Friday, December 23, 2005

Xmas havoc

I'm a lazy sod. I admit that up front. I would procrastinate, but I just don't seem to get around to it. So, true to my deadline-oriented nature, I waited until the last minute to do my Christmas stuff. I figure if people get our Christmas letter while their Christmas decorations are still up, that's good enough. But the hard and fast deadline that is the morning of December 25th is inescapable. Mostly. Today, I bought all of Argotnaut's Christmas presents (or should that be Solstice Surprises?), and I only need a few stocking stuffers to complete my shopping. Unfortunately, her "main present" probably won't arrive for a couple of weeks.

"Hah!" I hear you say, "your shopping is nearly done on December 23rd? You got a lot to learn about procrastinatin', boy!" Well, normally I would have waited until tomorrow, but that's when I have to gather everything for the Buddhist "meat"loaf feast, and I know the New Season grocery store will be a yuppie-filled asylum. You may get yelled at for getting in someone's way, but at least the person yelling at you will be well groomed and therefore non-threatening. That said, I think that on really busy days, New Seasons ought to outlaw those goddamned shopping carts that look like little cars that kids ride in. Two days prior to Thanksgiving or Christmas, if you've got kids, they should be chained up out front along with the poor little unfortunate dogs.

Where was I? Oh, so today I wrapped Argotnaut's presents (or "prezzies," as they are known in this household), and put them on our, um, well, Christmas table. I didn't get around to putting up the Xmas "altar" yet. But that didn't stop "Buster, the Cat Who Hated Christmas" from performing his "KILL THE SHINY THING!" ritual. Kill it, Buster! "One of us must die, wrapping paper, and it's NOT going to be me!"

As usual, I outsourced my present wrapping chores to "Drunken Retarded Monkey Giftwrappers, Ltd." They did their usual quality job -- shitty quality, that is -- but they told me for what I pay 'em, I'm lucky I get the presents back at all. But it wouldn't be Christmas without DRMG's liberal, extremely obvious use of cellophane tape and pathetic creases.

I shouldn't feel bad about my procrastination, though. I gave the Xmas letter to Argotnaut two days ago to post for our web-enabled friends, and she still hasn't gotten around to it. I'm sure it'll happen before the New Year. Happy Holidays, everyone, especially you, Bill O'Reilly. I think for people like Bill, we need to start working on a secular greeting for Easter. How about "Happy Bunny Egg Day!"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Council of Armageddon

For those of you who have too much time on your hands, you may now download the novel I wrote in November, "The Council of Armageddon." Argotnaut has pronounced it "gripping." I pronounce it "cookie dough" -- it has the ingredients of a novel, and might still be enjoyable to read, but it's only about half done. I've uploaded it in "rich text format," and thus it should be readable by all regardless of the type of word processing program or operating system you use.

AT 51,000 words, it'll probably take most people two or three hours to read. Or if you're a poky reader like me, four hours. I would advise against printing it out -- it's about 260 pages long (double spaced).

Now I must vacuum. Dammit.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Argotnaut's favorite meatless loaf

as opposed to her favorite meaty oaf, which I hope is me!

Those who also read Dr. Lizardo's blog (link to the right) know there's been some recipe-ing a'going on. She asked about the vegetarian "meat"loaf and brown sauce I make for special occasions that Argotnaut loves so much. And since I'm doing everything humanly possible to avoid vacuuming right now, here it is.

Two precautions: #1, make a double batch because the first one will be gone quickly and you'll be left with a disaster of a kitchen and no leftovers! Which leads me to precaution #2: these dishes together (and they MUST be served together, preferably with mashed potatoes and nice steamed veggies) use every pan you have and probably some you don't! The recipes come from "3 Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery," by Seppo Ed Farrey. The book is a wealth of delicious, well-explained veggie recipes that range from all-in-one-pot stews to mammoth ordeals, such as this one:

Quinoa-Mushroom Nut Loaf
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large celery ribs, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1.5 teaspoons sea salt
10-12 oz. white mushrooms, diced
1.5 cups wheat germ, toasted*
1 cup walnuts, toasted*
0.5 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 large egg, lightly whisked
1 tablespoon dried sage, crumbled
2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
Freshly milled black pepper
* toasting means exactly that: toast the stuff in a medium skillet until mouth-wateringly fragrant

1. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer until the water is completely absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350F and generously coat a 5x9-inch loaf pan with spray, oil, or butter.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion and salt and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is almost translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally, until all the juices have evaporated and the vegetables just begin to stick to the pan. Transfer to a large bowl.

4. Add the quinoa and remaining ingredients. Mix well with your hands. Pack the mixture tightly into the loaf pan.

5. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the top is toasty brown. Let cool for 10 minutes, loosen the sides with a spatula, and carefully flip the nut loaf onto a serving platter. Slice carefully. Serve.

Garden Brown Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, chopped
.75 medium onion, chopped
2 large celery ribs, chopped
2 oz. white mushrooms, cut into quarter-inch slices (about 1 cup)
4 garlic cloves, halved
quarter-cup tomato paste
quarter-cup unbleached white flour
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons tamari
2 teaspoons peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
half-teaspoon sea salt

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

2. Add the celery, mushrooms, and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes more.

3. Add the tomato paste and saute until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

4. Stir in the wine and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the saucepan. Add 6 cups water and the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.

