Saturday, September 27, 2014

One Thousand Little Stories

This is my 1000th post here at 4Q10D.

I’ve been a bit worried that it wouldn’t happen, given the chaotic mess that this month has been.  I started out trying to post every day, and then it became every other day, and then it became every third day.  It’s been a “beat back the alligators” kind of time over here recently, and while this is a very good thing – in that it represents full employment in my chosen field, my classes are going very well, and I’m being treated well by all of my various employers – it does mean that there has been precious little time available for blogging.  I’m down to weekly of late, and that has to change.  It will, soon enough, I hope.  At least back to every third day, or so.  I’d like that.

I miss it when I don’t write, much more than I thought I would when I started.

It’s taken me a bit over six years to reach this point, and there was a point this summer when I thought I might be able to time this post to that anniversary.  Didn’t work out that way.  When I started I was unemployed and had a lot of free time – something not so now, clearly – and my previous blog that I had begun in 1999 had petered out about four years previous (2004, if you don’t care to do the math).  Tabitha was just about to start kindergarten.  Lauren was still at the daycare.  Things were different.

I never really knew what to expect from this.  It started off as a place for me to write stories, and that’s pretty much what it remains.  It is a place where I write down what I hope to remember, where I share stories with whomever cares to come along for the ride, about the things that seem to be of concern.

There was a period where I wrote a lot about politics, because that was what was on my mind.  I’ve largely moved away from that now, as I find that it just makes me angry and convinces nobody.  I’m sure I’ll get back to it again at some point.  It does get onto my mind even so.  Mostly I just write about whatever interests me, though.

My family interests me.  The absurdity of normal life interests me.  History interests me.  A lot of things interest me, which is a good way to be, I think.  When nothing is interesting, you might as well go back to sleep.

Along the way I have met – both virtually and, on occasion, in meatspace – quite a few good people.  For that I am grateful. 

And it’s easier to write things here and put photos here than it is to make copies and send them out to all the people I’d like to show them to.  That’s how the first one started too – a central repository of stories and photos.  If there is a better definition of a blog, I haven’t found it.

So I write what I can when I can.  I wish I could write more.  At some point I will.

There are a thousand little stories here, all filed chronologically even if their subject matter veers haphazardly across time and space.  There is an illusion of order overlaying the chaos of ordinary life, and ain’t that always the way?

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eating Better

So I’m trying to eat better now.  Or at least I’m trying to “Eat Less Crap,” as I title my diet plan.  It’s been about six months now since my doctor did that little finger-waggle thing that doctors do with middle-aged men who eat like graduate students.  And so I’ve been trying to be good.

It seems to be working.  There is less of me now than there was then.  I have had no undue health crises in the last six month since my visit.  Not that I was having any at the time either, but the continued absence of such things is a good thing to have.  Rah team, and all that.

But there is a cost.  There is always a cost.  And in this case the cost is fairly clear – I am no longer eating a lot of things that I would much rather have continued to eat.  The doctor was quite clear on how this would be the path toward better health.

In particular, he was quite clear about how I should “cut down” on salt.

I took this to mean, “don’t eliminate it completely or do anything drastic, but do get down to a rather more civilized level of the stuff” and I have been fairly good at this, I think.  But there are things that no longer make the cut, and I miss them.

So here is a list of my current situation.

Things I No Longer Eat:

1. Salty snacks.
I had no idea how many of these things I ate until I stopped eating them.  Potato chips.  Pretzels.  Fluorescent orange concoctions with the word “cheez” in their names.  Salted nuts.  On and on.  The easiest way for me to cut down on salt was simply to eliminate these from my diet, and for the last six months I have done so.

This has been a real challenge for me, because not only do I really enjoy such things, but just in the past year or so American potato chip manufacturers have decided to branch out from the same six varieties that had served them so well since the 1980s and start offering interesting flavors like they do in Europe, although thankfully not quite the same flavors.

I don’t think “Sizzling King Prawn” would go over very well in the midwest.

There are two exceptions to this rule.

