Saturday, December 31, 2005

Dangerous Oatmeal

I like to take a few chances.

One is pursuing the perfect bowl of oatmeal at high speed.

Microwave oatmeal is break-dancing on an antenna. First steps involve a lot of falling. A lot of boil-overs and graceless flailing. I looked deep into the heart and oatmeal, and found this is what it needed: a larger bowl.

So, I make my morning oatmeal like this: two teaspoons of sunflower seeds, one slice of candied ginger, diced, this much oatmeal, poured from the bag, and one cup of soy milk. I put it all in a four cup Pyrex measure, set that upon the turntable, and run our 1400 watt microwave for two minutes.

Two minutes is fine. At two minutes, I can walk away, and the oatmeal will seldom boil over. And I'll have a decent bowl of oatmeal, a bit dry in the center of the flakes, perhaps, but perfectly palatable.

Ah, but three minutes! Three minutes yields an excellent bowl of oatmeal. At three minutes, all the flakes are plump and moist, the milk has merged into something greater, and an exquisite edge of carmel has joined the flavor circus. Three minutes is gorgeous.

And three minutes means pushing the edge. Complete attention, as I watch the oatmeal rise through the gridded window. My finger hovers, ready to stop the process, let the foam fall, rescue my carefree breakfast from wasting itself on the surface of the turntable. Each morning, with changes in the atmosphere or whim of oatmeal volume, the process reinvents itself -- no simple formula can capture its living complexity. Just me, completely alive to the moment, watching the rise, hitting the button, looking at the black screen that hides the contents when the power is off, until I feel my moment return, restarting, and repeating. To three minutes. Or maybe a little longer.

And then, if I have danced my dance well, I eat a great bowl of oatmeal.

Or if not, I suffer the agonies of short rations and microwave KP duty.

Or maybe not. Maybe it's only oatmeal.

Or maybe it's something magnificent, because I have invested myself in it.

Here is your day. May you dramatize it or float through it, as suits you best.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Letters

Dear Readers,

So many of you have forgotten about writing personal letters. Is there no place in the world for time spent, writing one person to one person? Here is an art, crafting words for one other's eyes, that is practice for truth, for relationship, for empathy and presence. There is value in the old forms.

Yes, I know you are busy. Phone calls are faster, and hearing a voice is its own pleasure. Casual emails, dropping the formalities, get something said without placing too much weight on it. Barely personalized mass mailings of Christmas cards let you connect with the so many you know and feel for, say hello, I'm still here, I still care and still have time for your life. I thank you for those efforts of connection and care.

And I challenge you -- look at the letter. See, here: the date. Forever marking this expression as belonging to one point in time. Breathing the now of that moment. This is what I said to you then.

And the salutation: oh, how I have constructed and deconstructed the salutation over the years. I was taught, to begin with, that you wrote "Dear ..." as a form. It no longer meant that you held dear the person so saluted, any more than putting the knife on the right of the plate means you are taking special care to notice that the person you are setting the table for is right-handed. All "Dear ..." meant was that you knew and followed the correct form. And then, and then -- oh, the letters we wrote, and how we experimented, brash, wild rebels, with other salutations! "Hello, ..." "Good morning! ..." "Hi, ...". We might try "Dearest ..." in ironicool mode or "Old Chap ..." in Brit-derived semi-casual literary reference mode. We might even write "Beloved ..." in a wild access of self-unveiling and passion. And back to "Dear ...", with full import, yes, it is a form, and yes! it is a truth, you are dear to me, and I show it by taking the time to write, and I create it by trusting and believing and writing to you my truth, my self, these gifts of words. Dear reader.

And then the body. Room for improvisation. Simple, because all we really need is the intent to communicate. Newsy, because we have stories to share. Or want to be known. Stylish, look, isn't this beautiful? Don't I make these words worth the time of reading? Aren't I clever? Heartfelt, to reach you. Tailored, to show I have seen who you are, and I have chosen this for you. Containing gifts of information and appreciation.

Look! for you! this astounding quote I found today: "Through it all, listen to the stirrings of your heart and the calling of your soul. The ultimate purpose of spirituality is to bridge the illusory divide between the self and the Divine. (...) Spirituality is a full-contact sport, and you are called to participate in your own journey on as deep of a level as you can." Jhenah Telyndru.

Isn't that the heart of Christmas? How God sent his son to bridge the gap between Himself and us? And how our part, is to build our own end of the bridge, as best we know how to do it, and come to Him in the middle? And build our own bridges, one to another, recognizing one another as His children, His hands, His workings through this world?

And isn't a letter a bridge? An art, a path, a way? Not just the bridge between person and person. Like all arts, the bridge between who we are now and who we are becoming. Shall we become masters of something? What is your art? Is it reaching for perfection in the shape of a sentence, the color brushes of oil paint, a glory of expression of note, rhythm and passion in song? Is it getting through a day of career and family and home and still being sane at the end? Is it doing your work just a little better than the day before? Is it more self-awareness in that asana, or more devotion in that prayer? A martial art? Friendship? Marriage? And couldn't writing a letter enhance whatever art you practice? Or be its own art, its own ascent to the pinnacle?

Yes, the body.

