Sunday, February 26, 2023

Taking the Bull by the Horns, Part 2

I have now made it through the Meat section and it has been quite a journey.

Really, the only book I can compare this to is English As She Is Spoke, written by Pedro Carolino. Carolino, it says in the introduction to the reprint edition I have, “sat down in 1855 to write an English phrasebook for Portuguese students. He had a serious problem: he didn’t know any English. Even worse, he didn’t own an English-to-Portuguese dictionary. What he did have was a Portuguese-to-French phrasebook and a French-to-English dictionary.” What came out of that was perhaps the funniest book published in the English language in the 19th century – “a linguistic train wreck” that Mark Twain once took the time to caution his readers about. “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book,” Twain wrote. “Nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to reproduce its fellow; it is perfect.”

Because when Can-Do Confidence meets Don’t-Do Cluelessness, the results can only be memorable.

And thus we come back to George Herter and Bull Cook.

As others have noted before me, there is a general pattern to the entries in Herter’s book.

More often than not, he will start with anywhere from a few sentences to several pages of biography and opinion about a historical figure. I’m not sure how he chooses these figures – his overt motivation is to declare that whatever recipe follows was created by that figure, but as a historian I confess I often have my doubts about that. Sometimes it checks out, though. I was somewhat surprised to find that he is not the only person who attributes the invention of sauerbraten to Charlemagne, for example, though it has also been attributed to Julius Caesar and St. Albertus Magnus so there is that. But Herter is never shy about expressing opinions ranging from admiring to confusing to downright dyspeptic about these people, and you never really know how much to credit him after slogging through all that.

Biographies over (or skipped), Herter then declares that the current version of whatever he is about to discuss is completely inferior, barely deserving of the name, with the original recipe lost in the depths of time. He often notes that things were better Then, though Then is a fairly elastic period.

At this point he will proudly declare that he and he alone has the original recipe (quite possibly in Charlemagne’s actual handwriting) and he will dispense that wisdom now.

“This is fine eating,” he will wrap up. “Everyone likes this, even people who don’t like this.”

Sometimes he will also state, with the absolute certainty of someone to whom doubt is a stranger, that you can also find a True and Good version of this recipe at a local restaurant in Minnesota, a center of fine dining and a gastronomic beacon to the rest of the benighted world. “Wire ahead to make sure they have the ingredients!” he helpfully advises.

As I have gone through this section I have made a few discoveries, to wit:

1. According to the recipe for Gethsemane Beef, the Last Supper was likely a form of mutton stew that George has greatly improved by substituting beef for mutton because mutton might have been good enough for the Savior but it is not good enough for George. The recipe had a surprising variety of spices for the day, including cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, garlic, bay leaves, and black pepper.

2. Jefferson Davis discovered the best way to cook chicken, a process which involved holding down a pot lid with two cast iron bars though you in the modern age can get the same results with a pressure cooker. George was a great fan of the South and always refers to the 1861-1865 conflict as the War Between the States, a phrasing designed to give the Confederacy a respectability it does not deserve. Along these lines, George insists that General Stonewall Jackson was an exceptional cook.

3. “Chicken can only be fried in butter.” Away with your inferior oils, fats, and substitutes.

4. The only place in the United States where you can get properly done Chicken Kiev (which should be called “Chicken Supreme,” says George, though what could you do in those degenerate times when Kyiv was spelled the Russian way?) is the Café Exceptionale in Minneapolis. Unfortunately the Café Exceptionale closed in 1982 so we will just have to take George’s word for it.

5. Catherine de Medici “invented women’s panties so that she could ride a horse with her skirts up high showing off her beautiful legs. Up until this time women wore no panties of any kind.” How George found this out he does not say nor am I all that sure I wish to know.

6. Mongolia and Tibet “were the first lands out of the sea when the earth was formed.” This bit of geographical information precedes several paragraphs on the history of Chinese food in general and in America (George is not a fan of chop suey, which he correctly identifies as an American dish which – credit where due – put him ahead of a great many Americans of his day) before segueing into Genghis Khan’s recipe for duck. Presumably whoever taught this recipe to the Great Khan was then murdered so it would not fall into the hands of others, though how George ended up with it is therefore something of a mystery.

