My friend (code name: Noria Carvone) was exposed to dangerous levels of enthusiasm when I started knitting. She caught the bug and got into it even harder than I did! Whereas I slacked off after finishing a scarf, wristband, and tiny hat, she continued to prodigiously knit armloads of Christmas presents for her friends and family. She's already put me to shame. I hope she continues to knit and--especially since knitting blogs are notorious for infrequent posting--to keep blogging about it. Go check it out and say hello!
My friend (code name: Noria Carvone) was exposed to dangerous levels of enthusiasm when I started knitting. She caught the bug and got into it even harder than I did! Whereas I slacked off after finishing a scarf, wristband, and tiny hat, she continued to prodigiously knit armloads of Christmas presents for her friends and family. She's already put me to shame. I hope she continues to knit and--especially since knitting blogs are notorious for infrequent posting--to keep blogging about it. Go check it out and say hello!
A dual entry for December's Sui Generis Wine(s) of the Month: Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo Big House Red, and Two Brothers' Big Tattoo Red. I picked two "big" wines for this big holiday hullabaloo month so that you have double the recommendations for drinks on whatever holiday you choose to celebrate, or not (unless that holiday is already past, in which case you can drink them next year). Except then I waited until most all the Decemberween party days are past, so so much for that idea.
First off was the Big Tattoo Red. This wine had a heady, harsh kind of bouquet with more complexity emerging on day two (holding up over time is an important property for me, since I often have to finish a bottle myself and don't always like to drink it all in one night). The 50-50 mix of Syrah and Cabernet panned out about the way I expected: taste like a regular Cab except spicier and thicker. I drank it with some Burgundy Seitan Noodles that I cooked with the wine, and I found both a bit disappointing. I don't know if I'd buy this wine again.
On the other hand, I greatly enjoyed the Bonny Doon Big House Red. I got this bottle for a buck less than the other wine, which is a 10% savings at this price point and thus a pretty big deal! I didn't get anything from the aroma, but the texture was jammy and yummy. I detected an occasional mild bite; otherwise it was a good grapey, fruity, light taste. Nice purple hue to this wine too. I had it on Thanksgiving with garlic toast and vegan loaf. Delicious.
Winner: Ca' del Solo!
The water from our drinking fountains at work is opaque. Is there any chance that this is a good thing? Perhaps it is packed with healthy minerals? I am not an expert on the chemistry of fluids. As a precautionary measure, I have switched to tap water from the faucet until I can obtain confirmation on this pressing issue.
There's nothing going on at work this week, so I spent yesterday trying to find tallbike information. The Rat Patrol and local Skallywags bike clubs websites provided hours of fun. If our infamous Minneapolis chapter of the Black Label Bike Club has a website I couldn't find it. Chicagofreakbike is a great photo diary too though and they make cameos in all those places.
Didn't find much on actual builds but that's okay because we already have the frame, for what it's worth. I banged the dropouts apart enough to fit in a chunky rear tire with gears for now and another 26" wheel in front. All that's left is a crank & chain & I'll have a functioning tallbike to tool around the neighborhood with. Maybe I can git 'er done before we have more snow on the ground making handling impossible. This weather is unreal. It's supposed to be above freezing again tomorrow and no mention of snow. Freakin' heatwave!
I woke up no less than three times last night rolling in sticky wet sheets and a body slicked with sweat. Maybe it's my latent gingerbread allergy acting up.
J got a Betty Crocker vegetarian cookbook. Each recipe includes a footnote suggesting a meat to add, which is bizarre beyond belief to me. She sees nothing wrong with it, but I don't want an apologetic, middling cookbook. Just in my opinion, the meal should be complete without meat. Otherwise, what's the point of a 'vegetarian' cookbook? Just take the normal cookbook and leave out the meat, and you've got the same thing.
A vegetarian cookbook that pimps meat additions is like a kosher cookbook with instructions to add shellfish and pork for when your goyim friends come to visit. I want recipes that are Vegan With a Vengeance. There's no need for compromise. Give me recipes for vegetarian food that are so good they could not possibly be improved, and are so good that they will only be ruined by introducing animal parts.
Everyone wants a log! This Christmas, J gave me one of my very own. It rolls down stairs, alone or in pairs; rolls over the neighbor's dog. But that is not all this log can do, because it is not just your standard-issue log. It has all the options. It is a log that has been packed to the bark full of Shiitake mushroom mycelia!
That's right--it is a mushroom fruiting log. I didn't ask for one, but my wife knew I would like it because I like growing things and I like to eat mushrooms. What could be better than a log that produces a crop every two months for years and years? I stuck it in our garden snow to shock the mycelia into fruiting. In 1-3 days, little white nubs will start to break through the bark, and after a week my log will have produced a "flush" of fresh, clean, delicious mushrooms. It's the gift that keeps on giving!
Just noticed another Google search for "skeptimistic" has led to this site. Listen up, people. Skeptimistic is stupid. It adds nothing to our language that is not already conveyed by the real words that it illegitimately spawned from. I want to go on record as saying that I firmly disapprove of this bastard word. I am dumber for ever having heard it.
