Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wouldn’t You Know?

I was looking forward to the down time afforded by the end of my last contract. My last day of work was Tuesday, September 30th. Guess what followed my partner home from work like a puppy that Friday: a cold virus! Sure, we can keep him, Honey.

We’ve both been under the weather for two weeks. I’m one of those people who get knocked flat on their butts by colds. The last time I had to work through a cold, I did so with copious amounts of DayQuil and NyQuil…when they still had pseudoephedrine in the formulas. They worked great. The newer formulas? Not so much. Well, I’m not one of those people who reach for a drug at the merest sign of discomfort, so with no requirement to buck up, I’d just as soon stay drug free this time and just deal with it.

I’m at the stage where my head is cloudy and my balance is a little off: like being on a boat. Pretty sure recovery is just around the corner. Still looking forward to that down time...the relaxing kind.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


A combination of attitudes usually prevents me from answering my phone in the car: drivers on the phone are even less considerate than the rest of the Chicago metro driving population and I am determined not to become like them, I can do without being connected to the possibility of human contact 24-7, and my phone is set to vibrate because I have no need of yet another source of aural stimulus…hmm….

That’s why I was in the parking lot at work on Wednesday morning when I finally got the message that the office was shut down by water damage sustained when the sprinklers put out a fire on Tuesday night. No one was injured. The fire was limited to a handful of cubicles on the second floor, and my first floor cubicle, along with all the others in that wing of the building, was off limits until the insurance inspectors could assess the damage. It might be days.


Last week I learned that my contract would end on September 30. Yesterday, with only ten billable days to go, the office was shut down because of fire damage; when I got home, the phone was blinking because a contracting firm had called to see whether I was available. Life is good.

Well, not that good. They wanted someone who could start Monday for a two-days-a-week job. I’m all for working fewer hours, but not that many fewer.

I’m looking forward to some down time. It’s not the work or the people…they’re both good…it’s the drive that has been sapping my energy these last couple of months. I have in the past finished up a contract one day and started a new one the next, but right now I need a little chill.

Looking back, it seems the process of finding a contract position starts like this: you find several prospects, and each prospect falls into one of several categories, although which category a specific prospect belongs to is not always immediately ascertainable.

The bulk of positions result from the panicked realization that the workload and deadline far exceed the company’s capacity. “Holy cow, we needed someone to start this three weeks ago!” These are recognizable within minutes of first contact with the client.

The non-position is the result of unfeasible projects. These prospects usually bring you through the interview stage, after which you learn that the company decided to either postpone or abandon the project. The panicked-realization project sometimes goes this route.

The half-price contract falls under the auspices of engineering in companies where the engineers in charge look upon professional writing as something that doesn’t involve much skill because it’s not engineering. (An example of this would be the Suburban Hausfrau’s “Old Company.”)

The future contract is the one that gets tangled up in HR or legal red tape for so long after the interview that you may no longer be available when the company is ready to move forward. If only these were easy to spot, I could take two weeks off between contracts every time.

Then there’s a super category that encompasses all of the above: the big-house prospects. The client contacts several contracting firms, large and small. Within hours, the job posting appears, with identical wording, on five job boards; two more within two days; two more within a week. You know they’re all offering different rates, so you respond to all of them and hope you can negotiate the highest rate possible with whomever contacts you. And your silent phone just stares at you.


Early last week the manager I’m working for told me that my contract would be terminated at the end of the month. Due to budget constraints, most contractors are being let go. She is not happy about it, as there is still much work to do, nor is the engineering manager whose product my writing projects support. There is so much work, in fact, that the company could use another permanent writer.

They acquired a company out East, and its products are complex enough to be supported by two whopping documents and several smaller ones, as well as an online help system, all of which are grossly out of date with some documents going back to 2002. Most were in the process of being updated when the writer left, as people will do when their facility is about to close its doors and move several states away. No replacement was hired to fill the writer’s position.

Déjà vu struck when the engineering manager was opining that these manuals are so important that he would talk with his veep to see if they could come up with some creative ideas to keep the project going. No matter what company you go to, people deem their departments, functions, or products essential, and disagree with management’s decisions about where and how deep cuts should have been made…usually without any idea of the input and logic behind the decision process. I suppose it’s human nature to want to believe that your work matters at least as much as the next guy’s. But, regardless of all the second-guessing of the executives and their rationale, it’s their decision to make.

It actually comes at a very good time for me, psychologically if not financially. When I approached the contracting firm about this job in March, I knew it was a commute that I could not sustain over the long haul, and I said so. The contract was to be two to three months, and I knew I could endure it for that long. It has been six months and I’ve been approaching my limit for some time, even though I’ve been working from home one day a week. A few weeks ago, I broached the subject of working more than one day from home and was told that one day was all the director allowed, which is, of course, her prerogative. But it’s a showstopper for me. Early this month, I had decided to give notice and be finished no later than end of next month, so the cutbacks indeed came at a good time.

I did plant the bug in the writing manager’s ear that should the company realize that the current writing staff is insufficient, I know someone who might be interested in a permanent position. The Suburban Hausfrau lives up that way…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ah, the Summer Tomato

Fleshy and juicy, firm yet tender, sweet with a little acidity, the vine ripened tomato is the quintessential contrapunctal delicacy. This is the fruit I dream about wistfully when the winter wind blows and the grocers offer only the sour, hard, boxy third cousins of the voluptuous red orbs that now await me in my garden. This is summer.

Last night I used them in this tuna salad. The dressing goes underneath the tomatoes: they taste good enough by themselves.

Served up with a bit of dill garlic bread (sounds awful, tastes weird by itself, but goes with the tuna) it was nothing special, really, but it sure tasted good.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mocha Java Chiller

Sonic opened its first drive-in in the Chicagoland area last Tuesday. See my earlier posts to recognize that both my cooking partner and I are familiar with these outlets.

Of course my cooking partner wanted to go on opening day, and, to be honest, so did a little part of me. Fortunately, it was my night for dinner, so I got to make the call, and the wiser part of me won the day. I had already put over a hundred miles on my car on Tuesday; I wasn't about to do another fifty and wait in what I knew would be a ridiculously long line on a weeknight.

Although I knew this weekend would be crazy busy at Sonic, I also knew how much my partner wanted to go, so I suggested we go on Saturday. (You must recognize that this was a bit of a sacrifice for me because I absolutely detest waiting in lines, especially at restaurants...often if there's a wait at a restaurant, I turn right around and head out the door.) So we went. On the first Saturday. And it was beyond crazy busy.

Mind you, we waited to leave the house until 9:15 P.M., figuring to arrive around ten (yes, I am sometimes crazy) and thereby miss the worst of the dinner rush. At 10:02, I turned in from Farnsworth just past the drive-in, immediately turned right again on the little mall road, but could not turn right into the Sonic parking lot. They had a guy directing traffic and he waved us over to the big mall parking lot, and then we saw them: four, I kid you not, four lines of cars with a guy at the head of each directing lucky diners to take their turns at the most fabulous of restaurants ever to have been known in the history of the world. Or, at least that's what you’d have thought if you’d been visiting from a foreign country.

