Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

We had ramen for dinner at the Robin Room, which is a cocktail bar on Johnson Street. Last night, though, they had two local chefs in their kitchen (they have a kitchen, even though they’re mostly about cocktails) whipping up bowls of some of the most delicious ramen I’ve ever eaten.

The were planning to start serving ramen at seven, so we got there at about quarter till and the place was already pretty busy. Still, we managed to snag a couple stools at the bar and only had to wait maybe five or ten minutes for the bartender to get around to taking our drinks orders.

While the bartender was making our drinks, we noticed that the beginnings of a line was starting to form at the back of the bar. I suggested to B that she go get in line so she could pick up her ramen right away, and then I would get in line to get mine.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Just five minutes or so after she got in line, I looked up from my phone to see that there were now at least two dozen people in a line stretching from the kitchen at the back of the bar all the way to the front door. Even if B came back with her ramen right away, I wouldn’t get my bowl for quite some time. In fact, most of the people at the end of the line never got any ramen; they sold out in less than an hour.

B, however, did not leave me high and dry. When she was finally able to place her order, she asked for two bowls of ramen, and I went to get mine as soon as she brought hers back to her stool.

It was some of the most fabulously delicious ramen I’ve ever eaten. The noodles were just right, the broth was rich and buttery, and the pork roll was nice and fatty. I went to bed fat and happy. It all turned out to be a little too rich for me, though. Two hours after turning out the light, I woke up with a bloated belly and the feeling that my heart was somewhere beneath my stomach, thudding away. My constitution has become such a delicate little thing in my old age. I was up most of the night trying to get it to settle down. I will never regret eating that ramen, though.

constitutionally challenged | 3:12 am CDT
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Monday, May 23rd, 2016

I quite like this one, too.

SHOWTIME! | 7:58 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

I just can’t get enough of this video.

WORK! | 1:09 pm CDT
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Saturday, May 7th, 2016

For the first time in six years (seven?), B and I will not be going to the Great Taste of the Midwest. We got up early, got dressed, got in the car and, after several fuckups, got underway, but we were only a block from home when B thought to ask herself, out loud, whether the Great Taste feel on the same weekend as the Shakesperience, a three-day event in August we signed up for last week. A quick Google search proceed that it was, and that ea the end of our trip to buy tickets last weekend.

It wasn’t a snap decision. In fact, we drove all the way to Cork & Barrel, the liquor store where the tickets were sold, as we debated whether or not to go ahead and buy the tickets anyway. In the end, we knew that the Great Taste wouldn’t be much different this year than it was last year, that it would be there next year, and that there would be so many other beer fests going on this summer that we would not want for craft beer in an outdoor setting, if we should develop a sudden jonesing for one.

Just for yucks, we drove past Cork & Barrel and Star Liquor to see how long the lines were. The line to Cork & Barrel wrapped around the front of the block this year, instead of going around the back, so we were momentarily gobsmacked when we drove up and saw no line where we expected to see dozens and dozens of people. And oh, did they look miserable. A few had tents or umbrellas or some kind of cover, but quite a few only had blankets. It wasn’t raining hard, but it had been raining all night and temps were in the forties, so they all had to be chilled to the bone.

bailing out | 12:40 pm CDT
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Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

“Valley of Love” followed Gerard Depardeau and Isabelle Huppert playing the divorced parents of a son they have recently learned has committed suicide. The day before, we had seen Isabelle Huppert in “Louder Than Bombs,” a movie where her character committed suicide. Although she’s a wonderful actor, I’m kinda apprehensive about seeing another Isabelle Huppert movie now.

Just before the son killed himself, he wrote a letter to each of his parents, beseeching them to visit one of several different tourist spots in Death Valley over a period of a week. If they did this, he promised that they would see him.

His mother seemed to believe in psychics and visitations from beyond. His father flat-out didn’t and plainly said so, but went along with it, apparently to make his mother happy.

The first two-thirds of the movie painted a sincerely honest and endearing portrait of the mother and father as they tried to come to terms with the death of their son. In the final third of the movie, however, it turned into kind of a stupid ghost story, and everything that came before was pretty much ruined. We were so disappointed coming out of this movie. Three out of four.

We had about an hour and a half to while away between “Valley of Love” and our next movie, “Under the Sun”, so B and I walked across the street to have a beer on the patio at the Great Dane. Among the other things we talked about (what a beautiful day, isn’t this beer delicious, etc), I made sure that I told B, “You know what? If I ever off myself — and I’m not thinking about it, just so you know — and I leave a note or a letter behind, please just burn that shit. Don’t read it to find out why I did it or to find out if I had any last dying wishes. Just toss it.”

I wasn’t kidding. Because there’s no explanation for a suicide, and it seems to me that anybody who wants one is probably looking for assurance that they weren’t the one that tipped him over the edge. It’s the only way the question, “Did he leave a note?” makes sense to me. If you didn’t know a person well enough in life to know why he decided to kill himself, a note’s not going to bring you up to speed. The only way it’s going to help is if it says, “It’s all on me, not on you or anybody else. I love you. Good-bye.”

Valley Of Love | 7:00 am CDT
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Thursday, April 21st, 2016

“Sunset Song” was a period piece about the hard life of a young Scottish woman. That’s pretty much it. Looks great. Story’s well-written. Liked the acting. Gave it four out of five.

The documentary “In Transit” was interviews with several random people traveling cross-country on an Amtrak passenger train. Three out of five.

“Sergio Herman: Fucking Perfect” was a documentary about one of those chefs who owns several restaurants that are so popular you have to call years in advance to book a table. Going to one of them is not a meal, it’s an event, and the chef spends hours a day hunched over each and every dish, carefully arranging sprigs of rosemary around thinly-sliced beef. This guy is more into food than anything else, probably even more than his family, but his wife seems to be okay with that, until about midway through the film when chef announced that he would be closing one of his restaurants. In a brief clip, his wife says something like, This will be great, he’ll have time to spend with the children and help me around the house. My first thought was, Clearly you do not know this guy as well as you think you do. I’ve been watching him for barely and hour and I already know he’s not going to let up on the gas at all. And sure enough, in the scenes that follow he opens another restaurant in what looks like a great big church and as the film closes, he’s bustling around the kitchen. I’m not a foodie so I didn’t care much for this film, and gave it three out of five. B happens to be a foodie, but she thought it could have been better, and gave it the same.

“Operation Avalanche” was a found-footage comic documentary that followed two new recruits to the CIA who learn, pretty much by accident, that NASA won’t be able to figure out how to land on the moon until 1971 at the earliest, so they hatch a plan to fake the moon landing. I just know that some day footage from this film is going to be used in a moon-hoax conspiracy video. Four out of five.

WFF Final Day | 10:00 pm CDT
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Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

We saw four movies today, all at Sundance on the west side of town:

“Valley of Love” followed Gerard Depardeau and Isabelle Huppert playing the divorced parents of a son they have recently learned has committed suicide. Writing a letter to each of them at the time of his death, he beseeched them to meet at several different tourist spots in Death Valley, where he promised that they would see him. His mother seems to believe in psychics and visitations from beyond. His father flat-out doesn’t, but goes along with it, apparently to make his mother happy. The first two-thirds of the movie paint a sincerely honest and endearing portrait of these two as they come to terms with the death of their son. In the final third of the movie turned it into a heavy-handed ghost story that all but ruined everything that came before. Three out of four.

“Under the Sun” was a startlingly revealing documentary about life in North Korea, filmed by a Russian crew that was invited to record a day in the life of a typical North Korean family. Footage that was obviously not meant to be used in the finished film, so that North Korean handlers are continually seen coaching the film’s subject on what to say and how to say it. Five out of five.

“Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words” is just what it says on the tin. Archived films and photos illustrate passages from Bergman’s diary and letters to friends. Four out of five.

I don’t think I’ve seen a Roberto Rosellini film before, and if “Europe ’51” is exemplary of his work, I don’t think I’ll be seeing one again. Walked out after watching half of it and couldn’t bear any more. No stars.

WFF day seven | 10:00 pm CDT
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Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

Only three movies today, our lightest day at the film fest all week:

“Best of the British Arrows” is always a crowd-pleaser. A collection of some of the best television advertisements from Europe, they usually lean toward humor, although it seems to me that nobody can make a more pointed public service announcement than the British.

I liked “Little Men” a lot. B thought it was so-so. A family moves to a Brooklyn apartment over a store. The family’s son becomes close friends with the store owner’s son, but the parents do not become friendly at all. Wonderful acting all around made this movie a treat to watch. Five out of five.

“Louder Than Bombs” was a drama that started with a birth, then spent the next two hours examining how the death of a mother affected her sons and her husband in ways that often contradicted their outward behavior. Five out of five.

WFF day six | 10:00 pm CDT
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Monday, April 18th, 2016

No trouble getting to the movies today. We reviewed our schedule the night before and again this morning. Our first movie started at one, so we set an alarm to remind us to get out of the house by noon, and we actually left about ten minutes before noon. No panic today, no sir.

No panic | 10:22 pm CDT
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“Nahid” was a whole lot of drama about a woman who was ripping off the kind, compassionate man who wanted to marry her so she could pay off the debts she was drowning in from trying to raise her brat of a son without any help from her douchebag ex-husband. Four out of five.

“My Love, Don’t Cross That River” was a tender tribute to a couple married seventy-some years. Four out of five.

“The Witness” was a documentary that followed Bill Genovese as he learned about the murder of his sister, Kitty Genovese, in 1964. The story went viral when the New York Times famously asserted that dozens of people witnessed the murder but did nothing to help. In Bill’s interviews with people who lived in the aparement building across the street, he learns otherwise. Four out of Five.

“The Mountain” was an unexpectedly gripping drama about a woman growing increasingly frustrated with her marriage to a husband who has no time for her and her life in a house that is virtually a tomb and literally part of the cemetary on the Mount of Olives. Five out of five.

WFF 2016 day five | 10:00 pm CDT
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Sunday, April 17th, 2016

We almost didn’t make it to the first movie we wanted to see today. It started at noon, so the night before we agreed that we would leave the house no later than eleven o’clock. Fast-forward to the next morning and we were be-bopping around the kitchen, singing along with the soundtrack from the Broadway play “Hamilton,” our newest favorite musical ever.

After singing our way through acts one and two, I stepped into the shower to clean up. B took her shower a little while later. When she stepped into the shower, I noticed that it was already eleven o’clock, but I said to myself, Surely she knows what time it is and when the show starts, so I didn’t say anything. And she took a good, long shower, as she should be expected to do when she’s on vacation. But the longer she was in there, the more I asked myself, How are we going to the movie on time?

