Monday, July 31, 2006

All Work and No Play...

It's that time of year. It's time to start getting ready for the kiddos to arrive. It's time to plan units, build lessons, swipe white board markers, dust off the khakis, hang some edumacational posters, and get ready for school. Tomorrow will bring August, and that means classes start in less than three weeks.

Of course, our beginning of the year activities begin the week before that, so I'll be up to my neck in "bureaucratic bullshit" in no time.

For the time being, Partner Teacher and I are whipping up some introductory activities, and I'm choosing texts and making vocabulary lists ("fervent," baby). But, slowly. No need to plan the whole year this far out. A brother needs to take his time. After all, I'm still on vacation, technically.

Until the middle of August, I'm still balancing a little work with a lot of play.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

One Pie, Two Pie, Yellow Pie, Blue Pie

Sometimes you just have to experiment. After all, without change, adaptation, innovation, invention, there is no progress.

And sometimes, the occurence of unrelated things leads one to create, in the course of which, one might experiment.

It is late July, and two things happened on Saturday that are germane to this post. First, fresh peaches were available at the farmer's market. We bought a 1/2 peck. Second, blueberries were on sale at the Hyve. A dollar ninety nine a pint. I bought four pints. On Monday, a new Gourmet magazine arrived at the Monkey House (along with the credit card bill for the card used to charge all the gas for the last two trips--UGH!). In this particular issue is a recipe for blueberry pie, with a crust recipe that I found intriguing.

I have, for several years, been trying to perfect the process of creating and manipulating my mother's pie crust recipe. It has been difficult work, but I have been getting much better at working with it. I haven't furiously thrown twisted, torn and half-flattened batches of unbaked pie crust into the garbage for a longg time, now, but it used to happen about fifty percent of the time. Well, yesterday, I tried the new recipe on two pies--one peach and one blueberry.

It was a slight dilemma that I had. I felt, on some level, that I had to maintain some family loyalty. I counter-argued (with myself), that nothing is more valuable than flexibility when it came to cooking, baking, washing dishes, removing sauce splatters from the underside of the table after you've dropped a bowlful on the floor--anything in the kitchen. The counterargument won.

Working with the new recipe was notably different. This one has way more butter in it and more flour--it makes way more dough, so that's a plus (but a bit wasteful). I did far less working of the dough with my hands. This is also a plus, since it a) keeps the hands cleaner, and b) keeps the dough cooler. This one also was way easier to manipulate, as far as getting the rolled out dough from the work surface to the pie pan.

As far as taste goes, the new recipe was lighter (because of all the butter replacing the Crisco), but it's taste was a bit less bold. Also, it baked to a much lighter, almost yellow color. (I have pics, but Blogger is giving me a bit of a hard time today. Maybe, later, I'll post them.)

Drawbacks include that working with this dough was much messier (i.e., more flour everywhere). To be truthful, however, this might be due to the fact that I discovered far too late that I was out of wax paper. Wax paper is a rolling out secret that keeps the dough from sticking to the rolling pin without the use of copious amounts of flour. Obviously, that contributed to the mess.

Monkey, after a preliminary taste test, was firmly in the "I like the old crust" camp. I was in the "they both have their good points" camp. I would definitely make this crust again.

The next time, I might try to figure out a way to create a hybrid of the two. Now, there's an experiment!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hey! That's No Fair, Giving a Guy a Shot Down There

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Woo woo woo.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.
Hey hey hey.
Hey hey hey.
--Simon and Garfunkel, "Mrs. Robinson"

The Graduate has always been one of my favorite films. The first time I saw it, as a high school senior-aged kiddo, I guess I was just entering that age period where the world was before me and I had no idea what to do with it, or in it. Much like Ben Braddock. Beside the personal connection I seemed to have with the main character of the film, I especially liked the tone that Mike Nichols gives to the film. It has a sort of semi-experimental, psycho-emotional cadence that feels (even now, many years later) a bit painful to watch, in some scenes, but fits the film perfectly.

But that's not what I came here to talk to you about.

Yesterday, one of my Blog-mates listed a set of new rules (the origins of which I am still uncertain). They were hilarious. One that struck me was a new rule about grown men who collect baseball cards, the gist of which is that it equals creepy. The tag line was (a paraphrase), "a ten year old collects souveneirs of his heros, a thirty year old collects pictures of men."

