Friday, July 30, 2010

two pictures

Two quick items to take care of tonight. First, there is this thing going around where people take their photo file that corresponds to their birth month, then the picture that corresponds to their birth day. So if I go to my ninth file and take the 21st picture, I get this:
Explanation: Well, my ninth file happens to be a file of my son's trip a few years ago to El Salvador, where he hung out at an orphanage run by a Cleveland transplant and her Salvadoran husband. This would be one of the residents of the orphanage and one of the college students who went on the trip. I am not sure what's up with the chair.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Second picture: We took a little hike in the woods not too far from home tonight and came upon this stump, and all I could think of was something like:

Sure, they may cut you down, but you just get back up and
hang in there!!!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Our Town

Went over to Oberlin last night to see a production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town". Oberlin has a really laudable theater group that puts on free plays in the summer. Their mission as they see it is to allow folks and families of any income level the opportunity to take in a live play. They get a handful of real equity or guild (or whatever they call them) actors, but also cast their productions with Cleveland region people who have been on a few stages in their time, so the quality is quite excellent. And a few foundations and generous donors help foot the bill.

At least "Our Town" doesn't have much of a budget for set design. The stage is stark, with a couple trellises, two tables, some chairs...that's about it. And the construction of the play itself is pretty uncommon. The first act takes you through a typical day, at least through the eyes of a couple families and some passers-by who live in Grovers Corners, New Hampshire, with a population of a couple thousand people, give or take. The second act walks you through the courtshup and marriage of the son and daughter in the two spotlighted families. Just so I do not spoil things any further, I will just mention that the third act takes on a hue of its own, and is a bit more sad and reflective. It presents quite a comment on the human condition - but left me feeling a challenge somewhat akin to that presented in my last post about finding God in the ordinary. In this case, the challenge is to realize that all those details in life are what make up this life, so we should all pay attention and appreciate it while we are here on Earth.

I had never seen this play, so it was good to work it in. It was well done. The play debuted in 1936, so it has been around, but it has that timeless quality that speaks to us now as well as it spoke back in the 30's. The Oberlin company only diverted from Wilder's script in that Dr. Gibbs' family was played here by African Americans. The great thing about this was that it had nothing to do with the plot, and I never gave the racial angle a second thought.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Steve Miller is Right

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future
-Steve Miller, "Fly Like an Eagle

Yeah, Steve seems to have it right when it comes to summer. We are moving right along. We do not have school aged kids anymore - haven't for some time - but I still cringe when I see the "Back to school" sale ads start up. And started, they have, to put it in Yodaspeak. Can the halloween candy be far away?

Relay for Life 2010

We have breezed through a Fourth of July full of activities, an evening of Relay for Life (as depicted in the out-of-focus picture way up top there), got to a square dance club picnic, and this past weekend we had 11 people and three dogs under roof, having a great old time celebrating some birthdays, including daughter Emily's. Our son William made her a personalized "cornhole" set that she believes may vie for the "best birthday present EVER." He did somehow capture the essence of Lilly, the puggle, in an uncanny fashion. Sometimes home-made is the best.

The Artist and his work

And just to keep us busy (and really, disgustingly sweaty, given the temperatures lately), Linda and I power washed, primed, and painted with the good glossy stuff, then installed on the existing posts, a set of cut-to-specs, pre-owned wooden railings for the deck. As of tonight, I pronounce the deck "substantially completed", as the contractors say. Some would no doubt declare it's about time we got around to doing SOMETHING about that deck.

Substantially Completed

Well, there's more to come as this summer barrels along. A trip back east, a week of dog-sitting the grand-dogs, possibly a play tomorrow night (a free offering of "Our Town" in Oberlin), visitors from Omaha, free tickets to the Toledo Zoo, and so on.

I hope you are enjoying your summer. I also hope we all canfind the time and place to take up our Pastor's challenge from last Sunday, if you wish, to slow down a bit, pause, and see if you can sight God and His work out there amid the bustle and madness. I plan to do that in a moment, out in a chair on the deck, dog at my side, cool glass of water in my hand, just listening to the crickets and locusts and watching the moon make its way up there behind the neighbor's pines.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A-Z Munchin' Monday - The Final Post?

So we made it up to Z, and I scanned the food options for this final letter and came up with, well, pretty much zilch. I like zucchini bread, had some good ziti not long ago, and am no fan of zweiback, however you spell it. But none of these really rang my bell.

So I will use this final foodie post to note how happy I am with the Coca Cola company since they came up with Coke Zero. It is, in my view, a decent facsimile for the venerable old Coca Cola (as opposed to the failed "New Coke"). I have a couple twelve packs of it around here now.

Yes, I am one of those hypocrites who throws caution to the wind when eating - grabbing a burger and fries at least once in a while if at a fast food place - but I will ask for a Diet Coke, as if the lack of calories in that drink will somehow rub out the damage done by the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, large tub o'fries in lard, or what have you.

There was a time when high-test Coke was the pause that refreshed my buddies and me. In fact, one or two of them were serious coke-a-holics. We used to buy those eight packs of returnable bottles and would check the bottom of each bottle after ingesting the 16 ounces, reading out the name of the bottling city. I think we even kept track, being wowed by some of the more exotic or uncommon locales.

