Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Exercising My Fingers

Now that thirty days have passed, with writing every day, I managed to get thirty-two posts online in the time frame. Unfortunately I goofed and did not set the publication time correctly for one post and posted two on one day and missed a post on the next day – something I discovered after the fact. My attempt at NaBloPoMo was both a success and a disappointment. Because I am also writing an Advent blog, which has led to posts on two blogs since Sunday, I do not know if I have it in me to compose two blogs a day through most of December.

Fortunately the Advent blog comes with built in inspiration of the scripture passages for each day of the period.

This blog requires me to find inspiration somewhere in life either from what I am reading, watching or doing. Fortunately I do not sit still very often so come across something worth saying more often than not. I just do not force myself into it on a regular basis like I do this month.

Fortunately this month a confluence of events presented the opportunity to again focus on reading and writing. The time change coupled with canceling cable television gave me so much more time to engage in creative endeavors. I rarely “watched” television before cancelling the cable – or so I thought. I have found that even though I usually only had it on for noise, I paid much more attention than I thought I did because I have had so much more free time now that the television is not on.

My greatest distraction now comes when I leave an instant messenger on and start getting chat messages from various friends. That too, is something I am learning to turn off while I turn on my brain and exercising my fingers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Free Black Friday!

Black Friday for me involved staying home avoiding the masses, and other than looking for a food disposal to replace mine which stopped working the day before Thanksgiving, I did not even begin to shop for the holidays. I have not yet decided what to get anyone for Christmas this year, so I guess I better start shopping soon. I did however purchase a few days of pure pleasure for me on Amazon. iTunes has free songs each week. Amazon music has free songs AND entire free albums.

Most of the free albums on Amazon are music samplers from various music publishers, but so far, everything I have downloaded from classical to world music has been music that I would listen to at length. While the process can be a bit tedious and the system does not warn you when you have already purchased (grabbed, snatched, taken) an album which sometimes leads to a double download of a particular selection, it can easily be cleaned up after they make their way into iTunes with the display duplicates function. Since my Black Friday raid on the free music on Amazon, I have been listening to a variety of artists I likely would never have experienced.

Which is exactly what the free music push-outs on iTunes and Amazon would like.

I like some new artists I probably would not have sought out on my own, but now that I am familiar with them, I am much more likely to search out something they have for sale on one of the music sites.

I have not played with the Amazon cloud player enough yet, but have played with the iTunes program enough to know that I like having a wide variety of music available at nearly any time. It comes in handy at work when I cannot count on otherwise streaming music to fill my office and have to rely on the radio.

Fortunately there is a classical music station I pick up most of the time.

Not long ago, I relied on the radio for the majority of my musical exposure, but in the last six years, I have hardly listened to commercial music. With friends posting music on social media, the period of time I had satellite radio, and now with the streaming music sources, I hardly turn on the radio more than to get my daily news fix in the morning and evenings.

I am happy with the much broader variety of music I get now than ever before – and the much broader selection than I can get from the broadcast stations in Austin. Honestly, I cannot slam them too much because I have not listened to them in such a long time, I could not tell you the format of any but the local NPR station and local classical music station. I stopped listening to them for a reason, and the few times I have turned  one or the other on, I heard nothing new that made me want to come back on a regular basis.

For the time being, I am going to continue taking advantage of the music to which I have access via social media, streaming music stations, and the other random sources.

And I’m going to continue growing my music library whenever I can.

Monday, November 28, 2011

iTraining

I do not know where my puppies, Bart and Lisa, got the idea that digging in daddy’s pot plants was a good idea or a fun thing to do, but lately it is one of their favorite things to do. They have also taken to biting limbs off the shrubs in the back yard.

I give them plenty of toys and give them new ones when I suspect they are being bored of the ones they have.

Still, they manage to be destructive.

Bringing the plants most threatened by the promised freeze we were to get with the latest cold front reminded me to be prepared for puppy damage. I have spent two years nurturing pineapple plants grown from the top of two pineapples I purchased on a whim (and during a particularly good sale) at the local grocery store. They managed to knock one off the plant stand in the yard twice and I worried about what they would do to it in my kitchen.

After playing with a couple placements, I think I found a spot where the plants will get enough light and not be in the path of the puppies running area. Much of what they do in the house is not malicious; it is brute muscle carelessness as they run around playing. And some of it is just them being puppies.

Still, I have to clean up after them.

Realizing that they are just puppies, I am ok with doing it. Unfortunately I can never catch them in the act because they are always nearly angels when I am home. They manage to do the damage when I am at work. I need to get a nanny-cam so I can see which of them does what during the day when I am at work.

Of course that would work best if I had a remote control and could watch the camera from my desk at work and activate a recorded “Stop!” command when I saw them doing something they were not supposed to be doing. I have an iPhone and my home theater system is connected to iTunes. Surely there is an app for that.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

And Now I Bleed

Shaving remains the personal grooming activity I like the least. On weekends and holidays from work, I avoid shaving as much as possible and only shave for special reasons. I see why a month like November can become a month like Movember, a month for men to grow out their facial hair, would catch on. I could participate in something like that.

Except four days of facial hair annoys me about as much as shaving, so I give in.

And now I bleed.

One of the side effects of not shaving for several days is that I always nick myself trying to get every bit of the thick stubble. I keep a styptic stick and toilet paper handy, but I think I am a slow bleeder. It always appears after I have finished my shower and gotten dressed.

So, many of my shirts end up with blood stains around the collar because my Adam’s apple always gets the nick.

Honestly, I cannot grow a good beard. I have too many thin patches on my face. I could get a good moustache going and maybe even a goatee, but that takes even more work because it involves shaving AND trimming. Until someone comes up with a remedy for facial hair, I will continue to shave and I will continue to have my breaks from shaving.