5. Strain through a very fine sieve into a medium bowl; discard the solids. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 week. Make a double batch and freeze any leftovers. The sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hey, I'm a Novelist (sorta)

Well, I had to pound out about 5,000 words yesterday to make the 50,000 word threshold, but I am now an official novelist in the eyes of the folks at "National Novel Writer's Month."

The mighty opus, "The Council of Armageddon," is almost finished. I figure another 3,000 words will bring it to its conclusion, but I wasn't going to be able to complete it before the deadline. So when the counter on my word processing program hit 50,119, I uploaded the almost finished work at about 11:50 pm last night. For my troubles, I received this lovely gift icon:

When the first draft is finished, I will upload it to my site so that any interested parties can take a look at it. I haven't decided whether I will do a second draft -- I'm just not convinced that my writing prowess is sharp enough that I can do justice to the story right now, especially one this long and involved. Argotnaut has said she'll read it when I finish the first draft, and I will rely on her expert criticism to guide my future actions.

One thing I did discover, or rather one thing I was reminded of, was that I can't do serious writing at home. There are simply too many distractions that prevent me from focusing for extended periods. In my case, that focus is vital to achieving the flashes of insight and creativity necessary to do good work. I guess it's like meditation, and there's a good reason why Buddhist monks do not mediate in an environment where dogs and cats can jump up on them and the phone is ringing and they're tempted to watch "Daily Show" clips on the internet or to make another cup of tea rather than continue concentrating.

I did enjoy the process, however. And who knows? Maybe I can make the thing good enough that maybe somebody would want to buy it But for the near future, I have several more promising stories to shop.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Quick Thanksgiving Post

Argotnaut has expressed her desire to not have look at the zombiefied picture of her on my blog when she checks it out. So here's a quick post to bump that horrific photo down the page a bit.

Thanksgiving was lovely. I made a Tofurky feast with steamed green beans. I love the Tofurky boxed feast, which features Tofurky roast with wild rice stuffing, cranberry/potato dumplings and gravy because it's tasty, quick, and reasonably easy to prepare. Just chuck some taters and carrots in with the roast, baste it with a glaze made with soy sauce and orange juice, and shove it in the oven. However, that means for Christmas I must make Argotnaut's favorite Buddhist meat-like vegan loaf and garden sauce, which takes about two hours to prepare and dirties every pan in the house. But it shore is good!

Also good was that the football teams I was rooting for won (or, to be more accurate, the teams I was rooting against lost.)

Most of all, I'm thankful for my lovely, wonderful wife, the health of my family (including me!) and pets, and the fact that we live in a part of the world where I don't have to worry (much) about militias busting down our doors.

Now I must return to novel writing! I'm only at 36,000 words, or about 3,000 behind where I should have been yesterday. So must pound away!

In closing, here's photo of Buster. For some reason, he's been taking to jumping up on my shoulder and settling down. It might be love, but I think it's more likely the nice warm sweater!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Halloween -- now with more zombies!

I've been so busy with the novel writing that I forgot to post some of our Halloween pictures. So here are four:

Zombie Argotnaut!

Zombie Quarterback!
Actually, I used my Brian Urlacher jersey and a blue t-shirt I had to create a Jonathan Quinn jersey. Jonathan Quinn is no longer with the Chicago Bears because, well, he played quarterback like a zombie! Lack of mobility that made oak trees look spry in comparison, the quick decision-making ability of a sloth, and general "Lurch-ishness." Believe me, Chicago Bears fans were terrified by the reappearance of the not-so-might Quinn!

And to round out the set:

Zombie Dog!

And zombie baboon!
This was in fact a photo that was featured in a New York Times article about why we need to sleep (turns out, nobody's really sure). But the photo was so funny I had to include it. Looks like Argotnaut before her morning cup of coffee!

Friday, November 04, 2005

NaNoWriMo Excerpt

I've been good so far about hitting my 1700 word per day quota. I'm now up to 6800! The National Write a Novel In Month web site allows participants to create a profile. Those who are interested in reading a short excerpt from my forthcoming novel can go to that web page and click on the "Team 2005" tab. Once there, search for an author with the name "Noyes" (for my alter ego the Right Dishonorable Reverend Noyes). That search will bring up my profile and an excerpt! Lucky you!

I'm finding that bearing down creatively on my writing is energizing other creative areas of my brain. I woke up the other morning with a pretty good song stuck in my head, with lyrics for a chorus and everything! That never happens. Well, rarely.

As the experiment goes on, I'm curious to see what other effects might manifest themselves. Perhaps pulling my hair out and screaming "what the hell did I do this for? Um, I mean, For what reason did I do this!?!?!"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Anniversary gift: Insanity!

Thanks everyone for offering your happy anniversary wishes. I'm very lucky and very happy to be married to Argotnaut. We will have a nice anniversary dinner this weekend after her midterms. Tonight, she's bringing home burritos so I don't have to cook. Is she a great wife or what!? Besides, I think the third anniversary is the "refried bean" anniversary, isn't it?

While she is busy with her studies, I'm busy with my "write a novel in a month" project. I hit the 1700 word quota yesterday, and, if the coffee kicks in effectively, 1700 today shouldn't be a problem. But as the thing goes on -- well, it'll be a real challenge. I remember reading about this project last year, and one of the organizers said, "If you get in trouble and have nothing to write about, introduce a pirate. That always helps."

It may come to that!

Monday, October 31, 2005

(Not so) Happy Halloween Skulls!

