Sunday, January 8th, 2023

One of the things I do for my day job (I don’t know why I call it that; I don’t do anything else for pay) is a routine audit of the daily reports of customers who have logged in to the Wisconsin DOT web site to order ID cards or driver’s licenses. I’m looking for “red flags” which might indicate that an impostor might have logged in using a victim’s personal information. Thousands of IDs and DLs are ordered every day, so reviewing them is a very laborious process.

To make it a bit easier on myself, I use a spread sheet to automate the process as much as possible. I know a few tricks, just filters and searches, really elementary stuff, which helps, but lately I’ve been reviewing a year’s worth of reports at a time to see if I can spot trends. My simple tricks don’t work well on a spread sheet with 250,000 lines because my laptop bogs down whenever I ask it to crunch that much data.

Last weekend I told my son Tim about the problems I was having because I knew he was very good at writing macros in MS Excel and I hoped he would be able to give me a few tips that were simple enough for even me to understand so I could attack this problem. “Let me think about it,” he said, went home, did a little research, called me to talk it over again so he was sure he understood what I wanted to do, and then a day or two later I got an email message from him with an Excel spread sheet attached. I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. When it comes to Excel, I know just enough to be a danger to myself.

I didn’t want to break it, so I just held on to it until he came over for supper yesterday. He showed me all the bells and whistles and even fine-tuned it a bit so it did just what I wanted it to do. And it did it very, very quickly. I knew our kid was smart but wow. It was like he revealed his superpower to me.

excel | 12:39 pm CST
Category: O'Folks, office work, T-Dawg, this modern world
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Monday, May 28th, 2018

When Tim was still just a bug, he and I played a game we called “Lazybones.”  I would sit on the floor cross-legged, Tim would sit in my lap, also cross-legged, and I would begin to sing the Hoagy Carmichael song “Lazybones” with my arms wrapped around him as I rocked forward and back.  Before I got to the end of the song, I would push down with my legs, rolling onto my back and sending Tim tumbling over my head, giggling like a madman.

That was it.  That was the whole game.  I use the term “game” very loosely here.  There was just one “rule” that was understood more than it was cut in stone: I always rolled backwards before the end of the song.  Sometimes I would roll over after just two or three words, sometimes after singing a dozen words or more.  Once, I rolled over after “lazy.”  I don’t remember ever singing the whole song without rolling over, but now that I think of it, I’m sorry I didn’t try that when I had the chance.

The longer we played “Lazybones,” the more often Tim would try to straighten his legs, pushing against me to get me to roll over.  Every once in a while I’d give in, but most of the time I wouldn’t.  It was my prerogative to pick the time we tumbled backward.

“Lazybones” was one of Tim’s favorite games. He asked to play a couple times a week for years.  I never said no, because I knew that, one day, he wouldn’t ask.  I don’t remember which day that was, because I don’t want to.

lazybones | 2:47 pm CST
Category: T-Dawg
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Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Our after-dinner entertainment on Thanksgiving was the Michael Jackson music video Thriller. Fun Fact: Tim had not seen it before then. Amazing, I know. Now his life is complete. To think we came so close to being complete failures as parents.

thriller | 5:45 am CST
Category: music, T-Dawg | Tags:
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Friday, November 24th, 2017

The main dish of our Thanksgiving dinner this year was a lovely roast of lamb covered in pesto and cooked to perfection.

Tim’s mother offered to cut his Thanksgiving lamb into little pieces for him, but he managed just fine on his own in spite of a broken hand and the pain it obviously caused him.  He very gingerly placed his knife in the weakened grip of his forefinger and thumb, then slowly and methodically cut the meat into bite-sized cubes.  It helped that he had a sharp knife.

My Darling B served mashed potatoes and carrot sticks with the roast, so all Tim had to cut was the meat.  And he was very thankful.

He walked over from his apartment, possibly because he didn’t want to muck around with driving the car one-handed, but maybe just because he wanted to walk.  He lives just a few blocks away and walks the distance maybe once a month, just for the hell of it, even in winter.  More often in summer.  He came over at about three and we had a nice chat in the front room for a couple hours while he iced his hand.  B called us to dinner at about six, a little later than she’d planned.

After dinner, we retired to the living room for maybe half an hour to sit and digest, but all of us were quickly fading then.  It had been a long day and it started early.  I drove Tim back to his apartment with two sacks of frozen food his mother insisted he take with him so he wouldn’t have to worry about fixing dinner for himself one-handed.

Maggie, his hyper-shy cat, glared at me from the middle of his living room when he let me into his apartment with the bags of food.  I slowly set them down, hoping not to spook her and maybe ever get a long look, or even get close enough to pet her.  This was only the second time I’ve laid eyes on her; the first time all I saw was her face glaring out at me from under a dresser.  This time, she trotted away into the bedroom after just a beat or two.  “She’ll hide for at least an hour now,” Tim said, laughing.

I wished him a good night, headed back home and turned in early.  Read almost an entire chapter from the book at the top of my “to be read” pile (“Apollo 8” by Jeffrey Kluger) but my eyes were slamming shut before nine, so lights out. Slept the sleep of the dead.

Thanksgiving dinner | 7:08 am CST
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Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

The doorbell rang at three-thirty this morning. Coincidentally, I was lying half-awake in bed trying to motivate myself to get out of bed and clean up the cat yak that I was pretty sure I just heard Boo leave on the floor right next to me. Half of me wanted to leave it until morning; the other half didn’t want to step in it when I inevitably forgot it was there. The doorbell put a stop to this little internal argument.

B’s voice from the other side of the bed: “What the hell?” My thoughts exactly.

I tumbled out of bed and made my way to the bedroom door, somehow without stepping in any barf, where I could look out the the living room window and see Tim’s car in the driveway. Tim didn’t visit last night so there’s no reason he should have left his car there. After crossing the living room and peeking out the windows of the front door, I could see Tim standing on our front stoop. At three-thirty in the morning. He smiled and waved at me.

I opened the door. “Hi, Tim,” I said, as if there were nothing unusual at all about finding him at our door at three-thirty.  “What’s up?”

He said something like this: “Sorry to wake you, but I wanted to know if you thought I was overreacting before I went to the emergency room.” He went on to tell us he woke up about midnight after a dream that involved punching the wall. His right hand was throbbing in pain and he wasn’t able to move his pinkie or ring finger much; he could move the other fingers, but it hurt when he did that, so he tried not to move any of them at all, holding his hand at waist level, away from his side.

After a bit more discussion about what might possibly be wrong with his hand, I threw on some clothes and drove him to the emergency room. The closest one is on the northeast side of town, almost all the way to Sun Prairie. It’s part of a huge complex of very hospitally-looking buildings we had to drive through on winding roads to get to the ER. The route was pretty clearly signed, by the way, an observation borne out by the fact that we found it thought it was dark and we were half-awake and it was four in the morning. I hope I never have to go there again but, if I do, I’m somewhat comforted by the knowledge it’s easy to find.

A receptionist and a bored-looking security guard were alone at a desk in the lobby. There were no other people around. The receptionist perked up when we walked in, but the security guard kept on surfing the internet without looking up at us. Tim gave the receptionist his medical card and after checking him in, she invited us to wait in the lobby. Our butts barely touched the seats before a nurse called Tim’s name and lead us both back to an examination room. Points for prompt service.

After asking Tim what was wrong, probably to make sure his injuries weren’t life-threatening, the nurse asked him a lot of questions like date of birth, phone number and so on, while another nurse took his vitals. Then she asked him to tell her how he hurt his hand. Tim repeated his story about dreaming he punched a wall, obviously feeling a little silly about it. After she got everything into the computer she said the doctor would be with us shortly and left the room.

We were on our own for maybe five minutes until a doctor showed up, made Tim repeat his story again, and briefly examined his hand. He wanted to x-ray it to make a proper diagnosis and also wanted to get some ice on it and some pain killers into Tim. A couple minutes after he left, the nurse came back with an icepack and a couple capsules for Tim to wash down with some bottled water.  An odd thought struck me: that bottled water is going to be on the bill, and I’ll bet it’s going to cost something like three hundred dollars.

A tech came in after that with an x-ray cart. This is some pretty cool tech. They don’t use film any longer. Tim rested his hand on what looked like a computer tablet, except where the screen should have been, there was what looked like a blank grey slate. The tech aimed the x-ray emitter and stepped back, thumbing the fob to trip the emitter. Each time she did, Tim’s bony hand appeared on a screen on the x-ray cart. When she had all the pictures she needed, she bent over the cart to tap a couple of buttons, uploading the pictures to Tim’s record. From there, any radiologist in town could review them by logging into the network. Pretty awesome.

After ten or maybe fifteen minutes at the most, the doctor came back to let Tim know the fifth metacarpal, the bone in the hand under the pinkie, was fractured but not displaced, by which I guess he meant its jagged ends weren’t sticking out through his skin or something ghastly like that. He put a splint on it with some more pretty cool tech: a white slab of plasticky stuff he soaked in water, then formed around Tim’s hand and forearm and held in place with ace bandage until it set. It hardened after a few minutes, making a split that was molded in the shape of Tim’s hand. Cool! (Probable cost: Ten Thousand Dollars.)

I was texting B the whole time because I knew she was sitting up waiting for me to feed her updates. When I told her Tim had a fracture, she texted: “Is it the fifth metacarpal?”  After freaking out just a tiny bit, I texted back, “How the hell did you know that?” She answered: “5th metacarpal is consistent w/punching injury.  AKA ‘boxer’s fracture.’  Did I forget to tell you I went to med school? Or do I just google well?”  And she included a link to the medical web site she reads when she wants to scare herself.

Tim’s got to call the hospital on Friday to schedule an appointment to get a cast put on; after that, then it’ll take six to eight weeks to heal properly, after which they’ll probably want to examine it again, just to run his bill up a bit more. Meanwhile he’ll have to learn to do everything not only one-handed, but with his non-dominant hand, not so easy for a guy whose work is done mostly on a computer.

broken | 11:20 am CST
Category: O'Folks, sleeplessness, T-Dawg
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Sunday, October 25th, 2015

The view from Ishnala Supper Club's dining roomWe had dinner last night at the Ishnala Supper Club near Wisconsin Dells. It’s a bit of a drive, just under an hour, but as things turned out, our visit there was worth every minute on the road.

We learned about Ishnala from “Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club,” a documentary we watched at the film festival. If it sounds a little dry and boring, it really isn’t; it gave us the urge to visit every Wisconsin supper club in the film. We didn’t, but ever since then we have wanted to visit Ishnala, a relatively short drive from Madison.

I have to admit, I wanted to go there for the ambiance alone. The supper club is in a log-cabin themed building perched on the very edge of Mirror Lake. The bar is the most prominent room, jutting out over the lake and surrounded on three sides by picture windows that gave us an uninterrupted view of the fall foliage. The dining room is much the same: a long, open room with floor-to-ceiling picture windows on the side facing the lake. Our visit was maybe a week past the peak time for fall colors, and the evening was overcast so the colors were a bit muted, but it was still gorgeous.

I frankly didn’t expect much from the food, but was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. B and I each ordered a seven-ounce fillet mignon with sun-dried tomatoes in a wine reduction, one of the specials, and it was fantastic. I ate every bite and used my potato skins to sop up as much of the wine reduction as I could. The little bit of sun-dried tomato that was left over got buttered onto slices of melba toast and I shared it with My Darling B.

