Saturday, December 31, 2005

So Long 2005! We Hardly Knew You.

Three hundred and sixty five days doesn't really seem like a long time to me. It's hard to truly get to know anyone or anything in that short a time frame, even if you spend every second of each of those days with whatever or whomever you are trying to comprehend.

So it is with 2005. After spending this past year with this year, the only true thing I have come to know about it is that it isn't that much different than any other year I have ever spent a year with. Aught-five had its highs and lows, its disasters and triumphs, its hours of strife and its sadly few moments of peace. All in all, a year like any other. Bon voyage to you, 2005. I hope with all my being for a 2006 with some style, some originality, some pizzazz!

Before the year closes with a Dick Clark thud (not that I am wishing him any ill will), let's recap the boisterousness of the annum's death throes.

Thursday's sushi night turned into quite an affair. Central Standard allowed Coach B and Boring Election to track down the Sushi Six and arrange a rendez-vous at Casa de Monkeys. A bounteous collection of Busch tall boys and various Miller products (along with wine, coffee, cheese, hummus and beef jerky) were happily consumed, as the discussion ranged from shattered backboards to the legitimacy of certain guests "vacations." When it was somehow discovered that Comcast Digital On Demand offered a "free" karaoke channel, the partee was on.

After a bit of a false start on "Fake Plastic Trees" (in the style of Radiohead), the sing-along got going for real. Led by the always tasteful stylings of Coach B and the raucous attitude of the Rev. Wayne Coomers, it wasn't long before the whole house was thumping to the karaoke wailings on numbers like, "Sandy" (in the style of John Travolta) and "Feel Like Making Love" (in the style of, who, is it Paul Rodgers? I don't remember.). As evening stretched into morning, the party broke up and the silence that befell Casa de Monkeys was slightly more painful than the joyous, yet off-key, sonic furnishings that had previously adorned the house. Thanks to all who attended and participated for an evening I will not soon forget.

On Friday, Monkey and I broke down and bought a new camera. Look for high-quality shots soon. Right now, all we have are shots of the dog, and you've seen enough of those currently.

Tonight, we will ring in the new year (with previously mentioned hopes) , and try to remain close to human for Sunday. We shall see. Best wishes to everyone. Please have fun in a safe manner this evening. I'll holler at you next year.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Three Creeks

Today, Monkey and I hit the trails of Three Creeks Conservation Area, since all firearms deer seasons are over, and no dove hunting is currently being perpetrated, either. A safe hike through the woods was nearly guaranteed. At the very least, nobody was a-shootin' at us.

It was a picturesque trip, and we plan on going back with a camera. I left ours sitting on the hutch, today. Highlights included some excellent views of the Turkey Creek gorge, an unexpected (and pretty large) cave, an unintended side trip onto private property, and some interesting bird life. We had a great time.

Tonight, we plan to meet Uncle Joe and Aunt James and the Reverend and Mrs. Wayne Coomers at our favorite sushi restaurant. After that, who knows!

Monkey and I saw The Squid and the Whale last night. We found it...well...interesting, but not great. I don't think it is a movie that anyone HAS to see, but it has more than a few poignant moments. I'm sorry, though, nobody's passing off Pink Floyd's "Hey You" as their own song in 1986. Hell, I doubt they could do it in 2006. See the movie, you'll understand.

Those books I mentioned a few days ago? Here's the short skinny:

Ishmael, Daniel Quinn: An ape teaches a man how to "save the world." Sounds weird, but it's not. I recommend it. Gives an interesting view of life on earth.

Bee Season, Myla Goldberg: A young girl finds she has a penchant for spelling bees and cabalistic permutation. A gently told story. It grows on you. The characters are worth the read, for sure.

Forgotten Fire, Adam Bagdasarian: A young Armenian tries to survive during the Turk-perpetrated genocide of the early twentieth century. A Young Adult novel, but still captivating. Simplistic, but heart-wrenching.

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell: Six stories, split in half and woven together. A mind-blowing piece of work. A bit uneven (some stories are stronger than others), but the way the stories are connected is nothing short of brilliant. Makes an interesting companion to Ishmael.

That is all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Leave a Peppermint Stick for Old Saint Nick Hanging on the Christmas Tree

Just returned home from the Motherland yesterday. The flight was uneventful; the most memorable moment being getting stopped at security with ten pounds of frozen porterhouse steaks. The woman at the X-ray machine looked at me real funny.

"What you got in this bag?"


She looked at me real funny again and ran the bag back through the machine. Which is good, because now I know my steaks have been doubly irradiated and are completely bacteria-free! Thank you Transportation Safety Administration.

The Monkey and I stopped at Trader Joe's in St. Louie on the way back, to pick up some cheap wine and wasabi rice crackers. Makes a great meal and feeds six, for those of you on a budget.

Upon returning to the homestead, we unpacked our Christmas booty (thanks, everybody), put our frozen foods in the freezer (they stayed well-frozen), and went to get our puppy back from Uncle Joe and Aunt James.

When we arrived, they were in full play mode (the dogs, not the people), wrestling with each other and chasing each other around the floor (obviously the previous photo was taken prior to our arrival). James and Joe still seem pleased to have Ripken, which is good. They were sad to see him go.

Ripken also spent Christmas eve and day at Uncle Joe's parents' house, where, we were told, he promptly peed on the Christmas tree! I don't think he'll be going back there any time soon.

Thanking our dog-watching friends, we went back home, where Ripken passed out on his bed. Monkey and I watched the end of the Insight Bowl (ASU 45-Rutgers 40), and hit the hay. I slept and slept and slept, dreaming of the week we had just had.

It was great to visit with those whom we got to see. We apologize to those we missed.

It was amazing and wonderful to meet and greet the new family members and to see the progress of the young and old. I especially enjoyed spending time with my nephews, Thing Two and Thing One (they can do anything, anything, anything under the sun), as well as my wife's gaggle of monkey-like second cousins (actual wall-climbing was witnessed).

It was great to enjoy the generosity of a sister and brother-in-law, who gave us their club level tickets to the Ravens' game on Christmas night. That was a wickedly cool experience. And the Ravens actually resembled an NFL team again this week!

Christmas, in practice, is the biggest headache of the year, by far. It is the time of year when planning and meeting people (two things I really don't dig on) occur with the most frequency and intensity. However, it is also one of the few times Monkey and I get back to see everybody back home, and that's the best thing about it.

I leave you with a few shots (courtesy of Unle Joe, dog photographer/bass player) of Ripken and London's canine Christmas. Notice how serene they are.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Merry Christmas. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New Arrivals, Severed Tendons

While this news is not hot off the presses, it is recent enough and large enough to be posted here. Late last week, Mrs. Arthur Bryant gave birth to an early Christmas present. Long, wrinkly, and healthy, Harrison David Sandstedt, was born on December 16. Last night, Monkey and I, along with Mr. and Mrs. Fishing Buddy, visited the Bryants, bringing steaks, salad, and some damn tasty chocolate dessert thingy.

Mr. Fishing Buddy appeared with his right hand in a bizzarre Freddy Krueger-type contraption, owing to the fact that he had severed a tendon on his hand while sharpening knives. Take this as a warning: sharp knives are dangerous (of course, dull knives are MORE dangerous, but anyway...). We had a great meal, some sparkling conversation, held the small sleeping infant (nerve-wracking, for me--support the head!) and watched a bit of the Ravens other-wordly effort against the Packers. (Boy, were my dad and I way wrong.)

Congrats to the Bryants, welcome to earth to Harrison, and let's hope Fishing Buddy's hand heals before the ice thaws.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Mexican Birthdays and Frigid Winds

Last weekend, which I have neglected to talk to you about, was quite a busy one. Monkey was in NYC, Uncle Joe turned 30, Favorite Berry had a Christmas party, and the Outlaw Birders (whom we've heard tell of) violated all manner of civic ordinance to discover the Tiny Jesus Calvary Fields of Central Standard. Whew!

Monkey's trip began in the aftermath of a Central Standard snow, and, unfortunately, she was flying right back into it as it visited upon the denizens of Gotham. She was delayed at the KC airport for about eight hours. For those of you who do not know, KCI is nowhere to spend an hour, let alone eight. I can only imagine the boredom she endured. But, she eventually made it safely to her destination (having lost a whole day of museum-hopping).

In the meantime, Friday evening brought many of the regular cast of Central Standard characters to La Tolteca for quesadillas, burritos, cerveza and margaritas. A fine time was had by all. Enjoyed spending time at dinner with several new and old folks, including Coach and Mrs. B, the Reverend and Mrs. Wayne Coomers, and Boring Election (formerly known as The Kopster). I was relieved to be told at dinner that a Big and Rich/Gretchen Wilson concert was going on at the nearby Arena. I thought that the girls on the short bus in front of me, swilling beer and throwing cigarette butts out the window, were members of a college volleyball team! The highlights of the evening: Uncle Joe in a 400-pound embroidered sombrero as he was serenaded by the wait staff (accompanied by a random little girl); the waiter's acoustic guitar and vocals on "Hang on Sloopy," as we exited into the freezing night; and naked baby pictures of Uncle Joe at the 'rents where we retired for lip-smacking sheet cake and Keystone Light. A special thank you to the Uncle Joe clan for ponying up for dinner and for the cake.