Had we lived within ten miles, I would have done some hard in-car negotiation for a reprieve, but, since we had driven three-quarters of an hour to get there, I wasn't going to leave without having had some jalapeño poppers.

I actually had a bit more. Ahem. Knowing that we would not be back to this neck of the woods for some time, we each ordered a sandwich and two sides. And, of course the Java Chillers.

If you have never been to a Sonic, I will say this despite all the controversy and vitriol its opening seemed to stir up on the comments pages in the Chicago Tribune: all the arguments over the food are to be dismissed out of hand. You go to Sonic for its extensive drinks menu. (I don't know why they don't list all of the standard drinks on their Website.) Additionally, they are amenable to mixing any of their drink bases and flavors to create your own custom blend, although I'm not quite that high maintenance. Their most popular is the cherry limeade. You have to try it at least once.

I must say that the Java Chillers in Aurora weren't quite as good as those we had in Nevada, but, let's just say they're the best ones we've had since we got back from that trip. I do have some very strong coffee in my ice cube trays right now, so we're probably going to have some fun coming up with our own frappamoochillerinos.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

New Stove

We usually host a Fourth of July get-together. It started out as a barbecue, evolved through a catering phase, and now is pretty much a crockpot Italian beef affair. That’s Pat’s is the perfect Italian beef and is native to the Chicagoland area. Use this beef and your guests will be happy while you will have enough stock left over to make a nice beef soup. But I digress.

Our oven had been giving us some trouble in the week leading up to the Fourth, and the burners have always been a little problematic (the stove was in the house when we moved in about ten years ago). My cooking partner decided to make a batch of brownies during the party and the oven would not come up to temperature. No problem, just bake them a little longer, right? Hah! The brownies ended up a pan of gooey glop inside a thin chocolate pastry crust. Good thing we weren’t relying on them as our only dessert.

This was the last straw for that stove. On the fifth, I did a little research on the web; on the sixth, we went out and ordered this little beauty:

Unfortunately, because of the construction of our house, which I won’t detail here, the gas pipe enters the kitchen through the floor instead of the wall, so the stove has to jut out a few inches beyond the cabinets. (Great design, eh?) And, as you can see, we were limited by space to a standard 30” stove. But for all of that, this range is a joy to work with.

It’s a dual fuel range: gas cook top for better heat control and electric ovens for more even baking temperatures. Yep, I said ovens, plural. The little one at the top heats to 350° in about five minutes and is perfect for french fries, garlic bread…anything short: the interior is about 5½ inches high. The lower oven can be run in either standard or convection mode. One shelf has rollers, so it comes forward almost effortlessly, and one rack can be converted to half width so you can cook something tall next to two shorter dishes.

But the reason I was attracted to this model initially is its cook top. I don’t know about you, but I have not had a stove capable of a true simmer since I was a little kid living in my parents’ house. This stove has two burners that not only simmer, but actually burn low enough to heat delicate sauces without the cook’s undivided attention. It also has two power burners (one 12,000 BTU and one 16,000) and one all-purpose burner.

The trouble with the old stove was that, even using a heat diffuser, the lowest burner setting kept liquids at a boil a fair amount higher than a simmer. One of the first things I used to test out the ability of the simmer burners on this new baby was rice. We cook rice on the stovetop because we don’t have room for a rice cooker in our little kitchen. On the old stove, because of the higher temperatures, our rice was, well, inconsistent, and often boiled over. The first time I made rice on the new stove, I used the power burner to bring the water to a boil and then moved the pot to a simmer burner on low. It was too low! Joy of joys! A burner that actually warms gently.

I’ve since learned the appropriate setting for rice, but have also had to adjust to the short time it takes the ovens to come up to temperature. You know how you sort of get a rhythm going when you put a meal together? You start out gathering your stuff, paring your vegetables, and, at some point a timer goes off in your head telling you that it’s time to start the oven? Yeh, I did that and when the oven rang out it’s up-to-temperature notice, I still had about ten minutes to go. Same thing getting used to the power burners.

I’m not completely competent with this new stove yet, but I’m sure enjoying the learning process.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


That's Newsradio 780 in the Chicago area. What's with the pronunciations they teach in broadcasting schools? WBBM has a mostly professional image, and if you just want news, traffic, and weather without a lot of schoolkid antics, it's the station to turn to. For the most part, it sounds like a professional reading the news. But then, "dubba-do." I'm pretty sure that I didn't learn the name of any letter being dubba-do, and I'm pretty sure that our alphabet hasn't changed since I learned it.

When you have fewer than half, you have a minority, which still has four syllables and is not homonymous with the former Formula One team Menardi.

Summers in Chicago are not arid, but neither do they come with high "yumidity."

And, while some may equate Richard Daley with some or other part of a horse's anatomy, he really is not the "mare."

Reno: Day Six

This was to be Tahoe Day, and what a beautiful day it turned out to be! In order to make sure that getting lost wouldn’t make us late for our helicopter tour, we drove directly to the departure site: thought we’d find it, do some land based sightseeing, then head back for our afternoon tour. We did find it, with ease. And about five minutes later we got the call saying that the chopper would not be back from maintenance today.

Disappointed but undaunted, we set off on the lake ring drive, and did eventually complete the circuit. Whatever you’ve heard about the beauty of Lake Tahoe…it was true. I can only imagine what it was like to behold its splendor before the tourist trap towns cropped up.
Coming from Reno via Carson City, we entered the road about halfway up the east shore of the lake, near Glenbrook, and then turned south. After a couple of photo ops, I realized that we had only enough storage capacity left for about 70 photos…with most of the ring still to drive. Yikes! First glimpse of the lake:

After skirting most of the south end of the lake and seeing not much but tourists and RVs, we found the beach where Tallac and Taylor Creeks flow into the lake. For me, the lure was irresistible: I couldn’t come all this way and simply look at the lake; I absolutely had to put my feet in it. So I slung my shoes over my shoulder and let the cool liquid bathe my feet as I walked along the shore. Call me boring, but this was one of the highlights of my trip.

Here we collected a small rock for my sister-in-law, who likes people to bring her rocks from all the places they travel, and a few cones from the Ponderosa Pine. Very few. I’d say “a handful,” but that’s only if you’re using your fingers to count them. A single cone is at least two handfuls. We also collected some photos of the native flora in this park.

Back in the car, we rounded the turn to the west shore and beheld Emerald Bay. Just breathtaking! From the roadside, you look down a couple hundred feet to overlook the entire bay, which includes Fanette Island.

When we stopped at another vista, we met the Steller’s Jay, a western bird that we had not seen since we camped in Alberta seven years ago. He’s a bold jay and very flitty, making it hard to get a really good picture of him. There are some beautiful shots on the web, but hey, this is OUR vacation, so you get our shot of him.

