Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Nearly Nine Years

     It was some time not too long before August, 2011 when I finally gave up on the Old Reliable brand of trash can that I kept buying more of, repairing and being frustrated by.  I like step-to-open trash cans.  In a home with cats, some kind of lidded can for kitchen trash is essential.

     Trash cans from an upstart outfit had been showing up at the big-box hardware store for a few years back then -- slick, modern designs, at about half again the price of what I'd been buying -- and, after yet another allthread and plastic washer repair had failed when I stepped on the treadle (with a loud thump and pieces all over the floor), I decided I'd spend the extra to see about the new stuff.

     Simplehuman trash receptacles come with a five-year warranty.  The first one I bought was solidly built, free of nickel-dime "value-engineering."  After nearly nine years, ours failed -- mildly, the treadle is worn enough that the lid doesn't open all the way. 

     The "Old Reliable" trash cans I had been buying lasted a year at most before needing tricky repairs, which might last another year.  So that's 4.5 times the life at less than twice the price. Better is also less costly, and by a considerable amount.  Plus they've got size and shape-matched bags, which (if you buy in bulk), are about the same price as one-size-sorta-fits.  I was happy to buy another Simplehuman can of the same model we'd used for so long.  (Their website doesn't show the older, less-expensive designs; I bought my replacement at Amazon and it's just like the one I bought a decade ago except for the color.  The newer models include one of the same "footprint" and capacity.)

     They're also selling some serious home-of-the-future stuff these days.  I don't need a trash can that can beat me at chess or a lighted mirror that looks like a computer monitor (and folds!) but I like living in a world where that's a thing.

Monday, June 29, 2020

A Whole New Monday!

     We might get some storms, but there's a nice sunrise at present.  Yesterday, I finally weeded the patio, and-- 

     Weeded the patio?

     Well, yes.  The previous owner built a nice patio from 1' x 2' concrete blocks.  He probably put down barrier cloth.  Over the years, the ground has shifted and the patio has a series of small waves and one sharp discontinuity.  Most of it is probably from tree roots and with the big hackberry tree gone, I'm planning to try to level the patio this Fall or next Spring.

     With the shifting, the gaps between the blocks have opened up, and in those gaps,weeds and grass had taken root: crabgrass, dandelions, creeping charlie, wild violets and what we always called "burdock" but I just learned isn't.  (Low grouping of semicircular of elliptical leaves, long stems from the center with a fuzzy-looking seed-blob on the end).  There was even moss growing, near the house.  It all had to go.

     A semi-flexible putty knife works well for digging out weeds between blocks and scraping off moss.  It took a couple of hours, but we've got a clear patio again.  And most of the work was sitting down, so it wasn't a bad way to pass part of the afternoon and pick up some vitamin D.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Pork Chops A La Something

     Saturday night, we had a couple of nice sirloins.  It was too stormy for grilling, so they got the cast-iron grill pan.  A nice meal, with corn on the cob and baked potatoes for sides.*

     The steaks were one-step-down from USDA Prime, which is great on the grill.  On the grill pan, I cheated: I have a bag of fresh cherries in the fridge, a little more tart than the label promised.  Still good for snacking, but tart enough that I halved and pitted several, and cooked them atop the steaks, the juice adding a little extra to the flavor and maybe even helping to tenderize.

     Those steaks were really good, tender and flavorful.

     So, with a couple of boneless pork chops for Sunday, I decided to give them a nice marinade with cherries: about a quarter-cup each of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, with a tablespoon or two (or was it three?) of Worcestershire sauce, a couple of shakes of garlic powder, a teaspoon or so of my Japanese chili powder, and a half-dozen of those cherries, pitted, halved and mashed up a little.

     The pork chops sat in that (in a big zip-lock plastic bag) overnight and all day today, getting turned about halfway through.  As dinnertime approached, I lightly browned them in a little bacon fat, then poured the marinade over.  After it had cooked for several minutes, it seemed kind of strong, but I didn't want to water it down.

     Vegetables to the rescue!  I chopped up a couple of small celery stalk, a couple of fat baby carrots, a large radish and half of a red bell pepper.  I had two fresh mushrooms left, so they got chopped up and joined the pot.  I figured I had done what I could, and if the result was still too strong, it wasn't going to bother the pork chops much.

     I prepped for "popcorn" asparagus, quick-fried in a little olive oil with toasted sesame seeds (better in sesame oil but the shelf life is too short) and found a nice brown rice and quinoa mix to microwave.  Had another look at the chops and -- oh, they smelled wonderful!

     It was a long simmer to get them to 170°F, at which point the vegetables and cherries had cooked down nicely and there was plenty of liquid.  I sneaked a taste and it was even better than I could have hoped!  Served with the veggies over rice, and the broth over that and the meat, it was good enough that Tam went back for seconds of the veggies, rice and broth combo.  The flavor was savory and spicy, with a hint of sweetness.

     Popcorn asparagus is usually the standout of the meal.  This time, it was eclipsed.  Not bad for guessing, if I do say so myself.
* Even better with a salad, too, but....