And I will continue to bleed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Blah

The company at Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful, but the food was, by my standards, a great disappointment. The challenge has been to figure out what I would have done differently.  Going into the meal, I was concerned that people would find the food too spicy for their liking; instead the food came out bland. After going through the consideration of making new foods for Thanksgiving, I decided to stick with the traditional foods I have cooked for years.

Because I have made these dishes many times, there was no excuse for them turning out the way they did.

I have gone over everything I could imagine that could cause the dishes to come out the way they did.

I purchased the ingredients just days before preparing the meal, so everything was fresh.

I did not have a cold or sinus problems affecting my sense of taste or smell.

Still, something had to be going on for every dish to come out so bland tasting that I was embarrassed to serve it. Of course, I did not know it was so bland until I actually took it out of the oven to serve it.

Everyone who ate the meal said it was wonderful and thanked me many time for having them over, but after tasting the food myself, I am convinced they were just being polite. Despite their polite assurances, my search continues to get to the origin of blah.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Lunch 2011

Of course, I cooked too much, but I do not really know how to do otherwise. The foods today were:
Turkey - soaked in a citrus brine and cooked breast down to stay extra moist. Cooked with lemons, limes, apples and an onion in the cavity for extra flavor.

Cornbread dressing.

Corn pudding - with bacon grease for that extra goodness/badness.

Steamed green beans with bacon and a honey-mustard dressing.

Cranberry salad with fresh cranberries, diced apple, and fine pecan pieces.

And the best part of the meal:

Sweet potato souffle with slivered almonds and brown sugar crust on top. I personally think it is as good as any of the desserts.

And speaking of desserts - pumpkin cheesecake, pecan pie, double layer pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie.

Altogether a pretty nice meal.





Tryptophan Dreams

If I judge the goodness of a meal by the silence around the table, I think today was fairly successful. After my friends and I filled our plates, we sat in silence as we made our way through the different dishes. After having a few pieces of pie, we settled into a post-meal stupor watching football and different YouTube videos.

This is such a nice way to spend the holiday. Ample food to share with friends and then just hanging out is the way to spend the holiday. Cooking and sharing the table is one of my favorite activities - and is made even better when I get to share with friends I do not get to see very often. In spite of the stress that often comes with the holidays, the chance to spend quality time with with friends and family.

I like it for the chance to spend quality time in the kitchen whipping up some of my favorite foods that are not always the best for me. Even thought I do not eat nearly enough turkey for the tryptophan to truly be an issue, I enjoy it for the opportunity to blame it for an afternoon nap while the games play on in the background.

So will belly full and dishes washed, I nap and am thankful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Week of Running - Week 4

One upside of food poisoning is the weight loss. I lost ten pounds in a week, but it comes with the down side of almost no energy. On my first run of the week, after not running for a week and a half, I only made it 3/4 of a mile before I was completely exhausted. I walked another quarter mile and tried to run the mile back. This time I only made it 1/2 mile before I could not run any farther.

Probably the worst part of the second stretch of running is that it re-aggravated the pulled muscle in my back. Apparently it was not as healed as I thought it was. I'm going to have to take some time doing other exercises to get more of my core strengthened so I can do as much running as I would like to.

Following the bad run, I decided to start doing some weight lifting and other actions to strengthen the core, but my back kept that from going as far as I wanted it to. I have just been focusing on stretching. Hopefully in a few days I will be back into condition to run again because I truly enjoy it for the health benefits and stress relief.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cooking with My Besties

This week I purchase an extra bottle of dishwashing liquid so I could run the dishwasher as often as I needed while preparing the Thanksgiving dinner for friends and family. Even running the dishwasher every time I get it filled, I never seem to have the dishes I want to use, though anyone who has ever been in my kitchen knows I have more than enough dishes to stock a small restaurant.

It is just that there is always the one pan I REALLY want to use that happens to be in mid-cycle in the dishwasher.

Some dishes just seem to be best for cooking, stirring, mixing, storing, etc. I have my favorite knives, spoons, mixing bowls as well as my favorite appliances. All of them work together to make cooking as much fun as it is for me. And with the holiday preparations in full swing, I am making the most of them in everything I do.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Silence of the Televisions

I have now gone several weeks without cable television. Technically, I still have "basic" cable, but it does not work, so I have lived off the channels I can pick up with my antenna. Despite no longer having the cooking shows or my weekly fix of Ghost Adventures (the best comedy that is not meant to be a comedy on television), there has yet to be a night I came home and missed turning on the television.

Many more opportunities appear when the television does not take the center stage of the night. As much as I thought I would be reading, I have actually spent more time studying various things for work or just personal edification. I have also taken the time to write some every night - whether it is with inspiration from the people sitting around a coffee shop or the random ideas that have popped into my head.

The more I have been writing, the easier it has been to write, which is far different than saying the writing has gotten any better, it is just easier to get words down on the page. Using my iPad as the primary composition device has also allowed me to work with far fewer distractions than working on the computer. I have not quite mastered the habit of turning off the chat program or Twitter when working with a laptop. At least on my iPad, the notice that something has happened out in cyberspace that I may be interested in comes with a simple bar turning at the top of the page instead of some obnoxious sound (unless I plug speakers into my docking station).

What I most need to focus on is the editing. Once NaBloPoMo ends and the pressure to post every day subsides, I will not feel like I have to go on and publish something just to get it out there. Until then, I am keeping my eyes open for a daily muse to get me through one furious time of typing and a basic visual spell check. I long ago learned that just because no words on the screen have a dotted red line below them I should believe that every word is spelled correctly. Too many actual words lurk behind a simple typo, and given that my left hand types faster than my right hand (and I am right-handed for the most part), many typos come from the over achievement of the left digits.