I have been considering getting some cosmetic surgery to correct the facial anomalies that still remain from the calamity. In anticipation of going to talk to some surgeons, I ordered the CT scans taken at Rockford Memorial Hospital following my brain surgeries. The CT scans came today, just in time for Halloween! I was under the impression that a metal plate had been inserted to protect the depressed fracture the front of my skull. But it looks from these that there is no plate, but rather a series of metal sutures that join the network of skull fragments. Interesting. Enjoy!

Very "Terminator"-esque, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sunnis vs. Shiites, Cubs vs. Sox

Unlike most of the nation, I have been watching the World Series (which, for those of you who couldn't care less, features the Chicago White Sox vs. the Houston Astros). Having grown up in Northern Illinois and lived in Chicago for more than 15 years, I tend to root for Chicago sports teams, despite living in Portland. Well, I don't really care about hockey, college football, or basketball, so I root primarily for the Chicago Bears, and, to a lesser extent, the Chicago Cubs. I generally pay a little attention to what the Chicago White Sox are up to, but not much.

Chicago is one of the rare cities that boasts TWO major league baseball teams. The clubs are eerily similar: both have been in existence for more than a century. Both also have a miserable record of ineptitude in regards to making it to the World Series. The Cubs last were there in 1945, and last won a Series in 1908. The White Sox last were in the Series in 1959 and last won a Series in 1917.

Think about that for a moment. Neither team has won a World Series since the end of the First World War.

Now, given this excruciating legacy of crapitude, one might think that, while there would be a friendly rivalry between the two clubs, if the Sox or the Cubs were to make it to the Series, the entire city of Chicago would root for that team.

One would be sadly mistaken.

White Sox fans have a long history of HATING the Cubs. Cubs fans tend to be happy to return the favor. This despite the fact that one is a National League team is one is an American League team, and thus each clubs' performance has no effect on the other.

The reasons for this animosity are complex. The Cubs play on the north side of Chicago and the Sox on the south side. So there is a regional aspect. Also, the south side tends to be more "blue collar" and the north more "white collar." So there's a social aspect to it as well...a plumber from the south side is likely to be a Sox fan. A marketing executive from the north side is invariably a Cub fan. Personally, I think a lot of the conflict has to do with Cub games being broadcast on WGN, one of the first cable superstations. Everyone across America had a chance to watch the struggles of the Cubs and relate to them, and thus the Cubs became a sort of "lovable loser" club -- the "Ziggy" of Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, the Sox sucked in relative obscurity, and Sox fans are understandably envious of the Cubs' notoriety. After all, it's not as if the Cubs have achieved a lot more success than the Sox. In fact, the opposite is true.

While I would prefer the Cubs to be in the Series, the fact that ANY Chicago team is there is a reason to rejoice. After all, historically a Chicago team winning the series has been more rare than Halley's Comet! Therefore, I will watch the games and root for the Sox. Don't get me wrong...I'm not going to run out and buy a Sox hat and a Paul Konerko jersey and yell "Woooo! I'm a Sox fan!" That would be, at best, disingenuous. But there are a few Cub fans I have talked to who can't STAND the idea of the Sox being World Champions. They would rather the Yankees win it again, which is akin to saying "I'd rather Bill Gates won the Powerball rather than my stupid next door neighbor! I don't CARE that my neighbor is a quadriplegic living in poverty!"

Now I understand what the new Iraqi government is up against. Tribal allegiances are artificial constructs, but nevertheless more powerful than common sense and rationality. But we can hope that the Sunnis and the Shiites have more sense than Cub fans and Sox fans.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Accept the challenge... that you may experience the exhilaration of victory!"

I don't if that little aphorism is from a notable source. I saw it on a plaque that a former boss of mine had in his office. Well, at least he didn't have one of those posters with a cat dangling from a branch featuring the infamous "Hang In There" slogan.

The challenge I am referring to in this post is that issued by National Novel Writing Month. Participants are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30. The object is quantity over quality.

I thought this would be good for me because, while I am making SOME headway in my fiction writing, I know that I need to get over my tendency to niggle over every little thing, and focus on opening the conduit between my brain and the page. NaNoWriMo sounds like just the ticket to blow that conduit wide open. Or burn it up entirely.

Luckily, I'll have a LITTLE time to figure out what I want to write about -- will it be science fiction, fantasy, reality-based fiction or perhaps even autobiographical? The only real necessity is that the theme must be able to support an output of approximately 1700 words a day. For 30 days straight. So it may end up being a combination of all of those things.

If I succeed, I will post the results on my site somewhere. But I would not expect ANYONE to read it!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Homo-rock B-day!

Although my birthday was on October 3, I had to wait until last night for my birthday present...seeing Bob Mould at Doug Fir Lounge. Bob was the guitar player and driving influence behind Husker Du in the 80s (and Sugar in the 90s). Husker Du was one of my favorite bands during the Reagan years, and Bob was a major influence on my guitar sound and approach during a subsequent period in my punk band in Chicago. It was good to see the old guy in action again. I'd seen him twice before, once with Husker Du on their last tour together Then I saw him again on my -- ew, 37th? -- birthday in Chicago during one of his acoustic tours ten years later.

"Double-plus bonus" was that Bob's drummer this time out was from another one of my favorite punky bands of the 90s, Fugazi.

Bob is kind of a rarity in openly gay man with full-on punk cred. And he plays a Gibson Flying V! (Although he didn't last night, durn it!). His songs tend to be introspective and very loud at the same time.