As it turned out, no one made it to the Black Neil Diamond show. Have I mentioned that before?

The next evening found me in some apartment complex with a crew of mostly random folks, enjoying the hospitality of Favorite Berry and the company of Suh-Weet (formerly known as Robmeister) and Queen of Spades (formerly known as K-Dogg). The food was great, the entertainment was quality, and the conversation was (as promised) stimulating. And I walked away with the muzak version of several Celine Dion favorites on CD, so, now I have a new coaster.

Developments this week have included a new computer (at which I am happily working), a film to discuss, a drunken game night, and a bone-chilling birding trip. Follow along.

The new computer arrived on Tuesday and was operational (after file transfers and such) by Friday. I haven't loaded the software for the camera yet, so I apologize for the lack of photos (I have taken a couple of good ones). I will include them soon. It is definitely an upgrade over the old behemoth. This one is streamlined in look and way faster in operation. Very diggable technological development.

Saw Walk the Line on Friday. It was excellent. Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix gave beautiful and real performances, and (as Monkey keeps marvelling at) they do their own singing. I don't know much about Johnny Cash, so I don't know how true the film's story is, but that has little bearing on the fact that this is a high-quality film. The ending is a bit too "upbeat" for me, but other than that, it's all good.

Last night's drunken game night at Suh-Weet and Queen of Spade's led to a slow-moving morning birding trip with the (newly tattooed) Osculator. We headed to a nearby lake, looking for ducks and geese. It was snowing at 7 am, and it kept snowing all morning. There was little accumulation, but the wind accompanying the snow was strong and from-the-north cold. We spent about a half an hour (nearly losing our noses in the process) scoping the birds in the distant open water, and only found a few canada geese, some mallards, and a couple of gulls. As we headed back into town we did spot and stop to scope out a barred owl. We watched it for a few minutes, then it dropped from its branch to pounce on a small mammal in the tall grass. It was pretty exciting!

At another stop on our morning freeze, we watched a short eared owl being chased by some smaller birds. Two owls in one day is a pretty good birding day. All in all, our stiff joints and frozen cheeks were worth the two owls.

Monkey and I spent the rest of the day braving the crowds, doing some Christmas shopping. I can not believe how soon the holiday is coming up! A week? No way.

My dad and I speculate that Brett Favre will throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns and the Green Bay running back, Sam Gado, will run for 200 yards and two scores, when they face the Ravens tomorrow night. We also hope that we are wrong. Go Ravens!

Finished a few books lately. I'll tell you about those, later.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Outlaw Birders of Central Standard

A chilly west wind blew the gray December morning in stiffly as those adventurous outlaw birders hit the road at 7am on a Sunday. South down US 63 they headed, just past the airport, scanning the cloudy skies for signs of hawks or other birds of prey. The driver of the car, the most notorious outlaw birder in the territory, was adept at staring into the sky and keeping his vehicle on the road. Only once this entire morning did the two hear the obnoxious growl of the shoulder rumble strips.

As they pulled into their destination, ignoring the sign at the gate saying "Not for Public Use," they unpacked the tools of their nefarious trade: binoculars (pearl-handled and lightning fast), field guides (obtained on the black market), and a spotting scope (for long-distance work...and fearsome to say the least). They pulled up next to a shed, and with no concern for the laws of God or man, coolly stepped over the chain that blocked the road into the "state property."

To be honest, there was some trepidation on the part of the two outlaws. On the other side of that chain, guarded by vicious flocks of robins and cedar waxwings, stood horrors unknown. There, hanging from the chain, hung a sign, at which the two nervously chuckled : "Abandon hope, all ye who enter."

"Ha," said one to the other. Yet, inside, they felt a bit of fear rising up. A bit of fear.

A few yards into the sanctuary, they saw a cross planted in the ground. Too tall for a grave marker, but too short for a clothesline or a bean pole, the purpose of these poles was unclear. Suddenly, it dawned on one of them.

"They crucifixes."


"Yeah, fer crucifyin' midgets."

"Crucifyin' midgets?"

"Like Jesus."

"They crucifyin' tiny Jesuses?"

"Yeah, they hangin' 'em up all over. Look."

They crested a ridge and below them stood an expansive sunken Calvary in the middle of their world. Dozens of these tiny crosses dotted the valley below. But all were empty.

"Where all the tiny Jesuses?"

"Don't know, but it is Christmas time."

"Yeah? So?"

"Maybe they all in nativity mangers."

"Oh, yeah. Maybe."

"I got a bad feelin' about this place."

"Me, too."

"We oughta go."

"Yeah." Overhead, a platoon of marauding robins called their dastardly sweet melodies to each other.

They walked quickly back to their getaway car, these outlaw birders, trying not to betray their fear one to the other. Even a bluebird was not enough to lift the black mark of fear from their craven hearts. Their crime of choice: looking at birds on restricted state property, fearing not a whit laws or fines, Conservation police or armed militia. But a valley full of tiny Jesus crucifixes sure will get them worked up.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Snow Day!

Well, friends and neighbors, the glorious is upon us here in Central Standard. A late night front passed through and the snow just kept on coming until about one pm this afternoon. It's been cold (as I've mentioned), so the snow stuck from flake one. At 5:30 this morning, the news was in: schools were closed! Of course, by then I'd already had coffee and a paper sat on the coffee table, so I read the paper and enjoyed my morning beverage. Ah, luxury!

The Monkey went into work for the morning (damn clients!). We managed to get together for a lunch date and went to the university book store to buy a faculty discount computer. This monstrosity is just getting too long in the tooth to be anything but a pain in the ass. Take a look at it now, because its days are short.

After the purchasing and some other errands, we played with the puppy in the snow for a while. He is particularly fond of chasing clouds of dry snow as they waft through the air (of course, I have to throw them). He also likes the catching of the snowballs, but today's snow was powder dry and icy cold--no good for forming into projectiles. He also enjoyed chewing up some branches that had fallen from our fragile silver maple last night. I tell you, that tree is lucky to have any branches. Its limbs break easier than Chris Chandler's!

I also got some grading done and played some basketball. I have to admit, only an idiot would play basketball when he's fighting a chest cold, but there I was. Idiot!

Monkey packed for her NY trip and left at about 5:30 this evening. She recently phoned to tell me she had arrived in KC (she flies out way early in the AM). The forecast in NYC is not looking good, as the front that just blew through here is making its way out there. Our fingers are crossed that her traveling is uneventful and as little delayed as possible.

In other news, our Christmas cactus is right on schedule, bursting out with pink flowers that should be in full bloom just a week or two before the day for which it is named. It really is an amazing little plant. It survived the summer of neglect while I was in OR (the Osculator may have watered it...I think he did, but I don't remember if I asked him to), and it is really a low maintenance plant--just the kind that I can take care of. I manage to kill most everything else.

Speaking of killing things, Monkey and I did not partake of the "Black Neil Diamond" last night, but we did treat Uncle Joe and Aunt James to sushi as thanks for watching Ripken over the holiday weekend. Uncle Joe was disappointed that Ripken didn't come to dinner with us, but Jenny doesn't like dogs in her restaurant. She says they are "bad for business." Of course, she says it with a furrowed brow and a Japanese accent, so I just nod and say, "Hai." James, as is her general winter time MO, was giddy as a school girl anticipating the snow day. You'd think she just got new runners on her sled or a Red Ryder BB gun, she was so excited.

And so, as snow day comes to a close, I leave you with these parting words, be they wisdom or drivel. I am inspired by James' enthusiasm last night for the potential day off that was in the forecast (which I doubted (for which she grieved me for raining on her snow parade)). A snow day for a teacher is about a hundred times better than a snow day for a kid. Sure, kids go sledding, or play football in the snow, or make snow angels, or bury the dorky kids in snow banks, or fall into frozen creeks and nearly freeze to death from wet feet (not that I ever did that), but as a teacher it is just so much better to sit on the sofa and drink a cup of coffee in the dark of morning and read the paper with the light on. The only things that would have made the morning better is a fire place and if the Monkey had gotten up and shared the time with me. But she likes to sleep and I respect that. Gee, even the dog went back to bed, now that I think about it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ice, Ear Flaps and Black Diamonds

It is cold in Central Standard today! Ten degrees this morning. Nineteen at the moment (6pm). Maybe some snow tomorrow, but not a lot in the forecast (maybe an inch or two). I've been fighting the crud that Monkey had lately. I refuse to acknowledge its presence, but sometimes I do feel a little run down.

