Sunday, January 31, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-30-21: Hoop Dreams, Daft Badger Blood Orange IPA, More Fran Lebowitz

 1. I watched a lot of college basketball today: Villanova wore down Seton Hall in a victory; Georgia Tech upset Florida State; Virginia Tech surprised suddenly cold shooting Virginia; and Gonzaga pummeled Pepperdine.  Sometimes when I watch these games, I daydream about playing on certain teams. I love to dream about playing for Villanova. I would have loved to have played for Coach Jay Wright. His teams pass the ball beautifully, put one another in great spots on the floor to shoot from, work cohesively on defense, and have great trust in one another. Likewise, I dream about being young and talented and playing for Gonzaga for similar reasons. I would have loved to have played on a team that has a set offense they run and that are coached to improvise within that system. 

Watching Gonzaga's players improvise reminds me of the best days I experienced being in plays when I felt connected with my fellow actors. We had memorized our lines. We knew each other's tendencies on stage. We had internalized our director's instructions. And then we played, we worked off of each other, we responded to our fellow actors, and were alive and aware in each moment. I see Gonzaga's players, as they combine discipline and freedom, really playing basketball, being creative, and enjoying themselves.

2. I don't drink much beer these days. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might remember when I used to chronicle in these pages the beers I drank and how I experienced them. I drank many of those beers in tap houses and tasting rooms in some kind of social situation. I look forward to when I will drink beers in such establishments again, but, for now, I'm home by myself a lot. I don't enjoy drinking alcohol by myself very much.

Today, however, I decided to pop open the can of Daft Badger's Blood Orange IPA I've had in the fridge ever since the day Jeff and Anne dropped by for a visit in December. 

I had forgotten just what a great citrus bomb this beer is. I nursed it for about an hour and enjoyed not only its immediate hit of orange-y splendor, but the bitterness that complimented the citrus, giving the beer a bite that kept it from being overly juicy. 

One pint of beer was enough, but it was a most enjoyable one.

3. As I relaxed in bed, I ended my day my tuning in to an episode of Fresh Air from earlier in the month and listened to Terry Gross interview Fran Lebowitz about the documentary series she made with Martin Scorsese on Netflix, Pretend It's a City. Listening to Lebowitz talk about how she's not had much difficulty being by herself for long periods of time in her apartment during the pandemic in New York City somehow reminded me of a point she made in Pretend It's a City. In the documentary, Fran Lebowitz talked about herself as a reader. It frustrates her when people she knows talk about books in terms of whether they could relate to them or not -- in other words, if these readers do not find themselves in the book in some way, they lose interest. Lebowitz's point was that we should read precisely because we do not find ourselves in books, but rather enter into unfamiliar worlds, learn about things we've never experienced, and enlarge our worlds. I used to try to nudge my students into this kind of approach to reading, trying to persuade my students that in school you do best by delving into books that take you out of yourself, not that merely confirm the self you think you already are.

This got me thinking about how long it's been since I either read a book or watched a movie where I said to myself while taking it in, "That's totally me! I see myself in this story! I can sooo relate to that!" I used to have this sense of identifying with movie or book characters happen much more often when I was younger. I felt a deep kinship with the characters in the movie Return of the Secaucus 7 when I was in my late twenties. Similarly, there were moments in Ordinary People when I felt like Timothy Hutton's character, Conrad, I were the same person. It meant everything to me when this deep sense of connection happened when I was young.

I don't experience that thrill any longer -- and haven't for quite a while. For example, I loved listening to Fran Lebowitz riff on subjects in Pretend It's a City. But, not once did I think to myself, "I'm just like her!" I'm not. I'm not opinionated, acerbic, brash, or much else that she is. But, I enjoy her being the way she is, I enjoy her stories that often have nothing to do with the life I live, and I enjoy the way her observations expand my imagination and help me have new daydreams about New York City. 

I need to alter what I just wrote a bit: I did feel a sense of kinship with Martin Scorsese during Pretend It's a City. He spends most of his time on screen laughing at things Fran Lebowitz says and I enjoyed joining him, loved seeing him sometimes double over when she really killed him off, and thinking, "That's exactly what I'd do!"

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-29-21: Control of Nature, More Joan Didion, Ghost Story?

1.  I'm just getting underway reading the sprawling history of the Mississippi flood of 1927, Rising Tide. I read a few readers' comments about this book a few days ago. One reader complained that he had read quite far into the book and not a drop of rain, just stories about obscure engineers. Well, I thought to myself, this actually sounds like just the sort of history I enjoy reading. Why all the early focus on these 19th century engineers? At the heart of this book is one of the central questions of the human history: to what degree can human beings control nature? (This was a compelling question in Patricia Nelson Limerick's book, The Legacy of Conquest.

Therefore, the early part of this book establishes a deep background of the conflict that existed between engineers about how best to intervene in the Mississippi River's natural activity to control its flood waters. Each option, whether to build levees, create outlets, or build dams on tributaries (or a combination of these), presents problems, largely because rivers are unstable. To personify them, you could say rivers are temperamental. 

Every time this question of human control (or management) of nature arises, whether in discussions (arguments) about corralling a pandemic, forest management, fish and wildlife management, climate change, forest fire suppression, mine safety, flood control, or, well, even dog training, I read what people say and I'm torn between confidence in human ingenuity and the folly of human hubris. 

I am beginning to sense that I'll be moving deep into this question as I read more of Rising Tide -- and I'm looking forward to it. 

2. After watching Illinois defeat Iowa, 80-75, in a thrilling, physical, intense matchup, I took a short break from the television, switched gears, and returned to watch the rest of the documentary on Joan Didion I started Thursday night, The Center Will Not Hold.

Coincidentally, the February 1, 2021 issue of The New Yorker arrived today and, to my delight, included a longish piece on Joan Didion, an article prompted by the release of her latest book, Let Me Tell You What I Mean

So, I had a stimulating Joan Didion day! In the afternoon, I enjoyed The New Yorker article a lot and thought that Nathan Heller's piece was, for me, a perfect companion to what I'd seen in the documentary and, then, to what I saw when I finished the movie. I particularly enjoyed how Nathan Heller zeroed in on Joan Didion's insight into social fragmentation in American life and reading about Didion's lifelong refusal to give in to sentimentality. 

Much of what I watched tonight on film delved into Joan Didion's unsentimental grief. Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died in 2003 and their daughter, Quintana, died in 2005. In her writing, Joan Didion wrote about these losses as a reporter. I've read her book about her husband's death (The Year of Magical Thinking). It's brilliant. Just because it's not sentimental doesn't mean it's cold. Hardly. It's a deeply felt and profoundly intelligent chronicle of grief and its impact on her life. Later, Didion wrote a book mourning Quintana, entitled Blue Nights. I haven't read it, but I think I see a return to reading Joan Didion in my future at some point.

3. I let the movie sink in for a while. I grabbed my laptop and took it with me to bed so I could watch another episode of Midnight Diner. Tonight's episode was ghostly. I think I'll watch it again. As is so often the case, it was both sweet and mournful and, to my way of thinking, delved into the realm of magic realism. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-28-21: Kidney Update, Flavor Deepens, Tokyo -- then Joan Didion

1. I drove to Coeur d'Alene this morning for an appointment with Dr. Scott Bieber, my kidney doctor. Before my appointment, I compared the bloodwork I had done about three weeks ago with the work done in September. I have lost a little more kidney function, but the dip isn't drastic and many of my other numbers remain strong. Dr. Bieber agreed. He said what I thought: things remain "pretty stable".  But, both he and I know that it's inevitable that, at some point, I'm going to need intervention in the form of a transplant or dialysis (or both). When I began monitoring this disease sixteen years ago, my doctor told me that my kidneys' capabilities would slowly diminish and that's just what's happened.  I return for another appointment in May.

2. I let that acorn squash-quinoa-carrot-cauliflower dish I made for family dinner sit for a few days. Tonight, I heated up a serving and its flavors of cinnamon, allspice, and za'atar had taken hold much more firmly. Carrots, cauliflower, and acorn squash all, by nature, are sweet. Cooking them amplifies their sweetness and these spices add even more flavor. I served myself this dish as a side to the remainder of last night's bacon pinto bean soup. 

3. I watched a very sweet episode of Midnight Diner. Once again, I got to experience a tender story and, once again, this series took me into unfamiliar territory and demonstrated that negative things we might think is true about people in certain professions just isn't. I don't want to give away the details because the surprising revelations in this story simply should not be revealed, or even hinted at.

I then turned my attention to Joan Didion and watched about 40 minutes or so of the Netflix documentary examining her life, The Center Will Not Hold. Even though I have about about another hour of viewing ahead of me, I realized that when I was in my twenties and thirties and tried to read Joan Didion's work, I wasn't ready for it. About fifteen years ago, however, I read her incredible book, The Year of Magical Thinking. I had lived enough, experienced enough to be ready for that book in my early fifties and, now, I am thinking that if I returned to Slouching Toward Bethlehem and The White Album, I'd understand better how she was working to report on disintegration in U.S. life, how it's possible that the center will not hold because one's not there. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-27-21: New Bearings, New Puzzles, New Soup and The Three Degrees

1. I took the Sube over to Silver Valley Tires first thing this morning and a few hours later picked it up. It now has new bearing on the front wheels.

2. I finished a book of American history-themed acrostic puzzles a couple of days ago and now I've unearthed a book of 50 acrostic puzzles published by The New York Times. The Times puzzles are more difficult. I need more search engine help while working them. I try to limit myself to about three lookups. Usually, that's enough.

3. I chopped up some bacon in a pot today and fried it along with a chopped onion and some celery. About ten or fifteen minutes later, I added water and a bunch of pinto beans I had soaked and cooked earlier. I seasoned my bacon bean soup with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and oregano. To thicken the soup, I mashed up some of the beans. It worked. It made for a soothing, warming dinner this evening after I was on the phone with Debbie for about 45 minutes while I imagined, in the background, The Three Degrees singing, "When Will I See You Again?". 

