things worked out, but here's the story that it's my head.

A couple of weeks or so ago, Val sent me a package from Portland of the liquors needed to make the Bourbon Renewal (plus a bonus bottle of Pineapple Rum). 

Carol and Paul saw how happy I was to receive that package and how much I enjoyed bringing the liquors over to their house to mix Bourbon Renewal cocktails for family dinner a couple of weeks ago.

So, today, on Christmas, Paul delivered a gift from Zoe and one from Paul and Carol.

The Paul and Carol gift was unusually heavy, I thought, and being the not very imaginative person I am, I had no clue what was the gift was.

I opened the gift from Zoe. OMG! It was perfect: a book of Russian recipes and lore entitled, Beyond the North Wind.

Then I opened the heavy package from Carol and Paul.

On top of the contents I found a book entitled, Sazerac.

Hope, the uplift of a  dream come true, mild euphoria all suddenly gripped me.

Was it?

Yes it was!

It was a box of ingredients to make the Sazerac: Peychaud's bitters! Absinthe! Cognac! A box of sugar cubes! 

They followed Val's example. I realize they might have put this gift together without Val's example, but I want things in my life to connect, so I'm going to believe that Val inspired Carol and Paul, who must have remembered me bemoaning my outcast state back in January about the Kellogg Liquor Store, to go to Total Wine last Monday and put together a Sazerac box as my Christmas gift from them, with the accompanying book. 

I might mix myself a Sazerac some time before this Sunday's family dinner, just for practice, and, then, if Carol, Paul, and Christy agree to give this cocktail a try, serve a Sazerac before our December 27th holiday prime rib dinner.

3. Around 3:30 or so, Christy delivered a plate of frosted sugar cookies to me and I sent her to the Roberts' house with a Mediterranean Chopped Salad I finished making a couple of hours earlier. A bit later, Paul arrived with a helping of oyster stew and slices of a remarkable homemade rosemary bread, baked by Zoe, that I loved. I handed off the prime rib roast I purchased for Sunday's dinner to Paul. 

Christmas Day in my bubble was very good. After dinner, I relaxed by watching Minnesota win a thrilling overtime basketball game against Iowa. I started another acrostic puzzle. I cleaned up the kitchen. I received a picture of the flower bouquet I sent to Patrick and Meagan. I spent the day feeling at peace. 

God bless us, every one!

Friday, December 25, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-24-20: Anniversary Vacuuming, Christmas Salad Prep, Gift Exchange with Christy

 1. Back in 1997, Debbie and I dropped into the Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel in Coeur d'Alene and in the most private ceremony possible, got married. We then bolted over the 4th of July Pass and descended into Kellogg, arriving about an hour earlier than planned. We pulled in front of the house and Mom had not changed into her day clothes, had rollers in her hair, and was vacuuming the living room. 

That image, of seeing Mom, through the picture window, on our wedding day, spiffing up the house has been an enduring source of respect and good-spirited laughter between Debbie and me ever since.

So, as a tribute to Mary Idell West Woolum, this afternoon,  I vacuumed the living room. I don't have any rollers to put in my hair, but I did vacuum in my pajama bottoms and a hooded sweatshirt and thanked Mom for making her home such a welcoming place for Debbie and me to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas as newlyweds.

2. I'm going to stay home on Christmas Day and join other family members, including Debbie from New York, on Zoom for gift exchanging. Family members will deliver gifts and the Christmas breakfast to me. Later in the day, family will deliver Christmas dinner to me as well. We're having oyster stew. I am contributing a salad and this afternoon I bought the last ingredients I needed for the salad at Yoke's (and purchased the prime rib we'll have on Sunday for family dinner) and cut up the vegetables, put them in containers, and, on Christmas Day, I'll follow the recipe's suggestions for how to prepare these veggies before combining them into a salad and send my contribution to the afternoon party. 

3. Christy and I exchanged gifts this evening shortly after 7 p.m. I fixed Christy an Old-fashioned and mixed myself a dry gin martini. Christy gave me a four pack of Glenlivet single malt Scotch miniatures -- oh my! --, six different kinds of dry rub from Gustus Vitae -- which promises some fun experimenting in the kitchen --, and two terrific books: first, the anthology of Native Nations poetry that our current U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo edited, with assistance from an editing team, entitled, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through and James Shapiro's historical study of Shakespeare's presence in the U.S.A. from 1833 to the present, entitled, Shakespeare in a Divided America. Both books look fascinating. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-23-20: Mac Pages Project, Flowers, Back to an Anacrostic Puzzle

 1. I can't say much about it right now -- it would spoil a surprise -- but, as a new Mac user, I opened up Pages and completed, for the first time, a low key graphics project. Figuring it out and making it work gave me way more pleasure and sense of accomplishment than such a simple project warranted, kind of like the first time I folded and cut a paper snowflake in elementary school. 

2. I also feel way too much pleasure and sense of accomplishment when I do online orders correctly, but I wanted to order flowers today and needed to figure out a floral shop to order from in the city where the recipients live, select an arrangement, and do the order correctly. I received confirmation of my order, so I am going to let myself believe I succeeded in making it happen. I will go ahead and enjoy my overwrought sense of accomplishment, kind of like what I felt when I scored my first basket for our sixth grade basketball team, no doubt thanks to an assist from point guard Hugh Crozier. 

3. One of the things I've been doing over the last several months to make spending so much time by myself a pleasure is to complete acrostic puzzles. For the last several weeks or so, though, I've been so occupied with reading history, watching college basketball games, cooking, listening to podcasts, and other satisfying activities, that I haven't worked any puzzles. I changed that tonight. When I went to bed, I got another puzzle started instead of reading myself to sleep. I haven't quite finished it, but when I do, I am sure it will give me a great sense of accomplishment, kind of like when I spelled the word "rhythm" correctly in an elementary classroom spelling bee. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-22-20: Side Effects of Conquest, Combining Leftovers, Enjoying Sweet Things -- With God's Help

1. I've read six of the ten chapters of Patricia Nelson Limerick's 1987 book, The Legacy of Conquest. She doesn't put it this way, but I'm understanding "conquest" as bending something or someone to one's will. As the people from elsewhere moved into the American West, the conquests were numerous. Whether we are talking about armies, farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, train track builders, missionaries, engineers, scientists, over time, whether we are talking about the wealthy and the powerful or the everyday laborer, those in the military or those in the world of science and industry, over time, these pioneers, soldiers, workers, and others racked up an impressive array of conquests. 