First, I allow myself one small snack-sized bag of something on a long road trip.  Last month when we went east I had a bag of fluorescent orange concoctions with the word “cheez” prominently displayed on the wrapper.  I bought it on the way out of Wisconsin and carried it all the way to the Jersey shore and back.  It was nice just knowing it was there, waiting for me when I wanted it.  And when I finally opened it up on the drive back?  It was heavenly.

Second, all bets are off on Super Bowl Sunday.  Because, MERCA!

2. French Fries

I know that you can eat french fries without too much salt, but what would be the point of that?  Take away the salt and all you are left with is grease and the outward shape of a potato slice.  I’m probably better off just avoiding them entirely.

If I get to the O in Pittsburgh, however, I will have their fries, because O-fries are just the greatest french fries in the western world and if you haven’t had them then you need to make a pilgrimage to the O right now.  It’s a student hangout on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, and it looks like it.  At one point back in the early 90s I knew a fair number of people who worked at the O.  None of them would use the bathrooms there but they all continued to eat the food, which I took as a good sign about the food at least.  I ate there a lot when I was in graduate school, because an order of fries the size of your head – fresh cut from the potatoes while you watched and then deep fried to golden brown – cost about a buck and a half.  Two bucks if you wanted extra ketchup or cheese.  That’s about what graduate students can afford.  It’s gone up since then – a couple of years ago we stopped and the same order was now about three bucks, but still. 

That’s a Small, by the way.  They go all the way up to Extra Large, which is enough to feed four or five teenaged males comfortably.  I think I will stick with the Small, should I find myself at the O again.

Fortunately for my health, I get to the O about once every four or five years these days.

Things I Eat A Whole Lot Less Often Than I Used To Do:

1. Canned soups.

I used to eat a lot of these.  I was particularly partial to the chicken-and-rice varieties, but almost anything that didn’t have seafood or too many tomatoes would do.  They’re really, really good, and if you don’t think about them too much you can convince yourself that they’re healthy.
Except that when you read the ingredient list what you find is that those things are essentially salt water with noodles.  Last year I tried eating the low-sodium varieties and discovered that they were perfectly fine if you added more salt to them.

So it’s probably best if I just skip them.

2. Bacon

I find that I don’t miss this nearly as much as I thought I would.

Mostly I keep it as a condiment on my burgers now.  The best hamburgers in the world come topped with bleu cheese, bacon, and sliced pickled jalapenos.  And those too, I eat a whole lot less often than I used to do.

Things I Have Cut Back On Somewhat:

1. Pickles

Pickles are good.  Kim made some homemade spiced dill pickles this year, and they are just the most amazing things.  Also, real sour pickles – extremely hard to find, these days – are a thing of beauty and should never be taken lightly.

I can cut back a bit on these things, but so far that’s about my limit.

2. Sausages

This is a broad category that includes everything from hot dogs to summer sausage to smoked sausages to pepperoni.  I love sausages and I always have.  When I was a kid my parents would take me to the mall -  a relatively new invention in the 70s, as far as we were concerned – and invariably I would make a beeline for the Hickory Farms store (can you imagine an entire store devoted to meats and cheeses in a mall today?) and get a meat-sicle, an inch-thick slice of summer sausage on a popsicle stick.  That was high living.

I’ve been eating less of these things, but my guess is that next year the medical finger-waggle will expand to include them too.  I’m going to enjoy them while I can.

Which brings me to:

Things I Will Likely Continue To Eat Until Directly Ordered By A Physician To Stop:

1. Cheese

I love cheese.  I especially love hard aged cheeses – cheddars so sharp you can shave with them, parmesans, asiagos, and the like.  I also love soft strong cheeses – bleu, gorgonzola, and the like.  They’ve got protein though!  They must be good for me.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

2. Pickled peppers

Most things that combine vinegar, salt, and hot peppers count as a delicacies to me and I end up piling them onto just about everything from salads to sandwiches to meats.  Sometimes I just eat them plain.  Pepperoncini.  Pickled slices of jalapenos.  Also, I include hot sauces in this category.  I use hot sauces like most midwesterners use ketchup. 
 They make just about everything taste better.