So how was the show? Really good. Bob and the band were in fine form, and, as I expected, it was inspiring to hear his mighty guitar roar and unique chord voicings again. Doug Fir also was a great place to see him, as it's a pretty intimate venue. The room was perhaps 40 ft. x 40 ft with low ceilings, and we were not more than 20 feet from the stage, with a great view from some steps that lead down into a sort of "sunken living room/mosh pit". I'd seen on-line the set list that the band had played from previous shows, and he didn't vary much from that. Which was a shame...I shouldn't have looked at it because I might have enjoyed the show more had I been surprised by the selections. ("Ooooh! He's playing "Chartered Trips" from "Zen Arcade!") But that's my own fault.

The experience of seeing a live show for the first time in probably five years was almost as interesting as the show itself. First, it was a bit of an older crowd given the artist's long history. Argotnaut has already commented on the non-smoking crowd, which was a real blessing. The weirdest thing was that Portland folks seem to actually cue up in an orderly line at the bar. "In my day," (insert wheezy old geezer voice here) "ya had to elbow your way up to the bar and yell your order like a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange!"

Unfortunately, I didn't bring a camera, because that's frowned upon in some venues and I was afraid it'd be confiscated. But I needn't have worried -- there were a few folks actually videotaping the show with camcorders! Perhaps that's another thing that's changed in the last few years, what with picture-taking cell phones and whatnot. So instead of Bob Mould, here's a photo of Buddy doing yoga on Argotnaut's new yoga mat. I'm sure Bob would be okay with this, since at least it's a photo of a cute boy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Welcome to the Calamity Page!

For quite some time, I've debated with myself about creating a record of what I call "The Calamity." Mostly I've wanted to just forget about it as much as possible and get on with my life. But recently, several cyclists here in Portland have been hit by cars. Some have been killed and others have been injured as badly as I was. Whenever I hear about such events, I have a strong desire to contact those who are about to endure what I did and give them the benefit of my experience, and also let them know they are not alone. Well, now I can send them a link to "The Calamity Page."

If you'd like to check it out, click on the "Full Frinky Site" link to the right. Once there, click on "The Calamity Page" link. There are a few things to fix yet, but it's pretty close.

Now, as they say on The Simpsons, "Let us never speak of it again."

Monday, September 26, 2005

Zombie dog weekend

Argotnaut provided a record of our troubles with our dog, Buddy, over the weekend. (Details on her Argotnaut site.) So I'll just provide a photo with the epilogue...he's resting comfortably now.

I'll be talking with our vet today about follow-up treatment, but I already know what he'll say: "Continue the meds. Then, rest, rest and more rest." That'll be somewhat difficult when Buddy starts feeling better. Like all of us following a prolonged period of pain or sickness, Buddy will be so excited to not be hurting any more that he'll want run and jump around. This, of course, would be EXTREMELY bad. I hope we won't have to cage confine him because he'd think he was being punished for some reason. But if that's what it takes, so be it.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Preparing for "The Big One"

I wonder if all the bad news from the Gulf Coast prompted this guy in Portland to prepare for a possible tsunami.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Student no more! (For now)

For the first time in almost two years, I'm not going to be taking any classes in the coming semester. There are a couple of reasons. First is that I've always been what one might call a "directional student." Meaning that I need a clear direction to figure out what classes I want to take. A couple of years ago, the direction was a desire to increase my marketability while I was looking for a job. So I started the "Web Design Certificate" program at Portland Community College, which led to taking classes in Flash, Dreamweaver, HTML, etc. Then the direction was an upcoming trip to Germany, so I took a couple of German classes. Currently, however, I don't really need to concentrate on a particular area, so I couldn't find anything to get excited about.

Second is that we can stand to save the dough right now.

I had considered taking a filmmaking class at the Northwest Film Center School of Film . Filmmaking is something that has interested me for years, but I'd never done anything about it, beyond some ideas for a few screenplays. But then Lisa sent me a 10-minute film school article by Robert Rodriguez. This made a bit of sense to me, because it preaches "forget about the fancy stuff. Just make a movie." Of course, one advantage of a class is that it imposes is much more likely to get one's film done when you have to get it to your instructor by Friday. The disadvantage is, of course, classes cost money.

I've been pretty good about setting aside two hours in the afternoon for writing and writing-related tasks, so I'll just keep that up and see what happens. I suppose I could just pick an arbitrary date on a calendar and say to myself, "Your short film must be done by now." Curse the convenience of video recorders! I can't make any more excuses not to make a movie!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Holy Crap! Still nothing to report

Wow. Has it been three weeks since my last update? I guess I'll have to do what one of my heroes, Bob Mould, does and do a blog post each morning after I get up but before I do anything else. But that would still leave me with the most boring blog in the world, because it seems that exciting things only happen in my life about once every three months or so. Posts more often would just be "treading water" posts, unless I went on rants about things that are bugging me. I guess that would be least rants tend to be mildly entertaining.

So what would I rant about? Oh, probably stuff like intelligent design "theory." All I can say is, if the universe is intelligently designed, then the designer has a LOT to answer for, like:
Nipples for men
Multiple variations of just about every species of animal or plant. I mean, look at how many types of birds there are! If an intelligent designer were at work, wouldn't he/she/it/they make one REALLY GOOD BIRD and leave it at that? Or at most a few shapes and sizes. But 40-some-odd different types of finches? Come on!
Human spinal column. Look at how many chiropractors there are. 'nuff said.
Hate/greed/selfishness. I guess the prevailing opinion is that the ID (intelligent designer) originally wrote the perfect program for human peace, love and tolerance, and we (humankind) came up with all the "bugs" in the system. Well, shouldn't mister/missus fancypants IDer have created software for the monkey that the monkey couldn't screw up?