Ha! I didn't really imagine that. I'm trying to be funny. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-26-21: Bolstering the Sube, Nostalgia and Elizabeth Bishop, Video Haiku

1. After much delay -- I've only driven about 200 miles since the middle of October!--I decided that since I'm driving to CdA on Thursday for an appointment with Dr. Bieber that I'd have my snow tires put on. And, who knows? I might decide to drive over to CdA again this winter. The Sube has been a little slow turning over when I start it and, indeed, it needed a new battery. And, after 17 years, the front wheel bearings need to be replaced. I'm grateful to live just a stone's throw from Silver Valley Tires where I can have these jobs done and be able to walk home and wait there for them to finish. 

2. I poured myself a cup of hot chocolate spiked with some dark rum and settled in for this week's Tree House Concert, performed masterfully with vigor, good humor, and gratitude by Bill Davie. Tonight's audience was exceptional. I enjoyed how Bill lit up as one after another, people from the many walks of his life popped into the comments feed and he affectionately greeted them. Bill's songs are often warmly nostalgic as he sings about memories of Summer Island, the birth thirty years ago of his daughter, the steel drum bands in downtown Seattle, before aggressive gentrification, in the 1980s, and of his father. I melt into Bill's memories and enjoy my own during these songs, warmed also by the hot chocolate and rum. 

Tonight, Bill read poems by Elizabeth Bishop. I was of two minds as I listened. On the one hand, I admire and enjoy the poets who broke new ground in American poetry soon after the middle of the 20th century, writing less formal poetry, freer verse, less metrical, often less rhetorical. On the other hand, I loved listening to Bill read as Elizabeth Bishop channeled her love of Marianne Moore, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Washington, D. C., and as she channeled her feelings of being haunted by her visits to Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth's, a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D. C., through more formal verse. She employs rhymes and purposeful repetition. Each poem has a more formal architecture -- for example "Visits to St. Elizabeth" is modeled after the English nursery rhyme, "The House that Jack Built". It's haunting to experience the haunting reality of the hospital written about in a form meant for children's poems. 

So, yes, in the world of poetry, as in every other form of art, it's always out with the old, in with the new. I love the new, but not at the expense of the old. Tonight I enjoyed listening to Bill's reading of these elegant, carefully crafted poems. I fondly remembered Elizabeth Bishop's very formal poems, her villanelle, "One Art" and her sestina, simply titled, "Sestina".  Do I want all poetry to be this formal? No. But when these more formal poems work, they engender in me admiration and a unique and deeply felt emotional response.

3. As bedtime drew near, I wasn't quite finished being moved. I watched the third episode of the second season of Midnight Diner, centered on clams steamed in sake. I won't give away the story, but will point out that, as these episodes always do, this one compressed, in the style of the haiku, a great deal of feeling into a brief story built around the co-existence of opposites. Many haiku resolve the tensions of the first two lines in the third line and I enjoyed how this story, in a similar way, arrived at its resolution in its closing minutes. 

One final note: I enjoy the energy of many people being in a single place. I enjoyed this living near Washington, D.C. New York City gives me a jolt when I'm among the crowds, whether walking the streets, sitting on a bench in Washington Square, or having a beer in a noisy tavern. London had the same effect on me, although it's been nearly 35 years since I was in London. 

I get some of that jolt from watching Midnight Diner as each episode opens with street scenes and neon around midnight in Tokyo (where I've never been). 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-25-21: Luxury Sleep, Colette Rings Me Up, Black Bean Pleasure

 1. Around 5:00 or so this morning, I woke up for a few minutes, felt a complete sense of comfort, well, luxury really, underneath my sheet and three blankets, smiled contentedly, turned on my side and slept until 9:00. For me, that's really sleeping in.

2. Colette had some time on her hands while her daughter was meeting an appointment and she called me. She updated me on things in her life and told me wonderful stories about generous poets and writers she's met, talked to, worked with, and received advice from, including Kim Stafford, Perrin Kerns, Joy Harjo, and Beth Piatote. Colette has had some bad experiences over the years with egotistical, even domineering writers in workshop situations and it was both a pleasure and a source of reassurance that she's had these other much more positive experiences with generous spirited writers and that she's having an invigorating experience as a student in the MFA program at Eastern Oregon University. Likewise, her experiences at the Fishtrap workshops have been positive, helping embolden her as a writer and expand into new writing territory(ies). 

3. After quick soaking them, I slow cooked a pot of black beans this afternoon. Then I made myself a batch of refried beans. I love black refried beans with fried eggs; I love them inside a corn tortilla with some shredded cheese; I love going to the fridge with a spoon and eating homemade refried beans from the container, as if I were sneaking spoonfuls of ice cream from the freezer. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-23-21: Making a Squash Side Dish, Family Dinner, Debbie Called

1.  For our family dinner tonight, Carol assigned me to fix a squash side dish. 


I just happened to have an acorn squash handy, one that came from a kind of wild squash plot in the very back northeast corner of our yard. I poked around a bit on the World Wide Web, looking for a recipe that included squash and that I thought would travel well in a Pyrex container.

I found one I liked the looks of: pan-fried acorn squash and quinoa bowl. I knew I wouldn't make "bowls" -- too much hassle, but I could make a convenient version of this recipe.

I fiddled a bit with the recipe. I substituted cauliflower for potatoes. I pan fried the thin squash slices in butter, not olive oil. I seasoned the carrots with cinnamon, the squash slices with allspice, and the cauliflower with za'atar. I followed the recipe by roasting the carrots and cauliflower in the oven and pan-frying the squash. I had just enough quinoa on hand to make just a bit less than the recipe called for. 

The recipe also called for a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper. 

I had used quite a bit of olive oil to prepare the carrots and cauliflower for roasting, so I cut back on the olive oil in the dressing and used pear balsamic vinegar, inspired by the undertones of the Sauvignon Blanc I was sipping on while cooking. 

It turned out that my experiments with the spices and the vinegar were sound. 

Everyone enjoyed my offering.

2. We all got together at Carol and Paul's around 4:30 for dinner. Carol made us each a tasty Whisky Sour to start and we had crackers with shrimp, cocktail sauce, and cream cheese for an appetizer.

Carol roasted a rosemary chicken and potatoes, accompanied by a delicious sauce for dinner. Christy added a vegetable tray with dill dip. I brought my squash side. Carol and Paul popped open a bottle of buttery Chardonnay and we rounded out dinner with Christy's boozy and delicious pear crisp a la mode and a short narrow glass of Christy's pear liqueur. 

It was a most convivial dinner. Our conversation bounced all over the place, in a relaxed way, as we talked about cooking, current events, local news, and other things. 

It was a comforting and easy time together.

3. Since Debbie and I live in different time zones, three hours apart, I was pleasantly surprised when, at 8:30 PST/11:30 EST, my phone rang and it was Debbie calling -- and there was no emergency! 

Debbie had a lot on her mind about reading she's been doing and we shared our impressions of Inauguration Day and chatted informally about business matters -- taxes and money, mainly -- all of it easy to discuss. We also talked tentatively, kind of dreamily, about the year 2021 and what it might look like later this year, depending on how we feel about travel. We kept it very tentative, but put a few "what ifs" out between us, while at the same time expressing patience and caution since so much remains unknown about the pandemic. 

Debbie's life in New York is full of things going on in a household with three adults and two children. There is a lot to be attended to. My life in Kellogg is placid, without bursts of activity. No one is coming and going. I don't have anything to figure out most days. We are living in very different worlds and we both seem, if not content, certainly accepting of our current arrangement and unruffled by not knowing how long we'll continue to live apart, how long Debbie will be helping out with Adrienne and Josh's family. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-23-21: Daydreams and Being of Help, Wardner High School?, Elton John and Cream

 1.  I'm very happy to be retired, but sometimes I daydream about conducting a session of instruction in a classroom. Most often, these daydreams center around a dream reunion, a gathering of former students and I getting together. In my daydreams, we explore in the present, having all aged, what the questions we explored together years ago look like to us now. How do we understand suffering all these years later? What are our thoughts, now, about the nature of human nature? Is there such a thing? What do we think it means, now, to live a well-lived life? Is there such a thing? How have our understandings of happiness changed? Do those eternal questions of philosophy arise? What is the nature of reality? How do we know what we think we know? How do we determine right action? What is the nature of conscience? What is the nature of goodness? Or, I imagine myself asking these former students, without judgment,  did this philosophical inquiry stop when the philosophy, writing, and literature courses ended? What in life endure? What is temporary? Did my students persist in exploring these questions they read about, wrote about, and discussed in the courses I used to teach? 

These are fun day dreams. I know they'll never materialize, but today a bit of those daydreams materialized in a package from Amazon that arrived on my porch. As I opened it, I was racking my brain trying to remember having even made an Amazon order. It was a book. Then I knew. It was from Val. 

Val was in an undergraduate seminar I taught in British Renaissance literature in the spring of 1983 at Whitworth. We've kept in touch, especially over the last dozen years or so, as members of a private Facebook group and as fortnightly participants in Sunday afternoon Zoom conversations.

Val is applying for admission in graduate programs in history. She's asked me to read her research essay that will accompany her application and to be an academic reference. 

The research paper she'll submit is anchored in John M. Barry's book, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America. That's the book that arrived today. To prepare to read Val's paper, I will read this book.

So, I'm going to take a break from reading about whales and fireflies, but will be learning about events of 1927 that historically parallel what Sarah M. Broom wrote about Hurricane Katrina in The Yellow House. Barry's book will be much more comprehensive. It won't be a personal history like The Yellow House. But I am expecting that some significant threads of continuity, many of them infuriating, will be clear to see as I read about the flood of 1927 and reflect upon the Hurricane Katrina.

I've downloaded an audio version of the book being read and I'll read and listen at the same time. 

I'll also get to to do what I enjoyed the most about being an instructor. I'll get to be of help.

2. A lifelong friend and native of Wardner, Idaho called me today, wondering if I knew what the Wardner High school colors were. I replied that I didn't know there ever was a Wardner High School, but my friend has reason to believe there was such a school long ago. Well, I have no documentation on hand that would answer whether Wardner ever had its own high school, so just because I don't remember Dad or Grandma or any other Wardner resident, past or present, mentioning one, I can't say for certain one way or the other. 

I'd be very interested if any one has documents that establish with certainty that at one time Wardner had a high school or whether Wardner youth always attended high school in Kellogg. (I think I know that at one time Kellogg's high school was named, Kellogg-Wardner High School. Is that correct?)