So I’m doing better than I used to, as far as eating healthy things is concerned, but better is a relative term after all.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

News and Updates

1. I am feeling oddly triumphant (in addition to my usual state of feeling, as my friend Richard put it, “triumphantly odd”).  Kim got me hooked on the computer game 2048 while we were driving east last month.  It’s a fun game, simple in concept but maddening in execution as most good games are, and we were all convinced that it was not actually impossible to complete.  But no – last night I decided that I was no longer any good for grading essays so I took up the cause once more and hey, presto: victory.  I should have bought a lottery ticket instead.

2. There is a first time for everything.  This week one of my students came up and asked to be excused from class for a week next month in order to go to Spain to attend a beatification.  Honestly, how could you say no to something like that?

3. Sad times over at the chicken coop these days, as Candy has gone to his reward.  He’d been looking kind of wilty the last few days, so we took him out of our neighbor’s flock and penned him up in quarantine while we tried to figure out what to do with him.  Today that problem became moot.  On the plus side, it means we can move Birdie over to that slot again and no longer have to figure out how to give him away before we have to butcher him.  So Candy’s loss is Birdie’s gain.  Also, Candy will be headed over to our friend’s other farm where the barn cats will no doubt be happy to see him.  It’s the part of the circle of life that somehow got cut out of The Lion King.

4. If I can make it to Halloween I will be amazed.  Teaching five classes for three campuses at two different universities – one of which campuses is more than an hour away – while at the same time still doing the Performing Arts thing and also trying to eat, sleep, and be a parent and spouse, is seriously cutting into my lounging about time.

5. Carpooling is a wonderful thing, especially when you have a friend to do it with.  Makes the ride go by much more entertainingly.

6. We have been so busy here that we have fallen behind in our Doctor Who.  This is not acceptable to any of us.

7. This time last week it was July.  Yesterday it was November.  On the whole, I’ll stick with November.  I can drink my tea without sweating.

8. Sometimes you see things pop up in your email that you never, ever thought you would see.  Other times things pop up in your email that even if you had thought you’d see them you probably thought you could have lived a full and happy life without ever doing so.  Sometimes both of those things happen in the same email, and it is then that you feel very, very glad to be a mere spectator to the outskirts of the lives of others, and not an active participant.

9. So far the score in the anti-mouse campaign stands at Humans 4, Cats 0.  I’m thinking the cats had better learn how to teach classes at this rate so we can switch jobs officially, otherwise there will be no use for them at all.

10. I now have a snazzy new office chair to replace the one that has sadly deteriorated over the last few years.  It is actually high enough to maintain a healthy angle for my wrists as I type, and there are no holes in it anywhere other than where there were designed to be holes.  Thanks, Kim! 

11. Kim’s brother Geoff and his partner Dave came in from San Francisco this past week, so we had all sorts of family events.  We spent the day over at Kim’s parents last weekend – our slightly delayed Labor Day – and Geoff and Dave came down Tuesday/Wednesday for a brief stay on their way back to the airport to continue the next leg of their journey.  It was fun to see them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Felis Inutiles

There are moments in every cat owner’s life when you have to question precisely why that status should continue to apply to you.

I’m not really talking about the random barfing moments that make each day such an obstacle course, though I suppose I could be.  Mithra has taken to barfing on our bed these days, for reasons which are not entirely clear.  Fortunately for me she prefers to leave her gifts on Kim’s side, and at moments when I am either so far gone in exhaustion that I don’t even hear her or actually physically gone (in which case I definitely cannot hear her).  So I can overlook this. 

For now.

No, I’m talking about events that make me question the very purpose of owning a cat.

The cat was domesticated, I am told, because of its prowess in hunting vermin.  Ancient humans looked at this small predator and said to themselves, “Huh.  If I can keep one of those creatures in my home, it will eat all of the unwanted critters that currently eat my stuff.  This sounds like a good deal.”

And it is, when it works. 

Yet the useless lumps of felinity that populate my own home seem to have missed this message.  Mithra is a “catch and release” hunter, happy to bat mice and other small creatures around for a while but ultimately uninterested in any more permanent actions.  Midgie, on the other hand, is the sort of cat who makes you wonder how the species ever managed to evolve in the first place.  Surely there were not ancient cat food vendors out there in Mesopotamia or the Indus Valley supplying kitties with treats.  Or maybe there were, but at some point in history there must have been cats capable of hunting for their supper.