Those coming West conquered waterways to be navigated or repurposed to irrigate arid (or semiarid) land or dam them to control (conquer) flooding, provide power, and open up recreation; they conquered the land itself, turning once unproductive land into areas to be farmed and for cattle to graze upon; scientists conquered the atom, resulting in powerful weaponry and another energy source; armies conquered the Native people living in the West and moved them to reserved lands and undertook the project of cultural and spiritual conquest, delivering, in their minds, these people from savagery and paganism; prospectors and miners and mining companies conquered the veins of minerals snaking through the mountains and hills of western states and it wasn't long before mining companies began to bring the labor force under its control, increasing production, efficiency, and (often) profit (but rarely wages). 

What I've listed in the above paragraph is not exhaustive. Nor did any of these conquests turn out to be singularly positive. With each conquest, numerous difficulties arose. What is to be done with nuclear waste? How does the government deal with those Indian tribes gutted by dislocation, loss of hunting grounds and fishing waters, increase in disease, and the growth of poverty, among other complex challenges? What's do be done with land damaged by cattle grazing? With waterways polluted by different nature conquering industries? With the disruption dams cause to fisheries? With the depletion of nature's bounty? With restless workers demanding better wages and working conditions? The difficulties are countless. 

The legacy of conquest in the west is the story of never being able to bend nature or other people completely to the will of anyone or any entity -- not to the government, not to those in private industry, not to engineering, not to churches, not to business, not to activist organizations, not to anyone or anything. There are always what we call in medicine, side effects. Unforeseen consequences. Unending conflict, tensions, and dissatisfaction. 

So what I've written just now is what I've learned from this book so far.

I'm eager to see what more lies ahead in the last four chapters.

2. I started getting hungry around 4:00 this afternoon. I thought about my leftovers. I suddenly realized that I had quite a bit of the garbanzo bean, tomato, onion, garlic mixture I fixed the other night and served over rice. I also have a good supply of rice cooked and stored in the icebox. Then it hit me: I also have leftover baked yams from when I made that yam and couscous dish for family dinner.

Of course! I'll coat the yams with cinnamon and allspice, mix it with the tomato garbanzo bean thing that's ready to go, heat it up and serve it over heated up leftover brown rice. 

But, wait! How about if, while the rice is warming up, I put some of the shredded Mexican cheese blend I have in a package over and in the rice? Great idea! One bowl of cheese-rice covered with the tomato based garbanzo bean and yam mixture not only tasted great, but satisfied my hunger for the rest of the evening.

3.  I'm not much of a baker -- I bake muffins and cornbread and that's about it -- but Christy and Carol love to bake and really love doing it as Christmas Day draws near.

So, late last week, Christy brought me over a plate of Silo cookies and sesame butter cookies, both capable of putting me almost instantly into a sugar coma. My challenge has been to eat a cookie on occasion, often accompanied by a cup of hot black tea and milk, and not gobble the whole plate of treats in one or two sessions. 

I've succeeded. It's been about four or five days since Christy brought over those cookies and I still have two Silo cookies left. 

This evening, Carol added to my stash of sweet things. She's been working to replicate Mom's holiday fruit cake.

I've probably written this before, but I grew up absolutely befuddled by the bad reputation assigned to fruit cake. I loved Mom's fruit cake -- I think the secret was the way she soaked it with brandy. Not only was Mom's fruit cake moist, with the fruit and nut pieces cut really small, but it had this kind of perfect boozy flavor -- not overpowering, not dominant, but not hidden either. Her fruitcake was sweet, nutty, boozy, never dry, and absolutely delicious.

Carol left me a loaf of her fruit cake in the newspaper box on the front porch. 

I brought it in and I uttered a brief prayer, beseeching the Trinity to combine their forces and bestow discipline upon me, to free me of the gluttony I knew was near at hand as I unwrapped the fruit cake and immediately smelled the fruity booziness of brandy and saw that Carol had made cakes that looked just like Mom's.

I prayed for more strength and my prayer was answered as I sliced two thin pieces from the loaf and immediately wrapped up the loaf again and put it in the refrigerator.

I bit off a piece of the first slice and like Christy's Silo cookies and like her sesame butter cookies, the taste of the fruit cake filled me with a mild euphoria and I simultaneously fully embraced the pleasure I felt while beseeching myself to leave the remaining fruit cake in the refrigerator. I instructed myself to enjoy these two slices fully now, but to be an adult: DELAY YOUR GRATIFICATION!

And I did. 

I returned to watch the Zags stumble a bit in the second half as they trounced Northwestern State 95-78, but I did not stumble. My strong will, in union with the will of God, remained firm and I did not eat another slice of fruit cake, nor another cookie, and tried to plot out in my head when I might next avail myself to these nearly irresistible disks and slices of earthly paradise. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-21-20: Packages and Riley, The Luxury of Pizza, Managing Nature

 1.  The Roberts family met in Moscow for lunch and some gift exchanging today. Christy met a friend in CdA for lunch and she ran a few errands. I pitched in by hanging out at Carol and Paul's house until their UPS delivery arrived, put it safely in the house, and then went to Christy's house to leash up Riley and bring him over to stay with me until Christy returned home. Riley had about 5-10 minutes of being riled up when he first arrived and then settled into a long stretch of relaxation and mellowness -- he did, however, get pretty excited with Kathy Harper brought gifts by, but I was able to keep him from leaping excitedly on her! 