When she finally stepped out of the bathroom at eleven thirty, toweling her hair dry, I asked her, You know the movie starts at noon, right?

Right, she said.

Well, I said, looking at the clock, I don’t think we’re going to make it.

She stopped toweling her hair, looked at the clock, too, and said, Oh, shit.

But we decided to try anyway, packed up the car and hit the road, B’s hair still damp from the shower. Traffic on the Beltline was very light and we managed to pull into the parking ramp by the theater at about five past noon, hurried over to the theater and found that people were still waiting in line for the first movie, collect our tickets and got in line just minutes before they opened the doors. Even got some pretty good seats, although they were a little closer than we usually want to be.

How to almost miss a movie | 10:00 am CDT
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“Rwanda & Juliet” is about a retired Dartmouth professor who travels to the trouble spots of the world to produce Shakespeare’s plays. In Rawanda, the young men and women are more than a little skeptical of his intention to reconcile Hutus and Tutsis through his production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Four out of Five.

“Sonita” is a documentary about a young woman from Afghanistan who fled to Iran to escape the Taliban, only to have her mother try to take her back because marrying her off would bring the family $9,000 that they need to pay for the marriage of another relative. But Sonita has spent her time in Iran learning music and earning awards. Her music video about child marriage wins her a scholarship to a school in the U.S. Five out of five.

“The Fear of 13” is ninety minutes of one guy sitting in front of a camera, spinning the story of how he entered the prison system, talked himself into a conviction for murder, compounded his conviction by escaping, then was exonerated for the murder through DNA examination of the murder. As compelling as this might sound, watching this guy talk for an hour and a half was never as interesting as the story might have been. Walked out, no stars.

“Viva” My Darling B said it best: “”Viva” wasn’t quite what I expected, and I’m glad for it. I expected a fun romp about a drag show newbie; what I got instead was a story about forgiveness, acceptance, and strength.” Four out of five

“Tickled” was without question the most interesting, and the weirdest documentary of the day. After a journalist in New Zealand stumbles across a video of “competitive endurance tickling” and writes to the organizer about his interest in producing a documentary, he begins to receive blatantly homophobic emails in reply that escalate into threats of legal action. As the journalist digs deeper, his investigation slowly pieces together a bizarre story of a guy with a tickling fetish, a mountain of money and a sociopathic need to control people. Five out of five

WFF 2016 day four | 7:00 am CDT
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Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Mad About Madison: a collection of shorts made by people who are from or living in Madison, or about Madison itself, including:

“Intimate Nature” was four minutes of scenes from the Arboretum. The irony of sitting in a dark room on a beautiful day to watch a film about a walk through the Arboretum on a beautiful day was not lost on me.

“The Turkeys of Atwood Avenue” was a collection of Facebook posts (literally!) from a fan page devoted to watching a gaggle of turkeys (or whatever you call them) that roamed up and down Atwood Avenue in the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood of Madison. Was it inevitable that one day film makers would turn to Facebook for source material?

In “A Grand Walk … Paul’s Late”, a student at the UW wakes up late for class, runs his ass of to get there, sits down just as everyone in the class receives an email message announcing that the class has been canceled. Oops, spoilers.

“Lakeshore Preserve” looked like found footage shot for a news story about volunteers doing trail maintenance at a nature preserve.

I went in thinking I would not like “Nigga: A Monologue” but came away feeling that it deserves a lot more of my attention.

A nature photographer searches for the rusty-patched bumblebee in “A Ghost In The Making”, which sounds really, really boring, but I promise you it’s not.

Hundreds of nude and seminude bicyclists ride through Madison on World Naked Bicycle Ride Day, the subject of “Real … Live …”

“Continuum” is another film about a UW student who wakes up late for class and how that worked out pretty good for him. Will we soon see trash cans piled high with alarm clocks all over campus?

There is a Russian Folk Orchestra at the UW. “Russian Folk” is a four-minute short documenting a rehearsal. Worth watching just to see a balalaika as big as a dining room table.

“IMMO 240 Frames A Second” is just what it says on the tin: Iron Man Madison filmed at 240 frames per second, which slowed the action down to a snail’s pace. Watching it in slow-mo didn’t do anything for me. Take that back: an artifact of the high-speed recording process gave the playback a herky-jerky motion that irritated the hell out of me. Also, a lot of the film was shot in the low light of early morning and late evening, making it very hard for me to follow the action.

WFF 2016 day three | 10:00 am CDT
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Friday, April 15th, 2016

My Darling B and I both took a week off from work so we could sit in dark, windowless rooms and watch movies all week long. It’s time again for the Wisconsin Film Fest. We veered slightly from tradition this year; I was sick with a nasty chest cold when the film guide was published last month, so we didn’t go straight to Roman Candle after work to pick out the films we wanted to see. I think we went the next day or maybe the day after that. Even then, we didn’t pick out all the films we wanted to see, or go through the long, complicated negotiations where we whittled them down to the twenty or thirty that we could fit into the schedule. Instead, we bought a pair of all-festival passes, same as we did last year. They’re pricy, but they’re a savings on the cost of individual tickets for the thirty-two films we wanted to see this year.

Thursday was the opening night of the festival with a reception in the lobby of the Barrymore Theater an hour and a half before the start of the first film, a comedy from New Zealand called “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” Although the reception was very crowded, there were plenty of noshies, champagne and chocolate, with enough left over that My Darling B pocketed a few extra for later. The comedy was good; a little uneven, a little over the top at times, but genuinely fun. I gave it four out of five.

Friday was kind of a bust. After struggling to find a place to park on campus, we found out that the first film we wanted to see, “Louder Than Words,” had been canceled. With a couple of hours unexpectely dropped into our laps, we rented a couple of B-Bikes and pedaled up State Street to Capitol Square to eat a leisurely lunch at Graze before coasting back down State to the campus to see the rest of the movies on our Friday schedule:

“Phantom Boy” was an animated feature about a boy with an unspecified but serious disease who learned while he was in the hospital that he was able to leave his body and float around. He teams up with a police officer to catch the arch-criminal who is threatening the city. I thought it was worth four out of five, but B drowsed through much of it.

Two teenaged girls with way too much time on their hands stalk a middle-aged single father in “John From.” The synopsis in the film catalogue called this “a sensitive, infectious and dreamy ode to young love.” We thought it was creepy, more than a little boring, and gave it no stars because we walked out before the end.

“The Well” was just about the cheesiest film about race relations you could imagine. I’m sure it was considered gripping in 1951 when it came out, but the writing seems cliched and the acting looks stilted and wooden now, except for Harry Morgan, doing his best to get through the movie. I gave it four out of five, should have given it three.

“True Stories” was one of the quirky movies of the eighties that we considered cool back then, but are mostly cringeworthy now. Walked out after watching thirty minutes or so. No stars.

WFF 2016 day one and two | 10:00 am CDT
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Sunday, March 6th, 2016

We spent a whole week on a cruise ship, but we hardly ever went to any of the activities that the cruise line arranged for the passengers. There were too many activities arranged for the Sea Monkeys that we didn’t want to miss, so our days were jam-packed with those. We didn’t go to the casino or see a movie. We didn’t even swim in one of the forty-seven pools, or however many there are. The cruise line says there are only ten, but I was there and I think there were a whole lot more. Forty-seven sounds about right.

Unless you count the hot tubs, then we did one ordinary cruise-ship thing. And when I say “hot tub,” I’m not talking about the little cedar-sided bathtub that you’re probably thinking of. The ship we were on, Freedom of the Seas, has two hot tubs on either side of the pool deck big enough to fit maybe twenty people. Thirty, if they don’t mind getting cozy. Each tub is a half-circle, with the flat side up against the edge of the ship and the round side sticking out over the side, I guess because there wasn’t enough room on deck with all the other pools. They didn’t have glass bottoms, which would have been awesome, but they did have wrap-around windows.

B and I changed into our swim suits and went up to try out the hot tub one night when we had some time after dinner. The ship was en route from Coco Cay to Saint Thomas, and the sea was not calm. It wasn’t especially rough, either. Tables and chairs weren’t sliding across the deck or anything like that, but when you tried to walk in a straight line, you couldn’t do it. You found that you had to walk a drunken path. Luckily, everyone else had to walk the same path. It was like you and everyone around you was doing the same dance number in a musical.

There was no one in the tub when we got there — we had the whole tub to ourselves! SCORE! There was nothing to see outside the big wrap-around windows because there was no moon, or it was overcast, or both. But there was plenty of action inside. The pool deck is way up at the top of the ship, a little more than a hundred feet above the water line, so all that pitching and rolling the ship was doing got magnified to the point that we could see the water sloshing around in the pools. The hot tub was much smaller than the other pools, but the water in it was sloshing just as much, often slopping over the edges of the tub onto the deck. Looked like fun.

At first we sat on the round side of the pool, hanging farthest out over the ocean, but most of the wave action seemed to be happening in the corners of the pool where the curve met the flat side, so we slid in closer. There was a seat molded into the bottom of the tub all the way around the sides, but we didn’t sit on it much. It was more fun to try to float and let the water shove us around. It was a lot like being in a bathtub full of water when you suddenly slide from one end to the other. All the water ran away from us, then came rushing back to lift us up and spin us around before running away again.

We soaked in the pool for maybe an hour. By then, we were pruning up enough that it seemed like a good idea to climb out and dry off.

hot tub rock and roll | 9:08 am CDT
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Saturday, March 5th, 2016

I used to read fiction almost exclusively. The only time I would read non-fiction was when someone made me, like for school. And even then, I blew off most of my assigned reading to read fiction.

I loved fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy. Those stories had what seemed like limitless possibilities. What would a society of intelligent bugs be like? A writer could take that idea and run in just about any direction with it: Would they get along with humans? If they didn’t, would humans win or lose a war with them? If they did, would humans have sexual congress with them? (Sooner or later, even the most far-out ideas come back to sex.)

And then, for reasons I never quite understood, a switch flipped in my brain about twenty or twenty-five years ago and I began reading non-fiction. Mostly biographies, or American history. I think it started when I wanted to know more about American history during the second world war. I knew a lot about bombs and planes, but almost nothing about why America made the bombs and planes. Turned out there was a lot to learn. I think I’ve read more about that period of American history than any other, and I still wouldn’t dare say I know much about it.

But maybe five years ago I made a conscious effort, every now and then, to pick up some fiction that came with the recommendation of a friend or a critic, and read at least the first fifty pages, just to see if there was still some magic in the pleasure of reading made-up stuff. It would be a pity to miss out on a new voice as engaging as some of my old favorites. And waddaya know, I did find fiction that still raised my eyebrows in surprise, that was fun to read.

