Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pop The Cork on 2009

"It's just another New Year's Eve,
Another night like all the rest.
It's just another New Year's Eve,
Let's make it the best.
It's just another New Year's Eve,
It's just another Auld Lang Syne
But when we're through this New Year
You'll see, will be
Just fine."

Didn't really expect to be quoting a Barry Manilow song, but it seems fitting for this particular New Year's Eve.

My view of New Year's Eve has changed over the past 20 years or so. When I was younger, I had to be at the right party, with the right people, and the right amount of beer and champagne. If the party or the plan on New Year's Eve was a bust, it brought with it much disappointment because of the days or weeks of anticipation of ringing in the new year in style.

I've spent time at friends' houses before I could get into bars, and then at crowded bars where the New Year's Eve scene quickly became stale. In past years I've reverted back to hanging with a group of friends at someone's house, or spending time with family.

This year, I can either go to a friend's house and enjoy some beer/wine/champagne, talk a little foolish, laugh a lot, and play some Wii, or I can get together with family and enjoy some beer/wine/champagne, talk a little foolish, laugh a lot, and play some board games or cards.

I'm seriously considering option No. 3: renting a movie or two, wrapping up in a blanket and trying to kick my cold.

Hey, don't ever say that I'm not the life of the party on New Year's Eve, OK?

I guess New Year's Eve hasn't provided me with too many front-page, big-headline memories, so I don't get all bent out of shape about it anymore trying to figure out what. to. doooo. for the (quote)big night(unquote).

I should probably retract that statement from above. New Year's Eve has provided at least one unforgettable memory, and taught me a great lesson...and that lesson is: Beer and champagne, both in large quantities, do not mix.

I was at a friend's for New Year's Eve many many years ago...I can't remember if it was before I was 21 or not. And maybe a dozen of us were celebrating the last night of the year. The beer was flowing (cheap beer, if I remember that crowd correctly), and at midnight, the champagne started flowing as well. And then, more beer, and more with the champagne, and then...oh, more beer.

I walked the six blocks home during the wee hours of the morning on January 1, and fell into my bed and "went to sleep." The next thing I remember I was waking myself up by puking the contents of my stomach into my bed, and against the wall where my bed was pushed. Not a pretty sight.

An even un-prettier sight? I rolled over in my drunken grogginess and saw my parents standing a couple feet away from my bed, watching the unfortunate...incident. From what I can recollect, they didn't say a word, just...watched...for a bit, and then left a pail on the floor alongside my bed. (which, I really didn't need anymore, because I'd so conveniently used the wall instead. but it was a kind and loving gesture on their part.)

I spent almost all of the next day on a couch in the basement, flipping through the channels and generally ignoring the TV, suffering through what remains to this day one of my worst hangovers ever.

And that's the night I learned that champagne consumption should be measured in glasses, not in bottles.

Thanks for reading. I'll understand if you never want to come back and visit again.


— • — • —

And with a click of the mouse on the "Publish Post" button of this thirty-first entry of the month of December, having thirty-one days, I can tell November to kiss...my...ass. I may have stumbled during the "official" month of NaBlahBlah, but I finished the year strong.

Expect my next entry sometime in mid-March.

Happy New Year, everyone! May you keep all the resolutions you make...and may you not make any, because then I won't feel guilty for not making any, either.


"An optimist stays up until midnight
to see the new year in.
A pessimist stays up to make sure
the old year leaves."
—Bill Vaughan

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Do You See? Hear? Feel?

"Get up and walk around. Fix yourself a beverage — tea, water, a soft drink, something caffeinated, something not, whatever you like. Find something to write with. Then settle somewhere comfortable. Write a sentence about your surroundings. Then describe at least one object in great detail. Move on to your clothing. What are you wearing? Write it down. Is anything uncomfortable, particularly colorful or dark, too big or too small? Write it down. Continue writing about everything you see, smell, taste, or hear until you have written two pages. Cross out and erase nothing. Turn the page when you are done and turn to your own writing project."

[Writing exercise from The I Ching For Writers, Chapter 43: Kuai, Writer's Block Overcome]


I don't know that I was exactly blocked tonight, but I was paging through this book, and this particular exercise stood out for me. I've seen it before, in a number of other incarnations.

Goldberg uses it often in her books. She'll begin a chapter describing the café she's writing in, or the salt and pepper shakers on the table, and eventually it will lead to why her heart is breaking that day.

And my Muse has taken to visiting me in this way a couple times a week, with prompts like, "What sounds do you hear right now?" or "What do you see in front of you?" or "What do you feel in your fingers?"

No matter what I'm doing, or how busy work might be, it makes me stop. And notice. And pay attention. And isn't that what life boils down to...paying attention? (geez, did I just sound like Ferris Bueller there? sorry.)

I like to think that I'm pretty good at paying attention, whether it's to myself, or to a group of friends around a table, or in a concert crowd of a few hundred or a few thousand.

Sometimes I soak it all in...everything. And other times I realize that I can miss something that's right in front of my nose. Which tells me I've still got a long way to go.

And in the exercise above, the "cross out and erase nothing" directive is key. Goldberg's stressed it many times, and I did timed writing exercises with that guideline in the workshop I took last winter.

It's hard! Try keeping your hand moving and your pen moving across the page for five or ten minutes without stopping, and wondering what the point is to writing such total garbage as you find yourself scrawling, "I don't know what the point is to writing such total garbage," across the page just to keep your hand and pen in motion while your mind is...blank.

But it must be useful, because it's preached over and over in many chapters of many books and by writing teachers and coaches everywhere.

It's like stretching. It loosens you up, makes you more receptive to thoughts and ideas, and it makes you look around...

...and pay attention.

(Speaking of paying attention...did you click over to Goldberg's website and pay attention to the announcement at the top of the page, that said her book tour is coming to the Midwest in March? I...live...in the Midwest. Oh. my!)



"To pay attention,
this is our endless
and proper work."
—Mary Oliver

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bombs Dropping...Everywhere!

Pardon me for two football posts in a row, but this is the time of the year when stuff is happening minute to minute, and some of it is downright shocking.

I came home for lunch today and saw a link on my homepage that said, "Mangini out as coach after Jets miss playoffs."

I had to shake the coughy, sneezy, watery-eyed cobwebs out of my head and read that link again. And again. Yeah, the Jets imploded down the stretch, and how they're out of the playoffs is as much of a mystery as how the Eagles and Chargers are in the playoffs.

But I never saw that one coming. Am I the only one who thinks that Eric Mangini's something of an up-and-coming genius? The guy's 37 years old, he's learned a little bit under Bill Belichick...and he gets canned after three years with the Jets.

I think I actually made the sweeping "c'mon over" arm motion to nobody in particular, and said out loud, "Heyyy! There's a job open in Detroit!"

A couple hours later I got a Twitter update on my phone that said, "Brian Billick will not be the Lions next coach," and I nearly jumped out of my chair and yelled, "Hooray!!" but today was another one of our Monuesdays at work, so I didn't really have the time. I was shouting it on the inside, though.

That is...until I came home and clicked the link and found that it was really just the opinion of Lions beat writer Tom Kowalski. I sure hope he's right. I don't...want...Billick...screwing up my favorite team. The Lions have a long history of hiring outstanding head coaches who accept nothing but the best effort from their players, and produce some fine, fine results.

(Did I mention I'm not feeling well? Forgive me for that last sentence. But I STILL don't want Billick on the Lions' sideline. Why? Because. That's my in-depth answer.)

I saw a little blip across the scroll line last night, that Brett Favre wasn't too happy playing for Mangini, because he'd call out the quarterback in front of other players for making bad throws during games. And as I watched the scroll line for a while longer, that was the only time that little tidbit showed up. Either I missed it again, or it magically disappeared after that.

I haven't read other stories confirming or denying that, but...gee, do you think Favre made a few bad throws at the end of the season?? What's the stat, something like nine picks in the last five games? If he was crying for getting called out for making bad throws, that's pretty prima donna-ish, don't you think?

So. No idea if the Favre story has anything to do with Mangini getting fired, because 99 percent of people who watch and analyze and cheer for and know how to spell football think that Favre is finished.

But there's also a little story out there today that Bill Cowher told the Cleveland Browns he wasn't interested in their coaching position, but that he'd listen to what the Jets have to say.