2. Some days, while reading, writing, cooking, or doing things around the house, I think about pizza and sometimes I consider having one delivered or picking one up at the Yoke's deli counter. I never do it, though. No good reason. Well, on Sunday, Christy told me she planned to pick up a pizza at Papa Murphy's and wondered if I'd like to have some of it. I calmly agreed, but inside I wasn't so calm. I was pumped. 

So, Christy brought home a Cowboy pizza, baked it, and I strolled over to her house, served myself three slices, came home, turned on the Zags game, and slowly ate the pizza and drank a couple Coke minis. 

I hadn't eaten pizza since July or August and it felt luxurious, almost like having my once or twice a year steak dinner (which, by the way, I missed out on this year by not going to the Wild Horse Casino in November). 

3. I didn't read a lot of Legacy of Conquest today, but was keenly interested in what I did read as Patricia Nelson Limerick delved into the relationship between humans and the world of nature out west. Western settlement and economic development in the West has been an ongoing conflict between humans working to bend nature to the will of development in farming, ranching, mining, logging, fishing, and other enterprises and the consequences of introducing these industries to open ranges, forest land, hills and mountains, waterways, and other natural areas. Limerick examines the efforts of humans to manage the natural world, whether managing forests, rangelands, farmlands,  rivers and streams, or hills and mountains through irrigation, pesticides, introducing non-native grasses and crops, and other means. 

I'll reserve further comment until I've read more of what Limerick explores in this highly contested and central plot line of the western history. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-20-20: Yam and Couscous, What We Do For Love, Successful Family Dinner

1. Saturday, I baked three yams and cooled overnight, in preparation for the side dish/salad I made today for our family dinner. Today, I let the cooled off yams get to room temperature while I chopped up a red pepper and fixed a pot of pearl couscous. I diced about two of the yams and seasoned them with cinnamon and allspice. Before I combined the red pepper and yam, I poured the couscous into a strainer so the pearls could cool down. Into the combined red pepper and yam, I added equal parts of fresh squeezed lemon juice and olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and salted it. Once the couscous cooled, I blended the pearls in with the yams and red peppers, making sure the olive oil and lemon juice were distributed throughout the side dish/salad, put a lid on the bowl and put it in the refrigerator to rest until I headed over to the Roberts' house for dinner tonight. 

2. I poured myself a double Yuse (bourbon, Cointreau, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters) and joined Val, Colette, Diane, and Bill for our once every two weeks (or fortnightly) ZOOM talk. Val, Colette, and Bill all deal daily with chronic pain and the first part of our discussion involved strategies for how to treat and live with pain. I think I had one question, but otherwise I listened and just took into myself, as fully as I could, what Bill, Val, and Colette described. All three have sought out both pharmaceutical and their own non-pharmaceutical ways (e.g. yoga, supplements, acupuncture, and others) to relieve the pain and to be able to function day to day. Learning more about  the pain each of them lives with, how the pain demands their frequent, if not constant, attention, how it exhausts them, and knowing that they persist in doing all they can to live well, be creative, give time and energy to their spouses -- and Colette to her teenage daughter --, enlarged my understanding of their endurance and determination, not just to make each day productive, but to bring goodness to the others in their lives. Big props. 

We also talked about what we are reading. We discussed ambition and the great demands writers like both Colette and Bill and a singer/songwriter like Bill face if they want to get their work out into the world and the even greater demands they face if they want to make a living selling their work and  performing or reading. This led us to discuss all we do for love, as amateurs, for the sake of the undertaking itself. I, for example, have no ambitions to write for publication. I love writing in this blog. It gives order to my days. The writing keeps me touch with friends and family. It helps me organize my thoughts and I enjoy expressing myself. I write as a dedicated amateur. I performed in plays as a dedicated amateur. Back in my days as a lay preacher, I gave sermons as a dedicated amateur. 

If I could have somehow supported myself and my family without earning money (in some utopia!), I would have loved to have been a teacher for no pay. I'm grateful for the money and benefits I earned -- don't get me wrong! --, but I would have loved to have experienced the freedom I imagine I would have experienced as an amateur teacher, teaching, facilitating discussions, reading others' writing free of institutional mandates, imposed work loads, course objectives, program assessment, and, above all, free of grading and credits. 

I'll draw upon help from W. B. Yeats and say that the institutional obsession with program assessment, all moves toward uniformity in teaching, and the experience of being managed as a professional often "dried the sap out my veins, and rent/Spontaneous joy and natural content/Out of my heart" (from "The Fascination of What's Difficult"). 

Writing in my blog, taking photographs, giving sermons, teaching adult courses back at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, talking about beer, narrating Shakespeare Showcases, performing in amateur (not amateurish) plays, cooking, reading books as an amateur, for the love of it-- this is what brings spontaneous joy and natural content to my heart. 

I thought in our ZOOM talk today, Colette, Bill, Diane, and I all encouraged one another's lives as amateurs, encouraged one another in a world that can seem relentlessly transactional, to do it all for love.

Too bad the orchestra in the pit didn't suddenly strike itself and accompany the four of us as we sang together, putting the lyrics in the present tense, the most memorable song from A Chorus Line:

Kiss today goodbye
The sweetness and the sorrow
Wish me luck, the same to you
But I don't regret
What I do for love, what I do for love


3.  Tonight's family dinner was a great success. Zoe is in town and joined us. Christy was in charge of cocktails and the main dish. She mixed each of us a cocktail combining Peppermint Vodka with cranberry juice, garnished with cranberries. It was the perfect Christmas-y drink. Christy also prepared a Friendsgiving casserole, drawing upon a recipe published by Joanna Gaines. It was a chicken casserole loaded with creamy textures and layers of deliciousness. Carol made a vegetable salad and I offered up my yam and couscous salad/side dish. We ended our dinner with Christy's pear liqueur and Christmas cookies.