Most recently, I started reading The Name of The Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. An epic fantasy (660 pages! Run, Will Robinson!), it’s not the kind of book I would normally have tried to read for fun, and I say that as a guy who not only has all of Le Guin’s Earthsea books in hardback, but who takes them down from the shelf every couple of years and reads every page from beginning to end. I also say that as a guy who has started reading the epic tomes of Saberhagen and Martin, but could never get any further than the first fifty pages. Pure fantasy, with magic and swords, was never something I automatically loved the way, for instance, a story with a rocketship would.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I curled up on the sofa with The Name of The Wind one night and found myself immersed in a story that I didn’t emerge from until it was time to put on my jammies and turn in for the night. And even then I took the book with me, as it’s long been my custom to read a chapter or two in bed. It relaxes my neck, which lets my head sink into my pillow. Far from putting me to sleep, though, this is one of those books I have to read just one more chapter of, until I glance at the clock and warn myself that if I don’t stop, I won’t get enough sleep and I’ll be a grumpy cat in the morning.

I probably never would have looked for this book, or even heard of it, if I hadn’t gone on the JoCo Cruise. Rothfuss was there to read some of his work and to sit on a couple of panels to talk with the other authors who came along, and he was such a pleasure to listen to that I resolved to check out all his books from the library and try out every one of them, believing that surely at least one will appeal to me. Well, now I’m facing the daunting possibility that they will all appeal to me and I’ll soon have a whole shelf filled with them in hardcover. Oh well. There are worse compulsions.

The Name of The Wind | 9:56 am CDT
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Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

True story: As the bus taking us from our hotel to the cruise ship neared Port Canaveral, the driver turned around and asked us, “Which cruise line are you guys on?” The frigging driver didn’t know which terminal he was supposed to drop us off at!

And yet somehow we still got there.

Tell you what: the cruise line has every last thing figured out about how to get a couple thousand tourists aboard a big ship in a hurry. The terminal was as wide open as a sports stadium. When we got there, which was still pretty early, we could easily see one end of the room from the other, and yet there were uniformed attendants every fifty feet or so to direct us along our way. We hardly stopped moving until we got to the check-in desk where they took our photos, handed us a couple of magical plastic cards and pointed toward the gangplank.

Those plastic cards were magical because we could wave them at bartenders to get all the drinks we wanted. There’s a pro tip for you: Get the ultimate drinks package. For two good reasons:

First, imagine taking all your meals at the airport for seven days. What do they charge you for everything you drink? Every cup of coffee, every glass of orange juice, every bottle of water, and all at airport prices. What if you want a cocktail in the evening? How much would a week of that cost you? Yeah. We didn’t want to have to think about about how much we were spending, so we got the drinks package. That way, we’ve already spent it. No worries.

Second, because starting every day with a mimosa or a bloody mary is the best way to start your day.

I made a pact with My Darling B that we would stop at the first bar we could find after going aboard so that we could toast the start of our vacation with a couple glasses of champagne. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to go looking at all: There was a bar just inside the doorway as we entered. Almost like they knew what we wanted most at that moment.

all aboard | 12:01 am CDT
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Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Here’s something I really didn’t expect: At the end of our vacation when our ship tied up to its pier in Port Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday morning, the temperature there was forty-six degrees. Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, temps were in the fifties. What the hell was that about? When we left Wisconsin, it was cold there and warm in Florida, as it should always be. Florida should never be colder than Wisconsin. That’s just a natural fact. And yet, it was. I knew we would have to snap back into harsh reality at the end of our vacation, but I didn’t expect the universe to be that perverse about it.

What the hell, Florida? | 8:04 pm CDT
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Monday, February 29th, 2016

Here’s something I can share real quick about going on a cruise: Take lots of cold & flu medicine with you: decongestants, pain killers, all that over the counter stuff that you take when you start feeling fluey but believe that you really have to keep going to work for at least another two or three days so you can tell everyone how sick you are and sneeze and cough and spread your germs all over the place. (Have you ever done that? If so, please stop. Stay home until you’re better. Thank you.)

I don’t know how many people are on a cruise ship, but I’ll bet it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of five thousand passengers and crew. Possibly I’m lowballing that; could be a whole lot more. The only crew you ever see are the service staff, but someone’s got to be running the engines, keeping the lights on, fixing the computers, and so on. And it looks like an enormously big ship, but it’s really pretty close inside. You’re constantly bumping into other passengers, breathing each other’s air and grabbing the same door handles that everyone else touched. So even if you don’t take my advice on the cold medicine, at least get yourself a six-pack of those little pocket-sized bottles of Purel, and use it often. Even if you’re washing your hands.

Actually, the ship’s crew don’t give you much of a choice on the Purel. Every time you go into one of the restaurants, even the swanky main dining room, you’ll find at least one crew member waiting at the door for you with an upended bottle of Purel poised to give you a shot. You might try to sneak by without reaching for any, but if they can see your hands, those crew members are going to try their darndest to squirt some Purel into them. On top of that, there are Purel dispensers everywhere. I would say it’s a fair bet that just one cruise ship goes through a metric butt-ton of Purel every day.

Having said that, the odds are about even that you’re going to catch a bug that will get up your sinuses or down your throat and fill you up with phlegm and mucous, if in fact those are two different things. Even if they’re not, a double dose is not unlikely. Everywhere I went, I heard people coughing up crud or telling somebody how they just got over a case of the coughing crud. It seems to be part of the cruise experience.

I may have caught a watered-down version of the crud. My nose got a little stuffed up and I had some phlegm and/or mucous caught in my throat for a day or two. My Darling B, however, caught the giant industrial sized version of the crud that manifested itself on the last day of our cruise. A sore throat kept her up most of the night and we went to see the doctor in the morning, who charged us a hundred eighty bucks for the tests to see if she had strep throat (she didn’t, thank dog) and three packets of Theraflu. It helped, but the moment she laid down in bed that night, her pretty little head filled up with fluids and she tossed and turned until we had to get up the next morning. She’s still getting over it.

So, to recap: fill a bag with cold medicine, buy so much Purel that the company sends you a Christmas card every year, and every time you pass a faucet, wash your hands. Then maybe, just maybe you won’t get what everyone else will get. But I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

sniffles | 10:45 am CDT
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Hi, we’re back from our cruise to the Bahamas and we had a great time, thank you very much for asking. This was the first cruise either of us had gone on, so we had no idea what to expect, other than we were going to be on a great big ship that was going to take us to some islands in the general vicinity of Florida. We knew they were called the Bahamas but, embarrassingly, neither of us could say just where the Bahamas were or how many islands were in the Bahamas. Turns out there are 700. 700! And we didn’t know they existed until we went on this cruise. This is not the first time that travel has revealed to us how stupid we are about the world.

The ship we took was Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. If you’ve never been on a cruise ship before, or been around ocean-going ships at all, your mind isn’t ready to take in just how big they are or how much stuff is crammed into them. It’s as if the designers combined The Mall of America with a five-star hotel. The inside of the ship is hollowed out, leaving room for shops and restaurants and taverns and a wide pedestrian walkway, just like a mall. At one end of the mall there’s a theater showing movies, theater reviews and concerts, and at the other end there’s quite a grand dining room where liveried service staff bring you all the food you ask for. Oh, there’s a dance club in the middle, too. Because they had some extra room, I guess.

The outside of the ship is the hotel. Hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms, maybe thousands, I don’t know. More than I’d care to count. We had a room that was really very small and ordinary, because we didn’t plan to spend much time in it (turned out this was the one of those rare times that our plans matched up with reality; we were in our room to shower, change clothes, and sleep, and we didn’t do much sleeping), and yet it was still a very nice room. It even had a window, which I learned was not the case in every room. Our window faced the water and was at the front of the ship, so we could see the waves crashing off the bows as the ship plunged through choppy waters, or see the islands as we approached. Other rooms had windows that faced the inside of the ship, overlooking the mall. All things considered, I’m glad we got one looking out at the sea.

The islands we visited were Coco Cay, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Coco Cay is really just a part of the cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere. Royal Caribbean owns the island, and the ship’s service staff gets off with the passengers to serve food, drinks, and otherwise cater to their every need. I guess a sandy beach was the one thing they couldn’t shoehorn into the boat, so they bought an island. St. Thomas is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and St. Maarten is a Dutch territory. From what I could tell, they exist only because cruise ships stop there.

We didn’t sign up for the cruise to visit the islands, to tell the truth. We signed up because some of our favorite musical performers and authors were going to be on the ship. It was a themed cruise, and for want of a better term, I’ll use the phrase that the other passengers used who signed up for the themed cruise: Nerd Boat (in real life it’s called JoCo Cruise).

The authors were all writers of science fiction (John Scalzi) or fantasy (N.K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss), or were involved in science fiction or fantasy writing in some way (Wil Wheaton). (The names in parens are examples only, not meant to be pigeonholes. Scalzi also writes fantasy, and although I’m not familiar with Jemisin, I understand she writes science fiction as well. I know next to nothing about Rothfuss, but I will soon. And Wheaton, besides being an actor and writer, is a dynamite comic presence. Really.)

The musical performers may be a little harder for me to describe, but I’ll give it a shot: it’s comedy (Paul & Storm), but it’s also nerdy (Jonathan Coulton), and I think the easiest way to describe “nerdy” in this case is to give you a few examples: Paul & Storm opened their musical show with a song urging George R.R. Martin to write faster so we wouldn’t have to wait to find out what happens next on Game Of Thrones. Also, their most popular song by far, and sort of the theme song for this cruise, is The Captain’s Wife’s Lament, a sea shanty about pirates. I would be spoiling the song to go any further, but suffice to say if you don’t like puns, or double entendres, or both, then the payoff won’t work for you.

The most well-known song (and again, a kind of anthem to the people who go on this cruise) by the headline act, Jonathan Coulton, is about a person who writes code for a living. Another song is written in the form of an inter-office memo from a bureaucrat who has recently become a zombie. And my favorite song of Coulton’s is a love song to Pluto from Charon (the planet and its largest moon, respectively) that makes me puddle up every time. I guess that makes me a nerd.

The comedy and the nerdiness is all well and good, but this is to say nothing of how musically awesome the performers are (and besides the comedy and nerdery, we were also treated to (for want of a better term, again) more mainstream artists such as Aimee Mann, whose pop hit Voices Carry almost everybody my age knows, even if they don’t realize that Aimee Mann was part of the group Til Tuesday). Really, if you could see all these guys come together to play a David Bowie tribute, as they did on the last night of the cruise, you would be blown away by just how amazingly accomplished they are as musicians. The musical shows by themselves were well worth the price of admission.