3. I decided this evening to go beyond the sea and, rather than plunge back into the world of cephalopods, I'd watch episodes of Classic Albums, the turn of the century series that played on VH1. 

I looked over what episodes are available on Amazon Prime and decided to learn more about Elton John's double album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I bought this album about forty years ago and mostly I enjoyed the sound of Elton John's voice and of his piano playing. I paid the most attention, I'd say, to "Candle in the Wind" and I enjoyed referring to anyone with the last name "Benson" or "Bennett" as "Bennie and the Jets". I also enjoyed the length and arc and epic feel of "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding".  I hadn't, however, thought much or known much about how Bernie Taupin and Elton John worked together, how Bernie Taupin approached songwriting, or how this album came to be regarded as a concept album -- some called it Elton John's "Sergeant Pepper" or "Pet Sounds". I enjoyed learning all of this as I watched this documentary and enjoyed having my already high regard for Elton John expanded.

I poured myself a little more cognac and watched another episode of Classic Albums, this one focused on Cream's Disraeli Gears

Almost immediately, my mind traveled back to just before The Plague intensified last March. My last overnight out of town outing began on March 4th when I went to the Bing Crosby Theater and reveled in a show called, "The Music of Cream" performed by a Cream tribute band which included Ginger Baker's son, Kofi, and Eric Clapton's nephew, Will Johns. For the first half of the show, the band played the album Disraeli Gears, track for track, and played a greatest hits set after intermission. 

The concert electrified me (as did the Black Jacket Orchestra playing Dark Side of the Moon and then other Pink Floyd hits the next night). 

But, equally as enjoyable as having Cream's music bring up great memories, was this documentary's exploration of Cream's formation, the debt they owe to decades old blues music, the variety of their music, their experiments, and how Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker were so seeped in classical music, jazz, and the blues and how this immersion informed Cream's music. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-22-21: Stretching Green Curry, The Marvelous Octopus, Brevity and Concentration

1.  To review: not long ago I made a green curry and served it over rice. I had about a quart of curry left over. A couple of days later, I marinated a small pork roast in about a pint of the curry overnight and then used the rest of the curry as a braise to slowly cook the roast. I served myself a bowl of pork, curry braise, and rice. I stored the braise, later added green beans, spinach, potatoes, and the last of my rice (about a cup) to it, and the result was a delicious green curry pork stew. Today, I thawed a quart of chicken stock, put my leftover stew in a pot and thinned it with chicken stock and turned the stew into soup. It's really good, very comforting. I have about one more serving or so of soup left and a small amount of chicken stock, too, so, on Saturday, I'll stretch the soup a little more and will have made these few ingredients into about five meals, all similar to one another, but none exactly the same. It's fun!

2. I decided not to start a new book today. Instead, I completed an acrostic puzzle, watched Michigan throttle Purdue, and decided to spend some time, with the aid of PBS and Amazon Prime Video, under water. Back in November I watched the Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher and later on I listened to an interview on Fresh Air with the man featured in the film. So, for the first time in my life, I've had the octopus on my mind, marveling over what an intriguing creature it is. 

Well, while reading Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders -- and having not read the table of contents --, lo and behold, I turned a page and WOW! Nezhukumatathil's book included a meditation on the octopus! Nezhukumatathil marvels at how attuned the octopus is to its environment with three hundreds suckers on each arm, suckers that detect texture, shape, and taste. The octopus is a shape shifter, can instantaneously change its color and its texture, whether hunting or protecting itself. Nezhukumatathil imagines that the octopus feels "something almost like pity" for us humans given all that s/he can do and all that we humans cannot.

After the basketball game, I decided to go to my PBS app on my smart tv and see if I could find any octopus shows. 

I found one. It's called "Octopus: Making Contact" (Season 38, Episode 1). In it, David Scheel, Professor of Marine Biology at Alaska Pacific University, decides to put a salt water tank in his living room in Anchorage and make it the home of Heidi, a day octopus. He and his teenage daughter raise Heidi and  they study Heidi's intelligence and emotional life.  Scheel's work and research extends far beyond this living room tank and this episode also takes us to Australia's Jervis Bay where Scheel studies a colony of octopuses in an underwater site nicknamed "Octopolis", where octopuses living there call into question assumptions about the octopus's life of solitude.

I hadn't had quite enough of this subject, and, just before I went to sleep, I watched the first part of the first episode of Ocean Odyssey: The Blue Realm and plunged more deeply into the world of cephalopods. More on this in another post. 

3. In between octopus programs, I watched the first two episodes of the second season of Midnight Diner. I really hate to give anything away about these stories. I was so happy to watch them fresh, with no idea of what they would be about, that I would hate to spoil this experience for another viewer.

What I will say, though, is that I am enjoying short works. Much like Aimee Nezhukumatathil's short meditations in World of Wonders, much like Donald Hall's short essays in Carnival of Losses, and much like the haiku, I find that the short episodes (under 30 minutes) of Midnight Diner are concentrated, intensifying their emotional impact. It's why I never watch more than one or two episodes at a time. I don't want these stories to all pile on top of each other in my mind in a single session. I want to savor them slowly, just one or two at time. I'm going to return to World of Wonders and do the same thing. I'll just reread one or two of Nezhukumatathil's at a time, let them sink in more, as if they, like Midnight Diner episodes, were the brief chapters (or sections) of the Tao de Ching

Friday, January 22, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-21-21: Connectedness, Pork Curry Stew, *Spotlight*

 1.  By the time I reached the end of Aimee Nezhukumatathil's book, World of Wonders, I wanted to go back and start reading it again. Not only did I want to go back and try to secure in my memory the factual words she wrote about fireflies, dancing frogs, dragon fruit, corpse flowers, red-spotted newts, and touch-me-nots, and many other natural wonders, but I wanted to immerse myself in again in the poetry of her short prose pieces and further relish her vision of the connectedness of all things. She examines connectedness in the scientific and ecological sense, but even more intriguing to me was how each flower, animal, insect, and every other living thing was connected to the story of her life. These wonders of nature instruct Nezhukumatathil how to be in the world, how to navigate microaggressions directed at her for being brown skinned, to relish marriage and being a mother, to be resilient in the face of moving repeatedly from place to another in her youth and young adulthood, and to immerse herself in the dance and cycles of life. 

Here's an example. Nezhukumatathil writes:  "If a white girl tries to tell you what your brown skin can and cannot wear for makeup, just remember the smile of the axolotl. The best thing to do in that situation is just smile and smile, even if your smile is thin. The tighter your smile, the tougher you become" (43).  Nezhukumatathil's meditation on the axolotl develops connections between this amphibian and lipstick, a buffoon on her tenure committee, keeping her mouth shut, human activity causing extinction, and, remarkably, the formation of galaxies. Let me repeat -- Aimee Nezhukumatathil's sees these apparently disparate elements of life as connected and connects them to each other by reflecting upon the axolotl. It's the mode of thinking and writing that gives this book its coherence. 

Her mind at work is a wonder. 

2. Combining the green curry braise leftover yesterday from braising a pork roast yesterday with some green beans and spinach, a few small Yukon gold potatoes, a handful of cooked rice, and pieces of pork resulted in a delicious stew, unlike any I'd ever eaten before.

3. Writer and director Tom McCarthy has brought to life three movies I love: The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Spotlight. On a whim tonight, when I thought I would return to Midnight Diner before going to sleep, I watched Spotlight again. This story of a group of Boston Globe reporters investigating priests sexually abusing children and the accompanying cover up is riveting. So is this film's cast. When this movie concluded, along with feeling the emotional power of the story's subject matter, I also felt the power of the movie's superb ensemble, particularly Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, and (my favorite) Michael Keaton -- but every actor, whether in a large or small role, was superb. I now want to watch The Visitor again, one of my very favorite "dead character come to life again" movies and watch the brilliant Richard Jenkins and the commanding Hiam Abbass. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-20-21: Today's Inauguration, Braising Pork, *World of Wonders*

1. Until today, I'd never seen a Presidential Inauguration. As a boy, I was always in school. As an adult, I was either at work or, if not working, lived in a household without a television. So, this morning, I tuned in, shortly before the swearings in of Vice-President Harris and President Biden. I didn't expect to be choked up so often. Lady Gaga moved me. So did Jennifer Lopez. So did Garth Brooks. Tears rolled down my face when Andrea Hall signed and spoke the Pledge of Allegiance. Amanda Gordon astonished and moved me. Our son-in-law Hiram, who played in the last two inaugurations with the President's Own Marine Band, had this one off, so I didn't need to strain my eyes trying to find him, but I sure enjoyed the band's performances. 

I'll always miss living near Washington, D.C. Most of all, I miss the great variety of people who live where I lived for three years. Washington, D.C., and the surrounding suburbs, enriched me as I heard so many different ways of speaking, heard so many languages, saw so many different ways to dress and wear one's hair, lived where I could shop at food markets from around the world, eat the cuisine of many cultures, and have conversations with people whose backgrounds and ways of experiencing the world differed widely from mine. As I watched today's Inauguration, I know that what moved me, in part, was that the variety I cherish so much in the USA was on stage. I know that neither an inaugural program nor President Biden's inaugural speech will unify our country. I don't expect that. But, this inauguration and President Biden's speech set a conciliatory tone and established a yearning for unity in our country. That moved me. 

2. For maybe twenty minutes, I listened to some analysis of the Inauguration, but decided that I didn't really want to hear people talk about it. I wanted what I'd experienced to settle inside me, uncommented on.  The small chunk of today's proceedings was all I wanted to watch. I wanted to preserve it within me. I didn't tune in for the music, speeches, and fireworks that I understand came later in the day. 

Instead, I cooked for a while. I took out the small pork roast I marinated in green curry, let it warm to room temperature, and then I braised it for several hours on the stovetop in the the green curry that I didn't use in the marinate. 

Overall, cooking the roast this way was a success. I removed the pork roast from the braise, cut it up, put some rice and pork in a bowl and poured braise over it. I enjoyed this dinner and am beginning to think that a kind of curry pork soup might be coming up next.