The other project I have taken on in writing receives a bit more thorough editing because it is topical and people will be able to take something meaningful away from it if they read it regularly. I will post more about it for the two people who read this blog on a regular basis when it is fully functioning (yes, another blog - and likely a third is coming along soon).

We shall soon see just what no longer turning the television on will lead me to do.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Not Without Caffeine

Today I managed to function on only two and one-half hours of sleep, though it seemed like much less. The throbbing headache that kept me from sleeping did not dissipate until it was time for my alarm to sound. At that point, I just lay in bed waiting for it to go off so I could turn it off. I managed to sleep through the sunrise, but the dogs' activity ensured that I would not stay in bed much longer than that.

Today, though is not the day I am going to worry about. Tomorrow, a work day, is the day I dread. As I have aged, I find that insomnia's effects are generally delayed by a day, so in this case, it means I'm going to be exhausted on a work day, rather than on the weekend, as I would prefer.

Of course insomnia does not come on a schedule. It happens at the most inconvenient times.

Fortunately, caffeine comes in many convenient ways.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving Planning

As much as I do not enjoy Halloween, I look forward to Thanksgiving. Maybe because so much of the day centers around food and I love to cook. Each year I prepare a meal for friends and family - anyone who is available to come by. Preparation begins weeks in advance as I plan out the menu and begin to play with the recipes to make them just what I want.
This year, I have been struggling with the menu. I normally do a traditional turkey and dressing with other traditional holiday foods. This year, I want to do something different, but I am having trouble coming up with the right food that celebrates the holiday but breaks tradition. I have considered doing beef since we are in Texas. I have considered game meats since that would have been widely available during the time of the first Thanksgiving.
With just days to go, the menu is blank and no groceries have been purchased. Normally cooking takes me four days. I need to get this underway shortly. The simplest thing to do would be to make a traditional meal. The stores are overflowing with those groceries.
Even if I do go with the traditional foods, my habit is to modify the recipes somewhat, so I have a few ideas how those recipes will change. Still there is only limited time to pull it all together. With that in mind, I will be spending time meandering the aisles at the grocery store, seeking inspiration - to either do classic traditional, or to do something creative.
Either way, I look forward to many hours in the kitchen in the next week doing what I can to show my appreciation for those friends and family who are joining me for the holiday.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Potato Breakfast Casserole

Just like with my classic breakfast casserole, for the potato breakfast casserole, I use the basics ingredients of eggs, milk, cheese, browned meat (hamburger, turkey, sausage) and cream of (mushroom, celery) soup. Instead of croutons or dried bread, though, I use hash browns.
For a typical breakfast casserole for work or other large group, I use 2 cups of milk, 18 eggs, 2 cans cream soup, 1 package frozen has browns (or 4 or 5 large potatoes grated), 2 cups cheese, 1 lb ground meat.
First I spray the pan with non-stick spray and spread the frozen hash browns.


Then I top that with browned meat and spread cheese over that.





Then I thoroughly mix together the eggs, milk, and cream soup and pour it over the top.


Cover and refrigerate over night. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and cook about an hour  until firm in the middle.
To have an extra cheesy casserole, spread and extra cup of cheese over the top about half-way through cooking. This one works well with a spiced up version with fresh jalapeƱos added into the mix.
The more I have made this variation, the more I have come to prefer it over the bread-based one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Calendar?

Why have a planner when nothing goes as planned? This week has been one of those weeks when, no matter what is on my agenda, something else happens. While every replacement activity has been worthwhile and important to the overall accomplishment of my job, I still have the feeling that I have not accomplished all that I should have done in the week.
That is the nature of a job in which you work with meeting people’s needs. You cannot be all things to all people but you do your best when they are around and do the paperwork later. I stay late almost every day just because that is the time that will allow me to get the bureaucratic tasks of my job done. The interaction with people, teachers, students, parents, truly make my job the one I love to do. While those interactions can be frustrating more often than I would hope, successful completion of them give me the energy to come back the next day - to look forward to the next day - even when it promises to be 12 hours long.
Although I know it is not always going to work, I do plan my days fairly carefully so that those I work with know what to expect. I even post my calendar on my door, so that when others drop in, they know what is on the agenda for the day. Most importantly, it lets people know what I am doing with my time, because many people do not know what people in my profession do from day to day. As often as it offers job security, it can cause confusion and frustration when others do not recognize the urgency that some tasks have over others. They do not realize that their immediate situation is not the most important thing I have on my calendar - because it is the most important thing they have on their calendar for me.
Each day I go to work with a mental calendar of activities that must be done.
Each day at work I adjust my calendar to match what needs to be done.
Each day I do to work looking forward to the challenges that come with it.
Each I come home from work, thrilled at the challenges I have met.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another Week of Running - Week 3

The title is unfortunately misleading. Due to a pulled muscle in my back followed by food poisoning, I didn’t get to have a single run this week. Each day not running was more frustrating than the previous as I really looked forward to continuing the progress I had been making.
Not only has the drive been there to do the running, but the weather has been perfect for the running.
The food poisoning turned out to be worse than the back problem I was over the back problem in three days, but the food poisoning has hung on for five days.
Since it is supposed to be in the 40’s when I wake up in the morning, I’m going to do all I can to get up when the alarm first goes off to go out for a run in the neighborhood. Due to the time change, I cannot make it to the trail in the daylight during the workweek, but with a few good runs around my neighborhood in the week, I should be set for some good runs on the trail when weekends roll around (and I’m not working)

Canine Companions

Back in June I was debating whether or not to get a new dog. After a few weeks of searching, I ended up finding the puppy that I wanted - well puppies. I ended up adopting a brother and sister Boston Terrier/Pug cross - Bugs.  I wish I knew what I was getting into the day I brought them home.
It took a couple weeks before I finally settled on names for them. I wanted to find the right brother and sister from literature or history. It just seemed right because they were by far the smartest dogs I had ever had. They quickly learned to be mostly housebroken and actually made an effort to do the right thing and either ran to the training pad or outside when the time came. They learned to fetch and play various games as well as to sit and cooperate on a leash rather quickly.