Our conversation roamed all over the place. For a variety of reasons, we are not having our traditional family dinner on Christmas Eve. I will get on Zoom on Christmas Day and join the members of the family who are in town for some gift opening. We have our plans made for our next family dinner, on December 27th -- we'll have our traditional holiday season prime rib dinner. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-19-20: Boom and Bust, Easy Livin', Zags Win -- and Everett Was on My Mind

1. I had just completed my master's degree in the summer of 1981 and finished an accelerated course in German at the University of Oregon when I returned to Kellogg, early in September, for a visit. Dad and I went uptown to Dick and Floyd's and, for the first time, I heard the rumor, soon to become the news, that the Bunker Hill Mining Company would be shutting down.

And it did.

I remember my disbelief that day. The company's nickname in the Silver Valley was Uncle Bunker and I thought Uncle Bunker would be the engine of the Silver Valley's economy forever. 

It wasn't.

In the pages of Patricia Nelson Limerick's book Legacy of Conquest that I read today, she doesn't single out the Bunker Hill Company closure, but examines mining, logging, and farming in the West, all as industries of instability and vulnerability, despite the faith people, like me, have or had in them to provide stable work and long term economic strength to communities and families. 

Whether these industries suffer because of changes in the weather, swings in demand for their products, fluctuating timber, mineral, or food prices, depletion of resources, changes in government support and regulation, the callous greed of the entities who own mining companies, wood products corporations, or industrial farms, or other  changes in the economic weather (recession, inflation, stock market drops, etc.), these industries have always been caught up in boom and bust cycles of prosperity and hardship and failure. 

2. I decided life at home would be a wee bit more convenient if I had a couple of USB extension cables and three pairs of reading glasses. They arrived today in the mailbox.  I was right. My life is a wee bit easier.

3. With keen anticipation, I flipped on this morning's basketball game matching Gonzaga, rated #1 in the USA, and #3 Iowa. 

I'd seen Iowa play two or three times this season and their offensive prowess impressed me. Inside, Iowa's Luka Garza is regarded by many (all?) as college basketball's best player. He's strong, relentless, and agile. He is very difficult to stop around the hoop and can step out and hit midrange jumpers and score from behind the three point line as well. I love watching him play. Iowa's offensive power doesn't begin and end with Garza, either. They have an accomplished bunch of deadeye shooters from the outside, especially Joe Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon, and CJ Frederick. In addition, Iowa has depth. Jack Nunge, Keegan Murray, and Joe Toussaint all give Iowa great minutes off the bench.

So, I wondered, after a two week layoff because of Covid-19 infection in their program, how would Gonzaga play? Would it take some time to get in synch, to shake off the proverbial rust? 

Not really.

Aside from some occasional sloppy ball handling and lapses at the free throw line, Gonzaga's offense blazed right from the start, especially Jalen Suggs, and the Zags bolted to a 24-10 lead, expanded it to as many as twenty points, and pretty much cruised to a 99-88 win. Iowa closed to within nine points of the lead late in the game, but Gonzaga held on for the victory.

Luka Garza had a superb game, scoring 30 points. Joe Wieskamp supported his effort with 20 points, but, overall, Iowa had a miserable game shooting, not only from the three point land, but from the free throw line. Should these teams meet again, I can't believe Iowa would struggle like this a second time. I also wonder if Gonzaga could duplicate their torrid first half shooting in a rematch. I would expect a second round between these squads to be a much tighter contest. 

Out of an abundance of caution, I didn't go to Christy's to watch this game. 

As the came neared the finish, Everett was on my mind. Everett loved it when the Zags scored over 100 points in any game. My heart sunk an inch or two near the game's end. Aaron Cook went to the free throw line with 14 seconds left in the game to shoot two charity tosses.  Gonzaga's lead was 98-88. 

Cook took his time, eyed the basket, and calmly missed his first free throw.

To quote Everett: "Dirty rotten!"

Cook made his second free throw and the Zags fell on point short of hitting the century mark in memory of Everett.

As Everett might have said, "The first hundred points are the hardest!" 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-18-20: Protecting Employers in the West, Tasty Simple Dinner, BYU's Impressive Win

1. Inevitably, a scholarly, not romanticized, history of the American West is going to explore the working conditions suffered by wage workers, especially miners. I progressed a bit further into The Legacy of Conquest today and much of what I read dealt with mining -- with more on this subject to come. Once again, the cruelty that is accepted and perpetrated so casually, both in the early days of mining and that continues into the 21st century in mining and other businesses dependent of hourly wage earners, strikes me not just as a reality of the American workplace, but as inevitable and justified by the money created by companies paying low wages, saving money by not investing in safety measures, and propagating the idea that laborers should be grateful for their jobs, regardless of the risks the work involves. 

Limerick spends some time examining how in the early days of mining, the law and the courts didn't protect workers when injured at work, but protected the companies, shielding them from liability. The law and the courts argued that labor, like mining, involved "assumed risk", risk the miner knew he was taking, and that he was at liberty to refuse dangerous assignments. The law and the courts also assumed that miners had something like supernatural powers, that they could be expected to ever vigilant despite fatigue, the monotony of their labor, and ever present (and unpredictable) danger. Thus, when miners suffered injury, the courts held the miner individually responsible -- the miner didn't live up to the ideal of vigilance and awareness of danger. The law and the courts shielded companies from liability or responsibility. 

The shielding of companies and corporations from liability for injury or illness suffered by their workers is, of course, not an historical anomaly but a constant reality in American industry. The examples in meat processing plants, coal and metal mines, and other industries are legion. Until it was removed recently from the negotiations, much of the delay in arriving at a Covid relief bill revolved around the fact that Senator Mitch McConnell and others wanted the bill to protect employers from liability if their employees contracted the virus because of conditions in their work place. 

The central argument of Limerick's book is found in her book's subtitle: The Unbroken Past of the American West. The tensions, labor practices, ideologies, and other factors that contributed to the settling of the American West did not disappear as the time progressed. 

They live on.