3. Having finished The Yellow House, today I read most of Aimee Nezhukumatathil's book, World of Wonders. The book is a series of short lyrical meditations. Each meditation focuses on a single flower or tree or insect or animal or another subject (e. g. monsoons, being a mother for the first time) and Nezhukaumatathil connects what she sees in the natural world with her personal experience, giving much attention, inevitably, to her experience as a brown-skinned girl and woman in the different parts of the United States where she's lived. It's an intriguing and beautiful way of exploring the wonders of the natural world and of writing a memoir. It's unlike any book I've ever read. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-19-21: Marinating Pork, No Tidy Ending, Tree House Concert BONUS A Limerick by Stu

1. I'm hoping that the small pork roast I took out today, covered with a Thai rub, poked slits in with a paring knife, and marinated in my recent green curry will braise well on Wednesday. I'm looking forward to the results of this experiment.

2. I finished The Yellow House today and admired that much like the subject matter of the book itself, Sarah M. Broom's memoir did not draw to a tidy close, suggesting that the impact of living in New Orleans East and of Hurricane Katrina is ongoing, never reaches a neat conclusion.

3. I poured myself a small drink, what I'll call a "limeless margarita", by combining Cointreau and 1800 tequila over a little ice and tuned in to tonight's Tree House Concert. Bill took us back to some of his early songs, including the great, "Mornings", and read beautifully from the poetry of Robert Bly and introduced us to an old Arabic and Islamic form of poetry called the ghazal (pronounced "guzzle"). 

The concert ended just as the nail-biting game between Villanova and Seton Hall was drawing to a close, so I got to see the Wildcats, after a 27 day Covid pause, squeak out a 76-74 win. 


Here's a limerick by Stu: 

A day like no other is here. 
There’s moping by some, others cheer. 
But regardless of view, 
Your future’s all up to you. 
Let’s learn from mistakes in our rear.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-18-21: Dental Spa, New Orleans East, Natural History

 1. In contrast to the torturous experience dental appointments were in my youth, over the last twenty years or so, thanks to advances in dentistry, I've begun thinking of these visits as going to the dental spa. I am relaxed, cared for, and cleaned up. It's almost entirely painless. Afterward, my mouth feels fresh and my teeth look better. My regimen of brushing and cleaning is working. Today, my exam was a positive one and I'll return for another cleaning in May.

2. I suppose it was inevitable. Sarah M. Broom moved back to New Orleans and rented a small apartment in the French Quarter. In writing The Yellow House, she is driven to investigate as much as she can about her family and about the city's neglect of New Orleans East, especially after Hurricane Katrina. Living in the the French Quarter greatly improved Sarah M. Broom's proximity to government offices, the public library, and other place where she could dive into property records, zoning regulations, and other documents along with being not too far from where her mother lives, fairly close to her brother Carl, and within reach of the lot where the yellow house once stood before the city demolished it. 

I didn't quite finish this book last night, but I'm close. It's difficult for me to sum up the level of neglect and indifference Sarah M. Bloom describes and how invisible the poverty, dilapidation, and despair of New Orleans East is, especially after Hurricane Katrina. Almost the only time any one pays attention to this ward of New Orleans is when killings happen -- and so, as with so many urban areas, in the public eye, crime, especially murder, comes to define these places. 

3. I'm starting to think ahead about what to read next. It's possible that the book I enjoyed most in 2020 was Lucy Cooke's The Unexpected Truth About Animals. I've been reading history, poetry, fiction, and memoir. I have more history, a biography, more poetry, and another memoir piled right next to me here in the living room to read.

But, I think I'm going to focus on plants and animals for a while. I'm definitely going to read Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders next. I have two books about whales in my shopping cart and today I discovered a writer who lives in Spokane, Ben Goldfarb, and his book about beavers looks irresistible. I might welcome a break from reading about humans and spending a few weeks in nature. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-17-21: Vigorous ZOOM Talking, Enchilada Dinner, Windstorm and Family Trees

 1. Bill, Diane, Val, Bridgit, and I jumped on ZOOM this afternoon. Part of our discussion was spent talking about history and how knowing what's come before us over the span of our nation's history creates some context for the Jan. 6th occupation of the Capitol building. 

Later, we veered into a discussion of art, especially poetry and music, and the marketplace. We bemoaned the marketplace, lamented the inevitable influence of money. The marketplace and its appetite for profit dictates what art is readily available for us: what music we hear, what performers are accessible, what poetry gets published, and so on. At the same time, we expressed gratitude for writing groups, small music venues, small publishers of books, small magazines, Live Facebook, and other other ways, mostly under the radar, that we can experience the arts. It was also fun talking about live performances being almost always preferable to music made in studios, the power of producers, and how fortunate we've all been to hear so much superb music in coffee houses, taverns, small rooms, living rooms, and other more intimate venues. 

This discussion of the arts was connected to the work Bill is doing right now to self-publish a volume of his poetry. The project has taken a significant turn in the last few days since Diane, at Bill's request, became more actively involved helping Bill edit the volume. Bill and Diane explained how Diane advised that maybe Bill's original concept for organizing the book and his initial ideas for which poems to include needed a second look. As a result, the project is moving in a different direction that Bill seems happier with, a direction made possible by Diane's honest articulation of how his original approach affected her. 

These discussions were awesome. 

2. Christy prepared incredibly delicious chicken enchiladas for tonight's family dinner. She also prepared a stunning shrimp cocktail for a starter. Carol and Paul provided chips and salsa, sour cream, and guacamole to augment our meal. I was in charge of cocktails and, thanks to Debbie, introduced a new vessel to drink from and a new cocktail to our Sunday proceedings. First, Debbie sent us all a silver insulated Yeti tumbler for our family dinner cocktails -- the drinks stay cold and undiluted -- the ice doesn't melt. Second, a little bit ago she told me that she's been enjoying a variation on the Moscow Mule made with tequila -- it's called either a Tequila Mule or a Mexican Mule. I found a simple recipe that includes Cointreau, which I keep on hand, and we all agreed that it was a superb cocktail.

3. I had quite a day for great conversation today. Christy, Carol, Paul, and I were all over the place this evening. We dipped in and out of the subject of the current national news, but actually gave more of our attention to wind storm stories (who has power? what trees have fallen? who served community food?) and to the histories of different people in Kellogg. When we discuss who graduated when, who is married to whom, who was married to whom, who left Kellogg when, who lives in what house where, who used to live in what house where, and so on, an onset of Silver Valley vertigo comes over me. It's funny. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-16-21: Grievous Discovery, Family Dinner Prep, Sarah M. Broom Leaves City Hall

 1. This morning, I was letting myself be transported back to the two years I taught at Whitworth in the early 1980s (1982-84) and to the other years of that decade when I lived in Eugene by listening to 1980s New Wave Music on Pandora. Two Thompson Twins songs, "Hold Me Now" and "Doctor, Doctor" called up memories of a memorable student of mine from 1984, Brian Senter. He was in two of my classes (The Family in American Drama and Intro to Lit). About ten years after I left Whitworth, Diane Anderson and I  went to see him perform in the play "Bus Stop" at the Seattle Repertory Theater (I think) and two times after that Brian looked me up in Eugene when he was in town to visit another former Whitworth student, Richard. After his second visit, I lost track of Brian and so today I put his name in a search engine and his obituary came up. Brian died in an automobile-pedestrian accident in 2015. 

This news stabbed me. I am a slow feeling person. I am entering into a long slow grief now. From reading his obituary, I know Brian served his students passionately and with love, lived faithfully in the embrace of the Orthodox Church, was a beloved husband and father, and was deeply respected and admired. Knowing he lived well gives me solace. Knowing he died is grievous.

2. I will mix our cocktails for family dinner on Sunday. We will be having enchiladas, chips, salsa, and other similar food, so I bought a bottle of 1800 silver tequila at the liquor store and stocked up on limes and ginger beer and am prepared to make everyone a Mexican Mule, but, if anyone so desires, I can also whip up a quick Cointreau margarita.

3. I read more of The Yellow House today. Sarah M. Broom worked as long as she could in Burundi. She returned to New Orleans, though, and worked as a writer for the mayor, Ray Nagin, as the slow and painful recovery from Hurricane Katrina proceeded. The city was a mess with its piles of refuse, badly compromised street draining systems, houses either destroyed or in disrepair, its growing number of homeless citizens, its relief programs mired in bureaucracy, and more. Sarah M. Broom left this job after six months, exhausted, concluding that working for city hall placed her on the wrong side of the fence. She returned to New York to reclaim her voice, a voice temporarily lost to producing words for Mayor Nagin to speak. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-15-21: *The Yellow House* and New Orleans, Green Curry, Sirloin Tip Pork Roast

 1. As I move deeper into Sarah M. Broom's lyrical, evocative, and disturbing memoir, The Yellow House, I am growing increasingly absorbed by her style of writing and what she writes about. While, yes, her story focuses on her family's history, her mother's story, the stories of her eleven siblings, and on her own experiences and inward thoughts as she matures out of childhood and adolescence into adulthood, this book is always about New Orleans. 

I should say it's always about New Orleans East, in case when I wrote "New Orleans" you immediately pictured the French Quarter, elegant hotels, jazz music coming out of one joint after another, countless vendors selling hurricanes and margaritas dispensed from slurpee machines, some of the world's finest dining, and, of course, the exuberance of Carnival concluding with Mardi Gras. 

The yellow house of this book's title is in New Orleans East, a vicinity of New Orleans fifty times larger than the French Quarter and the site of exaggerated promises, shoddy development, dashed hopes, and water. When the levees first broke in late August and early September of 2005 as Hurricane Katrina pounded New Orleans, the first place to be submerged in unimaginably deep, filthy, toxic, and powerful surges of water was New Orleans East. Sarah M. Broom lived in Harlem in 2005. She worked for O Magazine. But several family members endured Katrina. 

Reading the stories of her family members, I thought back to the time of Katrina. I was in suburban Chicago. I went to a barbecue where I sat in stunned silence as people at this get together, professional, upper-ish middle class suburbanites, could only blame the victims of the storm, especially people like Sarah M. Broom's family, black, getting by, people of limited means. "Why didn't they just leave? I don't feel sorry for them. They chose to stay. Why do they live there anyway? Don't they know it's below sea level? What did they think would happen?"