Then, today, in another in a growing list of examples of coincidence (I think not), has a column on baseball cards. Several sports writers wax semi-poetic on a particular card they have stored in their memory banks (or even stored in a plastic sheet in a notebook in a safe deposit box in a local bank). Some of them were sweetly nostalgic rememberances of an old card for a player who had been traded from the hometown heroes the season before, the destiny of the card itself lost to the fading memories of forty-five year old brain cells. But, a few others involved discussions of cards that dudes had procured in their twenties or later. One involved a pair of post-boyhood-hero-collecting age dudes laying out cards on the floor of their apartment while watching a ball game between their rival squads. The emotional kicker of the story made one particular card a reminder of a friend who died tragically, which makes criticism of the story a tad on the harsh side, but come on...if anybody sees me a)buying a pack of baseball cards at my age, or (even worse) b) laying them out in position on the floor of my house in front of the TV--well, whatever method of dispatch you choose would be just alright with me.

It's like the forty year old going over the seat backs and pushing a twelve year old and his mother out of the way to catch a foul ball at a ball game. I've seen it happen, and it is wrong. I have offten said, fully keeping in mind that I am an A-level sports fan, for sure, that sports makes grown men act like children, it makes people stupid. But what can be done? Does anything need to be done? Is it wrong that a thirty-five year old husband and father of two spends hours combing the Internet and Card Shows looking for Topps No. 120, so he can complete his 1990 set of Rookie Cards. No. And, as long as the twelve year old gets up off the cement, brushes the peanut shells out of his hair and continues watching the game while Magoo rejoices with his official Major League baseball, sloshing beer all over the people in his row and looking for someone to high-five, I guess eveything is okay. But the next time a foul ball comes the kid's way, I'll bet Mom gives the old guy sitting behind them a shot to the 'nads. You go, Moms!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tour-less (It's Not a Word, It's a State of Being)

On your marks get set go
Bicycle race bicycle race bicycle race
Bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
Bicycle bicycle bicycle
Bicycle race
--Queen, "Bicycle Race"

About three years ago, I started paying attention to the Tour de France. I knew about Greg LeMond in the eighties, and I had heard about Lance Armstrong in the nineties, but beyond knowing that there were a couple of Americans pedaling around the sunflower fields of France, I knew little else. And cared less.

For some reason, perhaps increased coverage because of Lance's attempt at winning six tours in a row, or, due to the increased coverage, a better knowledge of what the race entailed, I got hooked. I watched just about every stage of the race in 2004 (on OLN), sometimes waking up early enough to watch the live coverage instead of the late morning rebroadcast. It was fascinating, watching these guys pedal these bikes faster than I'll ever get a bike to go, climbing ridiculous mountains and navigating hairpin turn-filled descents while dodging insane Euopeans dressed as the Louvre who leaped out at the riders as they streamed by. I garnered an appreciation for the sport, the athletes, and, even to some extent, some of the French traditions (the race has been run since the first decade of the ninteen hundreds, I think).

Anyway, it was totally cool, and I was into it. Except, last year, our cable company switched its programming packages. We no longer received OLN with our package, but, for an extra pound of flesh a month, we could get it with an add on package. No way, thank you very little. So, no Tour last year.

Except, if you recall, I spent last summer in Eugene, while Monkey finished up her internship at U of O. And she had OLN on her cable package. So, hooray, I watched again, as Lance took down a seventh tour.

No such luck this year, sports fans (as the Great Santini would say).

And because of this (a cosmic coincidence involving my cable companies greed and my unwillingness to pay $500/month to watch television) I (and everyone else as fiscally responsible (or cheap) as I) missed seeing history made (or missed a reassembled electronic signal that mimicked (in two dimensions and thousands of miles away) the scene upon which actual history was made). This morning, Floyd Landis, the heir apparent to Lance Armstrong, pedaled perhaps the most amazing bicycle race in the history of mankind (no, I am not exaggerating). He was more than eight minutes behind the leader after falling apart in yesterday's stage. Today, he is thirty seconds behind after single-handedly (but double-wheeledly) demolishing the field in a brutal mountain stage. It must have been amazing to watch. It was thrilling to sit by my computer monitor and watch the race unfold in a graphically uninteresting way, so it must have been a hundred times more thrilling to watch on the tube. And even more thrilling to watch on Coach B's new quarter-mile wide, high def projection screen TV. But I don't think he has OLN, either.

Thanks, MediaCom. You suck, but you're all we got.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Welcome to Hell



It has been rather hot here lately (I hear it's been rather hot everywhere lately--I wonder if Al Gore had them do that for the release of his global warming documentary--he can do that, you know--after all, he did invent the Internet). It's to the point where I have not been outside for longer than ten minutes since about Saturday. It's really unpleasant. It's so hot, even the whistle pig doesn't come out. The forecast calls for 100 today and 102 tomorrow. In the words of Aunt James, "That's not right!"