I quit my last job in October and I have been working as a full-time contract employee since then, while I continue my hunt for another real job. The last time I was looking for work was a year and a half ago, and I greatly expanded my options this time around. I have applied for work in other cities (never received a response for those applications), and in a wide array of industries and positions.
I have learned a lot during this search. For example, I discovered that there are sod-all decent jobs in the Employment section. All right, I sort of knew this already, but I hoped that I could find something appropriate. And sometimes I do find a job that is a perfect match for my skills and interests, and I get really excited and nervous about it and spend hours perfecting my cover letter and honing my resume so that it is just right. But I learned that when I apply for those ideal jobs, I will never get an interview. Instead, I will get an interview for jobs that I was overqualified for halfway through high school, and then I will not be offered the position.
I have also learned that when someone calls asking, "are you keeping your options open," I know that means they are attempting to rope me in to a "shady, unpaid pseudo-employment scam." I got around to this after a couple of minutes talking to one man when I asked what the salary was. "Oooh," he said, "are you looking for that kind of job?" Yes, I do want that kind of job. I prefer the kind where I know I will get paid. I job that I get paid for and don't hate--is that really so much to ask?
Oh my holy crap! IT'S ALIVE. Progress in animating the upcoming craft show to end all craft shows, the St. Paul Craftstravaganza, was bumped up today from nonexistant to positively measureable. The excitement is palpable around chez Generis as J and I suddenly have our hands full with venue booking, website design, and crafty contacts who have piped up to offer support and suggestions. Rejoice, Twin Cities craftsters, for the 'stravaganza is on its way!
This is either way too late for 2005 or else super early for 2006. Anyway, here's a collection of bike accessories and whatnots for the one in your life who likes to ride bikes. A/k/a phoning in a post.
- Surly hip flask. I mentioned this stainless steel beauty before. Not especially bike-related, except Surly makes it and it's "derby approved." So there ya go.
- Of course you're gonna hold your Surly flask in an Ahearne Cycles bicycle flask holder, right? This company also makes gorgeous wood racks that would be the pride of any practical cycler.
- Soft reflectors: there are totally places that make shiny velcro strips to replace those plastic reflectors that throw your wheel out of true. And I just saw some messenger co. that makes cute little ones for your handlebars, but now I can't find it again.
- Soft-core porn! I don't know but someone on Craig's List has been talking up this calendar with photos of "beautiful Minneapolis women & their bikes." Maybe it's up your alley. Don't buy it for me though.
Had an interview yesterday afternoon that went poorly (I think). Christmastime is a bad season for job hunting all around. Hopefully I'll hear from them by February. The good news is I got some shopping done for J. Just need to pick up some stocking stuffers and I'll be done.
I biked down to the Depot and learned how to make deposits, which was fun. So now I'm a real Treasurer and everything. It wasn't too cold last night, but I still need to find warmer gloves and something to cover my face. The fingers were totally numb by the time I got home. It would be nice if they would plow our roads, oh, ever.
Look what I can do. I spent my free time at work this morning wrangling CSS into this pretty decent-looking (in my opinion) blog for the bike shop. Now John and I and hopefully another person or two who are active with the shop can post about Depot goings-on and local cycling shenanigans.
You can check it out. It's not finished yet but that's about how it's gonna look when I'm done. Maybe get a Flickr photo deal going in the right sidebar and more links on the left, otherwise that's about it. So St. Paul riders can look there for news about the shop, group rides, events, things like that. Cool.
Summer seems like forever ago! I sent this photo to Scheherazade for her virtual birthday party, which is a pretty geeky idea. So, obviously, I think it's really cool. I went with this photo because I know she loves dogs, and who could not love Lola here?
Plus--wait? I think this is the first photo of myself that I've put on the site (other than the creepy eyeball one). So hello world.
After feeling so bummed out for a while, now I'm back on top of the world! That is because yesterday was a Black Day but today is a Super Good Day. I missed my bus this morning and it didn't faze me. Instead of moping, I am back to applying for jobs and planning for my interview tomorrow, and continuing work on the St. Paul Craftstravaganza! to be held this summer if all goes well.
First things first: I'm investigating event sites to host this thing, because it can't happen until we have a space for it. I would be very open to ideas for where such an event could be held. I'm looking at about 40 vendors with space for tables and walking room for about 1000-1500 attendees (the Minneapolis No Coast show drew over 2400 people, so this seems like a not outrageous estimate).
It doesn't have to be great it just has to be space. Ideally it will be cheap as free. I'm looking into hotels but expect them to be too expensive; other options are churches, parks, and maybe even big parking lots, but nothing especially comes to mind. Any locals have suggestions for me, please?
Maybe it's the cold winter weather getting me down or just a combination of stresses from different areas in my life. Whatever it is, I had a little breakdown yesterday and just started to wander aimlessly around the house. I crashed in front of the TV for a few hours and looked through the same job listings over and over again. Suddenly, I became incredibly tired and went to bed around 8:30. This morning I woke up with a tremendous headache.