Do you think Favre would stay around another year to play for Bill Cowher? I kind of...do.

I'm straying way off topic here...which is easy, seeing as how there are so many topics to jump to.

Bottom line: Bring Mangini to Detroit, and I will have renewed interest in what I realize will still be a horrible football team for the next couple of years. OK, decades. A head coach is one part of it, but the Lions filled front office positions by promoting from within, so the dream of Parcells coming to Detroit was short-lived.

Just to keep things in perspective, Mangini's name hasn't even been mentioned on the list of possible coaching candidates. Yet. Right now there are a bunch of offensive and defensive coordinators being penciled in for interviews.

And one of the scariest things I read so far today: "Lions owner William Clay Ford will have final say in the head coach decision."

Anybody wanna bet against 0-for-32?



"There are only two kinds of coaches—
those who have been fired,
and those who will be fired."
—Ken Loeffler

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From Bad To...Just As Bad?

How does one officially sever all ties with a sports organization and direct one's fan affiliation elsewhere? What is the proper procedure for such an action?

I've been a Detroit Lions fan for 19 years, and after this remarkable season, I may have had enough.

While I may have known early on that the Lions probably weren't going to make a big playoff push this season, I never expected this. Sixteen games. Sixteen losses. An even greater mark of futility than the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers who went 0-14 in their first season as an expansion team in the NFL.

Detroit's been around for a while. They even have a superstar or two: Calvin Johnson, who will reserve his untapped potential until such time as he's wearing another team's uniform; and Roy Williams, who was a superstar until he started dropping passes, and then was traded to the Dallas Cowboys where he complained about not being used enough in the offense; and placekicker Jason Hanson, who's old but can still boot the ball through the uprights. (How sad is it when your kicker has to be mentioned among your best players?)

But now...I don't know what to do. I've changed affiliations before, but it's been so long that I honestly can't remember the steps I took.

I used to be a New York Giants fan. I was, and still am, a fan of Phil Simms, and followed players like Mark Bavaro, Dave Meggett, Stephen Baker (The Touchdown Maker), Joe Morris, Ottis Anderson. And I was a big fan of Lawrence Taylor, until he retired and became a shell of his former self, wandering the streets looking for his next crack fix. (Seriously. Listen to that guy in an interview sometime. It is so sad how his life did such a 180.)

And on the sideline of the Giants games is where I first "met" Bill Parcells. There's only one other sports figure I revere more than Parcells, and that guy was the reason I became a Lions fan in 1989, having to split my time between the Lions and the Giants for a few years before Parcells went on to other challenges, and Simms retired, and LT went on a binge.

I guess I just answered my question of how I parted ways with the Giants. Many of the players with whom I was enamored were no longer there, and I had a one-of-a-kind running back to pay attention to in Detroit. Change focus, start buying new T-shirts, sweatshirts and caps.

Barry Sanders came into the NFL in 1989, and left it, disgusted with his poorly owned, poorly managed, poorly coached, go-nowhere team, in 1999. He could have played a 16-year career instead of 10, and built a career rushing record that would have stood untouched for decades.

Instead, he knew when to get out. The same cannot be said for at least one fan, who remained optimistic through the signings of Scott Mitchell (loudmouth bust), Charlie Batch (fragile bust), Herman Moore (great receiver on a bad team), Jon Kitna (too loose with his predictions on radio talk shows), Charles Rodgers (collarbones made of ceramic), Mike Williams (headcase bust, and too fat for a receiver), and a first-round O-lineman named Gosder with a bad attitude.

(the sad part is that I could keep going, but there's not enough room on the interwebs to list all the ridiculously bad moves the Fords and Matt Millen and the rest of Lions management have made.)

Add to all of that having to endure the final nail in a sixteen-nail coffin this afternoon. A perfectly awful season. No team can ever be worse than the 2008 Detroit Lions.

So if I decide to cut ties with the Lions and move on to another team, in which direction do I move? I'm a Peyton Manning fan, but if I cheer too loudly for the Colts in the playoffs, I'll be accused of jumping on their bandwagon. I can't really go back to the Giants, because while I've started to go a little easier on him in the past year or two, I've never been too high on Eli.

To avoid as much flack as possible, I'd have to slide over to another pretty bad team. And who wants to be a Chiefs fan, or a Raiders fan? (No disrespect to fans of those teams, of course. I mean...look at what I'm dealing with!) I could firmly plant my fandom in my home state and become a Packers fan, but...I was already chuckling before I finished writing those words. Clearly not an option there.

I guess I'm stuck, and will remain loyal (meaning I'll lie on the couch on football Sundays and fall asleep during the games) to the Lions for a bit longer. Rumor is that Parcells could be on the move, so there's a glimmer of hope he might end up in Detroit. And the Lions will be looking for a new head coach, which will be at least a mildly entertaining story to follow.

Unless they hire Brian Billick, the former Ravens coach. Not a big fan of his. If that happens, I may give up watching football altogether, and spend more time reading the classics. Which is what I should be doing anyway.

Dostoevsky's kicking my ass lately.

As badly as an 0-16 season by my "favorite" football team.


"The natural state of the football fan
is bitter disappointment,
no matter what the score."
—Nick Hornby

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Speechifying: The Writers Who Make It Possible

As I flipped through the channels on this dreary, rainy, foggy Saturday afternoon, coughing and wheezing and looking for a knitting needle to poke into my nose and relieve some of the pressure building up in my sinuses, I was held up on C-Span for a while.

Sometimes there can be some great stuff on C-Span.

Today, I was met with an image of one of those humongous oval conference tables, with about a dozen people seated around it, all with notepads in front of them, and water glasses within reach.

In the bottom left corner of the screen was the title, "Writing Inaugural Addresses." That's what made me stop. Imagine, all the words and ideas and moments of great inspiration that have been poured from the minds of those sitting around that table. (maybe they should be our presidents instead, yes?)

I didn't get to see it all, but one of Reagan's speechwriters was there, as was one of Nixon's...and a presidential historian from I forget which university (if I'm on the ball and think I may be blogging about something I see on TV, I sometimes take notes, and would have had the writers' names and universities and ideas to add here...but I'm rather ill today and was far too lazy to go in search of a pen and paper) who strongly recommended that if the writers around the table hadn't read James Garfield's inaugural address in 1881, that it should be required reading.

Clearly, speechwriting has been a much-needed resource over the past eight years. And the historic speech that will be delivered next month will also be mined for phrases that may be used on David Letterman's "Greatest Moments In Presidential Speeches" segment.

The current buzz, much of it negative, surrounding the inauguration is Obama's selection of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation, but I bet many of the writers sitting around the big table and featured on C-Span today were instead thinking of past lines like,

"Ask not what your country can do for you—
ask what you can do for your country."

and hoping that one day there'd be another line that would stand for years to come, and that they might be able to say, "I wrote that."



"It is the high privilege and sacred duty
of those now living to educate their successors
and fit them, by intelligence and virtue,
for the inheritance which awaits them."
—James A. Garfield; March 4, 1881

Friday, December 26, 2008

Take The Money And Run

I'm not quite sure I understand this study I just read, wherein members of a group are given money, and then have some of it taken away from them. The other side of the experiment is that members of another group are simply given money by an unknown person.

Then, part two of the experiment is that the original two groups are given money and asked to give some away. The group that was originally given money gave away $6 out of $10, while the group that had money taken from them gave only $4.50 out of $10.

Seriously. It was confusing when I read it. It's confusing as I write it. But I can sorta make some sense out of it. The point is...why did they do it?

Researchers really spent...money?...on this experiment about money?? (I know. It goes so much deeper.) Must've gotten a grant. Apparently psychologists have a lot of time on their hands, and plenty of creative studies to record results for.

It's probably a good thing I wasn't one of the random people chosen to participate. Because after the study was explained to me, and I was given the envelope with the ten bucks, I would have said, "Thank you," and walked the other way and bought lunch.

I love the "conclusion" at the end that mentions the people who felt slighted. "It's not enough just to apologize."

I like my conclusion better.
Free lunch.



"To know oneself, one should assert oneself.
Psychology is action, not thinking about oneself.
We continue to shape our personality all our life.
If we knew ourselves perfectly, we should die."
—Albert Camus

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Stirred. Fried. Smoked Out.