By now we had filled up the camera, so we simply have to rely on our memories of most of the western shore, near the top of which we found Tahoe City and a camera store run by a guy from DesPlaines, IL. Small world. We bought a memory card for the camera and went on our merry photo taking way. We stopped somewhere along the eastern shore for a romp through the rocks, boulders, really. The day was so nice, and it’s cooler at the lake’s higher elevation by about ten degrees than it is in the dustbowl of Reno.

Upon completing the circuit, it was time to head back to Reno for the evening. I guess we might have stopped at the Sonic in Carson City. Yeh, we probably did. Okay, we definitely stopped for something to drink, and now my partner craves the Java Chiller. I wouldn’t have thought that the coffee used as a base for a drink at a Sonic drive-in would be of particularly high quality, but, honestly, the Java Chiller is like a Frappuccino on steroids. If you live near a Sonic studded region of the country, go out of your way to get one of these delectable treats. (We’ve noticed a Sonic being built about 25 miles from our home, in either North Aurora or Batavia, on Kirk Road just north of Butterfield, but have no clue as to the completion date.)

I had another big treat that evening at the hotel. When I had finished walking barefoot on the beach at Lake Tahoe, I had walked through some extremely fine, dry, black (and very hot, ouch!) soil. Even though I dried my feet and tried to rub off the dirt before putting my socks back on, it tenaciously held its ground all the rest of the day. Coming out of a minor daydream back at the hotel, I posed, “I don’t suppose you’d like to wash my feet for me.” “Sure!” was not the answer I expected, but it sure was a nice surprise.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reno: Day Five

We decided to go to Pyramid Lake and take a look around. Pyramid Lake is north of Reno and by a quirk of fate, so is Sonic. Yes, we had breakfast at Sonic again. It’s a pretty short drive to the lake through hilly scrub. I’m not sure who the travel site is talking about, but I can’t quite imagine anyone not being able to hold it together for half an hour through any terrain other than arctic in a car and on smooth roads. As we admired the view at our first photo op, we met a couple from out east and chatted a little. Then we went to see the fish hatchery.

I’m sure a lot of you are yawning already, but I rather like fish and staying in tune with wildlife, so it was enough to keep my interest for the 30–45 minutes we spent there. As we got out of the car, the couple we had met was just pulling into the parking lot. We figured it would be like that all day, pulling into the same parking lots just minutes apart. We were wrong.

Trying to get closer to the lake, we took a route that appeared to ring it on the east (going from south to north). It’s a long, two-lane road and there was construction on it. You know how in populated areas they just have flaggers, or if the construction is going to last for a long period they put in a temporary stoplight? On this road, they had flaggers and a pilot car. Yep. The flagger stops you and says the pilot car should be back in fifteen minutes or so. So you wait for a pilot to lead you at a safe speed through several miles of nothing punctuated by enormous trucks and the activity of laying a new lane of asphalt.

After a while we were certain we’d gone far enough to pass the lake without having caught sight of it, so we turned back. And we came to the construction just in time to meet the pilot car with no wait! When we came to a little town, we decided to try and take some back roads and see if we could get closer to the lake on roads that aren’t on the map. The road quickly became dirt with not too much vegetation, but the hills were just high enough that we couldn’t quite see the lake. “Just a few more minutes, I’m sure,” we kept saying to one another. Then it started to rain and we met a few local kids on bicycles hightailing it out of there. Yeh. A Corolla in mud on uncharted roads. Hmmm. Keep going, or turn back? “Just a few minutes more, I’m sure!” After about half an hour of that, our luck still didn’t change and we never did get us to see the lake close-up. Even though we never got to the east side of the lake, we were very lucky in one respect: the storm that brought those rare Reno raindrops with it turned into a tornado shortly after it passed over the lake, yet we were blissfully unaware of the twister until we heard about it on the news.

We decided we really should eat somewhere other than at Sonic, so we looked up some restaurants and decided on a Chinese buffet. King Chinese buffet. It was fabulous! Sure, it had all the same stuff you find in any super buffet, but the food was not greasy at all—a common failing of Chinese buffet-only restaurants in my experience. The seafood selection was quite wonderful and I had perhaps a few mussels too many.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reno: Day Four

Not able to find the local Fox station on our Circus Circus basic TV, we hit the phone books looking for a sports bar so we could watch the German Grand Prix. It’s what we do on a Formula One Sunday. We found a local chain called Bully’s which cleverly evades the statewide smoking ban (allowed in casinos and “some” bars, whatever that means) by occupying an adjacent building at each location and putting in a bar named Smokin’ in which you can order food from Bully’s kitchen. Sweet! So, of course, we went to Bully’s for late breakfast (the race started at 11:30) and adjourned to Smokin’ afterwards for the rest of the race. No, audio, but if you pay attention you can follow the race.

Decided to take in some of the midway circus shows at the hotel. Right. Three trapeze artists do some basic moves over the course of, oh, about seven minutes. Sigh. So we wandered the midway, which is where all the carnival games are for the kids, went and gambled awhile until, exhausted, we were beckoned by the comfy bed for the early evening nap.

We got hungry and walked the indoor path among three hotels: ours, the Siver Legacy, and the Eldorado. The only easy food to be had seemed to be in our hotel deli, so we headed back there around ten o’clock and had a sandwich. I was surprised that so many kids, I mean little kids—of the age where they still take naps in the afternoon—were still up, eating, drinking, and playing, and acting as though it were noon. Well, I supposed that they wanted to stay up until the midway closed at ten, but these were just toddlers!

We gambled some more, decided to get an ice-cream cone because dinner had been light, and headed back to the deli. If I was surprised to see wee ones there at ten, I was astonished to see them after eleven. Is it just me? I can’t imagine what it would be like for the parents to try and get the kids back on a regular schedule.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reno: Day Three

This would be Saturday. We liked Friday’s breakfast food so much, we decided to have more, and so we ambled down to the hotel café. Having a taste for chorizo, I ordered up a Mexican burrito while my partner requested corned beef hash (corned beef is one of two foods forbidden in our house; I promise never to bring Brussels sprouts inside) and eggs. Then it was down to the hospitality room and my introduction to the slot machine. Yes, we stepped out of the suite for a quick smoke, and what else was there to do? I made a few bucks, about twelve, I think, and then we went back to mingle a bit.

The later part of the afternoon we split up: one for a manicure and pedicure while sipping a mojito and the other to Walgreens to have some photo prints made. Now, you’d think Reno, being a cosmopolitan city with an international airport, people speaking a wide variety of native tongues, and a spa on every corner would be able to come up with a decent manicure. After the first french manicure proved too embarrassing to show in public, a second operator redid the job. Now I ask you: does this look like a world class manicure, or does it look more like an eight-year-old said, “Hey, let me do your nails?”

Yeh. And that was the better job. Sheesh! But there was no time left. One redo put us off schedule enough to miss the cocktail hour as it was, so back to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes.