7. Paris was once a “fabulous town” very much like New Orleans, but seems to have fallen on hard times. Given that George is writing in 1960, only a decade and a half after World War II, this could perhaps be excused as part of the general rebuilding.

8. Among other recipes in this section are fried robins (a recipe he claims to have adapted from Thomas Aquinas, of all people), Swedish muskrat, and prairie dogs as prepared by the Old West gunslinger Bat Masterson who rates an exceptionally long and sympathetic biography here. Also, the original chili con carne had beans, so chew on that, Texas.

9. Oddly enough George seems to hold Native Americans, the Spanish, and Asians in general in very high esteem. He is not a great fan of Philadelphia, however, and in particular does not like Old Original Bookbinders, a seafood restaurant that I once went to with Kim and found perfectly fine. This might be due to the oysters. “Here oysters are opened by laying them on a wooden bar. This is not the way to do it, you need a heavy strip of curved lead about four inches to hold an oyster while you open it. They should send someone down to New Orleans to learn how it is really done.”

10. “French and German foods make an ideal combination just like French and German marriages.” This bit of sociology is found smack in the middle of a recipe for sauerbraten.

11. Squirrels are good eating, particularly when prepared in the Belgian style and served with gravy. “Squirrel meat is far superior to venison or moose and you do not tire of it as easily as you do with such meats when you have it for a more or less steady diet.”

12. Butchers are a devious and untrustworthy lot. “It is sad but very true that most butchers, when they see a deer carcass with really fine meat, often give it to a special friend of theirs or keep it for themselves, and give you the meat of a deer which is not so good. Then again, if the butcher is not your friend he more than likely will take off several sirloin steaks and a rib roast or two from your deer carcass for himself figuring you will never know the difference. … The same butcher who would return your wallet if you lost it and he found it will think nothing of taking your best sirloins and rib roasts.”

And my personal favorite from this bit of reading:

13. “Johannes Kepler was a well-known German astrologer. He was born in 1571 and died in 1630. His work on astronomy has long since been forgotten but his creating liverwurst will never be forgotten.”

Leaving aside the fact that George seems to recognize no particular distinction between astrology and astronomy (although in George’s defense neither did Kepler), the sheer unwarranted confidence of this pronouncement is absolutely breathtaking.

Up next: Fish.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Taking the Bull by the Horns

After I made my last post I decided to see if Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter, the cookbook that Bill Saunders gave to my grandfather on the day I was born, was actually valuable or not.

No, it turns out.

You can get original copies of it on eBay for about $30, and new reprints on Amazon for about half that. So I’m not going to retire on my rare book collection anytime soon.

Also, I discovered that this was actually volume one of what eventually became a three-volume set. I cannot imagine that anyone would actually write three volumes of this particular cookbook, let alone anyone else actually buying three volumes of this particular cookbook, but it turns out I was wrong about that too. It’s apparently a cult classic. Esquire Magazine described it as “the manliest cookbook ever written.” The New York Times, in a bid for simplicity, just called it “unhinged.”

Honestly, the fact that it’s still being reprinted should have tipped me off regarding its current value.

As I had just come to the end of a book I was reading (Debbie Harry’s fascinating memoir, Face It), I decided that perhaps it was time for me to read this book.

One the one hand, this is not as far-fetched as it seems. It’s not a standard cookbook. Everything is in paragraphs rather than lists, and most of the words in it are not really directed at the recipes per se. It’s the original recipe blog, where you have to work your way through pages of stories, opinions, random asides and general trivia before you actually get to any practical advice on how to prepare food, so the idea of reading it straight through is not in itself unreasonable.

On the other hand, well.

I am all of 23 pages into this book so far, and let me tell you it has been a wild ride.