I have no good reason to be so miserable, but knowing that doesn't make me feel any better. So even though I'm feeling overwhelmed with too much to do, what's the first thing I did at the office this morning? Signed on for one more thing to do. That's just a blog thing though, it doesn't count for work. Writing is fun.
This brightened up my day a little bit. Last week, a festive MIT student decked the halls with walls of Mario (found via dinosaur comics). And here's one more thing to cheer up anyone who needs it: My Owner is an Idiot.
Everyone in the world needs to know about this.
When I was a youngster, we owned a state-of-the-art Commodore 64 computer and dozens of 5 1/4" floppy disks containing nothing but cracked and pirated games. My dad got the collection from a coworker and we loved going through those unlabeled disks and discovering games like Park Patrol and Attack of the Mutant Camels. I was unaware that there was any other method of acquiring software. Eventually we discovered that games could be purchased at certain stores and bought games like Arkanoid, Sky Wolf, and Bubble Bobble, but the bizarre free games always held a special place in my heart.
Still, I will never forget the sad day that my brother and I found a copy of Rampage in the Toys R Us and my mom wouldn't let us buy it, promising that we would come back later. Problem was, shortly afterward they discontinued all Commodore 64 software. Being a kid and as this was still before the Intar Web really took off, I had limited capacity for tracking down another copy, and I never found it again. We made our mom feel very guilty about that for a long time.
Monday's post about tattoos sparked a bit of debate. We struggled over the old question of what makes "art" and I tried to find an analogy to define my position on the subject. Maybe it was today's gunshot murder case or just enough time marinating on the subject, but I finally came up with a fitting comparison.
temporary tattoo : real tattoo : : water pistol : real pistol
One is just child's play; the other is for keeps. Actually, sticking on a temporary tattoo compared with the extended process of applying an actual tattoo makes the difference more like being squirted with water versus being riddled with bullets from a machine gun. But you get my drift. The impact, force, and significance of one are much greater than that of the other.
Of course, that's just my opinion and you're free to take it or leave it once again. If there's anything I should have learned about art by now, it's that different folks have different opinions of what's good and what's not, and who am I to disagree? One man's junk is another man's art. Just don't say that tattoos and temporary tattoos are the same thing.
We got pounded by snow last night and where were the freakin' plows? Nary a single road in the city was cleared. My bus got stuck going uphill and we had to detour. I woke up a half hour before I normally do so that I could take an earlier bus, and ended up getting to work ten minutes late! Lame.
In other local news, we have this gem from the Star Tribune:
Police said a woman called them shortly before 3 a.m. to report that she had found someone in the living room of her apartment. The person had been shot.WTF? Who just "finds" a corpse in her living room at 3 AM? I can't imagine how this one will play out. The article goes on to say that the police "have no suspect information this morning." Hey, police? I would start by suspecting the woman whose living room had a gunshot victim in it. That sounds pretty damn suspicious to me.
Nobody gets to read it. That means you.
Here's the thing. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that the fifty thousand words I wrote are less of a novel and more of a confession. The resulting book is not fictional enough to share with anyone who was not involved, and far too autobiographical to share with anyone who was.
I wrote the book for me, not to ever publish or share, but to purge some stuff in me that I had to get out of my system once and for all. The result is not pretty. Oh, it's poetic in parts in its crude way and all too painfully true. But I'm not going to get all woe is me and emo crap on you. An urge to write roman à clef is the bane of first-time novelists, and I will not succumb to it.
I was suffering from a creative constipation. Now that it's been cleared, I am ready to do some real work. When and if the results of that are released, you won't be able to get me to shut up about it. I guarantee.
Wha? Crap. Thanks everyone for the comments you've left over the past, oh, month or so. They have now been approved and posted. I didn't realize I had switched on an option that pulls aside some comments for moderation, until I heard from a friend today who tried to post one, and I saw that I had 25 pending. They are all now on the site! Sorry about that.
(Also, I have disabled comment moderation so that this will not happen again. Now you can once again comment with confidence that your voice will be heard.)
The tag line (I don't know the official newspaperese term) on the main page for an article in the Tribune today read, Tattoos as an art form. "Well duh tattoos are an art form," I thought. "That's why we call them tattoo artists." Then I saw that it was an article on temporary tattoos, and I vomited with disgust.
Because with a temporary tattoo, you take away the very thing that makes tattoos a powerful art form: their permanence. According to the article, "[t]he tattoos last on the skin about three to five days." Because they require no pain, no commitment, a temporary tattoo is not art in the way that an actual tattoo is. Rather, because it is so ephemeral and, well, temporary, it's just a pretty drawing. It's fashion. No different from a shirt or a pair of sneakers.
I have nothing against the artist or the project, I guess, and I don't really want to get into a discussion of what is and is not "art." I went and read the entire article and the whole thing is harmless enough. It was that tag line that got to me. I'm just not impressed with temporary stickers when there are so many incredible, creative people who are committing their bodies and lifetimes to displaying lasting works of art.
