Sunday, January 31, 2010

A-Z Munchin' Monday: Birthday Burger

presentation is everything...

I raided the Streetpolo archives for this shot, but it is the most important food item in my world that I could come up with for the letter B. We're talking BURGERS, as in HAM-BURGERS. Come to think, why HAMburgers and not BEEFburgers? I suppose it's a German thing dealing with geography. Hamburgers, Frankfurters...And I am too pressed for time to research this one just now. Feel free to google or wiki that one amongst yourselves...

The deal was, Mom would cook us whatever we wanted for dinner on our birthday. My sister would go for something fairly classy, like shrimp. For me? It had to be hamburger, mashed potatoes, and peas. For dessert, I NEEDED a marble cake. NO SUBSTITUTIONS!

This has gone on for about a half a century; skipping only my college years. When I left my family for fame and fortune, I was fortunATE enough to meet a fine woman who would take over the duties of plying me with the annual 'burger, mashed spuds, and peas. AND she bakes a wonderful marble cake. The tradition continues unabated! We seldom eat peas, ever, except on that magical day. Burgers and mashed potatoes, more often. But that combo is reserved for just that one special day every year.

It cannot be stopped.
Viva la burger!!!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Heaven May Sound Like This

I know in this age of Lady Gaga, this is not going to be for everybody, but I was playing a little ditty in the car going to work this morning and before it was over, I was nearly welling up - in a good way. Some music has that effect on me.

The little ditty, with the Latin title, "Spem in Alium", is a piece that was written around 1570 by Thomas Tallis. And anyone conducting this thing is earning his pay; Tallis wrote the piece to be performed by eight choirs of five people, or forty voices total. Now, those voices come in and out of the song, so it's not like everybody's in the game all the time. This is the absolute charm to the piece for me; it just unfolds and reforms itself over the eight or nine minutes it takes to waft through it. To my ears, it is absolutely gorgeous and spellbinding.

Thomas Tallis

It is generally sung in Latin, but roughly translated to English, the lyrics go something like this:
I have never put my hope in any other but in you,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man
Lord God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness
If that's a bit heavy for ya, well, remember, it is sung in Latin.

Most versions feature men's and women's voices. In the video you can watch by clicking here, it was tackled, I think quite successfully, by the all-men King's Singers. Collectively, they have quite a range, occasionally reaching the upper stratosphere.

clever cover: images of 40 guys

Again, this may not be your style. But I think that if you let it reveal itself to you, you just may be as spellbound as I am.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


This past weekend, a friend of our son's stopped by unannounced. His family had moved away back in the 90's and the boys had kept up, intermittently, as best they could. He was in town doing research for a history paper on our county courthouse, and was headed back to college a couple hours away.

We had a nice chat for an hour or so, and we asked if he wanted to tour the house, see our deck, and so forth. It was interesting watching him look at various features that were obviously triggering memories (in our house, many things pretty much remain in place, like museum pieces, for years). He noted the Nerf ball backboard in the kitchen and ordered us "Do NOT take that down!" He repeated what he had said during his last visit, a year ago: he missed the swing set in the back yard, long ago replaced with a garden. So here is this 6-foot-4 college junior, pining for the swingset of his youth.

My work takes me to a lot of small towns, and I often hear about the "brain drain" and the loss of the community's youth - most of whom look forward to seeing the big ol' world once they graduate from high school. Indeed, most are looking for the excitement, activities, and opportunities that beckon in the big city. But there is another phenomenon, where we see a decent portion of them coming "back home" at some point, maybe to raise a family, perhaps to be able to take those night walks listening to the spring peepers. Those folks who are rooting for their small towns and their survival hope those youth feel a strong enough bond with their home town, as they follow their dreams, career goals, or college plans, that they return, in their thoughts, if not in person. Whether Michael ever settles back here or not, I think I caught a glimpse of that bond last weekend.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Here We Go with Culinary A-Z Mondays!

Well, Jen over at Unglazed has come up with another concept for A-Z Mondays: FOOD!
I'm pleased to join in the fray, although I am about as wonderful a cook as I am a neurosurgeon. You wouldn't want me there for either gig.

But there are foods - some of them not so good - that bring back happy memories, or that figure in some back story, so it might be fun to recall them. Fun for me, anyway. Not sure how much it will engage the reader! So let's kick this thing off with our A entry, which is:

Who here hasn't enjoyed a nice bowl of this delightful Kellogg's confection? The Cheerio-like substance with the little bumps of apply goodness on it? Well, I don't eat the stuff, because I had an overdose back in the 1960's. Here's why:

It was not for love of the cereal, especially, although as sweetened cereals go, it isn't bad. The taste is subtle enough. Better than frosted sugar bombs. But the thing was, my bud Gerald and I were, at age 12 or 13 or thereabouts, kinda heavily into cars back in the mid 60's, and I especially liked the looks of the Plymouth Barracuda, one of those sorta sleek "fastbacks".
Apple Jacks began a "win a Barracuda" promotion, and regardless of my status as a legal driver, I needed a 'cuda, so did Gerald, and we made the commitment to eat as much Apple Jacks cereal as we could force down, to plow through enough boxes to send a truckload of box tops (or whatever was required) in to win this thing.