Tim treated us to his company on this trip and reported that the New York strip steak he ordered was every bit as wonderful as our fillets. We were there a little more than two hours, lingering afterwards over a slice of chocolate gateau and coffee before hitting the road back to Madison.

Our First Dinner at Ishnala | 9:36 am CST
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Thursday, November 27th, 2014

We played Bourbon Jenga last night, which is like regular Jenga but with cherry-infused bourbon. You can use regular bourbon if you like; it doesn’t have to be infused with cherries. It doesn’t have to be bourbon, either, but then it probably wouldn’t make sense to call it Bourbon Jenga. You still could call it that, I’m not going to stop you. It’s a free country, theoretically.

Anyway, Tim came over last night, thinking that he was going to have dinner with us but finding out as he came through the door that B & I were just on our way out to yoga class. Our instructor was recovering from a sinus infection that knocked her out for last Monday’s class but she was feeling well enough again to talk us through some restorative yoga exercises that mostly involved very heavy breathing and trying turn all the way around to face the same way as my butt. Couldn’t do either very well. I’m not a huffer-and-puffer kind of yoga guy; I think I get the importance of controlling my breath, but I don’t see why it’s important to make a big production out of it. Maybe that understanding will come later. And I’m not flexible enough yet to turn all the way around like an owl. I’m not sure that’ll ever come to a guy with a back as tired and crooked as mine, not that I won’t keep on trying. Our instructor can fold herself all the way over so she can stick her head between her knees, so I can see with my own eyes that it’s possible. I just can’t comprehend doing it myself yet.

By the time we got back home from yoga it was almost eight o’clock. Sean announced almost as we came through the door that they had been too hungry to wait for us, so Sean fed himself from the kitchen and Tim ordered take-out from the Indian place up the road. And kudos to him; that’s some of the best Indian take-away anywhere in the city. B & I were mighty hungry, though, so we sat down and tucked into the sloppy joes that B made earlier and left warming in the oven. When Sean caught the aroma, his face lit up and he took a seat at the table to devour a sloppy joe, too.

Then came the Jenga. I’ve wanted to play Jenga for weeks now. Can’t say where I got the hankering, but it’s been there long enough that I mentioned it to B a week or two ago and she put in an order with Amazon last week. I think it came in the mail the next morning. Same thing happened to the cook book I ordered and wanted to give to B for Christmas. I thought it would come maybe a couple days later and I would be able to fish it out of the mail before B would see it, but no, it came the very next day and was in a big bag with all the other stuff that she ordered from Amazon, so naturally she opened it. I didn’t even know it was in there until I heard her say, “What the hell?” and turned around to see her holding the cook book with a look on her face that went from puzzled to shocked realization to Oh Shit I’ve Opened My Christmas Present Early. I kissed her and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Okay, so back to Jenga, which became Bourbon Jenga when B got out the jar of infused bourbon and ladled out a shot for everybody while I set up the Jenga tower. We didn’t make it a drinking game; there weren’t forty-two overly-complicated rules about when you had to drink, it was just Jenga with drinks. Play the game, enjoy the bourbon, have a good time. Those were the only rules. We had a little trouble with the first one because I just wanted to play the game but B wanted to follow the instructions. Who reads the instructions for Jenga? But eventually we sorted that out and the game was played, the bourbon was enjoyed and I think everybody had a good time.

bourbon jenga | 9:53 am CST
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, games, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, yoga | Tags: , , ,
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Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

salmon7Let’s Go To The Shimoda Salmon Festival With The O-Family!

I think it was only a week or two after we got here, but that could be my addled memory making a hash again out of everything I’ve ever seen. Anyway, we heard about the salmon festival, where you pay a couple hundred yen to get in, put on some waterproof boots – well, you didn’t have to, but it would’ve been a good idea – and when they blow the whistle and release the salmon, all you’ve got to do is bend down and grab one. Simple, right?

salmon2Like so many things that sound simple, this event was a circus.

I think it’s one of those crazy ideas that city commissioners come up with in board meetings, then laugh themselves silly as they watch the gullible boobs slosh around in the freezing water, getting soaking wet and holding up their prize salmon as if they’d bagged a charging rhinocerous.

Okay, I’m being way too harsh. Actually, we all had a lot of fun, and we even took our salmon home and ate them, so I’d have to say that we had a really good time. Once.

Here, Barb and Sean squelch their way across a two-inch wide causeway made out of milk baskets. The water’s only six inches deep, but it’s cold as ice.

salmon4And here’s the prize! A genuine, live, wet, cold salmon, fighting mad and all too willing to slap you right in the face if you don’t watch yourself. I can’t be certain – it’s my trick memory again – but I think we all dropped each of our fish, and had to grab another one. If we ever did this again, and I’m not insinuating for a moment that we would, I think I would just take pictures of the boys, and I’m pretty sure Barb would be cheering them on from the refreshments tent, with a hot bowl of ramen in her hands.

salmon1And That’s All From The O-Family At The Shimoda Salmon Festival! [This has been another Geocities flashback.]

Shimoda salmon festival | 5:58 am CST
Category: My Darling B, O'Folks, Seanster, T-Dawg, travel
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Monday, April 28th, 2014

England memories:

When Tim heard that we were moving into a house on RAF Digby with an upper floor, he asked right away if it had stairs. His eyes lit up like Christmas when I told him it did. “Cool!” he said. I enjoyed his exuberance even though I didn’t fully understand it until the day we moved in. I was downstairs when I heard what sounded like a god’s knuckles dragged along a washboard. Looking for the source of the noise, I found Tim at the top of the stairs on his belly looking down at me. “Watch what I can do!” he commanded before launching himself downward, arms outstretched like Superman, going flup flup flup flup all the way to the bottom. Made my knees hurt just watching (he was using his as brakes).

superman | 8:29 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, T-Dawg
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Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Just yesterday, Tim was asking me about our trip to Ireland: Where we went, what we did, will we ever eat smoked salmon as great as that again? I could easily answer the last question (sadly, no), but to answer the first two questions I had to dredge the backwaters of my memory, hardly the most reputable place to find the kind of facts he was looking for.

Way, way back in the dimmest beginnings of the internet (we’re talking Geocities; remember Geocities?) I threw up some web pages with our travel photos and what I thought of at the time as witty commentary for the folks back home to look at. Just for the hell of it I asked The Great Google if there was any vestige of those pages still out there and, what the hell, there was! All of the pages for our trip to Ireland were there, but two of the photos had gone missing: One photo was the introductory page, and I have no idea what that looked like. The other photo is described below in the original text from the web pages.

So this one’s for you, Tim. Here, without further delay, are the photos with the original, unaltered text. I hope they’ll provide some of the answers to the questions you had, because it’s about all that I’m able to provide, with the help of my internet memory.

[Added: I found the original photos in an album and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d written the date of our visit on the backs: April 2000.]

The Ofamily at TarbertSome time around the turn of the century, Barb’s great-grandfather, Arthur Marshall, left his family in Tarbert to emigrate to the United States, and for some time now she’s wanted to kick around the old ancestral land. Since our first full day in Ireland was wet, we decided a long car trip to Tarbert would be just the thing. We had no idea what we’d find when we got there. The town hardly gets a mention in any guide book, and then only because they have a jail that they’ve turned into a museum. As it turns out, about the only thing in Tarbert worth showing anybody is my lovely family posed by the sign on the edge of town. They look happy because they haven’t seen Tarbert yet. The place amounts to a t-junction with several pubs and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. I’ll leave you to think about the implications of that juxtaposition.

Torc FallWe managed to squeeze all the wild excitements of Tarbert and drive all the way back to Killarney in time for lunch. As we still had plenty of daylight, we all piled back into the car to have a drive into Killarney National Park to see the sights. The first sight we saw was a cave I don’t remember the name of and which I don’t have pictures of anyway, so why do you care, right? It was a cave. Think of Batman.

The pictures I do have from that outing, though, I took while we were having a bimble up the valley that Torc Fall cuts through. Nobody on earth could have designed a waterfall more perfectly laid out for tourists that Torc Fall. There’s a big car park right beside the road, and the falls are only about a hundred yards up the path. I imagine in the height of the tourist season this place is thronged, but today the rain discouraged them, so we didn’t have to fight through much of a crowd. They were thickest when we were already coming back down the hill, where I stopped to snap this shot of the boys with the falls behind them. That’s Sean to the left of the couple holding hands, Tim to the right. Like you can see them.

Torc Fall ViewWe lucked out just about everywhere we went that day. Every time we stepped out of the car, it had just stopped raining. While we were having a walk around, no rain. Then, each time we got back to the car, usually just as we were opening the doors, it started to rain, and kept on raining until just before we got to our next stop. I can’t explain it, but I’m not complaining.

As the weather was being so kind to us, and there were quite a few pathways to explore in Killarney National Park, we took a short hike up the valley to see the source of Torc Fall. Never found it. We did find this view, which is a great deal more spectacular if you’re gazing upon it in person with your own wet eyeballs, and not staring blankly at a web page on a computer monitor, but this is the best I can to do for you, sorry. The city of Killarney is in the distant right background, beyond the lakes of Killarney National Park. A gorgeous mountain range is immediately off the left edge of the picture. Too bad you can’t see it.

Ladies' ViewOne more shot from Killarney National Park, this time a photo of what they now call Ladies’ View, so named because Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting were so utterly dazzled by this sight they could hardly tear themselves away. It must have been pretty dull to be a lady-in-waiting. I imagine they had better weather, too. We stopped here for quite a while, had a tramp around the rocks, ducked into the Ladies’ View tourist shop, and so on, but the majesty of the place didn’t quite strike us the way other places did. Might’ve had something to do with the thirty-knot headwind or occassional showers. And that’s just about all we saw around the national park; we spent the rest of our time chasing tourist busses in our car, and I know you can’t wait to hear about that, so if you’re still with me, let’s click on to the next page …

green hills of IrelandThis is the kind of scene you expect to see when you think of Ireland, isn’t it? We had miles and miles of this when we finally went out to tour the Dingle Penninsula on Tuesday. (I’ll wait a moment while you finish chuckling over the name ‘Dingle Penninsula.’ Done? Okay.) The sky was clear and blue, the temps were warm, the most gentle of breezes beckoned us to get out and walk whereever we went, and every picture I took that day was a post card — I know you don’t want to look at post card after post card. As pretty as these scenes are, they all kind of run together after a dozen or so. I’ll offer you a few here, though, just so you can sort of get the flavor of the day. I don’t remember where I took this, but I know it was on Dingle (Yes? What’s so funny in the back, there?), possibly in the area of Slea Head, where we stopped several times to walk around — or it might be in the area of Inch, our first stop of the day. Don’t remember. Spent more time trying to soak up the sun and the sights than paying any attention to what I was taking pictures of.

snowy mountains of IrelandThis, on the other hand, is typically not what I imagine when I think of Ireland. Looks more like Japan to me. But Ireland it is, honest. This is off a beach in Smerwick Harbor, on the north shore of Dingle. We were looking for the rolling heads. According to the guide book, there was a massacre on this site back when they used to do that kind of thing in Ireland, and to commemorate the event (I think that’s the right word), an artist with a fat government grant sculpted dozens of severed heads and scattered them up and down the hillside. Or so says the guidebook. We saw no heads, and although this stunning view made up for it, we were still rather disappointed.