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday Morning Omelet

     Rain is bucketing down outside as I write; at the peak of it, thunder was rolling just about continuously.  Instead of my desktop, I'm on the little MacBook Air, running on batteries.  Not for fear of lightning -- for a hit strong enough to do damage, having the machine on or not won't make much of a difference.  Nope, the thing is, I'm not sure how well my desktop machine would survive the kind of brownouts we sometimes get as storms roll through.  The little Mac is a pleasure to use, slightly better than my (gen 1) Surface Pro, and it is floating on its internal batteries.

     Before blogging, I made breakfast.  I bought a new skillet awhile back, a twelve-inch one with a gentle curve from bottom to sides, and it is a real treat for making larger omelets.

     I fried bacon and sliced fresh mushrooms ahead of time, and poured off the skillet grease; with a non-stick pan, whatever small amount remains is plenty.  Put it back on the burner at low heat.

     Start with a half-dozen saltines, well crushed, plus whatever seasonings you like (I used Italian mix and fresh-ground mixed pepper).  Add enough warm water to cover and let it sit until absorbed.  Once it has soaked in, take a look; you want a wet slurry, early liquid.  Add more warm water if needed, then add three large eggs and beat it until uniform and lemony -- usually a little more than seams reasonable.  I use a two-cup glass measuring cup and a large fork for this.  Once it's all mixed, pour it into the warm skillet and give it a minute.  Then slide the skillet back so the burner is centered under the front half of it.

     Now you can scissor up a slice of cheese into small sections, 1/4" square or so -- I used Swiss, covering both halves.  The easy way is to make a series of short parallel cuts along one side, then cut across them right over the pan.  Repeat until done.  Keep an eye on the cheese and the top of the omelet; once the cheese is well-melted, you can add the other ingredients in layers.  I started with diced radish, on both halves, then loaded the back half with mushrooms, crumbled bacon and sliced Castletvetrano olives.

     From here on, it's a game of patience and judgement.  The front half will start to look pretty dry; when it does, sneak in under it with a thin, flexible spatula or omelet turner, and check -- carefully -- if it will lift.  If it lifts cleanly, carefully fold it over the other half, so you end up with a nice D-shaped omelet.  If it starts to come apart liquidly, lower it down and let it cook a little longer.  If it breaks, you waited too long, but you can usually herd the pieces into position.  Slide the pan back to center and use the spatula to pat down the curved edges.  You should be able to chivvy the folded omelet to the center of the pan, too.

     Omelets are not the easiest things to get to turn out pretty.  Don't worry about it -- the ugly ones taste just as good and with every one, you develop more of a feel for getting then to behave.

     It will want a few minutes to get the down side fully cooked; after a couple of minutes, you should be able to roll it over on the fold to check for done-ness.  You don't want the inside to be wet; past that, it's matter of taste: how done do you like your eggs?

     I like them pretty well done, but not crunchy.  This omelet turned out great; Tam had her portion with Cholula sauce, while I put more diced radish and black pepper on mine.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Off

     It was a scheduled holiday, moved a little to fit when things needed to get done.  I woke up, made a nice breakfast (corned beef hash and eggs) -- and went back to bed!

     I was just that tired.  Yesterday was stressful; after the crew left, I treated myself to a fancy-burger lunch from Five Guys.  Drove to pick it up and the place was a nail salon!  I'd only glanced at the map.  Yikes!  A quick phone call later, I learned they had moved about a half-mile down the road, into what once was a Japanese steak joint.  All part of the great circle of meat, or something.  Kind of an adrenaline hit; if they'd been much farther away, I would have just donated the lunch to whoever in the place wanted it.

     Drove back to work, ate, zoned out a little and then got so into what I was doing that the time got away from me.  Despite starting several hours early, I kept at it until my usual quitting time.   At least I got a lot done.

     It doesn't come without a price.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Long Day Thursday

     I'll backdate this.  Thursday was a long day, and my first working more-or-less around people since all this stuff started. 

     We had a tower crew and a tenant's technician at the North Campus for most of yesterday, making some minor but much-needed changes in their setup.

     They were about as good at pandemic prevention measures as you might expect -- averaging a little short of my employer's mandatory requirements, but a good-faith effort from all but one.

     There's always one.  No Mask: "I forgot."  In and out of the building without checking in, using the washroom without notice before or after (we're supposed to wipe everything down with a sanitizer after use, either a commercial product or denatured alcohol) but at least keeping his distance.  Yeah, look, I get it; I grew up in the pre-pandemic world too.  I'd go back in a flash if I could, but wishing will not make it so.  Adjust to how things are now and get through it, so we can eventually get back to normal.

     Aside from such wide considerations, it's my employer's bat, ball and ballpark.  They get to make the rules.  You don't like those rules?  There's the door.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Tuesday, Pasta

     There was a pound of ground sirloin in the fridge that needed eating, and a jar of Michael's of Brooklyn "home style gravy" on the shelf.

     Presumably, that's what his grandmother called it.  Out here in flyover country (unless your grandparents hearken from the regions where they invented the stuff and darned well know their own gravy when they see it), we call it pasta sauce -- and a darned good version, too.  In single-jar lots, it is neither the most nor least expensive on the shelf at our corner market, but it's worlds above the usual  thing.  It is just one of their varieties -- I have been nerving myself up to try the hotter Arrabbiata style.

     Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, so in short order, I diced half an onion and a stalk of celery, sliced up a few big mushrooms and added some shishito peppers* cut into rounds to the drained, mostly-done beef, then poured the sauce over and let it all get better acquainted.

     It turned out to want a little salt, and why use the shaker when there's a jar of Castelvetrano olives in the fridge?  I sliced up several and added them, and we had more on the side at dinner, essentially as a condiment.

     There was half a box of rigatoni to use up, too.  It takes a little longer to cook than most pasta but paired well with the thick sauce.
* Shishito peppers are sold in a big bag.  When I buy them, they show up in dinner for several days.  They get along well in many dishes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Grilled Cheese And Tomato Soup

     But not merely grilled cheese and tomato soup, oh no.  Grilled Swiss on whole wheat, with a layer of sliced shishito peppers in the middle and cream of tomato soup with chopped, sauteed celery for a garnish.

     Next time, I might give the pepper slices a quick tour of the hot frying pan before layering them into the sandwiches, just to wake them up a little more.  Tam would like hotter peppers.  And I'd like to try it with Manchego cheese.  But it was darned good and quick to make.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Nope. Not Today. Celebrate Today. Be Annoying Another Day.

     It's too much to have to cope with a world where stupidity, deliberate ignorance and violence have somehow become virtues to be celebrated.   I am not having it today.

     It's Juneteenth.  This country did something right; we were a long time getting there, we bled a lot making it happen, the Federal government was slow telling the people most affected and it was only a start.  But we did something good.  STFU and enjoy it.   Maybe ask yourself how we can do better.

     But don't tell me.   I've got too much to deal with already.  Just go do good stuff.  Or don't.  Whatever.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Aunt Jemima's Retiring

     And it's about damn time.  The company that owns the brand is retiring the image and the name this autumn.  Oh, they tried to update her; in recent years, the "Aunt Jemima" shown on the products is certainly no nanny/cook -- to me, she looks like a Home Ec teacher, and smile notwithstanding, one who mostly hands out C grades unless you really apply yourself.  Nevertheless, the original image was indeed a minstrel-show "Mammy."

     The first woman who portrayed Aunt Jemima was Chicagoan Nancy Green, an ex-slave hired by the R. T. Davis Milling Company to demonstrate their pancake mix at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition.  She worked for the company in that role for until her death in 1923.  She used the income to help start a church and worked to advocate for greater opportunities for African-Americans.  So remember her when you see the label, a woman of her times, making the best of her situation.  The real smiling, friendly Nancy Green was a woman with aspirations who made a positive difference, not someone who kept quiet in the kitchen flipping flapjacks.

     The pancake mix itself isn't going anywhere, so don't write me, bewailing that "they're taking my favorite pancakes away."  That's not so. 

     No word (as I write this on Wednesday) on Uncle Ben of the famous (and tasty!) converted rice; recent ads show the character as Chairman of the Board and his label portrayal (and the current origin story) has been as a successful rice farmer.  I'm not sure if he'll get to stick around, but he seems like the kind of guy who'd already be hanging out with Chef Boyardee and Betty Crocker, so...maybe.  On the other hand, "Uncle" has some seriously unfortunate associations, so who knows.

     Alas, the chef on Cream of Wheat wasn't treated so well, especially early on.  The image is based on a real-life chef, Frank L. White, who died in 1938.  But the company named their character "Rastus" and a lot of the early ads were just as cringeworthy and stereotypical as you might expect.  Over time, the chef started to be portrayed as the chef (and presumably manager) of the "Cream of Wheat Inn," but given the background, I won't be surprised if we find ourselves saying farewell to him, too.  (But not the product, I hope!  It's good stuff -- hot cereal was a breakfast staple when I was growing up, from Indiana's own Coco Wheats to Ralston whole wheat cereal and Cream of Wheat.  They're all still wintertime comfort for for me.)

     "Mrs. Butterworth?"  Oh, dear.  See Aunt Jemima?  Okay, now imagine you based her on Butterfly McQueen.  Because the syrup company did.  The actress wasn't thrilled about playing stereotyped roles and eventually gave up acting in Hollywood, but Mrs. Butterworth is another "mammy" character and the clock is probably ticking.

     The problem with removing harmful stereotypes is that you risk erasing representation altogether.  Who's going to step up and sit with Tony the Tiger and the Michelin Man?  Better be somebody, but who, besides the athletes on Wheaties boxes?  The solution to that, I haven't got.

     Update: I have already had comments from people who did not read past the headline and first sentence.  I did my homework -- and I provided  links.  If you just showed up and skimmed, your (mostly meme-based and not entirely factual) comments aren't going to be published.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Sun Is Shining

     It's a pretty day out there, a nice blue sky with a few clouds.  It was a pretty day yesterday, too.  It's going to get plenty warm this afternoon, but right now, the air is like wine.

     It's too nice a day to come up with another essay on things that used to be covered in Civics classes but are now, it seems, slipping from public awareness.  Today I'm just going to let them slide; there's a whole Internet out there, filled with well-researched history, solid information about the nature, function and basic law of government in the United States and many other countries, and a wide range of news and current affairs, from tabloid nonsense to sober, factual reporting, opinions all across the entire range of political and social thinking -- and endless supply of shiny, empty distraction.  It's your choice what you reach for, but hey, maybe try some fresh vegetables and fruit instead of candy and potato chips, just for one day?