I thought it would be awesome to host a hipster craft fair in St. Paul come springtime '06. Anyone with me? The idea would be to bring together craftsters with cool hand-made goods for sale or trade. I've been doing some research and there seems to be a recent boom of these events around the country. We even have one in Minnepolis called No Coast Craft-O-Rama that is held in early December. But nothing in St. Paul that I can find.
Even though it's just a fancy in my mind right now, it's not too early to bring together like-minded people and form a core team that could bring this concept to reality. At first I thought I might do it on my own, but there would be a lot of work involved. So Saint Paulites (or San Paulitans), if this is something that sounds interesting to you at all, I'd love to bounce some ideas off you. Thanks.
You might be hearing more about this in the future, or not... mostly I'm known for brewing up detailed but half-baked schemes and then dropping them before I get to step one in the process for making it happen. But I'm also notorious for being committed hardcore to a project once it gets underway. If I can find one or two other people who want to see this through, then it's a done deal. For now it's back to the drafting board to see if I can make this work.
...until you know what you are volunteering for. This advice was offered to me and my classmates by a couple of teachers in high school after they called for volunteers and then stuck the eager saps with some unpleasant task. But the punishment was never bad enough for the lesson to sink in. Today I made good on a promise to help out another department here at work, and upon arrival, I was dismayed when I found out what I had to do.
As it turned out, I was given approximately no instructions and then left alone to work for two hours at the intra-company help desk line. People called in constantly wanting me to fix their problems, and I had to apologize to every one of them that I could not fix their problems. I did not know how to do anything except pass the calls along, and that is what I did, for two hours. I made that help desk very unhelpful during the time I was there. The good news is that the computer I was borrowing had Google Earth on it, so I got to play with that for a little while in between calls.
Actually, two more good things came from this experience. For one, I gained a new appreciation and thankfulness for the job I have. And second, I finally learned my lesson about asking first before sticking my neck out on the chopping block. I'll never make that mistake again!
Last night I watched the movie, Pollock. J went to bed early because she has a disease, but I stayed up late to watch the end, which is very depressing. Harris' performance as Jackson Pollock made me think of Jack Kerouac and a host of other insane geniuses. Why is it that so many brilliant artists also have such tortured souls and turn into severely screwed-up, alcoholic, abusive people?
Clearly you can have one without the other: there have been incredibly intelligent and creative people who were also fairly well-adjusted, and also, obviously, plenty of lunatics who did not make any great contribution to the arts. But for those like Pollock, I wonder if there is not some cause and effect involved. Did he need that mental instability to create his art? Did the art inside of him contribute to his instability?
I started thinking about this in terms of absolutes. Imagine that you are Jackson Pollock. Let's say we could take away all the causes that led to your drinking and rages but it would also render you unable to produce any more art. Would you take it? Now imagine in reverse, that you could choose to lose a bit of your mind and know that as a result, you would become a great artist. Double or nothing. Take it or leave it.
Of course, this is a fanciful hypothetical and for Pollock and his ilk there may not be much choice involved, but it still got me to wondrin'. It's an interesting problem I think. What if the pain is necessary to produce the work? The suffering of one person may be the catalyst for creating great works of art for the entire world. If Pollock's dementia had been checked before he discovered his "drip" technique, well, someone else might have done it sooner or later... but maybe not. Similarly, how many revolutionary masterpieces will we never see from those who don't go over the edge?
I can't see the site tonight. Hopefully you can?
It is cold outside for reals and the Sibley Bike Depot is chilling down. John and I were the only ones present again this week for "volunteer night" so we pulled out my lowrider project again and finished securing the sparkle red banana seat and new black handlebar grips. Plus we tore apart the stem and greased and cleaned everything and put it together again. Afterwards I took it out on the streets and it was AWESOME. Except that I was freezing.
So when I got home my fingers and toes and face were numb and I was exhausted. I ran a bath but my brain was so cold that I forgot about it, and then we ran out of hot water. I sat in the tepid tub for a few minutes and got out chattering. The rest of the evening was all about warming up.
Sorry this post sucks. I got nothing.
This German Riesling is November's (belated) Sui Generis Wine of the Month. I first posted about it in January and I've had another bottle or two since then. It is my wife's favorite wine and when we drink it, we can split a bottle in one night, which does not happen with any other wine. I like the crisp green apple tang and the candy-smooth-but-not-too-sweet flavor. She loves the low alcohol content and the pretty bottle (okay, we both love the pretty bottle). Gloriously drinkable; be warned that it will go fast!
(half-empty bottle of wine not visible on the bench next to me--you will have to take my word for it)
Student blogger WhyLaw, who I have been chatting with since well before the 1L semester even started (back when I still planned on attending law school this fall), just announced that she has dropped out. She explains that she had to put her health first, and I hope that this decision works out for her. Even if nothing else good comes out of this, she will be staying in the awesome city of Portland, and I envy her that!
It seems like a lifetime ago that I was a potential law student, and now the first semester is wrapping up for all my 1L buddies. Some of them have proven more prolific bloggers than others, but this post has been the most stunning so far. The fact is that law school is just not a good fit for some people (or most people) but sometimes you can only discover that by giving it a shot.