Anyway, that’s the quick & dirty summary of where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing for the last week. I’ll be writing more drivel about it eventually, but it’s going to take a while to go through my notes and I’ve got to divide my time between that, unpacking, washing clothes, and nursing My Darling B, who contracted a case of the coughing crud that was going around the boat. Also, the floor won’t stop rolling back and forth, so every time I stand up, I feel as though I might topple over, and I can’t cross the room without walking like a drunkard, so there’s a slim chance I’ll crash into a wall or tumble over a piece of furniture in the next few days, but if, knock wood, that doesn’t happen, I’ve got a few stories I can tell.

cruise crazy | 9:05 am CDT
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Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Our trip from the hotel to the port did not go quite the way I pictured it.

I was under the impression that the shuttle we booked from the hotel to the port would be a Ford Excursion, or a stretch van, possibly as big as one of those sixteen-person shuttle buses that hotels send you to the airport in. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know how I got that impression. Certainly nobody told me what kind of vehicle we would be riding in. I just assumed. Turns out what they mean when they say “never assume” is true.

On the recommendation of the people organizing the cruise, I called the phone number Florida business and spoke to someone about chartering a “shuttle” from Orlando to Port Canaveral. No one said anything about how we were getting from point A to point B, but maybe the mom-and-pop feel of the business was what made me think the owner herself, or her brother Merle, would show up in a panel van, load our bags into the back and off we’d go.

Nope. A whole lotta nope.

There was a huge gaggle of people milling about in the lobby when we went down there around nine-thirty, a half-hour before we were supposed to leave. There was no sign of anything resembling a line of people waiting to go. I assumed — there I go again — that they had all arranged their own transportation and a long line of vans and stretch limos would soon appear in the drive to take them all away.

Because there was nothing that bore any resemblance at all to a line, we dragged our bags out to the curb and sat in a comfy chair by the driveway to wait for the Ford Excursion/van/shuttle bus that would pull up to take us away. We’d been sitting there all of ten minutes when I happened to notice there was a lady in the lobby moving through the gaggle of people and checking off names on a clipboard. I don’t know what made me think she had anything to do with our ride to the port, but I said, “Be right back,” to B and went inside to see what she was doing.

Turned out she was lining up sixty or so people to get on a chartered bus, which coincidentally happened to be the shuttle we had booked a ride on.

We dragged our bags back inside and searched for the end of the line, ending up behind a thick knot of people who were bunched up around a cluster of chairs. Every so often, someone would walk by with their bags and ask us whether or not this was the line for the shuttle, and we would say something flip like, “Well, I certainly hope so.” That happened three or four times before one of the people in the cluster ahead of us turned around and said, “Oh, we’re not in line.”

So all shuffled three or four feet to the left and waited for clipboard lady to work her way down to us. As she approached, she moved through the cluster of people to our right who said they weren’t in line, ticking off their names. So apparently they were in line after all. We had to practically grab clipboard lady and drag her over to our side of the line to make sure we got checked in. Then, when the line started moving, we all merged as we neared the door.

True story: As the bus taking us from our hotel to the cruise ship neared Port Canaveral, the driver turned around and asked us, “Which cruise line are you guys on?” The frigging driver didn’t know which terminal he was supposed to drop us off at!

And yet somehow we still got there.

Tell you what: the cruise line has every last thing figured out about how to get a couple thousand tourists aboard a big ship in a hurry. The terminal was as wide open as a sports stadium. When we got there, which was still pretty early, we could easily see one end of the room from the other, and yet there were uniformed attendants every fifty feet or so to direct us along our way. We hardly stopped moving until we got to the check-in desk where they took our photos, handed us a couple of magical plastic cards and pointed toward the gangplank.

Those plastic cards were magical because we could wave them at bartenders to get all the drinks we wanted. There’s a pro tip for you: Get the ultimate drinks package. For two good reasons:

First, imagine taking all your meals at the airport for seven days. What do they charge you for everything you drink? Every cup of coffee, every glass of orange juice, every bottle of water, and all at airport prices. What if you want a cocktail in the evening? How much would a week of that cost you? Yeah. We didn’t want to have to think about about how much we were spending, so we got the drinks package. That way, we’ve already spent it. No worries.

Second, because starting every day with a mimosa or a Bloody Mary is the best way to start your day.

I made a pact with My Darling B that we would stop at the first bar we could find after going aboard so that we could toast the start of our vacation with a couple glasses of champagne. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to go looking at all: There was a bar just inside the doorway as we entered. Almost like they knew what we wanted most at that moment.

After toasting our cruise, we wandered down to the gaming room to check in, get our sea monkey passes and our swag bag. Our sea monkey passes get us into all the JoCo Cruise events, and the swag bag was filled with games and a plush toy as mementos to remember our cruise.

I had to make a special trip to the chapel where there was a meeting of all the sea monkeys taking part in a game of assassin that was specially-made for this cruise. When I played assassin in college we used squirt guns to kill our targets; in this game, they used a deck of cards and rules for using them that went completely over my head. I went up to Martin, the creator of the game, to ask for his help, but he was in a pretty intense discussion with someone protesting one of the rules, so I tagged Martin’s wife Mandie and let her know that I wanted to talk with them when we picked up our cards later that night.

Then I had to run all the way back to the other end of the ship to meet up with My Darling B at the New Monkey Orientation, where Paul and Storm welcomed us and told us a few things about the cruise, mostly stuff we already knew. JoCo and Scarface joined in after for a Q&A that was, again, mostly stuff we already knew. We had done our homework before the cruise.

There was a mandatory lifeboat drill at four. When it was done, we ducked inside to grab cocktails that we took back to the rail to watch the ship pull away from the dock and head out to sea. The port was not the prettiest part of Florida by any stretch of the imagination. Besides the terminal and acres of parking, there was a fuel dump, warehouses and all other kinds of servicing facilities, but out at the end of the canal, just before we sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean, there was a small park where dozens of people had set up their lawn chairs along the shore to watch the ships head out and wave at the passengers lined up on the rails. Each ship blasted its horn as it went by, answered by the horns of the dozens of cars parked along the shore.

We both went to what was billed as a cocktail mixer but was really more of a general melee for drinks and noshies as Paul and Storm read more announcements, introduced the guests and cracked wise from the stage. Directly from that we went to dinner in the main dining room. Slight hitch there: We wandered for fifteen minutes or so looking for a table with open seating. All the tables that had any room had been mislabeled “Staff Only” when they were supposed to say “Open Seating.” We finally found a four-top where we sat with Ryan and Scott, a couple of Canadians who came on the cruise primarily to play games and hadn’t heard of JoCo or Paul and Storm before.

Our last activity of the evening was the JoCo concert. I wonder why the headline act went on the first night? Seems like something they’d save for last, but apparently they had different ideas.

We had a teeny tiny little roomette. A king bed took up about half of it. The other half was a small sitting room, closet and bathroom. There was a love seat, a desk and a tiny coffee table. The closed was just big enough to hold all the clothes we brought. After we emptied the suit cases, I was able to stash them under the bed, so that we would have more room in our small world. There was a television, but most of the channels were information about the ship or about shore excursions, and rest were children’s cartoons or were in a language I couldn’t identify.

Cruise Monkey Day Two | 9:13 am CDT
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Saturday, February 20th, 2016

I managed to get to sleep around nine-thirty on the Friday night before we were going to fly out for our cruise. I even kept on sleeping until about two in the morning, but after that I was just lying in bed awake, so I got up at about two-thirty and read a book until four when B got out of bed. We washed up and left the house at five, just as we planned, and our flight left on time a little more than an hour later. Like hitting every green light on a trip across town, it felt somehow like we were getting all the breaks. We even got through security without either of us being selected for “special attention.”

Our layover in Chicago was just long enough for us to get from our arrival gate to our departure gate and start to gobble down a bagel before they called for us to start boarding. Just as quickly, they put a hold on boarding, explaining that they were trying to settle “safety issues.” No problem. You go ahead and take as long as you like to settle those “issues.”

That was the only hitch we experienced along the way, and even though they delayed boarding for a short time, every flight left on time, the airlines didn’t lose our luggage, and the shuttle from the airport to the hotel showed up within ten minutes after we piles all our bags at the curb. Slick as snot, as one of my tech school instructors used to say.

We arrived at our hotel (which the sea monkeys are calling the JoCotel, after the cruise’s namesake, Jonathan Coulton) in the early afternoon. The clerk who checked us in apologized for how cold it was, then asked where we were from. She laughed a bit when we told her Wisconsin. “So this isn’t exactly cold to you,” she said. The temp was seventy-five degrees. We set the thermostat in our house to sixty-nine this time of year. Not exactly cold, no.

We had a bite to eat in the restaurant downstairs, then went back up to our room to change into our swim suits to spend the next several hours by the pool, basking in the sun. One of the perks of being a cheesehead on vacation in Florida is realizing what a treat it is to lie half-naked in the sunshine in February. Still, an hour of that was more than enough for me, and I went looking for a seat in the shade where I could sip a fruity drink and write some drivel. B took a dip in the pool to cool off, then stretched out to soak up another hour’s worth of sunshine.

After washing off and changing into dry clothes, we took a short walk around the hotel, but because I had so little sleep the night before, I was running on fumes and had to hit the hay. My Darling B was all in, too. We stopped off at the bar for a nightcap before turning in for the night.

Cruise Monkey Day One | 6:00 am CDT
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Monday, January 25th, 2016

No weekend would be complete without a home improvement project, and no home improvement project would be complete until there was blood.

The spigot in the kitchen sink has been dripping for weeks. Okay, more like months, but it was a drip we could put up with when it started because it would drip for a little while, then stop. Then it would drip for a while longer, but it would still stop. Then we would have to jiggle the handle to get it to stop. And then finally, about a week ago, it wouldn’t stop dripping no matter what we did to it.

And it didn’t just drip from the end of the spigot. Somewhere in the innards of the valve, water leaked out the back and down through the bottom. I had to put a bucket in the cabinet under the sink to catch it. When you have buckets in your house to catch falling water, it’s time for a home improvement project.

So yesterday morning, after I’d had my coffee, I drove to the local Menard’s to save big money on a kitchen faucet. There is a long, long aisle for kitchen faucets, but they were arranged so that the most expensive were at one end and the cheapest were at the other end. I went to the other end. They had a pretty good replacement for our kitchen faucet that wasn’t the cheapest plastic spigot ever made.