The people at this party, as well as a man I later dined with at Denny's after a Bears football game, were completely hypnotized and outraged by the one thing the television networks seemed most obsessed with: looting and other crimes. The people I was around feasted on rumors about and any footage the networks showed of black people acting in ways that confirmed their cruelest preconceptions of black people being uncivilized and lawless. They delighted in having these preconceptions, in their minds, confirmed. 

Sarah M. Broom tells a different story of Katrina as experienced by her mother and some of her sisters and brothers.  It's about separation, desperation, fear, escape, relocation, helping others, togetherness, love, rescue, and, ultimately, relief that, in time, all were accounted for. 

By the way, not once in her book does Sarah M. Broom ask readers to feel sorry for her or her family; nor does she solicit our pity. Whatever a reader feels rises out of the story's details, out of Sarah M. Broom's eloquence.

I have about 150 pages to go in this enthralling memoir. When I wrapped up my reading, Sarah M. Broom had just quit her job at O Magazine and moved to Burundi. 

2. I took a break from The Yellow House and wrapped a cubed block of tofu in paper towels to drain the water from it. Meanwhile, I heated up a couple of tablespoons of green curry paste, added two cans of coconut milk, two tablespoons of soy sauce, fish sauce, and brown sugar to it. I had chopped up some fresh basil leaves and dropped those in along with about three dried kaffir lime leaves. I had sliced an onion and added the slices to this mix and put in the tofu cubes and let it slow cook until the onions were tender. 

Earlier, I had made cooked a large batch of chewy white rose rice and not only did I enjoy a bowl of this green curry over the rice for dinner, I have plenty of leftovers. I hope I remember to add green beans to this curry. Maybe some broccoli, too. I just wasn't thinking very clearly when I made the original batch. 

3.  Once a month, Carol and Paul make a trip to Costco and pick up whatever I ask them to. Today, I requested something I've never bought before. A couple of weeks ago, Carol and Paul prepared a small pork roast for family dinner and mentioned that it was one of three or four small roasts that come in a pack at Costco.

Christy gave me several tins of rubs for my birthday and I decided that a pack of these roasts would be perfect some experimenting with them. 

I haven't made any decisions, yet, but the thought of moving my cooking in yet another direction excited me today when Paul delivered the groceries I ordered. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-14-21: Game Changer, Reading in the Sunlight, Power Returns - So Does *Midnight Diner*

1.  Last night, Christy told me something I'd never thought of. (Get ready. It's one of those things almost every person I know would have known.) She told me that our neighbor Jane told her it was a good thing I had a gas range because I could manually light my burners. In my long and patchy life, every single time I've lit up a burner on a gas range, I've used the built-in electric starter. 

First thing I did this morning when I woke up in front of Christy's fireplace, stretched out in her recliner?

I watched a YouTube video about lighting a gas burner when the power is out. 

Christy just happened to have an unopened Bic long-range butane lighter on hand, gave it to me, and, once I'd shaken the morning cobwebs, I returned to my refrigerated house, fired up the Bic, turned on a burner, put the flame next to where the gas comes out, and PRESTO!, I could boil water and cook.

I immediately made Christy a thermos of boiling water and myself a cup of coffee.  I nearly filled the Dutch oven with water, put it on the most powerful burner, and brought it to a boil so I'd have some hot water for miscellaneous things I might want to do later. 

Knowing I can manually light my gas range's burner is, to quote Debbie, a game changer. For you reading this, it might be hilarious that I could so ignorant not knowing about lighting the burners manually. That's okay. Really. I can take it. Laugh it up! For me, it's just a simple case of better late than never having learned such a game changing fact.

2. With the power out, I was grateful that today turned out to be mostly sunny day. The natural light in the living room made reading easy and, as the sun moved west, more and more warmth poured into the living room. I dove back into The Yellow House. I'm loving it. I comforted myself with a bowl of steaming oatmeal with raisins, blueberries, and peanut butter with milk. Cas texted me to make sure I was doing all right. Like Carol and Paul, his power had been restored at home and at the Lounge earlier in the day. He also offered Christy firewood if she ran low. 

Not being able to busy myself with much else and being physically fairly comfortable, I leaned into the power outage. I read. I napped in the living room chair. I updated Debbie once in a while. I did the same with Stu. 

I was especially grateful for the sunlight.

3. Around 3:00, I heated up the marinara sauce and meatballs I had left over from Sunday's dinner and I boiled about 3/4s of a pound of penne, thinking that I was ready for a hot meal and knowing Christy would, no doubt, also enjoy this food.

Then, just before 4:00, after 32 hours, the power popped back on. The furnace kicked on. Slowly the house warmed up. 

I thought of two things: I can run the dishwasher and I can catch up on my blog. 

Christy came over with a container and returned home with penne and meatballs. 

As I was blogging away, Terry and Stu both sent me messages about the Zags game that had started at 6 p.m.

I was so eager to catch up on my blogging, that I forgot all about the basketball game. 

Power outage amnesia.

I decided not to flip it on. The house was quiet. I was enjoying writing. So I kept an eye on the score online, got a few more messages from Byrdman, Terry, and Stu, and got caught up.

When I turned in for the night, I watched one episode of Midnight Diner in bed, a sublime, moving father/daughter story. I didn't watch any others, contemplated what I'd just seen, and felt happy that I had decided about a month ago not to binge watch this series, but to watch it one or two episodes at a time so that each elegant story sinks in.

This episode's featured dish was sauced yakisoba with a fried egg on top. This meal played an essential and profound part in this episode's story. I don't want to give how or why away. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-13-21: New Book for the Power Outage, Christy's Fireplace, Sleeping with Cats

 1. I had settled in this morning, enjoyed a couple cups of coffee, was getting ready to head up to the clinic to meet my appointment with the nephrologist. My lab results came in this morning and I studied them, hoping that Dr. Bieber would agree with me that things still look pretty stable, albeit with a little slippage.

Then, around 8:00, the power went off.  Dr. Bieber's office called. My 9:00 appointment was off and we rescheduled. 

So, of course, I wondered how long this outage would last. The winds had been howling all night and continued to whip through our area all morning and into the late afternoon. The big tree in front of the Tall Pine drive-in in Pinehurst blew down. I hundred foot tree just east of Jim Byrd's house dropped across Maple Street in CdA. I began to realize that this windstorm was knocking down trees all over and wires and other parts of the power grid were also going down.

I began seeing notices that it could be anywhere from 36-72 hours before power would be restored in some areas.

So, I settled in.  I took the flashlight out of the Sube and put new batteries in it. Christy boiled water on her gas grill and brought me a thermos of hot water. I made coffee and, later, ginger tea. I got out a bunch of blankets. I put on gloves.

I also started reading a new book, The Yellow House, by Sarah M Broom. It's a memoir of her family's house located in New Orleans East, how her mother came to by the house, and the many many family members who either preceded her mother's purchase or who lived in this house. It's lyrical, touching, insightful, and bursting with vigorous detail about life in this part of New Orleans. I know where it's headed. In fact, today I got a foretaste of where it's going when I read the chapter describing the power and destruction of Hurricane Betsy. This book is headed toward Hurricane Katrina. Already, I feel like I'm reading a very specific family history that could have been a part of Spike Lee's devastating documentary on Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke

2. Christy's house next door has a fireplace. Thank God. Around 7 or so, I left the darkness of my house and the growing chill and plunked myself in the recliner that sits right close to the fireplace. Christy had a roaring fire going. I got myself situated and we gabbed for a couple of hours about things local and things national. Yes, it was dark, but Christy had candles and other lights on that gave us some light. I was really grateful for the time we spent shooting the breeze and that I wasn't freezing.

3. I slept in the recliner under a huge and very warm comforter of Christy's. During the night, Christy's cats, for sure William and Grayson (unsure about Winnie), jumped up on me and warmed themselves on my chest. I loved it. It's been many years since I've had cats join me while sleeping.  I found several ways, with or without cats on me, to get comfortable in the recliner and got a good night's sleep. 

Three Beautiful Things 01-12-21: Finishing Up *Pretend It's a City*, Tree House Concert, Bedtime with *Midnight Diner*

 1.  I never read a movie review to determine whether I should see a movie. Sometimes, after I've watched something I will, out of curiosity, see what some reviewers thought. For example, after finishing watching the last two episodes of Pretend It's a City, I could tell from a headline or something that Brian Lowry of CNN had a different experience with these seven episodes of conversation between Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz than I did.  I read his piece, and, indeed, about this series of seven short films, he wrote "it would take a great pretender to act like it's worthy of the time devoted to them."

Well, Mr, DJ, please cue up The Platters because I am a great pretender! Not only did I think watching and listening to Fran Lebowitz was worthy of the time I devoted to these seven short films, I would have happily watched and listened to seven more and possibly seven after that! 

I love listening to Fran Lebowitz riff on everything from people texting while they walk in Manhattan to the glory of reading books. I laughed, I thought harder about things, I loved how often she just killed off Martin Scorsese, often making him bend over he was laughing so hard, and I enjoyed that she has the encyclopedic knowledge about New York City and the many years of experience in Manhattan that she does -- and lets us know all about it!  

So, see? How about if I'd read Brian Lowry first and not realized that I have a nearly insatiable appetite for listening to Fran Lebowitz and that I enjoy listening to someone as magnetic and intelligent and experienced as Fran Lebowitz improvise, roam around, riff, and take us half way around the world as she discusses what's on her mind? And believed him? I might not have watched it. 

But what I've learned over the years is that when I watch things I, as best I can, let them be what they are and give all the effort I can to enjoying it. I don't impose notions of what I think the movie ought to be. This approach helps me enjoy a wide variety of movies and approaches. 

So, I will repeat for the 400,000th time on this blog: I would make a lousy film or book or restaurant critic. 

About 98% of the time, I just like stuff.  

I went a step farther with Pretend It's a City: I loved it!

2. With a short pour of Crater Lake Prohibition gin and a little ice in hand, I tuned into tonight's Tree House Concert and enjoyed another hour of Bill Davie playing and singing and reading poetry. He fulfilled a request from a friend regarding what poetry to read. Without looking, maybe even blindfolded, Bill went to his extensive poetry library and blindly pulled two slim volumes off the shelf for tonight's reading. He blindly grabbed Ron Padgett's poems off the shelf. 