The Apple Jack-a-thon went on in our households, at the breakfast table, for weeks. I cannot believe how accommodating our parents must have been at the grocery store. We must have been cruising through one to two boxes a week per household, maybe three on occasion.

So that's the deal with Apple Jacks. They held a special place at my table for a while, but ultimately, they did not deliver...

Saturday, January 23, 2010


A couple of passings to note. First, what is it about the demise of all my favorite mystery writers? Tony Hillerman, Donald Westlake...and now Robert B. Parker has passed away, victim of a heart attack while he was "in the saddle" (at his desk). Parker is best known for his "Spenser" series of 38 or so novels; he also made the protagonists Jesse Stone and Sonny Randall real, and tossed a few westerns in the oeuvre, too. I'd say Parker was a "less is more" writer, keeping it simple, telling the story with lots of dialog. Interesting stylistic factoid: When a character spoke, he always used the verb "said". "Do you have a gun", she said. Never 'she asked'. Or 'he exclaimed'. I'll miss those breezy, easy reads.
The other passing is of the Conan O'Brien version of the Tonight Show. Yes, I am guilty of enjoying (most of) Conan's approach to humor, and I know that, like anything else in our society and polity today, everyone lines up around one camp or the other and has little to do with anything else. Well, although I enjoy Letterman, and I think Leno probably carries on the "Carson" persona the best, I was on Conan's wavelength more often than not, and appreciated the bit of an edge he put on his work. I realize that the mainstream masses, which really don't exist anymore anyway, would probably coalesce around a more middle-of-the-road show. And that's my loss.

Anyhow, the final show last night was a piece of fine work. Tom Hanks was a good guest, Steve Carrell provided a one-joke piece as an NBC functionary assigned to do Conan's exit interview, and the venerable Neil Young (the real one; not Jimmy Fallon) sang a simple and heartfelt "Long May You Run". Then it was time for Conan to make his parting homily, whereby he took the high road, thanked NBC in so many words, and told his listeners that with hard work and avoidance of cynicism, amazing things can happen.

The show closed with a seven-minute "Free Bird", which has somewhat appropriate lyrics for the occasion, led by a shaggy blond wigged Will Ferrell on vocals and, yes, cowbell (and that was his extremely pregnant wife that he was smoochin' on between verses). Supporting in the effort were Max Weinberg and the band members, Beck, Billy Gibbons, and Ben Harper taking care of the slide portions. Best of all, Conan joined the fray on his own guitar, soloing admirably for a few bars. It was a heck of a wake, and I suspect this is just one more chapter coming to an end, with another one appearing later this year.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


1. We're getting used to this "big dog in the house" deal. Prior to Ollie, we had two dogs. both 25-or-so pound springer spaniel mixes, both female. Ollie is a 53 pound male, probably some sort of lab mix. He plays...exuberantly. It involves jumping up against me, serious cavorting, major frolicking. Everything is bigger: the space he takes up, food intake, "outputs". The nightly walks are more vigorous, but they are punctuated by frequent stops at trees and other canine news media. It's an adjustment, but Ollie is doing a good job of fitting into the pack.
2. Went to a wedding last weekend. Good friends' daughter. The wedding was in their home town of Baltimore. The groom's from Indianapolis. Yeah, this was the day the Ravens played the Colts. Much of the wedding party showed up at the reception in jerseys. Little did they know when they planned the "big day" that those two teams would be battling it out in the playoffs. So after the incredible Italian dinner (the bride's mom cooked lasagna for 150 - my hat is still off to her!) they turned on the big screen TV... We left before it could get ugly. OK, it never got ugly. It was a beautiful day, wedding, and memory. Worth the 840 mile round trip.

Besides, how much did I really want to watch the team that left town when I was growing up playing the team that left town after I moved to northern Ohio?

3. You know the old cartoons with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, trying to convince someone to do the right or wrong thing? I had that experience today at work, at lunchtime. The guys are going out to a greasy spoon for lunch, I consider tagging along, then a health-conscious employee calls and asks if I want to walk for 20 minutes or so. Well, today the greasy spoon won out and I had a wonderful mushroom burger. As another friend is wont to say, "That's what the Lipitor is for". Soon enough the weather will warm and the walks will win out. (Wow. That sentence read like an A-Z Monday! Wacky!)