And then, the closure. The classical form is "Your devoted servant," and who in our democratic present would want that? Who would give themselves to serve another, devotedly, voluntarily, and as a formula? Never mind that the closure would be returned in form again. There's something, in a meeting of modern equals, free men and women, that rebels against declaring oneself a servant. And so, we have, "Your friend," or move to dropping what exactly we are, and write, "Yours," all simply. Yet, that's too plain, does not carry our intent -- so we get "Devotedly yours," "Fraternally yours," "Sincerely yours," oh, yes, but really this whole possession thing is a bother, and it becomes just "Sincerely," for the less intimate letters. And sincerely is the new standard. To say we really meant it, we are giving, if not ourselves, then at least our truth -- a hair-thin distinction, isn't it?

And "Love," is the standard for those we are familiar with -- familiar in the old nearly family, shocked Victorian woman exclaiming with her hand to her chest "You are too familiar, sir!" sense -- for those we can clearly and unironically admit to loving, at least as far as a semi-form closing, 'cause writing "I love you" might just be too much.

And they all mean I care. From "Your devoted servant," to "Yours," to "Sincerely," to "Love," they all express our intention to connect, one to another.

Which is why we have the emerging alternate standard of closing by wishing someone well. "Best wishes," "All the best to you," "May you have your heart's desire," "Merry Christmas," "Blessed Be," "Live long and prosper," and many more. Room for creativity here. If creativity is what you want. Because original or form, the letter still says: Salutation: I care; Body: I care; Closing: I care. And that is the beauty and value of the forms, that even tongue-tied and self-conscious, here we can say and connect, in the tested and beautiful ways.

And so I take letter-writing as one of my arts. Should you choose this art, or should you choose another, may it bring you closer to the Divine and to the ones you love this season.

Devotedly yours,
Anna

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Twenty years of bliss

I have a really great marriage. When people fantasize about their ideal marriage, their fantasy is only half of my reality. I mean, look at this:

It's snowing. It snowed all day yesterday. So we need to clean the walks. Doug takes the snow shovel. I take a straw broom and make like a Russian grandmother --

now, why I keep feeling like a Russian grandmother, I don't know. I have no Russian ancestry, as far as I know, mostly Swede/Suomi, German and English -- but this photo I saw once -- or did I dream it -- with this woman, all bundled with her broom, waiting in the doorway for her chance to sweep -- labelled as Russian grandmother, employed as as snowsweeper for pennies a day -- that has stayed with me for years, decades even, and especially now that my waist is more sturdy than slim, and my hair piles on top of my head as the first of many snowballs that shape my silhouette -- I find myself thinking of myself as a Russian grandmother

-- so I make like a Russian grandmother, and together we go clear the snow. And he conscientiously asks if I want the Yak traks, so I won't slip. And just this morning, I was theorizing that my charisma was around 14, with a plus two bonus for nerds, since I speak the language, and he says you're 18/99 to me. Even though I've been his trophy bride for almost 20 years, and have this Russian grandmother vibe going on.

And we have no income, and it's him and me together, happy, anyway. Glad to be together. Taking on the projects, the one day at a time, to get to our next thing. Enjoying having more time together. And there through the ups and downs.

Like that. The real thing. Love.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Motel memories

The earliest memory I have of a motel: we were on our way to Christmas. I don't know why we stopped -- usually we made the trip in a single day. It was late. We checked in, Dad dashing to the office through the rain, and moved into a room. The roof leaked into the center of the second bed. So somehow, we arranged two adults and three -- or was it four? -- children around the relentless drip and splosh.

Nonetheless, I've always liked motels. Some place new, an adventure -- maybe even then I liked rising to the challenge of dealing with the unexpected.

There was a family that came each summer to stay in the small town I grew up in. They took lodging in the Miles Motel, and I peered through the door into their room, as fascinated as if they dwelt in a fairy burrow.

For one family reunion, we stayed in a motel with remarkably low rates. Inside, the rooms had the further surprises of a kitchen, complete with oven, and pink painted stone walls. Only the mosquitos rising off the nearby creek marred my fantasy of settling in there for months to write a novel.

My great origami road trip brought me to motel after motel. The most interesting lay along the old Route 66 -- with staff seemingly all a family, and signs faded, with the tourist flow having diverted along the new freeway. At one, a lone musician in the attached cafe countered my request for Greenback Dollar with a decent rendition of Tom Dooley. In another -- seemingly the last room in town -- the smoke was so thick, I decided a shower the next morning would serve no purpose.

The greatest gift I found was in a room with dingy tub and bars on the windows. The bed had one of those massage devices that shook the frame for a few minutes for a quarter. I had had a rough day -- the travel was beginning to wear on me in aching muscles, twisty stomach and pounding head. I lay on that bed, and dropped my quarter in, reaching again and again into the tarry cavity to retrieve my quarter where it dropped all the way through.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The strange feeling of having your skin off

Over the past couple of weeks, I've had a strange sensation. I'll try to describe it.