Tim at Inch Strand IrelandBacktracking just a bit, this is a shot of Inch Strand, the beach at Inch that runs right round and out into the harbor. It’s very, very long, very wide, rather tidy, and soft enough to invite you to run barefoot, with of course Tim had to do almost immediately. This was our first stop of the day and we couldn’t have asked for a better place with better weather. There was even a tea shop on the beach. Tim started a shell collection here that I believe is still rattling around in his jacket pockets. The rest of us just collected sand. We stayed about as long as we could stand the tourists, then squeeked out between a pair of tour busses and an oversized camper. The main roads that you see on the map are just wide enough for our car to slither between an oncoming tour bus and the stone walls that flank the road on both sides, but only if I clamp both hands around the steering wheel and shut my eyes so hard that tears spurt out. Barb was doing the same thing with her eyes, so I don’t think she caught on to what I was doing. It worked, right?

davebarbflatI’ll squeeze one more snap into this page to make your download really tiresome. Barb’s nephew Alex sent us a ‘Flat Stanley’ — a little cutout doll. Stanley likes to travel, the story goes, and he travels mostly through the mail. Alex sent him to us so he could get a little globe-trotting experience, and lucky for Stanley he arrived just as we were getting ready to head for Ireland, so he went much further than he knew he was going to go. We took lots of pictures of Stanley — way more, it turned out, than the huge number I already thought we were — but I’m not going to inflict that on you. This just happens to be a fairly good picture of Barb and I, and Stanley happens to be stuck to Barb’s fingers. Stanley’s also in the photo of Barb, Sean and Tim at the Leprechaun Crossing that you saw on the first page, by the way, but no way am I going to turn this into a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ competition. (Winner gets a piece of stinky piece of cheese by return of post.)

barbbeehiveHere’s Barb at the beehive huts, near Slea Head. These are supposed to be something like a thousand years old, constructed by hermits or religious devotees or somebody else who wanted to be very, very alone, didn’t care much where he lived and didn’t have a lot to build with. There are lots of flat stones lying all over the ground in Dingle, so these guys piled them up in a circle, like an igloo. Why these are called ‘beehive huts’ and not ‘stone igloos’ is beyond me, but I’m not on the tourist board, so it’s not my call. If you ask me, they look suspiciously like somebody rebuilt them a year or two ago, and it might just possibly have been the local farmer who charges a pound per sight-seeing tourist, or they might actually be a thousand years old and just look as though they’re remarkably clean and well-kept, especially for ruins that thousands of tourists tramp through every week.

dadseantimThe O-Men (trademark applied for) pause somewhere along the tourist circuit on the Dingle Penninsula to vogue for this stunning photograph. Ain’t we a bunch of studs? Especially the guy in the middle? Somebody in the peanut gallery has asked about the toupee. It’s a hat. I will never wear a toupee. You can hold me to that.

The tourist circuits around the three penninsulas in County Kerry are known as the Ring of Dingle (okay, that’s enough of that), the Ring of Kerry, and I forget the name of the other ring right now, but it’ll come to me, I promise. By unofficial agreement, the traffic on these rings moves in an anti-clockwise direction, but the guidebook doesn’t explain why, so I decided to go my own darned way and was feeling pretty good about making my own decision until we met a tour bus. They’re wide enough to take up the whole road and big enough to squish tourists who have the temerity to disreguard unofficial directives. So for crying out loud, if the guidebook suggests something, no matter how whacky, JUST DO IT!

dunquinnThis is a shot of Dunquinn — or Dunquin, or Dun Quin, I’m not sure. Everything in Ireland is spelled at least two different ways. Killarney is also Cill Airne, and everything is labelled in English and Irish. (Which is not Gaelic — that’s what the guidebook says, SO BELIEVE IT!) Since the English is also supplied it’s not a big deal, but there are one or two isolated spots where the road signs are in nothing but Irish, so if you haven’t been paying attention, driving can become a teensy bit more complicated than you bargained for.

As for Dunquinn, it’s a small harbor between Dunmore Head and Clogher Head, and features very prominently in the tourists shops this year because a well-known photographer (well-known to tourists) took an artsy-fartsy picture of a flock of sheep winding their way up the stair-step road you see snaking up the rocky point. I couldn’t arrange for the sheep, sorry.

staigueWe visited the Staigue Stone Fort on a rather rainy day and, wouldn’t you know it, unlike the beehive huts, there’s no roof! You can’t count on those stone-age guys for anything! The stone age must have been a very confusing time, because the Staigue fort doesn’t guard anything that we could see. It must have been just a place where the shepherds and beehive hut people could run into when rampaging bands of marauders landed on the penninsula to kick some heads.

This fort really is rather impressive, by the way. Unlike the beehive huts, the walls of the fort are something like ten feet thick and twelve feet high, and the fort’s defenders could climb up the stairways built into the walls to fend off marauders by bonking them with rocks or whatever the cutting edge of weapons technology was at the time. The small door you see to the right of the boys is a storage chamber built into the wall. If you want to see the fort, by the way, you’ve got to REALLY WANT TO SEE IT, because it’s at the end of a long, long one-lane sunken road that winds up a valley choked with sheep, which frequently step out onto the road to greet tourists in the friendly manner that all Irish sheep seem to have. And it’s on the south coast of the Iveragh Penninsula, on the Ring of Kerry — sorry, I jumped ahead without telling you.

(Photo missing)

Backing up to the Dingle Penninsula, this is a view from Connor Pass. For once, all the hype in the guide books is well-placed; this view will take your breath away on a clear day, and we had the clearest, warmest, most breath-taking day of the week when we were up there. We stopped for a quick late-afternoon lunch, and just to make the day perfect, some guy parked beside us, dug a set of bagpipes out of the boot of his car, and played a couple tunes. He wasn’t busking and he wasn’t from the tourist board, he just wanted to play his bagpipes at the top of Connor Pass. I know that’d really spoil the moment for some people, but I dearly love the sound of bagpipes, especially in the open air. Barb, by the way, is one of those people who can’t stand bagpipes. She’s the one with the Celtic blood, and I’m nothing but Slav. Go figure.

roadconnorI took lots of pictures of the roads as we were driving around the tourist circuits because they were so narrow, sunken between berms thickly covered in grass or flanked by high stone walls, and along the coast there was always sheer stone up one side or a sheer drop down the other. Unfortunately, none of those pictures captures the hair-raising feeling of driving along those roads. This snapshot of the road north of Connor Pass, for instance, doesn’t convey to you that there were just inches of clearance between the fenders of my car and the rock on either side. If it had been fairly straight, this might not have been much of a problem, but the road was as crooked as an arthritic woman’s fingers. I chose to show you this photo because I love the warning posts along the stone wall on the left. As if I needed the warning.

The drive up the hills to Connor Pass was so pleasant, and the view from the pass was such sweet eye candy, that when we got back down and were headed home Barb pointed out another scenic route that would take us up another mountain pass, between the villages of Camp and Aughils. I’m pointing this out to you because IT’S A TRAP! The only vehicle you should ever attempt to drive along this road should have at least four-wheel drive, although ideally it should be tracked and armored and powered by a twelve-cylinder diesel engine of at least two-thousand horsepower. This ‘scenic’ road climbs grades that had me spinning my tires against asphalt in first gear. And I thought I knew hairpin turns from my drives through the Rocky Mountains. They were child’s play compared to this drive. And for all that work you’d think they’d give you a scenic view at least as spectacular as the one at Connor Pass, but it ain’t there, if you ask me. Just don’t even think about it.

blarneycastleYou can’t go to Ireland and not kiss the Blarney Stone, right? I mean, there’s something almost irresistable about puckering up and giving a warm, wet buss to a cold chunk of rock that several thousand people have already slobbered on, don’t you think? Blarney Castle just happens to be along the road that we took on the way home, so we stopped in, climbed the stairs with a hundred other tourists, and planted our lips on the legendary stone. It’s on the underside of the wall, so you have to bend way backwards and slide out through the hole that you can see daylight through in the photo of the castle wall.





The O-Folk in Ireland | 11:45 am CST
Category: My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, travel, vacation | Tags: , , ,
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Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Sean uses Tim as his lounging pillow. In return, Tim slips Sean a wet willie …

image of Tim and Sean

wet willie! | 8:29 am CST
Category: O'Folks, Seanster, T-Dawg
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Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

In yet another demonstration of just how out of shape I’ve become over the winter, I huffed and puffed my way up three flights of stairs while helping Tim move into his apartment downtown. A twenty-something doesn’t have all that much to schlep from curbside to apartment, but I was ready for a nap after barely an hour and a half of schlepping. I’ve moved house more than a dozen times over the years and that’s officially my weakest performance ever.

moved | 9:53 pm CST
Category: O'Folks, T-Dawg
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Sunday, April 21st, 2013

I actually lured Tim out into public today by dangling the promise of a free screening of Princess Mononoke in front of his nose. He had to think about it for a moment or two, but not too hard before he agreed.

The show was part of a program put on by the University of Wisconsin’s film school. They were showing a long lineup of Studio Ghibli films all last month and this month, and if I’d gone to any of the others I would’ve had some inkling of how popular they were. By the time we got there, about fifteen minutes before the show was scheduled to start, they were turning people away because all the seats were filled. We had to turn around and go home with our sufficiency unserensified.

Princess Mononoke | 5:58 am CST
Category: entertainment, movies, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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Thursday, November 8th, 2012

image of Smith Corona SkyriterTim brought his typewriter over after a screw fell out. He figured I could fix it because I have a few typewriters and I sometimes take them apart, not because I can fix them but because it’s an itch I’ve got to scratch. Typewriter innards are mesmerizing. I totally get why surgeons like to cut into people and try to fix the glop inside. I couldn’t do it myself because I’d throw up all over the patient and I thank goodness there are people who can do that kind of thing without retching, but the frisson of new knowledge I feel when I figure out how to peel off the cover of a Smith Corona Skyriter and I slowly begin to dissect what’s inside must be something like a surgeon’s. Too bad typewriters are just a fad now. I would have happily done this for a living.

The screw that fell out of Tim’s typewriter fastened the steel bar that the margin tabs slid along to the back of the carriage. No screw, no bar. No bar, no margin tabs. No margin tabs, no margins. For want of a nail, that sort of thing. When he hit the carriage return, the carriage ran as far to the right as the mechanism would carry it, running the left margin off the page, and, Tim feared, throwing the screw somewhere into the outfield of his living room carpet. He was pretty sure it was lost forever because it’s such a small screw, no bigger than a ladybug.

I, on the other hand, had the feeling the screw was still somewhere in the carcass of his typewriter, so the first thing I did after he left was peel the cover off and give it a cautious shake to see if anything came rattling out of the corners. There aren’t a lot of places it could’ve hidden in there. The case of a Skyriter is just a shell of stamped sheet steel. When shaking didn’t scare it out of hiding I started poking around at the edges of the felt soundproofing, thinking it might have gotten caught underneath. Still no screw. Finally, I rapped it twice against the edge of the work bench, just in case it was waiting somewhere in there for a careful, but decisive push out of the shadows and into the light. No joy.