2. It's simple and tasty. I had a small amount of pasta sauce left over and I combined it with sautéed garlic and chopped onions, a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of garbanzo beans. I seasoned this with oregano, garlic powder, and lemon pepper. I had just finished cooking up a couple of quarts or so of brown rice, so I served this mixture over the rice and enjoyed a tasty and warming dinner.

3. I'm thinking that once the WCC teams start playing each other, we Zags fans might want to keep an eye on the Brigham Young University Cougars. Today they played the very tough Aztecs from San Diego State in a non-conference tilt and, I think, astonished the Aztecs, not only with their offensive prowess, but with their stout defense. The Cougars pounced on SDSU early, led by fifteen at halftime, and withstood the Aztecs' furious late game rally and comeback, winning this game, 72-62. 

As things stand today, BYU and the Zags will face off twice in February. BYU comes to Spokane on the 6th and they play again in Provo on the 27th to close out the regular season. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-17-20: Longtime Friend, Wealth, The Big East

 1. A longtime friend, whom I've had electronic contact with, but haven't seen in person for 32 years, sent me a message today wondering if I had a lasagne recipe. Turns out, I don't have one on hand, but we had a short exchange updating each other about how we are doing and what life during the pandemic has been for each of us. My friend has published two books of poetry. She told me about her books a few years ago. It was while Mom was alive, I was in Kellogg, and, at the time, preoccupied with Mom, I didn't act on that information. Today, I went back to the email that included the information about her two books and I ordered them today. I learned today that she has another book in the works. I'm eager to read her work.

2. I'm a slow reader. No one ever mistook me for Evelyn Woods! As I slowly read Patricia Nelson Limerick's The Legacy of Conquest, I've been thinking a lot about the ways the pursuit of wealth can not only warp the minds and moral compass of those in pursuit and protection of their money, but how it can warp how the wealthy are looked upon by the public and the law. In short, U.S. history and the history of the West tells the story of countless acts of cruelty perpetrated and regarded as acceptable because they were commissioned in the pursuit and protection of property, natural resources, and wealth. People who are successful, by whatever means, of accruing wealth become romanticized, held in high esteem, as if wealth and its pursuit and protection make cheating, cruelty, scamming, parsimony, grifting, bullying, breaking promises and treaties, exploiting workers, perpetuating poverty, among other immoralities, legitimate. 

I'm complicit in countless everyday ways in all of this.  It gnaws at me. 

3. Late in the afternoon, I set Limerick's book aside, let all that I'm learning settle in, eventually warmed up my leftover clam chowder,  eventually popped a small bowl of popcorn, and watched my favorite basketball action: two games played tonight in the Big East Conference.

For a while, the rebuilding St. John's Red Storm played pretty well against Creighton. The Johnnies had a good run in the first half when they whittled away at Creighton's double digit lead and, for a while it looked like this game could be competitive.

But, two of the Johnnies' weaknesses caught up to them. St. John's doesn't have inside strength or height and Creighton succeeded in complementing their deadeye outside shooting with pounding the pill inside. St. John's couldn't stop them. In addition, while the Johnnies can be electrifying in the open court and while their non-stop pressing and pestering defense can frustrate opponents, leading to live turnovers and easy buckets for the Johnnies, once St. John's has to set up a half court offense, they only have one player, Julian Champagne, who can score reliably from the outside -- Creighton has several such players. 

So, in the end, the Johnnies played hard but got crushed, 94-76. 

At six o'clock, two evenly matched teams squared off, Seton Hall and Marquette. 

Both teams have done a remarkable job of re-tooking their lineups after each losing superb players from their 2019-20 teams. Most notably, Seton Hall lost Myles Powell and Marquette lost Markus Howard. Both players graduated. Other very solid players, like Quincy McKnight for Seton Hall and Sacar Anim.

One of college basketball's best players, however, Sandro Mamukelashvili, returned to Seton Hall. Other players who supported Markus Howard a year ago also returned and Seton Hall is developing into a formidable team. So is Marquette, thanks to having recruited two splendid freshmen, Dawson Garcia and Justin Lewis, landing a very talented transfer from Ohio State, DJ Carton, and, in my view, the much improved play of senior strongman, Theo John. 

Seton Hall led for most of this games, sometimes by more than ten points, but Marquette never folded. In fact, late in the game, Marquette tied the tilt, and then, after falling behind by three points, suffered a mortal blow when Koby McEwan appeared to have tied the game again with a feathery three point bucket,  but it was waved off when an official cited McEwan for traveling. Marquette never quite recovered after that call and, despite all their relentless efforts, lost to Seton Hall, 70-63.

I am eager to watch both of these teams, not only when their rematch comes around, but when they play the other strong teams in the Big East, namely Providence, Villanova, Xavier, Connecticut, and Creighton, and as these teams play each other.  (Marquette, by the way, defeated Creighton on Monday of this week. I can hardly wait for this rematch.)


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-16-20: The West, New Pasta Sauce Method, Cocktail Hour

 1. Possibly, as I read further into Patricia Nelson Limerick's book Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, I'll be able to coherently sum up what I'm learning from this book. It's very good. What makes it difficult to sum up, so far, is that Limerick writes about a mess. As settlers, miners, missionaries, land grabbers, farmers, speculators, cattle raisers, prostitutes, families, and others began to occupy the lands we now call the West, a long period of chaos broke out: wars, disease, violence, broken promises, broken treaties, naïveté, exploitation, lawlessness, bloody competition and confrontation, dashed hopes, and empty dreams were all countered, to a degree, by some people's material success.  It wasn't romantic. It was rarely heroic. Its tensions have never been resolved and vigorously continue to inform all of our lives in the West.

2. A very short video from Milk Street popped up on my Facebook feed, as an advertisement, the other day. It demonstrated a way to make pasta sauce that was completely new to me. First, heat olive oil in a pan or pot and then add herbs and heat them until fragrant. I tossed fennel seeds, oregano, basil, garlic powder, and a some red pepper flakes into the oil. The next step is to put a 6 oz can of tomato paste in the pot/pan and combine the oil, herbs/seasonings, and the paste. Meanwhile, boil the pasta -- I made a batch of spaghetti -- and when it is al dente, separate the pasta from the water, but save the water. Following the video's instructions, I poured the starchy pasta water over the tomato paste and seasonings until the paste had thinned down to the level I wanted. 