To swap out the faucet, I had to dismount the garbage disposal, then twist myself into a pretzel to climb into the cabinet and wedge my head between the back of the sink and the wall, so all the yoga I’ve been doing finally came in handy.

Taking out old, leaky plumbing is just about the grossest thing a grown man will ever have to do. The joints are all crusted over with minerals, mold and corrosion, and when it’s above your head like this one was, all that crap runs down your hands and arms into your armpits, thanks to the leak. Changing diapers isn’t this bad. At least baby poop stays in the diaper. Well, most of the time it does.

Then there’s the blood. The gods of home improvement require a blood offering, else the repair won’t hold. I usually try to keep it to skinned knuckles, but for this job I guess the gods wanted more, so I sliced the end of my thumb open with a screwdriver. The pain was blinding and the blood ran in rivers, so this repair should last for decades.

there will be blood | 7:00 am CDT
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, yoga
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Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

My Darling B and I went to the El Dorado Grill for dinner on Thursday night. It was restaurant week, as if we needed an excuse to go out to eat. We were looking over the menus when the waitress came over to ask if we wanted to start off with something to drink, which sounded like a great idea to me, so I ordered a martini. B told me later that when she asked, “Do you have a preference on the vodka?” I made a face like she’d just waved a dead squirrel under my nose. That must be the face I make when people ask me a question that seems to be completely disconnected from what we were just talking about, because at that moment I was thinking to myself, “Vodka? Is there vodka in a martini? I don’t think so. Why is she asking me about vodka?” It came and went, a quickly-passing senior moment, when I remembered that vodka martinis are a thing, but I still fumbled around for a bit trying to tell her that I wanted a martini made with Hendrick’s gin. Turned out that I got all the Hendrick’s gin left in the place, about two or three ounces, which they turned into an acceptable cocktail, but because it was smaller than they usually make them, they treated me to it, on the house! The best-tasting martinis are Hendrick’s martinis, but the most delightful are free martinis.

gratis | 11:26 am CDT
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Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Spoiler Alert: I watched the ending of The Man In The High Castle last week, and it’s time to unload the various and sundry brain vomit that’s been building up inside me. And grump alert: I thought it could’ve been better.

In the last half-hour of the last episode, Frank wants to know what’s so damn important about these films that Jules is after, so they thread one into a conveniently handy projector (there’s always a projector around when they want to watch a film) and Frank sees himself being lined up with a bunch of Nazi resistance fighters and shot.

Up until this point, it hasn’t been clear whether the films are a record of a reality that had somehow crossed into the alternate timeline where Frank and Jules lived, or they are a propaganda stunt. If they were from another universe, cool. But for nine episodes there was no reason to believe they were anything but a fantasy spliced together in somebody’s garage for the hell of it. Why did we have to wait ten hours to learn that the films were somehow crossing over from our reality into Frank’s?

And what the hell is with Frank, anyway? His mind is blown when he seems himself shot in the film, but just a minute or so later he snaps back to being all mad and mopey about Jules and Joe. Dude! You just saw yourself in another universe! There’s no other plausible explanation! And you got shot! In! Another! UNIVERSE! Your girlfriend and her other boyfriend are not as big a deal as that!

And another thing: The resistance has been devoting practically all their time and effort to getting hold of these films. They don’t know why. They don’t even know what’s on the films. They just know they’re important, so they do everything they can to get them. The Nazi SS in New York is doing the same thing by planting a mole in the resistance to steal the films and pass them along to Hitler, who has a special interest in the films, we’re told. The resistance is getting the films for someone they know only as the man in the high castle, which turns out to be, Guess Who?

So if the resistance has already been maneuvered into getting the films and passing them along to Hitler, then why is the SS trying to take the films away from the resistance in order to give them to Hitler? Seems to me that the first item on the things to do list of the SS commander would be: Make sure nobody stops the resistance from getting those films to Hitler.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hung up on the films. Maybe they were meant to be nothing more than a McGuffin, but it seems to me that the story doesn’t work that way. The films point the way to an alternate universe. That would make them, and every action related to them, very important. Where am I going wrong here?

film at eleven | 8:58 am CDT
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Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

After everybody got up and got showered on Sunday, we all piled into the O-mobile to make the short trip to Lake Mills, where we visited the Tyranena brewery. Their tap room opens at noon and they encourage visitors to order take-out food from any of the local restaurants and bring it in to eat while drinking beer, so B and I covered the table with 5-ounce tasters and we phoned a local pizzeria and asked for a sixteen-inch with plenty of cheese and sausage.

The tap room has plenty of board games piled up along the window ledges. I picked out a word game that we played for ten or fifteen minutes. When I guessed it was about time to pick up the pizza, I took my leave and made the short drive into town. The pizzeria was on the town square about three minutes away; all I had to do was duck in, pay the ponytailed girl at the counter and duck out. I was back at the tap room in probably ten minutes. It was like I was never gone.

B was a little concerned about how we were going to eat the pizza without plates, but the bartender solved that problem by handing us a whole stack of paper plates and napkins. He even handed over a jar of cracked red pepper in case we wanted to spice up the pizza a little bit. Now that’s a bartender who knows how to keep his customers happy. We gobbled up all the pizza while we played the word game some more and sipped our beers, which kept us there until about two-thirty. Almost all of us dozed off on the twenty-minute drive back, so we broke up to find places to nap for an hour or so after returning.

Tyranena | 7:07 am CDT
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Friday, December 4th, 2015

I was in charge of feeding us last night, but I had given literally zero seconds to thinking about what to make for dinner so I defaulted to stopping at Stalzy’s Deli for hot sandwiches, which has never been disappointing before and wasn’t last night. B ordered a slab of fried walleye on a hoagie bun, and I had a Ruben, and we were both so hungry that we ate every bite rather than save half for later, our usual modus operandi.

That was the second night in a row this week that we ate out. Wednesday was the first. After a long and especially busy day at work, B didn’t want to make dinner, she wanted to relax and have someone make dinner for her. I didn’t see how I would have a leg to stand on if I were to argue against her, so I didn’t. Take that back; I argued just a bit. She suggested Alchemy, but I’d been thinking about how long it had been since we visited Grandpa’s, a pizzeria on Willy Street, so I suggested that, and she went along without a moment’s regret.

The pizzeria’s in a building that used to be Grampa’s Gun Shop. It was right next door to what used to be a store that sold bibles and other Sunday-school tchotchkes. Both stores went out of business years ago; with a new coat of paint, the bible store became Jane’s Junk Shop. Gil Altschul and Marissa Johnson, the pair that have opened several crafty restaurants and bars in the area, bought the gun shop after it closed, gutted it and reopened it as a very cozy little pizzeria, naming it Grandpa’s as a nod to its previous life.

The front of the shop, where gunsmith Larry Gleasman used to sit and work on guns behind the big picture window when it was Grampa’s Gun Shop, was turned into a dining room with one long community table. We were seated there the first time we visited, but when we’ve gone back every time after, they’ve seated us in the dining room that was added to the back of the shop and faces the gardens. Paneled in dark wood with windows all around, the addition has the homey look and comfortable feel of an old-fashioned family room.

Our second visit was on a Tuesday, which they’ve declared Date Night, so we ordered the Date Night Special, which comes complete with special pizza, appetizers and a bottle of wine at a very reasonable price. Since we missed Date Night by twenty-four hours on our most recent visit, we had to pay for the bottle of wine; it was overpriced, but drinks everywhere always are so what the hell.

We built our own pizza last night, or rather B did. I suggested too many toppings and combined pepperoni with basil, a culinary no-no, if B’s reaction was anything to go by. She suggested roasted red peppers and sausage instead of pepperoni, which turned out to be a fabulously delicious pizza indeed. We gobbled up all but two slices, which I saved for lunch the next day. And we got to take home the olives we didn’t eat. So, a very nice night out indeed.

eating out | 1:22 pm CDT
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Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Our latest guilty pleasure has been watching The Man In The High Castle, a television series streaming on Amazon video that was released just two or three weeks ago, so we’re almost keeping up with what other people are watching. The premise of the story is a pretty straightforward what-if that has made lots of money for dozens of writers: What would America look like if the Axis powers had won the second world war? This show has some pretty good-looking visuals to answer that question. They’ve obviously devoted a lot of brainpower to giving the streets of occupied American cities look foreign and retro. Wish they had saved some of that ingenuity to translating the story to the screen as well.

I’m not sure what the story is, to be frank. We’ve watched five episodes and so far, about all I know is that there’s this guy everybody calls the man in the high castle and he’s got something to do with a film that’s a what-if story about what America might look like if the Axis powers had lost the war. Very meta, right? There’s also a resistance movement that doesn’t seem to be resisting very much. They appear to be spending most of their efforts on getting the film in bits and pieces to the man in the high castle. Beyond that, the show is mostly atmosphere and people speaking very elliptically in hushed tones. “If you knew what it cost me to get here.” “My mission must not fail.” And so on.

atmosphere | 6:04 am CDT
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Saturday, November 28th, 2015

We binge-watched all thirteen episodes of Jessica Jones last week, if you consider it binge-watching when we only watched two shows on most nights. We started with three episodes on the Friday before last when the whole season was up for grabs on Netflix; I think that’s as many episodes of any series as we’ve ever watched in a single gulp. We finished it this last Friday morning. B wanted to finish on Thursday night, but I was burned out after two episodes and had to go to bed. For some reason, she waited for me, but insisted that we watch the final episode right away Friday morning. Which we did.

Jessica Jones is unlike any other television series built around a superhero. She’s really not much of a superhero, for a start. She can’t fly or shoot laser beams out of her eyes. She’s not bulletproof, and ordinary people can knock her out by bonking her over the head with a stick. All she’s got, at least in this series, is the ability to punch people really hard and jump really high. She doesn’t wear a costume; she mostly wears undershirts and the same old ratty pair of jeans. And she doesn’t have a superhero name. Her real name isn’t even all that unusual. She’s just Jessica Jones, a private detective who isn’t especially good at investigating things, even though everybody says she is. As far as I could tell, she found out what she wanted to know because everybody was after her all the time, and when they caught up with her, she punched them really hard until they answered her questions.