The banquet was a barbecue; the raffle was held (we didn’t win); and the speech was very long but very entertaining. It was a story, really, rather than a speech, about a mission aboard the Sculpin, details of which were only recently declassified. The storyteller was the captain of the boat during that mission and his story was most compelling. The only reason we realized that it was very long was the urge to smoke coming on, then subsiding, then coming on again. But we didn’t want to miss the story. I may summarize it at a later time, but it’s too long and off topic for this vacation post.

When we finally stepped out to smoke and find the restrooms, we discovered that a Quinceañera was being celebrated in the next meeting room. We also noticed that everyone entering the room, including toddlers, had to be wanded by private security officers, and when people came from that room to the shared cash bar, they were served drinks in plastic cups. No glass was allowed at that party. It rather made me wish I’d been packing.

After the banquet, we headed back to the hospitality suite for the final time. The reunion organizer had announced that there was still a fair amount of liquid refreshment in the room and he preferred it be disposed of hydraulically rather than ported out via heft, and several of us were happy to oblige.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reno: Day Two

We don’t normally rise early on vacation, often dawdling around in the room until eleven or so, but today’s bus tour would begin at nine, so early up, room coffee, shower, dress, and out the door. The reunion organizer told everyone that there would be a big cooler on the bus and urged us to buy drinks from the hospitality suite to bring with us for the day, so we bought four bottles of water and put one in my pack and the rest in the cooler. Then we found a couple of seats and settled back for a day of sightseeing.

Our tour guide was a former teacher very interested in the rich history of the state of Nevada, which I won’t relate here because you obviously can look it up elsewhere on the Web, but her knowledge and enthusiasm made for anything but a boring monologue. Before we made our first photo-op stop at a vista, she pointed out a herd of feral horses grazing at the side of the road—very cool—and told us about local efforts to have the horses captured and adopted. It seems that there a too many horses to be sustained by the food and water on the free range, so many of them die in the scrub. Yes, well, animals die, don’t they? Don’t we all? I’d guess that before mankind came to Nevada, all the horses eventually died in the scrub. If I were a horse, I’d rather live a short free life than a long contained one. But that’s just me.

Outside Virginia City, we boarded a train that took us past the ruins of several silver mines and their abandoned towns. In contrast to our school-teacher-cum-tour-guide, the conductor on the train sounded as though he was reading from a script with which he had long become bored. Too bad, because the area has a rich and colorful history that our tour guide imparted after the train ride. Her stories would have been nice to hear as we saw each mine.

We didn’t have enough time in Virginia City, barely enough time for lunch. Because we tend not to eat upon waking, we were in need of some sustenance. We went into a local restaurant and sat with a submariner from Texas and chatted while we had a nice breakfast for lunch.

Like most summer days out there, the day was hot and dry. After another photo op, I went to the cooler on the bus to pick up a nice bottle of chilled water. All I found were a couple beers and about eight little chopines of Merlot. Greaeaeaeaeat. Apparently some fellow travelers anonymously allowed us to display our generosity by buying them three bottles of water. Had I known, I would’ve bought extra bottles for those poor souls. I have never done well in warm weather and was miserably hot and listless until after our next stop, where gratifyingly cold water could be found in the gift shop.

That stop was at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, where we rode an antique train pulled by a steam powered locomotive for which, I must admit, I have little appreciation. The reunion group did have a few train enthusiasts who got quite a kick out of riding with the engineer and ringing the bell! They were like little kids in a candy store up there and one couldn’t help but grin at their delight.

We were back in Reno just after four, just in time for The Nap. We woke up a little late, cleaned up and headed out to a Basque restaurant not far from the hotel. They serve family style, no menu, but you do get to select from a handful of entrees. That night, the choices were steak, salmon, leg of lamb, and sweetbreads. We sat with a family of five from Fallon, NV, all adults, whose exact relationships were a little hard to determine. Based on their apparent ages, they might have been two generations or three. The youngest was in his early twenties and worked on the new geothermal plant under construction in Reno. That was nice, because we saw the construction site on our tour earlier in the day, and he was able to tell us a bit more about it. Anyway, we had good company to round out the meal and no one walked out hungry.

We went back to the hospitality suite for a few more laughs and to pick up a bowl. On the tour bus, we met Chris and his wife Georgianne, who makes baskets out of cloth. She uses strips of cloth, much like the tubes used in rag rugs, and stitches them in a circle with a zig-zag stitch. It’s similar to putting together an oval rug, but the gradation in ring sizes is not great enough to allow the rings to lie flat. Voila! A bowl. She figured that since the guys got mugs and other souvenirs, the women should have something to take home, too. So she brought enough for all of the submariners’ wives and SOs. How nice is that? Then she took orders (gratis) from anyone who didn’t particularly like the color schemes available (how snobby is that?) and promised to make and send them after the reunion. Here’s our bowl:

Once again, we closed up the hospitality suite. Tomorrow would be a free day with the reunion banquet at the end.

Reno: Day One

The day was mostly consumed by the usual air travel events and getting to the hotel. We got to our room around 1:30 and took the all-important nap. We are such exciting travelers!

From the airport we first went to downtown Reno and scoped out the hotel. Not knowing whether it was too early to check in, we decided to find some lunch. I played navigator, directing us north past the University of Nevada–Reno. One would think that being a fairly large campus the property would be ringed with places that serve up cheap eats. I guess college kids in Reno have a lot more money than those in IL, IN, and WI, as we found no “burritos the size of your head” in that area. However, we eventually happened upon the only Sonic drive-in in town. Sonic is the one thing my partner misses from having stayed in Oklahoma for most of a year while working on contract. When I went to the Sooner state to visit and as company for the ride back home, I became particularly fond of Sonic’s Powerade® slushes. So in Reno we stopped and had a couple of their promotional Island Fire sandwiches with an order of cheddar poppers (not available on their web menu), and we satisfied our soft-drink joneses with the crucial slush and a fondly remembered cherry limeade. We would return to Sonic several times over the course of the next week, which leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there’s so much good food available in the Reno–Sparks area that we really should have tried a few more places; on the other, convenience is a big factor when we are on vacation.

We arrived at the hotel, Circus Circus, and immediately saw a plaque inviting us to “check in as early as 8:00 A.M.” The valet took our car, we checked in, and then we checked in at the reunion hospitality suite. We were given a Sculpin mug and a chance to win one of several prizes in the fundraising raffle. The proceeds, along with the dinner fee, drink fee and donations, paid for the reunion. We bought lots of tickets. Drinks in the hospitality suite were two dollars each regardless of the kind of drink purchased. Being in a generous mood, we drank a fair amount of coffee at two dollars a pop and put some extra into the kitty as well.

Then came time for the all-important nap. What more needs to be said?

When we got up we headed to Walgreens for some forgotten items—hair brush and the like—and, since the hotel put only two single-cup coffee packs in the room, some alternative caffeine delivery systems: a gallon of Arizona tea and some test flavors of Mountain Dew. Then we went back to Sonic for a quick meal, to maximize the time we could spend with the other veteran submariners. We closed the place down, helping the reunion organizer to clean up the mess and count the day’s proceeds. Then to bed because Friday would be an early day.