By all accounts the text was written almost entirely by George, with his wife Berthe’s name on the cover primarily to maintain marital bliss – a difficult task for a man who subsequently published a book entitled How to Live With a Bitch, which then went into a second edition that contained the (very good and no doubt hard earned) advice, “Under no circumstance should you call your wife a bitch.” But this kind of experienced caution when it came to expressing his opinions did not occur to George until well after Bull Cook was published and sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but this is clearly the work of a guy whose confidence in his own views far outstripped any rational justification for it. The man was a walking Dunning-Kruger diagnosis who likely would have had a successful career in politics in the 21st century and we should all be grateful for simpler times when such people would vent their fury in cultural pursuits instead.

He lets you know this right from the start. On page 5, which is the first page of the book for some reason (he does not tell you what happened to the other four pages and it is probably not wise to ask), Herter lays out the plan for his book.

“For your convenience,” he helpfully begins, “I will start with meats, fish, eggs, soups and sauces, sandwiches, vegetables, the art of French frying, desserts, how to dress game, how to properly sharpen a knife, how to make wines and beer, how to make French soap, what to do in case of hydrogen or cobalt bomb attack. Keeping as much in alphabetical order as possible.”

Because when confronted by a list that includes both soups and civil defense, alphabetization is of course the key concern for all discerning readers. It should be noted that the extensive index in the back of the book is not, in fact, alphabetized but is instead simply a detailed table of contents with items listed in the order in which they appear in the text.

So far in the 23 pages I have read since that bombshell (HA! I kill me…) paragraph, I have learned the following things:

1. The corned beef you think of as corned beef is not actually corned beef at all but an inferior South American substitute that got switched in during the food shortages of World War I and given to American troops in Europe. The original has never reappeared, though George is here to teach you how to fix that.

2. One should never use charcoal in grilling meat. Charcoal absorbs toxic gases – that’s why they use it in gas masks – so instead you should use “hard coal.” I’m going to assume he means anthracite, but I suppose bituminous would also be harder than charcoal so perhaps it could be either. All the best restaurants in Minnesota grill their meats this way, apparently. George does not discuss HVAC systems, so one must take that as read.

3. Napoleon’s cook, a man identified only as “Signor Quallioti,” invented chow-chow mustard pickles. These, in combination with “Roquefort Stuffed Chopped Beef” (essentially a blue-cheese-stuffed hamburger invented by Napoleon's second wife, the Austrian princess Maria Luisa, which does raise the question of how precisely princesses were educated in the Hapsburg court) and fries, were Napoleon’s favorite meal. “When he was a prisoner on St. Helena Island he requested that he would be served this menu at least once a week. His request was never granted. I have always thought this was carrying punishment way too far,” George complained.

4. Palm Springs is a terrible place, mostly because it is full of Hollywood types. Fortunately, said George writing in 1960, “Hollywood, thank goodness, is dead. Television has at least done incalculable good in destroying this evil group.”

(Did I mention this was a cookbook? It is definitely labeled as a cookbook.)

5. The best hamburgers were invented by Francois Rene Viscount de Chateaubriand, who was born in 1768 and “grew up to be just a fair author but an excellent eater.” You make them with a pound each of ground beef and ground pork liver, though George – the original Karen – notes that “You may have trouble getting your butcher to grind the pork liver for you, as they do not like to run pork liver through their grinders. They have to wash out the grinder afterwards so other meat that they grind will not have a tinge of liver taste. If he refuses to do it for you, just tell him that you will take your business to someone who will, and you will have no difficulty with him.” The recipe also calls for two cups of rolled oats.

6. George is a great fan of tripe, though only when done to his specifications. “In some parts of the Southwest tripe is served with hominy,” he warns. “Hominy is certainly good food but should never be used in menudo. Eating hominy in menudo is like shaking hands with an empty glove.”

7. Henry VIII of England is, George feels, best remembered for his love of organ meats, which is not a euphemism for anything at all. “Henry VIII actually never amounted anything and would not have made a good ditch digger,” he says. “The only thing that he ever did do to his credit was to highly endorse the kidneys made by Elizabeth Grant, one of his many cooks.” So to all you Anglicans and Episcopalians out there, well, sucks to be you.

I’m not even going to go into his description of sex life of the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, which for some reason is extensively described in the introduction to a recipe for Beef Stroganoff, other than to say that the phrase “praying mantis” kept running through my head while reading it.