I do not own such cats.

This was brought home to me with especial force this morning, when I went to put on my shoes.

I stuck one foot into a shoe and things were unremarkable.  It was as if I had done this many times before with similar results.  In point of fact, it was exactly that situation.  So when I stuck the other foot into the other shoe and felt something soft and fuzzy, I thought to myself, “This does not seem to be the usual sensation.  I shall remove my foot and dump out whatever is blocking my progress, so I may investigate the causes of this unusual situation.”

Or words to that effect.  Bystanders may not have heard exactly those words, but that was the gist.

So I dumped out the shoe, heard a thump, and went to turn on the light to see what it was. 

It wasn’t there.

Now there are only two possibilities at that point.  Either I didn’t actually feel or hear anything – not very likely, given the multiple sensory pathways through which this knowledge has been acquired (see how I use my pedagogical jargon?  someone owes me a gold star) – or whatever it was had run away on its own power, which had certain implications.

And sure enough, there was the mouse, hiding in the corner.

Freeloading cats!  What good are you?  You are not protecting my home or the things in it from all of the unwanted critters that currently eat my stuff or sleep in my shoes!

I eventually trapped the mouse in a cup and tossed it out onto the lawn.  No doubt it has found its way back in by now, but so it goes. 

Maybe one of the cats will find it first this time.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ten Things Tabitha Feels She Should Not Have Needed To Say to Lauren

Presented without comment:

1. No, don't lint-roll the cat.

2. Don't ride a tricycle in the corn.

3. Don't use the cat as a footstool.

4. Don't make mac-and-cheese with sugar.

5. I don't think chickens like to swim.

6. Don't move the playing cards with your chin.

7. The cat is not "fluffy on the inside."  She's fat.

8. "Stop, drop, and roll" is not for tornadoes!

9. Bacon is not candy.

10. Don't use babywipes on cuts.

Back to School

School has started up again here in Our Little Town.  The year has begun – yes, the year starts in September, don’t let any calendar tell you otherwise – and all is fresh and new and waiting for the first inevitable screw-up, whereupon there will be stories and commiseration and probably something good to eat to make up for it, and this is how we survive from year to year. 

Last year the girls were at the top of their respective schools, but this year?  This year they learn the great lesson in life, that the top of one ladder is just the bottom of the next. 

Tabitha has now outgrown Mighty Clever Guy Middle School, and has moved on to Local Businessman High. 

It is an odd thing, to see her march off to high school.  It’s such a strange time of life, being on the edge of heading out on your own but still not quite there, finding loves and groups of friends who, if you are very, very lucky, you will still be close to decades later.  I wish her well over at LBHS.

Having graduated one daughter from MCGMS, we now send the other one.  Lauren started there this week, having left Not Bad President Elementary behind in June.

She’s been enjoying it immensely, it must be said.  She’s in classes with a lot of her friends – three of the Five Musketeers are seated next to each other in her science class, which her teacher will figure out soon enough – and so far the running about between rooms has worked out fine.  If she can only get a locker that actually opens, she’ll be in great shape.

Getting home has been a trick, though.

LBHS is close enough for Tabitha to walk home – about a mile and a half, right up the road.  We drop her off a block or two away in the mornings, mostly because otherwise there would be even less sleep going on around here for all of us, but she’s been hiking back every day.  It's good exercise, and so far the weather has been nice.

Lauren’s return home has been trickier. 

While Kim has often handled drop offs in the past, pick ups have usually been my area.  I knew going into the year that Wednesdays would be tricky, since I had my Nursing U class, but that only runs until late October so that didn’t seem like a lot and Kim’s schedule could handle that.  That was before the Chaotic Schedule Changes of late August, the net result of which was that I am now at Mid-Range Campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays at pick up time.  So right now the schedule is that I get Lauren on Mondays and Fridays, Kim gets her on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and on Thursdays she walks home with a friend.

It all gets done.

Good luck in your new schools, ladies.

I’m proud of you.