How To Stir Fry In A Wok:

Step 1:
Heat wok before adding oil or any ingredients. It's always best to begin stir frying in a wok that is already hot.

I know I've read this step somewhere before. And I've followed it many times, as well, and have had success making delicious meals of various colorful vegetables and other assorteds in my wok.

Today was Day Two of Christmas celebrating with family, and the plan was to hang at my sister's place and do some woking. An assembly line of vegetable choppers and recipe readers and sauce concocters...we've done this a couple times in the past, and it's a lot of fun.

I offered to bring my wok, as we had a few different recipes to sample. After our ingredients were prepped, I put my wok on the stove and turned on the burner. A couple of minutes later as I added the oil, I ran a plastic spatula lightly over the bottom of the wok...and it left a mark.

I brushed the spatula across the bottom of the wok again, and it left an even bigger mark. I wasn't sure if the spatula was melting or if my wok was disintegrating. As I examined the spatula and determined it was indeed safe for stirring at most temperatures, my wok started to smoke. The oil was getting hotter and the mark across the bottom surface was bubbling and flaking and...my sister's kitchen was filling with smoke, patio screen doors were being opened. It wasn't the prettiest of cooking pictures.

I'm not exactly the best of cooks, I'll freely admit that. There's no Food Network hosting gig in my future.

But I'm no fire hazard, either.

I poured the oil out of the wok into a metal can, and took a paper towel to wipe out the bottom, and the non-stick coating on a section about the size of a half of a dollar bill was wiped away in an instant.

One wok...retired.

We resorted to using deep fry pans and chicken fryers to finish cooking our dinner, and hopefully the smoke should be cleared out of their kitchen by the time the next major holiday rolls around.

I've just found a use for some of my Christmas cash (no, not cooking lessons, you smart-ass. a new wok!), and if we do this again next Christmas Day, I might suggest that my sister has the local fire department on standby as soon as I enter the city limits.


How To Stir Fry In A Wok (Revised):

Step 1:
Destroy wok on stove. Throw away wok. Look in drawer for local Chinese take-out menu.




"When it comes to Chinese food, I have always
operated under the policy that the less known
about the preparation the better. A wise diner
who is invited to visit the kitchen replies by
saying, as politely as possible, that he has a
pressing engagement elsewhere."
—Calvin Trillin

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Is It Bigger Than A Bread Box?

Do you ever try to disguise the gifts you give to friends and relatives at holiday time?

Like if you're giving someone a gift certificate, do you put it in an envelope and put the envelope in a box and wrap it, then put that box in an even bigger box and wrap that, and repeat those steps about a dozen times until the final outer dimensions of the gift are approximately equal to those of Saturn?

I might need to be a bit creative this holiday season as I begin my wrapping (yes, I know what time it is), or most of the gifts I bring to my Christmas celebration will bear a striking resemblance to a gift card with wrapping paper around it.

What can I say, I'm a fan of the gift card. In both giving and receiving.

I could pull something totally unexpected and hire an elephant to walk into my parents' living room tomorrow, and when someone says, "You got me an elephant for Christmas??" I could give an elephant command that I just learned that day, and the elephant would hold out its trunk and drop a peanut in that person's hand, and I'd reply, "No, I got you a membership in the Shelled-And-Salted Peanut Of The Month Club. Merry Christmas!"

And then the elephant would do his job on the carpet and ruin my niece's new Crochet-By-Number kit that she was so looking forward to using. (That's one scarf I would have to refuse.)

Perhaps I'll forget the elephant trick. After all...I want to be invited back to celebrate Christmas with my family next year.



"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it
is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
—William A. Ward

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Hectic Moneusday.

When your job requires you to produce something on a weekly basis...say, a newspaper, for instance...you develop a certain routine, and certain days have certain pre-defined tasks that need to be accomplished, or said routine gets thrown out of whack, and chaos ensues.

When certain magical events...say, Christmas, and Christmas Eve, for instance...fall on certain days of the week...said routine also get thrown out of whack, because we're not working on Christmas Day, and we're only working a few hours on Christmas Eve, but we all know there won't be much accomplished during those hours, except to pass the time until such time that it's time to leave and spend time in other places where you'd rather be spending time.

We normally print our paper on Wednesday around 12:30, but this week it was moved to Tuesday at about 10:30 to accommodate our printer's schedule. Therefore, last Friday should have been our Monday, and today should have been sort of like a Tuesday and Wednesday morning combined, because our Wednesday before printing has been shortened by a couple of hours.

However, last Friday we didn't really accomplish too much Monday stuff, so today served as more of a Monday/Tuesday/partial Wednesday, except that we ran out of day before we got to incorporate much of the Wednesday. Instead, it was rather...Monuesday-ish.

Therefore, we're still under the gun to get our pages pasted up and negatives shot so we can get out the door by 9:45-ish to get to the printer by 10:30-ish, on Tuesday, which should really be our Wednesday. But it's not.

So after I'm finished rambling here for a bit, and adding a quote at the end, and hitting the "Publish Post" button, I'm going in to work to update my football prediction column, because I had to wait until the game tonight was over to see if my prediction was correct (it was not) before I had an accurate tally of wins and losses for the week. (Seven wins, nine losses, if you must know. You weren't supposed to ask that.)

While I know this post makes almost no sense to anyone reading it, and barely little more sense to he who's writing it...it does consist of seven or eight paragraphs of filler, instead of seven or eight words of filler.

And because of that, I consider it to be an acceptable entry for Monday, December 22, 2008.


Or is it...Tuesday?

Just get me to Friday....OK?
(which, by the way, should really be Monday again, because we do the same thing over for New Year's week this year.)

What I want for Christmas...is a job with no deadlines.



"I am definitely going to take a course
on time management, just as soon
as I can work it into my schedule."
—Louis E. Boone

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Right Turn, Clyde

Last winter we had some impressive displays of mammoth icicles hanging from the rooflines of many houses around here, and this year we've had a few, too. I'm sure before spring is sprung, we'll have some more...and I'm going to try to get some photos.

But I think I've already found my favorite icicle of the season. Not that I exactly keep a specific category of them, but...I'm starting with this one.

Found this one hanging from the awning outside the front of the building at work. It's really quite tiny. And I wanted to get some photos of it during the day, but the day after this shot was taken, the icicle had mysteriously vanished from the awning. Perhaps it broke away and plunged to its death on the concrete stoop below, or maybe someone waved his hand across the edge of the awning to clean off the ice without stopping to notice and ask, "How did it do that??"

I wish the photo was better. It's not.

But I still like the icicle.


"No winter lasts forever;
no spring skips its turn."
—Hal Borland

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Losing My Sole

So what kind of last-minute moron goes Christmas shopping the weekend before Christmas, hmmm??

As evidenced by the parking spaces available, lots of people. Believe me...lots of people!

There were about a thousand people in line at Barnes & Noble today. OK, fine...maybe 25. But the line had two bends in it, so what I'm saying is there was much spending being done.

And Best Buy had one of those amusement park, back-and-forth, line-herding contraptions set up. I hoped I'd get to ride a roller coaster when I got to the front, but all I got to do was give them some money. What a bummer of a ride.

Both lines, however, moved expeditiously (thanks, Morgan Freeman in Lean On Me). Made my shopping experience almost pleasant. Oh, and those memory cards I thought were such a steal from a week and a half ago? Found a better deal on even bigger ones. (yes, I shopped almost as much for myself as anyone else.) Can you say Merchandise Return?

On a sad note, I lost a pair of boots today. As I was walking through Best Buy, I thought I felt something stuck to the bottom of my right foot, and when I looked down, I instead saw half of the inch-thick sole flapping away from the rest of the boot.

I've had them for more years than I can count (15? 17?), but I guess this year they had the snow kicked or tromped off of them one too many times, and surrendered to the elements.

R.I.P., K-Swiss, size 13s.



"Does it follow that I reject all authority?
Perish the thought. In the matter of boots,
I defer to the authority of the boot-maker."
—Mikhail Bakunin

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let's Hear It For Strange Food

Pig ears, huh?

I've seen them at our local cooperative convenience store, as chew treats for dogs...smoked and flavored and dried, or something. All I know is they're hard, in a bin, and you can buy them for your dog for 75 cents apiece.