I never even had that chance, but I think it was for the best. Once I knew I was not getting in, I found that I had no desire to reapply and seriously reconsidered my motivations for wanting to go in the first place. I may not have figured out yet what I want to do instead, but at least I am happy and moving in the right direction. I hope now that WhyLaw has removed herself from the law school track she can also discover the path that is best for her. Good luck to her, and to all of you poor suckers who are still in law school!
Busing to work buys me enough extra time that I have been on a reading rampage for the past month or so. Some of the books have been so incredible that I cannot help myself from sharing. Unfortunately I do not have correspondingly additional minutes for full blog write-ups. Instead, here is a quick list of the standouts.
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Finally, I got around to reading this awesome book. I can't say enough good things about it. It's flawless fiction, magical and spellbinding all the way through. Read it now or you will eat your own arm with regret.
- Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami: Murakami's breakout novel offers a firm, robust plot of its own but it was interesting to note the sketches of themes that he would later unpack in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (a well, the winding of a spring, the separation from a woman who the main character loves, the unexpectedly ending up with another woman in the end). Its shorter length makes it a perfect introduction to Murakami if you have not read him yet. I look forward to reading more of his books, and soon!
- Battle Royale by Koushun Takami: The writing/translation leaves much to be desired and the text is riddled with editorial errors. It was serialized as a comic in Japan after the success of the novel, but it reads like it went the other way around. Still, I enjoyed it, although I would have probably liked it better if I had read it ten years ago.
- Stitch 'n' Bitch: Not a novel; I picked up a library copy for the Hot Head cap pattern that I am currently in the middle of knitting. It is specifically written for women, but it offers great instructions and ideas for knitters of either gender. Plus nice color photos in the center.
- Blankets by Craig Thompson: I thought I might have mentioned this before but it is hard to tell since Blogger's search feature sucks so hard. Anyway, it is a graphic novel and it blew me away. Forget about 'comic books,' this is one of the most moving books I have read ever.
- Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson: This was my only sour note in the bunch. I was expecting great stuff after 'discovering' Snow Crash earlier this year, so this much lengthlier novel was only a bigger letdown for all its girth. For all those words there's just not enough plot, action, or interesting content to go around. I will be skipping the rest of the trilogy.
First of all, where did that last post come from? I hardly watch any TV.
My brain is mush from all the writing and this day is draggin' on fo-eva! It is really snowing out too, it has been on & off all day. Sucks cos I drove this morning (ironically) because I have to meet another board member for the Sibley Bike Depot at the bank. Sheesh!
I have worn myself down and been so busy-feeling lately. When I get home tonight I just want to cook a yummy dinner, open a bottle of good red wine and spend the night on the couch with my wife watching Apocalypse Now and reading Battle Royale.
When Hugh Laurie said "Inter-web" on Tuesday's episode of House, I almost ROTFL'd myself.
This morning I dreamed that I met Matt LeBlanc and wished him good luck having half the success he did with Friends ever again. He turned to me with a hurt look in his face. I patted him on the arm and said, "oh, of course, 'Joey' is a really great show too!"
Wow that was stupid incredible. I am awesome. Fifty thousand words in nine days. That kicks ass.
I am sweaty'n'spent but it was so worthwhile. What a wreck. I could barely write at the end. This is taking me a while. Need to rest the fingers.
Regular bloggin' will resume on the morrow.
NaNoWriMo novelists, it is do or die time. Unless like me a year ago you finished after the first two weeks of November, then you are even done with the celebration and moving on to the next big thing. If you are me this year, then you still have about 10,000 words to go, but that's okay. All you have to do is keep on typing at the same pace you have for the past seven or eight days and you will be fine.
With the victory of another soon-to-be-successfully completed novel in the air, not even the slicky snowy weather can get me down! It was staying rainy and not freezing last night so I stayed late at the bike shop with John (we were the only two volunteers who showed up) and tricked out a lowriding cruiser bike. We fit chunky new BMX pedals and I switched out the 20" back wheel for a 24" coaster brake wheel with the fattest tire I could find. I had to deflate the tube to fit it in and still it barely fit. I was trying to find a ridiculously skinny 20" wheel and tire to go on front, but then it really was getting late so I just adjusted the seat and took it for a few laps up and down the length of the shop.
We got some photos on the disposable camera so I'll try to wrap up that roll and get it developed soon for you lucky readers. I chugged home in the rain and it was still not too cold, so I got home sweaty and hot. It was a great night and it got me amped about the future. I'm done with living in the past. Let's move forward and take what we can get. Are you with me?
My fingers burn my brain hurts my carpals tunnel!! Stumbled down drunk on words and slurring incoherence. Arise, eyes!--cry mutiny and release the shackles of electronic screens, transcend to spotlight incandescence. And lo; This is what I was made for.
all I have to show for it: 20,017 words
Something's been holding me back from writing fiction for a long time and so I didn't count on doing the NaNoWriMo this year. But after Monday's post, the dam broke. As of last night I had written over 11,000 words and going strong, so why not, I'm gonna write this mofo after all. 50,000 words in 10 days? It's possible. Think of it as a handicap after last year's stellar rookie performance.