It started nearly as intense as pain. I felt as though my skin was off. I was that sensitive to happenings around me, new thoughts and feelings, the presence of other people. It was almost as though "I" extended amoebic feelers into the world, some ways beyond my skin. Not just through space, but to wherever I had my attention. And these feelers could easily be hurt, because they were soft and very open. They weren't hurt, though -- they just poured bright sensation to me, richer more glowing colors than I had ever seen, as if dark glasses I had worn all my life had suddenly dissolved.

It reminded me of the image of the Pierced Shield, new openness to everything, unprotected and yet finding there was nothing to be protected from, it turns out everything I was holding the shield against was nourishment.

Or I felt as though I had come out of a cocoon, all delicate wings and sunlit color, not yet realizing I could fly.

I spent two or three days with that much intensity.

Since then, it's settled a little. Now it's more as if I have removed a layer of clothes, to feel the sun on my skin, than if my skin itself is gone.

This comes after starting a new level of Holosync, an audio-aided meditation program. It also comes as we negotiate changes in our life -- a period of potential and endings. We may soon sell the house. Doug is seeking work. All our usual schedules are loosed. I'm working intensely on creating the mental and physical states I need to play good poker. One of my friendships has ended, others show promise. Dad is better, and still at risk. Many, many uncertainties. Many changes.

And I feel open, and happy, and I'm going easily deeper into yoga postures than I have in a long time, though my practice is light.

Too open, too ongoing to end a post in any neat way.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Holy days

We had a glorious Halloween. Surely this holiday makes us all richer. It's like mental training for entrepreneurs. One day, where we institutionally reward becoming someone else, and demonstrate that abundance is yours for the asking. Just as American as the festival of goods that is the main thrust of Christmas.

Most of the stores around here leapt from Halloween decorations to Christmas on November 1st. I think that is a mistake. Yes, they're eager, in the uncertain economy, to encourage the glow of spending. Dropping the practice of appreciating our abundance -- Thanksgiving -- undercuts the value of all goods. Although Thanksgiving sells relatively few goods, it creates satisfaction with the goods one has. Pushing sales without allowing appreciation makes all goods hollow. Without celebrating what we have, we can too easily reach a point where any possession becomes meaningless. Without Thanksgiving, Christmas will suffer a backlash. So, I'd think, that though it generates few sales, it would pay in the long run to recognize Thanksgiving.

I cooked a turkey and a ham for the members of my Amaranth group last Thursday. I didn't know how many people would show up. First guess, twenty people. Next rumor -- forty at most. I had a twenty pound turkey, everyone was bringing sidedishes. As the day approached, with Auditor Vorthys' admonition of "No artificial scarcities" ringing in my inner ears, the desire to add a ham grew. So, the morning of the roasting, I bought a ham. I chose the most beautiful one, rather than the largest or the cheapest. Rinsed the turkey, brushed it with a mixture of olive oil, salt and paprika, set it in my roasting pan, and the pan in the oven -- and discovered I had no room for the ham. Ah, um, oh -- aha! -- I put it in a stainless steel stew pot with a cover, poured in a half inch of water, and simmered for two hours. It worked wonderfully.

The house smelled incredible. The brush mixture created the most gorgeously russet roasted turkey I've ever seen. One of the members of the group expertly carved and deboned it in the Lodge kitchen. My husband sliced the ham.

Of course everyone brought massive food potluck to the dinner. Of course we had half the turkey and two-thirds of the ham to bring home. I'm contemplating the creation of a turkey meatloaf, and glowing at how well fed and rich we are.

Give thanks, everyone. We live in incredible abundance.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Quixotic quests

Itunes offered a handful of inexpensive audiobooks on sale recently. I picked up _Julie and Julia_, abridged. The author reads it herself. One day, depressed, 29, and feeling like a failure, Julie Powell decided to cook every recipe in _Mastering the Art of French Cooking_. She went into hysterics when meeting difficulties. Eventually, as she blogged about the experience, gained an audience, conquered more recipes, and started getting some perspective on the world, she became happier. She finished her quest and turned it into a book. The end.

I didn't like the book very much. It's nice that she gets better. Still, she spends the first third in a disgusting abyss of self-pity. At one point, she even describes herself as the hysteric woman in _Airplane_ and her husband as all the other passengers, slapping her out of it. Ouch, I hope that was metaphorical.

It's good to set goals and accomplish them. Good food is good for your spirits. And I suppose starting at a low point makes better drama. Still, it was a low point of her own creation. No one has to go into a trance of self loathing because they are a secretary, because they married their high school sweetheart, because they are 29. Not even because their biological clock is ticking.

Ah, well. There's some value to watching her build a better philosophy. And the cooking is interesting. I'll even grant that others might find the things I let myself get blue over to be equally trivial, now and then. And I enjoyed thinking about the value of good food. So the book has something to offer, if you slog through the dreariness.

I was recently reading _No Plot? No Problem!_ by Chris Baty. It's a guide to the glorious quest that is National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is an online community for writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I'm entering again this year.

_No Plot? No Problem!_ is cheery, daring, celebratory of imperfection. It's practically the antipodes of _Julie and Julia_. It's a handbook for setting aside your mental editor and pumping out gales of fiction. Because, surprisingly, just getting something written often produces delightfully adequate stories. Or in any case, beats putting off writing to meet a higher standard another day that never comes.