I set the case aside and began a close inspection of the typewriter’s guts. The Skyriter is not a terribly robust machine. It was built to be as compact as possible, so I expected the mechanism to be especially dense, but it was surprisingly easy for me to peer into the deepest parts of it. Maybe that’s because it was also designed to be as lightweight as possible. A lot of features that are standard on most portable typewriters are not to be found on the Skywriter. Just as a for instance, the carriages of most portables have a little steel trigger on either end just under the roller knob you can trip to release the carriage so it slides freely back and forth. There’s just one trigger on the right-hand side of the Skyriter’s carriage. I’m guessing the designers did away with the other trigger to minimize the number of parts. Without those omitted parts, and because the parts it has are as small as possible, the inner workings of the Skyriter look as open and as delicate as the skeleton of a bird.

I poked around inside the machine for a while but couldn’t find that missing screw, so I set it aside and grabbed a older Smith Corona Sterling portable from my growing pile of inventory, a particularly unsatisfying addition to my collection. I have a more modern Sterling that I like quite a lot, but the older Sterling is built like a Crackerjack prize. Typing on it is the tactile equivalent of the noise you get pecking out a tune on a toy piano. No matter how much you work at it, a tune played on a toy piano is never going to sound like it belongs in a symphony. Same goes for that old Sterling. I can peck out a letter to Mom on it, but if I had to use it to write more than a page or two, it’d drive me batshit insane in no time.

So I decided that the old Sterling would donate its parts to science, and I would start by harvesting every screw I could see that looked like it could be a substitute for the one that was missing on Tim’s Skyriter. I figured the chances were good that I could find a replacement rather quickly. They were both Smith Coronas, after all. Happily, I found a substitute on the third try, and I didn’t even have to take the cover off, just flip it over on its back.

With a suitable replacement set aside, I began to turn the Skyriter over and over to figure out how to get Screw A Into Hole B. As open and airy as the mechanism inside the body appears to be, the clearances between the parts of the carriage are very tight. And while I was twisting and turning the frame of the machine, the parts must have warped just enough to release the missing screw from the grip of whichever two parts had been firmly gripping it up until then, and it came rattling out and fell onto the work bench. Talk about lucky.

With the found screw, I went back to the problem of inserting the screw where it belonged with a needle-nosed pliers. It was like playing a game of Concentration. Had it been, I’d have gotten the buzzing, blinking red nose a couple times before the screw fell into place. Then there was the little matter of slotting a screwdriver blade in the head of the screw without jostling the screw loose, and finally fastening the iron bar in place without, again, pushing the screw out. Amazingly, I got it on the first try. Naturally, I screwed it on upside-down and had to unscrew it, flip the bar over and try again. And again. Right side up, the bar still has a front and a back. I screwed it on right side up and backwards. Oh Ye Gods.

But, finally, the bar was screwed on right side up and frontwards, and I test-drove it by rapping out a letter to Mom. (What else?) It worked so beautifully that I began to search the internet for one just like it to add to my collection. That ought to get quite an eye-roll from My Darling B.

screw loose | 12:47 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg, typewriters
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Saturday, August 11th, 2012

It’s the Great Taste of the Midwest! (I’m typing this entry now because I’ll be far too toasted to hit the right keys in the right order after we come home from the event.)

My Darling B and I went out to Crema Cafe for a pre-tasting breakfast so we’d have a solid cushion of food in our bellies. B went with the biscuits and gravy, always a good choice, while I opted for the breakfast sammie – absolutely scrumptious!

At eleven, Tim will pick us up at our front stoop and deliver us to Olin-Turville Park, where we’ll wait in line until the gates open at one. We’re going that early because the line will already be snaking around the soccer field by that time. A surprising number of people will be warming up already while they wait; I’ve seen people put away two or three beers before the gates open. That’s just plain crazy. We’ll use that time to study the program so we can get some idea which of the 150 brewers to visit in such a short time.

great! | 10:44 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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Saturday, July 14th, 2012

We all crowded around the television screen last night to watch Alien because we found out Sean has never seen it. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?

A couple nights ago after dinner we were sitting around talking about all the things that were wrong with Promethus again, and after one of us compared it to Alien Sean casually mentioned that he’d never seen it. I thought at first I’d misheard him, or maybe he’d meant to say he hadn’t seen it in the last ten years or something. “You’ve never seen it?” I asked him, expecting him to correct me. “No, never,” he confirmed. My jaw dropped. I was gobsmacked.

So My Darling B checked it out from the local library and we watched it last night after dinner. You know what? It’s still a pretty good movie. I wish we had a bigger screen to watch it on, because a lot of the atmosphere that comes across from a big movie screen gets lost when the picture’s shrunk down to a nineteen-inch television screen. The scene where Kane is hanging from a rope in the egg chamber of the alien ship, for instance, made me gape and gasp when I saw it on a proper movie theater screen. I’m pretty sure it still would. When I saw it this time, I desperately wanted to shove my face right up against the television screen but was afraid the others would find that a teensy bit rude.

And I have more reservations about believability. I didn’t used to, and I don’t know where I got it. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon now, but I just don’t believe some of the really crazy stuff any more, like when the alien goes from being a little worm to a full-size monster in a couple of hours, or maybe it was as long as a day. Either way, it wasn’t enough time for him to do that, and where’d he find anything he could eat so he could grow that big? It didn’t make any sense to me.

Also, why couldn’t anybody on that ship remember to close a door behind them? Were these people brought up in a barn?

“Hey, the facehugger’s not on Kane’s face any more! Where could it be?”

“Let’s go in and look for it.”

“Shouldn’t we close the door behind us?”

“Naw, I wouldn’t worry about that. It wouldn’t go scrambling out into the hallway to get away.”

“Oh, okay.”

Then near the end of the movie when Ripley goes down to get the shuttle, she leaves the door open behind her, as if there isn’t a giant killer alien roaming the ship looking for her. That drove me nuts! But I guess that’s exactly what it was supposed to do. And the alien wouldn’t have been able to hide in the shuttle if she hadn’t.

I think Sean liked it, and we all had a good time watching it again, although I think Tim was just a little annoyed by the audience participation. Some of us couldn’t stop ourselves from yelling “Don’t go in there!” or giving Sean a poke at just the right time, which did sort of ruin the suspense, but it was family movie night and those kinds of things are more or less a given. Maybe we should have saved the MST3K stuff for when we watch Prometheus at some family movie night in the future.

Alien | 7:47 am CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Ten years from now, or maybe as little as five, really, I may not remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard the news that Maurice Sendak had died, but I hope I’ll always be able to recall some of the happiest moments of my life, and that I could live them only because Sendak was alive.

Here’s one of them: Reading Where The Wild Things Are to my youngest son, Timmy, while he sat in my lap. I loved the part where I got to say, “That very night, in Max’s room …” and then pausing, Tim’s cue to throw his hands over his head and shout, “A FOREST GREW!”

Or this: The many pages of The Wild Rumpus. There were no words, so as I turned to the first two-page spread I would bounce Tim up and down in my lap and he would join me in chanting, “Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpuussss!” Then we would turn the page and do it all over again.

Unless my memory’s gone south, Sean’s favorite Sendak book was In The Night Kitchen, probably because it was full of milk and cookies. Both the boys liked Chicken Soup With Rice, which is easily my favorite, right after Where The Wild Things Are.

When I heard of Sendak’s death today, I slumped in my chair and very nearly came to tears, until it occurred to me that it would be much more appropriate to make sure we all kept the wild rumpus going.

Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpuussss!

Maurice Sendak | 9:01 pm CST
Category: books, current events, entertainment, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg
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Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

image of my new beer benchTwo and a half years? It’s been two and a half years since I’ve tried brewing beer? A man with priorities as screwed up as that should not be allowed to consider himself a home brewer. I hang my head in shame, wondering what the hell I’ve been doing with my life, and offer these excuses, lame as they may be:

I started thinking about brewing again last weekend after My Darling B came down to the basement to see how successful I’d been snaking out the sink that’s been clogged for two and a half years. That clogged drain was one of the biggest reasons I gave up trying to brew beer in the corner of the basement I rather grandly refer to as “the brewery.” And as far as the drain was concerned, I’d been so very successful about fixing it and was feeling so well-chuffed about it that, after B congratulated me and remarked that we’d have to clean up the bottles and other junk that was cluttering up the floor, I started getting ideas.

I’d been brewing in that corner of the basement because there was a sink there, but that was just about its only redeeming feature and, as redeeming features go, it was setting the bar pretty low. It’s one of those old-fashioned concrete sinks that you were meant to wash clothes in, divided down the middle, very dirty and all but impossible to clean up because the wash machine drained into it. To make beer, you have to at least attempt to keep things sanitary, but that sink made cleanliness a challenge. I washed all my beer brewing equipment in the kitchen sink before lugging it down the basement, not the most encouraging arrangement, and only used the downstairs sink when it was time to wash the crud out of the fermenter.

After a while, though, I discovered there was one other redeeming feature in that corner of the basement: hot and cold water lines running across the rafters, apparently for what in the distant past had been a shower stall. I ran the lines down the wall and connected them to a plastic utility sink that I bought for nothing at a garage sale. That gave me a place where I could wash the bottles and all the beer brewing equipment, and life was good – until the sewer backed up and I couldn’t figure out how to clear it.

Well, last weekend, using a deep-drilling sewer snake of my own invention, I managed to bust that clog, and as if that wasn’t enough to make life worth living, spring finally arrived in all its speldor splendor, complete with warm, sunny days, twittering birds and weekends on the patio with my best girl, so naturally a man starts to think of brewing beer. I think that’s what’s supposed to be on my mind. Maybe not. If not, I’m sure somebody will point out what it is I am supposed to be thinking about. After looking over the wrack and ruin of what I had imagined to be my beer-brewing wonderland, I cleared away the bottles that cluttered the floor, swept up the mouse turds that seemed to be everywhere, threw out the discarded cardboard six-pack carriers that where piling up to the ceiling, and got to thinking about what I could do to make this a working brewery again.

One of the most awkward features of the brewery had been the bar I’d been using as a work bench. One of the previous owners had hammered it together out of leftover ceiling joists, Brobdignagian chunks of scrap wood an inch and a half thick and twelve inches wide. It was a very small bar, just three feet high and about five and a half feet wide, but it weighed a couple hundred pounds. I know because Tim and I hauled it from one corner of the basement to the other. The battleship New Jersey wasn’t nearly as solidly built as this bar was.

About the only thing this bar had going for it was that it had a linoleum counter top. That was in the “pro” column. On the downside, the bar had a row of bar stools that jutted three fee out in front of the counter top, making it all but impossible to use as a surface on which to prepare grain, set up hydrometers and other scientific instrumentation, or to clean, dry and prepare the various and sundry buckets, funnels, bottles and jars needed to brew beer. That thing had to go if I was going to have enough room to do what I wanted to do, but I really had no idea how I could make it go away all by myself, so I did what any guy would do: I hit it with a hammer, and I kept on hitting it with a hammer until it was in pieces on the floor.

That took several hours, and after I swept up the mess I had to relax for a little while with a beer and reflect on what I’d done.