But as I was flipping past the Food Network tonight (now would be a good time to change the channel to one of your other favorite blogs if you're the type who's easily grossed out), I saw the show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and there was a feature on Big Mama's Kitchen in Omaha, Nebraska, a restaurant specializing in soul food and a few...oddities. And one of the little teaser blips that made me watch the whole segment was a mention of Pig Ear Sandwiches.

Let me interject and say that I'm a pretty adventurous eater...or at least I can be. Not Fear Factor adventurous where you have to drink a maggot milkshake to advance to the next round, but...real, actual food. Give me something weird, and I'll try it. I might not like it...but how are you going to know until you try, right?

I think I've mentioned on this blog somewhere before (I looked for the post, and can't find it) that I'm lucky enough to enjoy a treat of pickled beef tongue a couple times a year. My dad makes it, his mom made it, maybe her mom made it...and if you like pickled anything, I should give you a sample of beef tongue sometime, on a Saltine with plenty of onion. Oh...my. What a treat.

So I couldn't turn away when the host of the show, Guy Fieri, was given the chance to sample one of Big Mama's Pig Ear Sandwiches.

Big Mama puts them in a crock pot with plenty of spices ("they're very bland by themselves," she said) and lets them slow cook for eight hours. When they were nearly finished, Fieri jokingly tried to make up an excuse to leave. Even when it was on the bun (with a little mustard, because what ear is complete without mustard?), he paused before taking his first bite.

"It's tender...it IS tender," was his immediate reaction after first taste. And after a bit more chewing, he admitted he thought it was going to be worse, and gave the Pig Ear Sandwich praise, as did a half dozen customers when asked to give their testimonials on camera.

I guess there's something on every menu for everyone, huh?

So tell me...which would you be more apprehensive to try, if given the choice? A Pig Ear Sandwich, or a piece of pickled beef tongue on a cracker?

I don't know that I'll be racing over to Omaha anytime soon for a sandwich.


"We have two ears and one tongue
so that we would listen more
and talk less."
—Diogenes

Thursday, December 18, 2008

One Last Show To Close The Year

The first time I saw Sister Hazel was at the Marathon County Fair in Wausau when they were promoting their first record. (OK, their second record...but the first one that had any commercial success.)

They flew in shortly before they were supposed to go on stage, and for whatever reason, their lead singer was on a separate flight, and his was delayed. So the show was held up for a bit, until the band decided to go on without the lead singer. Hard to expect much when that key member of a band is missing, right?

They rocked.
Musically impressive, and vocally, too.

Granted, the lead singer's unique voice was missing from the songs, but I can say that it was the best (only) performance I've ever seen by a band without its frontman.


Last night, I saw Sister Hazel for the third (or maybe fourth) time...quite a few years and a handful of records later. And if I tell you again that they rocked, I'm sure some opinionated music lovers might say, "Sister Hazel can't rock. It's musically impossible."

Yes...to some, Sister Hazel might be floofy. (not a technical musical term.) But I...am a big fan. Judge me if you will.

They played at The Rave in Milwaukee, and while I've visited my share of intimate venues this year...I think "empty" better describes the room we were in last night. There was a cozy little group of a couple hundred of us around the stage, and the rest of the room...freeze some water and you could have a miniature hockey rink.

So this Sister Hazel experience was up close and personal.

There were two opening acts to start the evening...a young guy named Luke Mulholland, who had the blues and a booming killer voice implanted in him at birth (not to mention crazy good guitar skills) and another singer named Pat McGee, who my buddy's seen before, and who was equally as impressive. Both guys came out on the small stage alone, with guitar and mic, and impressed the small crowd.

Sister Hazel is made up of four guitar players and a drummer from Gainesville, Fla., and, unable to cope with the low temps and wind chills in Wisconsin, the four front members all sported the long-sleeve T-shirt under short-sleeve T-shirt fashion choice for the performance...with lead singer Ken Block's shirt proclaiming, "OBEY," on it.

After a 20-minute set by Mulholland, and a 45-minute set by McGee, there's only so much more musical entertainment you can squeeze out of a 16-dollar ticket, so Sister Hazel's set was little more than an hour, with two encores bringing that total to maybe an hour twenty.

Two-thirds of the way into the set, the band played the song that got the most air play, "All For You." But if you follow the band at all, the group's put out so many better songs on subsequent albums.

We were told that the set list rotates for every performance, and that our set was chosen by bassist Jett Beres, who, I swear, saw Kenny Loggins' look decades ago, copied it, and never looked back. They're twins.

Beres obviously liked more of the edgier, funkier tunes that the band has written...while I would have liked to hear more of their mushier, relationshippy stuff, which I think has more poetry in it. (to recap...this concert review contains the words "floofy," "mushier," and "relationshippy." Rolling Stone, here I come.)

It wasn't a bad concert by any means. Quite the contrary. Any time I can see Sister Hazel from a dozen feet away, I'm all in. But if I was choosing the set list, I would've gone with more weepy stuff. Maybe I'm just...weepy.

One highlight of the night was a song called, "Starfish," off of the record that broke 'em big. And while the song on the disc is nothing special...they rearranged it a little last night, added a banjo, and did it bluegrass-style.

Yep. That worked for me.

I don't know when I might get to see them again, but they're quickly becoming one of the handful of groups that I'll go see anywhere, any night, when they come through my state.



"Lend me your ear, and I'll
tell you about the things I fear.
Open your heart, and I'll tell you
why I'm torn apart, maybe.
Lend me your car, and we'll
go chase down a falling star.
Give me your hand, cause it
takes that fire to understand."
—Killing Me Too, Sister Hazel

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ah-Choo! (Thanks For Sharing.)

Small offices...

...the daytime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, nose-blowing, throat scratching, cough drop-sucking, TheraFlu-sipping, stuffy head having, spread it all around but don't take a sick day because we can't afford to have anybody missing work during the holiday rush-type workplace. (I know I should hyphenate all of that. But that's a serious compound modifier, and I don't have that much time.)

I work in an office with four other people. A small staff, to be sure. And when someone brings in a cold or virus during the cold & virus season, it usually gets...shared.

One of the ladies in our office has practically lost her voice, and I'm wondering when it might strike me. I'm betting Christmas Eve Eve, and it'll last for three or four days. I'm feeling some faint effects of the onset of...of...something. Just don't know what.

Instead of wrapping up in a blanket, however, and sipping something medicine-y, I'm going to gulp down a dissolved Airborne tablet and head down the interstate to a concert.

Because I like to test my immune system, that's why.
And because I have a ticket.
And because it's Sister Hazel. They put on a good show.




"The family is a unit composed
not only of children but of men,
women, an occasional animal,
and the common cold."
—Ogden Nash

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lighthearted Hate??

If you follow golf (...and there go about 98 percent of my readers for the day...please stop back tomorrow! I might discover a topic that you find even more boring), it's almost inevitable that you're either a Tiger Woods fan or a Phil Mickelson fan.

Notice I used "either/or" there. Because it's difficult to be both. I've broached this subject before on this blog, and have stated that while I don't dislike Tiger Woods, I am firmly entrenched in the Phil Fan Club.

Rarely, if ever, will you hear anyone utter, "I like them both equally, and I hope they're both very successful in every tournament they play!" No. If you're the type to invest your time watching golf on TV, or in person, you've probably chosen a side.

In the news recently, we learned that Tiger's caddie, Steve Williams, has chosen...Tiger. Shocked, aren't you?

But Williams made headlines by taking it a bit further than choosing sides, instead being quoted at a charity event as saying, "I wouldn't call Mickelson a great player, 'cause I hate the [expletive]."

This coming from a guy who, when he's been asked in the past to answer a few questions, has said, "I don't talk to the media, mate." Look who's talking!

Mickelson returned fire with a bit more subtlety, saying, "After seeing Steve Williams' comments, all I could think of was how lucky I am to have a class act like Bones [Phil's caddie, Jim MacKay] on my bag and representing me."

Nice, Phil. Good jab.

It's no secret that Tiger and Phil aren't best pals, but they kinda sorta get along. Sorta. There are well-documented digs here and there from both parties, but for the most part they respect each other. Paired together during the Ryder Cup in 2004, golf fans must've thought that would be the dream pairing...the two biggest names, the two best players in golf, playing together for their country.