In one exercise, Chris Baty has us write lists of what we love in novels and what we hate in novels. It was the first time in a long time I'd given myself permission to follow my own tastes. And you know, I don't really like a lot of the fiction heralded as important literature. I don't like depressed characters barely managing to come to grips with the disappointments of their mediocre lives. I'm not impressed by gritty reality. I want color, adventure, grand plans, and gonzo worlds. I want optimism and humanity and humor. Sure, I want a leavening of truthful observation and problems thorny and substantial. I want continuity, and magic and science that have a price and don't change their rules midstream. I want competent characters, wit and good prose.

I also noticed that I'm a bit more accepting of lit fic in movies than in novels. I didn't mind _Lost in Translation_ so much, and I was fond of _Sideways_. Still -- really -- _Star Trek: First Contact_ really hit the target. Come to think of it, so did _Spiderman_ one and two. (And no, none of Star Wars 1-3 did.)

So now you know. I'm a fan, and we actually have critical targets.

And if my taste sounds like something you would share, check out the reviews button on the left for more.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kim Chee

I'm making my second batch of kim chee today.

The first batch was last spring. We split the seasoning packet in half -- thinking one quart of kim chee was plenty -- and enjoyed the curious process. The kim chee overflowed when we opened the quart jar to try it. It's a fermented product, like wine or beer, but much faster. Toward the end of the quart, we were a little tired of it. I thought I might not ever make a second batch.

Time goes on. Midsummer, I bought a jar of kim chee. A pint. We finished it quickly. A couple weeks ago, the thought of making another batch began to dwell in my mind. I couldn't find good napa cabbage my first runs to the grocery store. Three days ago, I did.

Yesterday, I started the salt water soak. Today I rinsed the condensed cabbage, mixed it with the seasoning, and stuffed it in an antique blue wire-seal Mason jar. It smelled wonderful, and I can hardly wait for it to be ready tomorrow.

One day to wait for the kim chee alchemy. The pressure of the sealed jar and the heat of the red pepper will transform bland cabbage into something daring and piquant. You have to love yeast, it makes so many good foods out of dull ingredients -- beer, wine, bread, kim chee. Grapes, I suppose, are not dull -- merely sweet and innocent. Wine is headier, more sophisticated.

It stores better, too.

I've been under pressure and heat myself recently. With our reduced income, my father's illness, and the refining edges of my normal charity work and poker beats, it's been quite a time. I'm hoping the work I do on myself will serve as divine yeast, and re-inspire me as something tastier.

As for the kim chee -- to paraphrase Voltaire -- once, an adventuress, twice, an addict.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Spam in comments

Comments on the last post have been turned off. There was only one -- a spam. I'm having trouble with the comment removal function of blogger. Their help files say that you may need to turn off firewall protection to use it. We have hardware running the firewall between our machines and the internet. So, for the moment, I set all comments on that entry to hidden.

It's interesting that the kaleidoscope of business links I offer on the right of this page have plenty of Texas Hold'Em content today. Their official policy is no gambling content (and no reference to the offers) on blogs that use them. Have they decided poker isn't gambling? California law seems to take that stance. I enjoy seeing them, as a puzzle to see what they take as relevant from my very free-form blog, and as a nice bit of contrasting color. That's all the benefit I've had from them. Reality check: not getting rich here. They probably work best from focused and highly marketed websites, rather than sleepy and personal ones like mine.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A quarter's absence

So, it has been a while. Things go on. Doug has changed work situations. Since a change of management at the beginning of the year, he has not been enjoying his work. July 21st, they mutually decided he would leave. He picked up half-time work consulting already, and could increase his hours there. It's not his heart's desire -- so, at half time, he can can continue to pursue his real dream, recover a bit of the wear on his health the last stressful months created, and make sure he's leaning his ladder against the right wall before he climbs it.

Half income is a challenge for me. And that's taking challenge in both positive and negative fullness of connotation. I like having a project, being useful. Yet I miss the freedom of higher income. There's no doubt we can get through six months, even a year of this. Yet at moments I slip toward despair... it's stress. Somehow, the knowlege that we can do this and the fear that we can't coexist in me. Working, working.

Meanwhile, I had several developments in my poker game. I took a local class, met several people. I've now written five articles for Gutshot.co.uk. I've enjoyed that. Also putting in more time on my online game. I purchased a Windows machine. Definitely runs the poker clients better. Macs completely own Windows machines in beauty and elegance.

Amaranth goes along. We handled the fireworks situation about as well as last year. I really enjoyed being able to delegate all the initial scheduling to someone else. The actual work is fine -- I hate calling people to get them to work. I put in more hours and enjoyed them more this year.

Our membership is falling, though. We are only one or two losses away from being unable to continue. I was the only member who managed to attend a conference on how to increase membership. It was disheartening. People are trying to bring the Masonic bodies into greater public awareness and make them more relevant to the twenty-first century. The task group I was in all seemed highly daunted by the task. So I really don't know what will happen with that.

It's quite likely Doug's career search will lead us out of Bend. When we can't quite fill our offices now, and only half a dozen members do eighty percent of the work, things could be grim when I go.