The idea is that sauce made this way, combined in a bowl with the al dente pasta, will not be on the pasta, but will soak in the pasta. 

How did it turn out? Not bad. Next time I'll increase the intensity of the seasonings. Even diluted, the tomato paste's flavors are very concentrated (very tomato-y! duh!) and I'd like to bring the flavor of the seasonings forward more. 

I can imagine adding minced garlic to the oil. I can imagine adding some chopped onion and a bay leaf.

Christy ran errands today, including a trip to Yoke's, and I asked her to pick up four 6 oz cans of tomato paste because I want to experiment more with this way of making pasta sauce.

3.  After completing her errands and putting Riley to bed for the night, Christy came over and I fixed us each a Bourbon Renewal. Christy has been run down for a couple of days, but had more energy today and resumed taking care of things related to losing Everett and she visited a forever friend. We talked about her day, reflected together some more on Everett's last couple of days and remembered our mom and dad's last days, too. 

We talked about other things, too -- current events, Laura Lippman and other writers, our plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas relative to the pandemic, and Riley being startled,  harmlessly surrounded by a pack of small dogs up Jacobs Gulch today. 

Christy returned home after about an hour or so of visiting, ready after a busy day to get some rest and sleep. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-15-20: Books and a Found List, My Limitations, Tree House Concert and Ambition

 1. I moved my reading in two directions today. First, I started reading Patricia Nelson Limerick's book from over thirty years ago, Legacy of Conquest. It's been on my mind for over twenty-five years, but I've never buckled down and read this study of the American West.

At the same time, I've been wanting to read short essays. On Monday, a book I possessed and read back in the early 90s arrived. I am really happy to have Carolyn Bly's Letters from the Country back in the house and look forward to re-reading her descriptions, stories, and observations of life in and around rural Madison, Minnesota. In the 1970s, Bly published these essays in Minnesota Monthly and compiled them into a book in 1981. 

Today, two more books of short essays arrived: Donald Hall's Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety and Aimee Nezhukumatathil's recent collection, World of Wonders. I am waiting for Donald Hall's String Too Short to be Saved and another favorite of mine, like Bly's book, from about 25-30 years ago, Brenda Peterson's Saved by Water

The Limerick book will require me to dedicate long periods of concentration to it. I can dip in and out of these other books, a welcome complement to the demands I look forward to while reading Legacy of Conquest.

I borrowed Legacy of Conquest from the Rathdrum Public Library.

A previous borrower of the book wrote a list on a yellow post-it note. 

I think the borrower was reminding her/himself of programs and movies to watch or look into.

Here's the list:


Street Food

The Midnight Gospel

The Long Gray Line

Doc Tiny Creatures 

I'm sorry this person no longer has the list. If it's any consolation, dear Listmaker, you have piqued my curiosity. I'm going to act as if it wasn't an accident that I discovered this list, but that there is a purpose at work here. (I don't believe there's a purpose. I'm going to act like there is!)

2.  Starting to read Limerick's book got me thinking about my good fortune in life. As I surveyed the bibliography of Legacy of Conquest and as I read her introduction to the book, a realization I've contemplated in my retirement sank into me even more deeply today. 

My intellect works in a variety of ways, but I don't have what it takes to read voluminous amounts of sources, synthesize them, and work out some kind of interpretation (or thesis). 

I am much better at reading and listening to others talk, say about literature, learning from what I've read and heard, and making it understandable to students -- not producing my own original contributions.

My good fortune in life came when I was hired as an instructor at Lane Community College. In my work, I was not under any pressure or obligation to publish in academic journals or publish a book. My job was to teach. The way I taught was always informed by my synthesizing and organizing the thinking and writing and teaching of others, but was rarely, if ever, informed by any original scholarship that I produced.

I love reading the original work of others. Already, I'm enjoying the way Patricia Nelson Limerick is confronting the theses regarding the West of her forebears and carving out her interpretation of events. 

Her work demonstrates that she is a superb researcher, thinker, and writer. 

I'm happy that my livelihood as a college instructor made it possible for me to enjoy others' writing and rewarded me for doing solid work as a classroom teacher, but did not require me to do what I'm not gifted at: produce original scholarship.

3. As the seven o'clock hour drew near, I made myself a Bourbon Renewal and sipped contentedly on it while enjoying Bill Davie's latest Tree House Concert. 

A coincidence occurred. I'd been thinking earlier in the day, as I wrote above, about the satisfaction I'd experienced in my professional life of working within my limitations and also thought about the embarrassment and misery I experienced when I overreached. Looking back, I equate my overreaching with misguided ambition. I realized, over time, that in terms of wanting to "get ahead", be in charge, or make "a name" for myself, I wasn't ambitious, and, in fact, often if I pursued some kind of ambition, it rendered me discontented. 

Bill Davie once had ambitions to "make it" in the music business. "Making it" means touring, promoting one's self, being away from home a lot, hustling for gigs and performing frequently, going on radio shows, doing promotional gigs at cd stores and Barnes and Noble bookstores, and more. 

At some point, now many years ago, Bill faced up to the realization that he lacked this kind of ambition. He preferred a slower, simpler, calmer, more satisfying life close to home.

So do I. 

Once hired at LCC, I never wanted to leave. I tried being an administrator at LCC for a year. I wasn't cut out for it and realized I had little or no ambition to be a leader of this sort. I wanted to invest myself in family life, making sure Adrienne, Patrick, and Molly were cared for; I pursued some avocations; I enjoyed making trips to Kellogg; I wanted to contribute positively to St. Mary's Episcopal Church (but one term on vestry was enough).  