Please note: I am less than 8% of the way through this book. He’s just warming up.

Buckle up, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

What Ya Got Cookin?

I’ve spent the last few days looking for a cookbook that I’d last seen in early January. I knew it had to be around here somewhere, but that covers a lot of hiding places when you get right down to it. It’s very easy for a book to get lost in my office, for example, there being a lot of such things there.

I found it last night. It was right where it should have been. I just didn’t see it the first three times I checked there. In my defense it’s kind of a dark corner for a book with a dark cover.

I’m not really sure why I was looking for it other than it has some sentimental value and I’d rather it not be lost.

The book’s full title is Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter of Herter’s, Waseca, Minnesota. It was first published in 1960 and it is a very strange book indeed.

For one thing, it reads like the original recipe blog. There are no lists or step by step instructions. Instead on every page there are headers with the name of a recipe, followed by full paragraphs of text covering the history of the recipe, some of which go back to the medieval period, the ingredients and how to obtain and prepare them (there's a section on how to clean and gut a turtle, among other things), and eventually how to put them all together into a dish. It also has a surprising number of halftone black and white photographs, some of which are there to help you see what you have to do and some of which are there mostly for scenery.

The recipe for Oysters a la Rockefeller, for example, takes four full pages of text, much of which describes the history of Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans (a place where Kim and I have actually eaten, and let me tell you the décor hasn't changed) as well as several photos of Antoine’s in particular and New Orleans in general and more than a few editorial comments about Antoine’s, oysters as a dish across the board, and John D. Rockefeller. I assume that if you follow the steps that are, eventually, outlined in the recipe you will end up with a tasty version of Oysters a la Rockefeller, but I will not do that because in my sad experience oysters are just salty snot bombs best left to others who prefer that sort of thing. More for you, dear oyster lover! More for you.

The book was was a gift to my grandfather from a guy named Bill Saunders, about whom I know absolutely nothing other than this fact. Bill inscribed it jovially to my grandfather and then listed the place where he gave him this book – Madison, Wisconsin – and the date, which is exactly the day I was born.

So I know where he was on that day. He was a long way from Philadelphia.

My grandfather was not a cook. He left that to my grandmother, and he took care of other things that needed doing. I have no idea whether any of these recipes ever made it into their kitchen.

I am very tempted to find one to try, though.

Today would have been my grandparents’ 84th anniversary. They’re long gone now, of course, as are so many other people who would have appreciated this story. But it is important to tell the old stories, because otherwise they get forgotten and that is when people are truly no longer with us.

Happy anniversary, Nana and Pop!

Thursday, February 16, 2023

News and Updates

1. It snowed all day today. It’s still snowing. Everything was canceled and I stayed home with my tea and Kim and Oliver and it was in fact a good day. There was too much grading, and if Webex ever functions correctly on the first try it will surprise me no end, but even so – a good day.

2. People who don’t understand clearing 6 inches (15cm) of snow before the storm is finished have never cleared 12 inches (30cm) of snow after the storm is finished.

3. This was a most welcome break in a week that felt like I was swimming through syrup for most of it. I’m not sure how value-added I was at work, but I did give it my best and that has to count for something.

4. If you want trivia, go to the source. On Saturday I joined my usual team for the Local Businessman High School trivia fundraiser event – the first one I’ve attended since 2020, just weeks before the world caught fire – and we won handily over 27 other teams. This is what happens when you have a crew that includes at least three teachers and two librarians on it, plus three others who do this sort of thing regularly.

5. We also went up to join Lauren and Maxim for their regular Monday night trivia game. They named the team “The Eagles Were Robbed,” which I appreciated. We had Kim, Oliver, Chase, Daniel, Isaac, Isaac’s dad, and Isaac’s coworker who told me her name and was a perfectly lovely person to talk with but that information is now lost along with so, so much else, and again we won handily, this time over 14 other teams. We are the greatest of the least! Rah, us!

6. I’m not sure why fans of teams who watched the Super Bowl from their living rooms are still getting after the Eagles for coming within two minutes and a questionable call of possibly winning the game, but you know. Folks. Whatever gets you through the long cold off season, I guess.