Oh, well. Some things are meant to end. And if the remaining members want the benefits, they'll find a way to make it happen. And if not -- at least it will stop being my problem. There is a real pleasure in releasing responsibility. Shame I'm overage to be a slacker.

So -- lots going on, and I've been writing -- just not here. Do check out the Gutshot articles -- I'm happy with them.

And I wish you all a great summer.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Blank Book

I put in a good day today. I caught up on the dishes, fed myself good food, brought the checkbook up to date, and played about 4 hours of online poker. There's a bonus to clear within a week -- I met one-fifth of the requirements today, so that should go well.

Called Doug -- he's delayed in Durango, as his travelling partner's sister-in-law went into labor this morning. Jay would like to stay to see his new niece or nephew, and who can blame him? So they'll likely remain there through tomorrow, and come home in a marathon session Sunday.

So then, 4:30 and all goals for the day accomplished, I headed for Barnes and Noble. There's something satisfying in wandering among books, skimming here and there. I have dozens of books at home, awaiting my attention. So all I bought was another blank journal. I fly through those at a steady average of three pages a day.

I was interested to see a trend in mysteries featuring literary characters. There are series featuring Jane Austen and Elizabeth Darcy, and both Irene Adler and a young woman named Mary Russell have series spinning off from Sherlock Holmes. These have all reached multiple entries in the series. So I expect people are reading the originals, too. Glad to see it. Certainly I've found the Sherlock Holmes stories and the books of Jane Austen among the most delectable of classics.

If I should find myself around long enough for Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to have passed into classic status, I could see writing a series of mysteries featuring them as detectives. Terry would have a series of young informants named Kevin, and disarm antagonists with wit, while Neil blended into the seedier edges of rock music and goth culture and generated useful mystic synchronicities -- maybe, but not unequivocally, gaining supernatural aid. A literary riff, not a serious portrayal -- and my apologies to both the still quite living authors.

How would Jane Austen feel about being recast as a proto-feminist detective?

Also found it quite relaxing to write those journal pages without a cat competing for the space on my lap. When you work from home -- it's relaxing to get out now and then.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Lonesome Blues

I'm getting all my work done too quickly.

Doug is on vacation -- on a Ghia cruise with a fellow car enthusiast -- and I've been cleaning house and playing poker and catching up on my reading and finding the days all too long. I think I normally stop to play and rest when he comes home and since he hasn't -- all work makes Anna dreary and restless.

I could take on some new projects, but I don't really have the heart for any of them. I've been eating well, getting enough sleep, even exercising. It's enough to make me want to bang my head.

There have been some interesting events since my last post. I was successfully installed for Amaranth, and my origami decorations went over well.

I caught a cold, with all the drama that entails.

Dad decided to relocate permanently to Yuma, Arizona. I went over Friday to help him with his garage sale. He's done an amazing job of sorting out his possessions -- one part to discard, one part to sell, one part -- only enough to fit in his Jeep -- to take to his new home. Every time we've moved, I've gotten terribly bogged down in that triage. I find it hard to let go.

I also published an article at Gutshot Poker online. They said they were looking to establish longterm relationships with writers, so I intend to send them an article or two every month. Cool -- a column! I've sent a second article, and I'm enjoying writing them.

So Dad was introducing me around Prineville as his published daughter. I was pleased to see that his copy of the manuscript of my second novel made the cut of possessions to take to Yuma.

So, the third novel is a project I could spend some time on. Or finishing the foam project. Or any of a large number of other pieces of work. I have plenty to do.

It's just that none of it is feeling all that worth doing just now.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Celebrate nostril breathing day!

Hurrah! A holiday for me!

I'm all cheery and a bit light-headed -- I've been able to breathe through my nose since last evening, and I'm probably getting more oxygen than I was the last few days. Slightly later recovering than I expected last entry, but still on track. Expect I'll be fine and perky for Installation this weekend.

Thank goodness I didn't have to resort to the dreaded hot foot bath. The nasal irrigation is unpleasant enough. It doesn't take very long, and really relieves sinus pressure, so I discipline myself to it easily enough. Those hot foot baths mean more than an hour of sweating, and several hours too exhausted to do anything but lie there.

Well, this whole subject is disgusting, and I'm glad I'm ending this cold. I picked up some origami bouquets I had made for my Mom over the years from her house today. She's lending them back to me so I can decorate for Installation. They needed dusting and some small repairs. I've finished all but one of them. I'll need to make a couple more. I really enjoy making origami bouquets. The spark of the bright colors, the creative choices to make in combining shapes, patterns, and sizes, the sensual press of fingers against paper, the sheer delight of a stretch move that blooms a flat packet into a three dimensional flower -- it's one pleasure after another.

Strangely, one of the most common comments I get on origami is "That must take a lot of patience." I've even heard that from people who knit!

Just goes to show we don't all enjoy the same things. And that is itself a very good thing.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Soon back in game

Woke up this morning feeling a lot better. Last Saturday, I left home at 6:30 am to go to a day of Amaranth meetings in Portland. Didn't get home until 10 pm. Sunday, I stressed over hosting our book club at our house, and did a bunch of cleaning and worrying. Book club went fine, not sure why I worry so much. We were discussing Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett, a book I love (check the review blog) and I really enjoyed talking about it. I was pretty tired when it was over.