Really, in a lot of ways, I love this time of year. The brisk cold and clear nights are bracing and the sky always seems to have more stars in it in the winter. Or maybe they just seem closer...I don't know. I love a good snow, and eventhough the weather is sometimes gray and the sky seems just above my head, the sunny days are bright and sharp. Of course, since it is only early December, real winter isn't even here yet. So, check back with me in about ten weeks!

This weekend, Monkey and I went on a quest for the Bass Pro Shop that recently opened here in C-town. We drove all around where we thought it was, to no avail. We called a freiend who we thought had been there, but he wasn't home. We tried the Robmeister and K-Dogg...and they knew where it was.

Following their directions, we arrived just as the sun was setting and the flurries were dancing around. (It was cold this past weekend, too.) Once inside, Monkey was a bit taken aback by the sheer size of the place. It was pretty big, but, compared to the Bass Pro HQ in Springfield, it was the minor leagues. I mean, where was the giant aquarium? Where were the giant stuffed bear and elk? All we had here were a few snow geese and mallards. Hardly impressive.

But still an interesting experience. Monkey bought a pair of RedHead slippers for $7. I got a warm hat with ear flaps--a great fashion statement, no doubt. I'd show you some pics, but the batteries in the camera are dead again. Good thing they are rechargeable.

Well, folks, the Monkey has arrived home, speaking words of wisdom: "It's freezing cold!" I will take my leave of you.

Before I go, just a head's up: tomorrow night brings one of Central Standards prodigal sons home, as the "Black Neil Diamond" performs at the Blue Note. I am serious, ladies and gentlemen. He's not an impersonator, but he does claim to sound "just like Neil Diamond." There has been much wringing of hands and scratching of heads as we folk decide whether it is worth the ten dollar ticket to go check out this novelty (freak?) of the entertainment world. If the monkey and I go, I'll give you a report. If we don't go and this dude shows up in your town, you go check him out and tell me about it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Well, back to the grind this week. No problems getting back in the swing, at all.

Thanksgiving was great. A good get away and a relaxing time. I hope everyone else had as good a holiday as the Monkey and I. The only shortcoming? I didn't make any pie!!!! And, sadly, five days later, I am jonesin' for a stuffing sandwich. With gravy, of course.

One of my fondest post-Turkeyday memories is raiding my brother-in-law TD Jr.'s fridge and finding weeks'-worth of stuffing! Gawd, the Monkey and I gorged ourselves that year.

Today, the Monkey is ill. She has a sore throat. Currently, she is on the sofa watching "The Apprentice." Now, that's sick! Wish her good health. I am trying my best to fight it. SO far, so good.

Ripken spent the holiday visiting Aunt James and Uncle Joe and Ms. London Belle. He had a great time and slept all afternoon on Monday. Today, he's back to normal.

Monkey heads to NYC in two weeks. I'll be staying here, minding the fort. Among other things.

Now that we are fully into the holiday season, enjoy yourself as much as possible. It is easy to get frustrated by traffic and shopping and people and Christmas songs and other holidays and too much work and a lack of finances and on and on and on. But try to keep a smile on your face as you say, "Hey, asshole, get your Santa-hat-wearing-perfume-spraying-Happy-Holidays-repeating self OUT OF MY WAY! I've got shopping to do."

And, finally, to my sister (you know who you are): maybe if you didn't keep your photos in a bucket, you could post them somewhere....

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hippy Warlocks and French Witches

So,Friday night, after a long afternoon of Happy Hour hopping, Monkey and I joined My Favorite Berry and a host of her Harry-Potter-lovin' friends to the Hollywood 14 to see the lastest offering from Hogwarts, Inc. The theatre was packed with teenagers in academic robes. One old guy was dressed up like a sweet transvestite, but I think he was at the wrong movie. Dammit, Janet!

Anyway, Monkey and I paid our arm and leg for a huge bag of popcorn and a diet coke (the things I do for love...) and met up with the row of FOBs in theatre number 1. They had been there, saving the row, since six o'clock or something ridiculous. It was an 8:15 show.

The previews were many, and the commercials were more still. The movie: not bad. I must admit, I dozed through some of it. Not the movies fault, more the wine and beer's fault. I'd rather blame it on the cheese, but I know it ain't so. The kiddos in the flick are older (understandble and not unprecedented), and starting to look like little hippies. The coterie of young witches from France or wherever were strange in their children-of-the-corn-ness and bizarre finishing school mannerisms. And Ralph Fiennes without a nose is pretty freakin' scary.

Today was taken up nearly entirely by an online workshop for school. Monkey and I may make plans for tonight, but we can't seem to find any suitable time to talk about it. Tomorrow brings pie lessons for James and a visit with Ms. London Belle for Ripken.

Something is happening next week...on Thursday, I think...but I can't remember what it is.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Random Thoughts, Part the First

What would it be like to be shot from a cannon? I mean, you know, would it be cool to be projected through space at 200 m/sec? Would it just be like, "Eh"?

Who first thought that a crab was something one could eat?

Why, Kansas? Why?

Who's in charge? I mean, really. Is one person making all the decisions, or does stuff just happen? I know how it works in my world, but I'm thinking of the bigger picture here. You know, like in Terra Haute.

What if everything we think about our universe is just a little off? I think I'm sitting here, but really, I'm sitting just a little more to the left than I think.

Two guys on the Yankees make $38 million a year. In case you missed that, I repeat: $38 million a year. Hey, I got a $300. raise last year, and the district keeps making me feel guilty about it.

It is cold in Central Standard Land today! Low tonight: 18 F degrees. It's a three dog night in this one dog household.

I mean, Kansas, come on!

There are 25,000 genomes in human DNA. It only takes about 1500 or so to make a human. Why all the extra?

When we run out of oil, why can't we just use butter?

There are currently only about 500 mountain gorillas left in the wild. Get yours today!

I could live on bread and cheese. Not for long, but I could.

Full moons on cold nights are the best.

Cold moons on full nights are a distant second.

I want my missing socks back!

Monkey's home from KC! And she brought cheese cake. It's not bread and cheese, but it's sort of close and will have to do. Gotta go!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Visit from Buddy

Firearms season for deer began on Saturday. A hike in a state conservation area was surely off limits. As a result, the Robmeister, K-Dogg, Monkey and I headed to the Shooting Star Trailhead at Gans Creek Wild Area here in C-town for a short hike.

The trees have pretty much dropped all of their leaves, so the forest was barren. Very wintry and the views into the Gans Creek valley were spectacular, though not very colorful.

The hike, while not very strenuous or amazingly scenic, did provide for one out-of-the-ordinary experience. Near the end of the hike, we were met on the trail by a strange stray dog, who we later discovered was named Buddy. And Buddy wanted to play. He went into the woods and found a suitable stick (which was actually pretty large). He brought it back to the trail and stood about fifteen feet in front of us, placing the stick across the trail and patiently waiting for someone to throw it.

Which we did. And that was that. Buddy was with us for the rest of the way. When we got back to the car, Buddy kept fetching stick after stick, at one point holding four sticks in his jaws at one time.

We checked Buddy's collar and found his name and phone number. The Robmeister made the call on his cell.

"Are you the owner of Buddy the dog?"

"Well, he's here at the Shooting Star Trailhead."


The Robmeister told us that the owner said that the park was "Buddy's backyard," and to just leave him and he would come home eventually. I'm not going to pontificate on what I think about unsupervised dogs running wild, but this was a humorous occurence in my growing experience with unchecked canine curiosity.

After breakfast at Lucy's Restaurant, Monkey and I went to fetch our own canine after his sleepover at Uncle Joe's and Aunt James'. He reportedly had a whale of a time with Ms. London Belle. When we got home, he slept and slept. He even slept through dinner. Imagine that.

Some pics (courtesy of Uncle Joe) of Ripken's evening.

Notice he spent a great deal of time with things from Meadow Lane in his mouth. That's my boy!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Gag Me With a Spoon

Thursday night's "Speak Your Mind" forum at school was well attended (approx. 100). The topic, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita & the FEMA Response, was not intrinsically controversial, and the big issues really needed to be addressed by folks in Federal-level positions, but the local panelists that were there did a great job of using their own expertise to answer student questions as best they could. Our panelists consisted of a middle school science teacher, the Deputy Chief of the county fire department (and commander of a local emergency response team), a trauma psychologist, and a sociologist. The kids were great. Their questions, for the most part, were of a very high quality. I was pleased and impressed.

After, James and the Monkey and I met up at Otto's for a pre-show drink or two and then headed down the block to the Blue Note for the show. The American Music Club was good: a little jangly, a little loud, pretty smart. However, they played five songs and they were done. Some bullshit about broken guitar strings. Broken strings?! Go buy some more and keep playing--we payed fifteen bucks for this show. Between shows, we three headed up to the back bar, where you don't have to wait half the night to order a beer. While there, we found Coach B and the Kopster, his companion for the evening. And we stayed there all night.