Lisa

Bart
But their brains worked against me too. When bored, they quickly turned destructive and managed to get into things I never imagined. As a result my decision to wait a bit on names paid off. I went with Bart and Lisa - both smart in their own way, but also always into something well beyond what they should be.
The most amazing thing is how much they like digging into my walls. Yes - digging into the sheetrock of my walls.



And digging up everything in my garden. Their favorite bed outside is inside one of my large pots - from which they have dug out most of the dirt. They dug out the plants from every pot, but in that one, they sleep.
Still, I have no regrets about them. They are still the smartest dogs I've ever had and have amazing personalities. To some degree they mirror their namesakes. Bart is a big tough (well as much as 15 pound dogs are big and tough) dog who bulldozes his way though every situation. Lisa is much more clever; she pays attention to her surroundings and usually sees how much attention I am paying before she does something really bad.
When I am giving them a snack, it is so much fun to see their bodies nearly exploding with anticipation as I hold out on the goodie until they sit still for me to bring it all the way to their mouths. One of these days I expect their shaking to set of the local fault line. If my house was not on a solid concrete foundation, one would feel the house shaking as they charge through it (sometimes chasing me, sometimes with me chasing them.
I still have not replaced the dog door from when I had chihuahuas, Bart and Lisa now have to slow down to crawl through, so I have an advantage when chasing them. I can usually catch whichever one is waiting their turn to escape outside. In our games of chase, after escaping outside, Lisa has learned how to push open the door with her nose just enough to see where I am before she fully commits to coming in.

Someday soon, the two-year-old me is going to find a good hiding space just out of her sight so I can pounce as soon as she comes through the door. In these instances though, Bart may actually be the smarter one. He waits until she is fully inside to see what kind of reaction happens before he begins to venture in.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

And They Call Him the Streak

Feeling at a loss for inspiration I started scouring my twitter feed and the various news sites I have on my iPad. An hour later, I had more than a few laughs but still wondered for inspiration. Disturbingly hilarious photos of families with their pets. A nude man robbing a liquor store. The litany of Republican presidential candidate gaffes. All of them are too good on their own. I do not need to comment on them. Even the news out of Penn State is so repulsive that I do not know where to even start in a commentary about it.

And then in real life, a guy wearing a trench coat walks into the coffee shop (start of many a joke) where I'm hanging out. It is 75 degrees. No good reason exists to be wearing a trench in the middle of a drought with this temperature. Well, no good reason unless you are going to flash someone.

He also ordered a hot chocolate.

That trench is coming off.

Unfortunately, he is somewhere behind me, so instead of doing the writing I want to do, I am closely watching the people in my line of sight so I can be ready with my phone camera when the big event goes off. I am trying to imagine how it will go down for a play by play announcer:

And he stands from his seat.

The table to the right is fully absorbed in their studies.

He's fully in the clear. He has a direct shot.

And he's walking.

He's walking.

His hand is on the button.

The table knows somethings up. He's closing in.

And there you have it folks. A wide open trench coat. Full frontal exposure.

The girl at the corner gasps as the boy next to her spews his coffee and points.

The guy across the table leaps to his feet.

But just as quickly trench guy is out the door.

Maybe I have been following Ruth Buzzi on Twitter too much lately. The whole trench coat schtick seems very 1970's. Do people still do that or does webcamming fulfill the fetish for people who have the need to expose themselves live to others? Lately there have been more stories of people streaking at sporting events than in past years, so perhaps we are regressing to a more personal touch for our exposure. Has social media become so distant even exhibitionists have to find a venue with real people?

If that is the case then Avenue Q is going to have to rewrite one of the funniest songs. The Internet is no longer for porn: it's for real stuff.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Not-so Good Sports

Last weekend I watched some of the best football games I have seen in years. This weekend I could not find a game that held my interest for even a few minutes. What makes such a difference in the games that leads some to be thrilling and holding one's attention from the first play and others to just be so tedious that one only watches out of habit?

The games that so engrossed me last week did not involve any of my favorite teams and I would have been lucky to name any player on either side. They were however well played close games that hinged on each play. One substantial play from either team could have turned the outcome of the game. I cheered both sides, since I did not have a particular team I was rooting for.

This weekend I watched games that carried into overtime. Nevertheless, they never captivated me or made me even consider standing and cheering for either team. I simply did not care about the outcome. Each game had memorable plays offensively and defensively. Each game came down to the wire and every call and execution potentially changed the final result.

Still, I could not get engaged in the games - even ones with Texas teams I am obligated to support to demonstrate my state pride. I do not support all Texas teams. I just cannot bring myself to support the Cowboys as long as Jerry Jones is the owner. (Do personal vendettas have a place in sports? You betcha' they do!)

Some other quality has to exist in the game that gives it that must watch quality. Or does it exist in me?

This weekend found me confined to my house due to something I ate Friday night - with long-lasting consequences. Even though I had errands I needed to run, I did not dare leave the house. Perhaps the preoccupation of all the other things I needed to be doing and could not affected my ability to concentrate on the games or give them a shot to be as exciting as Twitter and the announcers made them sound.