     Spend some time outdoors today.  Read a news source (real news, not opinion) you don't usually read.  Dig into some oddball corner of history.  Examine a strange plant in your back yard and look it up online.

     Exercise your body and mind.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Free Press, And Worth Every Penny Of The Price

     It's no secret that I moderate comments.  There are a lot of divisive issues floating around these days and this is my blog, not a debating society.

     I tend to shelve comments that will only lead to a spiral of unresolvable differences: this is the Internet, soap-boxes are cheap, and shouting past one another isn't nearly as useful as shouting on one's own patch to willing listeners.  It's a big country and a big Internet.  There's room for everyone.

     My observations on the Press did prompt a response that was interesting and a little sad--  But first, let's start with this thing called the Press, which the Bill of Rights tells us is supposed to be free of government meddling.  What is it?

     "The Press" is a common noun hiding a bunch of verbs: observing, collating, writing, editing, reporting, publishing.  It is these acts that the first Amendment protects.  Not reporters or editors or publishers, who are, like the President or the police, Just Some Guys.  Just some guys who happen to be performing vital jobs.

     So when a comment claiming, "Journalists have no special protection.  If the crowd is told to disperse, they are part of the crowd.  Citizens like everyone else. Same protections but no more," showed up, the complete lack of understanding of the underlying principles saddened me.

     Let's take it a piece at a time:

     "Journalists have no special protection."  Dead wrong.  Journalism is a specifically protected activity, called out by name in the first article of the Bill of Rights.

     "If the crowd is told to disperse..."  By whom, and under what circumstances?  Police?  They do not have blanket authority to tell any peaceably-assembled crowd to disperse (that pesky First Amendment again).  The police are not your masters; they are public servants.  But wait, there's another mistake:

     "...they are part of the crowd."  Nope.  Wrong.  Journalists are observing the crowd.*  They're not participants in it and are often not even among the people assembled, but off to one side or behind police lines.  Where, in recent weeks, they have been shoved, gassed, pepperballed, had cameras smashed, been detained, handcuffed and arrested.  But not, interestingly enough, charged -- because the higher-up police officials, not to mention prosecutors and judges, know that journalism is not a crime.

     "Citizens like everyone else."  Yes, they are -- and so are protesters, police, judges, legislators and Presidents.  Some of them, from time to time, engage in Constitutionally-protected activities, like practicing their religion, functioning as members of the free Press, peaceably assembling, keeping and bearing arms, speaking freely, enjoying security "in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," and so on.

     "Same protections but no more."  Yes, precisely -- spelled out right there in the highest law of the land.

     Many journalists -- many people, including protesters, police, etc. -- are jerks, fools or just annoying.  They often have opinions that strike others as ignorant or distasteful.  Nevertheless, even they are protected from government force by the Bill of Rights, especially when engaging in those activities the Feds are supposed to steer clear of limiting.  In my lifetime, I've seen the government get pushed back from many infringements and it has been a good thing.

     The police are not the boss of me -- or of you.  They're damn sure not the boss of the free Press.
* A clearer example: a war correspondent embedded with troops is nevertheless a reporter, not a soldier.   He or she is not a combatant.  A reporter among protesters remains a reporter.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Where Was I?

     Right back into the wonderful world of whatever it is I do after a week off -- and what a week to be off! 

     It was interesting to watch news happening from the outside.  From the inside, it appears a record number of reports had bad encounters, mostly with police, a few with rioters.  I'm not talking about shouting matches, that's just part of the job.  No, there were widespread cases of cameras being broken, of journalists being gassed, pepperballed, detained or arrested, a lot of it recorded as it happened.

     It would seem a refresher course in the First Amendment and how to recognize press credentials might be in order for some Public Safety personnel.   Daily Worker or Wall Street Journal, Fox News or CNN, just being there with a notebook, pointing a camera or a microphone at events is not, in fact, reason for getting shoved around, let alone handcuffed and hauled away.  Yes, the Press gets away with a lot and yes, they do push limits -- that's their job.  Only evil fears daylight.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Shelves, Done

     Phase One is done, at least.  There are more things I'd like to do, but this replaces a small storage bench, jammed into a corner and piled with clothes.
     It doesn't look too bad.

     I spent the last three days assembling, sanding (and sanding....) and applying a finish (boiled linseed oil, hand-rubbed) to the shelves.  The wood is inexpensive pine, with a lot of, shall we say, character--
     But I like it.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

So Run The Experiment

     I'm sure you have read about it or seen it on the news: a group of protesters in Seattle took over a few blocks of the city as police evacuated a precinct building.  The protesters blocked the streets and declared it the "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone."

     My right-wing friends and acquaintances have been chortling over the homeless in that area depleting the "community food supplies" in short order, sharing stories about a self-appointed "warlord" and his well-armed minions, and rumors about entry restrictions and shakedowns of businesses.

     Blogger Joe Huffman -- not a sympathetically-inclined observer -- went and had a look for himself.

     It doesn't appear to be hell on earth.  There are borders, but nobody stationed at the gates.  People stroll in and out.  The would-be warlord and his group appear to have voluntarily stopped carrying guns openly, and he's as clueless as anyone about what happens next.