The poetry break came after Bill powered up his concert with the great "How Long You Gonna Wait?" to open, later played the very timely "The Sun in the Windows", and ended the first set with one of my favorite car wreck songs, right up there with "Dead Man's Curve" and "Last Kiss". Actually, Bill's "The Man in the Dead Machine" is my favorite car wreck song because the car gets killed but Bill survived. The second set featured the great on my lips song, "Learning to Say Goodbye" and was begun and ended by two especially heart touching songs, "Father to Father #2" and "Night Sky". 

3.  The last two nights, instead of reading in bed before conking out, I've watched short features on Netflix. Last night, I watched two episodes of Pretend It's a City. Tonight, I watched two episodes of Midnight Diner. It had been a few weeks since I last watched Midnight Diner and am I ever happy I returned to this show. Tonight's episodes were both man and woman meet each other at the Midnight Diner stories. Both were sweet and tender and very different from each other. I really don't want to give any of either story away. I'll just say that I loved how both episodes opened up elements of day to day life in Japan that were interesting and contributed significantly to both love stories. 

What foods were featured? In Episode 6 of Season 1, Master served Katsudon, a rice bowl featuring deep fried pork cutlets with egg and Oyakodon, or "parent and child". It's chicken, egg, and scallion in stock and soy sauce served over rice.  Episode 7 featured Master's tomago sando or  egg salad sandwich. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-11-21: Vaccine Update, Plug It In the Wall Outlet, I Love *Pretend It's a City*

 1. On our sibling outing, Carol told Christy and me that she knew of people around town who had been vaccinated for Covid at  Kellogg's Panhandle Health District office in the last week. I read other rumors on Facebook about local vaccines. So, I checked it out this morning by rocketing over to the Panhandle Health District office. I had no expectations. I simply wanted to find out whatever I could. I arrived. The parking lot was empty. On the front door of the building housing the district office was a sign announcing the office was open, but the lobby was closed. I went to the door leading into the lobby and an employee leapt to her feet, left her desk, unlocked the door, and, when I asked her about vaccines, she told me they had run out and didn't know when the next shipment would arrive. 

No problem. I've been living with the mild expectation, from reading distribution plans, that my time for a shot would come in April. I'm fine with that, but will be happy if I happen to be inoculated earlier. I enjoyed how helpful the woman was who answered my questions, thanked her very much, vaulted back into the Sube, and blasted home again.

2.  Back home, I tackled my second big question of the day: why have I lost internet service in the house? 

Fortunately, Christy's signal from next door is strong enough that I can tap into her service (and she says that's fine with her).

So, I fired up the Ziply Fiber website, clicked the "chat" function, and almost instantly Amber came online. We got a couple preliminary questions taken care of and soon she asked me if my router was plugged directly into a wall outlet. No it isn't. It's plugged into an extension cord that's plugged into a power strip.

She wondered if I could plug it into an outlet directly. It took a very little rearranging of the Vizio room, but in just a few minutes I moved the router to the south side of the room, near an outlet, and plugged it in. Directly. 

Problem solved. The router evidently hadn't been getting enough juice the way I'd had it plugged in. 

I thanked Amber very much for her help and, after a little breakfast, got caught up on my blogging here at the mighty kelloggbloggin.

3. I heated up some of the spaghetti sauce and meatballs I made for Sunday's birthday/family dinner, added some fennel seeds to it, thinned it with pasta water, and poured in over a bowl of penne. I also poured myself a small glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This simple meal somehow perfectly accompanied my viewing of Pretend It's a City on Netflix. It's a seven episode series. Each episode is under a half an hour long. Primarily, it features Martin Scorsese interviewing writer, public speaker, and occasional actor, Fran Lebowitz, who, for my money, is, if not a national treasure, certainly a Manhattan treasure. Lebowitz has lived, written, driven cab, hobnobbed, opined, and roamed the streets in Manhattan for over fifty years. In these interviews her acerbic wit, sheer verbal eloquence, shrewd observations, mighty, and sometimes blistering, opinions, and deep love and passion for Manhattan gives this series its richness, vitality, and, for me, irresistibility. 

I think it's fair to say that I just cannot get enough of reading or watching documentaries and movies about New York City and that listening to Fran Lebowitz tell stories, riff on her neuroses, rhapsodize about what she loves about New York City, bemoan what's been lost over the past five decades, and describe her financial life, defined by her simultaneous hatred of money and love of expensive apartments, fine furniture, and staggering personal library (over 10,000 books) moved me to feel astonishment, intrigue, and wistfulness -- and, more than anything, made me laugh. 

I watched five episodes this evening and the only reason I'm not looking forward to the last two is that I don't want this series to end. But, all will not be lost. About ten years ago HBO broadcast a documentary about Fran Lebowitz, directed by Martin Scorsese, entitled, Public Speaking -- and I just moved it to the top of my Netflix DVD queue (yes, I still have DVDs come to me in my mailbox!). I need to watch the DVD I presently have on hand and send it back so that I can get Public Speaking and enjoy more of Fran Lebowitz in action.

I think I'll add a note here at the end -- it's not uncommon, living in Kellogg, and being a (almost) lifelong westerner to hear people complain about obnoxious, arrogant, opinionated, haughty people "back East" -- maybe especially New Yorkers, but not exclusively. Fran Lebowitz epitomizes and embodies all of these complaints I've heard over the years. For whatever reason, these qualities that so many people I've known over the years find hard to abide, I enjoy. They do not mirror my personality at all. I'm mild mannered, more passive than aggressive, rarely opinionated, and try to be accepting and easy to please. So, when I sit and listen to, become enthralled by, and laugh out loud at and with Fran Lebowitz, it's not because we have much in common (aside from affection for New York City). I can't explain why I enjoy her and listening to other similar people. But I do. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-10-21: Making Sauce, Making Meatballs, Great Birthday/Family Dinner

 1. Christy requested that, for her birthday, we combine her birthday dinner with family dinner. She submitted her birthday dinner request: Old-Fashioned cocktails, a green salad dressed with the bleu cheese dressing that we have been enjoying for decades in our family, spaghetti and meatballs, and a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Carol went a step beyond and offered us slices of baguette with a variety of vinegars to combine with oil to dip the bread in.

I volunteered to make the Old-Fashioneds and that was easy.

I also volunteered to make the spaghetti and meatballs because I had never cooked meatballs and I enjoy making spaghetti sauces. 

The American Test Kitchen book, What Good Cooks Know, features a marinara sauce and meatballs recipe and I decided to give it a try.  

To get started, I finely chopped three onions, minced about ten cloves of garlic, chopped up parsley and fresh basil, and I put these ingredients in bowls. I opened four 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes and one 6 oz can of tomato paste. I measured out two different amounts of Parmesan cheese and put this in two bowls, measured out oregano into a small bowl, and measured out a cup of red wine.

I got the sauce started by cooking the finely chopped onion in a quarter cup of olive oil in the Dutch oven until the onion bits were golden, about twenty five minutes, I'd say. Then I added in eight garlic cloves minced and a tablespoon of oregano and cooked it until fragrant, no long.  I divided this mixture, one half for the sauce and the other for the meatballs.

Into the onion mix for the sauce, I stirred a can of tomato paste and cooked it for about a minute until fragrant. Then I added the cup of red wine and cooked this mixture for about two minutes. A cup of water came next, followed by the four cans of crushed tomatoes and I simmered all of this for about an hour. At the end of the hour, I added in about a half cup of chopped fresh basil leaves and a half a cup of Parmesan cheese.

2. During the hour that the sauce was simmering, I got going on the meatballs. To start, I tore up five slices of Dave's thin sliced Killer White Bread Done Right into a large bowl and poured 3/4 of a cup of milk over the bread. I got a fork and mashed the bread and milk until it was smooth, creating a panade. To the panade, I added the other half of the onion mixture, about a half a pound of ground sweet sausage, a cup of Parmesan cheese, a half a cup of chopped parsley, 2-3 minced garlic cloves, some salt, and 2 1/2 pounds of ground chuck.

I washed my hands, and, with my clean paws, I mixed all the ingredients together and then made three batches of meatballs. I only have one rimmed baking sheet, so I had to bake each batch separately in a 475 degree oven for twenty minutes. From the baking sheet, the meatballs went into the sauce where they simmered along with the sauce and finished cooking through.

My Dutch oven would not hold all of this sauce and all 33 meatballs, so I divided the sauce into two batches, put one batch in a smaller Dutch oven, and divided the meatballs between the two. 

When I volunteered to make the spaghetti sauce, I wanted to make one that would take a lot of time. I like to prepare slow food and I also like to serve and eat it. 

3. I packed up three quarts of the sauce, the ingredients for the Old-Fashioneds, and a pound of uncooked spaghetti and headed over to Carol's.

Upon arrival, I put on four quarts of salted water to boil and put on the sauce in a pot on the stove to keep it heated. 

I used my muller and crushed a single ice cube in each of the four Old-Fashioned glasses and shook out dashes of orange bitters onto the sugar and added a teaspoon of water to each glass. I stirred this and added, per glass, two ounces of Buffalo Trail Bourbon, put ice in each glass, stirred each drink to make it colder, and garnished each glass with an orange slice.

While the water crept toward boiling and the sauce heated up, I joined the other as we drank our cocktails and ate the baguette pieces Carol put out.

The water began to boil and I cooked the spaghetti, drew a cup of pasta water from the pot, and drained the noodles. With everyone's permission, I served the pasta and sauce all combined in a single large bowl. I began by putting a few spoonfuls of sauce (without meatballs) over the spaghetti, added some pasta water, and then once the consistency was about right, I added more sauce and meatballs to the spaghetti.

It was really good dinner. Carol put out red wine for us and we enjoyed our meal. Carol also had two slender, kind of tall shot glasses made for each of us. Each glass was inscribed with one of Everett's favorite sayings. Carol gave Debbie and me glasses with these famous Everett words, "Did you hear the one one about..." and "The first hundred years are are the toughest."

Three Beautiful Things 01-09-21:Up the River, City Limits French Dip, Prepping for Sunday

 1.  January 9th. Christy's birthday. 

For her birthday, Christy requested a sibling outing. As I wrote on my last post, we had originally planned to take abundantly cautious measures and make a trip to Spokane, but postponed that idea because of Covid closures in Spokane.