I think over the grumbling in my stomach, nothing would have made any game interesting - much less compare to the nail-biters from the previous weekend. At least I got hours of sleep!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Baked Oatmeal Breakfast

Since childhood, oatmeal has been one of my least favorite breakfast foods. I like oats and oatmeal as an ingredient in other dishes, but I just cannot get past the texture of traditionally boiled oatmeal. Recently, though, I found a new way of preparing oatmeal that overcame the slimy texture and turned oatmeal into a wonderful breakfast option, especially when I have company.
The simple ingredient list means this this dish can be one pulled together with little notice.
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 C Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons honey (or syrup)
2 Eggs
1 C Applesauce
1 1/2 C Milk
3 C Oatmeal
1 1/2 Teaspoons baking powder
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Teaspoon cinnamon (I use apple pie spice)
1/4 cup raisins (plumped for 10 minutes in warm water)
brown sugar
milk
Mix all the wet ingredients together then combine in the dry ingredients.
Pour into a 9 X 9 baking dish. Place in refrigerator overnight. 

(before cooking) I made a double batch to take to work and used a 13 X 9 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 45 minutes.
Two flavors I particularly like to add to apple dishes are mustard powder and cheddar cheese. I mix in about 1/4 cup cheddar cheese and  1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard.
This dish has become a favorite at work and with friends, and of course, has made me consider eating oatmeal regularly.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

No Good Story

Just when I believed I would start setting geriatric speed records as I resumed my running, the entire endeavor ended (temporarily) in a single movement. Age showed itself with a pulled muscle in my back. Sadly, there no good story comes with it.
In fact, the debilitating event came from such a simple action that I wonder just what I could do to prevent it: I leaned over to get a pen out of my backpack and upon straightening up, a stabbing pain began shooting down my back. I could not continue sitting at the coffee shop and had to return home to my heating pad and what pain killers I had.
Two days of heating pads and epsom salt baths and my back feels much better, though my whole body is stiff from trying to move without straining my back. If today continues as I hope, I will run again in the morning.
Though the back pain causes some inconvenience, I recognize that it is just one part of aging, but approaching it with good humor and determination will not long slow me down.
Still, I want a better story than picking up a pen.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Revenge or Satisfaction - or Both

I have heard the saying, “revenge is a dish best served cold,” many times over the years in both literary and proverbial form. This week I happened upon an occasion to see revenge in several forms take place that did not involve me in any way.
No pre-meditated vengeance on my part. No blood on my hands, just the satisfaction of a job well done.
Some definite “might have beens” hanging out in their heads.
Punctuated by congratulatory emails on which the other was copied. 
Yes, I am happy about that.
Sometimes revenge happens best by doing the right thing and then letting karma play itself out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Little Moderation

The last few years have brought about such an outpouring of political frustration due to the perceived brokenness of the political system. From the virulent incoherence of the TEA Party movement to the wildly undefined OWS uprising, it has become clear that we as a nation have reached our frustration limits with the status quo. Politicians on both sides are doing their utmost to capitalize on the events either flattering and attempting to align, or damning and holding their opponents responsible. I have yet to see any politician who truly gets it and realizes that "the people" are fed up with being lied to and manipulated for the gain of the few by both politicians and corporations.

While I cannot find a way to align with either side in the social war. Both are too fragmented and to extreme. While on the one side, I want "government" to leave me alone even though I am a quasi-government employee (the state government claims educators when it wants to and disowns us when it is more convenient), but I do believe I should pay my fair share of taxes. I think I am grossly underpaid for the work that I do, but I opted to go to college and earn three degrees directly related to my present position - with the full knowledge that I would be grossly underpaid for my entire work life. I made the choice and quite happily live with it.

Discontent, though, creates dangerous conditions. Benjamin Franklin said, "a mob's a monster, heads enough but no brains." While both organizations appear to have structure, the extremists in each do a remarkable job of making both seem much more threatening than either likely is.

I have tried to come up with a clear definition for either one.

As best as I can define it, the one seeks social justice for themselves alone and the other seeks social justice 1950's Mississippi style.

Both perceive their own hurt to be so personal they cannot rationally comprehend any other viewpoint, and logic long ago fell victim to passion.

None of the leaders in this generation have experienced the level of acrimony from the public masses as is demonstrated in congressional town meetings, electoral debates, the vitriol of talk radio and the slanted coverage of news stations. Everywhere bias dominates the public forum and I have to wonder how much social media has to do with it. A couple years ago, a sociologist released a report/book on how we have segregated ourselves into interest groups. We have moved into neighborhoods of like people. We attend churches with like believers, we get our news from stations that support our political positions, and we friend or follow others who reinforce our values. No wonder we are such angry people as we constantly feed our emotion with fearsome fodder regardless of its nutritional value.

I long for leaders who have the strength to lead with one another over the din around them - leaders with the intelligence to understand the sound and fury of disillusionment and do what it takes to restore trust somewhere in the moderate middle - someone who is able to appeal to me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Another Week of Running - Week 2

This week I only got in two runs. There were plenty of excuses, but no good reasons. Both runs I managed to get in were great and inspiring and kept my motivation going. I managed to run at least two miles each time with each mile under nine minutes. Each run had me so pumped and I ended them feeling so good that I wanted to continue running.
I once again found my rhythm. I checked my stopwatch, and like clockwork, I passed the quarter-mile makers along the trail, but after over-doing it in my first week, I learned my lesson about that, so had pre-determined how far I am going to run and have been able to do it. Now I have to make the decision to either get up earlier in the morning and do my run then, or leave work early enough to get to the trail, though the time change makes that more difficult.
I need to find out if the track behind the school is lit at night.
Unfortunately there were not more than two runs to report this week, they were good and I look forward to working more in in the coming week.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Unplanned

While making the effort to plan my posts for the month and build motivation for a month’s worth of writing, I wrote a calendar with a theme for each day of the week in hopes it would generate thoughts throughout the week so when I sat down and write, I would have pre-composed fragments and some cleverly worded sentence filed in my memory, next to the brilliant insults that come to mind a few minutes too late to deliver.