I am at my best when I am in a groove. I'm in one now, during this pandemic. I write, read, listen to music and podcasts, take walks, watch college basketball, watch movies, communicate by text messaging with friends, get on Zoom with other friends, attend Bill Davie's weekly virtual concerts, take in poetry readings and other stimulating things online, cook, try to keep the kitchen clean, and take time to contemplate. I enjoy our weekly family dinners. Debbie sends me pictures and updates from New York. It's a good groove.  

When Bill talked about his lack of ambition as a performer last night, I wondered if we might be alike in finding contentment in being in a groove. My groove is stimulating, fun, often fascinating, and, despite being alone most of the time, social. Bill's does different things in his groove, but I came away from tonight's concert thinking that Bill and I are both grateful for the groove we've created, whatever it might lack in worldly ambition. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-14-20: Return to *Special Sauce*, Clam Chowder, Rutgers and Marquette Win

 1. I cook. I make messes. Every day I clean the kitchen to get it ready to make more messes. It's a good thing. Today, as I spiffed things up, I listened to the Thanksgiving episode of the podcast Special Sauce, hosted by food writer and founder of Serious Eats, Ed Levine, and regularly featuring Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of Food Lab

Things get away from me. I'm not sure I've listened to Special Sauce since moving to Kellogg three years ago. This podcast was one of my favorites when I'd fly from Baltimore to Spokane and I will always be indebted to Ed Levine for introducing me to Murray's Cheese through his interview with Rob Kaufelt, the former, long-time owner of Murray's Cheese. It was on this podcast that I learned Murray's Cheese counters were popping up across the nation at Kroger's stores, including, I soon learned, the Fred Meyer store on Kathleen Ave. in Coeur d'Alene. 

Today I listened to the recent Thanksgiving episode of Special Sauce and enjoyed Ed Levine's conversations about Thanksgiving traditions and the pandemic with Marcia Chatelin, Jessica B. Harris, Laura Lippman (She'd gotten away from -- today I moved her from my fuzzy mental reading list to my written down one), Jamelle Bouie, Kenji Lopez-Alt, Frances Lam, and Nik Sharma. I've added Marcia Chatelin and Jessica B. Harris to my hopelessly growing reading list. 

After the Thanksgiving episode, I listened to Ed Levine's fascinating interview with Maggie Cheney of Rock Steady Farm of Millerton, NY about food, social justice, CSAs, and the challenges farmers face (and have faced) during the pandemic. 

2. It suddenly struck me today. I have a lot of quart containers of crab stock in the basement freezer and I've never tried using the stock to make clam chowder. Today, I happened to have a quart thawed in the icebox upstairs. So, I poured some olive oil in a saucepan and heated it up. I dumped a bunch of chopped up raw bacon into the oil and let it sizzle. In the meantime, I chopped up a few stalks of celery and half of a big white onion and added it to the saucepan. I seasoned this mixture with Old Bay seasoning and some black pepper and cooked it until the onions were translucent. I peeled two russet potatoes, chopped them up, and added the pieces to the pan and covered it all with crab stock. I opened two cans of clams and poured the clam juice in with the crab stock. I brought all of this to a slow boil, cooked the potatoes until tender, added a chunk of butter, and then poured the clams and about 12 ounces of half and half into the pot. 

It worked. 

As a bonus, I have nearly a quart left over. I might just combine the container of leftover fish soup/chowder I made Sunday with the clam chowder I made today and just see what it tastes like mixing them all together. I think it'll taste pretty good.

3. Since I used to live about fifteen minutes from the Univ. of Maryland, I like to think of them as my former home team. Well, Maryland's men's basketball team hosted Rutgers this afternoon. The ascendant Scarlet Knights of Rutgers are building on their success from a year ago and have a stable, athletic, seasoned team. Very tough. Maryland, on the other hand, lost their two leading players from last year, Anthony Cowen, Jr. and Jalen Smith and, at this early point in the season, are in search of who will be this team's leader and where their scoring will come from. I wouldn't say the Terps are a mess, but they are suffering growing pains and it showed as they lost to Rutgers, 74-60. 

In Omaha, the Marquette Golden Eagles demonstrated that they have a very solid team, despite the loss of Markus Howard, their sharpshooting guard from the last few years, who graduated in 2020. This year's Marquette team looked strong tonight, just as they did when they defeated Wisconsin. Marquette scored well from inside, led by freshman Dawson Garcia, and from the outside, thanks to D. J. Carton, Koby McEwen, and Greg Eliot. Marquette looked especially strong on defense, especially in the second half. They limited standout Creighton guard Marcus Zegarowski to eight points and often frustrated Creighton's explosive offensive attack. 

So, here's the puzzler: Creighton is an elite offensive team with great scorers up and down their lineup. But, tonight -- and the same thing happened in their loss to Kansas -- they were abysmal from the free throw line. They missed eleven of their twenty-five charity tosses, making barely half of them. This failure contributed significantly to Creighton's loss.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 12-13-20: Building Slow Familiarity and Music, Cooking Fish Something, Great Family Dinner

1. Today, while I was preparing the fish soup/chowder (whatever it was) that I fixed for dinner, I was listening to Tom Petty's 1994 solo album, Wildflowers. As I was chopping carrots, a stray thought started to build. It began with me remembering that Adrienne used to own this cd. At some point, nearly twenty years ago, she decided she wasn't really into it and passed it on to me.

Listening to Wildflowers got me thinking about how slow I've been over the last twenty-five years or so to respond to music, new or old.

By way of contrast, when I was in high school and college, I was immediately staggered by and fell in love right away with bunch of albums like Blood, Sweat, and Tears, The Best of Cream, the early albums of Chicago (first known as Chicago Transit Authority), Santana's Abraxas, the album Chase, Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story, Rare Earth in Concert, and a pile of other albums that left me thunderstruck, immediately, as soon as the stylus lowered on to the vinyl.