I had a much larger area to work in than I’d ever had before. I also had quite a lot of very high-quality lumber at my disposal. The possibilities were dizzying. Those floor joists were old school, not the chipboard crap that houses are built on now. We’re talking solid hardwood. I did a little math and figured that, if I ripped them along the length, I could get plenty of usable lumber I could use to build the frame for a work bench. And I had had the foresight to save the formica countertop. I set to work.

phoenix | 6:00 am CST
Category: entertainment, hobby, homebrewing, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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Monday, December 26th, 2011

My Christmas morning prezzie from The Great Big Cosmic FU* was a plugged-up bathroom drain. It was starting to drain slowly earlier this week so that by Sunday morning I was standing in a deepening pool of my own effluvia as I washed up. There is but one way to unclog the bathroom drain, but it was Christmas morning so I said sod it and let it go until this morning when I mustered enough motivation to climb into the garage attic, haul out a garden hose and connect it to the outside tap, drag the other end in through the bathroom window, attach the clogbuster, shove it down the drain and turn the tap wide open. Had to jump up and down on the drain with a plunger a couple times, too. The one good thing was that temps were in the 40s today so my fingers didn’t freeze solid and break off while I was draining the hose and wrapping it up before hauling it back up to the attic.

The rest of Christmas morning was excellent, though. Tim came over, we dumped the contents of our stockings on the table so we could ooooh and aahhh over the prezzies, then we hung out for a while playing with the Nerf guns that Santa left under the tree. They came with velcro darts that would stick to fuzzy fabric, and they also came with a couple fuzzy targets we were supposed to strap on so we could play Nerf paintball but we didn’t do that. We hung the targets from chairs and other stuff and just shot for practice. Tim got pretty good.

Dinner was a great big ham and enough mashed potatoes to feed Coxey’s army, and we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t hold any more, except for Sean who can always hold more, somehow.

Just before I busted the clog in the bathroom drain this morning, we gathered again for brunch – scrambled eggs, ham and womp biscuits, the kind that come in paper tubes you open by banging them against the edge of the kitchen counter until they explode – WOMP! Always the one to add that perfect touch, My Darling B mixed up a couple Bloody Marys with peppers she grew herself in her garden last summer, and garnished them generously with pickled onions, pickled cukes, jerked beef and a cube of cheddar, but without asparagus spears, because who eats those damned things, anyway?

I busted that clog after brunch, then washed up and we all settled in the living room to watch a movie. FYI: “Hobo With A Shotgun” is not a Christmas movie, just in case you were wondering. Also, it’s not something you should watch if you’ve just eaten. Or ever eaten, come to that. Just don’t watch it, is I guess what I really want to say.

When the movie didn’t work out, we moved into the dining room to play “Boggle” for an hour or so until we were tired enough to break up and move off to our separate napping places.

*My use of the phrase The Big Cosmic FU in no way implies that I believe that the cosmos is, in fact, flipping me off, or is even capable of it, but sometimes it sure feels like it is, doesn’t it?

swag | 4:03 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, entertainment, movies, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags:
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Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I may have just driven to Waupaca County for the last time. Mom sold the ancestral manse and bought a condo in Arkansas where she hopes to live the rest of her days all cozy and snug and never again hear the words “snow-covered and slippery” used to describe roads during the winter. While she was getting ready to move out of her house, boxing up the things she wanted to keep and giving away the things she didn’t, she offered me a few pieces of furniture that I happily took off her hands, and so this morning I made the drive north one last time.

I grew up in a small town in – I almost said “rural Waupaca County,” but the whole county is rural from one end to the other. When people ask me, “What’s the nearest big city?” I shrug and tell them, “Waupaca,” and wait a couple beats for the customary blank expression before trying the only other “big city,” New London. Another blank look usually follows. Manawa is an hour from Green Bay, an hour from Appleton, an hour and a half from Stevens Point and two hours from Madison. It’s as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get without being in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Even so, Manawa wasn’t a bad place to grow up. It had everything we needed: three grocery stores, three hardware stores, a clothing store, a shoe store, two five-and-dimes, a bakery, a barber shop and several hair salons. There was even a jeweler’s. And back then, there was The Manawa Advocate, the newspaper my Dad owned and operated with the help of my Mom, two or three other full-time employees and, after a few years, me and my brother.

None of that’s left now. There’s just one grocery store in town, the only remaining hardware store is closing up shop soon, and there’s a parking lot where the Advocate building once stood. They do have a pretty nice cafe, though, that serves the most enormous omelet I’ve ever seen. Seriously. It’s at least twice the size of any omelet I’ve ever been able to finish in one sitting. Stop in at the Sun Dawg and ask for the breakfast omelet. Bring a big appetite.

The ancestral manse of the O-Folk was a twelve-hundred foot cinderblock ranch house with an attached garage. The back door was always unlocked, and stopping by for a visit always felt like coming home. T-Dawg went with me to help move the heavy stuff, and when we got there he just opened the door and walked in. Mom was waiting in the kitchen to welcome us.

She had most of her stuff boxed up by the time we got there. The only things that were still out were what she needed to eat and do her daily housekeeping, and her furniture, half of which we were going to load up and haul away. We didn’t plan on hauling nearly half of it away, that just turned out to be the case. I was supposed to take away a cedar chest, a rocking chair, a chest of drawers and a small end table, but I also ended up with four chairs and a small bench-like table that Mom tried to talk T into taking from her. When he told her he didn’t have the room for it she said she’d just leave it out by the curb with the chairs. “You’re going to give that away?” I asked her, shocked. “I’ll take it off your hands!”

When I drove away, the van was packed tightly with furniture, almost as if it was made to haul away exactly what Mom needed to get rid of. She gave us a proper Wisconsin send-off, hugging us good-bye in the kitchen, seeing us out the door, then standing in the driveway to wave as we pulled away.

so long | 6:36 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, Mom, O'Folks, story time, T-Dawg
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Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Beer: I drank lots of it at The Great Taste of the Midwest yesterday, but – and this is key – not as much of it as I have in the past. And especially not as much as last year, thank goodness. I was hoping to remain upright and not spill as much beer this year, a feat I managed to accomplish by sticking to our plan of taking a break every hour or so to sit down and drink lots of water.

This is our fifth year going to the Great Taste. My Darling B got way into it this year. She keeps notes in her programs, with little happy faces next to the beers she really liked, “meh” faces next to the beers that were just okay, and sad faces next to the beers she didn’t like. She keeps all the old programs in a secret vault that not even I know the location of. Then, when The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild uploads the latest program to the interwebs just two or three days ahead of the event, she pulls it up on her computer and makes a list of all the beers that sound most interesting to her, then compares it to her list of beers that got a meh or a sad face to make sure she won’t be wasting time on beers she’s already tried and didn’t like. It took her two days of careful study to finish all her homework this year.

Is this the perfect woman, or what? She does all the work and all I have to do to end up drinking delicious beer is follow her around.

Of course, it rained before the show. It rained the night before, and it rained the morning of. It’s rained right before the show every year that we’ve gone to it. It could almost be considered a tradition, if they could credibly claim to have any control over the weather. Since they don’t, I believe they would have to consider this kind of invariably bad weather a curse. And this year, just to reinforce the curse, I guess, the skies clouded over and it rained again at about five o’clock, an hour before the end of the show. Not that anybody cared. By that time pretty much every one of us was weatherproof.

Speaking of curses and pandemoneum, at about four o’clock, B went off to use the porta-potty while I listened to the music of Mama Digdown’s Brass Band. When B caught up with me, she was in a panic, patting down all her pockets. “I can’t find my program!” Her attack plan, her record of all the beers she tasted, her list of frowny-face beers, everything but her copious hand-written list of beers she wanted to try was in that program. Lost. Her only consolation was that I tasted most of the same beers she drank, so she’ll probably be able to figure it out when she does her homework before the Great Taste next year.

A big thank-you goes out to the T-dawg, who gave us a lift to the event and was waiting to take us home as we slogged our way out the front gate in the rain after it closed down. We really appreciate it, especially the part about waiting in the rain and letting us get into your car dripping wet. Props to you.

great | 4:29 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Sean is visiting this week so we took some time off from work to hang out with him. I managed to snag some vacation time today and so did Sean’s brother, Tim, but My Darling B had to work, so it was just the boys today. What did we do with our quality time together? We played Scrabble. And had a pretty good time doing it, too. We were going to play regular Scrabble but then we bent the rules a little bit. Threw out the rule about no proper nouns entirely, and for the rest we decided that we could use any word that we could find in the Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary I have on my desk. That made it a little easier to play, but not much. We’re mostly four- and five-letter Scrabble word players until we get near the end of the game. By that time the words all trail over toward the right-hand side of the board and all that’s left in our cradles is either something like “QZKRX” or “IEEIIAI,” so we’re mostly playing two-letter words at that point.

We played a second game but, instead of working with just seven tiles in our cradles, we each picked ten on the theory that it would be easier to form words and the game would move a little quicker, but that’s not what happened. It turned out to be a lot harder to decide on a word, probably because of the endless options. Nobody wanted to play a four-letter word when they had so many more possibilities, if only we could figure out what they might be. Which we couldn’t.

scrabble | 9:43 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg
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Friday, April 29th, 2011

Speaking of birth certificates, did I ever tell you that our youngest, T-Dawg, was very nearly born in a forest on the outskirts of Berlin? It’s true. He very nearly was.

We lived in an apartment in Zehlendorf on the southern edge of the city, right next to the Berlin wall, and when I say “right next to,” I mean we were right next to it! Keep going down the street past our apartment about a hundred yards and you were in a wooded park looking through barbed wire across a kill zone at the wall on the eastern side.

The wooded park ran all along that part of the wall, and on the inside of it there was a footpath called Koenigsweg that went from Duppel all the way out to Potsdam, I think. It was a very popular place to go walking just about any time of day, but especially in the evening.

My Darling B and I were expecting Timbers in August. As a matter of fact, when B started having strong, regular contractions on the eve of our anniversary, she was pretty sure he’d be born on the same day we were married, but sometime during the night the little bugger changed his mind. B was sorely disappointed, but she couldn’t convince him to come out that day, not for nothing.

But that afternoon she felt the contractions coming on again. After last night’s false alarm, though, she played them down. “It’s probably nothing again, I’m okay,” she kept saying, even after a contraction was strong enough to make her sit down and suck in a whole lot of air for a few minutes.

This went on for a couple hours, and the contractions didn’t seem to be going away. If anything, they seemed to be getting stronger, but B continued to downplay them. “Really, I’m all right,” she insisted, even while she sat slumped over, her head practically between her knees.

After a couple hours of that, B’s back was killing her. She wanted to try to walk it off, but I didn’t want to get too far from a phone, so I agreed to walk her up and down the street in front of the apartment. While we were out there, though, she wanted to keep walking down to the footpath through the woods. “Are you sure?” I asked her.

“Oh, yeah, I’ll be fine,” she assured me, even while she was still sucking wind. Since I wasn’t the one having contractions, and because she’d just been through a long night of them with no result, I reluctantly took her at her word, and off to the forest we went.

It was slow going. She would shuffle a dozen or so steps with one hand pressed against the small of her back, stop and make a this-is-killing-me face, then double over forward with her hands on her knees and take deep breaths for a minute or two before straightening up again and assuring me, “I’m fine, I’m okay.”