Then there was a guy named "Big Ralph" who, after downing a few Cokes, could belch out a "double Rumplestiltskin". We were in awe.

I led a pretty sheltered childhood, unlike many families of today where the coke, pepsi, dew, crush, or whatever is readily available. Our parents did not have pop (midwestern) or soda (eastern) or soft drinks (also east coast) around much. They would host a bridge club maybe twice a year, and then there might be some soda water around (yuck), and also some 7-Up. Other than that, it was a big deal to walk up to Gino's with the neighborhood kids and plunk down fifteen cents for an orange drink (my fave at the time).

Do you remember those promotions where, for example, Coca Cola printed all fifty states on the inside of their bottle caps, and if you collected all fifty, you could redeem them for prizes? I remember collecting them, but I kept the collection. We'd walk down to Linde's Sunoco and get the guy there to open his Coke machine and give us all the bottle caps from people using the bottle opener on the machine. Man, I sound like I am narrating some ancient history here!

I came to really like root beer, and still do enjoy one from time to time. Sometimes there is nothing better than a root beer float. Am I right?

In a restaurant that provides self-serve drinks, my latest trick is to pour about 5/6 of a glass of the diet cola of choice, and then top it off with root beer. It tastes quite a bit like the root beer.

I am glad that I never became a huge Mountain Dew fan. I know several who are. I have a feeling that stuff does nasty things to your innards, not to mention your teeth.

I know there is this whole Pepsi vs. Coke thing that has divided our nation for decades. And yes, I come down on the Coke side, although I never sigh audibly like some do when they ask for a Coke, hear that the place only serves Pepsi produces, and find that totally unacceptable. Pepsi is ok in my book; I just like Coke better - less sweet or something.

That's about all I can share regarding the world of soft drinks. I can take them or leave them pretty much, and I often prefer a raspberry iced tea, but I do like the occasional cold glass of Zero.

A big round of applause for Jen, who got this whole A-Z food thing going. I hope she's scheming up another one of these A-Z thingies, because they are pretty fun. And thanks to all who participated, whether from the very beginning or later on.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A-Z Munchin' Monday: How to deal with Y?

Well, I have looked at some lists and nothing leaps out at me. Sure, I like yogurt; i tend to eat a lot of it at continental breakfasts at hotels. And yams and yellow squash are ok, but y'know, just OK.
So what we will do with Y is make a YUMMY list of some of the favorites ever, and to balance it out, a YUCKY list of stuff I would not or do not like to eat.


1. A seafood platter I had with Linda at her Aunt's in Tom's River, NJ, many years ago. It was on the ocean, and the seafood was amazing. Not that deep fried stuff. Just wonderful.

2. Princess chicken served up at the House of Hunan somewhere on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Delicious and just hot enough. The guys I was with ordered something much hotter; their foreheads were perspiring but they were happy.

3. A hamburger I had as a high school aged kid in Ocean City in the off season. Just some hamburger joint made it, but I still recall it as excellent.

4. A really fine Italian meal some friends set up for us in a restaurant in Little Italy in Baltimore a few years back. Our friend Diana was sorta like a concierge at the time, and had some excellent connections - probably still does. The restaurant did something with romaine lettuce that was fairly incredible - sorta cooked it in the salad.

5. Linda's marble cake she makes for me without fail every birthday, topped with a couple scoops of (usually) vanilla ice cream. While we are on the topic of deserts, Linda's Mom could whip up a pie of excellence, working from experience and not recipes. There have been some true winners over the years.

6. Kudos also to my sis, Margaret, and her husband, who always ply us with wonderful meals when we visit. They have quite the touch in the kitchen. Just had a fine filet/shrimp salad/fruit salad/pasta/dinner rolls/appetizers/what am I forgetting? meal there last month.

7. This list could go on forever, but I will close with crabcakes. I would not be a true product of Baltimore without slapping those bad boys on the list. And more specifically, the cakes produced by G&M restaurant in Linthicum Heights, MD.


We have covered some of this ground over the weeks of A-Z, so sorry if I repeat myself.

1. Never will understand the South's fascination with hominy / grits. I just don't get it.

2. As much as Mom tried, I never acquired the taste for beets. I guess they are manageable when they are heavily pickled or something. But just the natural beet flavor does nothing for me. Cool color, though.

3. Then there's parsnips. Not sure God intended it as a food.

4. I tried escargot once. I did not become an escargot aficianado. Chalk it up as one of those inexplicable things the French like to do.

5. As a kid, I wanted no part of asparagus or scallops, two other items that Mom would serve up far too frequently (which could have been once a year for all I cared.) Funny how tastes change, though. Now I am a moderately big fan of both, if they are cooked enough and the texture is "right".