Reno Trip: the Summary

We took a week off, from Thursday the 17th through last Wednesday, and went to Reno for a reunion of any who served on the USS Sculpin, SSN-590, a Skipjack class nuclear fast-attack submarine. The reunion opened Thursday for registration and camaraderie in a hospitality suite that was open through Sunday at two in the morning. On Friday, the reunion group had a bus tour that went to Virginia City and Carson City and included two short train rides and, of course, more camaraderie. Friday night and Saturday day were open for…you guessed it! More camaraderie. The reunion banquet was held on Saturday night, with several guests adjourning afterwards to the hospitality suite for, well, camaraderie, I guess you’d call it. I probably should mention that “camaraderie” in this context means “a bounty of embellished sailing stories, choruses of belly laughs, and copious amounts of liquid refreshment.” The hospitality suite had a seemingly endless supply of said refreshment, both hard and soft. Personally, I think I drank more alcohol that week than I would in an average six-month period. So, if you know me, you know that that means I had something like two beers and two mixed drinks, one each on four separate days. Oh, and I almost forgot: half a glass of wine with Friday’s dinner. Yeh, I prefer a clear head.

On Sunday we rested. On Monday and Tuesday we did some sightseeing, putting several hundred miles on the little rental car. Did you know that a Toyota Corolla is considered, at least by Hertz, to be a mid-sized car? Yeh. We reserved a mid-size and that’s what they gave us. Well, it was a car, and it got us around. We had booked a helicopter flight over Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe for Tuesday. On Monday the tour company called us to say that the trip would be postponed from its original departure time of 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. because the chopper was in for maintenance and would not be back until early afternoon. On that early afternoon, as we were driving south of the lake, we got another call, this time saying that the flight would have to be cancelled, as the whirlybird was not yet back from maintenance. It worked out all right, though, because it gave us more time to walk around and enjoy the beauty that is Lake Tahoe and its surrounding mountainscape.

I do not recommend Circus Circus of Reno. I traveled for business in the ‘80s and stayed in a lot of mid-rate hotels (Holiday Inn, Ramada, etc.). Circus Circus is a mid-rate hotel, or less, of the ‘80s: little formulaic square box of a room with only one chair; charges for local phone calls; no free wi-fi (at $9.95 for twenty-four hours, it’s one of the “additional amenities available for a small fee”); and even short sheets! On the positive side, the room was very clean, and when the cleaning staff observed that we were coffee drinkers (based on the king-sized stryo cups we left in the room right next to the four-pack of Frappuccinos and assorted caffeine-laden soft drinks), they left five one-cup packs in the room instead of the prescribed two.

We gambled a little: slots; no table games. I had a few good wins and some long, drawn out losses and ended up losing about thirty dollars overall, so it really was pretty cheap entertainment.
I have some notes as to what we did each day, so more detail is coming in later entries.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Chicken Salad Tonight

I'm a bit of a seat-of-the-pants cook. I use few recipes, usually preferring to decide what to put together based on what I know about flavors and what is in the larder at the moment. Tonight it was a chicken pasta salad.

I started with mayo (which I do not use very much) and Ken's Honey Mustard salad dressing, available at the local Woodman's supermarket. When I make a pasta salad, I mix all of the more durable ingredients with the dressing before tossing in the pasta and fragile items. It starts out looking gloppy and not particularly appetizing. Here it is with only chopped Vidalia, fresh cilantro, cracked pepper, and celery (which I also use rarely, but my partner likes it):

Oh, yeah. Ask me about wooden cutting boards versus any others to date!

This is the glop with the addition of chicken, water chestnuts, and halved red seedless grapes (sounds awful? tastes great!)

Ewwww! Well, you need enough glop to coat the pasta, about 12 dry ounces. I do have a very large bowl, and I wanted leftovers.

And, finally, plated with leaf lettuce, tomatoes, a handful of cashews and a few grissini. Shown here on Pinzon pasta bowls (as if you could tell).


New Camera

I love using film cameras. I have a thirty-some year old Olympus fully manual SLR that I understand. It has the usual controls: shutter speed and aperture setting. Film speed. Nice light meter. Great lens. And a few additional lenses, and some close-up rings. It's analog: you turn things to change the focus and speed. Analog is something I can relate to by feel rather than simply read and memorize. I'm not so hot with digital cameras. Yet, I bought one.

I was looking for a relatively inexpensive little work horse with not a lot of superfluous features, and I believe I found one in the Kodak EasyShare ZD710.

Now to see if I can upload a picture!

Ah, there she is! Meet Zimt, my eighteen year old cockatiel hen. She's a real sweetie and her birthday is Valentine's day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bye-Bye, Birdie

This morning my littly guy was somewhat weak, and I wondered still whether he would recover from his protracted malady. After thinking about it during the day, I recognized that he was in the trough of a cycle, and each high had hit about the same level of recovery while each decline had gone progressively lower, so I made an appointment for what I new would be his last trip to the vet.

Tonight I bade a very fond farewell to a pathetically suffering little cockatiel. I will remember him for his cardinal and monkey mimicry, his energy, and his lack of self pity. His name was Beefy.

"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will fall frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself."--D. H. Lawrence

Friday, May 16, 2008

"The State of California is Preparing for Unexpected Heat"

Another gaffe from a professional news writer, this time on a drive time radio program. The story is that the National Weather Service is predicting very high temperatures for this weekend in California. "Unseasonal," perhaps. But how can it be both predicted and unexpected at the same time?

I suppose it could be, if you think weather forecasters are about as accurate as a Zoroastrian in 1999. But then, why would you prepare for it? Also sprach Zarathustra.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Network Woes

The new router worked just fine, when it worked. After a random length of time, it seemed to simply get tired and give up its WAN connection. No remote means would reconnect it (is the Reconnect soft button just a pacifier?), so it was always a trot downstairs to re-cycle and have another few hours (usually) of trouble free Internet access. Until yesterday. I could connect to the router, but it just would not gain access to the Internet. Twelve days of less than trouble free service, and now it’s a brick.

That made it time to pony up half a Roly for the Old Company whiz-bang model, thanks to the Suburban Hausfrau. I have been connected to the Internet for a full two hours now. Fingers crossed!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Routers and APs and Switches, Oh, My!

As I sat down to update this blog, I realized that I had no Internet connection. It wasn't surprising, since we had taken a power hit sometime during the day. I casually bounced downstairs to the network room to cycle the hardware only to find that the AP had no power. No power. Fried. Could it be as simple as a fritzed power supply? Do we have another 5V one lying around? No, of course not. Time, then, to install the "new" wireless router from what the Suburban Hausfrau refers to as Old Company. (To Veedub: Santa II).

My cooking partner is a former IT support person and had to get involved in the process, which is actually a good thing since I can't tell where any of the cables start and end in the network room. I won't say there were any egos involved, but it did take us about thirty minutes to complete the fifteen minute installation!

We are back in service with network security installed and, if I am not mistaken, with much faster download speed. We shoulda done this a long time ago!