Time to buckle down again. Victory awaits.
I'm still here, barely. The weekend went by in a glycerine fog. I'm feeling sick of everything and claiming this week for doing nothing that I normally do and breaking away from my stupid routines. Taking action at last with big guns and big ambitions and tackling a to-do list a kilometer long. I get anxious seeing time go by without accomplishing what I need to do in life. I guess it's because to me it's so precious.
(hmm. bit of a departure from my last post, eh? hint of SAD creeping in? maybe)
I've long believed that the keys to a successful personal blog are to:
- lead an interesting life, and
- write about it in an interesting way.
I frequently fail on the first point, for my life is not terribly exciting. So I do my best to excel at the second. Hopefully, the fact that I have very few readers does not indicate that I often fail on that count as well. In any case, here's what I've been up to lately in case you're keeping track.
I'm wrapping up my third week at a temp job in Minneapolis, which is going fine. It's in a location where I can stand by a window in the early evening and watch freight trains eclipse the Minneapolis skyline with a sunset backdrop. That makes me happy. I take the bus, so I have been reading lots of books but biking hardly ever. I'm okay with that tradeoff. I went to a knitting party last weekend and later we had friends visit from Wisconsin and shared good drinks and warm companionship. Meanwhile we're buttoning down and nesting for the sudden winter onset looking forward to long nights of hot chocolate undercover cuddling. It may not be an exciting life, but it's a good one.
I'm learning much about the previous dwellers of this cubicle by examining the artifacts they have left behind. Although expert opinion maintains that the most recent inhabitant was male, my studies strongly suggest a female occupant in the not-too-distant past. The first, and most persuasive piece of evidence, is the pair of Playtex Gentle Glide tampons (unused) discovered in my desk drawer.
Additional exhibits include a notepad that had written in it the following:
- URL and street address for Nu Look Consignment
- URL for the Smitten Kitten
- draft of cover letter, including salary requirement of $15-17 per hour, signed "Kelly"
- one copy of City Pages, dated 10/12/05, open to Music section
- takeout menus for local chain restaurants including Eddington's, Chipotle, Bruegger's, and Davanni's
- instruction manual for whimsical person-shaped digital clock
- two toothpicks (individually wrapped)
- two packets soy sauce (Good Chef brand)
- one plastic knife
- pile of napkins
- small, round, yellow "Welcome to Australia" sticker
or, Huffing the Flu Virus. One of the perks of temping for a hospital is that I got a free flu vaccine today. I hate getting shots; for some reason my ability to withstand hours of tattooing does not extend to a love of all needles. So I was pleased to learn that we had a choice between the standard injection and a nasal spray. Apparently they just began giving these out in 2003, and they are becoming more common now.
A nurse took out a tiny syringe (sans needle) full of attenuated influenza virus and squirted half of it in each of my nostrils. Some of the liquid dripped down the back of my throat. It tasted sweet. I wiped up the drips, and that was it! She commanded me to breathe normally and not to blow my nose for the next fifteen minutes or so. Easy? Man, if it helped me avoid getting the flu, I'd go through this process every day all winter long.
I dropped my wife's wedding ring into the bathroom sink this morning. Not on purpose! In fact, I was cleaning up for the sake of some friends who are coming tonight, when I wiped the ring off the sink's edge into the pipe. I guess it had to happen sooner or later. I wonder what her ring was doing so close to the rim? Courting disaster, tempting fate; I think secretly it wanted to jump down into that narrow abyss of plumbing and end it all--but it was not to be! Charging into duty as the awesome husband, I manfully removed the curved pipe underneath the sink and dumped out the ring from where it had caught, along with a couple handfuls of warm scummy water. More excitement than I usually like to have before 7 AM, but at least it gave me something to blog about.
I categorized most of my my posts from the past year and added links in the upper-right-hand corner of this page so that you should be able to sort through them. It doesn't work. At the end of each post, I've planted the category name with a link to Blogger's search tool using that name and the URL of this site. I thought this would do the trick, but it's pulling down far fewer posts on each topic than there really are. Are there any Blogger wizards reading this who can help me out?
Also, this site got slammed on Tuesday by over a hundred visitors (which is a lot, for me--normally I get around 30 per day). My stat counter, unfortunately, has chosen this particular time to crap out on me and withhold the data on where all these people suddenly came from. Traffic has dropped back down to pre-Tuesday levels now, but on the off chance that you came here for the first time on Tuesday, could you please tell me from whence you came? I'd like to know!
Big news for me: after listing it as a line on my resume for the past month, tonight I was officially elected Treasurer for the MN Bicycle-Pedestrian Alliance (MBPA), which is the fancy name for the nonprofit group that runs the Sibley Bike Depot in downtown St. Paul. Now that I've been working there and selling bikes for them and whatnot, it's good to be an actual, recognized part of the board. This means additional volunteer responsibilities for me, but I'm up to the task. I'm really excited about the team we're creating to move this organization forward, and I'm proud to be a part of it.