Um, yeah. They lost both the matches they played. Mutual respect and great talent does not always good chemistry make! (unscramble those words and you can make a real sentence, I promise.)

I'm all for Tiger drama and Phil drama, and even the occasional Tiger/Phil drama. Because golf needs all the excitement it can get.

But caddies? There are 750-plus comments on the ESPN story that I linked to above, and while I only skimmed a hundred or so (I do have a life, you know. wait! I watch golf!! what am I saying?), and there are plenty of differing opinions, one theme that gets revisited is, "Caddies should be seen and not heard."

Especially caddies that don't talk to the media.

Tiger's fired a caddie in the past for publicly discussing financial arrangements, because he likes his caddies to be "invisible." But this instance has a different twist, as Williams and Woods are close friends, and Williams was Tiger's best man at his wedding.

I don't think Tiger will replace Williams, and I don't think Williams and Phil, or Tiger and Phil for that matter, will start getting together every Sunday to play Chutes and Ladders.

Williams tried to bury the incident and his comments, saying, "It was not meant to be any harm. It was one of those lighthearted, funny things."

Seen and not heard, buddy.
Invisible.



"Nobody but you and your caddie
care what you do out there, and if
your caddie is betting against you,
he doesn't care, either."
—Lee Trevino

Monday, December 15, 2008

Good Enough For Nelly, Good Enough For Me.

I first learned how to drive in a tank. And I want it back.
In fact, I never wanted to give it up.

No, I didn't learn to drive in the Army.

The Tank was my dad's 1970 Chev Impala, affectionately named by my oldest sister and her friends, I believe. (I'd call and ask her, but she might not be too pleased being jarred from her sleep to be quizzed about an old brown car from the mid-70s.)

The car was almost exactly like the one pictured, except that ours was brown. Come to think of it, many of our vehicles were brown when I was growing up. Many. Of. Them.

That thing held about a hundred people inside, and we really put it through its paces some nights...with some buddies and me in the Impala, and another buddy driving his dad's Pontiac Phoenix. Oh, the good ol' days.

It was nearing its last legs when I was of the age to learn to drive and take my driving test, but my dad probably wasn't too keen on letting me make too many driving mistakes in a newer car...not that I blame him. At all. I was, and am, a pretty good driver, and comfortable behind the wheel in any situation. But let's be real. I was a new driver. In a rear-wheel-drive car. In a state that has snow four or five or ten months of the year. I had to see what it could do...right?

By the time my dad got rid of The Tank, the transmission was a little tempermental, meaning you had to shift it on the steering column (an automatic transmission, mind you) from Low 1 to Low 2 and up into Drive to get up to traveling speeds.

I didn't care. I considered that part of the car's personality, its charm. I couldn't imagine getting rid of The Tank. It was...rugged. It was brown. It was about a mile and a half long. And it was mine. (Even though it wasn't.)

Some hip-hoppers these days who collect classic cars have an Impala or two. And it makes me proud to have driven one myself. Not that they were very similar. Theirs are all chromed out and they're spinning 22s on 23s, or...or...whatever Sprewell's sellin'.

I was just thrilled to be riding on four.
Wheels.

And maybe my Impala wasn't all tricked out or lined up in a driveway on MTV Cribs, but the line in Nelly's song, "CG2," worked for me back then, too.

"...wait till they get a load of my Impala!"

Glitchy transmission and all.


"The engine of the tank is a weapon
just as the main-gun."
—Heinz Guderian

[this post inspired by five words from A-Bomb]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Take That! And That! And...Where's Another Shoe?

To paraphrase Forrest Gump:
"Sometimes I guess there just aren't..enough..shoes."



"A lie can travel halfway around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes."
—Mark Twain

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Good Fortune(s).

Picked up a couple fortune cookies on my way out of a Chinese buffet tonight. (It always makes sense to grab two, in case the first one totally blows. Who wants a bad fortune?)

While my fortune should have read, "You will stop eating at buffets and start to enjoy more salads and cottage cheese, because seriously, dude...that's way too much food," the two I received were much more complimentary.

The first one I opened said, "You are going to have a very comfortable old age." How pleasant, I thought. Can't ask for much more than that. I can look forward to being 93 and...comfortable.

I opened the second one with a bit of trepidation, fearing that my first would be wiped out with something horrific, like, "Your next career will be as the manager of Britney Spears' comeback effort."

Fortunately (heh), that wasn't the case. My second one read, "You will find an outlet for your creative genius and accomplish a great deal."

Creative genius.
Certainly no creative genius involved in managing Britney Spears, so I've been spared that fate.

Creative genius. Hmm.

I need to go find some creative genius. (I wonder if it'll be half price after the holidays.) And then I need to find an outlet for it. And then...I need to accomplish a great deal.

Oh, the pressure.

I sure am glad my old age is going to be comfortable, because my middle age just became action-packed.

By the way, my lucky numbers were:
2-3-5-33-37-42

and
4-46-18-20-7-65

A bit of conflicting information there among...all of them.
Guess I need two rows of lottery numbers.

Or maybe a buffet without fortune cookies.



"If a mans' fortune does not fit him,
it is like the shoe in the story;
if too large it trips him up,
if too small it pinches him."
—Horace

Friday, December 12, 2008

City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks...

...not to mention busy store aisles, too.

I started my Christmas shopping tonight, which is to say I went to a couple of stores with some ideas in mind, only to become frustrated by the chaos and throw up my arms in disgust, vowing to give it another, more patient, attempt tomorrow.

I must admit, this is a late start, even for me. I usually have one small burst of creative gift-giving ideas in late November and make a purchase or two...before waiting until the weekend before Christmas to finish the rest, of course.

I don't have a spectacularly long list of people to shop for, and I like it that way. Those of you who do, I don't know how you do it, aside from starting your shopping in late August, maybe. Or making Christmas shopping a year-round activity, purchasing items in March or May, and tucking them away.

If I was to tuck something away eight months before Christmas, it would be promptly forgotten two weeks after purchase.

Tonight there were many conversations, both mine and those overheard, that went like this:

"Excuse me, could you help me with th..."

"Yes, sir, I'll be right with you."

*pause, wait, pause, pause, pause some more*

"Excuse me, miss, could you unlock th..."

"One moment, sir, I'll be right with you."

*wait, pause, wait, wait, wait some more*

One woman turned to her little boy and say, "C'mon, kiddo...we're never going to get anything done like this."

Thing is...tomorrow it'll be the exact same scenario. But I will have already programmed myself on the drive to the stores to have as much patience as it takes to get what I need. And to cope with the shoppers five-wide in an aisle that can really only fit three.

And next year I'll go Christmas shopping in July.


"In almost every survey of consumers,
they say they don't mind spending money.
What they hate is the shopping experience."
—Alan Bush

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Now Playing...(Or Soon, Anyway)

Rhett Miller came to Shank Hall in Milwaukee a couple years ago, and I didn't make it down to see him. I wish I would have.

Tonight I learned that he's coming to Madison in February...to the same 350-capacity tiny Majestic Theatre where I saw Matt Nathanson. Twice.

Guess who's going to be in attendance? I'm probably going to buy my ticket this weekend.

Whenever I read about Rhett Miller, the article almost always clarifies that he was the former lead singer of The Old 97s. Um...I don't know who The Old 97s are, or were.

But I know that I've got The Instigator by Rhett Miller (I don't own his other solo efforts, but I soon will), and there are enough great songs on that disc that I'm going to drive to Madison in February to see him live.

Unless we get 14 inches of snow that day.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wasting Time...One Post At A Time

I found this article in my Google Reader this morning, and the title was enough to make me click it right away and give it a read.

Granted, the author begins the post with, "Chances are, if you're a beginning blogger..."

Well. I may not be a popular blogger. I may not be a consistent blogger. I may not be a widely read blogger. I may not be a concise blogger. I may not even be a good blogger. But Ton-Fifty-ONE is more than two years old, so I don't know if I consider myself a beginner anymore, either.

Still, I continued reading, because the post was the blogger's equivalent of the writer who wants to become better so he reads a lot of books on writing, but..doesn't..write. (not that I've ever been guilty of that. ever. once or twice. a day.)