Monday, just couldn't get rested. Tuesday, dragged around the house. Finished putting 2004's poker results in a database so I could complete my taxes. Haven't sent them yet -- want to check them when my head is clear. We went out for dinner Tuesday night -- I had a coupon at McGrath's for a free appetizer basket. Whoof! Everything breaded and deep fried! Way heavier and richer than I usually eat, and I didn't sleep well. So Wednesday, I have a full on cold.

Thursday, still ill. Went to Amaranth anyway, there was a lot of work I needed to get done there for Installation, only 10 days away. Couldn't get away until 9:30 pm.

Did do some salt water gargling and snorting. Cleared my head a lot. Slept until about 3:30 am, pretty well, sat up and did Holosync from 4:30 to 5:30, got back to sleep and woke about 8:20 after a very restful few hours. So I'm feeling much better today, head not so stuffy, energy better, and _hungry_ -- which is a very good sign, my appetite has been gone since that appetizer platter. I could be symptom free tomorrow -- which will be one of the fastest clearings of a cold I've ever done. My health has been improving. Very nice.

Meanwhile, huge fluffy flakes are falling outside my window. More strange weather this year. So Doug took the car, and I'm home to rest and improve. And tomorrow is Saturday. It's all good.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Kitchen Serendipity

Recently I found myself with 5 croissants past their prime. Result of buying a Costco flat of them for easy breakfasts at a conference. What to do? Why not make bread pudding?

So I tore them in bite sized pieces, and tossed them into a square baking dish. Then I mixed up my usual custard -- quart of soy milk, 4 eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, pumpkin pie spices to taste. Dash of salt. One quarter cup of sugar -- which is light for most folks' taste -- I've been easing my taste for it, since there is a diabetic in the house. I beat that all together well, and poured it over the croissant pieces, and put it in the oven at 350 degrees.

One hour later, I opened the oven door, and wow! The pudding has puffed three inches over the dish, like a beautiful golden souffle! Gorgeous!

I took it to the table, and it gently settled, leaving a thickly risen rim around a flatter center, like a pizza crust or a dutch baby pancake. It tasted quite reminiscent of a dutch baby, too, so I served mine with lemon liqueur. Doug preferred his bit with maple syrup.

A sweet reward for good stewardship of groceries and a willingness to experiment in the kitchen.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

What stories would a peaceful world tell?

I'm wondering about the fiction of the future. If we get to the kind of future I'm hoping for and working towards -- one where conflict is resolved through talking, not fighting -- will they still enjoy the stories we write today? Or will our plots and characters strike them as distastefully violent and conflicted, the way the unexamined racism of much 1930's pulp fiction grates on our ears today?

The barest skeleton of plot is: problem, resolution. Our best-selling novels pile one problem on another -- the lead character sets out to solve one problem, and then things get worse. And worse. Until finally everything is resolved, usually quite close together, in the last small portion of the book.

Would this look stilted, tortured, and unnatural to a world of peaceful people? Will they make some breakthrough and look back at us as though we all lived Idiot Plot lives? Future readers might pick up our novels and say, "Hey! This guy's violating the 3rd law of How to Get Along! And there his love interest goes violating the 4th law! And now they're both breaking the first law! Are they both idiots? Man, I just can't relate to this. Why'd anyone read this stuff, anyhow?"

See, maybe the future will be better, because people will learn something that seems simple and obvious to them -- even though we don't know it yet. The way it seems simple to us to wash our hands before eating. Or that the world is round. And then, when they look at how we ignored this glaringly obvious principle, they'll find it hard to empathize with our problems.

And maybe -- since I'm postulating peaceful people -- the whole idea of problem, resolution -- will just not interest them all that much.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

You know, I have a belief that my life is not very interesting. To others, anyway. I enjoy many daily small interests -- the weblogs I keep up with, the games I play, my studies in self-improvement and poker, insights I have while writing my other journal by hand. I would never bore you with the two pages I spent considering whether I'd learned anything from discovering I had different expectations of friendship than Catherine. Or with the consideration of how rotating an asymmetrically patterned piece of origami paper can have a different effect when turning it into one of the 170 Fuse boxes I recently made. I don't expect you to want a box by box commentary through 170 boxes.

Did you see Beyonce performing at the Oscars? I found myself thinking -- how many love songs has she sung in her life, and isn't she tired of overemoting basicly the same lyrics again and again? How can any of that expression be meaningful if you apply it to all the songs?

I don't have a defined audience and subject matter. Penny Arcade does -- gamers and games -- and they have been very successful with that. I don't have glamour brought from celebrity in another field -- like Wil Wheaton or Neil Gaiman -- that brings people in to be captured by the excellence of the writing. I don't have the scheduled reliability of Topic or the gonzo iconoclasm of David Brin or J. Perry Barlow. In fact, I may not have the excellent writing to hold you, should you happen to come by.

And yet.

When Wil Wheaton writes about events that in other hands might seem small, I care. So the subject matter I have to offer need not be inherently boring.

And I _can't stop_. Late, infrequent, trivial -- I still find myself wanting to write here. So, read or not, watch out WWW, here I write.