And I’d keep asking her, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, uh-huh,” she’d say, and for some weird reason I’d believe her.

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

“I’m okay, let’s keep going.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah, uh-huh.”

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

We did that over and over again until we were about a half-mile down the footpath, which was strangely empty for once. There we were, in the woods, far away from any telephone, and neither one of us knew how to say, “Take me to a hospital, I’m about to have a baby,” in German. Boy, were we stupid.

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

“Uh, I think we’d better get to the hospital.”


“Yeah. I think we’d better head back and get to the hospital.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to hurry a very pregnant woman to the hospital when the only hurrying she can do is a very slow shuffle. I know she was in a lot of pain just then, but I was primed and ready to literally explode. I have never been so juiced up with adrenaline in my life, yet there was nothing I could do. With that much nervous energy banging on every one of my muscle fibers I should’ve been able to scoop her up in my arms and jump to the hospital in a single bound, but that’s Superman’s gig and I couldn’t get in on it. Talk about frustrating. What good does it do to get such a charge built up if you can’t do anything with it?

I was sure I’d have to deliver my own baby boy myself right there in the road in the middle of the forest, but somehow B found the strength to hold him back until we shuffled all the way to our apartment, where I phoned a friend who gave us a ride to the hospital. Only a little more than an hour after we got there, Tim popped out.

Certified | 3:09 am CST
Category: My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, T-Dawg, work | Tags:
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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Every so often I like to reach for a volume of the printed-out version of this drivel that I keep on a bookshelf over my desk and flip back to see what I was doing on today’s date five, ten, fifteen years ago. Sometimes it’s worth a laugh, sometimes I gain a little perspective, sometimes it’s just drivel and I don’t get anything out of it at all.

Come along with me, why don’t you, on today’s journey into my past:

Five years ago I was babbling about the virtues of my Volkswagen bug, so that hasn’t changed:

“I would definitely call my battleship the Crushasaurus,” T informed me the other day. He wants a battleship of his very own, at least as much as he wants a car and probably more so, and he’s monumentally bummed nobody makes them any more. It’s sort of the same way I feel about the Volkswagen Beetle, except that his desires work on a much grander scale; money’s no object.

Those new ones are cute, but they’re not the same as the trusty old cans that Volkswagen used to be most well-known for. I was the owner of three different vans, myself, but I bought a bug to drive to work when we returned to the States from Germany, married just three years and so poor we only had one ‘o’ to spell it with. The front fenders were rusting off and the engine hatch was stove-in from when the car had been rear-ended, so the owner let me have it for four hundred bucks.

The gate guard at Buckley air base shook his head when he saw it and told me, “I thought I had the junkiest vee-double-you in the state, but yours beats mine, hands-down!”

It may have been a rolling junk heap, but that bug made it through the worst snow storms Colorado could throw at me. One morning after work, after the snow plows had done their darndest to block all the side roads, I gunned the engine and the beetle nosed up and over every single drift; it was so short from front to back that it never hung up on a snowbank, just tipped right over and kept on going, easily sailing over the deep snow on the unplowed back streets like a skiff over the surface of a calm lake. It was almost magical.

Tim still remembers it as “the blue bug.” He was all of two or three years old and used to ride in a second-hand child seat in the back, but he can easily describe all the goofy rubber monster heads a previous owner had installed over the knobs on the dashboard, and the fossil I found tucked behind an armrest, so he must have been at least as taken with it as I was. Kids love go-karts, and a bug is like the best go-cart ever made. Too bad our roads are just too fast and our cars too big for them any more.

Ten years ago I didn’t have a blog. Instead, I sent an e-mail to a list of about two-dozen people. On this day in 2001 I used it to inform everyone I knew that we would be leaving Digby, England to transfer to Misawa, Japan:

To all relatives and ships at sea:

I’ve been assigned to the 301st Intel Squadron at Misawa, Japan, to report no later than October. Just thought you’d want to know. This finally unties the knot that got all tangled up last October when I tried to start the assignment process by volunteering for a slot at a station in Yorkshire. That got yanked from me almost immediately and I’ve been traveling down one blind alley after another ever since. I was about to start this week a poke and a jab at another sleeping giant, asking for help, when my commander called me to tell me that my rip had just come in. It’s not chisled in stone, but it’s closer than I’ve been in a while. Now we get to start the fun of sorting through all our stuff to find out what we keep, what we sell, and what we just plain trash, working toward the day that it all goes into great big boxes so the movers can bash it into little pieces. Moving is so much fun.

And fifteen years ago I was so wound up about some car trouble that I went on and on forever about it. The car was a Dodge Colt. I remember that, when we took it for a test drive, B didn’t like it. I did and bought it anyway. This was before I knew she was usually right and I should always listen to her:

I’m in a mood, so let’s cut to the chase: car problems suck. They don’t get better, they get worse. You can throw piles & piles of money at your car, but if the car sucks, it only continues to suck, and if your car’s pretty good, it still sucks, but it doesn’t suck as much as a car that sucks a lot. Sucking sucky suck-suck cars. Christ, I hate car problems.

So I already ran down what sucked about the last problem: it wouldn’t run because of a busted wire and a bad sensor in the fuel injection system, but of course it waited until I was two friggin blocks from the shop to stop working altogether, so not only did the shop charge me a pound of flesh, but I had to tow it two friggin sucky blocks and friggin pay the sucking tow friggin truck. Then, to add insult to injury to another injury, or something like that, the mech who got the car running again found a leak in the transmission casing – the “nosecone,” he called it. My transmission has a “nosecone.” It was the mech’s opinion that, when the guys at the other garage installed the rebuilt engine, they shoved the transmission’s nosecone about an inch forward so that it rubbed against the chassis hard enough and long enough to drill a hole or crack it or do something that leaked transmission fluid all over the garage floor. Now my car needs a new nosecone.

In other news, I took my tech test this morning, so that’s over with. I can’t reveal the actual test questions to you, because it’s punishable by having your toes cut off, but a question that could’ve been on the test might’ve sounded like this: “How many total steps are there on the north side of the headquarters building on Randolph AFB, Texas?” The questions were about that trivial. I’m so glad my career hangs on questions like that.

Well, there you go. A reminiscence, a major life change, and a lot of bitching about car trouble. It’s a pretty mixed bag and I’m not sure it showed me anything except tempus fugit with a vengeance.

Time Flies Like An Arrow | 5:30 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, T-Dawg, The O-Mobile, work | Tags: ,
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Saturday, December 25th, 2010

We opened presents last night because I couldn’t wait any longer. The kids aren’t as jazzed about Christmas as they were when they were wee little bugs, but I was so excited about seeing My Darling B open the prezzie I got for her that I knew I’d pee my pants if I had to wait until the next morning, so I lobbied for early Christmas and won.

I didn’t get her diamonds or anything like that, because she’s repeatedly warned me that, if I did, she’d only hock them and use the money to pay for a tropical cruise or a trip to Japan. I think she possibly overestimates the amount of money I’d feel comfortable spending on jewelry.

So I got her a zip-up hoodie and a t-shirt from Batch Bakehouse, our favorite bakery, just opened on Willy Street and always filled with fresh, delicious baked goods, except on Monday and Tuesday, which must be their weekend because they’re closed then. Probably a good thing because it’s just three blocks from the office where I work, so I walk over there once or twice a week for something to nosh on. I know I shouldn’t. All that butter. But it’s so good.

She got me a copy of The John Varley Reader. Remember the dream I had about trying to find the name of a science fiction story? It turned out to be Air Raid by John Varley, and it’s in this collection of his short stories. I read Air Raid again this morning and it’s every bit as good as I remember it. Much better than the novelized version (sorry, Mister Varley).

The boys didn’t get us anything for Christmas, so we stiffed them right back. Just kidding! T-Dawg got a recipe box, already loaded up with three or four of his favorite recipes, shepherd’s pie and stuff like that. The Seanster got a crisp new fifty-dollar bill because he gets harder to buy presents for every year.

And then we hung out until a little after nine o’clock before we started drifting off to bed, because we’re all lightweights, except for Seanee-boy who lives on Moscow time. We still have the stockings to dig into this morning, if and when the boys turn out of bed and gather round for Christmas cheer.

Prezzies! | 10:09 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags: , ,
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Monday, December 20th, 2010

And the whole family’s home once again. I drove out to the airport with T-Dawg last night to pick up the Seanster, who somehow arrived so close to his originally scheduled time as to make no difference. I only mention that because the guy’s been haunted by a modern-day travel curse that makes it impossible for his flight to depart on time, ever.

But he was not only at the airport waiting for us, we were able to call him and ask him to wait at the curb for us to pick him up. I’ve always wondered how it’s possible for people to do that, probably because I’ve never picked up anybody on time at the airport. We didn’t even have to shut the engine off, just pull up to the curb and let him jump in. Amazing.

Once home, we crowded around the dinner table and gobbled up bowl after bowl of My Darling B’s delicious home-made chili while catching up, and then spent a couple hours discussing the woes of the world and how we would solve them all if we were in charge. I’m happy to report that, with all our powers combined, we can have it fixed in a jiffy.

Together again | 6:39 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, travel
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Sunday, December 12th, 2010

image of me with beerI might possibly have drunk a little too much beer yesterday.

I was having dinner with My Darling B about two weeks ago at the Alchemy cafe, where I saw a poster for an upcoming tour of several breweries in the Milwaukee area. It was their first-ever attempt at putting together a tour like this, and we like supporting local business people who show this kind of initiative, so we signed up to go.

And it was my birthday this weekend, so it made a nice present.

So yesterday morning at eight-thirty we climbed into a taxi and headed into town. The bus was already waiting in front of Alchemy when we got there and the guy who organized the tour, Justin, was checking people in, which consisted of giving us a button with “Hop Head Beer Tour” on it and making us sign a waiver that said, and I’m sort of gisting it here, “You might get drunk and do stupid things that we don’t want to be responsible for, so sign here.”

They started getting us into the spirit of the tour right off the bat by handing out samples at the bar where B and I settled down for a cup of coffee. B sipped at a splash of a seasonal beer that I don’t recall the name of and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t, either, so I’m not even going to bother asking. I ended up with a snort of cherry brandy the bartender makes his own darned self in a huge glass flask that was sitting in plain view on the bar, and like a big dummy I asked him what it was. That’s how I ended up with a dram in a shot glass.

We all loaded on to the bus and left town at about quarter past nine, hitting the interstate by nine-thirty and hitting the sauce just five minutes or so after that. Justin brought along one of his friends, Nate, a brewer from the Great Dane Pub & Brewing, and they both brought several growlers of their favorite beers, passed out Dixie cups and started pouring samples for us to enjoy. The hour and a half drive gave us just enough time to enjoy a pour of each of the growlers and even get a taste of the pony keg they brought along. These guys went all-out to maximize our beer enjoyment on this trip.

image of a hundred swilling santasOur first stop was the Lakefront Brewery where we had the surreal experience of walking into the middle of an annual migration of bicycling santas who stop at Lakefront to refill their hydration bottles and load up on carbs before continuing on their cold, snowy trip.