Basically, if you want to be a writer...write. If you want to be a blogger...blog. If you want to be a spelunker...spelunk. Action words are where it's at!

I believe there are tips and tricks and wheelbarrows of inspiration that can be obtained from reading books on writing, but the best days a writer has are when he or she writes something.

On a somewhat related note, I was in a store tonight staring at memory cards for my camera, after having originally gone in for like...yogurt, or something. And I found SanDisk 4GB high-speed cards for $19.98, and my mind started racing: "Wow, I can't believe how much these prices are coming down! I paid thirty bucks for two 2-gig cards not too long ago, and these cards are a little faster and so much cheaper and I should really get one because, gee, that sure is a steal, and...man that's cheap, and wait a minute, Gregg, you've got a handful of 2-gig cards at home and when's the last time you filled up even one of them before loading it onto your computer and why don't you get your camera out of the bag and your ass out-of-doors and actually start shooting some stuff before you stock up on more gigs and gigs and gigs of memory??"

I left the memory cards on the peg on the wall. For tonight. But don't think I won't be back to buy one or two of them, because did I mention they're only twenty bucks?? Who knows when I might be driving across the country in search of a blue blue sky, for instance, and have the need for enough memory to hold a couple thousand images? Hmm...who knows?

I also have a few books related to my camera and photography in general, because while nothing teaches you about writing better than...writing, and nothing teaches you about photography better than...photographying...I submit that a camera is a much more complex instrument than a pen.

Don't believe me? Did you ever try to adjust the white balance on a pen? Or get really great bokeh out of a pen?

I rest my case.

Tonight...I blogged.

I didn't try to learn how to become a better blogger.
(it shows, doesn't it?)

I better get back to the store for a couple of those memory cards before it closes.



"An ignorant person with
a bad character is like
an unarmed robber, but
a learned person with a blog
is a robber fully armed."
—Mickey Kaus

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Do You Liiike......

...American Muuuusic?

I bought a CD recently called, "Viva Wisconsin." No, I'm not kidding. There really is a CD out there with a title like, "Viva Wisconsin."

Probably the only band that would name one of their CDs that would be...a band from Wisconsin. And a band that's a bit left of center. I give you...Violent Femmes.

I was looking for a recording of their song, "American Music," and came across this CD, and on the back it said, "October 25-31, 1998. Violent Femmes did an acoustic tour of their home state of Wisconsin. Two guitars, two drums and three voices. Femmes back to basics, no overdubbing, no electronics, no crap. Their best songs, raw and intimate. This is the ultimate Violent Femmes recording."

Fine. Sold. I'll take two. (I really only took one.)

This video isn't the live version from the disc, but it's pretty close. Not too elaborate.The Femmes were never flashy...or violent, from what I can tell. They're just...themselves. I got to see a part of their concert in Sheboygan a few years ago, and while I didn't hear this song live, it's at the top of my list of favorite Femmes songs. (doesn't everybody have a ranked list of favorite Violent Femmes songs? you should.)



"They didn't know that music
was in my so-oo-oo-oo-oul."
—Violent Femmes

Monday, December 08, 2008

Anybody Can Write...Or Can They?

In need of a bit of inspiration as I sat down tonight to stare at this screen, I had a brief conversation with my Muse, complaining to her that my brain was sans function this evening.

"Hello!!" *helloooo hellooo helloo* I shouted into my brain, as an echo rang in the empty cavern.

My Muse, however, was busy quoting '80s song lyrics (must've been karaoke night), so I knew I was on my own for ideas.

I reached behind me and pulled one of my 6,432,155 books on writing off of my shelves, and paged through it. The title of the book was, "Anybody Can Write: Ideas for the aspiring, the beginning, and the blocked writer. A playful approach."

"I'm aspiring," I thought to myself. "I'm beginning. I'm blocked. And I'm...anybody."

One of the chapters is called, "Persistence and Other Useful Attitudes." I started reading and found the story of a woman who wanted to be a columnist. And the author told the woman how: "It's simple. If you want to be a columnist, you do what columnists do. Columnists write columns."


And she went on to say, "If you write a column every week for twenty-six weeks, I guarantee that at the end of that time, you will be a columnist."

Then she asked the woman what paper she wanted to write for, and the woman named two by which she'd already been rejected when she talked to them in person. But the author told her to find anyone she knew who worked at those newspapers, and mail them a copy of her weekly column every week for twenty-six weeks.

She found someone in advertising, and sent in her columns, and after several weeks that person took a handful of columns over to the editors, and nineteen weeks into her submission process, she was offered a weekly columnist's gig.

I don't know if this story is true, or simply a well-crafted example to illustrate persistence.

Sounds like the Michael J. Fox movie where he gets a job in the mailroom of a big company in New York City, and by the end of the movie, he's buying the place.

I got my column a little more easily...by being on the staff of the paper in which it runs. One day I said to my boss, "I think I might like to try writing a column, if that's something you'd be interested in running in your paper."

And he said, "Yeah, we could give it a shot."

About 300 columns later, I've still got my regular slot in the paper. But I've considered the idea more than once: What if I want my column to run in a second paper? Or an eighth paper? Or a one hundred and seventy-first paper?

Maybe that's where the process begins of sending one column a week for twenty-six weeks to a few hundred newspapers , with the hope that maybe fourteen might pick it up. That's a lot of stamps.

I don't know where my column might go in the future, if it'll fade away or become stronger and perhaps even make an appearance in a few, or a few dozen, other newspapers.

But I liked the story of how that woman became a columnist.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some columns to send out to the mailroom staff at a few newspapers.



"A politician wouldn't dream of
being allowed to call a columnist
the things a columnist is allowed
to call a politician."
—Max Lerner

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Not This Week. Not Any Week.

I was standing at the end of a checkout line at the grocery store earlier today, and I noticed a couple in their mid-50s, the man pushing the cart slowly down the aisle that ran along the row of checkouts, while his wife took a few steps here and a couple of steps there to grab things off of the shelves and add them to their cart.

The man was wearing a hat, and as he walked closer, I leaned back and nodded to him, glancing up toward his cap.

"Is this the week they do it?" I asked the man.

It took him a second to process my question, but when he saw where my focus was, he understood.

"I dunno," he answered, grabbing the bill of his cap and adjusting it on his head. "Dey're running out of chances."

"I'm a Lions fan, too," I admitted. "If not today...when? Right? I think they're headed toward history. Very very bad history."

"Yah, dey got rid of Millen, but dat was just da start. Dey've got so many problems."

"Well," I said, "we know we can't count on the Lions to win the last game of the year at Lambeau. They haven't won there in what...seventeen years? Good luck to us!" I added as he kept walking and I took a step forward in my line.

"Yah, here's hopin'," he said.

This wasn't the week, by the way. The Lions had a 6-3 lead at halftime of a riveting game against the Vikings, and kept it close in the second half. But as I watched the scroll line for scoring updates, I wasn't even sure what I was cheering for.

Did I want Detroit to win, and erase the possibility of laying the biggest goose egg in NFL history? (The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in the franchise's inaugural season in 1976; but the Lions have been around...and very bad...for a while.) Or did I want the Lions to keep it close, put up a fight, and lose, as they continue their pursuit of "perfection"?

I guess my honest reactions to the scoring updates told the answer. I wanted them to win. They lost, 20-16.

It's a tough job being a Lions fan. And there's something of a kinship when we see one of our own wearing his colors on his sleeve. Or his chest. Or his head.

Here's to a showdown at Lambeau in Week 17.
And here's to a 1-15 finish for the hapless Lions.




"Defeat doesn't finish a man — quit does.
A man is not finished when he's defeated.
He's finished when he quits."
—Richard M. Nixon

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Stargazing Into The Clouds

When the temperatures dip into the deep-freeze range for the first time during the winter season...zeros and single digits and wind chills with a (-) as the lead character...what do you do?

Wrap up in an extra blanket? Book an immediate flight to a tropical island? Invite a friend over to help keep you warm?

Of course not. You go outside and look at the stars! Cloudy skies derailed those plans, however, and all I was left to stare at was a fuzzy moon...although that was a bit inspirational in its own right.

Woodland Dunes Nature Center in Two Rivers had a stargazing workshop on Friday night, and my dad and I went to see what we could learn...and see. Because of the weather, most of the presentation was held indoors, where we learned a bit about how to star-hop our way across the night sky, by starting with some of the basic constellations like the Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Orion.