And hey, maybe the excellence will come later. As Marion Zimmer Bradley used to say, every writer has a million bad words to get out of the way before the good ones come.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I've now made public an intent to add comments to this blog. I hope to get to it soon.

First, though -- I'm having a bad day. I received a call reminding me I had work for my charity group to attend. I am really in resistance to this. I hate having my own projects interrupted to attend to the commitments I was pretty much tricked into.

The story goes like this: the leader of the group at the time asked if I could take the Associate Conductress position in our local Amaranth group. I had been a member for a few months. She said, watch what the current AC does, and see if you can do that. It was not too tough. I agreed.

THEN I find out that accepting AC means starting the line -- four years of ever larger commitments within the meetings, AND additional work that goes with the positions outside the meetings. I've done my best. I have one more year to go in the line, and I have gotten some good things done, and supported our excellent cause diabetes research. BUT...

After the call yesterday, I slept badly. Today, my stomach is queasy, and I have lines of pain flaring along my muscles. And this happened the last time I suddenly found myself dealing with extra Amaranth work, too.

All my philosophy, all my apparent goodwill to do the work, to do the best I can for our group, betrayed as not fully what I wish by the clear physical symptoms I develop when I need to do it. There I go. It's just too much. I hurt.

So, anyway. Though I'd like to spend the morning researching how to add comments to this blog, and the afternoon earning money, I will instead be setting tables and serving a meal to 120 people, developing forms to help the other members of the group, and making phone calls to remind members of the meeting Saturday and find the necessary volunteers required by group bylaws. None of which I enjoy, even when I don't feel sick to my stomach and achy all over.

I keep thinking there's some way I can adjust my attitude and do this work without pain. But I haven't been able to find it. And I'm not willing to break the commitment (even though it was given under false pretenses) and blow the whole thing off. So I'm suffering.

The best I can manage is: this too, will pass.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

More small improvements to the site this morning. I found a copy of HTML Visual Quickstart Guide at a local used bookstore, and it has really been a lot of help.

Used books are good. I had credit for trading books there, so I paid $4.50 for it. It's always pleasant to get a bargain. And right now, I'm feeling very motivated to live frugally and pay my debts down to Zero. In about fifteen months, my Mom has invited us to share a week in a condo in England. I'd really like, as long as we're crossing the Atlantic, to spend an extra week or two on the continent. Maybe we could get to Italy this time. So, all the money I'm putting to debt, I'd like to throw into savings, and really have a good time. First things first -- pay off that credit.
Then plump up the savings, then La Dolce Vita!

It's the La Dolce Vita part that's motivating. Credit or debt is like plain numbers on a page to me -- I have a certain indifference to it. I can only get excited about things I could do with the money, not the money itself. And that's fine.

So I'm thinking of long, warm evenings drinking wine, surrounded by Roman architecture and women wearing fine Italian shoes. The scent of garlic, and antipasto, pasta, entree, tiramisu parading to my table to savor while having long conversations with Doug. See, that's the kind of reward that's worth a little belt tightening!

Ciao, all.

Monday, February 14, 2005

You wouldn't believe how pleased I am with myself for recent HTML victories on this site. I was able to place my ads just where I wanted them and retrieve my title from under the search bar. I'm really tickled pink.

Well, best not to make any promises about further improvements just now. Best to all, and wish me luck.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Spent a good portion of this morning making barbecue sauce. Surely you've heard that the map is not the territory. More interestingly, the recipe is not the sauce.

I do know cooks who follow recipes very closely. I generally look at them more as inspiration. And in this case, I made up the recipe myself, so it's clearly a work in progress. Nothing to cling to there.

So -- I started a few years back to develop a barbecue sauce recipe. I knew it should have tomatoes and spiciness to it. A bit of vinegar tang. And I more often bake items with a sauce than actually barbecue over smoke. So a little smoke flavor could certainly help.

So one day, I opened a can of chipotles, took a sniff, and thought -- this smells like barbecue! Aha! Now I know how to get the smokiness and the heat into my sauce! Excellent!

I had a look at other barbecue sauce recipes. None had chipotles in them. Tomatoes, vinegar, sometimes mustard -- there's a lot of variation in them. I wanted one with relatively little sweetness -- no added sugar or corn syrup. I wanted one with a complex flavor. And I wanted to make it from ingredients I could keep on hand.

Onion is always good with meat. Many good recipes start: Saute an onion. Seemed like a good place to start. Butter always tastes rich, and I love garlic, but didn't want it to dominate. So, I started by sauteing half an onion and 2 cloves of garlic in 2 T (tablespoons) of butter. That softened them up nicely, the better to spread them on the meat, later.

In my first iteration, I tried adding some tequila here. Plenty of BBQ sauces seem to have bourbon or the like in them, and I prefer tequila. Didn't seem to add enough flavor to be worth the extra time. I dropped that step in the third trial or so.

Next, tomatoes. Since I wanted my sauce to be thick, and I wanted to make it from the pantry, I used canned tomatoes. Quite a few -- these add the most volume to the sauce. One 16 oz can was convenient.

Next, the chipotles. I didn't want fire alarm hot -- just a nice, tongue-tingling spiciness. Two chopped chipotles and two T of sauce from the can seemed about right.