Booze news: I returned the survey from last week's alcohol study and got paid in cash for my participation. Of course, by the time I picked it up, the money had already been spent on--what else?--wine! It's satisfying to have a full cellar again (and by cellar, I mean the cardboard wine case I've got turned on its side in the cabinet next to our refrigerator).
I've got a couple trusty old standbys waiting, but mostly new wines that I've never tried. It's exciting to have all those unknowns packed together, begging to be uncorked, not knowing exactly what to expect. The MBPA board is sort of like that right now. Some veteran members are still around, but there's also a lot of new blood coming into the group with tons of bottled-up potential. I can't wait until the pressure is released--this cork is gonna pop.
Categories: bicycles, wine
Even though I had Mr. Ishiguro's Remains of the Day on my TBR list for years, I never got round to reading it. I had heard that his writing was great, and it seemed like something I'd enjoy, but I just couldn't get enthused about the subject matter. A psychological study of a repressed English butler, oh fascinating, zzzzzz. I kept reading fresher recommendations and Remains of the Day got pushed further back into the dusty corner, as it were, of my Amazon wishlist.
I had no such qualms about his new novel (SPOILER ALERT!! It is about clones), and I was not disappointed by the quality of his prose. Now, I like wacky scifi--Phillip K. Dick is one of my favorite authors--and science fiction by definition can be about some really out-there stuff and still be believable within the confines of the story. That's what's fun about it. But when I'm reading scifi there's also always, in the back of my mind, the nagging reminder that this is all fake.
What Ishiguro does is to take a classic scifi staple (human cloning) and ground it so firmly in reality that there is no such disconnect. The events in the book do not seem fantastical or futuristic or out there; they are simply the way things are. I could accept the premise of the novel as simply as the characters accepted it, without question. I love how he does this. And he does it skillfully by making the story not about the technology and science, but entirely about the characters and their relationships.
And once again, that's starting to seem a bit dull, isn't it? It isn't, though. The book is short, and paced well, and when I got to the end I was satisfied. I wasn't left feeling like the story had gone on too long or that the characters weren't developed enough: it was perfect. A rare thing indeed.
I work as a volunteer at the Sibley Bike Depot on Monday nights, and when I showed up yesterday I found two boxes full of books on a table by the door. I couldn't resist looking through them, and when I found out they were being sold for ten cents apiece, I couldn't very well help myself from buying two quarters' worth. I resisted copies of Cat's Cradle and Animal Farm.
Before I left, I had to find a way to carry my books back home on the singlespeed. I secured two small books in each side pocket of my jacket and tucked Vineland into my shirt. I rode back that way with no problem, and my wife didn't even notice the extra bulkiness when I got home!
Categories: bicycles, books
I took an overnight trip up to my parents' lake home with J and Lola this weekend. To ward off boredom, I packed all manner of diversions and entertainments that I knew would keep us busy. But once we were up there and the sun was starting to set, the only thing I wanted to do was to build a fire. On a cool autumn evening, there's nothing more pleasant than sitting around a good hot campfire. We toasted some obligatory marshmallows, but mostly I kept the fire going and stayed happy and warm for hours. I could have stayed out there all night poking at it. Sorry, PS2. You just can't compete with that.
Rivendell bicycle works is a very cool and unique company producing beautiful, sensible, lugged steel bicycles and bike accessories. If you're into bikes at all, you've probably heard of them. It wasn't long after I got into the bike forums before I saw reverent mentions of Rivendell and its founder, Grant Peterson. The bikes are incredible, they are not cheap; I may never buy one, but I like looking at them, and I like their philosophy, and it's fun to spread the word about something that is done really well.
You can get a good taste of what they're about on their website, but if you want something you can hold in your hands then do yourself a favor and dial them up. Just call (925) 933-7304 for a free copy of their catalog and a sample of the Rivendell Reader magazine. I reqested mine about a week ago and got it just a few days later (they also threw in a brochure about the new Atlantis frame). It's great reading that gets my imagination going and my soul burning to get on a bicycle. I can't wait for spring to come so I can start bike camping!
Last night I almost didn't attend an alcohol study because I lingered too long at a liquor store and traffic/roads were way worse than I expected. The study was scheduled to start at six, although we were supposed to be there fifteen minutes before that to check in. When it was 6:00 and I'd gotten myself totally lost trying to bypass a closed freeway entrance ramp, I was ready to turn around and go home. As luck would have it, the first road I recognized was one that brought me the rest of the way to Fieldwork Mpls and free beer. I was a half hour late, but they'd just started the session.
There were twenty other men participating in the study and we sat in rows in what reminded me of a college classroom (except with one-way glass along the front wall). We were instructed not to talk to each other in order to preserve our unbiased opinions of the samples. We filled out some bubble sheets and then the first beers were brought in. We were to drink our sample and answer a few pages of questions about it. They involved rating the beer on things like taste, body, malt, smoothness, and overall impressions. The most funny category was (agree or disagree:) "is a chick beer." I had to strongly disagree with "tastes premium or upscale"--Chimay has ruined me on regular beers.