Spoon just was not very good. Poppy. Crappy. Light. Uninteresting. At the back bar, some dude in a white t-shirt, smoking a Marlboro light and drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon-- in a can (the NEW cool beer--but still crap in my book)-- approached Monkey, James and the Kopster.

"Do you guys like Spoon?"

The Kopster stepped up, "Well, we ARE out here."

"I love them," the can of beer said, "but they are boring me to tears."

I leaned in to the trio, "Which one of you is going home with the T-shirt?"

"Puh-lease," they replied.

That says it all: they were boring their fans to tears. We didn't even feel slightly drawn to the theatre. Boo, Spoon. You are nothing more than plastic--Plastic Spoon.

Thursday night, of course, made Friday a slog, but, as a caring professional, I slugged it out with the day and won. After a quick nap on the sofa, Monkey and I were off to Otto's book club. Yes, two nights in a row at the same bar. That is not even close to a record.

Six of the originally scheduled eleven showed up to discuss the book: Monkey and yours truly, the Reverend Wayne Coomers, James, K-dogg and the Robmeister. The discussion was spirited and rich, the beer was cold (and the Wild Turkey was wild for the Reverend), and the food was adequate. By eight o'clock, we were headed home feeling a little piqued.

Today Ripken is to spend the evening visiting his best buddy, Ms. London Belle, and staying over at his Uncle Joe and Aunt James'. He is really excited.

Hiking on Sunday and a late Fall evening visit to Bradford Farm looking for owls and raptors. I'll tell you all about it. Later.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thursday: The Unofficial Start of the Weekend

Back in college, Thursday was really the signal day for weekend activity. Everybody went out on Thursday night, mostly because, after Freshman year, few people had classes on Friday. So Thursday started the weekly debauchery of college existence.

Well, to be honest, back in college, it was always weekend. Nobody really paid too much attention to the calendar when it came to evening festivities. But officially unofficially, Thursday was as good a place marker as any.

Tonight, after sitting in on a "Speak Your Mind" forum at school (I am "training" to replace the current moderators), the Monkey and I, along with James, Coach B, and who knows who all else, will be heading out to The Blue Note to take in the American Music Club/Spoon show. We are hoping to make it a relatively calm night. We do still have to teach the churlen and such on Friday, but we have chosen Thursday to begin the blowing off of the steam.

Friday brings the first official meeting (after a plenary meeting) of Otto's Book Club. We meet at a local dive, have a few drinks, eat some nachos and talk about a particular book. This month: John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. Half of the members of the club have read the book (including myself), but it has been years for us all. We thought it would be timely, what with New Orleans nearly getting wiped off the map a few back. The next book: Cloud Atlas. I don't remember who wrote it, but I think he's British. I just started it. It's pretty good up to page nine, I'll tell you that.

I'm also reading a book called Bee Season, by Myla Goldberg. It is interesting. Cerebral and weird, but captivating in its own mystical way. I'll let you know if I truly recommend it after I finish. I am currently half-way through, about. I saw in the Times that they are making a movie out of it, but just from the short write up and the cast, I can tell it really will have little to do with what the actual book is really about.

If you're intersted, besides books, I can suggest you check out the following bands that Monkey and I have recently seen: The Hold Steady and The Constantines. I would recommend with reservations a band called The Cops, if you like updated takes on what The Clash Meet The Police might sound like. I don't think their name is an accident!

Stay tuned for the dillio on AMC and Spoon! I know, you just can't wait.

"I like American music.
I like American music.
Do you like American music, baby?"
--The Violent Femmes

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

And on the Eighth Day, They Shoved Their Heads Up Their Asses

This morning, as I prepared for a rare sick day in which I would spend the day grading papers (a little known fact: most English teachers take sick days to catch up on all the grading they can't get done during the other 60-80 hours a week they work), I skimmed the NY Times and found that the Kansas school board had again decided (after four years ago deciding to undecide what they had initially decided), by a vote of 6 to 4, to require that the teaching of evolution be accompanied by the disputation of the evidence that supports evolution as a scientific theory. They reason that other "theories" are just as scientifically sound as evolution. They are, of course, cow fornicating idiots.

Supporters of Intelligent Design, the new 21st-century label for creationism, are still trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. To what end, I don't understand. They claim that they are not trying to foist religious teachings on the school systems, but I don't buy that. The way I see it, the only "evidence" they have is in the Bible. Last time I checked, that was a religious text. Maybe in Kansas it's not, but I suspect it is.

Ever been to Kansas? I have. It's not a bad state. It's not as flat as you'd think. But, it's flat enough to make me think that people in Kansas (who prefer to be called Kansans, but I think I'll call them Kansassholes) might suspect that the world is flat. And that the ocean is a myth. And that two plus two may be four to the rest of the God-forsaken country, but there in the land of cows and corn and oil and sunflowers, they believe it just might be somewhere between three and six.

It's stupid enough to make me laugh, but it's real enough to make me scared. Kansas may seem like a far away farm-fantasy-land to some of y'all, but it's right next door and real as shit out here. And most Kansassholes think pretty much like the rest of the sheep-headed majority in this dim-bulb led monstrosity that we call the United States of America.

I think tomorrow I am going to teach my classes that MOST people may think that subject-verb-object is the typical word order in a sentence written in English, but other say theories scrambled that order acceptable is word.

How do you like that?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Hog Roasting: A Tale from Pedro

Ola, everybody. Pedro here. Is been a long time since I talk to you all. Maybe this the first time I talk to some of you. If so, Ola. Me llamo Pedro. Back in the day when I live in Baltimore, I work all the time for this dude, Belvedere. Me and Pino and the Big Kahuna. We roast a lot of hogs. We drink a lot of beer. We dance with a lot of fat women from Brooklyn. But maybe I should no tell that story! Hehe.

Anyway, is pretty cool here near the rivers. Not a lot of hogs to roast, but there is plenty of good beer to drink, and maybe the women are not the same as the ones from Brooklyn (dios mio), but plenty of them are about the same size. I sometimes miss the fun we have back when we roast the hogs, but is cool. When I get back to the casa after a night with the hogs (wink wink) I stink. Very smelly, those hogs. But, it was fun, and sometimes, we even got paid.

I remember one time we roast this hog at this dude's house and Pino pick up the lid on the cooker, and in like two seconds, man, the whole pig is on fire. It look like...well, it look pretty bad. The next thing you know, the fire department on the way, and the police right behind them. That no good. I no like the police so much. I no can say why. Well, I can, but I ain't going to, dude.

Well, anyway, the police come, so I disappear for a little while. I hide in the closet in this dude's house, you know? Well, guess who I find in that closet when I am in there? Yeah, dude, a fat girl from Brooklyn! Those bitches everywhere.

I am in that closet for like two hours, dude. And there no was a whole lot of room. For half the time I think I just give up to the police, but somebody blocking the door. When I get back to the crew, they tell me the police leave after like ten minutes. Ten minutes! And I am in that closet with that girl from Brooklyn for two hours. Everybody think that was pretty funny. Not me, dude.

Well, dudes, I want to shout out to all my homies. Especially the Big Kahuna. It is a long time since I see him. I seen that the sofa writes to everybody, so I think it be cool if I get a chance, too. I may no get to do it again. If no, vaya con dios. Maybe I see you all again, maybe no.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Pedantic Ponderings

Last week, I neglected to mention that I made some pies. Monkey was very happy. I was very happy. James, who found out I was making pie, because I called her and told her, was not happy. She didn't get any. I have been considering a cottage industry. Not as a pie maker, but as a crust-maker teacher. After all, give a man a piece of pie and he's happy for an hour. Teach a man to make a pie, and he's yelling and cursing and throwing things for about six months until he really gets the hang of it. Thanks, Mom!

Another week gone by. Seems like only yesterday, we were driving back from Oregon, getting ready to start a new job, a new school year. Preparing to buy a house.

Things change. The house buying has been put on hold, in case you didn't know. We've decided that with our status still fluid (will we be here for two years or fifty?) it is wiser to wait and see what happens. Our rent is less than any house payment, and having to sell a house after only owning it for eighteen months could wind up losing us money. We don't want to do that.

So, here we are in the same little house, still waiting to see what happens. Funny, I feel like we've been waiting to see what happens for about a hundred years now. And guess what. A great deal of stuff has happened, just nothing to give us any idea what the next step on our little journey will be. Does that ever happen? Maybe. But enough of that. Who wants to read me waxing philosophical? That's right: nobody but me.

The past week has been relatively uneventful. Read in the paper on Tuesday that one of my students had been arrested for armed robbery. That's always fun. So far this year, I have lost four kids to expulsion for criminal behavior. Sign of the times or just a bad year? Don't know. Global warming could be to blame.