Another Birthday

My fabulous cooking partner has added a one to the one's digit in the age column. As predicted, I did not reciprocate in kind by cooking up a fabulous meal; I did however, reciprocate by taking half the day off because (as the Suburban Hausfrau can attest) the ridiculous increase in my drive time this week left me no time for gift shopping or cake buying. So nice to have time off on someone else's big day!

I visited the new Cabela's in Hoffman Estates in search of the perfect fish finder, which I did find along with a few bits of tackle. I've not much to say about the store as I was not in browsing mode (which I tend to refer to as the grazing mode for shopping--as opposed to hunt and kill mode). Then I went to the local overpriced grocer and found the perfect cake. The celebrant prefers yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and, because I was actually in a supermarket during normal hours--you know, when there are people working the baked goods counter--I was able to have the cake inscribed. A very successful shopping trip for someone who usually avoids shopping.

For dinner, we went to the Outback, or, in contemporary parlance, we went Outback last night. Is it just me, or is it the smoking ban: the place was dead! Walk right in, sit ri-ight down. I must confess that since the statewide smoking ban took effect, we haven't gone out much. Maybe Outback has just had a precipitous drop in popularity. Or maybe it's the gas prices keeping people at home. I do hope it's the smoking ban.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Speaking of Rice...

Oh, sure. Just when I turn to rice and beans (see last post) to help restore my nearly depleted cushion against bench time, speculators send U.S. rice futures to an all time high.

Maybe if the gummint weren't paying farmers to keep their land fallow, speculators wouldn't have so much control over the price of food, hmmmm?

Please excuse me while I go eat a bowl of wheat flour. Thanks, Uncle Sam.

Let's all boycott rice in July. Eat potatoes, pasta, bread--glorious breads--and other alternative starches. Rice? Just don't buy it; let the speculators eat it this time.

(I should say that I believe in a free market and do not feel that market speculation is evil--not by a long shot. But, first, when the government intervenes as they have in farming, it's not a free market; second, speculators are gambling, taking a risk; no reason I can't play the game from my end and vote with my dollars.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pay Day

Yes, indeedy do! As predicted, I did get paid. Today I received the full amount of my first week's invoice. I can pay the vet. Between that and the outrageous amount that I had to lay out for the first quarter's estimated taxes last week, I figure I can start to do something with my income by, oh, around May 18.

Oh, wait: we're having our boiler replaced next week; then we're buying a new, well used, lawn tractor. And we were supposed to have our bathrooms redone last year. And we still have no window coverings in our living and dining rooms. And there's the other half of the windows and all the doors that need to be replaced...

Please excuse me while this highly paid professional goes off to have a hearty dinner of beans and rice.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I had one of these last week. No matter when it falls, it is not my night to cook, and my cooking partner came through with flying colors. Surf and turf in the form of lobster tails and bacon-wrapped filets mignon with asparagus and baked potatoes followed by a chocolate frosted devil's food layer cake, all made in our kitchen. What a sweetheart!

I, on the other hand, will probably not reciprocate when the tables are turned in a couple of weeks: it will most likely be dinner at a restaurant of the celebrant's choosing.

I hate to whine, so I'll just state the facts. It seems as though this work thing, especially the long daily commute, is winning the competition for my energy. I thought I'd get used to it after a week or so, but it's been four and I am. just. plain. tired. Good thing it's a contract!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bird Update 3

That poor little guy!

We went back for Beefy's second shot on March 13 and nearly lost him. Apparently his little liver was not producing clotting agents the way it should have been, and he just bled and bled. The vet finally got it under control and I brought the little guy back home. That'd be the bird, not the vet. Three days later, when I went to give him his meds, he fled and gently bumped into a window frame, which reopened his wound. Yikes!

No more shots for him...back to antibiotics in liquid suspension, only this one he did not tolerate well. They made him vomit (of course) and lose his voice for hours, but still when it was time to take them, he swallowed them down as best he could. He's such a little trooper, but it was heartbreaking to make him so very miserable twice every day for those two weeks.

He seemed to be improving, but last Tuesday (a belated happy April Fool's Day to all) when I got home from work, Beefy was so bedraggled that I took him for an emergency visit to the vet. No, the vet said, I wasn't overreacting; the bird looked the worst the vet had seen him. Long story short: two days in a little cubicle with pure oxygen. He's breathing a lot better now.

He wasn't tolerating the liquid meds well, and shots were out of the question since his frightful hemorrhagic episode: we were nearly out of options. Antibiotics in his drinking water seemed the only thing left, but it's the least controllable, since one can't be sure of how much he'll drink on a given day. Nonetheless, after a week on that, he seems to be doing well, with more energy than he's had in, oh, months.

The course of treatment for his bug lasts a minimum of 45 days, and we started (with the right antibiotic) on the sixth of March, so this will go on until at least the 20th of April. With all of his setbacks, probably longer. Of course, I run out of drugs early next week, so I suppose we'll be seeing the vet for a progress check soon. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Back to Work!

Another writer was also hired, he for RoboHelp work and me for FrameMaker (yay!). We started this contract on St. Paddy's day. Then it got weird. The product that we were assigned to document originated with a sister company in Pennsylvania, which closed down at the end of March, and responsibility for the product passed to the Buffalo Grove location. The product manager had been very busy, helping to close the facility and picking up a lot of new responsibility at the same time, but he was responsive when we asked for direction. We set up a phone meeting with him and the local lead writer which actually never happened. Then we learned that all responsibility for the product had transferred to yet another sister company, this one in Alabama.

Were we still on the project? Did the new company have its own writing staff? Should we even be spending time on these documents?

Last Wednesday afternoon, each of us contractors got a phone call on our home phones. I would be retained for awhile to work on at least one other project; the other writer was not so lucky.
Then I got sick--I mean knock-down, drag-out sick such as I had not been since I was a kid--and did not go to work on Thursday or Friday. With my position being already tenuous, I was sure they'd just give up on me. Fortunately, I was wrong and am still working hard.

One day, I feel certain, I'll even get paid. But not before I have to come up with a few thousand in estimated taxes (April 15). Ah, contracting!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Back to Work?

I've had three bites in the contract-work fishing pond. The first two I covered an earlier Miscellany post. The third is the most attractive because it is a telecommuting job and I love my jammies. As a bonus, it requires occasional out-of-state visits to a client in SE Wisconsin, which means I would probably be able to stop on the way home and have an evening visit with my sister, who lives there.

As I've said before, the contracting world is all about timing. I wish the rep with the Wisconsin job would have been more aggressive about emailing. It has gone like this: he emails me in the evening, I get the email next morning and respond; I hear from him, not that day, but maybe the next evening. We have just got to the point where I gave him my rates. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Grove people have moved past the legal department bottleneck and it looks as though it will come through first. I so want to wait and see whether the Wisconsin job will materialize, but a contract in hand is worth three in the ether. Hold on I just got an email.