7. We have a pile of snack food left over from that game. I suppose we’re all just getting older and less interested in junk, which is good. But that doesn’t change the fact that we have a pile of snack food left over from that game. We’ll work on it, and eventually whatever we don’t get to will go to the chickens and get converted into eggs, and thus the circle of life is unbroken.

8. I keep thinking I’ll make some comment on the current headlines – any of them, all of them – but every time I do it just devolves into vitriol and snark and frankly I don’t need that right now. Just take it as read.

9. There is a lull in my Committee’s work right now so I’m trying to make appearances at events for the other similar Committees down at Home Campus, on the theory that a) they might do so for ours, and b) sometimes you just need people to paper the house. I have a warm body still drawing breath. I can do that.

10. We covered the 19th-century industrial working class yesterday in my remote course, and it always seems to come as a surprise to students what the actual conditions of life were for them. We take so much for granted these days, despite the feverish activity of those who would return us to that state.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Thoughts on the Super Bowl

It seems to be Philadelphia’s time to be in second place in the sports world.

The Phillies made it to the World Series last fall and didn’t win. They gave it a good shot against a heavily favored team that was probably not cheating this time, but it didn’t work out for them.

The Union lost the Major League Soccer championship game the same day that the Phillies lost the Series. On penalty shots, which is just the worst way to decide anything sports related. Play until someone scores, for crying out loud. Even the NHL, which has instituted penalty shot finales for regular season ties, knows to let them play to the end once the regular season is over.

And last night the Eagles lost in the Super Bowl.

We had a good crowd here to see it – me, Kim, and Oliver representing the people currently living here; Lauren, Maxim, Isaac, and Chase coming back from Main Campus University to join us. There was a pile of food that was moderately nonlethal in small amounts and tasty in any quantity. We’d signed up for a temporary account with the broadcaster so we could actually watch the game. We were set for a festive evening.

It was, it has to be said, a great game – pretty much exactly the game you would want in a meeting between the two best teams in the sport. There was a lot of offense. Surprisingly little defense. A few big plays, most of which went against the Birds, unfortunately. And with two minutes to go the score was tied.

That’s when the referees took over.

You can’t call a ticky-tack penalty – a borderline holding penalty on an uncatchable pass – to decide a championship after a game like that. You just can’t. It cheapened the whole thing and rendered the rest of the game irrelevant.

Without that penalty the Eagles get the ball back down three with a minute and a half to go and two time outs, and then we find out who really wins this game.

For all I know it still would have been the Chiefs. The Eagles owned the first half by a wide margin but the Chiefs owned the second half and by that point everyone was tired. It’s possible that Eagles might still have pulled it out. The odds were against them, but the odds have been against the Eagles from the moment they were founded and it’s not like the Kansas City defense had been all that stellar either. It was an offense-heavy game. It would have gone to the last play, no doubt.

I have no idea who would have won. But it would have been decided by the players and not the refs, and that has to count for something.

Bad calls are part of the game, though, and that’s just how it goes.

I will be glad that the Eagles made it that far, that they put up a hell of a fight, that they nearly won anyway, that they look like they’ll be good for a while and fun to watch.

It was a good year for them.

It’s been a good year to be a Philadelphia sports fan in general.

Fly, Eagles, fly.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Joyous Photos

For the last week or so I ended up playing along with another one of those Facebook memes that still come down the pike now and then, and it was a good time. That’s why those memes were popular in the first place, before they became data mining exercises. At this point I figure my data has been mined, so I might as well have a bit of fun.

The meme asks people to post ten photographs that bring you joy, on the theory that we could all use a bit of joy these days. My friend Jenny tagged me for it, which was nice of her. You’re supposed to tag someone else each time you post a photo though I tend not to do that. I offered to tag people if they wanted me to do so instead, and one friend took me up on that. So I have done my bit to spread the meme.

You’re also not supposed to explain the photos – just post them and let people make of them what they will. I did that on Facebook, but the whole point of photos is that they tell stores so I figured I’d expand on that here. It’s my blog, after all.