The Monkey is in Oklahoma this weekend. I have no plans. Maybe a bike ride today with the Robmeister and K-Dogg, maybe a beer or two tonight with James. Maybe a birding trip on Sunday with the Osculator. Maybe I will just stay home, walk the dog and read (though probably not at the same time).

I will, of course, visit the Hive to do some grocery shopping. Oh, how I love grocery shopping! All those boxes and cans. All that previously frozen meat. All those waxy, flown-in-from-three-thousand-miles-away vegetables. Sometimes, I wish I lived on a farm. But, that's a full-time job in itself. How can I edumucate the churlen if I'm all day tilling the soil and feeding the hens? It just won't do!

I got into a little argument at a happy hour last night with a fellow teacher about the neccesity of the National Education Association (NEA). He felt that they were too much of a political organization and that they weren't really interested in "helping kids." God, that just fired me up. After all, education is probably the most politicized field in the country (short of abortion medicine (is that what it's actually called? Seems oxymoronic.)). Why shouldn't we (teachers) have a political organization to understand and lobby for issues that affect us? And, wouldn't educated, content, well-compensated teachers be best for helping kids? That's my take, anyway. And this dude I'm arguing with is somewhere near 23 years old. For some reason, I found that most frustrating. At any rate, we never came to blows or anything.

That's all for now. Think I'll let Ripken take me for a walk. The weather is fixing up to be great here this weekend. Until next time!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Prairie Home Companions

Sunday started out like many recent Sundays have. The Monkey and I woke early to prepare for a hike at one of Central Standard's many state parks. Today we would visit Prairie Home Conservation Area.

We got our gear together and had a cup of coffee, but soon the day became auspiciously strange. I went outside and saw a pileated woodpecker in a tree in the front yard. This was really wierd. We live between a park and a golf course, so there are plenty of trees in the area, but rarely do pileated woodpeckers venture out of thick forest cover. It was amazing. They're big black birds with white wing patches and a red cockade.

I called Monkey out to see it. We watched it for a moment and went back inside to get our stuff together. When I went out to the car with some gear, a white tail was running up the middle of our street. This was also new. The deer around here usually use the hill behind our house to get from one stand of trees to the next. I have never seen them in the middle of our street. I thought that both of these sightings were good signs.

We proceeded to Prairie Home, which is much closer than some of the recent places we've visited. We arrived at about nine and hit the trail.

Our jaunt was planned for about five miles. We figured we'd be back home in time for lunch. Our first mile or two was great. The trail was wide and well-marked. We flushed two covey of bobwhite from the brush beside a clearing. We saw small toads, beautiful butterflies, crayfish in the creeks. There was a bit of rain here and there, but hardly enough to turn things sour.

As we proceeded from our first checkpoint, and walked a gravel road through some farm land, we came across a gray cat out mousing the weathered sheds and hay barns. He (or she) was kind enough to take a break and pose for a photo op. The cat meowed the whole time. Maybe it wanted us to take it with us, but I didn't think that was such a good idea.

We passed through the farm, past an abandoned home, the porch fallen in and the roof collapsing. The lightning rod, however, stood proudly atop the roof's peak. Up a hill, past a small pond, Monkey and I came to our second checkpoint. There, things started to get a little hairy...but we didn't even know it.

We turned off the road and followed a horse trail that rose to the south, passed a pond and turned north back toward the road. At the bottom of a swale, we came upon a bizarre-looking rock standing at least twenty feet high. Monkey thought for sure she could see a face in the rock. After looking at it long enough, I had to agree with her. Clearly, you can see a high forehead and a nose.

Just past this rock, the trail became overgrown and hard to follow. It was clear that few feet, hooves, or paws had trod this neck of the woods recently. We did the best we could with compass and Department of Conservation map (not great) to find our way.

We found the road again and doubled back to a clearly marked path and a known spot on the map, and off we went to the north. We followed a horse trail through a field of soybeans planted for game, and a mile or so on plunged back into the woods. Here, the trail went vamoose again.

That's what we took to be the trail passing to the right of the large tree in the middle ground and the tree some yards behind it. It went on like that for a good piece. A couple of miles at least.

We made our way, slowly reading trail or finding blaze marks in the trees. We came across some really excellent natural areas, including a creek that trickled through the rocks and fell a few feet here and there.

On we went, thinking we would soon come to our next checkpoint. We crossed a few meadows, the grasses up to our chests, eventually coming upon trail markers, and feeling confident that we were on the right track. We startled a few wild turkeys from their territories. That is one of the oddest sights in the world: a wild turkey on the wing. It's like what I imagine a flying bus might look like.

We crossed a road and headed down into another swale. Ahead, Monkey spied another strange looking rock formation.

"Is that the face rock?"

"No way," I said, "that's a different rock."

After all, this one was flat, almost monlithic.

But, as we approached and passed the monolith, the face was revealed on the other side. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, our intrepid adventurers had managed a complete cirle!

We decided to backtrack, and eventually found ourselves passing through the farm again. We passed cordialities with the farmer, who now (12:30) was out working his land.

We treked back to the car, arriving at about 2 pm. Only two hours later than we had planned.

At home, we greedily consumed a sandwich and kicked back on the couch (you know the couch, now, right?) to finish the first season of "Lost."

Now, we have six episodes from this season to catch up on. After today's bizarre experience, I can really connect to some of the things those fictional castaways have to deal with.

Until next time!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Promises Made

"If I had a million dollars,
I'd buy you furniture for your house
(maybe a nice Chesterfield or an Ottoman).
--Barenaked Ladies

Hi, everybody. The "new" sofa, here. That addle-brained, fat ass told you he would put my picture up here, but he never did. What a loser. I had to do it myself. This is me in the living room. I really brighten the place up a lot more than that raggedy, dog-smelling, burlap brown one that used to be in here. That one had to go. I kicked him to the curb. His little love seat buddy, too. They're both gone. The poor dog. Now he's stuck laying his muddy paws and stinking, hairy belly on his doggy beds on the floor. Sucks to be him.

I came here to this house by way of Eugene, OR. I spent a year out there with the Monkey. It was great, but that house was kind of cold. Come to think of it, this house is kind of cold, too, but at least here I have two butts to keep me warm instead of one. The trip from the West Coast to Central Standard was a rough one, however.

They wrapped me up in a plastic bag (which made it kind of hard to breathe), and then they made me stand on my head for a week while some yahoos drove me to Salt Lake City and Denver and who knows where else. The middle of the summer is no time to spend locked up in the back of a moving truck with no air conditioning or fan. What stale air I couldn't breathe.

When I arrived, they unwrapped me (last) and let me get my bearings in my new surroundings. It was a pleasant, yet disorienting, time. Everything is so different here. Television shows start at different times, there's thunder and lightning, tornadoes, armadillos. It is truly a Wonderland. Or is it Oz? I don't know. I have yet to see any flying monkeys or horses of a different color.

At any rate, this is me. Love me or hate me, I was only 60 bucks. I am not going anywhere any time soon. C-I-A-B-A-T-T-A. Ciabatta. Peace out!

Monday, October 24, 2005

In France, It's the First Day of the Week

"Monday, Monday
Can't trust that day."
--The Mamas and The Papas

It is full-on Fall here in Central Standard Land. Brisk walkings of the dog have occurred at Stephens Lake the past two days. The sky is that cloudy gray that true Fall always is. The air is brisk, and the oak leaves skitter across the paths on the eddying breeze. Great walking weather.

Saturday morning, as I was heading out to meet the Auduboners, I looked to the east as I travelled down Old Highway 63 and saw the sun rising over the misty Stephens Lake. It was a beautiful phot op, but I didn't have my camera. I made a mental note to come back on Sunday to snap a shot for the blog, but, as most of you may know, my mental notepad is like an Etch-a-sketch--if I shake enough, it erases itself. I must have shaken a great deal on Saturday, because I forgot to go up there yesterday. I will try to remember in the future. It really was a scene worth sharing.

After school today, we had a monthly faculty meeting. It was long, pointless and dreadful. Grades were due today, remember? Well, Fearless Leader didn't think it was too much to have a meeting immediately after we spent the day wrestling with our "new" (read "broken") grading program. How hard would it have been to have the meeting on Tuesday? But, no. We were all pretty brain dead. So brain dead, in fact, that we couldn't even muster the juice to rip on the meeting to each other. How terribly awful. To top it off, Fearless Leader wasn't even at the meeting. Boo! At 4:30, they mercifully let us go. I was supposed to play b-ball tonight, but I was pretty downtrodden. I stayed home.

After an hour, I was feeling a bit better, so I took the dog for a walk. Did I mention how nice that was?

I must say, one bright spot among many about being here in the Central Zone is that I don't often get the opportunity to watch my old home teams play ball. After suffering through the daily newspaper stories on the O's, I was glad not to have to be tempted with watching them implode this season. I am positively intrigued by the hiring of Leo Mazzone as the new pitching coach, but coaches don't play, and Angelos is STILL the owner. Most distressful (or pleasant, in that I don't have to watch it) is the miserable performance of the Ravens. God, remember the good old days of Vinny Testeverde?