Oh, also I finally finished a story I've been working on for a while, but it's approximately 26,000 words long, even after extensive editing. Most print publishers max out at 15,000 words or less. So I'll probably have to send it to e-publishers of science fiction stories, or to magazines that publish serials. Lisa thinks the story pretty good. But she's biased, so we'll see if people who would actually have to pay money for it also think so.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Last Hurrah

Lisa and I had planned to go to her sister's wedding on August 21. But when we called our usual doggie lodging place, it turned out they were full up! That had never happened before. We even called the two other similar establishments in Portland, and they were booked during the dates we'd be gone, too! Of course, somebody had to stay home to take care of Buddy, so I was unable to accompany Lisa to the festivities. Darn it! I'd even learned a "The The" song on guitar (Love is Stronger Than Death") that Liz had asked to be played.

But because I'd already bought the ticket to Chicago, I decided to make the trip last weekend, which offered one advantage: if I had gone with Lisa, I would not have had time to visit my family. But this way I could make it the focus of my trip. The highlight of the weekend was that my sister had tickets to last Sunday's Cub game, which happened to be the day that the Cubs retired Ryne Sandberg's jersey number. As some of you may know, the Cubs have been around for more than 100 years, but Sandberg's was only the fourth jersey number they've retired. So that gives you an idea of how special an occasion it was. Plus, it was a beautiful day, the Cubs one easily, and I had a chance to visit with 5/7ths of my family, which, because I have siblings living in all U.S. time zones, was also a pretty special occasion.

And that was good, boy, because it was the last hurrah. No longer can I be a free-spending, globe-trotting, carefree son-of-a-gun. Now I must be a budget-minding, stick-close-to-home, nose-to-the-grindstone-with-my-fiction-writing son-of-a-gun. But that's okay. It was a great summer filled with many memorable experiences. Lisa has finally had a chance to post pictures of our European sojourn.

Actually, I'm looking forward to getting into the routine of class-taking, writing, shopping/cooking and snuggling with my wonderful wife. Like Dorothy said, there's no place like home. And as no less a vital personage, Henry Rollins once said, "You're just talking a bunch of sh*t, man, until you DO IT!"

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Holy Krabbensplaat! I'm back!

Okay. I have finally got off my duff and done a whole bunch of updates in a row to summarize my European experiences. I thought for a while about organizing it all. But that way lies procrastination. So I'm just gonna do a stream of consciousness series of updates, unorganized as they may end up being.

So first. Amsterdam! Coolest city I ever saw. But first, as an adjunct to my previous post about Amsterdam, here's proof of the made-up language-ness of Dutch:

Hee hee! That just cracks me up! It sounds like Ren of "Ren and Stimpy." "Steek kaart een you stooopid eediot!"

Of all the cities that Lisa and I visited during our stay in Europe, I think Amsterdam was our favorite. You get a bit of everything. Elegant architecture:
The beauty of the canals:

Breathtaking museums, including the Rijksmuseum, which houses a ton of paintings by folks (or is that "volks"?) like Rembrandt and Vermeer:

And of course, kick ASS public transport. Everyone rides bikes because the city is densely populated, compact, and also extremely flat, having formerly been at the bottom of the North Sea. But there's the added convenience of being able to take your doggy with you!

Getting to the city from other major cities in Europe is a breeze, because you can take the Intercity Express, or ICE. Here's what it looks like from the outside:

Here's a shot of the futuristic cockpit. I never really saw anyone "driving" the thing, although one crew member shut himself in to have some lunch.

Which is a bit scary considering the speeds at which the train travels:

That translates to about 180 mph.
Lisa may end up studying her post-graduate linguistics at Amsterdam or at Utrecht, a Dutch city about half-way between Amsterdam and Germany. If that happens, I think it will be okay by me!

Things you won't see in the USA

Because Lisa was attending classes and theater-group rehearsals for most of the time I was in Heidelberg, I had a chance to bum around the old part of the city and also do some hiking in the surrounding wooded hills. So here's a brief record of some of the things I saw. First, something you won't see in the USA:

In the USA, people seem welcome to drink at a bar and then drive home. But WOE be unto him who walks around with an open container of booze. Stoopit!
And in keeping with my recurring silly words theme, here's this, pasted on the top of a computer at a local Internet cafe:

Lisa translated this as something like "priority for floppy disk drive users." If you say so, honey.

Another thing you don't see in the USA is 14th century ruins! As Heidelberg is a city with a history dating to the Middle Ages, the surrounding countryside is dotted with relics. I tended to want to hike to places with a view, which, not surprisingly, is also where lords and monks tended to build their watchtowers. Here's my favorite, the Heiligturm (Holy Tower), which, I believe, was part of a Franciscan abbey. The tower had a spooky but very cool internal stairway, and an unbelievable view of Heidelberg from the top.

One last thing you won't find in the USA is medieval structures COVERED IN GRAFFITI!

If I had my way, anyone caught "tagging" would be tossed off the top of said structures. And with luck, they'd land on people who don't pick up after their dogs. Then we could eliminate two scourges at once!