I haven't had the experience of having an album or a piece of music, when I hear it for the first time, jolt me into instant ecstasy for many years -- certainly not the way, say The Cars first album did over forty years ago or not like Dire Straits' album Making Movies did in 1980, along with Love Over Gold a couple of years later. From the get go, I was on board with Graceland, The Pretenders,The Eurhythmics,  Joan Jett, The Go-Gos,  The Talking Heads, the B-52s, and many others.  

But, over the last twenty, even twenty-five years, I'd say, my love for certain music has depended, not on my first (or second or third or fourth) hearing of the album, but on developing familiarity with the music and letting it work on me from the inside out, rather than as a thunderbolt from outside of me.

Wildflowers is a good example. So is the music of JJ Cale. So is Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Likewise, Drive-By Truckers, Dolly Parton, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Allison Kraus, Jewel, and many others. 

I listened to Wildflowers, in the car, at home, for nearly fifteen years, off and on, before songs on that album took hold. About twelve years ago, on a whim, I accepted Jeff Harrison's invitation to hear The Floydian Slips at the Cuthbert in Eugene and, after years and years of ignoring Pink Floyd, something within me shifted. I bought three of their cds. Later that summer, while visiting Mom in Kellogg, I took a drive to Bonners Ferry for the hell of it and played Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals and Pink Floyd's sound started to sink in. I played and replayed these albums, gained familiarity with them, and it wasn't long before I couldn't get enough of them and tried to go to every Pink Floyd Tribute Band show I could, wherever I lived.

Today I also listened to the mixed tape (on cd) of Drive-by Truckers that Jeff Harrison made for me in May of 2019. I don't remember when Jeff first began to rave about Drive-by Truckers, when he first began to urge me to listen to their stuff. Their first album came out in 1998 -- it might have been that long ago. 

Well, I did listen to Drive-by Truckers on occasion. Jeff would stop me and tell me to come into his office and listen to a few tracks. I also heard them on occasion on satellite radio. But, I hadn't developed familiarity with them. I needed to spend some time with that mixed tape Jeff made,  playing it while I was driving or just have it on in the house -- I'm not a close listener -- I don't listen to music studiously -- I let what's alive in the music call up what's alive in me, slowly, over time.

So, last summer, when I wasn't letting JJ Cale slowly become an essential part of my inner self and when I wasn't continuing my decades-long project of slowly inviting Bob Dylan in, I listened repeatedly to the mixed tape of Drive-by Truckers and today, as they played while I was reading news and thinking about current events, I realized it had happened: I was familiar with Drive-by Truckers and I was loving their sound and the lyrics of their songs. I had finally arrived.

I've been thinking a lot about my experience listening to music and it's very similar, on a much shorter timeline, to my experience drinking craft beer.

Maybe you, like me, know beer drinkers who will claim after a single sip of a new beer whether they like the beer, whether they think it's any good.

Many, many times, I've ordered a beer I'm unfamiliar with and I've felt ambivalent about the first sip. But, I instantly say to myself, "Hold your horses, big fella!" I remind myself that I have not developed any familiarity with this beer. So I slowly drink some more, often thinking that if the beer warms up a little, certain of its flavors and qualities will assert themselves. Invariably, the deeper I dive into the beer, the more I like it. Discarding my first impression often opens the way for discovering pleasures unavailable to me when I first tasted it. My repeated line is, "Yeah. This beer is really growing on me." 

Likewise, music - Drive-by Truckers had to grow on me. So did JJ Cale, Fleetwood Mac, Allison Kraus, and many others. Bob Dylan has been a slow project. I haven't quite arrived with Dave Matthews.  I wonder, should I commit some time to listening to Taylor Swift? Listening to Elle King has worked for me. I love Warren Zevon, but I'm not familiar with music he made before he died. I'd like to get back to June Tabor. Likewise Sandy Denny. Can I find some Linda Thompson? Might it be time to see if I can find a copy of Blue Rose -- I played this album all the time thirty years ago. Was it made into a cd? And on and on. 

2. With all those thoughts, and more, about music cycloning through my head, I'm glad I managed to get my my contribution to tonight's family dinner actually cooked.  I tried something different today, inspired by the opening of Midnight Diner. Like Master, I decided to start the fish chowder/soup I made by frying small bits of bacon in olive oil. Once the bacon was close to being cooked, I added in the celery and carrots. I didn't use onion and tried to compensate for the onions by including extra celery. After a few minutes of these ingredients cooking, I added a couple of minced garlic cloves and, a minute or so later, I added one of the quarts of crab stock I made after one of the Elks' Crab Feeds. Instead of adding chopped potatoes, I added chopped cauliflower and let these ingredients slowly boil until the vegetables were tender. Then I added in the shrimp and salmon I had previously cooked, along with half and half, and added some salt and pepper -- I had already seasoned the shrimp with Old Bay Seasoning.

I transferred this soup/chowder into my crock pot and, since everything was cooked, I put it on warm and let it sit for a couple of hours before taking it over to Carol and Paul's where Christy and I would join them for family dinner.

3. I was in charge of tonight's cocktail and I was stoked to introduce Christy, Carol, and Paul to Bourbon Renewal. I wanted to be sure they knew what they were experiencing(!), so I took a little (maybe a lot) time to mansplain that this cocktail was a wonderful blend of brown sugar and white sugar sweetness, thanks to the bourbon and simple syrup, fruitiness thanks to the De Cassis black currant liqueur and peach bitters, and tartness thanks to the fresh squeezed lemon juice. I tried to keep my intro to the cocktail short and the evening probably would have gone just fine had I kept my big mouth shut, but I was excited to share this drink (thanks again to Dave V and Val S) and I didn't stop myself from giving my explanation of the drink!

Carol made a cabbage salad that was perfect with the fish soup/chowder and Christy made a heavenly batch of cookies for dessert -- I think I was in the kitchen packing up my portable bar when she explained what went into baking them. The one cookie I ate was divine. 

We talked about a lot of different things tonight, including what things look like for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and when, after Christmas, we might have our annual prime rib family dinner. (It looks like we'll do it on my birthday, which conveniently falls on Sunday this year!)