It dawned on me yesterday, as I saw the score flash on the screen: Chi 10, Bal 6, that Baltimore's two Super Bowl wins came with scrub QBs: Earl Morrall and Trent Dilfer. Odd, isn't it? Johnny U never won one. He won NFL Championships, so he gets a special award for that, but no Super Bowls. Bert Jones? None. Art Schleister? Mike Pagels? Stoney Case? Chris Redmond? Well, never mind.

It's hard to be living in The Land of Pleasant Living this Monday, I'm sure.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Knee Deep

This week has really flown by for me. Grades are due on Monday for first quarter at school, so Friday was a work day. No classes, but we teacher folk had to show up. I graded all day, and I still have a stack of papers hanging over my head. They 'll get done, but today has been a wash as far as work goes. I still have time to get something done, but I am certainly not being as dilligent as I could be.
This morning, my birding buddy, The Osculator, and I met a few folks from the local Audubon Society at a university experimental farm to do some searching for Fall sparrows and such. We really had a great morning. We beat the bush, walking through shoulder-high native grasses, flushing out song sparrows, Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrows, swamp sparrows, LeConte's sparrows, Lincoln's sparrows, white-crowned sparrows and savannah sparrows (bet you had no idea there were so many different sparrows). The trip leader, whom I shall dub, Chief Purlpewort, was a most pleasant and knowledgable dude. I learned a lot from him about identifying sparrows and native grasses. I know--exciting! We identified more than forty birds as a group (there were about a dozen of us), but I only got 37. All in all, it was a great trip, but the dewy grass and swampy areas took their toll on my jeans and socks. My shoes are waterproof, but I stepped in some deep puddles. Wet wool socks are not pleasant when it's 40 degrees (F) outside.
We broke it up at noon, and The Osculator and I headed out for some lunch--hot soup, baby. We ate, checked our lists, shot the bull, and then realized that our feet were getting terribly wrinkly. We were suffering from the early stages of trench foot, for sure.
Mizzou was playing Nebraska on the tube when I got home. It was tied at 24 at halftime. I changed my clothes and sat down to watch the game.
Two years ago, the Tigers beat Nebraska 41-24 on a rainy night at Faurot Field. The Monkey and I were there, and we both agree it was the BEST football game we have ever attended. It was amazing. NU was ranked number 10 in the country at the time, and MU was unranked. The goal posts came down that night, and one unlucky MU fan got coldcocked by a Big Red player on the field after the game. It was bedlam. Monkey and I watched from the stands. We surely weren't going down there. We stayed up in the safety of the student section and had fun booing the Campus police who arrested arbitrary drunken undergrads as they spilled onto the track.
That game was so great that I paid $55. to travel to Lincoln with a couple of friends to watch the Tigers play the Huskers last year.
That was the WORST football game I may have ever attended. Both teams were miserable on offense, but Nebraska was less miserable than we were. I think we lost 24-3.
This year, today, back at MU, the Tigers again pulled out a dominating 41-24 win. Fortunately, I got to see the end of the game. Unfortunately, I dozed off on the sofa and slept through nearly all of the third quarter. Of a tie ball game! All that tromping through the wet grass really took it out of me, I guess.
So, here I am, knee deep in the vicarious thrill of victory and knee deep in papers after being knee deep in swamp, sparrows and prairie grass. Now that is a freaking good Saturday!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Autumn in the Ozarks

and the trees are stripped bare
of all they wear,
but what do I care."

Sunday's dawn found the Monkey and I barrelling down US 63 looking to make a hard right out of Licking, MO. A three-hour drive spent talking about life and recent horror stories from friends about hitting deer (it is that time of year) brought us to the Paddy Creek Campground of the Mark Twain National Forest. Chilly and in high spirits, we set out to wander the trails along the Big Piney Creek. The trek was pleasantly arduous, winding up and down the hills of southern Missouri, through stands of alternating oak and pine. There were few beautiful vistas, since the trees were still relatively leaf-covered, but the poison ivy was in full fall color, and some of the trees were fall-lovely as well. It's been unseasonably warm here for a while, so the trees are not very vibrant for the most part, but I don't really appreciate the autumnal color shift, anyway.
We did come across several really interesting looking mushrooms and some intriguing rock formations, but the first part of the hike was pleasant, yet non-descript.
By 11:00, we had reached the 6.2 mile mark, and had to decide whether to hike the 2.2-mile round trip to Roby Lake and back. We had planned to lunch there (you guessed it--PB & J!), but we still had 9 miles to hoof after that, in addition to a three-hour drive back home. Sadly, we decided to skip the lake and find a place by the creek to have lunch.
As we made our way down a hillside approaching the creek bed and a spring, we saw four saddled horses picketed on the rocks on the opposite bank of the creek. This would have been a great place for lunch, but the riders were splashing about in the spring, and Monkey felt that we would be cramping their style if we layed our lunch out in plain sight of them. We couldn't see them , since the spring was around a bend behind some rocks, but I agreed with Monkey. After all, I suspected that the riders were splashing about in various states of undress, and this was something I didn't really care to see. We took the rise out of the creek bed and found a nice little overlook to lunch on where we couldn't see the riders. As we finished our lunch, the horse party trotted by. Luckily for us, they were fully clothed...and I was certain we had made the right decision. I surely didn't want to see any of them in ANY state of undress!
While the horse party was well ahead of us and moving faster than we, their presence on the trail was never far from our consciousness. Mainly due to the fact that the horse's manure was never far from our shoes. The rockiness of the trail was further complicated by the treacherous placement of the horse evidence. We danced the last 9 miles of that trail like Astaire or Baryshnikov, for sure. At the 12 mile mark (about 2pm), we were ready to have a long sit, but we still had three miles to go. We found an old homestead a little way down the trail. The only evidence was four cornerstones (maybe it used to be the spot for a trailer) and a huge grove of yucca plants. In a pine forest. It was a bit surreal.
At 2:30, we came to a nice overlook, but the view was blocked by some trees. We were about 1200 feet up, and we could see pretty far to the west between the pine branches. However, it had gotten a bit warmer (it only hit 75, but we felt hotter than that), and our dogs were barking. We didn't stay up on the ridge for long. Another hour, a treacherous descent and a stroll through some riparian woodlands and we were back at the trail head.
We had covered over fifteen miles in a little less than six hours. That's a pretty brisk pace. We were happy to be done and glad that we had come down to the Paddy Creek area, but, all in all, the trail was pretty mundane. We drank some water and ate a banana, kicked off the hiking shoes and hopped in the Ozark Traveller, and made our way back north as the sun set pinkly in the west.
By the way, Monkey saw her first armadillo. Unfortunately, it was roadkill.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Gold Standard

There are times in our lives when we work as hard as we possibly can, and, in the end, we wind up with nothing to show for it. There are times in our lives when all the work we do pays off. This Friday, at approximately 2:48 PM Central Standard, the latter occured for Coach B and me. The Gold Team convincingly beat the Purple Team, 20-6, in the 2005 Homecoming PowderPuff Football game. It was a hard-fought victory to be sure. We had some physical play (one of our girls wound up with a bit of a bloody lip), and we were accused of "playing rough" and cheating, but that seems to me like sour grapes. After all, it's football, for one, how can you not knock a few people down? Secondly, I didn't see any of their players bleeding. Lastly, there where three referees on the field, and they didn't call any penalties. So, we are either very stealthy in our ability to play dirty, or somebody can't handle being the first Purple team in eight years to lose.
To see the girls so amazingly happy after the game made every second of practice worthwhile. I was very impressed with the way they played. They were tough, athletic, dedicated, and they had fun. After presiding over an embarrassing 38-0 defeat last year, I felt terrible. The feeling this year, as you can imagine, was exactly the opposite.
In addition, the actual football team won their homecoming game 47-8, and the dance was a big success. I worked the late shift of the dance, and after a long exciting day, I was a wreck by midnight. Monkey and I were supposed to hike today, but when I got home at 12:30, I woke her up and postponed the hike until Sunday. Of course, I am supervising the Amnesty concert tonight, so I may be just as tired tonight. Regardless, I won't be postponing.
Mizzou is currently playing THEIR homecoming game this afternoon. It is a homecoming extravaganza weekend here in C-town. Both high schools and the U are celebrating at the same time. Everybody is coming home! Unfortunately, Monkey and I missed the parade this morning.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Songs in the Key of Life

"I'll write a book. It will be called
Life and How to Live It."