Things I'll miss about Germany

It's not a surprise that, after spending two months in Germany, there are many things I miss about it. Like enormous portions of unbelievably delicious beer! Here's a liter of Dunkel Hefeweizen (Dark Wheat) beer from "Vetter in Schoeneck," a microbrewery frequented by H-berg "townies" who know their suds:

It's well nigh impossible to find a really good light beer in the USA (and by "light" I mean a lager or weizen, not one of those abominable "lite" beers). This is especially true if you want said beer on tap. As Germany is the land of great light beers, I enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in that department.

I'll also miss the view from Lisa's student apartment, which looked over the courtyard of her building and from which you could see the hills beyond the Nekar river. When her fellow students weren't making a ruckus (which they would sometimes do but not TOO often) it was quite a restful scene.

Of course, I'll miss Heidelberg itself, a truly historic city with the added attraction of having been visited and written about by a hero of mine, Mark Twain. Here's a photo of the "Bergbahn" (Mountain Train) tracks, which MT rode, and the city beyond, with the Holy Ghost Church in the middle and the Old Bridge across the Nekar in the distance. As you may guess, my little PocketPC camera doesn't do the view justice, but you get the idea.

I'll also miss the immediate cultural diversity. Lisa's fellow students in the theater group were from Hungary, France, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, China and other points. It was a lot of fun talking with them about their home countries and what they missed and what they didn't miss. Plus you have a chance to rub elbows with some crazy folks, like these Tibetan monks in Salzburg who sang two tones at the same time!

And finally, I'll miss really old, historic structures, like the Gaiserturm, which I visited on one of my hikes in the region.

Lisa and I are still struggling a bit with a bit of "post-parting" Europe depression. It's tough to return to the monotony of daily domesticity. But we made many great friends from all over the world, friends that we hope to visit in the future. And of course, there are things that help soften the blow, like the stuff we missed at home:

Monday, June 27, 2005

Return from Amsterdam

Just a quick post to say that Lisa and I have returned safely from Amsterdam. Wow. What an fascinating and unique city! Canals, bicycles EVERYWHERE, trams aplenty, hash-serving coffeehouses (none of which I investigated, I must admit) and tons of interesting architecture. Lisa and I took a little excursion with the linguistic group to a fishing village about 25 miles north of Amsterdam. When Lisa saw that she could be in the lush, bike-path strewn rural areas of the Netherlands after only a 15-minute train ride from central Amsterdam, I could already see the wheels in her head spinning -- "Okay, how soon can we move here?"

There are certainly worse places to end up.

I'll post more on the trip later, but I will leave with this thought: Dutch looks like a kid's made-up language. On the public phones that take credit cards, the monitor says "Steek Kaart in." On the way to the fishing village was a sign to a town called "Krabbensplaat." There were many other examples that made me and Lisa both crack up. But if I end up having to learn Dutch, too, so be it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The ugly, techy truth

Well, finally I'm updating from Heidelberg. It's been annoying because I can't seem to get my ftp program to upload any photos from my handheld. So no cool photos yet. The connection I used last time from Star Coffee is being problematic currently, but I hope to resolve those issues (although I'm not sure right now how I'll do that).

So far I've mostly been hiking in the hills around H-berg (which to my pleasant surprise has MILES of backwoods trails within easy reach of the city). And of course, drinking beer. The current Hefeweizen champ is Heidelberg's own hefe from Heidelberg Braurei, which is light, subtle, refreshing and citrusy. MMMMMMMMmmmm! Just the thing after a long wander in the woods.

The interesting news is that I've been roped in to singing in an a capella group for the theater group in which Lisa is participating. We're singing a Billy Joel Song, "And So It Goes," which has been arranged for/by the King Singers. Currently, I've even been assigned the solo! I've really had to scrape the rust of my sight-reading skills as well as my actual tenor voice...singing punk music is forgiving from an accuracy perspective as long as you have the right attitude. But this is back to choir singing, and BOY! I sound like a hinge! Nor does punk music make demands on whether you sing an 8th note or a dotted 16th. I find myself thinking "Wait! I used to be able to do this. Really! Um, how many hectares in a cubit again?"

We've got another couple of weeks to improve, and I'll need all of that. Lisa says everyone in the theater group usually gets a DVD of the performance. So I hope to have a recording of the song. Let's just hope I don't have to apologize profusely to posterity. "Ouch! Sorry about that posterity! Didn't mean to make you cover your ears and howl like that!"

Also, tomorrow morning Lisa and I head to Amsterdam for her Linguistic Conference. We got a good travel book that will help me plan my itinerary for the times Lisa is listening to pedants wheeze painfully on about vowel shifts and such. I think I'd rather be taking the Heineken Brewery tour and visiting the Rembrandt museum. I'm sure that comes as a surprise to those who know me.

I'll be sure to post a complete rundown of the trip...I HOPE

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Return to Heidelberg!

Yesterday was the last day for my German 151 class. That means I can now return to Heidelberg and to my beautiful wife, who I miss terribly! My wonderful and faithful brother Steve has once again returned to Portland to mind the house and our doggies/kitties while I'm gone. Many thanks to him because without his willingness and ability to house-sit, I would have had to stay in Portland the whole time Lisa was in Heidelberg. And THAT would have really, REALLY sucked. But now I can scamper back to be with my sweetie on Wednesday, June 8, and be with her there until we both come back to Portland on August 2.