     They've set up open-air movies and designated smoking areas.  They allowed the city to supply portalets.  It's no paradise; picture a sparser "Occupy Wall Street" encampment, with all that entails, and you're close.

     And yet the Right, from the President on down to the blogger next door, wants to move in and shut it down by force.

     Why?  What is there to fear?

     Did we learn nothing from the brutal razing of the Bonus Army's encampment in Washington, D.C.?  Are there no lessons to be found in the Philadelphia police bombing of the MOVE rowhouse and subsequent tragic fire, in the horrors of Waco or Ruby Ridge?  How many dead people do you want to see on the evening news?

     Indianapolis had a tense standoff at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple in 2001; seems the church and associated school hadn't been withholding Federal income tax from employee paychecks and after a few go-rounds, the Feds moved to seize the buildings and grounds.  The Baptists forted up on the site, U.S. Marshal Frank J. Anderson moved in with his people and--  Waited.  Why not?  The Federal government had demonstrated the folly of frontal assault twice in the previous decade and he was in no hurry to be lucky number three.  The standoff dragged on and on, with a few especially tense moments, but in the end it was resolved quietly, in so unremarkable a manner that the whole thing doesn't even have its own Wikpedia page.

     Cities that pushed back hard on the Occupy Wall Street protesters generally had uglier outcomes than cities that simply managed the situation, mitigated the harm and waited.

     The CHAZ is a not very well-prepared experiment in anarchosyndicalism right out of Ursula K. LeGuin's work, lacking the coherent philosophy of her fictional "Odo,"or, sadly, even advice from the late SF author herself.  As such, it is providing valuable lessons in civic engagement and the actual work involved in running even a small slice of city to the people involved.  Lacking the structure, community spirit and free-standing commercial enterprises of, say, Freetown Christiania, it is unlikely to stand for long; with essentially open borders and city emergency services still having access, it's not even all that separate an entity.

     Let 'em run the experiment.  Who knows, they -- or we -- might even learn something.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Time's Arrow Gets Edited

     So, I'm laying in a tub of hot, Epsom-salted water, reading -- which you would do, too if you were as old and achy as me -- when I stubbed my toe on a common mistake.

     Naturally, just as anyone would do, I called out for a pencil.  (Read Tam's recounting at the link, then come back.)

     I've been digging through Larry Brooks' Story Engineering, which has been informative so far.  He uses a teaching technique I recognize, going after the same point from different angles, sneaking up on it, dropping back, paraphrasing, using multiple examples and expanding to an extent that makes me a little impatient.  But he's trying to make the lesson sink in and if you play along, it does.

     One of his examples was from The Da Vinci Code, a listing of the possible "What Ifs?" that might have informed the initial plotting.  Third on the list was, in part, "What if [the child of Jesus] survived and the lineage continues to this day, meaning the ancestors of Christ are walking among us?"

     Theology aside, and granting that the Old Testament lists remarkable lifespans for some of those ancestors, they do have one other thing in common: they're all dead.  On the other hand and at least for the purposes of fiction, any hypothetical descendant might indeed be walking among us.

     The arrow of time runs in only one direction.  Ancestors are not descendants. Descendants are not ancestors. 

     So I crossed out the wrong word and penciled in the correct one.

     While in the bathtub.  It was good enough for Archimedes, after all.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

He's A Fighter

     Huck the cat went to the dentist -- well, to the vet, for a dental procedure -- this morning. 

     He's back home now, with clean teeth and a clean bill of health (mostly -- he's missing three tiny incisors, possibly as a result of his habit of chewing on things.  This is not a big problem for a housecat, since they don't use those teeth to chew their food).  But he's, well, stoned.

     He's still wobbly from the anesthetic but he will not lay down and sleep it off.  He's pacing through the house, smoothing on everything he can reach and looking for something, anything, to eat.  His back end is not quite keeping up with his front, but you see, Huck didn't have any breakfast this morning, and in Huck's world, that is an emergency that trumps everything else, even recovery from general anesthesia.

     Holden is trailing after him, murmuring comforting or worried-sounding purrpps and blerts, which Huck ignores.

     I've shut myself in the back of the house with a small snack, in the hopes that he'll find a quiet corner to relax in.  Speaking as someone who has come out from anesthesia struggling to get off the gurney and away from the nurses on multiple occasions, I think I know how he feels. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Sausage Stroganoff?

     To make dinner last night, I had a pound of "sweet" Italian sausage, half an onion, a can of mushrooms and a couple of different-brand cans of mushroom soup, Amy's Mushroom Bisque (good stuff!) and Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup.  Plus three-quarters of a bag of rotini, spiral pasta.

     So why not see how all that would work together?  I fried the sausage loose with black pepper, a generous amount of shichimi togarashi (a mildly-hot Japanese spice mix) and a dash -- well, a few dashes -- of paprika, adding half the onion, diced, before draining the fat.

     Added the rest of the onion, stirred it in well, and added the mushroom bisque, canned mushrooms (poured the liquid into the bisque can) and Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup.  I used the mushroom liquid to get the rest of the soups from their cans and stirred everything together. 

     You could add some milk or water if needed.  I had put the pan dripping in a grease separator and got about four tablespoons of broth.