Yes, I just got the contract for the Buffalo Grove job, so I must go fill out paperwork and then let the other nibblers know that I am going to dry my tackle for a while. Two or three months anyway. Advantages of this job: likable lead writer with whom I interviewed, interesting product, what appears to be a very challenging project, uses FrameMaker, conducive to lunching on occasion with the Suburban Hausfrau. Disadvantages: "Casual Friday," which I interpret to mean that Monday through Thursday are dress days, a commute that will be over an hour each way, and what appears to be a very challenging project (cuts both ways, you know).

Bird Update 2

A day after Beefy went off his meds, he seemed almost normal. Two days after, he was sick all over again, so back to the vet and a change of prescription. For two more weeks, he was vomiting only once every two to three days until one night he just kept going, so back to the vet again. He theorized that the bacteria were now under control, but as killing bacteria tends to encourage yeasts (a truism that I know from my own experiences with antibiotics), we should give Beefy a shot for yeast, continue the antibiotic, and give him another shot in a week's time.

That was last Thursday. The vet told me that the shot might actually cause stomach upset initially, so if the bird vomited within two days--more likely within a few hours--it would be the effect of the drug. He did vomit a small amount on the next day but has been vomit free since. Tomorrow we go back for his second injection. We may actually be on the down side of whatever this was. Yay!

And just in time: I may be starting work on Monday, which is about an hour and three quarters away from the vet, making workday appointments just about impossible.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Don Quixote

Anyone else reading Don Quixote? I finished the first read a few weeks ago and need a discussion partner or group. Poking around online is yielding only past discussion groups and groups that seem somewhat inactive. In particular, I could use some help with metaphorical analysis. I must admit that my reaction to much of what I have seen on this subject is "Hey, you're reading way too much into this. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Still, this skill is so lacking in me that I would appreciate any advice given to a beginner for broaching the subject. Baby steps.

I'd also like your thoughts on how much metaphorical reference an author consciously builds into literature as compared to what is inferred afterwards simply because the author is writing about real (or at least lifelike) people.

In an effort to gain the education that my school systems failed to provide when I was a child, I've taken it upon myself to read, really read, some of the classics, using The Well-Educated Mind as a guide. It will undoubtedly take the rest of my life and then some to complete the recommended book list. Still, I can't start any sooner, can I?


I am a word guy. I don't have a vocabulary that reaches to the moon and back. I don't know the modern names for all grammatical constructs in English. But I like words and the way they hang together. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about them. And I respect them as the tools that they are.

When flagrant usage makes the little hairs on the back of my neck go stiff, I often bite my tongue lest I become too preachy. It is far better, in my opinion, to master a smallish repertoire of words and constructs than to continually misuse a wide variety of them. Unless your verbal misuse is purposeful, its effect can be only negative, either by causing misunderstanding or by making you sound far less educated than you probably are.

If you see bad usage in these posts, and you undoubtedly will, feel free to comment. I like getting educated!



Up and down, up and down. Because the blood work was normal, he went off his meds last Tuesday. By Wednesday afternoon, his system seemed to have evened out: normal digestion, happy attitude, even a full voice for the first time in over a month! On Thursday morning he was back on the bottom of his cage, cowering and shivering. So, back to the vet we went. He's started a new medication, which has a new antibiotic and something to reduce vomiting. Nonetheless, Saturday night broke the string of fifteen vomit free days. He seemed particularly stressed during his evening drug dose—didn't want to take the meds. I'm chalking up this episode to extreme stress, because he hasn't repeated it since Saturday night. But he has started refusing all soft foods. Sigh. What's a bird mom to do?


I had an interview on Friday for a contract job in Buffalo Grove. Having contracted off and on for more than ten years, I've participated in more than a handful of interviews and generally see them for just what they're supposed to be: a meeting to see whether the job and the candidate match. I don't have that view of "how can I convince them that I'm the one?" I have the view of "let's see whether this is something I think I can do and want to do." THEN I think about how to get the positive outcome.

This time, however, I was inexplicably nervous the morning of the 1:00 p.m. interview. Very nervous. I still don't know why. But the interview went well: I liked them; they seemed to like me. But I'm not sure when they'll actually be ready to start. Contracting is like that. Unlike "permanent" positions, contract positions are not always available when the company starts to interview. It's always a game of timing. Some companies start interviewing a week after they needed someone to start work; others start interviewing when they get the idea that they might need someone if they get approval for a project--and then they don't get the funding. We'll have to see what happens now.

I also have a line on a contract through a firm that has placed me on contract in the past.

Regardless how and when I get back to work, I will miss my jammies.


Like my friend, The Suburban Hausfrau, I have a palate that is both broad and deep. Unlike her, however, I have a kitchen with no room for the things I need to have the great fun I used to have in larger kitchens. So I have a little fun in the kitchen.

Permanent residents on my kitchen counters: coffee pot, airpot, and grinder, small watering can, microwave, toaster, crock of kitchen hand tools (tongs, wooden spoons, spatulas, etc.), a handful of herb grinders. Anything more and I would have no space in which to use those tools. Even my Kitchen-Aid mixer has been relegated to basement storage (along with my crock pots), so I have to bring it up when I need it. Needless to say, I have very few one-trick ponies in my kitchen. So where, although I certainly would like to have one, would I put a nacho baker?

My cooking partner and I have an arrangement. Each is responsible for the evening meal every other night, and can elect to cook, order in, or eat out. Regardless, we each have every other night off. Works for us.

What doesn't work so well is our opposing approaches to equipment and its maintenance and storage. For example, I have an anodized pot that is, without a doubt, one of the best things I ever bought. It's Calphalon's Everyday Pan, which has a fabulous shape (bottom uses whole burner, sides are wider), well-fitting lid, nice thick walls, and ovenability. Great for braising, actually braises pretty fast, fabulous for sweating onions. I have given three of these pans as gifts and they have been used to make everything from eggs to soups. It's a little fussy: you have to wash it by hand. Dishwasher detergents will pit it. Add three minutes to cleanup time. Big deal. My partner will not use it because it doesn't go in the dishwasher. Likewise, I keep a set of five Wüsthof knives that I've had for twenty years, and I insist that they get washed and dried shortly after use. Partner? Won't use them; tends to leave dirty knives sit on the counter, often for more than a day (although this is getting better).

So we necessarily have some duplicate items eating up space in the kitchen, but not all that much. It's just a small kitchen and I have very little patience for having to juggle five items to get to the one that I need.

So I have a little fun in the kitchen. For Christmas, my sister gave us a bone-in pork loin roast from a nice little butcher shop in Milwaukee. I pulled it out of the freezer last week to thaw in time for Sunday dinner. Which I made just like Mom used to. Except that I coated the roast first with thyme and rosemary and then brought its internal temperature to about 155º F (70º C) instead of employing the conventional wisdom of days of yore, which used the "cinder" setting. Accompanied by browned potatoes, french green beans, and applesauce, it was a great comfort-food dinner. Did I mention the gravy? Oh, yeah, sheer ecstasy. Well at 155º, the pork didn't lose enough fat to make a proper gravy, so I did what any good cook of the sixties would have done: I melted a tablespoon of, you guessed it, lard, to make up the difference. Oh, come on, it's a tablespoon. Great rich brown gravy just like Mom used to make. Yum!