Instead, we piled into Christy's brand spanking new white Subaru Outback and headed up the Coeur d'Alene River. As it turned out, Christy gave her new car the pothole test. She opted for us to drive on the Old River Road once we got to the Bumblebee Bridge. The Outback passed the test. There weren't too many of us on the road or in the area. We saw the pickups and toy trailers of snowmobilers and one family was having a campfire near the road, seated in fold up camping chairs and enjoying a fairly mild January day.

We made two or three stops to get out and take pictures. But, aside from that, our trip featured a lot of yakkin' about a lot of different stuff, quite a few laughs, and couple hours or so of just having fun.

2. We left the river road and headed over Dobson Pass and came down into Wallace. We stopped at City Limits and Christy and Carol went inside to order our lunch to go. Christy and I ordered a French dip and Carol ordered a Cobb salad. We took our food back to Kellogg to Carol and Paul's house. 

I got to thinking. 

Since March 13th, the last time I ate at Sam's, I've eaten one breakfast outdoors at Le Peep with Mary in CdA, have brought home pizza on two occasions from Yoke's, and I shared a pizza from Papa Murphy's with Christy. Debbie and I ate some great snacks at Diane's one evening. 

If I'm not mistaken, every other meal I've eaten in the last nine months or so has been home cooked -- either Debbie or I cooked it here at home or my sisters cooked the meals. 

I've loved this arrangement. I've enjoyed cooking. I really enjoyed what Debbie prepared for meals while she was in Kellogg. It's been fun and tasty to have returned to having family dinners.

But, I would never have the ingredients at home, the sandwich roll, the thin sliced brisket, the Swiss cheese, nor the cup of Au Jus needed to make the French dip I ordered at City Limits.  I hadn't had a French dip sandwich since Byrdman and I went to The Dipper in CdA on Feb. 28, 2020. 

I loved my sandwich. It sent my memory traveling in two directions. First, I loved the French dip at Billy Mac's in Eugene and I thought about the many, many fun Thursday nights meeting up with friends there. I also let my mind remember a string of visits to City Limits, some of them were family outings and included Mom, some of them were outings Debbie and I went on, but all of them were special to me. Now I'll just wait patiently until the time is right (for me) to go back into the City Limits. I will enjoy dining, yes, and I'll really enjoy drinking some of their fine beers again.

3. Back home, I tuned into the Portland/Gonzaga basketball game, but only paid attention to it in spurts. The Zags clobbered the Pilots 116-88. Most of my attention was on looking over the recipe for the marinara sauce and meatballs I'd be making on Sunday, making sure I understood how the recipe worked and sketching out what I needed to purchase at Yoke's on Sunday morning. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-08-21: Blood Work, Sibling Outing Plans, Sunday Dinner Plans BONUS A Limerick by Stu

1. Well, it's that time again. I have an appointment with my kidney doctor on Wednesday, so I scurried up to the clinic this morning to have blood work done. It was a bit of a trial. Tracy has drawn blood from me many, many times since I moved to Kellogg and never had a problem, but today she couldn't quite get the poke right. She was embarrassed. I think she felt snake bit. She had Stephanie come in to give drawing my blood a try and she was successful. I've experienced this difficulty other places where I've had my blood drawn and learned long ago that if I sit quietly, repeat the words, "No problem" and "We'll get it", that, in time, blood comes out of my veins into the tubes.

2. Saturday, January 9th, is Christy's birthday and she told Carol and me that she wants to go on a Sibling Outing for her birthday. We had a plan in place for us to put on protective gear and ride together to Spokane, walk around Manito Park, and then eat in an outdoor heated area at Republic Pi, but things started getting complicated because of the virus and we decided to postpone the Spokane trip. So, instead, we will pile into Christy's new Outback, wear protection, and drive up the river, make stops, take pictures (I think), head to Wallace, purchase lunch to go somewhere, and return to Kellogg and eat together at Carol and Paul's. 

3. I volunteered to make spaghetti and meatballs for Christy's (day after) birthday dinner/family dinner on Sunday, fulfilling her request on this special day.  I don't think I've ever made meatballs before, but I found a recipe in one of my America's Test Kitchen books, What Good Cooks Know, for marinara sauce and meatballs and it looks like one I can successfully pull off. So, I've made a shopping list and will soon head over to Yoke's, stock up, and get to work on this meal. 

Here's a limerick by Stu: 

Just WHAT THE HECK is the deal? 
Not thinking, just act how they feel. 
Can’t tell truth from the lies, 
Don’t agree, must despise. 
And for those hurt or worse, all too real!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-07-20: Finished *The Legacy of Conquest*, Zags on Mute, HC Richardson and Bill Moyers

 1.  I've been wanting to read new books I have on hand, but before doing that, I've been determined to finish Patricia Nelson Limerick's book The Legacy of Conquest. I finished it today. I especially enjoyed her chapter entitled, "Mankind the Manager". In it, she introduces her readers to Gifford Pinchot and the early days of the U.S. Forest Service and explores Pinchot's dedication to forest management. I wouldn't go so far as to say Limerick sees the management of forests, waterways, grazing land, and the other natural resources of the West as foolish. Rather, as she did with many subjects in this book, ranging from conflicts with Indian tribes, the U.S. takeover of the southwest, the impact of mining in the West, and more, she looks at many of the consequences of human management, most of them unintended and complicated, as different templates that humans place on land and water, whether property lines, mining claims, national park boundaries, timber parcels, etc. never turn out to be as orderly as those assigning these borders might hope. 

The border between Mexico and the USA is a mess, largely due to the history that lies behind it. Animals that are protected within national park boundaries are unprotected when they wander outside the park -- but the animals are doing what they do naturally. They know nothing about park borders, let alone the existence of towns or residences on lands that have been theirs to feed on before human settlement. The history of the West is a long story of conquests of land, peoples, and resources followed by one complication, one conflict after another. What has actually happened in the West over the last few centuries challenges the idealistic and romantic tales often attached to it. 

2.  I got quite a bit of reading done during the Gonzaga/BYU game because the Zags roared out to huge lead in the game's first ten minutes. I muted the sound, read, looked up once in a while to make sure the Zags didn't collapse. They didn't. 

3. When I went to bed, I put in my earbuds and tuned into to listen to Moyers interview Heather Cox Richardson. She provided her analysis of Wednesday's chaos in Washington, D.C. and at the Capitol. I read Heather Cox Richardson's daily summations of the news every day. I recently finished her book, How the South Won the Civil War. I appreciate her deep understanding of U. S. History and how she does her best to speak on behalf of democracy, what threatens it, what its promises are, and how democracy can survive. She does her best to evaluate current events less in terms of political parties and more in terms of what leaders are doing that erodes democracy and what others are doing to try to preserve it. She staunchly supports and advocates for equality and has a studied and scholarly understanding of the forces that have threatened democracy and equality over our nation's history and those that have worked to achieve equality and preserve democracy. She's also an optimist, for the most part, and it was good to fall asleep tonight having heard Richardson's combination of grief and hope as she talked with Bill Moyers. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-06-21: No TV News Today, Chicken Noodles, Reading About Aging and Idealism BONUS A Limerick by Stu

1. I don't remember the last time I watched a tumultuous news story unfold moment by moment by watching television coverage. I know that on March 30, 1981, I was home, down with the flu, when John Hinkley shot President Ronald Reagan and I watched as it was being covered. I think that's the last time I watched a story develop moment to moment on live television. Today, I checked in online from time to time, wondering if the Capitol had been secured, wondering when the Joint Session of Congress would convene to certify the results of the Electoral College. 

I knew essentially what was going on at the Capitol. I read updates, saw pictures. I felt and thought a wide range of things. For now, I prefer to keep those things mostly to myself, but I will say that given the many comments and articles I've read, my thoughts and feelings aren't unique. 

I devoted much of my attention today to more personal matters. My cousin Judy's husband, Jack, died this week and, on behalf of my sisters and me, I ordered flowers for Judy and her daughters, Cyndi, Angie, and Michelle. I wrote them a card to go out in Thursday's mail. I also wrote a card to Kathy, whom I've known since we were very young, whom I've written about in this blog. Over the last year or so, I've played trivia, attended a Gonzaga women's basket, had meals out in Spokane, and seen a movie with Kathy. Most of these outings included Mary and sometimes Linda.  This week, Kathy fell terribly ill. She had abdominal surgery. She tested positive for Covid 19. She's at Sacred Heart hospital, getting a little better, but in serious condition. I also followed up my conversation on Tuesday evening with Rita with a card. 

I would have written these cards today regardless of the developments in Washington, D. C. I didn't write them to escape the news. My cousin Judy and her daughters' grief over losing Jack, Kathy's illness and hospitalization, and my nearly thirty year old friendship with Rita were my primary concerns today. Not having the sound of the television on helped me keep my focus on family and friends. The internet gave me a way to quietly check up on events in D. C. from time to time. And I did. I also listened much of the day to the J J Cale station on Pandora.

2. Late in the afternoon, I fixed a batch of Amish Wedding Food Wide Noodles and heated up the clove, allspice, and cinnamon forward chicken broth with vegetables and added chunks of chicken to it. I loved this chicken noodle bowl. I'm thinking that next time, especially if I'm cooking for myself, that I might increase the amount of cinnamon, cloves, and allspice I add to this broth. It's a flavor I profoundly enjoy.

3. I returned to Donald Hall's Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety for my bedtime reading and read his essay, "Way Way Down, Way Way Up". It's Hall's astonishing examination of his eighty-sixth year. Reading it, I wondered how Mom would have written about the indignities of her eighty-fifth and eighty-sixth year: the falls in her house, her bout with cellulitis, edema, gradual loss of mental abilities, being admitted into Kindred, a raving roommate at Kindred, failed physical therapy, and other difficulties. Along with Christy and Carol, I experienced all of Mom's difficulties from the outside. Donald Hall's essay takes his readers inside the experience of advanced aging. He chronicles and takes us into his loss of intellectual energy -- he can barely write and his reading stamina is greatly diminished --,  his difficulties moving from one place to another, a debilitating UTI, the onset of congestive heart failure, frequent 911 calls and hospitalizations, and how he experiences isolation and loneliness. 