I've been gazing at those constellations for years (if you're a regular reader of this blog, you know of my obsession with Orion and the moon), but with the help of a star and planet locator that we were given, I'll now be able to start looking for the Northern Cross, and Hercules, and Orion's two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, along with many of the signs of the Zodiac. (I wasn't aware that Gemini was so close to Orion in the sky...but I'll be star-hopping my way over to the twins on the next clear night.)

After the indoor presentation was finished, we had an opportunity to go outside and peer into one of four telescopes set up on the grounds, and see, um..zero stars because of the clouds, and a fuzzy moon.

I talked a bit with the owner of one of the telescopes, who told me about some of the star clusters and planets and moon features and nebulae he's seen. And he casually mentioned that he's been able to locate about 40 galaxies. (for the record, in 1999 the Hubble Telescope found that there may be as many as 125 billion galaxies in the unverse. but you can't put the Hubble in the back seat of your car and drive it to Woodland Dunes to give amateur stargazers a glimpse at the night sky.)

Here I sit at night in jaw-dropped awe of the moon, and he's out hunting down galaxies far far away. I would have stayed all night listening to his stories and staring into space if it wasn't for the overcast skies.

And the biting wind that smacked me in the cheek a couple minutes after he told me about his galaxy finds. So off to my warm car I went, and put my stargazing hobby on hold until a slightly warmer, much clearer night.



"Three things cannot be long hidden:
the sun, the moon, and the truth."
—Buddha

Friday, December 05, 2008

There's A World Outside Your Window

It's Christmas season.

(I know. You come here for all the latest-breaking news, don't you?)

The reason I know it's Christmas season is because I heard a song on the radio this morning for the first time this year that always serves as my alarm.

For some, the first shopping mall Santa they see kicks off the season, or a makeshift forest of Christmas trees for sale, or a store parking lot with one lone available space, seven-tenths of a mile away from the store entrance.

For me, it's a song. My favorite Christmas song. (I promise it's not, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.")

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid, was probably shuffled into many radio stations' rotations bright and early on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but my season officially began this morning.

Written by Sir Bob Geldof to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief, it was released in November 1984, and has sold 50 million copies.

Aside from being a catchy song with a Who's Who of UK recording artists...Sting, Phil Collins, Duran Duran, George Michael, Paul Young, Culture Club, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, U2 and others...it makes you realize how fortunate you are during the holidays and throughout the year. Roof over your head, food in the refrigerator, job, car, a few toys.

I have the song on a mix disc, too, but I like to wait until I hear it on the radio before I pop in the CD for a couple back-to-back-to-back-to-back plays during December.

Happy holiday season, everyone. May you not forget that you are a have, and lend a hand to those who have not.




"And in our world of plenty,
we can spread a smile of joy.
Throw your arms around the world
at Christmas time."
—Band Aid

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Apple...Sauce. Applesauce!

Tonight I'm going to talk about applesauce.

Specifically, Mott's Applesauce.

And I'll bet a bushel of apples that if (when) my blog becomes über-famous in the future, and advertisers are knocking down my firewall to peddle their products in front of the thousands...(oh, what the hell)...nay, the millions of daily readers at Ton-Fifty-ONE...Mott's will not be one of them.

I don't eat it often, but once in a while I get an appetite for applesauce. I don't have a favorite brand...or variety, if you will. So when I'm hungry for applesauce I go and peruse the shelves at the grocery store. Some are sweetened with cinnamon, some are natural, some are tart, and I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to eat it.

A couple days ago, I bought a jar of Mott's labeled, "Chunky." Probably wouldn't be my favorite variety, but worth a try, I thought.

Perhaps it was my jar and only my jar, but I am now under the impression that, in Mott's-speak, the term "chunky" is a marketing-friendly term meaning, "The apples used to make this product were not peeled, cored, or seeded. Eat at your own risk. Chew carefully. Thank you, and please purchase our products again." Because that would detract consumers from choosing the product in the stores.

In fairness, the 23-ounce jar didn't consist entirely of apple detritus. There was some applesauceyness in there as well. But there were too many instances where I had to stop and think as I was eating, "Those aren't apple chunks. That's not applesauce, either. That's... d) other."

The slogan on the jar says, "Hand-Picked Goodness." Gee, hand-picked is really swell, but how about some processed goodness, too, please!

Even with the unique and unwelcome textures in my jar of applesauce, I had no qualms about giving Mott's another try...probably a different variety, but one bad apple (heh) didn't spoil the bunch. Just that jar.

I changed my tune, though, when I went to the Mott's website tonight, and found that they spell it, "apple sauce." Then I looked on the jar, and...yep. "Apple sauce."

They try a clever trick on the front of the label, and stack the words on top of each other:
APPLE
SAUCE

Uh-uh. Nope. Noooo thank you. It's "applesauce"! Webster says so. I say so. The weird applesauce superhero lady in the strange graphic that I couldn't resist adding to this entry says so. Good enough for me.

It's not, "Squish, squash, apple sauce!"

It's, "Squish, squash, applesauce!"

(Similar to another of my pet peeves: it's not "waste water," it's "wastewater"!!)

So now I'll be forced to study the labels even more closely the next time I'm hungry for applesauce, and not only stay away from the chunky varieties for the foreseeable future, but also disregard all brands that aren't on board with compound word usage. I'm a little frightened, actually, that I may not find one that meets the nitpicky standards of a grammar geek.

And if no applesauces exist on the store shelves, I'll have to squish squash my own apples...peelings, cores, seeds, stems and all.

Because, Mott's?

Not!!



"Life is not orderly. No matter how
we try to make it so, right in the middle
of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love,
drop a jar of applesauce."
—Natalie Goldberg

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is There Water In Colorado?

I feel smart again.

A couple minutes of Jay Leno's "Battle of the Jaywalk All-Stars" will boost almost anyone's confidence.

I was really only going to the fridge to get a drink of water, more concerned about what I might write here tonight than I was about who the guests were on Leno and Letterman. But as good timing would have it, the second round of the Jeopardy-esque game show was just beginning, and like a train wreck, it's impossible to look away.

Some of the questions tonight were: "There are 100 senators in the U.S. Senate because..." (answer: "more opinions?" all three contestants agreed on that one, by the way); and " 'Give me liberty or give me death' was a quote by this man, who had two first names...Patrick......" (first girl to jump in: "Dempsey!"); "the 49th and 50th states in the union were..." (answer: "Hawaii, annnnd...Canada." *pause* "no, wait...Canada's not a state!" all three of them also thought that Alaska was an island.)

But my favorite question of the night came in the lightning round at the end, when Jay asked: "Water can exist in any of these...*guy buzzes in before the question is even completed*...any of these three states," Jay finishes.

"Colorado?" answers the guy.

*girl buzzes in* "Pennsylvania!"

*next girl buzzes in* "Doesn't...water...exist in...all...the states?"

Jay repeats the question: "Water can exist in these...three...states."

*buzz*
Washington!

*buzz*
Florida!

(audible comment by a contestant: "I don't understand the question.")

*buzz*
California!

I thought Jay might bump Heather Locklear from her appearance and let the three contestants keep shouting out as many states as they knew until they got it right.

Hey, at least they got to be on TV and meet Jay Leno and have their fifteen minutes of fame, right?

But we all know that the three states in which water can exist are solid, liquid...

...and North Dakota.



"You can't stay mad at somebody
who makes you laugh."
—Jay Leno

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Is Anyone...Thirsty?

Space shuttle Endeavour touched down on Sunday at Edwards Air Force Base in California after a 16-day mission to the International Space Station.

While this may seem as if it's getting to be old hat...this was the 100th daytime landing of a space shuttle, and Endeavour's 22nd flight...and while I don't follow the shuttle missions as closely as I'd like to, it still never ceases to amaze me what we're able to do so many miles above Earth...not to mention the simple fact that we're even able to get there!

One of the shuttle crew's missions for this trip was to help in a renovation of sorts of the ISS, as they expanded it from three bedrooms and one bath, to five bedrooms and two baths. (I wonder how much that'll increase the property's resale value...and who the lucky realtor is who'll get to list it.)