4. Back to the dog...Have you ever had a dog break a cast iron skillet? We have no idea how it happened, but one day when we returned home, there it was on the floor, handle broken off. I would also guess it had the grease licked out of it. Yeah, we're getting used to this "big dog in the house" deal. Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Two Great Inventions

So far this year, I am rather excited about two new (to me) inventions that have improved the lot of humankind (and dogkind). Here they are:

First, the e-reader. There are several of these things on the market. Perhaps best known is the Kindle, being pushed hard by the Amazon people. Barnes and Noble have their own brand, I imagine Borders is following, and I understand there are a few more being touted at the big electronics show in Las Vegas as the Next Big Thing.

Anyhow, Linda got me the Sony version of these things for Christmas. I had gone into my periodic "I don't know what I want from Santa - I want for nothing" mode, so I was no help, and by golly, Linda came through out of left field yet again with the unexpected. But it has grown on me.

After some serious issues with getting on line, registering the computer AND reader, and generally just getting everything to work, it is now pretty easy. A great feature is that more and more public libraries are getting more and more e-books, so you can get on the Internet, go to some library network site where you are registered, and check out and download a book right from home. I understand that the book will just disappear from your device after the two or three week checkout period - I am waiting to see how this magic works. (In my curiosity I checked out far more than I will be able to actually read, by which I mean three books.)

I am a little leery about how the whole e-reader market will shake out. Sony is not known for always coming out on top (who has a Betamax player gathering dust in a back closet somewhere? Who wishes Sony cameras would take SD cards like the rest of the known universe?), but I am hopeful that the pdf formats these books take on will sustain my reader as compatible enough with the rest of the e-literary world for years to come.

These e-readers are planet-savers, too, since they can hold a purported 350 books or so, thus freeing up ridiculous amounts of shelf space (or making future such space unnecessary). And yes, I will not give up the tactile feel of paging through a real, tree-based book as well, but this is probably a device that will only increase in importance and market share and cultural acceptance, not to mention new applications, over time, so I am ready to ride the wave.

OK, second big incredible invention. Not as technically sophisticated, but someone had to have a good grasp of animal physiology to pull this one off. I speak of the "gentle leader dog collar", which is no doubt a trademarked name. This is a collar you place around a dog's neck and snout, sorta, and clip onto a normal leash. This is for the dog who (are you listening, OLLIE?) believes a walk should involve pulling forward full force, bringing the human along briskly like a motorboat leads a water skiier.

The thing is, a dog with a conventional collar can put its whole body, and especially, I would think, its front end and chest and legs, into the forward, no-slack-on-the-leash-ever, movement. With the gentle leader, the dog is pulling with its head and neck, and is less forceful about tugging. The immediate result of a walk with the leader, first time out of the box, was a dog that kept it going, but hung back a bit, not in the same fury to push the mach one envelope on that icy sidewalk. No more need for that trip to the chiropractor! A woman I know was praising the results she got from walking a 98 pounder with one of these things.

The dog in question does not mind terribly the imposition of the snout-collar. It goes back far enough that the dog can still open his or her mouth, pant, slobber, sniff way down in footprint holes in the snow, and do all those other things that make the walk so worthwhile from the dog's point of view. The dog is usually so focused on the walk itself, and the latest olifactory news posted on that oak tree at the corner, that the gentle leader is no big imposition at all.

So as we plunge further into the second decade of the twenty-first century, my hat is off (mainly because I am inside) to those who came up with these things. Now, get working on that car that runs on melting snow.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ringing in the New Year

The time train is not slowing down - we are already one full week into this new year. And it has been a bit more full having this 50 pound canine filling up space in the house, bounding around in the snow, and helping lower blood pressure and raise the laughter level around here.

In addition to Ollie, we spent a few days watching some friends' dog while they were away, a schnauzer-like critter named Augie. Just try attempting to call one specific dog when their names are so close together. You call one - you get 'em both.

Seems like Old Man Winter waited for the new year to unleash his fury on a shivering Midwest. We are getting daily snow and other frozen, and from the looks of the radar maps, it appears that most of the country is currently caught up in this mess. I am one of those few who like all four seasons in my year, so I cannot complain about the snow. Yet. This pattern of daily scraping of windshields will get old pretty quickly.

The year gets off to a positive start rather quickly as we spent some time last weekend meeting up with old friends living in Boston who were visiting family in Columbus, and next weekend we will attend the wedding of a daughter of a school buddy of mine from back home.

And in a nod to the need to stylistically usher in the new year and decade and all that, the blog is revamped a bit with fresh new colors and style.

While the new year is kick started on a personal level thanks to two- and four-legged friends, the world around us presents a slew of challenges. It will be interesting to see how we all fare over the coming year, here in the USA and around the world. It ain't gonna be an easy year, on several fronts.