He also chronicles good times like the relief of recovery, being able to attend a stage presentation of This American Life that included excerpts from a 1998 interview he gave Ira Glass, and giving a late in life poetry reading. 

Far from self-pitying, Donald Hall's essay gives readers a rare opportunity to not only understand, but to experience the difficulties of growing old, giving us a way to transmute what he writes into compassion for those we know whose lives are nearing the end.

I slept for a while and woke up to visit the bathroom and suddenly I was wide awake. This doesn't happen very often, but I gave in to my temporary insomnia and read an essay from Carolyn Bly's book, Letters from the Country. It's entitled, "Back at the Ranch, Small Dragons, Small Princesses". Situated in the rural area near and in Madison, Minnesota, Bly published the essays in this book, before collecting them, between 1973 and 1979. I'm not sure when she wrote "Back at the Ranch . . .". In it, she examines young people of this time period, with special emphasis on those who, rather than leaving rural life for the city life of the Twin Cities, settle in run down rural structures and devote themselves to throwing pottery, writing poetry, raising their own food organically; in short, they do not begin to climb the ladder of material success, but live closer to the land and to making art. 

I might write more about Bly's essay at another time. For now, I'll just say that when I was a student at Whitworth I admired and wished I could be more like fellow students who advocated for a kind of social responsibility aligned with simplifying our lives, sharing goods and commodities with one another, living more organically, assigning great worth to dance, painting, ceramics, writing songs, poetry, plays, and fiction, and with reducing the exploitation of natural resources. Early this morning, as I read this essay, I felt like Carolyn Bly was taking me back to Whitworth in around 1974-78 an enjoyable experience I'd like think more about, possibly write more about. 

A limerick by Stu: 

There’s three ways that chaos can end. 
Two conclusions are bad, walls or rend. 
The last of the three, 
Means that dislike or agree. 
When it’s over you’re still called a friend.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-05-21: Walking My Ailing Back, More Aggressive Chicken Cooking, A Superb Jam Packed Evening

Note: While I'm writing this blog post I'm sure enjoying the J J Cale station/Deep Cuts on Pandora. I've heard Dire Straits, Neil Young, Greg Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bob Dylan, and other artists performing songs in the general style and spirit of J J Cale. 

1.  I decided early this afternoon that enough was enough and that I needed to take my ailing back for a stroll. I didn't go far -- racked up about 1500 steps by taking a jaunt down to the mailbox in front of the empty building that used to be Stein's grocery. My back loved the walk. More to come -- and I will try to build up my wind more. 

2. I decided to go for the spices more aggressively than ever this evening when I cooked a whole chicken by boiling it. I thawed two quarts of chicken stock, added coarsely chopped onion, carrot, and celery, and brought it to a boil. I rinsed off the chicken, patted in dry, pulled out the pieces hiding in its cavity, and salted it, peppered it, powdered it with garlic, and then made a bold move and lavished the chicken with cinnamon. I turned down the heat under the liquid, plunged the chicken into the pot, and added allspice, cloves, thyme, and a bay leaf to the pot. I am eager to see how this chicken and its broth turn out -- especially my adding cloves and cinnamon to the recipe. My initial samplings were, to my taste, very promising.

3. While the chicken slowly cooked, I poured myself a cocktail of Buffalo Trail bourbon and Canada Dry Bold Ginger Ale and settled into Tree House Concert #35, live on Facebook, performed by -- who else?-- Bill Davie. Once again, he played a riveting variety of songs from his catalog, taking us from the razor blade raining skies of Tacoma to youthful days smokin' cigarettes at John's to his gratitude for his marriage to Diane. 

When we moved to Maryland, I decided to let go of a lot of my books -- I didn't know what our living situation would be and I wanted to travel as lightly as possible. I've regretted letting go of any number of those books and have decided to buy some of them again. Well, tonight, Bill Davie read from one of those books and, while he read, I jumped on and ordered myself a replacement copy of Kim Stafford's Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. I remember hating it when I let this book go (it was a gift from Christy) and I'm going to love having it back again and I'm going to act as if it's the same book Christy gave me. 

As Bill was winding down his concert, my phone rang. It was Rita, my longtime friend and former team teaching partner. I'll go to YouTube later and catch the rest of Bill's concert after he uploads it. No way was I not going to answer Rita's call!

We talked for a little over an hour about our lives during the pandemic, books, American Masters (especially N. Scott Momaday and Robert Shaw), and other things.

We also talked a bit about former students -- in general, not specific ones. I had just been thinking about former students during the Tree House Concert. Bill's haunting and empathetic song "Valley of Wine" is about a friend of Bill's and a former student of mine, one whom I think about a lot, and the song got me thinking about students who were in my writing classes at Whitworth in 1977-78 when Bill was a student of mine.  My first thought was my regret that I've forgotten so many names, but my feelings remain, feelings that are hard to describe, but the best word I can come up with is affection. 

My affection for students never waned in all those years of teaching, from 1977-2014, and sometimes I wish not only that I could remember their names and faces, but that I knew more about how they are doing. It's very gratifying that I'm Facebook friends with some of my students. One of my deepest satisfactions in my life is that Bill, Val, Colette, and Bridgit (all former students from Whitworth) and I visit regularly on Zoom and often are all together in the virtual audience of Bill's virtual concerts. As a bonus, Diane, Bill's wife, is with us, too, and sometimes I have to remind myself that she was at PLU back in the day, not Whitworth! 

Rita and I talked for a while about what I'd call our faith that, as teachers, we planted many good seeds in our students, that, whether large or small, we had an impact on those we worked with and the impact was mostly positive. For me, trusting that this is true is a matter of faith; but, what I do know, without a doubt, is my students were also planting seeds, having a positive impact on me. I learned a tremendous amount from my students, not just about social realities and popular culture and the worlds they lived in, but about the subject matter I put before them. My students' insights into poetry, fiction, movies, epics, the plays of Shakespeare, philosophy, happiness, living a well-lived life, the world of work, growing up in trying circumstances, beauty, sublimity, vitality, goodness, and any number of other subjects we worked with together have stayed with me, helped guide how I live my life, and have had and do have a most positive impact on my life. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-04-21: Deborah Akers' *backward pilgrim* Arrives, Leftovers, *Silverado* BONUS Poem by Deborah

This is my 5200th post here at kelloggbloggin.

 1. About a week before Christmas, I ordered Deborah Akers' two books of poetry, backward pilgrim and partly fallen. I've been trying to figure out why I hadn't purchased these books earlier. About three years ago, Deborah and I exchanged emails after a lengthy period of time of not having had contact. I think it was around the time Mom was living her last days. After Mom died, I became immersed in moving and then the remodeling of our house and Deborah's email about her two books faded out of my mind.

But, I've been reading more poetry during the pandemic and on 12-17-20, Deborah sent me a message asking me whether I had a lasagne recipe handy and I answered her (no as it turned out) and immediately went back to the email I had saved with the information about her books and who published them.

I ordered them. partly fallen arrived first, not long after I ordered it. I decided to wait to read these poems until I had read Deborah's first book, backward pilgrim. It arrived today. Now I am ready to read Deborah's poems, from the earliest to the most recent. As I write this, I am also thinking about a poem Deborah published many years ago in The Beloit Poetry Review. Deborah gave me a copy of the issue her poem appeared in and soon I'll go downstairs and look for it. I'm not sure, but I think that in all of the times I've moved over the last 35-40 years and let go of countless books, I've kept my copy of that issue of The Beloit Poetry Review. I hope so. 

By the way, by remembering this publication, another memory popped up. Chad Walsh was a professor of English at Beloit College. He was an ordained Episcopal priest, a scholar of C. S. Lewis, a widely published writer of poetry and children's books, and one of the founders of The Beloit Poetry Review. In the late 1970s he lectured at Whitworth College and, if I remember correctly, met with creative writing students -- possibly the students in the Creative Writing Theme Dorm. I'm also thinking that this visit had a strong impact on Deborah Akers. I'm almost positive I remember talking with Deborah when we both lived in Eugene about her gratitude for Chad Walsh. 

I write what I remember in this blog, always knowing that my memory is faulty, the years blur things, and what is real to me now might not have been actual in the past. I hope there is some grain of truth in what I've recalled here. I also really hope I find that issue of The Beloit Poetry Review.  I want to read that poem again. 

Coincidentally, today Deborah posted her poem, "feast", recently published in the Alaskan journal, Cirque. I have typed out the poem at the end of this post. 

2. Having sat for a day, that cabbage salad I fixed for family dinner today was even better than last night and paired perfectly with the last bowl of Carol's prime rib soup.

3. This evening, I watched Silverado, one of the movies Bill, Diane, and I talked about on ZOOM on Sunday. Knowing the movie was written by Lawrence Kasden and his brother Mark, as it developed, I began to have an experience similar to what I had when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the same way that Raiders took viewers back to serial films of the past, Silverado, to me, seemed to be recapturing the look, the mood, and the romantic heroism of older westerns. It took some adjusting for me to enter into the spirit of the movie. I haven't watched a lot of Westerns over the years, but the ones I have seen were "revisionist" Westerns, revising the clear lines of good guy/bad guy and dealing with the genre in more complicated ways.

But not Silverado. While the good guys had killed men in their past, in the present of this movie, they were clearly on the side of cleaning up corruption and that's what the movie eventually centered on: cleaning up the corruption of the frontier town Silverado.

I thought Silverado gave its stellar cast the chance to have a lot of fun -- Danny Glover, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Brian Denehy, Linda Hunt, and the others looked to me to having a blast bring this story to life and doing it in the midst of gorgeous New Mexico scenery, accompanied by a vigorous soundtrack. 


baking dish no longer stowed
                or grimed with disuse
spice bottles newly brimmed

spurs a cold day's whim --
embarking into cornbread

                folding egg and oil
soured milk and soda
into batter's warm promise

and when the bread fails
(dusty flour, spent meal)
                the grainy brick is

                cubed and thrown
to a few scavengers 
dignifying the yard

that caw and soon the street
roils with black birds
                hopping and pecking

later, we spot one
soaring blocks away
golden chunk

                cradled in claws

a traveling feast
the stuff of 
                crow legend

--Deborah Akers