So, Lisa and I get to spend almost two months in Germany together, albeit she has class until mid-July. She already plans to attend a linguistic conference in Amsterdam from June 23-25. If that happens, she'll be attending her conference, leaving me time to poke around the city...hmmmmm...two days in Amsterdam, what to do, what to do? I hear Amsterdam is pretty boring...not much fun stuff to do.

I also hope to go see Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France during the Tour's trek along the German/French border, which will be in early July. I'm thinking we could just take a train to a town somewhere along the route and have a little picnic on the side of a country road and watch the peloton go past. It will all be an opportunity to have a bit of a European honeymoon, which we wanted to do after we got married, but where cheated out of due to the calamity. (The third anniversary of that event was last Thursday, and this mention is all the thought I plan to devote to that.)

Anyway, for my last German class, I recorded "Ich Habe Keine Angst" for extra credit points. Since that wasn't punishment enough for me or my nice German instructress, I did TWO songs this time in a little CD that I titled "Leider Lieder," which translates roughly to "Unfortunate Songs." Here's the crappy cover art and the lyrics, which you can copy and paste into Babelfish if you like. Click on the song titles below to download the mp3s, or to play them. I should also note that the cover art is of "die Loreley," a mythical Rheinmaiden who lured boatmen to their doom with her singing, much like the Sirens in "The Odyssey." Unfortunate indeed!

Bett aus Nägel
Auf meinem Bett aus Nägel ich liege. Ich denke, vielleicht soll ich aufstehen, aber ich zusammenbrechen, weil es ist so sehr bequem. Ich liebe den wunderbaren Schmerz. Ich finde er passt mir! Ich liebe meinen Bett aus Nägel! Auf meinem Bett aus Nägel ich liege. Ich denke, vielleicht sollst du mir besuchen. Wir können unser Schmerz teilen, es ist nett and rostig!
Und so weiter...
Andere Tag passieren, und gehe mit sein Stunden über die Welts Rand, nie zurückkehren. Wo kann ich wahre inspiration finden, und so funkeln wie ein Stern? Und so weiter bis in alle Ewigkeit. Im mein Geist wachsen einen Garten von Idee, aber sein Obst dahinwelken, weil ich bin ein schlechter Gärtener.
The special track is Homer Simpson singing "99 Luft Balloons" in German. Pretty funny.

Finally, I plan to take Lisa's Mac with me in hopes of finally buckling down and getting some writing done in Germany. I just need to find a good spot for it in the Heidelberg 'hood -- perhaps a nice, quiet little pub with some comfy chairs, good food and few tourists. That LAST part will be the tricky bit, I reckon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Yard Padawan, anyone?

A couple of items to go along with my Star Wars movie review below...

Apparently, young 'uns become Jedi Knights in a sort of union contract deal where they learn from an elder Jedi. There is a Master, and an apprentice, or "Padawan." ("Well, ya see son, first yoose join the Jedi Local 108 an' start out as a Padawan. Then you do shit work fer a couple o' years, like cleanin' 'droids and emptin' Yoda's spit bucket. Den, after yoose show you can do a good job killin' clone warriors -- NEVER ON HOLIDAYS EXCEPTIN' YOU GET TIME-AND-A-HALF NOW! -- then yoose become a Jedi Master.")

Well folks, I would be happy to be someone's "Yard Padawan." Being a relatively new homeowner, I now have a yard. And I have NO IDEA what's weeds and what ain't. Oh sure, the roses I can tell what they are. But the rest of the plants growing in front of our house that have been planted by previous owners? What the hell IS all that stuff?

I need a Yard Master who will say: "Young Padawan, why are you letting this scheiss-grass and ugly-weed grow amongst the roses and flowering sage? Focus, my young your feelings and you will know which big, healthy green growing things are actually plants from...THE DARK SIDE!"

Yeah, okay, I guess I could get a book or something.

And finally...

"The dark side is a pathway to hedgehog slaughtering abilities that many believe to be...unnatural."

Surely, you can't be sidious!

I AM sidious, and don't call me Shirley!

Okay, now that that's out of the way, I can proceed with my review of "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Shit." Oh. Did I give away my feelings already?

Actually, I agree with most of the critiques I've read. This one is the best of the prequels (which of course is not saying a whole helluva lot). The marriage of CGI and live action is practically seamless. That said, does anyone else think that CGI just isn't good enough yet? I still think that "Blade Runner" (to which Lucas does a nice "fire plumes over the city" homage in SWIII) and the dragon in "Dragonslayer" beat any CGI creations hands down. Models for some reason just seem to have more depth. But that may just be me -- "Back in my day, they didn't have any fancy digital sampling ProTools whatsits! There was just a guitar, a bass, some drums and a microphone, with Pete Townsend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Roger Daltrey. Beat THAT you button-poking tweak-monkeys!"