Which brings me full circle, sort of, in that I wonder what people mean when they say things are "going to the dogs". Perhaps, actually, given all that crazy unconditional love they exude, the world would be better off if it were handed off to some canine court of law. On the other hand, watching Ollie and Augie at "dinner time", perhaps we'd just better do the best we can to keep the planet spinning, orbiting, and supporting us.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Z-A Monday Finale: All's Well....

At eleven, with much anticipation, Wendy arrived and they ate at Arnie's, a diner on Applewood Avenue. They chose a booth away from all others, feeling just a little awkward.

“Aw, Wendy, it's awfully good to see you.”

“I wanted to see you, too. Absolutely.”

'Absolutely'! That was assuring.

“Anyhow, I want to apologize. I feel I went away and abandoned you. I was...aimless. I had some adventures and all that, went through a lot of automobiles, but I have to admit it was not the most adult thing to do.”

“Well, it's not like you went astray...and I was too apprehensive...”

“But I feel I pulled us apart. And that's awful. Anyhow, while I was away there was this accident, and it makes me approach life differently.”

“I heard about the accident. From my friend Alice. She lives in Kentucky, in Anderson. You were on the Action News or whatever. I admire what you did.”

“Anyhow, all 'heroics' aside, I want to aim for what's important. It's sort of an awakening for me. One area is my work. Three of us are acquiring the Bijou, to bring arts and music to town. We'll book acts at the auditorium, reach as wide an audience as possible. It's an attempt, anyway. The accolades will come later.”

“That's awesome, Xavier.”

Approval. Yes!

“So I want to make amends with you. More, actually. My adventures showed me it's important to account for whom you associate with. It took me the whole alphabet to appreciate that.”


“Never mind. I've anticipated too much and appreciated too little. I mean, I'm all over America, looking, and I abandon this attractive, amusing, absolutely awesome answer right here.”

“I'm an answer?”

“You're an angel.”

An artful if a bit audacious thing to add, he thought. He touched her arm and continued.

“I just wanted to air this all out. It's not just affection, Wendy. Absence has made my heart grow, you know... It's...well...the French say 'amore'”.

“Xavier, I....I feel all that, too, although I admit I'm an Anglophile...awful with French.”

Aha! Time to advance the argument! Assemble the Army! Attack!

“So, I see no alternative but to ask: Will you accompany me, to the altar, and afterwards?”

“Are you asking....?”


“Oh, always, Xavier, for afterwards, for always!” She advanced toward him.

Not actually the word “yes”, Xavier thought, but just as acceptable. Very acceptable...and for the last Z-A, alphabetically appropriate!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Z-A "Monday": Beginnings

Back with Charlie and another buddy named Bernie, Xavier bemoaned the Bermuda Triangle of brutal and baffling bad luck all three had getting bagged from jobs.

"So, with your business background, Xave, you could be back in the game big time."
"I dunno, just don't want to go back to business and all the brutal backstabbing and balance sheet bull. It's so boring."
"Boy", said Bernie, "You bruised businessmen need a boost. It's not so bleak. I'm gonna bail you out. You know the Bijou, that beautiful old building on Broad and Bartley? It's for sale. Let's buy it. It'll be a blast!"
"What am I?", Xavier bleated, "a billionaire?"
"No dude, we get a bank loan, maybe with a balloon, but it will buy us time to bring it to profitability."
"I'll bite", said Charlie rather boldly. "I don't need to brood like Xave here. I'll buy in, and we can build the place up. Book bands, plays, maybe not Broadway, but..."
"That's my boy" said Bernie. Hey, Xave, not trying to buttonhole you here, but you can't be all bohemian forever. Gotta budge sooner or later, can't always balk. It could be a blast, the three of us, blazing new trails, bringing new business to our bleak ol' town.
"Hey, I'm not blowing it off. Just don't want to go bankrupt. But with a bodacious business plan, maybe it'd pay the bills. Ok, against my better judgment, I'll buy in."
"A toast to us, the Bijou Boys", broadcast Bernie, brandishing three Bud Lights and bandying them about to his buddies.

And thus the Bijou Boys began their new business venture together, bidding for the building and, by and by, buying it.

But Xavier had something else bothering his befuddled brain. Before too long, he bore with his butterflies and, bracing for the worst, bravely called Wendy.
"Hey Wendy, it's Xavier. Uh, I didn't want to burn any bridges here, so I thought maybe we could break bread, you know..."
"OK, Xavier, I'm glad you called, but I've gotta go now. But I'll be up there tomorrow. How 'bout brunch, eleven?"
"Bye, Xavier."
"Bye, Wendy."

Xavier brought out a bunch of papers and began brainstorming his thoughts. This was big. It could go anywhere from breakup to, well, bride and groom. He couldn't bring his "B" game to this one!