I don't know when I really decided to be a teacher. I mean, I guess one could say I decided some time after moving out here in '99 (way back in the 20th century). I remember times before then when I thought about it. There was a time in the mid-90s, when I flirted with the idea of teaching English as a Foreign Language somewhere overseas. There were times before that when I had done some workshop or presentation, and somebody said, "You should be a teacher." I thought about it. Even as a high school student, I recall always liking the opportunity to teach something in front of the class. I guess it's something I've always wanted to do; it just took the right confluence of events for it to happen. Lord knows, some think it certainly took me long enough to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
I've always thought that whatever I was doing was what I was supposed to be doing. Whether being a student, working for my dad, selling furniture, doing amateur (and some professional) theatre, whatever I was committed to was what I was supposed to be committed to at the time. What other possibility was there?
At the moment, however, there are a few things about teaching that are just driving me up the wall. Our current administration (school, district and federal) all seem to be conspiring against we teachers on a daily basis. Low pay, increased workload, little support, no seems like the most unrewarding and difficult thing I have ever done. Some days you just want to call up somebody in charge and ask them flat out: "Were you born an asshole, or do you have to work at it?"
But then, there are those moments that come frequently, even daily, when you really connect with one kid about something. Sometimes it's about scholastic stuff--they finally understand how to write a good thesis statement. Sometimes it's about something bigger--getting a kid to realize the benefits of being empathic, talking with a student about dealing with setbacks, or helping a student manage a bad mood. These moments are the one's that make it more than just some job. You realize that in some way you are a caretaker. Yes, I educate--that is my job title--but more than that I try to involve myself in the total well-being of my students. That is the part that all the talking heads and stuffed shirts just don't seem to really get. I am given more and more hoops to jump through. I am at odds with the people who employ me. I have no respect for the person who is supposed to be my boss. But when the bell rings, and the door closes, and it's just me and a mess of kiddos--that is what it is all about. And I realize that this is what I may really have been "meant" to do all along.

Sorry for the treatise. It has been a difficult week on the local political front, and I just needed to vent and give myself an affirmation. A recent development in the relationship between the district administration and we edumacators left a colleague in tears today. Real tears. That is not what the school board is supposed to do to teachers. They really are a bunch of dumb asses sometimes.
Homecoming is Friday. The big Purple-Gold Powder Puff Showdown awaits. I am confident in the girls. They will be competitive. I even think we could win. We shall see. It is a ton of fun coaching. Coach B and I certainly have a good time talking smack with the opposing coaches in the hallways and getting to know the players (many of which I didn't know before practice started--we have a school of more than 2000). I hope to have some pics to post this weekend.
I am also chaperoning the Homecoming Dance and attending the football game on Friday night AND supervising the Amnesty International concert on Saturday night. Monkey and I hope to fit in a pretty long hike on Saturday, too, so I should be pretty exhausted by Sunday (the day on which the Cardinals sweep the Astros and make it to the World Series for the second year in a row).
Ah, the commitments I make to shepherd the youth of central MO.

"And you may ask yourself,
'How did I get here?'"
--Talking Heads

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Nothing Says "Americana" Like a Painted Gourd

At 8 AM, the Robmeister and K-Dogg picked us up in the Roadmaster, and we all headed for Jeff City for the Walk/Run. Monkey and I walked the 5K. R and K ran the 10K. The morning was beautiful, clear and cold. We picked up our race packets, stretched a bit, and we were off. After strolling through our 5K walk in just over 47 minutes, Monkey and I moved over to the run finish line to cheer on our partners in ambulation as they finished their 6+ mile run. They both finished in under an hour! Way to go, Robmeister and K-Dogg!

After bananas and water, we all set off for Kemna's Dinner Bell, in Jeff City, for breakfast. The restaurant was recommended to us by James' sister, a denizen of the state capital, herself. The dinner bell scrambler was a winner, the pancakes were HUGE, and the biscuits and gravy were top notch. The coffee, unfortunately, sucked. I think they washed the dishes with it before they served it. But, all in all, I would recommend it.

One might think that after such a full morning the four of us would simply choogle on back to C-Town and nap the rest of the day away. Au contraire, mes amis. For this weekend is also the annual Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival! So, off we went to Hartsburg, MO (pop. 108). The line of traffic on Route A (the only road in to or out of Hartsburg) was slow. Parking is well supervised, but the flow is one lane and bumper to bumper. K-Dogg got impatient about two miles outside of town and got out of the Roadmaster to walk. She phoned back to the vehicle that parking was close and that we should prepare to pull off and park and walk the rest of the way. She waited for us. At the rendezvous point, however, the only spot was on the eastbound side of the street (we were west bound). Robmeister promptly made the first point in a three point turn. Unfortunately, the first point was a two foot deep ditch. The Buick was stuck, straddling Route A, THE ONLY ROAD IN TO OR OUT OF HARTSBURG. You might say we were blocking traffic. Try as we might, we could not get enough leverage to push the boat out of the ditch. Luckily for us, a pick-up with a tow rope happened to be in the front of the westbound traffic blocked by our intrepid adventurers. It wasn't pretty, but we got out. The car was parked in a safer location and we trundled down the road into Hartsburg, home of the Hitching Post and Hackman Farm, which makes the best apple butter. That, by the way, is Mr. Meister giving us his best rock and roll salute from the right side of the frame.
We also saw a few painted gourds, and sampled some other delicacies. If you are ever able to visit during the second full weekend in October, Monkey and I will surely treat you to a trip to the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival. After all, look at how much fun we could have:

K-Dogg and Monkey really wanted to get on the see-saw, but Monkey moved too slowly and they were beaten by a couple of ten-year-olds. We had to hold K-Dogg back from calling the girls out. That woman is FIERCE!

Friday, October 07, 2005

That Championship Season

Wednesday's game was at eight o'clock. The day had been sunny, warm and humid, and when I went outside at 6:30, the air was still thick. I left for the game at 7:15, and the wind started to kick up. The sky to the west and north was ominous, filled with dark clouds that shrouded the last rays of the sunset. I was pleading with Mother Nature to hold off on the rain until 9. We'd be done by then.
At the ball park, the wind was blowing steadily in from right field at about 15 miles an hour. It was getting downright chilly, and all I had on was a t-shirt and shorts. We got under way, and the rain was holding off, just like I'd hoped. The wind, however, made it hard to pitch and hard to get a good ball out of the infield. We played three innings, and the opposing team was up 3-1. The rain started about that time, and what a cold rain it was. Did I mention that I was woefully underdressed? My glasses got wet, my shirt got wet. Monkey, sitting in the stands under a borrowed umbrella, got wet. The Deadliners started hitting (the wind died down with the coming of the rain), and we took the lead 5-3. The other team came back and tied the score in the bottom of the inning, and then asked the ump if we could call the game a tie. The ump said no.
In the top of the seventh, the Deadliners finally broke out and scored five to take a 10-5 lead. All we needed to do was hold them down and we could end the wet, cold misery of this final game and finish the season undefeated. We got one out, they put runners on, we got the second out, they scored two. It was 10-7. They had two runners on; the tying run was at the plate. It was tense, we were wet. I couldn't see through my rain-spattered glasses. And we got the last out. We were undefeated! But better than that, we could go find a nice warm bar and dry out (so to speak). It was phenomenal.
Yesterday came and went, busily. Alright, not that busily. After work my colleague, JT, and Monkey and I went over to Booche's for a burger and some adult beverages. Monkey left around 8:30, but Coach B was on his way to join us, so I stayed. Eventually, Reverend Wayne and Mrs. Coomers showed up, another schoolie, BK, rolled in later, and various other folks from around town happened to drop by, too. Next thing you know, it's 11:00, and our hero needs to go to work in just a few hours. Well, long story short, I managed to have a great time and still be on top of my game today. Positive reinforcement of negative behaviors...Strindberg was only half right!
And so, it is Friday! The Monkey and I are doing our annual endangered species walk/run tomorrow. I may walk. I may run. It will be a game-time decision. The morning run/walk will be followed by the most unbelievable array of Americana the world has ever seen: The Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival. I'll be getting me some homemade apple butter and corn relish, for sure. I hear the pies are pretty good, too. The weather will be perfect. It is finally (since Wednesday) crisp and autumnal around here.
And with the mention of the corn relish and such, I have nearly completed the thread of the week. What foodstuffs will we discuss tomorrow? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Lick It Up

Because life is brief
and many are the pains
which, living and struggling, everyone sustains,

let us follow our desires,
passing and consuming the years,
because whoever deprives himself of pleasure,
to live with anguish and worries,
doesn't know the tricks
of the world, or by what ills
and by what strange happenings
all mortals are overwhelmed.
--Nicolo Machiavelli, Mandragola
translated by Mera J. Flaumenhaft