Which brings me to the second point of how unlike other “gritty” comic-book hero series this is: Instead of filming it mostly in the dark, or by throwing in lots of gory fight scenes, they made this one seem real through the simple expedient of making the characters pretty ordinary. Even Jessica’s arch-nemesis, a guy who can make people do what he wants by merely suggesting it to them, is the spoiled brat you would expect anybody with that kind of power to be. Not that it makes him any less threatening. His cat-and-mouse game with Jessica over the span of thirteen episodes kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Daredevil was not quite as engaging as Jessica Jones. I started watching it several months ago when I was down with the flu, got through eight or nine episodes in three or four days, then stopped and didn’t pick it up again until this week after we finished Jessica Jones. The show seems to have a much slower pace and the villain isn’t nearly as vibrant or engaging. He’s meant to be the most canny businessman ever who just happens to have a penchant for occasionally beating people to death, so the few times you see him doing that, he’s truly awful, but most of the time you see him he’s in meetings with other evil villains, expounding in his drawn-out, reserved baritone voice how he’s going to make the city better. Yawn. I can’t imagine why they didn’t go with a much more immediately threatening villain like Bull’s Eye. There was a guy who could have kept Daredevil on his toes and made his justifications for becoming a vigilante sound more reasonable and less like rationalization. Not that I minded Daredevil questioning himself. If I had one little nit-pick about the hero, it would be that I had a really hard time believing he could take as much punishment as he did, and he took a lot of punishment: he was beaten, stabbed, shot, disemboweled and thrown off one building after another, and yet he still got up and walked away, slept it off and was back on the streets, beating up bad guys the next evening. Didn’t seem too plausible, given that healing fast wasn’t one of his super-powers. I’ve got one episode left, and I’m hoping the resolution will be as satisfying as the one they wrote for Jessica Jones.

boob tube | 11:26 am CDT
Category: entertainment, play, television
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Monday, November 16th, 2015

There’s a certain kind of funny that doesn’t seem to register on my funnybone. Maybe I sprained it?

The other night I was listening to a podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour. Three people were talking about how much they loved the television show Brooklyn 99. They thought it was one of the funniest shows on television today, funnier than Parks and Recreation, a show that, from what I’ve been able to tell, virtually every person on the planet believes is hilarious.

I’ve watched both, and I am here to confess that I have not so much as cracked a smile at either show. It kinda makes me feel like a grinch. These shows are not hyperpopular for no reason, but I just don’t get the funny, even though I can tell when the characters deliver what is clearly meant to be a joke. They even pause for audience reaction. It couldn’t be more obvious if there was a laugh track. But the jokes just don’t register on me. I don’t get it.

By coincidence, Brooklyn 99 was on TV the night I’d heard the podcast. It had been several months since I’d tried watching it, so I sat through the episode to the end, thinking that maybe this would be the episode that would flip the switch. Maybe that discussion I heard on the podcast gave me the insight I needed to properly experience this show. Maybe, but no. No funnies.

The weirdest example of funny shows that are not funny to me was the very excellent The Last Man On Earth. The first episode had me doubled over laughing until I was in tears. Those were the funniest twenty-two minutes of my life. Naturally, I wanted to binge-watch the whole series after that, so I went on to the next episode. It was … meh. Could’ve been a misfire, I thought, so I went on to the next episode, which was … okay.

How did that happen? How did they go from a first episode that was so funny I was struggling for breath every single minute to a series of episodes so meh that was struggling to find reasons to keep watching? After the fourth or fifth episode I couldn’t think of any, and stopped watching.

I’m not blaming television, or anybody else besides me. I’m completely okay with owning this. It’s clear to me that my sense of humor fossilized in the 1980s and can’t understand what young people these days think is so darned funny.

sprained | 7:00 am CDT
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Saturday, November 14th, 2015

“I think we finally have found a new Fri 13 restaurant to replace the beloved Peppino’s,” My Darling B posted on Facebook while we were having dinner at Estrellon, Tory Miller’s new restaurant on Johnson Street in downtown Madison. I believe she may be right, although I would quibble with her use of the word “replace.” I don’t know how we’ll ever find another restaurant that will have the both the cozy feel and the terrific food that Peppino’s had, but Estrellon is the best substitute we’ve found so far.

We went there for tapas several months ago and passed the better part of an evening noshing away at a table in the bar while the waitress brought us one dish after another, and maybe a few glasses of wine to go with them. It was such wonderful food that we knew right away we would have to come back, and when Friday the Thirteenth rolled around this month, My Darling B made reservations.

The dining room is beautiful, very open and airy with high white ceilings crossed by darkly stained wooden beams. The walls are paneled with dark wood and the back of the room is open to the kitchen so you can watch Chef Tory Miller and his staff go to work (he happened to be there last night during our visit).

The staff is fantastic. Everybody’s smiling and helpful, and our waitress – she happened to be the same young lady who waited on us when we stopped in for tapas in the summer (I think she said her name was Christine; hope I got that right) – had an impressive knowledge of the foods – how they were made, what they were made with, and how to pair them with which wines.

We chose three tapas dishes to start, a dish of garlic shrimp swimming in oil, and a dish they called “estofado de vegetales” that was a stew of Italian sausage, root vegetables and chickpeas, served with a crouton topped with tomato relish. I would’ve been satisfied with the stew alone, it was so good and the portion so generous.

Our entree was called “valenciana” and was a big fry pan filled up with rabbit, shrimp, mussels, clams, chorizo, cherry tomatoes, flavored with sarvecchio cheese and served on a bed of bomba rice. I thought we’d have plenty to take home for a midnight snack, but it was so good that we gobbled up every little bit of it.

We learned on our first visit that a meal at Estrellon is not complete without the churros. They’re served with a cup of melted dark chocolate that you can dip the churros in, or spoon into your coffee; they give you more than enough for both.

Estrellon | 7:59 am CDT
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Sunday, November 8th, 2015

After living in the Madison area for a little more than ten years, we finally made the thirty-minute drive to Lake Mills to visit the Tyranena brewery. We’ve loved their beer since our first taste and today got to sample several brews we’ve never tried before. And we’ve got a new favorite: a delicious porter flavored with maple syrup and aged in bourbon barrels. Would definitely drive to Lake Mills again for more.

tyranena | 5:09 pm CDT
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Monday, November 2nd, 2015

New favorite moonshot find on the internet: recordings of the intercom chatter between flight director Gene Kranz and the members of the “White Team” that were on duty when an oxygen tank blew up on Apollo 13.

The cool of these guys is jaw-dropping, especially Sy Liebergot, the guy who eventually noodled out what had gone wrong. The pressure on him to come up with an answer for Kranz must have been colossal, doubly so when it turned out to be the answer nobody wanted to hear. “I’ve got a feeling we’ve lost two fuel cells,” he tells Kranz about twenty-six minutes after the accident. Up to that point, they had been working as if they might be able to fix the problem, even though Kranz already suggested they could use the lander to get home if they needed to.

This is a recording of the closed loop the flight director (Kranz) used to talk with the rest of the team, so the only time you can hear the astronauts is when the team members are not talking, and then only distantly, because they’re on another loop. But you can hear Lovell report about fourteen minutes after the accident that they’re venting something into space. I guarantee that chills will run down your spine.

chills | 8:00 am CDT
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Sunday, November 1st, 2015

Well I hope you all had a good time at your various pagan celebrations last night, not that I think there’s anything wrong with pagan celebrations. I am, in fact, a supporter of almost any celebrations at all, particularly if drinks and noshies are on hand. And if it’s a party where you dress up in underpants and a cape, or as sexy garbage collector, I have been known to appear at those, too. Sorry, no, there aren’t any photos.

Our Little Red House was visited by sixty or seventy little superheroes and pixies last night, but nobody with bloody axes or knives sticking out of their heads. Thank goodness that particular costume has gone out of fashion in this neck of the woods. And thank goody-goodness they took all the Snickers snack-size candy bars and Reese’s Pieces and left us nothing but Twizzlers, which neither one of us will be tempted to eat today. Tomorrow we’ll take them to work and leave them in the break room, where they’ll disappear before the lunch hour.

pagan | 9:58 am CDT
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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 CDT
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Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Last night I finished reading The End Of All Things, the latest science-fiction novel from John Scalzi, and I have to say that I felt he overpromised and underdelivered by several orders of magnitude. All the things did not end. Not even close. There were, to be fair, a number of things that did end, but by far the vast majority of things did not end. In fact, I would have to say that, on a scale of “All Things,” the number of things that ended was statistically insignificant. So the title was a little misleading. Chalk it up to poetic license, I guess.

But other than that teensy-tiny little nitpick, I’d say it was a good read. The book is actually four novelettes (plus a bonus 25-page “deleted and alternate scenes” coda) set in the same storyline where Scalzi’s novel Old Man’s War first conjured up what has become known in the mind-bogglingly technical nomenclature of science fiction fandom as “The OMW Universe.” You don’t have to read Old Man’s War to get maximum enjoyment out of The End Of All Things. It works just fine as a stand-alone collection, but I’m going to give you fair warning that The End Of All Things may leave you with an overpowering compulsion to get your hands on a copy of Old Man’s War, and from there you’re gonna want The Ghost Brigades and oh geeze you’re in it for the long haul at that point because, damn, these books are fun to read.

In the OMW Universe, humans colonize far-flung planets with the help of the Colonial Union, a organization that does not have the motto “We come in peace” emblazoned anywhere on its great seal, or a prime directive of non-interference with aliens it discovers on the planets it means to colonize. The CU exists to shove the aliens aside and make sure they stay shoved. This policy results in some hard feelings between humans and non-humans, to say the least. Hard feelings lead to conflict, and if I recall anything useful at all from the English Lit classes I took thirty-some years ago, it is that conflict is the heart and soul of exciting drama.

Each novelette in The End Of All Things is about a hundred pages long, give or take ten or twenty pages, so you could treat this book as four yummy afternoon snacks, but if you got it into your head to binge-read the whole thing from cover to cover, you could probably gobble it up in a weekend. Scalzi’s previous OMW book, The Human Division, was a similar collection of novelettes, and also one hell of a fun read. Again, you don’t have to read The Human Division to know what’s going on in The End Of All Things but, again, you’ll probably want to afterwards. Just sayin’.

Scalzi’s been compared favorably to Heinlein for his storytelling abilities; I would say that’s about right if you’re comparing Scalzi’s work to Heinlein’s earlier adventure novels, like Tunnel In The Sky or The Puppet Masters, not so much if you’re into Heinlein’s later works. For what it’s worth, when I read Scalzi’s stories, I get a vibe that’s a lot like the one coming from my favorite Joe Haldeman books, like The Hemingway Hoax or The Forever War, but I also feel as though I can detect a witty harmonic wave that’s a lot like the one running through Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker books. The characters in Scalzi’s stories talk like people I know and would be friends with; they take the time to intelligently think a situation all the way through, but they never take themselves so ridiculously seriously that I have to roll my eyes and moan, “Oh, come on, now.”