I have to say that Lakefront was probably our best stop of the day, not just because it was the first one and I can remember most of it, but because they seemed to be having so goddamn much fun there, particularly our tour guide, Oliver, who had quite a schtick worked up to explain the history of the brewery and the making of beer. The tour began at the mash tuns, exported from Germany and still labeled with lots of little placards in German that said “Achtung!” and so on, and ended up at the bottling machine, also a bargain-basement piece of equipment from a soda factory. When we got there, Oliver switched on a tape player and led us through a chorus of the theme from “Laverne and Shirley” and switched on the machine so a bottle with a glove on top came around the track on the machine. Don’t even tell me you don’t know what that’s about.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was stopping to see the giant beer stein that used to be in the baseball stadium where the Brewers played. That stadium was torn down and the guys at Lakefront managed to snag the stein and set it up in the back corner of the brewery. Oliver tells us the Brewers tried to buy it back from them for a truckload of money. The brewery owners said, “You can have it back if you leave our name on the side.” They didn’t go for that, and the giant beer stein still sits in the back of the brewery.

After buying some souvenir beers at Lakefront, we loaded up the bus and went downtown to the Milwaukee Ale House to get some lunch. It was like pretty much every other downtown brewpub I’ve ever been to, and yet they did have the most amazingly delicious potato chips I think I’ve ever eaten in my whole life, period. I could have eaten one great big plate of those all by themselves, loaded up another great big plate and eaten myself to death on them. Truly, they were dangerously good. Oh, and beer. They served pretty good beer there, too. We especially liked an ale aged in bourbon barrels. I usually don’t go for that, but this was exceptionally well-made.

Just a few blocks down the road from the brew pub we pulled up to the Milwaukee Brewing Company where they made the beer served at the pub in a plain cinderblock building. It couldn’t have looked more like a public utility if it had been made of poured concrete, inside or out. The able staff gathered us around the bar, tore open a box filled with pint glasses, filled us up and took us on a tour of the brewing plant, which once again could have been the inside of a brewery, or a gas-fired electric power plant. It would have been impossible to tell without a tour guide to point and tell us where the water went in and the beer came out, especially as they took some liberties with labeling the controls. I found a set of dials labeled “flux capacitor” and after that I kept looking for other easter eggs, but never did locate a continuum transfunctioner.

By the time we left I was feeling a bit tipsy and I fell asleep on the ride to the Delafield Brewhaus. They set us up with a flight of tasters; I think there was a porter, and I definitely remember a weiss, or maybe it was a Belgian style, but to tell the truth I wasn’t hitting on all cylinders by then and what I really needed was something to eat, so I ordered their combo plate. What they brought me was a huge platter heaped with chunks of brown food-like substances: onion rings, cheese and chicken fingers, all breaded and deep-fried to the point of unrecognizability. And just in case that wasn’t enough, it was served with a side of french fries, more than we could ever normally eat if we didn’t have the munchies from drinking beer all afternoon. We polished off every last bit of it, got our complimentary pint glass filled on the way out and climbed aboard the bus for the trip home.

I remember virtually nothing of the trip home. Loaded up with beer and fried foods, I fell asleep almost instantly and didn’t wake up until we began winding through the streets of Madison, where thick, heavy snow was falling. Naturally, we couldn’t get a cab. This seems to happen to us every time we try to do the responsible thing and take a cab when we know we’ll be coming home late after drinking a lot of beer. It’s like the universe wants us to drink and drive. Well, lucky for us Tim not only answered his phone, he was also willing to pick us up and take us home on the snow-covered, slippery streets. What a guy.

Hop Head Beer Tour | 3:58 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, T-Dawg | Tags: , , , ,
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Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Now that Sean has gone back to Denver, and My Darling B has gone back to work, I’ll have to go back to the fun of keeping up with the yard work and the housekeeping. Oh, and I suppose I’ll have to look for work, too.

We put Sean on a plane to Denver last night. Whenever his flight’s been delayed in the past, he’s called us to while away the time waiting to board but, since we didn’t get a call last night, I’m assuming he actually departed on time, arrived in Denver when he expected he would and was so bushed from traveling that he went straight to bed after getting home, promising himself that he would call us in the morning. Yeah, that’s what happened.

B returned to work reluctantly, as we all do if we’ve managed to snag a full week away from the office to visit beautifully lush gardens, host a big party here at Our Humble O’Bode, paddle a kayak across Mud Lake and otherwise spend lots of quality time with family. She desperately wanted to play hookie today but fully realized she’d only have to deal with the same inclination tomorrow, so she packed up her lunch bag and soldiered on. She’s such a trooper.

Cheeseburger for lunch! Same as yesterday, and again tomorrow.

Back To Unemployment | 4:49 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, Seanster, T-Dawg, work
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Monday, July 19th, 2010

image of Jordandal Farm, Argyle WI

Cows! We went to see the cows at Jordandal Farm yesterday! Let me hear you say “Moo!”

When we go to the farmer’s market every weekend we buy most of our meats from Jordandal. We’ve never been disappointed by the food and Carrie and Maria have never been anything but friendly and helpful, so when we heard there would be a picnic lunch and farm tour at Jordandal sponsored by REAP, we signed up in a heartbeat.

REAP Food Group is a Madison organization devoted to promoting public support of local farmers and restaurants, and educating the public about what they put in their faces, should they want to know such things. Many people don’t, so it has the feel of a specialty group, which B and I like quite a lot. Besides the Day At The Farm event, REAP also organized the Burgers & Brew fest we went to last month (the one where we got soaked eating hamburgers in a downpour).

Jordandal Farm is a small, family-owned farm between New Glarus and Argyle, a corner of Wisconsin where we always get lost no matter how many times we ask each other, “Left or right on C?” Maybe there are iron ore deposits in the soil that make our internal compasses spin out of control, I don’t know. We navigated our way to Jordandal with no trouble, but when we headed home we got turned around and were halfway to Dubuque, Iowa, before we realized we’d gone the wrong way. Getting there took a little less than an hour; getting back took longer, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

REAP set up this Day At The Farm with a lunch prepared by chefs from several of the most well-known restaurants in downtown Madison using ingredients from local farms, because that’s what REAP is about. The lunch menu included a meaty drumstick, potato salad and a sandwich, all given a little extra zing by way of spicy Thai recipes. Even Sean’s culinary demands were satisfied, and that’s quite an endorsement.

We queued up for an early lunch so we could take the farm tour at noon. We were there bang-on time but somehow didn’t hook up with the tour until they were coming back from the chicken pens, so we hung out in the barn where Eric was showing off one of their cows and its newborn calf. B wanted to pet the calf but was too shy to shove aside the gaggle of two-year-olds clustered tightly around it. (I tried to snap a photo for you but it was dark in there and B wouldn’t hold still.)

Besides the cows, Carrie and Eric also raise pigs, turkeys and sheep. The cows provide rich milk that Brunkow Cheese near Darlington turns into some scrumptious cheeses under the Fayette Creamery label. We can tell you from the results of many happy cookouts that the pigs are especially tasty, and unless my memory has failed me B has prepared lamb from Jordandal at least once (it’s a very occasional treat). We’ve also ordered turkey from them before but it was a different breed than the one they’re raising now. I’m probably forgetting something; I’m still a little numb from the idea that two people can manage to take care of so much.

Because the weather was scorching and we were in that neck of the woods anyway, we finished our day out with a stop at the New Glarus brewery, one of those places we’ve been saying for years that we ought to visit because it’s practically outside our back door. The brewery, on a hilltop at the south edge of New Glarus, had a shaded garden overlooking the pastures of the Wisconsin countryside where we could sit and enjoy a cool afternoon breeze while we sipped our samplers. A better end to the day could not have been had if we’d planned it (we sort of did, but My Darling B, who’s all about options, pack so many contingencies into these trips that they always take on the character of an afternoon played almost entirely by ear).

image of intrepid explorers

The O-Folk became a band of intrepid explorers this morning when we paddled our tiny fleet of kayaks from the lagoon behind the Rutabaga Paddle Sports store, then down the Yahara River and across Mud Lake and continued on south through Lake Waubesa to the boat landing in the county park. I can’t tell you exactly how far that is, but I can tell you how far it feels like.

My Darling B, the events coordinator for the past week, wanted an activity that would appeal to the O-Guys so she looked around and thought: Kayaking! We’ll rent a bunch of kayaks from Rutabaga and paddle around on the lakes! It’ll be like The Three Stooges Go Fishing! Maybe it’ll even turn into a Tweedle Beetle Puddle Battle! Nice try, B.

We did have a pretty darned good time, though, and I learned that it takes one heck of a lot longer to paddle from here to there than I thought. We picked the kayaks up at ten o’clock and chose the half-day rental so we could have them until two-thirty. In that much time I figured we could paddle from Monona to the moon and back, but we hardly got halfway down the western coast of Lake Waubesa before we figured it would be a good time to turn back.

Our short stop at the boat landing on Lake Waubesa gave Tim the opportunity to show us how not to get out of a kayak when pulled up alongside a dock. Actually, I missed his presentation entirely as I was facing the wrong way, and I couldn’t get him to re-enact it even though he was already soaked, so I guess I’ll have to learn that lesson on my own.

image of Tim and Sean in kayaks

One other very important thing I learned was that tandem kayaks pretty much suck as far as watercraft go, or at least the one that B and I were paddling did. We spent almost the whole day out doinking around with the adjustments to the seats and footrests and never did get them where we felt comfortable enough that we could say we were happy with it. Neither one of us had enough legroom and the seats were designed by a sadist. I was all gung-ho about buying a kayak last summer, and now my aching butt and crippled legs are thanking me that I didn’t.

Tim, on the other hand, was really very happy with his kayak, so happy that he wants to buy one as soon as possible. He’s even already done a little research into accessories and found there are lots of changes he can make to the seat so it doesn’t feel like a rotweiler’s chewing on his rear end. If I were going to buy something to go paddling around in, though, I’m pretty sure that, after today’s experience, I’d go with a canoe, and I’m pretty sure B would second that.

A Fine Day Out | 5:00 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, farmer's market, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags: , , , ,
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Thursday, March 11th, 2010

“Got time for a question that doesn’t have anything to do with anything?” Tim asked me the other day.

I just love questions that don’t have anything to do with anything, so I said, “Shoot!”

“If you want to increase the amount of heat in a circuit, do you increase the voltage or the current.”

Well, damn. I used to know that kind of thing, but I don’t tinker so much with trying to make electrical circuits hotter so I don’t go doing things like increasing the voltage or the current.

“I’m not sure,” I told him. “It’s just a guess, but I think you have to increase the amperage.” I liked that answer because “increase the amperage” made me sound as if I knew what I was talking about.

He seemed satisfied with that, and I figured he would probably go look it up himself later anyway, so I let it go.

Then, about a half-hour later while I was thinking about other things that didn’t have anything to do with anything, a light bulb lit over my head. As soon as I could, I got to a phone and dialed Tim’s number.

“It’s volts,” I said.

“Really? Volts? How’d you remember that?”

“Apollo 13 blew up because the space ship was designed as a twenty-four volt system, but was upgraded to a 36-volt system. The heater in the oxygen tank was built for the old system and got too hot during a test run.”