I’d done a similar sort of challenge a few years ago, so the one limiting criteria I imposed on myself was that I wouldn’t choose any photo older than 2018. I’m not sure why I chose that particular date, but it seemed logical at the time and it cut down on the searching through old photos, the repetition of posting, and the generally overwhelming amount of options that I might have otherwise had. There is a certain freedom in limits that often gets overlooked by the “you can’t tell me what to do” crowd until they grow up a bit, after all.

There were certain themes that emerged from these photographs.

For one thing, they were of people. Every single one of them. For all that I enjoy material things when I have them, the fact is that what brings me joy are the people in my life. All of these pictures are family and friends. Even so, a lot of people whose presence in my life objectively brings me joy don’t appear here. What can I say? I’m a fortunate soul to have so many friends and family to choose from that I can’t fit them all into a meme.

For another, a surprising number of these photos involve those people sitting around a meal, even if that meal is not visible in the photo.

Joy is a matter of good food and good people, I suppose.

Many of these have already appeared in other posts here, but that’s just how things go. Here they are again, in the order in which they appeared in the meme.

This is quite possibly my favorite photograph from when Kim and I went to Italy last year. We were at the Vatican Museum – perhaps the most overwhelming collection of art and artifacts on earth – and I just love how the statue is peering over us. This was our much delayed 25th anniversary trip, a visit to one of the countries of my ancestry and a celebration of a life spent together, and we had a lovely time of it. Someday we’ll go back.

This one is of Oliver and my mom at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, a few months before my mom passed away. We wanted to get her out of the house a bit and she always liked Longwood Gardens. Kim discovered that they will lend you a wheelchair if you need one, so off we went. Oliver did a lot of the pushing, and it was nice to see them together like that. It’s a peaceful photo of a quiet moment.

This was Father’s Day last year. What can I say? I love my kids. And I’m always happy that they want to spend time with me.

I cheated a bit and posted two photos for this one, but they do have a theme. Both Lauren and Oliver graduated from their schools in the last couple of years – Lauren from Local Businessman High School in 2021 and Oliver from Small Liberal Arts College last year – and I am immensely proud of them, for this and for other reasons. They did well in those schools, they made friends, they learned more than just what was taught in their classes, and I got to share some of it with them along the way.

This is the most recent version of The Stair Picture, taken at my aunt and uncle’s house in 2019, just before the pandemic hit. It’s all of the first cousins (we’re not a big group) from youngest to oldest. We’ve been taking this picture since 1983, all of us lined up on one staircase or another in that order and more or less that pose. One of the things I have always been grateful for is that my family all gets along with each other and enjoys spending time together, and the continuity of that is found in this, the latest of a long series of Stair Pictures.

This was another slight bending of the rules, but again – my posts, so there you go. I never really thought I’d leave Philadelphia growing up, let alone have friends to visit in many different countries. In 2018 we went to Europe to see as many of them as we could. We couldn’t see them all, which is a high class problem to have, but there will be future visits. Our first stop was to see Fran – who lived with us as an exchange student and is now family – and her family in Belgium. These are her parents, Roeland and Veerle, and we’re at the B&B where we stayed, not far from their house. We’re still hoping to have them visit us, and perhaps now that the pandemic has become endemic we might make that happen. From there we went to our friends in Sweden. This is on Oja, a small island not that far from Stockholm, and we’re sharing a meal and a conversation. If you start at the bottom right and go clockwise there’s Lauren, Maria, Oliver, Kim, Sara, Helena, and Mats. We’ve been trading visits since before the kids were born – Kim met Mats when he was an exchange student at her high school back in the early 80s – and they were here last year. The last picture is in England – Cornwall, more accurately – not long after we made it out of an escape room there. Lauren is in front, and from left to right standing are Richard, Magnus, Ginny, Kim, Oliver, and me. Richard married Julia, one of my closest friends from high school, and we’ve been visiting ever since. Julia has passed away now, but we’re still here.

This is the Squad as they were in 2018. It’s Friendsgiving and they’ve all brought dishes to share. We made a turkey. I cannot tell you how much I love the fact that Lauren’s friends come over and hang out here with us. They’re lovely people and good to talk with, and most of them don’t bother knocking anymore because why would they? They know they’re welcome here.