Aside from other tasks such as completing spacewalks to clean and lubricate the ISS's solar alpha rotary joints, which keep the station's solar panels pointed at the sun for maximum production of electricity (talk about an argument in favor of solar power!), there was another experiment that caught my eye in the news stories I've read, and made me appreciate the gallon of water in my fridge.

Several crew members worked on a water recovery system to recycle urine and perspiration into drinking water. I'd tell you to go back and read that sentence again, but I'm betting that you already have.

I'll never look at a liter of Dasani, or a gallon of cheap Sam's Choice water, or even my not-so-delicious tap water in the same way again.

I wouldn't want to be on the team that has to troubleshoot the system and iron out its kinks before declaring it to be a working and fully functional system. Although one small sip should tell you if it's time to go back to the drawing board, or if the effort is a success.

The story in the link says that samples of the processed water were brought back on the shuttle for analysis before the station's crew can begin to use it. Thorough analysis, I hope.

It's amazing where we can fly...and what we can drink. Isn't it?

And oh, back to the "old hat"...

...during Endeavour's mission, it traveled about 6.6 million miles, and made 250 orbits around this big ball we call home.

Ridiculous numbers to fathom.


"Nothing puzzles me more than
the time and space; and yet
nothing troubles me less."
—Charles Lamb

Monday, December 01, 2008

So thanks.

A buddy of mine gave me a nudge a few days before Thanksgiving to write a post of the things I'm thankful for. Sounds easy enough, right? Many many bloggers published posts like that right around Thanksgiving. But as I rolled it around in my head, I got stuck.

Surely there are things for which I'm thankful. As I continued to ponder this subject over the last few days, my list grew, and I figured a "What I'm Thankful For" list is better late than never. So on that note...

I'm thankful for my outrageously generous parents, who continue to be an enormous reason why Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. My two sisters and their families and I all converge upon my parents' house for a day of family bonding, good conversation, a few good beers (and one not-so-good beer...pointing directly at the New Glarus Berliner Weiss on this one, which was my selection, so I should be pointing at me), and a bountiful feast that would feed 20-plus, but instead allows the 11 of us plenty of leftovers to take home in care packages and have a Thanksgiving The Second on the following Friday.

I'm thankful...or at least I was on this day...that the Lions looked like turkeys on Turkey Day, rather than choosing that one day this season to do their best King of the Jungle imitation and play like a professional football team. (I picked them in a loser pool. I guess I was pretty safe.)

I'm thankful as well for the rest of the people around our full table on Thanksgiving Day: two sisters, two brothers-in-law, two nephews, two nieces. A pretty stellar bunch to hang with during the holidays and plenty of other times throughout the year.

I'm thankful for cheese. Because if you're from Wisconsin, and you're not thankful for cheese, I think maybe they kick you out and make you go live in Idaho, or somewhere.

I'm thankful for a Muse who stops by on occasion to visit (a bit more often lately) and tells me things that aren't too difficult to hear, and makes me want to be a better writer.

I'm thankful for a group of good friends who are smarter and funnier and hipper and cooler than I could ever learn to be.

I'm thankful for the outcome on November The Fourth, and the optimism I feel heading into the next four, or eight, years. And I'm thankful for the freedom to express my opinions here on this page, and among all of the people with whom I have discussions that go deeper than our favorite colors.

I'm thankful...very thankful, actually...for the ellipsis.

I'm thankful to have a job that I know will be there tomorrow...and the next day...during these tough economic times.

I'm thankful for general good health.

I'm thankful...for the power...of words. And music. And laughter.

I'm thankful for eggnog. While I wouldn't be thankful for it all year 'round, 'tis the season for a sip of good quality nog. (I'm also thankful that no one ever thought to try making an asparagusnog.)

(And I'm as thankful for the parenthetical aside as I am for the ellipsis.)

I'm also thankful for the visitors to this blog...whether you're a first-time, one-time, or all-the-time reader. Thank you.

I'm thankful this is an incomplete list that can be added to at any time...because I've got a lot to be thankful for. (Including the option to end a sentence with a preposition if I so choose.)



"I am thankful for laughter,
except when milk comes
out of my nose."
—Woody Allen

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day, Tofurkeys!


Wishing you all

a Happy Thanksgiving,

no matter what may be included in your feast.


[And I'm not too proud...or embarrassed...to recycle this post from last year.]

"Thanksgiving, man.
Not a good day
to be my pants."
—Kevin James

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Live At The Majestic.

Live. Acoustic. Bent.

Three words that I hoped for...and got.

As my marathon run of a concert calendar year winds down, with one or two more options still possible during December, I went to see Matt Nathanson on Wednesday night in a little 350-capacity theatre in Madison called the Majestic, and he didn't disappoint. (I'm not sure it's even possible that he could. Ever.)

"Bent" is a song on Nathanson's live disc, At The Point, (the studio version is also on Beneath These Fireworks, but I like the live version better) and when we saw him at the same venue in October 2007, it wasn't on his set list. The show was still incredible, but I would've liked to have heard "Bent."

Wednesday, I got to. He played with his full band, but about halfway through the show, he sent them off stage to give them a bit of a break and play a few acoustic songs...and brought out his 12-string guitar.

He went into a bit of a monologue about electing a new president and how awesome that was (and since there are maybe four conservatives in all of Madison, that went over pretty well with the crowd), and he stood on the stage alone, and slowly and quietly let the words slide out from "In A Big Country," by Big Country:

"...but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.
In a big country dreams stay with you
like a lover's voice fires the mountainside.
Stay alive...
...stay alive."

After everybody applauded, I turned to my buddy and said something like, "He should really play 'Bent.'" And um...guess what came next? So..so..good.

Nathanson can be so sarcastic and sharp and funny and self-deprecating during his between-song banter, and then pour everything he's got into his songs, slow or fast. You come away from one of his shows feeling like you just spent a couple hours with an old friend.

Well...most of the crowd does, anyway. One of the audience members, who happened to be directly to my right and talking loudly among his group for the entire show, kept yelling out a song he wanted to hear every time there was a near-silent moment, and finally Nathanson said, without even looking up from his mic, "After a certain number of times of yelling the same song, it's time to give it up. You've lost this round, sir, I'm not going to play your song. Let's move on." And that shut him up for a little while, until the guy hurled back an insult by telling Nathanson he looked like he was from Dawson's Creek because he was wearing a sweater vest. I think only half of it made it up to the stage, though, because Nathanson just said, "ohhh, Dawson's Creek." And that was the end of that.

A bit later in the show, he gave other audience members a chance to suggest some songs for his set, by saying, "OK, what do you wanna hear? Yell some songs out." And after five seconds of everybody naming their songs at once, he replied, "Yeah, we're not gonna play any of those, but..."

As the last song of their set approached, Nathanson described the encore process to us, telling us that after the song was over, he was going to say something like, "That's it for us. Thanks, Madison, we're done! Take care of yourselves," and walk off stage like they're really done. But then he shared a secret, telling us that really...they were going to come back, because they had a couple more songs to play. "So it'd be best," he said, "that when I say, 'We're done,' you should all say, 'Noooo! Noooo!' and act like you really don't know we're coming back. And then cheer and clap like crazy because you want us to come back. But...we're really coming back. We're coming back whether you're here or not. So, like...if you all leave, we're still gonna come out and play two more songs."

I've never had anyone walk me through the steps of a successful band exit/encore re-entrance, complete with audience participation. But he did a fine job.

And you know what? They came back! And as he strapped his guitar on, Nathanson said, "We've never successfully performed this song live, so...um...we're gonna try it and see how it goes."

And they belted out AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long," from start to finish. And the crowd of three hundred fifty felt and sounded more like thirty-five hundred! Let's just say it was a success, and even Nathanson looked surprised as he surveyed the small crowd after it was over.

Never expected to hear that from him. Although during the October 2007 show he ventured into snippets of The Cure, and Hanson (yes, "Mmm Bop.").

If I don't see another show this year, it was a phenomenal end cap to 2008.


"If I bent like you said was best,
would that change a thing?
If I spent myself...or what's left
Would you still leave me here?

You're so sorry about it all
Now that it's over...
Should I thank you for that dear?
You're so sorry about it all...
And I hope you'll always be."
—Matt Nathanson, Bent