“It’s cool that you remember that,” he said, and he really meant it. “I guess knowing all that space geek stuff might actually be good for something, eh?”

geekiness pays off | 3:27 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby, O'Folks, play, space geekery, T-Dawg
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Sunday, December 27th, 2009

We finally got around to playing that game of Risk last night.

B fixed some doner kebaps for dinner using the leftover lamb from the night before. A doner is a Turkish gyro, roast lamb sliced thin and piled in the pocket of a pita-like bread with lots of veggies and yogurt sauce. We discovered them while I was stationed in Berlin and loved them so much we still miss them ten twenty years later.

B has learned to make a sauce that comes so very close to the original doner sauce as to make no difference, and it’s easy to get the veggies right. The ingredient we can only approximate is the lamb. It was slow-roasted with lots of spices. I haven’t tasted lamb like that since.

But B keeps tweaking her recipe to see how close she can get. The doners she made last night were delicious, and took almost no time to make (compared to the food preparation she goes through for other dishes), leaving us lots of time to play Risk.

We started the game in the usual way:

Tim staked a claim in Australia and swore to hold it against all invaders. He did this, and more. There’s a first time for everything.

B announced she was going to remain completely neutral throughout the game, and even though she never made a move that you could say was intent on taking over the world, yet somehow she managed to stay in the game until the very end, and made a pretty good showing of it, too.

I tried staking a claim on Asia this time, mostly just because I hadn’t done that in quite a while. Unfortunately, I have no strategy for holding on to Asia, something you must have if you want to build an Asian empire, even in a game so basic as Risk. The experiment failed miserably. I’ll stick to North America from now on.

Sean set his sights on North America this time and did a pretty good job of hanging on to it, right up until the very end. His last, significant move came when he turned in his Risk cards in exchange for something like thirty or forty armies and went on a rampage across Asia that destroyed quite a lot of Tim’s forces (Tim had conquered my territories by that time) and might have even wiped Tim completely off the board if he hadn’t painted himself into a corner in China. There he sat with fifteen or twenty armies and nowhere to go.

Tim’s turn was next. He slaughtered Sean.

B was still on the board but, by that time, all she wanted was for the game to be over so she could go read a book. Sean was feeling much the same way by then, so they both conceded and Tim declared himself ruler of the world.

Risk | 6:13 am CST
Category: My Darling B, Seanster, T-Dawg
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Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Happy birthday to Tim!

Happy birthday to Tim!

Let’s have supper with Nazis!

Wait … supper with Nazis?

Nazis. Jackboot-wearing Nazis. Skinheaded, swastikas tattooed on their necks, wearing t-shirts made to look like rock concert souvenirs with the dates of “Hitler’s European Tour” on the back.

It was the first time we’d been to a Denny’s in nine, maybe ten years. We thought it would be a goofy treat for Tim on his birthday. He ordered a big stack of pancakes to stuff down his neck and we were enjoying the nostalgia of the moment when Barb’s eyes got all serious and she said, “Oh, no.”

She was facing the parking lot. I had to turn around but all I needed was a glance to know they were Nazis. Don’t rush to judge me. If they’d been wearing brown shirts, arm bands, goose-stepping across the parking lot singing “Deutchland über alles” it would have been just as obvious. It’s not like they blend in.

We were in the non-smoking section. “Maybe they’re all smoking Nazis,” I said hopefully, but of course they weren’t. They crowded in, re-arranged several tables and sat down right behind us.

I realized I would have to look at them all through my meal. I wanted to ask the waiter if he could seat us in the smoking section, but I didn’t. I wimped out. I got all self-important and thought, I’m a big boy, I don’t have to get all bent out of shape about this. I may be all grown up, but it turns out I’ve got some pretty visceral feelings about Nazis I can’t set aside. The waiter set that plate of scrumptious French toast in front of me and I suddenly had no appetite at all. It would have been more appetizing if he’d dumped it on the floor of the men’s room.

When our waiter cashed us out, he apologized for not coming by to freshen our coffee and do all the rest of that waiting stuff. He was busy helping the waitress take orders from the Nazis and bring them their Cokes, almost as if they were normal customers. Why do they even serve Nazis, anyway? The government has to let them speak in public places, but Denny’s doesn’t have to serve them. It’s a private restaurant. Turning Nazis away at the door is not the same as, for instance, refusing to serve gays. Homosexuals don’t proclaim they’re the master race and slander ethnics. I guess Nazis have to eat, just like the rest of us, but why can’t the manager give them directions to the grocery store and suggest a nice picnic table along the side of the road where they can make some sandwiches?

Oh, listen to me talk. I couldn’t even get up and move out of the section.

Freaking Nazis.

One thing’s for sure: It’s a birthday meal Tim won’t soon forget.

dinner with Nazis | 7:08 am CST
Category: daily drivel, O'Folks, story time, T-Dawg
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Friday, January 18th, 2002

It’s 6:30 in the morning – let the pandemonium begin!

Sean didn’t wake up to his alarm, so I knocked on his door until I heard him bustle around and grumble something that sounded like “drat!” He’ll be in a mood all morning; he has to be at school by 7:20, and if he doesn’t have at least an hour and a half to get ready (thirty minutes of that goes to wolfing down three bowls of cereal), he feels rushed.

Tim gets up with the rest of us. Don’t know why. He doesn’t have to be at school until around 8:20, but he still drags himself out of bed and goes to work scattering little reminders of his presence everywhere. By the time he leaves, for instance, there will be at least three books lying open through the house, one on the breakfast table (usually Calvin & Hobbes), one on the living room floor (he’s re-reading a Harry Potter for the 97th time), and one will be a surprise.

My Darling B still gets up when the boys get up, but she doesn’t have to make lunch any more – they do that for themselves now – so she just looks pretty. In another week or so she’ll have to start going to school again, though, so she’ll be getting ready with the rest of them.

morning routine | 3:41 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags:
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Thursday, December 27th, 2001

Tim and I went sledding today. Last time we went, we drove out to the “ski hill” on the other side of the base, but this time we tromped a block up the road where, it turns out, there’s a great sledding hill right next to one of the tower apartment blocks. The best run looks like instant suicide when you’re standing at the top, but once you’re shooting down the inside of that first turn, you’re having the time of your life.

And what better way to enjoy a great sledding hill than on a saucer? Santa found one somewhere and left it under our tree, so I had a go and they’re every bit as much fun as I remember them. Right out of the gates I was going sideways, then backwards, and on my third or fourth run I just about flattened a kid. It was dead easy; he wasn’t even looking. I screamed “Heads up!” over and over, but he was too busy yelling at one of his buddies to pay any attention, so I put up my arm to shield my head from what looked like was going to be a whopping body slam, but just brushed him on the way past. Drat.

flying saucer | 5:44 am CST
Category: T-Dawg | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, December 26th, 2001

Sean’s very sorry, all the time, about everything. Even if he had nothing to do with whatever went wrong, he’s still very sorry about it. There can’t possibly be a more apologetic person on the face of the earth.

Barb and I have tried to figure out where all this guilt comes from, but so far it’s beyond out powers to decipher it. Besides, from where I sit, it’s just about impossible for just two mere mortals such as we to ever provide as much guilt as he constantly feels, even if we concentrated solely on him. As it turns out, for our guilt trips to have any effect we have to dump twice as much on Tim these days as we ever did before, as he builds up immunity. Even when it does have the desired effect of getting him off his butt, Tim is already a master at turning the tables to make sure everybody knows he thinks that whatever it wrong must be our fault, not his, and he’s doing us a huge favor by taking care of it.

Turning the fire hose on Tim cuts pretty deeply into what little guilt we can supply to Sean, not that he’s any less humble for it. He’s a canary in a coal mine when it comes to reacting to the smallest, simplest guilt trip, and will immediately set into fixing whatever went wrong, with his head bowed, dead sure that it was all his fault. He’s more than willing to let everybody know it was his fault, too.

It’s been said that guilt is a double-edged sword, but in Sean’s case it’s nothing so refined as a keenly-honed blade. It’s blunt trauma with a thick club, and that’s the way he likes it. He would’ve made a great Catholic if he’d taken that route, but if we tried to steer him that way now he’d only be disappointed.

guilt trip | 5:38 am CST
Category: Seanster, T-Dawg
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Tuesday, December 18th, 2001

The Christmas tree’s starting to look pretty brown. We had to buy it several weeks ago because about the only place to get a real Christmas tree around here is from the Boy Scout lot, and they get one shipment of trees at about Thanksgiving. I’m all for being prepared, but that’s a little too prepared for me. Dunno if we’ll be getting a real tree next year. There’s still a week to go before Christmas and this one’s so tinder-dry that we’re afraid to turn the lights on at night for fear that it’ll go up like a match head.

Sean played in the holiday concert tonight. There was a pretty long program, but I got Tim to go see at least the first half of it, and the intermediate band played within the first hour. Then we slipped out so Tim could “finish his homework;” it turned out that he had about five minutes’ worth.

Barb went to Aomori in the afternoon to see the Leningrad Ballet do The Nutcracker. She didn’t want to miss the concert, but she didn’t know there was going to be a concert when she signed up, and she loves The Nutcracker, so she bought tickets the minute she saw them on sale.

Christmas treats | 7:12 pm CST
Category: My Darling B, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags:
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Saturday, December 8th, 2001

With about six inches of fluffy snow on the ground, Tim and I had to try out the sledding hill north of main base. It’s not too bad, but it’d be better if it were steeper, or if we had a couple saucers to get going really fast. Remember saucers, the most insanely suicidal thing ever made to travel on snow? Couldn’t steer them, couldn’t even be sure if you were going to face forward, but you knew for damn sure you were going to reach speeds that would get you airborne if only you had wings, and sometimes you didn’t need wings. I don’t see them for sale here, so I’m guessing that lawsuits have finally eliminated them from the face of the earth.

Something else the sledding hill could use that has probably disappeared because it makes insurance companies pee their pants: a tow rope. Back in the snow-covered wastelands of Wisconsin where I froze solid many times, you could sometimes find a sledding hill where somebody had jerry-rigged a rope they’d wound around the wheel rim of an old tractor parked at the top of the hill. The rope was a big loop that hung over old tire rims on telephone poles on the way down, and dragged along the ground on the way back up. All you had to do to get back to the top was lie on your sled and grab the rope. You had to know how to ride it; if you didn’t grab it just right, it’d rip your arms out of their sockets, and you had to pay attention on the way up or you’d get dragged into the telephone poles. In a lot of ways, it was a more exciting ride on the way up than down.

Funny how all these things come back to you. I remember going about a hundred miles an hour, screaming my lungs out all the way down the hill, which Tim did this time, except that we were going about walking speed because the snow was so thick and hadn’t been properly packed down for speed. Somebody built up a ramp, which Tim managed to hit two or three times; that really made his day. He’s got a small ramp built right outside our front door, and he can shoot across the yard standing on his sled. There are quite a few other hills right in the neighborhood that are probably good for sledding, and I imagine he’ll find them all; he’s pretty crazy for the snow.

crazy for snow | 6:53 am CST
Category: T-Dawg | Tags: , ,
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Friday, November 9th, 2001

The culture report came back; turns out Timmy has strep throat after all. Poor fellah’s been hacking up phlegm all day, and now he’s got to toss back a dose of vile-tasking penicillin three times a day.

cultured strep | 6:40 am CST
Category: T-Dawg
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