But I digress. The film is the best looking of the lot and moves briskly (thank Christ). For some reason, technology now seems to have allowed Lucas to stage light saber duels at close range (with just the top half of the actors filling the screen, rather than the less effective full body shots of the past) which, when combined with Lucas' always astounding sound design, creates a far more inclusive experience for the viewer. However, Lucas still has a shocking disregard for little things like dialogue and getting good performances from actors. I haven't seen Hayden Christensen or Natalie Portman in anything else (Christensen was supposed to be pretty good in "Shattered Glass," and Portman decent in "Closer") but from what I've seen in the SW prequels, neither actor will make anyone forget Olivier or Streep anytime soon. Not that they've much to work with; the dialogue they're given to symbolize their love amounts to "I love you." "I love you more." "No, I love YOU more." If you haven't seen the movie yet, take that opportunity for a pee break...the film is over 2.5 hours long, and you don't want to miss the last third, which is a pip. The rest of the cast fares better. Mostly. Ewan McGregor manages not to embarrass himself, even though the fact that his hair was always perfect even after plunging off cliffs and engaging in hand-to-hand combat over molten lava flows bothered the SHIT out of me -- what, is perfect hair some kind of side benefit of the Force? Ian McDiarmid also has some great moments as Darth Sidious. However, he degenerates into such gleeful cackling towards the end that, if he'd had a mustache, he'd have been twirling the sucker. Again, George, are you actually WATCHING what your actors are doing, or are you only paying attention to whether or not they've hit their marks so that the CGI compositions look right?

In short, I can recommend the flick (it MUST be seen on a big screen with big sound) but wait 'til the matinee. If you're lucky, you can do what I did and show up on Free Popcorn Day, which was Tuesday. I guess the Force was with me!

PS -- If you want your villain to have serious dramatic heft, DON'T have him star in Burger King commercials.

PPS -- Does anyone else think that -- in the commercial where Darth Vader comes face-to-face with the new life-size plastic Burger King spokes-golem -- the BK guy is WAAAAAAAY more scary than Darth Vader?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Crazy 4 Luv

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that I'm sometimes a bit impetuous. I chalk this up to my alter-ego, "Smoky." Smoky is the kind of guy who, after a couple of beers says, "Hey! You know what would be a good idea? Let's fly to Vegas! Better yet, let's buy tickets for some friends and we'll all go fly stand-by! It won't seem to take very long if we never sober up!"

Occasionally, however, Smoky has a good idea. Take, for example, the fact that I flew this last weekend to Heidelberg to visit my wife. Total time away from home: 72 hours. Total time in transit: 28 hours. Total time spent with Argotnaut: priceless.

Granted, I didn't just go fly stand-by. I was able to get an extraordinary deal from, which made the trip fiscally possible. Then I had to take Buddy to the Howliday Inn Doggie Day Care center here in Portland (which is really wonderful and with which Buddy is already familiar) so the little dog had a good place to crash for three days. And then I negotiated with a neighbor, Greg, to look in on the kitties while I was away. Actually, no negotiation was necessary, as he was happy to do it -- plus he was rewarded with a big bottle of pilsner beer, some cognac-filled chocolates direct from Deutschland and, of course, the company of our very entertaining pussycats.

I didn't mention the trip in this space before now because I didn't want to advertise on the web when I'd be away from home. Call me paranoid. Go ahead. Everybody does.

So for those of you who bugged me for an update, well, first things first -- I was pretty busy getting everything in order for the trip. I won't provide particulars of the visit itself because this is a family site and if I went into detail then I'd have to charge folks to view its content. HOWEVER. I can say that Argotnaut and I enjoyed a lovely romantic weekend, including dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant across a cobblestone street from a church that looks like this:

One would think I'd be pretty exhausted by the time I dragged my sorry ass on the plane for the trip home. One would be correct. But I was feeling better than the young man sitting in the row in front of me. He was illin' and covered himself with a Lufthansa blanket as if sealing himself in a body bag. He looked like this:

Buddy, of course, was gratifyingly happy to see his daddy and ran around the perimeter of Howliday Inn's office area for five minutes after I got there, tossing his stuffed hedgehog toy in the air the whole time. After he got home, he looked like this:

However, the cats remained in an enviable state of grace, serene upon their pedestals like Egyptian monuments guarding the tombs of kings...or in this case, guarding the counter by the stove where I open their cat food cans.

Without a doubt, the trip was worth the trouble. But I'll tell you one thing. I'm never spending this much time away from my wife again. As a matter of fact, I think I'll visit again right now...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Deutschland Dregs

Okay, whilst downing a few delicious Northwest-brewed beers, I finally managed to catch up on my Heidelberg photos and provide not-so-witty accompanying commentary.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig!

No matter how much you enjoy the place you've been, you're always glad to be home. Many thanks to my brother, Steve, who looked after the house and the "boys," otherwise known as Buddy, Cookie and Buster. As a gift to Steve, I brought home two bottles of genuine Heidelberger pils beer, two matching glasses and two coasters (the latter I swiped from "zum Wisse Schwan"...see below). When I got home, Steve and I drank a toast to my arrival and his survival. He looks happy, don't he?

Although now the TRUTH can be told. The gift pack I got Steve contained two glasses. One was engraved with "Heidelberger" (the term for a male native of Heidelberg) and one was engraved with "Heidelbergerin," (the term for a FEMALE native of Heidelberg). Obviously, the pack was designed to be shared by a man and a woman, but I didn't mind drinking out of the "Heidelbergerin" glass. I'm secure in my masculinity, and besides, I'm drinking BEER. GREAT beer, goddammit!
And speaking of the "boys," here they are enjoying a playful (more or less) tussle shortly after I returned:

It's good to be home, and yet I can't be happy being apart from my lovely, wonderful, beautiful wife. Here she is preparing to enjoy some Thai food outdoors on the cobblestone streets of the Alt Stadt on my last full day in Heidelberg:

I will see you soon, my love!