To sum up, an entertaining sci-fi adventure for a weekend, or to string out over several days, and don’t let the title put you off. All the things, relatively speaking, are pretty safe.

The End Of All Things | 5:19 pm CDT
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I’ve passed some time these last two weeks reading the Apollo Flight Journal, an annotated transcript of the transmissions from the astronauts who went to the moon. This is some pretty geeky stuff. The transmissions themselves would be nerdtastic all by themselves, but the annotations are so packed full of detailed moon-shot minutia that I may never stop getting my geek on.

But even if you’re not a space nerd, I thought you might enjoy this line of traffic from an astronaut to mission control about three hours into the flight:

002:56:10 Unidentified Speaker (onboard): [Garble] SECO [garble] gimbal [garble].

Speaking as someone who’s had to transcribe recorded conversations, I can empathize with a desire to get it all down in words, even when it gets crossed up with a frustration at not being able to make out all the actual, you know, words.

garble | 5:18 pm CDT
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Monday, June 15th, 2015

In a scene from an episode of True Detective that we were watching the other night, the characters played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey passed a pint bottle of Jim Beam between them, each taking a generous swig at the end of each line of dialogue before passing it back.

This was not the first television show or movie where we’d seen people knock back the hard stuff like it was water. And no, I’m not stupid, I know it was water, like I know it’s a television show. But I have to wonder, are there people who really drink like this? Or even close to like this? If I drank like that, I would be unable to speak by the time we got to the fourth swig. I like a drinking buzz as much as most people, but one beer and I’m already there. There is no way on earth I can drink a half-pint of whiskey and keep on talking so it makes any kind of sense. I have my doubts that anybody can. Not only that, but in the show we watched the other night, Matthew McConaughey’s guy kept not only drinking but snorting coke and remained lucid. I’m pretty sure nobody can do that. But what the hell, it’s television.

booze | 6:46 pm CDT
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Sunday, June 14th, 2015

After our weekly visit to the farmer’s market on Madison’s west side, My Darling B and I crossed the street to the Hilldale Mall where B had to shop for a dress to wear to a wedding. B hates shopping with the blazing white intensity of a thousand exploding suns, but the wedding is just two weeks away, so, even though there was still some time left to procrastinate, she decided it was time to get it over with. As luck would have it, she fell in love with the very first dress she found, but it’s fire-engine red and apparently there’s some rule about wearing a dress to a wedding that would upstage the bride. She put it on hold and kept shopping, eventually ending up with what she called “the granny dress,” a cream-colored, knee-length dress with lots of sparklies. B loves sparklies.

While she was trying on dresses, I wandered down the street a few blocks to a garage sale on Midvale Avenue that I spotted as we drove past. There wasn’t much that interested me, and the only thing I eventually bought was a book published by the Associated Press to commemorate the 1969 moon landing. Titled “Footprints On The Moon,” it was a coffee table book chock full of familiar photographs of the space race, starting as usual with Sputnik and ending with lots of lofty prose about how Neil & Buzz walking on the moon had ushered the world into a new era, yada yada yada.

When I picked up the book I had no intention of putting it down again. I’ll buy almost any book or commemorative nick-knack that came out of the space race. I’d never seen this book before and as I opened the cover I thought, Oh nice, something new for my collection, but I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary at first. Then the book fell open to the middle where the folded newspaper pages were tucked away. My heart sped up. It was the first four pages torn out of the Wisconsin State Journal dated July 21, 1969. “ON THE MOON!” the headline on the front page blared in block capital letters over a full-color photo of Armstrong and Aldrin in a training scenario, using tongs to pick up rocks in their space suits. An inside page ran a snapshot of the video feed from the moon, unfocused and about as black-and-white as any photograph could be. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might not realize what was going on.

I tucked the pages back in the book and carried it reverently to the front of the garage where a quartet of old friends were bantering with some customers about one of the items for sale. When one of them turned to me and offered to help, I handed over the book, which he opened to the inside cover to read the price: two dollars. “Footprints on the moon,” he said conversationally, flipping through the first couple pages before it fell open to the middle where he found the newspaper pages. I was sure when he saw those that he would either take them out because they weren’t part of the book, or at least charge me for them separately. He barely looked at them before he snapped the book closed. I held my breath. “Two dollars, please,” he said. I dug two singles from my wallet and handed them over; he thanked me, and I walked away with a tiny piece of history.

Shopping for dresses took a lot out of B, so we headed straight home where she planned to spend time in her garden to decompress. It had been raining for the past two days so the ground was probably too wet for her to plant anything. Even so, she figured she could at least pull weeds, but when we got home she wasn’t up for that any more. “A new bar opened in town with fifty-zillion taps,” she informed me, and she wanted to go there to see what that was about.

The bar was Mr. Brews Taphouse, a Wisconsin chain of bars that specializes in craft beers and features loads of local brews as well as national craft beers. I don’t know how many taps there were; it was too way many for me to bother counting them. We settled in at a hightop table next to the beer menu chalked on the wall, where I studied the options long and hard. I spotted a specialty brew called Sixty-One from Dogfish Head that a friend had raved about; I wish I could say it was as good as the hype, but I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. B ordered a delicious barrel-aged porter called Barrel Aged Brrrbon with Vanilla from Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland OR. She let me taste it, then she let me taste it again, and then I tasted it some more. Eventually she just said to hell with tasting and we called it sharing.

After the first draughts were out of the way, we ordered a flight of four beers: Dynamo Copper Lager from Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago; Bean Me Up Scotchy from St. Francis Brewing in St. Francis WI; Shake Chocolate Porter from Boulder Beer Company in Boulder CO; and Quinannan Falls Lager from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo MI.

We’ve been to Chicago on our own, but we have to go back soon on a proper beer tour because there’s some really good brews coming out of there. If Dynamo’s any indication, I could probably spend all day in the taproom of Metropolitan Brewing, sampling their beers.

St. Francis is just north of Milwaukee and we’ve enjoyed their beer before. Bean Me Up Scotchy is a barrel-aged version of their scotch ale, known as Pride, and I would guess they’ve added vanilla beans to the recipe to boot. Very smooth, and yummy enough to make me want more.

I don’t remember drinking any brews from Boulder Beer before, so that’s something I’m working on correcting, starting with this excellent porter.

Bell’s has been one of my favorite breweries ever since I tried Two-Hearted Ale, a very hoppy beer. I’m not so much into hoppy beers any more, but fortunately Bell’s has produced plenty of other styles that are ever so tasty, and this lager, I’m happy to report, is no exception. Plus, it comes from Kalamazoo, which gives me an opportunity to say Kalamazoo. I love to say Kalamazoo. Who doesn’t love saying Kalamazoo? Boring people, that’s who.

I can’t remember whether or not we visited Widmer Brothers when we were in Portland. Looking photos of the place and where it is on the map, I’m pretty sure we didn’t. If we didn’t, we were stupid. It looks like a pretty great place to visit. Plus, the vanilla porter we sampled was scrumptuous. Getting some right from the source would’ve been a treat.

Our sufficiencies well and truly serensified, we retired back to Our Little Red House to pass the rest of a quiet afternoon reading and napping until supper time. And that is a satisfying way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

walking on the moon | 9:04 am CDT
Category: beer, books, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, space geekery
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Monday, May 25th, 2015

I just finished doing the almost unthinkable: I poured twenty-four pints of beer down the drain. That’s three gallons of beer, in case you’re trying to do the math in your head.

To explain: They were all home brews, and not particularly good ones. The vast majority of it came from a batch of brown ale that I screwed up and should’ve dumped out as soon as I tasted it. I’d made a vanilla extract for a batch of porter that was still fermenting, then suffered a major brain cramp as I was getting ready to bottle the brown ale and dumped the extract into it, instead. Didn’t taste awful, but didn’t taste very good, either. I was keeping it in the hopes that it would mellow a bit in the bottles and get better. It didn’t.

After dumping all that, I started looking around to see what else I had that should have been cleaned up. Turned out I still had about a half-dozen pints from the very first batch of all-grain brew that I made almost two years ago. If I hadn’t felt the need to drink that before, and I didn’t have a hankering to drink it now, which I didn’t, then I figured it was past its prime, and out it went.

And I had two big twenty-four ounce bombers of the second all-grain batch, which was a total clusterfuck from beginning to end. I kept it around only so I could perform various experiments on it. I’m all experimented out now, so it followed the rest down the drain.

Freed up a lot of bottles. Guess it’s time to brew more beer.

drainage | 11:16 am CDT
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
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Thursday, May 21st, 2015

There are a lot of fun things to do in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Staying overnight at a hotel alongside the highway is not one of them. But this is for work, not play, so I didn’t really expect to have much fun here.

There was a little bit of a problem with the room; I couldn’t get the card key to work. I put the card in the slot, pulled it out and got a red light; the door remained locked. I put the card in and pulled it out more slowly; it still remained locked. I put the card in, left it in a moment, pulled it out slowly; still locked. I put it in backwards. I put it in upside-down. I put it in again and again and again as fast as I could. No joy. Red light all the way.

Since I couldn’t think of anything else that might’ve worked, I gathered up all my bags and made my way back to the check-in desk to tell the manager my woes. She took my card from me and did some electronic jiggery-pokery with it before handing it back, assuring me that it would work now.

It didn’t. I went through all the motions again, fast, slow, upside-down and backwards. I even grabbed the door handle and shook it hard, because why not, before gathering up my bags for another trip to the front desk.

As I was coming down the stairs, I could hear the manager on the phone with somebody. Sounded like there was a problem with double-booking. When I got there, she was doing that key card magic behind the desk. She offered me a card key before I said a word. “You’re not in 204, you’re in 205,” she explained. “Sorry about that.”

205 | 7:10 am CDT
Category: travel, work
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Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Wednesday, I drove 146 miles to Wausau, 31 miles to Wittenberg, and 29 miles to Shawano.

Thursday, I drove 41 miles to Oconto, 174 miles to Madison, and 115 miles to Waupaca.

Friday, I drove 109 miles to Algoma and 109 miles back to Waupaca.

Today, you couldn’t get me into a car for any amount of money.


As it turned out, this wasn’t true. Within an hour after writing those words, My Darling B convinced me to get into a car and join her for a ride into downtown Waupaca to see the farmer’s market, stop at a delightful diner for a scrumptious brunch, and visit the fabulous Bookcellar, possibly the best used-book store in all of Wisconsin. So as much as I didn’t want to see the inside of a car that day, I have to admit that braving it for the five-mile trip into Waupaca was very much worth it.

road warrior | 8:33 am CDT
Category: travel, vacation
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Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home again. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate, as I’m about to attempt to tell you exactly that.