6. And speaking of texture, nothing is much worse in my view than a way undercooked sweet potato that is hard to chew and then has that "stringy" thing going on. On the other hand, it is hard to beat a properly cooked sweet potato with the butter and maybe cinnamon and/or brown sugar, etc...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Progressive Rock Utopia

A couple weeks ago I made my ninth or tenth...who's counting?...pilgrimmage with a fellow music appreciator and childhood bud to the Northeast Art Rock Festival, or NEARFest, in Bethlehem, PA, on the beautiful campus of Lehigh University. If you are old enough to recall Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Jethro Tull, and Genesis back when Phil Collins was an excellent drummer and Peter Gabriel sang most of the stuff...well, that's at least part of what I am talking about. A lot of pretentiousness and bombast, but mostly people trying to follow their muse and the "different drummer" in their head. Anyhow, I enjoy the music that pushes some boundaries. So anyway, for those two or three of you who are still reading with any interest, bless you, and here is the wrap up.

Last things first: Eddie Jobson was the last headliner. He has a long resume and has been associated over his career with Frank Zappa, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, a spot of King Crimson, and probably some more stuff. Anyhow, he wields an odd plastic, luninescent violin, but I really like his keyboard work. He brought a powerhouse band with him, including two drummers who got into an interminable "drum-off", and Billy Sheehan, who was subdued on bass. It was a good, kinda muscular set, but Eddie put out a "no photos" message and I obeyed.

Back to the beginning. A band called Astra took the stage and channeled Echoes era Pink Floyd among other things. They capture the classic essence of Mellotron drenched prog excellently and it was a great set.
Something from France called Forgas Band Phenomena, next lent their blend of fusion to the affair. A nice blend of instruments, kicking of the "year of the violin/fiddle".
Third up on Saturday was a personal favorite of mine. Called Iona, they hail from Ireland and are named for an island off the Emerald Isle that was settled by Celtic Christians centuries ago. Many of their songs echo the beliefs of that ancient group. Best uilleann pipes ever (over on the left). ONLY uilleann pipes ever.
Last up Saturday was "Three Friends", a tribute band of sorts to Gentle Giant, a '70s band that crafted complex music that included things like recorder trios, odd a cappella madrigals, and xylophone passages. This band included original GG guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm Mortimore. They reproduced the original music quite well, even though I understand the vocalist was called in at rather the last minute.
Sunday started with Moraine, a sort of avant music band that stretched into some ethnic things like regional Chinese music and such. It helped round out the weekend's music and the low-frequency sax was quite effective in holding up the bottom.
Back to relative mainstream music with The Pineapple Thief, a band of youngsters who could probably position themselves in more popular genres, kinda of going after the Radiohead/ Porcupine Tree crowd. But here they were, and I really enjoyed at least a couple of their tunes.
This brings us to the next-to-last band, and I have already covered the last. This was the Enid, a couple members of which had been around back in the 70's. They were sort of an after-the-fact band back in the day, trying to ride the coattails of some of the greats I listed up front. However, after a computer glitch that took them down for a few minutes, they launched the most pretentious (and I mean it in a good way), orchestrated set I have heard in a long time. The band founder (over on the left) played a keyboard connected to who knows how much software in order to play like a complete orchestra, with strings followed by flutes followed by brass, as needed. I have no idea how one pulls this off. Then there was the bass/xylophone/huge drum/tympani player (the guy on the right)... Quite a set.
Quite a weekend.
A mellotron. Makes sounds by running a tape of prerecorded strings, or flutes, choir, etc.,
in the corresponding pitch for each key. Really old-timey technology. I don't care. I want one.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A-Z Munchin' Monday - X, the Challenging Letter

Well, this is a stretch, but anything is when you have to come up with something that begins with the letter X. I looked on some wiki answer site for "foods beginning with X" and came up with the word, xiangcaojing, which is Chinese for VANILLA. Like I said, it's a stretch.

But, hey, now we're talking food that matters! For most of my childhood, I was perfectly happy to get a bowl of VANILLA ice cream! Perhaps this was before the era of Moose Tracks and Ben and Jerry's crazy menu (Cherry Garcia, anyone?).

Vanilla was my fave, probably because you could dump practically anything on it, topping-wise, and it would complement it nicely. I still fancy a cone or bowl of vanilla ice cream, be it hard-as-rocks outta the freezer, or that "soft-serv" stuff you can extract from the machine at the finer all-you-cab-eat steak houses and Chinese buffets (look for the sign that says "xiangcaojing"). I really like that chocolate "shell" stuff you can pour on some vanilla ice cream, and it hardens around the scoops. Excellent! (Or, this week, x-cellent).

And since we already took care of watermelons last week, it seems to me that a bowl of vanilla ice cream (not French vanilla, mind you) is perhaps one of the next-best patriotic, American things to ingest over this weekend, up there near hot dogs (of which I had one today, nitrate-free - is that still American enough?) particularly if topped with red, white and blue sprinkles.

So I hope you all have a great Fourth of July weekend, what's left of it, and that we can all escape the acrimony and the bad news of the day and remember that, even if we Americans don't appear to have a very good handle on the affairs of state all the time, the founders seemed to have some great ideas regarding how to kick this country off, keep it going, and for the most part, that recipe has served us pretty well for centuries, and I daresay it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.