Vinegar -- helps the sauce penetrate as well as adding flavor. Tasting bit by bit, I found 4 T about right.

Taste again. Tangy enough, but not sufficiently complex. Also, too bright a red -- barbecue sauce needs a dark, mysterious look. Taste -- hmm, do need a little sweetness. 2 T of molasses darkens it some, adds interest, and is ample sweetening for my palate. Still a little too bright, too simple.

So, I looked through the recipes some more. A lot of them called for Worcestershire -- something I don't keep on hand. I do have soy sauce -- aha! 1 T of soy, and I've hit it. This sauce will absolutely DO.

In a sudden excess of whimsy, I gave it the name Oregon Pantry Worcestershire we don't need no stinking Worchestershire Oven Barbecue Sauce. Far too long. Mostly goes by Oven Barbecue Sauce now.

Then -- I had to simmer it until all the pieces softened and the sauce thickened. Long periods on my feet, stirring -- has to be a better way. Blend it! But still too thin. So, I doubled everything but the tomatoes, and traded two 16 oz cans of tomatoes for a 28 oz can of tomatoes and a 7 oz can of tomato paste. More success!

But then -- what was I going to do with those leftover chipotles? They're pretty good chopped and scrambled with eggs. But wouldn't it be more elegant to use them all in the sauce recipe?

So, today's iteration -- tripled most ingredients, one extra garlic clove because they smelled better than usual -- two 28 oz cans of tomatoes and two cans of tomato paste, just because -- and the entire contents of the 7 oz can of chipotles, nicely minced.

It smells and tastes wonderful, and I'm giving it its final trial on some beef short ribs this evening. I can hardly wait.

Did I ever make it quite the same twice? Who knows! It's been good every time.



Sunday, February 06, 2005

OK, new review here: Paradox World Reviews I started this on the date listed, but only published it today. More to come soon.
Had a sore throat for a couple days. It has been a stressful couple of weeks. Applying the usual remedies.

In my case, the usual remedies include tea, hot wraps on the throat, and gargling with antiseptic. My antiseptic of choice at the moment is Don Crispin fake tequila, mixed half with water. We picked it up a couple years back in a Puerto Vallarta tourist trap. The bottled liquor is harsh, smoky, and although an agave distillate, created in the wrong area of Mexico to be tequila. Seems like the samples they gave us when selling it tasted better. In any case, it's undrinkable, and doesn't make a good Margarita, either. Mixed half with water, though, it still tastes better than Listerine, and seems equally effective on bleeding gums. Why would you want to use a mouthwash you're carefully warned against swallowing?

Doug and I are going to our local book club this afternoon. This month, we're discussing one of the books we presented for the group's consideration. I'm interested to see how they will like it. I didn't care for last month's selection. Rereading Expendable, by James Alan Gardner this month, I liked it even more than the first time. Festina Ramos has a distinctive voice, she starts cynical and becomes more effective, and I'm completely jealous of the idea he had about how a multi-species galactic civilization might work. One simple rule -- murder a sentient being, and if you travel into interstellar space, you will yourself die. Enforced by Arthur C. Clarke axiom means -- that is, it's probably technology, but it's so advanced it looks like magic. It's one hundred percent effective. This is as brilliant a story seed as Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. Most of the other set-ups for meeting other intelligent species had become a bit tired. The most common is that we're the best, smartest, and fastest out there, or in some other way critical, so that we have an edge. Another is that they are all hostile, so once we get out there, we'll be in one fight after another. It is tricky -- it doesn't seem likely that all other intelligences will be inferior to us. So, if they are vastly more advanced than us, what is to keep them from wiping us out? James Alan Gardner's solution to that conundrum is simple and brilliant. They're civilized, and some of the really advanced ones enforce that civilization on all the rest. There you go -- we can be the new kids on the block, and still have a chance to play.

He's continued the story into a fair number of sequels now. I may just reread the entire series. I had already reread Vigilant. Its vision of a political system that has a system to purge corruption and forsee the consequences of any governmental action felt comforting to return to recently. It's a fast-paced adventure story with Heinleinian social thought in it, too.

I feel some inclination to get the reviews area of this site back in action. I'll link to it here if that inclination becomes reality.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Here is an urgent and meaningful defense of the right to free speech. It seems quite applicable to our own country, though the author is writing from Scotland. I urge you to consider the arguments at The Woolamaloo Gazette.

I recently read Russka -- or the first part of it, anyway -- for a book club. I found the viewpoint of a character who seemed glad to style himself "the slave of the tsar" completely alien. Much weirder than a Klingon, Vulcan or Ferengi. Why would you want to yield your individuality to an autocrat? The tsar in question, Ivan, went on to kill vast numbers of his own people, as Stalin would do later. Which comes first -- being willing to accept a bad leader, or getting one?

Yes, there are situations in which it is right to follow. But how many people who have posted those "Freedom isn't free" bumper stickers have realized that we must equally resist our own government when it is oppressive as fight against other nations who threaten us. The American Revolution _was_ a resistance against our own government at the time. It has taken popular action at personal risk to obtain the civil freedoms we hold dear. And it may require a price for us to continue to enjoy them.