The last softball game of the Spring season is tonight. Mercifully it's at 9pm, but it will still be 95, then. No championship for the Deadliners this Spring (the heat has little to do with it). We are gearing up to get them in the Fall, however. That season starts August 23, I think.

Stay cool, people.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Life is What Happens When You're Sitting Around Waiting for Something to Happen

One would think, after perusing the last dozen entries or so, that all this boy's life is about is hurtling himself across American roads at eighty miles an hour, racking up speeding tickets, eating turkey sandwiches, and taking pictures of his wife and others with half of his head in the foreground. This is not entirely true. Summer, this year, has been filled with few cares (where I am concerned), but much else is going on around me. Let me clue you in to a few of those.

To begin with, the most important theme for the last few weeks has been the Monkey's preparation for her EPPP test. I really have no idea what the acronym stands for (but I am pretty sure one of the Ps is "psychology" or "psychological" and I suspect that one of them may be "practice" or "professional", and the E might stand for "exam" or "examination"). At any rate, all the cool kids call it "E-triple-P." I like to call up Snoop Dogg every once in a while and call it the "E to the trizzy pizzy." He hates that. But I digress.

Whatever the acronym stands for, it is the liscensing exam for practicing psychology in the US of A. You can see where my conjectures about the letters may come from. The studying has been a frustrating endeavor for Monkey, thus far. By association, it has also been frustrating for me, but only vicariously. I have done my best to be positive and supportive in the following ways: no loud belching while Monkey is studying; all baseball is viewed on MUTE while Monkey is studying; limited "Hey, Monkey, listen to this" while reading the newspaper when Monkey is studying; no music while Monkey is studying (and thus, no dancing while Monkey is studying); no laughing and saying "Boy, I'm glad I don't have to take the E to the trizzy pizzy" while talking to Snoop Dogg when Monkey is studying; no talking to Snoop Dogg while Monkey is studying. In addition, I sometimes (recently) help by quizzing Monkey a little using her 1 million flash cards about childhood development and maternal depression and such, and asking her questions from practice tests she has taken already (as a reinforcement of her learning).

Some days, Monkey comes home and feels like she is progressing, and that she will probably pass the test. Other days, she comes home a little frustrated and worried that she will not pass the test. In either case, I try to be supportive by saying things like, "What do you want for dinner", or "That's a nice pair of socks you are wearing", or "Golly, it sure is hot, huh?".

In addition to that, I recently was extremely worried before our trip to Lincoln when I thought I had not paid a bill but was down to $0.12 in my checking account (okay, that's an exaggeration--it was $0.27). I went to the cable office (it was the damn cable bill--by the way MediaCom, it sure would be nice to watch the Tour de France this year, but no OLN...I'd trade it for the both the Sci-Fi Channel AND the Fox "News" Channel--I never watch them), credit card in hand, prepared to pay the bill. By the way, I didn't have the bill with me. I don't know if I lost it, or I never received it (oh, no, that never happens), but I didn't have it. So I get to the office and explain what is up to the woman at the counter, and it turns out that I had paid the bill, like two weeks prior! Silly me. I never pay the cable bill that early. What was I thinking? And look at the trouble it caused me. Well, I learned from that: never pay the cable bill ahead of time.

Now, as has been mentioned before, travel time is over. It's time to start focusing on the upcoming school year, but it's a slow transition. I told myself I was going to start yesterday, but I started reading The Da Vinci Code instead (I know, what have I been waiting for?). I'll probably finish that by dinner tonight. Then , I said I would begin today, but here I am at 11 o'clock chronicling my life so far. Maybe I will start today. Maybe I'll start tomorrow.

Maybe I'll make a turkey sandwich, grab the camera, hop in the Penguin, and drive somewhere. I just hope I don't get a speeding ticket.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

At Rest

That's it, folks. I just washed the Penguin. No more traveling. Until September. But, for the summer, I am happily homebound, after being homeward bound just yesterday. The new car, purchased in February, has 9000 miles on it. Almost 5000 of those since Memorial Day Weekend. Baltimore last week(1970 round trip), Lincoln before that (700 round trip), Maine (airport drives (250 round trip)), Conroe, TX (1600 round trip).