     Sprinkled some parsley, basil, and a little more shichimi togarashi and paprika on top and covered the pan to simmer while I cooked the rotini.

     The rotini water was already boiling, so I added it, returned it to boiling, and tuned the heat to let it simmer for seven minutes -- this varies to taste and with the kind of pasta, so check the label.

     The end result was darned good. Unconventional, somewhere between sausage gravy and stroganoff, but plenty tasty.  Tam added some of her Flatiron Pepper mix to give her bowl a little more zing.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Shelves, Interrupted

     Woke with a terrible headache Tuesday.  Weather was coming in and this time of year is not the kindest to my sinuses.

     But there was sunshine and a project already begun, so I got up, took OTC pain meds, had coffee and a little breakfast, and got to work.

     Set up the compound sliding miter saw (I have come to really like it -- I used table saws for years, starting back when we ran them without any guards, and the sliding compound miter is easier to use and much easier to set up for large pieces) and a support, knocked out a couple of brace sections, then rigged to cut the sides, 95" tall.

     "Eight-foot" boards vary a little in length and over the years, I have settled on trimming them an inch short of nominal.  It has been a good compromise.  The ceilings at Roseholme Cottage are an inch or two over eight feet, which allows good clearance.  The shelves I'm working on now are 11"  deep and I may end up having to trim corners to stand them up. 

     It takes a little while to set up to trim longer lengths of wood.  I work outdoors, and the back sidewalk is my longest level area with a hard surface.  When I do woodwork, getting everything measured, lined up and clamped down takes ten or twenty times as long as the cutting.  I spent years growing up with parents who could do this sort of thing by eye and a few casual measurements (and who were honestly puzzled that other people could not*), but I don't have that knack; if I'm concentrating on cutting a straight line, it inevitably turns out to be at the wrong angle, in the wrong place, or I will have cut clean through something else as well (most infamously, a tabletop).  Doing it the way that works for me, there are long intervals of silence and then a quick "Bzzzzzzp-zing!" as I run the saw, not needing to focus on anything but making a clean cut.

     It's slow.  By the time I had both sides cut to length, the skies were darkening, and by the time I had unclamped and stowed away the saw, the wood blocks to prop the long ends of the boards at saw-table height and all the small tools, the wind was rising and it was obvious we were in for a storm.  To make matters worse, my head was aching with ever-greater intensity.

     Once I had gathered up the remaining tools and supplies -- with no little haste -- and had put them away, the pain in my ears was so bad, I could barely keep my eyes focused.  I took more acetaminophen and aspirin, and went back to my bedroom where I crawled under the covers and kind of collapsed.  The tomcats joined me and we dozed away most of the afternoon, me hurting and the cats purring.

     I'll finish the shelves another day.
* My parents were extraordinary people, each of them among the youngest of large families of extraordinary people, and for them, that was "ordinary."  Both were highly successful in their careers despite never attending college.  I don't know if they ever really grasped just how far out on the edge of the curve they were, even when we all -- for fun! -- took the IQ test that accompanied a Reader's Digest article about Mensa and every single family member qualified to apply, most by a quite comfortable margin.  Both of my parents had picked up basic skills like cooking, carpentry, gardening and raising small animals so early in life that they were honestly mystified that other people, including their own children, didn't "just know" them or could not quickly work them out from first principles.
     I have gathered that their own parents did not want their children feeling superior or "putting on airs;" neither family was well-to-do or especially well-connected.  But just a little more self-awareness of their giftedness probably would have helped them cope better with people who struggled to keep up with them.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Got Some Junk Hauled Away Today

     It wasn't much, but it was in the way.  The first place I called quoted a price that I could live with, and said they could schedule the pickup Thursday.

     The second place just had a recording, asked for my number and brief description, and promised to call back automatically.  Never did.

     The third place was 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, an outfit with a slick, amusing TV commercial (not always a positive, in my opinion).  Their number answered with a slightly distorted jingle followed by a brief spiel from the founder, and I thought, "Oh, boy, here we go."  But it handed me over to a call-center operator who took the particulars in a businesslike manner, promptly gave me a quote about seventy-five percent of the first junk-remover's price, and then said, "But let me put you on hold and check with our local guys.  Since this is small and already at the curb, we can probably give you a better deal."

     I was happy to hold.  Before very long, the operator came back and said, "If you will be home between four and six this afternoon, we can do the job for fifty dollars."  Less than half of the first quote!

     It was 3:30 p.m.  I assured her I would most certainly be home, she confirmed my address and we said goodbye.

     The big, brightly-painted truck stopped by around 5:00 p.m. and with no fuss and bother, picked up the junk and we did an arms-length credit-card transaction for payment.

     Easiest professional trash removal I ever had, and the least expensive one this century.  They will be my first call next time.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

An Expedition

     I went to the big-box building-suppply store today.  First big store I have been in since the coronavirus stuff started.

     It was....different.  The parking lot looked pretty full and I almost turned around and went back home.  On closer sight, the parking lot was much smaller; the garden department has been moved outdoors, and it was surrounded by closely-parked cars.  That's where most of the people were.

     It was lumber I was after, at the other end of the building.  The lot was not even half full over there. 