We had so many leftovers last week we had to freeze some of them. The rest we will use up in the next few days. Having survived these many years despite eating foods that some think are too old for human consumption, I still tend to use the four-day rule for most cooked meats. Today's health-foodies, I'm sure, would be shocked. So don't be surprised if my menus use the same entrees four days apart.

  • Monday (not my night to cook--yay!) Pulled pork sandwiches with french fries. I'm hoping that something green gets thrown into the mix.

  • Tuesday—Pasta, big salad, nice boule. Is Cuisine de France not the best thing to have happened to supermarket bread aisles in the past few years? (And what's with these "artisanal" breads that cost $4.50 for a little loaf or trendy flat breads at $4.00 for three ounces? What—I can't add my own olives and rosemary to bread dough?) I have nothing against spending money on food, but I have an internal value meter that says these things are more about impressing someone than eating well. They make nice gifts.

  • Wednesday—Roast chicken with starch of the day and something green (not my night).

  • Thursday—Roast pork with plain old corn and maybe some sweet peppers, rosemary-garlic mashed potatoes, and that yummy gravy.

  • Friday—Surprise me! (not my night)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bird Update

Beefy is still with us. We went back to the vet yesterday to have Beefy's blood work done again, and the results were in this morning: it's normal. He's not, not yet anyway. The vet thinks that the meds may be affecting Beefy's behavior and digestion, so now that his bacterial infection is gone, we're going off the meds and I'll watch to see if he returns to his normal feisty self with normal eating habits.

I had been concerned about his pooping habits (do I sound like a mommy, or what?) these last ten days. Would've been nice if the technician who gave me the meds had told me that in addition to an antibiotic it had a motility enhancer, eh?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sick Bird

I keep a pair of cockatiels. The oldest is a cinnamon tiel who will be eighteen in a couple of days. Her name is Zimt, which is “cinnamon” auf Deutsch.

My birds tend to observe holidays, albeit in their own ways. Zimt hatched on a Valentine’s Day, laid her first egg on a Christmas Day (the egg was sterile as there was no cock about), and later, with her mate, Barley, had a brood that began to hatch on a Mother’s Day. Barley lived to be only ten, and in keeping with this bird family’s tradition died on a Christmas Day (2001). So of course, after six weeks or so, I felt so sorry for Zimt that I started looking for a companion bird. Since she was going on twelve, I didn’t want to get a chick; I wanted a tamed adult pet cockatiel. Most people aren’t likely to want to part with an adult pet, but I finally found one in Texas and one in Ohio. Or so I thought.

I booked a hotel room in Columbus and booked on down the road after work on a Friday. On Saturday morning, the couple who had the bird brought him to my room. This was not a tame bird. But I had gone all that way, and I didn’t really want to drive to Texas, so I decided to take a chance on him. He’s a feisty little guy that they said they were calling “Skippy,” although he seemed oblivious to his name. Looking back on the experience, my best guess is that they were breeders with some excess birds they were looking to dump and that he never had been a pet and never had a name. Although it’s hard to determine the age of a tiel, my best guess is that he was no more than two years old and not the six that they said he was.

But it all worked out okay. I kept him in a separate cage until I could have him checked by the vet, who gave him a clean bill of health. He’s a good bird, and while he doesn’t like to be handled, he doesn’t bite as he did when I first got him. His name is Beefy, which he does recognize and which is in keeping with my tendency to name birds after edible substances. Apart from having to be retrieved from the occasional birdventure into the kitchen, he’d been a pretty low maintenance kind of guy these past six years. And then he vomited. A lot. He was vomiting everything he ate and, receiving no nutritional value from his food, quickly became weak and huddled in a corner at the bottom of his cage.

Birds tend to hide their illnesses, and they are very good at it. In the wild, a bird that appears ill or weak is the prime target for a predator, so a sick bird pretends to be normal as long as it has the strength to do so. By the time they look sick, they’re very sick. Last Thursday, my vet was lined up for procedures all day, so I found another vet who specializes in exotics (that’d be pretty much everything but cats, dogs, and large livestock), who would take Beefy as a drop-off and look at him between his other appointments. True to his nature, Beefy dug deep to find a bit of strength and looked just fine when I uncovered his cage at the vet’s office. The good news was that he hadn’t vomited during the thirty-five minute ride in the car. Nor has he vomited since. The vet did bloodwork and a crop wash. Beefy’s liver enzymes were elevated, which could be caused by a wide range of conditions, and he has a bacterial infection. So I’m giving him antibiotics twice a day (loves the sweet, sticky, grapey medium; hates the handling) and keeping him relatively quiet. Next Monday we’re going back to do another liver enzyme test to see if they’re still elevated. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Talk about the Weather

What do you talk about when you have nothing to say? Some people just stay silent (bless their hearts). Many others rely on the weather as a ready topic. Unless I’m running on way too little sleep, I tend to be one of the former.

Having said that, let me tell you about today’s weather. We are having a snowstorm. A fairly big one (unless you live in a ski area, in which case, feel free to yawn). According to the National Weather Service, the snow would have started last night and continued until sometime well into today with a total accumulation of eight to twelve inches. Fortunately for all the morning commuters, the big snow did not materialize overnight; unfortunately, it promises to make coming home this evening fairly nasty.

A few minutes ago, the snow outside my window wasn’t so much falling as it was writhing in a winter dance of directional indecision. “Look at that! It’s coming from the west…no, the east…no, northeast…and there’s a swirl mixing with a blast coming horizontally out of the south…and, oh, the old one-two punch out of the west again…” A regular snowbrawl.

It’s not unusual for this part of the country to have a few big snowfalls in a single season, but it seems that we’ve already had more snow this winter than in any of the past eight or so. I’m not complaining. When it snows, I like to see a winter wonderland, and in recent winters, snow accumulations seem to have fallen short of those that I remember from my childhood. Of course, I was much shorter then, so it didn't take a lot of snow to be knee deep.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"There's Fog As Far as the Eye Can See"

I got the title of this entry directly from last night’s ten o’clock news.

Just after being introduced as having the story on the fog (so we already knew that it was foggy), the on-site reporter came out with that gem.


Isn’t it the nature of fog to limit visibility?


It was, indeed, a dark and stormy night.

Okay, so it’s just a local news channel. But I’m not talking about the Littletown News at Ten, folks. This is Chicago. (Yeh, I know that all you New Yorkers think we are Littletown). Wouldn’t you think that from a metro population of 9.7 million people Chicago stations could glean a handful of reporters who are both photogenic and capable of something better than mere time filling blather? I’ll be honest; the reason I watch the nightly news is for the weather. Yeh, I get it from the Web, too. But Chicago does have a handful of capable (as capable as any weather forecaster can be), genial meteorologists who are a pleasure to watch. Good infotainment.