Lately I have been on time with the insults, but just not in the right situation to say all my mind conceives.

I have not had any trouble coming up with essays this month in my attempt to blog daily for the month; however, the creative juices have not followed my plan at all. So much has been going on, that inspiration follows each day based on experiences and observations from the day. Several of the topics about which I most want to write have documents in draft, but my thoughts are not clear enough that I am ready to post them. I am doing some reading and research before I finalize my thoughts.

One of the books I am reading is about writing, and listening to the Selected Shorts podcast on a regular basis has made me want to work on the stories I have had in outline for some twenty years. The final product, at least as final as they have reached to date, do not meet my standard for sharing, so they remain in draft. Perhaps sometime in the reasonably close future I will sit down with my editor's pen and revise to the point that I am ready to share.

The fact that I have been able to come up with topics on a daily basis rather than rely on some predestined theme offers some promise that over the holidays when I have some time off from work, I will be able to focus on creative activity rather than catching up with all the extra busyness of things neglected while focusing on work. With proper planning on my part the things neglected will be the creative endeavors I continually put off and say I will attend to on breaks from work.

I began writing this blog six years ago, when I was first in the job I once again have. At that time, it inspired creativity and I sought some outlet and decided to try out what was then a relatively new format. (The geek in me has always wanted to do what is new.) Now, upon returning to this job, the inspiration that came with it originally has returned with even more urgency.

Much as with the writing, my daily schedule does not often go according to plan and I often recall the lines from Robert Burns:

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Robert Burns, To a Mouse (Poem, November, 1785)

So as much as I want to take my upcoming break to work on the short stories I have begun over the last 20+ years, I think twice about making such a plan. Just like the daily plan for the blog this month has not stayed true to form, even for a single day, I will just let the days progress as they will. My tendency to over-plan every moment of my day gets in the way of life. I cannot resist the attempt to plan every waking minute of my work days and my days off, but I can also learn to go with the flow and enjoy even those things that are unplanned.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Non-stop

Amidst a flurry of Twitter conversations, texts, emails, enrollments, student crises and other work, one friend, after receiving my text response to his innocent question, "what are you doing?" replied, "wow...u just don't stop :)" which caused me to pause.

Pause long enough to grin, pat myself on the back, and say, "No. No, I don't to myself."

By the time I reached mid-afternoon, I was thinking, I really need a break, but with multiple meetings coming up, I couldn't find the time to stop - even eating lunch an hour after I normally make a dash to the fridge to retrieve it.

When I feel so good at the end of the day about all the work that I have accomplished toward personal and professional goals, how can I say that the constant going is wrong. This summer, I made a job change and retuned to my passion - working directly with students.

I returned to the school I consider "home." The school serves a challenged population in a difficult part of Austin. So many people see the challenges of working with the population. In my experience with our students, I find more opportunity and look forward to work each day. While I get frustrated with some of the students who lack basic social and academic skills to be successful in high school, I also get the opportunity to see just how many of our students are progressing and making the adaptation to high school and help them learn those skills and make the adaptation.

My enthusiasm for going to work has not been so strong since the last time I worked at this school. Rare is the day when I do not spend 11 hours or more at the school. Saturdays and Sundays also find me in my office at work or in my office at home doing the paper work part of my job, because I spend as much time as possible in the day with teachers and students. I only have so much time to be in contact with them. I can fulfill bureaucracy any time of the day or night.

The passion for work has translated to major changes in the rest of my life as well. I have filtered through many friends and acquaintances and life-connections and have come to concentrate on those that are truly important to me. It has also manifested itself in what I do outside work time. I am spending more time in reading, writing, and finding time to listen to music and thoroughly enjoy it.

I have also taken the time to record what I do in the kitchen and write down the recipes as I am making them.

Almost every aspect of my life has been redefined and I am happier than I have been in many years. It did not come easily or naturally, but after many months of meditation and study it came. I found many parts of my life that drained my energy while doing nothing to recharge me and in the same time, I found the friends and activities that engaged and empowered me.

Grueling, hard, time-consuming work is not always the enemy. Sometimes that hard work is the dynamo that allows itself to be done with vigor and enthusiasm.

When people say, "u just don't stop" I am proud to reply, "No, no, I don't."

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Good Sports

Sometimes a sporting event becomes so compelling that even someone not particularly invested in the game looses himself in the action. I started off the evening watching the top two college football teams in the nation vie for the best shot at the national championship game at the end of the season. Defense may win championships, but it does not win viewers, so I opted to switch over to the other game I could watch on my limited channels.

I knew I could count on the other game being an offensive romp by one of the teams. I did not expect the nuclear action back and forth from both sides as the competition progressed. As a Texan, I think to some degree I am genetically predisposed to root against teams from Oklahoma; however, Oklahoma State has never reached the status of arch-rival that Oklahoma holds, so when they are doing well and there is the possibility that they are doing well and, with a win against Oklahoma could be in line for the conference and national championships, I looked forward to seeing them roll over a good, but not worthy, Kansas team.