     Inside, people were keeping their distance, but pleasantly enough.  Nearly everyone was masked.  A couple of African-American men -- father and adult son, for a guess, and busy working modifying their project to suit the available materials -- and I were the only people in the aisle where all the plain boards are kept, and we kind of danced around each other, keeping our distance.  I was gloved up, work gloves, lumber not being very hand friendly, and so were they.  When the older man asked to borrow my tape measure (don't visit the lumber department without one!), I was happy to help.  Arms-length to arm's-lengths and returned the same way, with what I think we both hoped were readable as smiles despite our masks.

     Life goes on.  Most people want to get along the those around them.  Nobody was swapping stink-eye or making comments, not even between the masked and the maskless.

     Tomorrow, I've got a project to start.  I hope it goes well.  

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Stopping To Think

     I didn't post this yesterday (though I will backdate it), because I wanted to stop and think things over.  I wanted to develop a timeline.

     The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department did some very good work in the past week.  And they did some things that didn't work out -- the initial response to protesters downtown last weekend was extremely adversarial and appeared to increase tensions.

     They also did things that were wrong.  Pepper-spraying a protester who doused an officer with the contents of a water bottle looked excessive; and then a video emerged of IMPD arresting a couple of young women, ostensibly protesters, for being out after curfew.  It wasn't a calm encounter on either side; but one side was lightly dressed and unarmed, while the other was armored and had -- and used -- greater numbers, pepperballs, nightsticks, hands, knees and handcuffs.

     The video made the social-media rounds without much context.  It finally emerged that it happened last Sunday, before the march to the Governor's residence, before the IMPD changed their approach from confrontation to co-mingling and low-key situation management, and hard on the heels of nights of rioting, dumpster fires and looting. 

     Our local paper has a timeline of events.  The incident is being investigated and I guess we'll see how it is handled.  This shouldn't be swept under a rug.  Emotions were high, there's no question about that, but when one group of emoters has qualified immunity, deadly weapons and less-leathal weapons, I think they also have a lot more responsibility to be the "adults in the room."

     It probably should have been a teachable moment -- but if so, it still took a Deputy Mayor to explain the lesson and help apply it, last Monday.  It has been sticking so far and I hope IMPD will build on it.

Friday, June 05, 2020


     If you are going to station yourself in a prominent and somewhat difficult to access public location, vowing to stay there until social conditions improve, you might want to at least bring along a bottle of water and a box lunch.  This world is full of rotten types who would be happy to watch you starve.

     Luckily, our local police force isn't among them.

     Early TV news reported that a small number of protesters climbed up above the doors of the Soldier and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis and swore they'd stay there until things got better.  IMPD spent considerable time talking them down.  Okay, points for putting your money -- or at least your person -- where your mouth is, but points off for lack of planning.

     I can't find the story at any local TV station's website.  So more points off if the stunt is being downplayed to discourage copycats.  If that's the case, the message didn't get amplified.  They'd've been better off putting the effort into a bigger sign.

Thursday, June 04, 2020


     Can you pop popcorn over the fire as the the world burns?  Asking for a friend.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Not The Police

     One of my online friends who lives in a major metropolitan area was stopped on his commute home by the forces of law and order, and shaken by the experience.  And by them.

     They weren't the police.

     As he tells it, he was driving along a multi-lane street next to a National Guard truck or personnel carrier, when someone up ahead of them ran a red light and made a left turn onto the street, close enough that he and the Guard vehicle had to brake abruptly.  (The coronavirus shut-downs have made for some terrible driving and several days of civil unrest has made drivers even more heedless, at least here and where he lives.  Probably where you live, too.)

     The police might've blipped their siren and flashed their lights to pull the careless driver over for a warning or a ticket.  The National Guard didn't have those, but whoever was in charge decided a response was needed.  They sped up, whipped around the offending vehicle, got a little ahead, slewed to block traffic and stopped everyone.  Including my friend.  Guardsmen (Guardspeople?) came piling out, ordered everybody out of their vehicles, and with a pair of them to every driver and passenger, were not nearly as gentle or nice about it as police would have been.

     His state government has officially called out the Guard to assist police.  I have no idea if the stop was authorized or justified.  My friend is a pretty enthusiastic goth or cybergoth, who (other than possibly being a little overdressed) wouldn't look out of place in a Mad Max film, and while that shouldn't complicate interaction with the forces of public safety, it often does.  But he got shoved around like a ragdoll while things got sorted out and then sent on his way without any social niceties.

     He's not (quite) furious.  But he's upset.  Who wouldn't be?

     The National Guard are not, generally, police officers.  They're Kevin the bartender and Joe the auto mechanic and Jill who hasn't decided what she wants to do with her life yet.  Even if a particular unit has received training in crowd control, they do not get the same kind of training police do, nor do they have the experience of dealing with the entire spectrum of the public that police officers accumulate.  They're not going to interact with you in the same way.  Even a "bad cop" understands the dance in a way that a truckload of part-time soldiers do not.  It's easy to say, "comply and everything will be all right."  Heck, it's even true, 99 times out of a hundred.  But understand ahead of time: if you encounter troops in a law enforcement situation, you're not dealing with Officer Friendly (or Not-So-Friendly), who has done hundreds of traffic stops or Terry stops.  It's not going to be the usual thing.