Softball tonight. Forecasted thunderstorms seem to be holding off. Last game of the season. The Tribune Deadliners are looking to go undefeated and win back-to-back Fall C League Championships. Really, the title is already in the bag, but we would like to finish 6-0. I certainly will miss playing (until next Spring), but I'm happy to see the seaon come to a successful end. Monkey even got in on the action, playing in a game two weeks ago. It was good to see her back on the field. I'll report the score when I see y'all again.
A good friend of mine, Martha V., has recently called me out for a photo placed in a recent post. She is confused about the scraggly old sofa upon which Ripken and I lay. She thought we threw that one out. She is right, we do have a new sofa. That is an old pic. Sorry, I don't have anything more recent, right now. I am charging the batteries for the digital camera. I will soon post a picture of the new sofa. I hope you like it when you see it. Monkey is very pleased with it.
Speaking of the sofa, Monkey and I have recently jumped on the Lost bandwagon. We have been slowly plowing through rented first season episodes. We are halfway through season one. We have been recording (DVR) the new season, and we don't plan to watch the new ones until we finish all of the old ones. By the third season, we should be watching in real time.
I just finished reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick. Anybody ever read that one? It was the inspiration for the eighties movie Blade Runner, with Harrison Ford, but it must have been a slight inspiration, because I see very little of the movie in the book. I haven't seen the movie in a while. I plan on renting it soon to compare. The book was quite good. I don't really dig on science-fiction, but this book raised a slew of philosophical-type issues that it was fun to think about. Even better, the book raised those issues without beating me over the head. They were just a part of the book, rather than a big didactic diversion in the middle of the plot. I hate that. It's like a musical, where the story is simply humming along, only to stop dead in its tracks so some silly woman can sing a song, the words of which I just can't understand. If I wanted to see costumed people singing songs, I would pop in the video of the Kiss Halloween special from way back when. Dude, that was some scary shit, Kiss.
In order to maintain, at least for this week, the food theme that has inexplicably introduced itself to these ramblings (PB & J on Sunday, Hot Turkey Sandwiches on Monday, Chicken Nuggets on Tuesday), I made a fourteen vegetable stew last night. It was pretty good. It also has pork in it. The recipe left me with a stew, however, that had very little liquid in it. It was more like steamed vegetables. I adjusted it. It is better, but still could use more liquid. Keep that in mind if you ever make fourteen vegetable stew.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

School Lunch

Okay. From turkey to chicken. Today is Tuesday, which means that the cafeteria serves chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes and gravy. I look forward to Tuesdays. Every other day of the week, I bring lunch from home. A sandwich, yogurt, a banana. Sometimes leftovers from last night's dinner. But Tuesdays are my day of dietary indulgence. I am addicted to the warm little processed "meat" with the golden, slightly greasy "breading." I know the meat is an otherworldly texture. No chicken has flesh like that. No healthy chicken, anyway. No breading I have ever seen in my life is that faker-than-a-spray-on-tan golden brown. The mashed potatoes and gravy, too. Instant taters, for sure, with the yellowest virtual poultry-based pseudo-gravy imaginable. I know. I am typing this and thinking, "Ugh, how can I eat that?" Two seconds later, I am thinking, "I can't believe I have to wait all week for next Tuesday." I am a sad, sad dude.
Speaking of things that are not high-quality, the San Diego Padres lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of their playoff game. Currently, the Chicago White Sox are opening up a can of whoop-ass on the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees play the LA Angels (of Anaheim in California) later. I am assuredly rooting for the Cards, and I would like to see Boston get back in, so the Cards can stomp them and avenge last year's sweep. But, really, I just love playoff baseball, and without the Orioles (they used to be in the playoffs occasionally), I don't care who wins (as long as it isn't the freaking Yankees).
No fights in school today. I didn't get my adrenaline rush. I got back out on the basketball court, yesterday. I sprained my ankle about six weeks ago and didn't play. I tweaked it a little bit last night, but I made it through with no major re-injury. I will probably play again on Thursday.
I do have about a hundred papers to grade. I take about ten minutes a paper, which doesn't sound like much, until you multiply it by 100. Which is 1000. Which is nearly seventeen hours. So, maybe I should get to work, huh?
Yeah, probably. My goal is to have them graded before the next time I can treat myself (for $2.25) to chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Fat Puppy Dog

Monkey returned from the vet's on Friday with startling news. Our puppy dog of six years, Ripken Ozark, had gained seven pounds since his last annual check up! Seven pounds. That's like fifty human pounds! Clearly his age is catching up with him. And we don't walk him enough. The doctor suggested low calorie food. I think we should walk him more. I mean, I sure wouldn't want to spend the rest of my life eating low calorie food. It's bad enough I switched to low fat turkey dogs. Thank God I still have hot turkey sandwiches. I will be enjoying one tonight. Otherwise the puppy dog is healthy and happy. He's just fat. And Bachman Turner Overdrive proved that there ain't nothing wrong with that.
This morning, as I put the finishing touches on a lecture on Romantic literature (yes, I know, you can't believe the excitement that is my life), the president speechified about his newly appointerated Supreme Court nominee: Harriet Miers. Her qualifications: uh, she likes the original Law and Order, and she really prefers the law part. That, and she's a woman. Is she a hard-line conservative? Is she a bleeding heart pinko? Who the hell knows. Will she take a cue from Chief Justice Johnny-Boy Roberts and stonewall Congress? If she's smart she will. I have a feeling the Democrats will be shitheads about the whole thing just on principle. They let Roberts slide, so they'll make Miers' life hell just to compensate.
That was the big news of the day. That and the whole censorship brouhaha at my school resolved itself into nothing. We will maintain the status quo. You haven't heard the dope? Well, we have a new leader at my workplace, who seems to be the kind of leader who stands behind the curtain and controls the giant talking head and purple smoke clouds in the inner sanctum of the Wizard. You know, a "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain"- type. Well, we'll call our fearless leader Fearless Leader. Without getting into details, the possibility of real sanctions could have befallen my department. All of us were in a mess o' consternation. We lost sleep, we lost hair, we drank heavily (on the weekends). After all the sturm and drang, nothing will change. We were supposed to have a meeting with Mr. Leader today, but he didn't post. And I still haven't actually seen him in the hallways. "The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken."
One thing I have seen in the hallways is a great deal of masculine nonsense. I've had to get involved in two fights in my hallway this year. The first two of my career, and they come less than two weeks apart. What's up with that? I gotta tell you though, breaking up a fight is quite an adrenaline rush. Not one I would prefer to have regularly, but it surely does get the old heart pumping.
The day ended with a strong and productive practice from Coach B.'s and my powder puff flag football team. Homecoming is less than two weeks away, and the team is looking strong on offense...maybe needs a little help on the D.
Now, it is time for the hot turkey sandwich! Mmmmmm. I will be thinking of you, as I enjoy the hot turkey sandwich. Unfortunately, it will be without fries.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A New Dawn

Good morning! After several years in the Midwest, and several intermittent mass emails to family and friends, I have decided to try a new way to keep everyone up to date with the life that is mine here on the other side of the Mississippi. Updates will still be as entertaining as ever (I hope), but they will come far more frequently, and you can check them at your leisure. How wonderful is that?!
Since I have been thinking about doing this since September, I thought I would wait until the first of October to start the new format. Of course, the first of October came and went before I realized that it actually was the first of October! So, we'll just get down to it today and try not to concern ourselves with temporal shortcomings.
Yesterday was a great day. Monkey and I drove down south of Rolla, to a section of the Mark Twain National Forest, for a hike through Kaintuck Hollow. We left in the dark of the morning, arriving at our destination (after only missing one turn) at about 8:30 am. The day was cool, the sky was clear, the trail was dry, the pack was full of PB & J, and off we went.
Our first site destination was Wilkins Spring and Pond. Wilkins Pond, a beautiful, shallow little pond in a valley that collects water from the amazingly clear and cold spring, was a great place to munch an apple and take a little break. We spent about a half hour there, walking the shoreline and inspecting the old foundations of the mill that used to stand on the property. Then, it was off to the natural bridge.
Which we walked right past, or over.
We thought, "Gee, shouldn't we have been there by now?"
We came to a confusing mass of trail intersections which were not on the map. This was puzzling and frustrating. After determining which of the tracks was the main trail, we made a joint decision to turn left. Yet, something about turning right seemed to draw both of us away from our firm decision of seconds ago.
"Maybe," said Monkey, "I'll just go up there and check it out for a few yards."
And off she went. I followed, and within a hundred feet, we came to a cave.
"This is it," I said.
"No, it's a cave, not a bridge."
We entered the cave, which appeared to be just that. It was pretty dark only a few yards in. The cave took a right, and the turn revealed the other side of the natural bridge. It was, indeed, totally cool. We had walked right over it, and hadn't any idea.
The trek back to the car was a small, "we missed the main trail" kind of adventure. But we managed to get back safe and sound and right on schedule. Noon found us munching on our sandwiches as we contemplated a wonderful little hike. The only question: where shall we walk next?
Of course, there is much more to tell everyone about, but I think, since we're in for the long haul, I'll save it for the next time. Tomorrow? Maybe, baby.