The Kansas team refused to accept the status as "not worthy" and kept the score see-sawing back and forth in a high scoring offensive campaign. In the final minutes of the game each team traded scores about as rapidly as the players could traverse the length of the field. Three end-zone shots by Kansas in the last 20 seconds of the game threatened overtime with each play.

When I started watching the game, I had a couple other projects underway and planned to have the game on in the background as noise, but as the excitement of the game mounted, my work on the other projects began to wane until my attention was totally focused on every snap of the game. Both teams offered such exciting plays, I found myself cheering for whoever had the most recent play.

Usually I find myself firmly on the side of one team or the other, but in this game, I flip-flopped more than the combined field in the Republican presidential primary. Both sides offered something for which to cheer and players with likable stories. I wanted both teams to do well. No matter who had the ball at any given time, I caught myself with teeth clinched, ready stand and cheer for the outstanding plays. As the final drive wound to its end and the victor determined, I was satisfied despite, a little bit, hoping for the game run into overtime.

Despite the extra hour of sleep the night presented, and which I had fully hoped to take advantage of, the energy of the game kept my pulse racing until well after the game was over and by that time I was thoroughly engrossed in the latest podcast of Selected Shorts and John Lithgow reading immaculate descriptions of dogs in the story, "The Dog Walker."

The quiet reading of the stories on the podcast occupied my attention and gave me the chance to begin slowing down. Still, even as I drifted toward sleep, I continued thinking of the deep joy of watching a game well played and I look forward the the next contest that equally enraptures me.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Alarmed

I knew today was one of the days I could not allow myself to sleep later than the time the alarm went off. As an SAT site supervisor, I needed to be there early to get the materials arranged for the various test administrators so they could take them directly to their room before we let the students in.

We want the day to be as smooth as possible to relieve some of the stress associated with taking the SAT.

As normal, my alarm started blasting the local NPR radio station at 5:00. The show that was on normally played an hour later, but after the recent fall fund-drives, I figured they must have shuffled the Saturday morning playlist and the show (one of my favorites - Sound Opinions) would start coming on an hour earlier.

Halfway through the broadcast, the local announcer came on the radio and announced that the time was 6:30.

Not possible. I was supposed to be at school at that time.

I looked at my phone - 6:30. I grabbed my wristwatch - 6:30.

My leisurely preparation for the morning morphed into a mad rush to get done in -10 minutes what I counted on 40 minutes to do.

Now I know why the French used so much cologne.

I also grabbed a hat. I know better than to wear one in the building, but I have too much pride for bed-head.

I have no explanation for why my alarm clock shifted by an hour last night, except to think that some programmer, somewhere, thought it extremely funny to program the change to regular time one day early. My alarm is set for seven days a week, so there was no adjustment of any setting before I went to bed and the time correctly showed 10:44 when I pulled the blanket over my head.

Mr. Sony programmer, I curse you and spit on your bits and bytes.

And for a while, I am going to sleep a bit lighter with a back-up alarm clock, because after this event, I do not trust mine.

Maybe I need to petition my neighborhood association for chickens.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Classic Breakfast Casserole

One of my favorite meals to share with others is breakfast. I make a variety of breakfast casseroles that come together quickly the night before and then cooked in the morning just before they are ready to serve. The basics in the casserole are: croutons or dried bread, eggs, milk, cheese, browned meat (hamburger, turkey, sausage) and cream of (mushroom, celery) soup.
For a typical breakfast casserole for work or other large group, I use 2 cups of milk, 18 eggs, 2 cans cream soup, 2 boxes croutons, 2 cups cheese, 1 lb ground meat.
First I spray the pan with non-stick spray and spread the croutons or dried bread.

Then I top that with browned meat and spread cheese over that.


Then I thoroughly mix together the eggs, milk, and cream soup and pour it over the top.


Cover and refrigerate over night. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and cook about an hour  until firm in the middle.
To have an extra cheesy casserole, spread and extra cup of cheese over the top about half-way through cooking.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Turning Off the Television


I finally broke down and did it.

I cancelled my full cable package and kept only basic cable because it cost less to keep that than to just pay for cable Internet.

Brilliant bundling.

I decided to make the cut in a few months ago after I started coming home, turning on iTunes radio and reading from my Kindle more than turning the television on. After a bit of exploration, I discovered I can watch almost anything I want on some Internet venue – either the network website or some other streaming service – or just check my Twitter stream if I am that desperate to know what happened with some housewives.

I never am.

But I know how if I want to.

Television’s benefit to me was noise in an otherwise quiet house. After exploring the variety of iTunes radio stations and finding favorite stations in various genre of music, I decided I could do much more with a techno or classical beat than I could with the visual distraction of the television across the room.

In two months I read three novels - three more than I had read in the last 4 years.

I rediscovered the joy of staying up past my bedtime just to read another chapter – and then another. I have a few more books on my Kindle to make it through, but may be saving those until I get through the traditional paper books I have purchased in the last few years that I have not taken the time to read.

I also have a stack of professional books I want to read and reread.

First in my queue stands a book written by one of my former students. I anxiously await his take on the Gospel – and I promise to leave my red pen aside.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

One Good Run...