     Be smart.  Be like my friend.  He didn't debate Constitutionality with them.  He didn't ask if traffic enforcement was covered in their orders.  He didn't enjoy the experience -- way not! -- but he got through it and got home.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Managing The Mindspace

     Yesterday, after tough talk from the President to state Governors encouraging harsh response to civil unrest, and after violent incidents all across the country, a large group of protestors on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis decided to march to our Governor's residence.

     They started about a half-hour prior to the city's 8:00 p.m. curfew.  Monument Circle, the zero point for addresses and street numbers, is right on Meridian.  The official residence of the Governor of Indiana is on Merdian, too, a deceptively-small-looking and notably unfenced home at 46th Street.  It's just about a five-mile walk.

     With only a half-hour, there was no way a large and assorted group of people was going to complete that walk before the curfew began, especially walking up the single major north-south thoroughfare through Indianapolis.

     The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Force mobilized.  They showed up in full battle-rattle, helmets with face shields, armor, gloves, and armed with every modern crowd-control tool, from batons to tear gas along with their normal sidearms.  They formed a deep line across Meridian and when the marchers neared the Governor's residence at 8:30, the police stopped the marchers cold.

     IMPD ordered them to disperse within the next ten minutes.  The marchers stood fast and chanted slogans.  There was some yelling back and forth.  The police were much better armed -- and enormously outnumbered.

     It looked bad.  Someone -- a lot of someones -- was going to get hurt.

     Deputy Mayor Dr. David Hampton, a man I had never heard of before today, stepped in as a negotiator.  What did the marchers actually want?  There was a brief huddle between the Deputy Mayor, high-ranking police officers, and the people at the forefront of the marchers.

     And then something happened.  I'm not sure who started it, but the chanting changed, coalescing on one slogan, over and over, spreading through the crowd:

     "Walk with us!  Walk with us!"

     The huddle of police and marchers dissolved into fist-bumps and shoulder slaps; the line of contact between police and marchers broke out in handshakes and even hugs, social distancing notwithstanding.*  You could see the strain easing in expressions and postures.  The police were still wary and the marchers were still upset, but they appeared to be seeing one another as people instead of symbols or threats.

     The police and protestors marched the rest of the way to the Governors house intermingled.  The protestors agreed to disperse afterward, and police walked with them back downtown to their cars.

     No one got hurt.  There were no riots in Indianapolis last night.  There was no looting.

     I'm proud of the people of my city.

     Sure, nothing big got solved last night; but everyone made room to move forward.  It's a start.
* We may see a second wave of infections as a result of the protests and especially the riots.  If so, I'd rather have people spread it by hugging than by getting tear gassed, fighting with police and being thrown into a crowded lockup.  YMMV, but the only choices are between "bad" and "much worse."

Monday, June 01, 2020

Still Horrified

     About the only people who haven't managed to horrify me over the last three days are the people who stayed home, the people who showed up in daylight with signs and songs and chant to peacefully protest and then went home, and the news media who are getting roughed up by both rioters and police.  (Everybody from Vice reporters to CNN fieldpeople to local TV talent, all of them either where police had told them to be or well away from the battle-lines.)

     The rest of you disgust and frighten me, from multiple big-city mayors claiming the people arrested for rioting or looting are mostly from elsewhere (a TV station at the epicenter dug through public records to check: nope, wrong, it's local talent) to the rioters and looters themselves and on to  the smallest online pipsqueak who conflates protesters, rioters and looters while opining that a touch of the lash -- whoops, make that harsh response by law enforcement and National Guardsmen -- would settle matters in a trice.

     Never mind that "harsh response" is how we ended up here.  Passing a fake twenty-dollar bill and getting arrested for it should not result in the bill-passer's death in the interval between getting caught and being thrown into a squad car for a night in the lockup.  If that's how police work is done where you live, there's a problem with your police force.  (Undoubtedly there will be quibbling argument on this score; but once a suspect is handcuffed and there are three or four officers on the scene, there is no reason that individual shouldn't arrive for processing in as good a condition as they were when handcuffed.)

     This kind of widespread protest -- and the vandalism, rioting and looting that has followed -- doesn't happen unless the spark falls on ready fuel.  At the very lowest level, most looters are just in it for what they can grab.  Many of the rioters and vandals fall into the "I don't believe in anything, I'm just here for the violence" category and I don't mean they're wearing a cute little Banksy-inspired patch.  The sense of hopelessness and immediate gratification that feeds their actions doesn't just happen and it's not the result of "outside agitation."  It's the water they swim in.  A big mass protest, with plenty of anger directed at police -- no matter how well justified -- creates congenial cover for people who set dumpster fires, smash shop windows, scrawl spray-paint slogans and generate chaos, but don't confuse them with the painfully sincere groups of ministers and priests and the sign-waving folks who line up in public places; it's not that simple.  There's not much in the way of direct crossover between them: the protesters at least think things can be made better.  The violent types are happy to make things worse.

     You cannot "contain it," you'd only be making a time bomb.  And we've all just seen what even a little explosion can do.  It's got to be fixed at the source.

     Given what I am hearing from civic leaders and police departments, I'm not feeling very hopeful.  "De-policing" is more likely than better training, better use-of-force polices, better pay, an end to "thin blue line" coverup for bad officers and a creating a less-adversarial police culture.