Spent some time with my family this past week. I was unable to post obviously, but I survived the trip and I am back. Highlights included fishing with my dad (once legally at Loch Raven, once illegally at Dundee Creek (I told him that was tidal water, but he didn't believe me--oops!), seeing imported Costa Rican butterflies with my nephews, breakfasting with my cousin and with Jersey Girl (separate breakfasts), and shopping for Utz potato chips, scrapple, and Berger cookies at Giant and Mars to satisfy Monkey and my craving for things from Back East (I told her, "I had to go all the way to Mars for these freaking cookies!").

I will skip the descriptions and just throw some pics at you. All in all, it's good to be back home (and staying put for awhile).

View from the I-68E Maryland Welcome Center (Youghiogheny (Yok-i-gay-nee) River)

The Author and a breakfast companion (note the fashionista T-shirt) The author and the coolest 86 year old in the world
The nephews with the mother and grandmother (pointing at a turtle)
The author with his favorite two and a half year old
The author's favorite 15-month old

Monday, July 03, 2006

Summer Time Means Two-A-Days

I know I am not in the habit of posting twice in one day, but a recent comment from an old friend encouraged me to come up with my top ten driving songs. Finding ten to be a constrictive number, and having too many variables to consider, I instead came up with a virtual mix tape of what I would throw on a road trip compilation (if I wasn't taking fifty CDs with me, anyway--I know, I need an iPod that plugs into the car stereo--much better for traveling). My criteria (made up as I went along): twenty five songs, divided into two sides (imagine the old TDK 120 minute cassette tapes). Side One has been dubbed the "Speed" side, songs that make your foot a bit heavier, for when you need to make some time. Side Two has been dubbed the "Mettle" side (get it? Speed/Mettle), songs chosen because they are strong enough to withstand a weakly devised road theme.

Comments and/or your own lists are welcome!

Here goes:

Speed/Mettle: ATR's Summer 'o6 Road Trip Mix

Side One: Speed

Drain You--Nirvana
Dig My Grave--They Might Be Giants
Steve McQueen--Drive By Truckers
Inside Out--Eve 6
Rockaway Beach--Ramones
Bury Me With It--Modest Mouse
A Good Idea--Sugar
Head Like a Hole--Nine Inch Nails
Kool Thing--Sonic Youth
Bucket Head--Meat Puppets
Let It Be Me--Social Distortion

Side Two: Mettle

Friend of the Devil--Grateful Dead
Last Goodbye Blues--Joe Turner
Water Your Hands--Aloha
Go West--Liz Phair
Are You Ready For The Country?--Neil Young
It'll Be The Same Without You--The Mendoza Line
I Miss The Girl--Soul Coughing
Going Out West--Tom Waits
Wheels--Freedy Johnston
Hard Luck Story--Whiskeytown
Borrow Your Girl--Bobby Bare, Jr. and the Young Criminals Starvation League
Someone Take the Wheel--The Replacements
If I Had A Boat--Lyle Lovett

Ain't No Moss On Me

If I was a road dog, baby,
and all of my songs were true,
I reckon I'd like my whiskey drinkin'
a whole lot more than I do
--Jimmy Buffett, "Big Rig"

Lincoln in the rear view mirror, we now set our sights on the Motherland. The Land of Pleasant Living. America in Miniature. The Old Line State. The Bay State. Perhaps the only state in the union that refers to the President of the United States as a "despot." That's right ladies and gentlemen, we're heading to Maryland in two short days.

Of course, when I say "we," I really mean "me," since neither Monkey nor Ripken is going with.

It's about a sixteen hour drive. Monkey and I have done it in one big jump before (maybe twice, even), and we've already done a thirteen plus hour drive to Conroe, TX, last month, but I just don't feel like pushing myself that hard on a solo flight. The plan is to drive to Columbus, OH, by Wednesday night, camp in Buckeye State Park, and then head in to Mob Town on Thursday PM. Two eight hour tours. I can handle that.

Lincoln, by the way, was a productive trip. My meeting with the department head was informative and encouraging. Monkey and I (guided by our gracious hosts on several walks about town) got a feel for real estate prices and desirable locations. We saw a few Lincoln sights. Of course, to me, the move is barely a blip on the Reality Radar. A year is (depending on how you look at it) a long way away. It will soon begin to loom larger in my forecast of the future, but for now, it is an amorphous thing. The bottom line on Lincoln so far: I can live there. It will take a while to get used to it, but I think it will be okay. At any rate, it will be different. And, of course, I will miss many people and things about where I live now. There is nothing to be done about that. But, again, it is down the road a piece.

I may have some connectivity in Charm City, so, updates are possible. I'll try to remember to bring the camera, too. I know AMVB likes the pictures!