I just got back from a business trip of nearly seven hundred miles to the northwest corner of our fair state, and I don’t feel it’s an exaggeration to say it felt like a trip to the moon would have been easier. And then I would be able to say that I’d been to the moon instead of Park Falls, Wisconsin. Not that there’s anything wrong with Park Falls. It’s not as exotic a location as the moon, is all.

I should also point out that, while I get along well with all my co-workers, I would challenge anyone to spend ten hours in a car with their dearest friend and see how long that conversation lasts.

I’m really glad to be home again, where I can sleep in my own bed with my favorite girl, is all I’m saying.

billions and billions | 7:40 pm CDT
Category: commuting, travel, work
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Monday, May 4th, 2015

It was the first weekend of Madison Craft Beer Week, so brace yourself! This is going to be mostly about beer.

Both B and I had some flex time to burn on Friday, so we got out of work a couple hours early, drove straight home and had a nice nap for an hour or so. Hey, we’re middle-aged. It seemed like a great idea to us.

After getting a really good, restful nap, we changed clothes and went to The Malt House, where the Central Waters Brewery was doing a tap takeover, pouring I don’t know how many different beers – looked like at least a dozen. We got a flight of their darkest, maltiest high-gravity beers: an imperial cherry stout, a coffee stout known as Peruvian Morning, and their anniversary ale, 17. We grabbed a couple of chairs and settled in on the patio where we could enjoy sipping them in the evening light.

And sipping was about all we could do with these very strong brews. These are beers to be savored, not guzzled. We both thought that 17 was the very best. I had to give it 5 out of five marks. I can’t remember the last time I did that, but this was such a yummy beer that I just had to. I thought the cherry stout was a bit too tart, but B liked it fine. The coffee stout had just enough coffee aroma to make it as close to perfect as coffee stout gets, if I may say so.

After enjoying the beers on offer at The Malt House, we strolled down to Dexter’s Pub because we heard there was a tap takeover there, too. We sampled a few chocolate stouts from Southern Tier Brewing and a porter from Great Lakes before the noise and the crowds were too much for us and we began to miss the peace and quiet of our little red house.

Saturday we went to breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. Biscuits and gravy, baby!

At eleven, they had the official Madison Craft Beer Week kickoff party at the East Side Club with a collection of brewers and their firkins in a tent in the parking lot. Last year, the party was out back on the lawn, but a wedding party had taken over on Saturday. Too bad. Would’ve been a perfect day to be out on the lawn.

No biggie. We found a seat in a small garden by the door and took turns getting refills so we wouldn’t lose it. This was a classic beer tasting: They gave us four-ounce tumblers at the gate that we could get refilled as many times as we liked. I tried one of each of the beers on tap, even the sour beers that are all the rage now. I don’t like them, no matter how often I try them. They’re all just a little too tart for my palate, or I’ve got a faulty palate.

Tim swung by the fest at three to pick us up and take us home, where we grilled bratwurst and watched a movie after dinner. The movie was Locke. The whole movie was Tom Hardy in a car calling people on the phone. It was not boring, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe more about that later.

Sunday, out of bed at five. B had a quick shower, but I’m not as civilized, so I just threw on some dirty clothes. Besides, I knew we were going to be standing in line outside all morning, waiting to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest; who would be able to get a whiff of me? Nobody that I knew, that’s who.

There were 300 tickets available. Each person in line could buy two. At eight thirty, they started passing out wrist bands numbered one to one-fifty. I got number 148. B got 149. Just before they handed out the last numbered band to the guy behind us, he took a deep breath and said, “I think I’m about to cry.”

Once you have your numbered wrist band, you can step out of line and come back at eleven thirty to buy tickets. B and I went to breakfast at Stalzy’s. Probably didn’t need to, because we’d both just eaten the Lazy Jane’s scones we bought the day before, but it’s a tradition, born just last year, that we stop in for breakfast sammies after they hand out the numbers, so off we went.

After breakfast, we still had enough time to go home, where My Darling B had a nap. My tummy was too full, so I mowed the lawn. There, now I won’t have to think about it for a week!

Back in line at eleven-thirty; everybody started to bunch up at about eleven-fifty; ticket sales started at twelve and we got our tickets at twelve forty-five. Home again, home again, jiggidy-jog.

The last beer event for the weekend was the benefit for the pet rescue at One Barrel Brewing. Because nothing motivates people to save the doggies like beer. Well, nothing motivates me like beer, anyway.

Madison Craft Beer Week | 9:26 pm CDT
Category: beer, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play
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Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Got up at five this morning to get in line for tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest. Actually got in line at about five forty-five. There are only 300 tickets for sale at this location, and each person is allowed to buy two. At about eight o’clock, they started handing out numbered wrist bands. I got 148. B got 149. Couldn’t have cut it much closer than that. Looks like we’ll have to get up at four next year.

GTOM tickets | 8:50 am CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Wow! A Great Big Fish!
a great big fish in Hayward, WI
This must be the one that got away.

Just one of the things we saw on a recent business trip to Hayward, Wisconsin.

Great Big Fish | 6:38 am CDT
Category: travel, work
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Saturday, April 25th, 2015

I think I may finally be all caught up on the sleep I lost this week. Actually, I didn’t lose that much sleep. I was on an overnight business trip and we stayed in a hotel that was almost literally curbside to Interstate 43 in Manitowoc. I say “almost literally” because Interstate highways don’t have curbs, but if they did, I would have been sleeping – correction, non-sleeping within spitting distance of the curb. My coworker and traveling buddy got a room on the quiet side of the hotel and wouldn’t switch with me no matter how much I begged him. The turd.

We stopped at a liquor store for a six-pack of beer on the way back to the hotel from dinner, and I think that the two bottles I drank while channel surfing helped me get a solid two hours of sleep after lights off. An eighteen-wheeler downshifting on the exit ramp right outside my window woke me at about twelve-thirty. After offloading some of the beer I drank, I laid in bed mostly wide awake for about an hour, must have dozed off at some point and slept for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes when the next truck coming off the Interstate woke me with a blast from his engine.

I cycled between semi-sleep and wakefulness like that for the rest of the night, with a break at about three o’clock when I just said fuck it and spent about an hour and a half reviewing the paperwork I would have to follow for the audit I was scheduled to perform the next day. That made me just drowsy enough that I thought I might be able to sleep the rest of the night away, but shortly after I turned the lights off, another truck came jackbraking off the Interstate. GodDAMmit!

So when I got home the next day, I was in bed by eight o’clock that evening and I didn’t so much sleep as fall into a vegetative state that I did not rouse myself from until the alarm woke me in the morning. And that was good, but I truly felt that I needed more, especially after we came home following a visit to the gym that evening.

We are not fitness fiends, not by any stretch of the imagination. I like to take walks around the neighborhood and ride my bike around town, but that’s about as physically active as I get. My Darling B gardens, and that’s a physically demanding activity, but only from about May until September or maybe October. We took up yoga last fall so we wouldn’t spend all winter blobbing out on the sofa, surfing the internet for puppy videos.

And we talked about joining a gym, but that’s about all we did until last week when B proclaimed her ardent desire to firm up her muscles, or something. I got on board with that because that’s just the supportive kind of spouse I am. So Thursday night was our first time trying out the 30-minute workout circuit they had set up in the back of the gym, ten weight machines arranged in a semicircle around three rows of boxes. A traffic light on the back wall flashed green to tell you it was time to work out, and red to tell you to switch to the next machine. You were supposed to climb on the boxes between stints at the machines as a sort of rest period.

So off we went! B went first, guided by Luis, the gym’s fitness instructor. We didn’t tell Luis that neither one of us had visited a gym in about ten years. He could look at us and easily tell that we weren’t exactly prime physical specimens, but we probably should have given him that critical bit of information.

The first three machines were leg work. I got through those and thought, Hey, this is pretty easy, probably because I have to walk around on my legs every day. The rest of the machines worked on my back, arms and chest. The only work my arms do every day is lift my hands to a computer keyboard, so by the time I got to the fifth machine I had already changed my mind to, Okay, so maybe this isn’t going to be so easy after all, and by the sixth or seventh machine I was not at all confident that I would be able to make it to the end of the circuit.

My Darling B was doing just as well as I did until she got to the sixth or seventh machine, and then her blood sugar crashed, probably because she hadn’t eaten anything besides a banana at eleven o’clock. Luis took her out of the circuit and made her drink a bottle of Gatorade while I limped toward the finish line. Slept like the dead that night, I can tell you.

Two days later, I still feel like somebody beat me around my shoulders and upper arms with a lead pipe. A yoga class last night helped stretch out my poor tired muscles and I slept the sleep of the just once again, getting out of bed around six-thirty this morning only because Boo wouldn’t stop whining about whatever it is that cats whine about at six-thirty in the morning before they go back to sleep at seven-thirty.

deficit | 4:40 pm CDT
Category: travel, work
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A coworker and I stopped at a Perkins restaurant for lunch on a recent business trip. After we finished our entrees, the waitress took our plates away and asked us if we had saved any room for dessert. I wasn’t interested, but my coworker asked about the cookies he’d seen in the display case on the way in.

“We have a special on those,” the waitress told us. “If you buy three, you get three.”

We looked blankly at each other for a couple seconds, both thinking the same thing: What’s so special about that? If you pay for three, you ought to get three.

Then the nickel dropped. What she meant was that if he bought three, she would give him three more. It was a two-for-one deal.

pay for three | 8:10 am CDT
Category: coworkers, food & drink, restaurants, work
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Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Phrases about working in the garden that sound normal when My Darling B says them but sound dirty when I say them:

  • pruning the sage
  • plowing the potato bed
  • weeding the patch
  • sowing the sweet peas
  • is that a dibble in your pocket?
is that a dibble in your pocket? | 11:06 am CDT
Category: garden, random idiocy, yard work
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Friday, April 17th, 2015

My Darling B snorted at me when I ventured the opinion that Where The Sidewalk Ends was a pretty good movie. She thought it was “too corny.”

“It wasn’t any cornier than Casablanca,” I replied.

“Hey hey hey, don’t be dissing on Casablanca,” she warned me, wagging a finger.

“I’m not dissing,” I said, “but c’mon. You don’t think Sydney Greenstreet was every bit as corny in Casablanca as Dana Andrews was in Sidewalk?” But she wouldn’t bite. I’d already gone where I shouldn’t have.

Where The Sidewalk Ends | 3:07 pm CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest | Tags:
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