...leads to another.
Just over a week ago I decided to stop talking about getting in shape and actually do something about it. The day was one of those beginning of autumn days when we are still amazed at how nice it feels to be outside with perfectly clear skies and a new dry crispness to the air. After stepping outside with my first cup of coffee for the morning, I realized I could not stay inside for the day as had been my plan for relaxing during the day.
A bit impulsively I slipped on my shorts and one of my workout shirts and grabbed the new running shoes I had purchased over a year ago - which had stayed remarkably dust free in my closet since that time. They had been a daily reminder of my lack of motivation to do anything active that I knew I needed to be doing, but now it was about to be, "new shoes meet crushed granite."
I made the few mile drive to the running trail at the lake downtown and after some cursory stretching, I started off at a slow lope on the trail. I enjoyed the scenery and weather so much, I lost track of the distance I had gone and before I realized it, I had jogged two miles non-stop. That made me a little nervous. I had at the most expected to complete a mile and then I would walk/jog the rest of the way around the portion of the trail back to my truck. Now I worried that if I stopped, I would be stuck miles from my truck with no easy way back.
I still felt good, so I stopped to walk for a set distance then began to jog again.  After a short distance, I knew my jogging for the day was done, but I was able to maintain a brisk walk around the trail back toward my truck.
The thrill of the run continued throughout the day. I was ecstatic at how well I had done on my first outing in over a year and at once began to plan for my return to the trail. The When I returned two days later, I did even better after working out the residual stiffness from the first run. I racked up a quick three miles at a pace slower, but not greatly off my in-shape race pace. I was even more excited about a return to the trail.
The next day I actually awaited the opportunity to leave work so I could get to the trail and get in another run.
I barely completed a staggering mile-and-one-half before I stopped ground to a slow walk. I overestimated my body's shape and readiness for that level of activity. Nevertheless, I also recognized the importance of being certain my 45-year-old body is well hydrated before going running because I had had nothing to drink buy my morning coffee that day. I was certain I would turn into a raisin before I made it back to my truck and somewhere I could get something to drink.
Still, I am excited about being back on the active trail and am setting my sites on some upcoming 5K races as a motivation for keeping up the running. Once I have paid the entry fee, you can be certain I will run the race - and I do not want to be one of those people being followed by law enforcement re-opening the streets and the ambulance picking up the race wounded. Another way I am going to work on maintaining my workout routine the pledge I make now to update my workout status each week with my progress in running and anything else I add to my routine to get this old body into the shape it really deserves.
Now to see how many people call me on it if I do not post something some Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Luddite in My Dreams

The more and more I find myself relying on technology in a variety of settings, the more I find myself getting frustrated when I come across a technology fail. Such was the case with my first blog post for NaBloPoMo - which begins today. I wrote the post on my iPad in the cozy confines of a coffee shop then uploaded it to my blog and set the post time to 6:00 a.m. on November 1.
Imagine my surprise when I took a Facebook break a bit later - as I was busy working on the next day's post and saw comments about the post that was not yet supposed to be published. I logged back in to Blogger and checked my settings.
There is was - plain as day - published at 6:00 AM 10/01/11.
Last time I checked I November was "11" not "10". I forgot to change that part of the post date.
I set it to publish a month ago - not the next day.
I wonder how badly it freaked out the blogosphere and Facebook worlds that I then corrected it to publish at the correct time: 6:00 AM on November 1.
Does it count that I published it "twice?" At least it was November in Australia by the time I actually hit the publish button.
A blogger goof due to my own typo does not compare to the work technology goofs I keep coming across. Because I went back to work in a district where I had worked before, some systems keep confusing the new me with the old me. Supposedly in the district all our passwords are the same for every application. NOT true. Some of the applications still have my old password and tech support actually expects me to REMEMBER what my password was three years ago so they can update it.
I keep getting the response, "sorry, I tried, but I cannot see that screen."
Then how do they know if my password really met all the security requirements they demand? (Duh - I know programs can read the binary code when I set my password and that is really how they do it, but I still want to ask the question and make them explain it to me so they will at least think about it before they set another off-the-wall password requirement.)
If I keep trying to log on, I get an error that the account was frozen due to many failed attempts.
You cannot reset my password, but you can freeze my account.
The same thing goes on as I we move more and more of our applications to the "cloud." I am firmly convinced that "cloud" just means a passing fancy that is what you see in it until the next breeze blows and changes its shape because every time we raise a question about something that is supposed to be on the "cloud," the response follows the strain of, "we're working on getting that right."
The more often I get that refrain, the more I am convinced I just want to keep a full supply of Bic pens in my desk and some wide-rule filler paper handy. (I once preferred college-rule, but my old eyes now demand larger handwriting.) At least then all I have to do is open my notebook and everything is filed and well organized as opposed to scattered across a system that may or may not work.
Still the tech geek in me keeps seeking opportunities to one-up others around me. I cannot wait to go into a meeting Wednesday with my new iPad dock and keyboard setup so I can take notes and even text participants from across the room while they think I am paying attention to the meeting.
I am only a Luddite in my dreams.  

Halloween Hater

No one ever seems to get why I am so anti-Halloween. Maybe I am just a curmudgeon, but that would mean I started being curmudgeonly in early childhood. Even then, I never saw a point in the holiday and could not understand why others put so much energy into a holiday with absolutely no meaningful basis.

Now, too far into adulthood, I understand some of the traditional basis for the holiday and do, to some degree, participate in a personal Dia de los Muertos recognition. I still do not see the point behind the massive Halloween celebrations that take place. I have made a few trips to the Halloween costume parade in downtown Austin. I wonder how there any business in the city reports any productivity with the extensive preparation many of the costumes require.

I still do not get why so many people spend a year preparing for the next year's costume or host the biggest party of the year on the weekend around the holiday. The rest of the year has so many other days that deserve the recognition heaped upon Oct. 31. There is Hug a Friend Day, Mother Goose Day, Johnny Appleseed Day (not to be confused with Arbor Day the next month), and even Elvis Presley's Birthday. Each day has so much more relevance than Halloween. Friends, trees, music, stories all give us so much more than Halloween.

Halloween gives us 34,000 Lady Gaga wannabes.

Stomach aches.

Cavities.

Nothing good comes from it.

At least it's not Valentine's Day.

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