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.