This was this past summer, when my brother Keith and my niece Sara came out for a visit. Kim’s parents came down and we fired up the grill and had a grand time together. We enjoyed running around southern Wisconsin as well while they were here. There is a reason my brother was the best man at my wedding, after all. We are brothers in every sense of the word.

This was us over Christmas break. We decided that we’d just have brunch one day, and why not bring out the good china in the process? There’s no point in saving it – the special times are right here with the people you love. We had bacon and eggs and conversation and it was a good day, just the four of us.

There was also a meal in this picture even if you can’t see it. It was Thanksgiving last year and we were at Rory and Amy’s house, surrounded by relatives of many degrees and more good food than we could possibly eat. The glitter is courtesy of one of our nieces. It was a moment, and those you have to savor.

They were all moments like that when you get down to it, and one of the tricks in life is recognizing them when you’re still in the middle of them. Sometimes I succeed.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

News and Updates

1. Suddenly – BOOM! – winter. After a disturbingly mild January here in Baja Canada we now have eight inches (18cm or so) of snow on the ground, for long stretches the air temperature has not had a real square root even if you measure in Fahrenheit, and I have been forced to locate my boots. I am perfectly okay with this. You can always add clothing but the reverse is not necessarily true, particularly in the United States. I’ll take this over August any day.

2. I had my somewhat-longer-than-annual physical this week and was pleasantly surprised to discover that modern medicine has determined that The Glove is not terribly effective at maintaining the health of men my age. It was perhaps the least intrusive physical I have ever had, and I for one am all for it. I have a new doctor now since the old one retired, and at the end he asked if I wanted to tell him what he was going to tell me. “Sure,” I said. “Eat less. Move more. See you in a year.” And he just nodded.

3. Somehow I have ended up on a Committee down at Home Campus. I have studiously avoided such things in my time there, but eventually one’s ability to hide in plain sight comes to an end and suddenly there I am, exposed and nominated. I have no idea how one is supposed to accomplish the mission this Committee is tasked with completing, but I suppose I will find out. And then perhaps I will avoid further such entanglements for another 27 years, by which time I will be long past caring.

4. My remote US2 class has started up as well, but at least that’s fun. We went over the general course outline and I noted that we would be covering political issues, economic developments, cultural conflicts, social and demographic changes, and – because this is an actual history class and not an ideological exercise in coddling the comfortable – issues of race, because if you leave race out of American history what you get is propaganda, not history. This of course makes the class illegal in the state of Florida so I did feel obligated to ask my students not to log in if they go down there for spring break, as I don’t need that kind of aggravation.

5. No wonder Florida Man is the national punchline.

6. I try to pay attention to the news but it’s hard when half of Congress has been taken over by howler monkeys scratching their collective ass and shrieking at the moon. So far all they’ve done is launch conspiracy-addled investigations and set the stage for a global financial meltdown. Honestly, isn’t there anyone in the GOP – anyone at all – who understands what a debt ceiling is and why defaulting on the national debt is both unconstitutional and spectacularly stupid? Anyone? Hello? Is this thing on? Hello? I don’t think there’s anybody back there.

7. I cleared off my desk at home and found a wealth of pens. I don't know where they come from, but as an academic I’m used to these office supply manifestations. I think they breed back there, behind the computer. As long as they’re not scaring the horses, I suppose.

8. I am not sure why the Dallas Cowboys fan decided to come at me about my Eagles sweatshirt the other day but I asked how he thought they liked watching the most recent playoff game on their respective televisions and that seemed to suffice. Seriously, folks. I get that some people don’t like my team – lots of people don’t like the Eagles; we don’t care – but you can’t argue that your favorite team is better if mine is still playing and yours isn’t.

9. If all goes well, I there is a possibility that I may be teaching a class this fall that I haven’t taught in a while. It’s a class I’ve always enjoyed and I’d actually be in a classroom rather than online so I’m looking forward to it. There will be paperwork to get there, though.

10. Kyiv still stands, a thumb in the eye to Vladimir Putin and dictators everywhere. It’s been almost a year, and Kyiv still stands.