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.