We returned our (mostly) empty cups and repeated the process with a second sample. The whole process took about an hour. Then came the fun part. Along with extra paperwork, we each got a grocery bag packed with two six-packs to take home! Not only do I have twelve bottles of free beer sitting in my fridge (well, eleven now), but if I complete that survey and return it next week, they will pay me $65! Awesome. I would have signed up if it was just the free beer!
National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as we call it around here) starts today! Are you Wri-ing a No this Mo?
I am (maybe). Now some people whinge about not having enough time because they're in college (you will probably never have more free time in your life ever) or work a full time job. I am not trying to make excuses for myself, but my full time at one job plus part time at another job plus looking for a new job plus my volunteer and marriage commitments may not leave a lot of spare minutes left for writing. Of course, it can still be done; you can always make time for something if you want it badly enough. I just have to want it more. And I'm not sure if I can do that this year.
Today, I'll start writing something and see what happens. I already know what can be done. This could be just the kick I need to break out of my writing rut.
Tomorrow is the first day of my new temp job, but just for fun, I went today! Actually, I thought this was my first day. Luckily, once I got there, they found something for me to do and put me to work. Then, I waited... and waited... while they attempted to set up my computer with the software I needed to do the other stuff they wanted me to do. Between that time and my bus rides, I read all of Murakami's Norwegian Wood today. It was a great book, but it put me in a weird funk for the rest of the day. Sorry I didn't show up at the bike shop, John. I tried to call, but nobody answered.
Also, I've gone back and started to categorize my posts for reference. This one falls into the categories: work, books
Introducting, just in time for Halloween, the Sui Generis wine of the month for October! This spicy, tasty red is produced by Vampire vineyards in Transylvania. We enjoyed it at our party last night along with a fondue dinner. I'll bet it went really well with the steak; I stuck to beer-battered mushrooms and cauliflower, myself.
The wine was nothing spectacular, in my opinion, but it was roundly average. And that's not a bad thing! An average wine at a low price (only $7 at Liquor Depot in Minneapolis) adds up to a great bargain buy. That means you've got enough time to pick up a bottle before All Hallow's Eve and celebrate the holiday with a suitably spooky drink without shelling out a scary amount of cash. Enjoy!
Get a load of that ribbing! There is some grade A needlework, if I do say so myself. Good thing nobody ever gets tired of knitting posts. At least now you've got some fun photo evidence of what I've been up to lately, which is always more interesting than just reading about it. I've been using a lot more images lately. Have you noticed? I'm on a visual kick. I hope it lasts.
In which Sui Generis learns to knit like a man! Because real men knit. You knew that right? Okay then. For day one of self-taught knitting, I biked to Michael's for some fat needles (Takumi bamboo 9mm) and chunky wool. I decided to make a scarf. It's supposed to be a good first project, because there's nothing to it other than adding one row after another until you've got something long enough to be called a scarf.
There's nothing to make me feel sheepish (wool pun! ha ha!) faster than learning something new. Even with a book and the entire Internet at my fingertips, I had the greatest trouble just getting started. I couldn't figure out whether the instructions were retarded, or I was. Making a slipknot was easy enough, but for the life of me I did not understand the technique of casting on until I found this handy video site.
After that, it was cake. Until I attempted to do a row of ribbing. Oh well, I suppose I just need to learn one thing at a time.
I spent Tuesday morning jumping through hoops for a contract job that begins today. It was ridiculous busywork for me since I'm just going back to a company where I have worked for the past two years, but the Adecco office lady insisted that I fill out all their crap. She had me take a survey with statements about employee loyalty which I made sure to answer with all the wrong responses.
After that wearisome rigamarole was over, I got a haircut and peed in a cup (at different locations!). The pee was for the contract job drug test, and the haircut was for an interview for a full-time job that went really well in my opinion. I enjoyed talking to the interviewer, who would be my boss if I got the job, and the position sounds really exciting. I thik I have a chance at this one!
I spent the late afternoon at my parents' place again, helping my dad to load a rented dumpster with what was formerly the basement walls. Just as we were carrying up the last of it, the sunset cast the clouds in a brilliant orange-tinted pink for just a few minutes. To celebrate my day, I stopped by the local liquor store for a six-pack of Blue Moon and a clearance bottle of Chilean Merlot. My contract position begins this afternoon (probably--I'm waiting on a phone call) but until then, I'll be practicing my knitting! Time to pick up some yarn.
I need to start packing chapstick in my saddle bag! It was nippy on the way back from the bike shop last night. I didn't get cold so much as the thin, dry air made it difficult to breathe and my throat was burning after only a mile or two. Pretty weak if you ask me.
UPDATE/REVISION: I think I scared people away with that browser crash talk, but you really shouldn't miss this hillarious British short at Lucky Kazoo. While you're there, make sure you also watch the techno remix of an advert for cleaning product Cillit Bang. It will stick in your head and you will love me for sharing it.
...and the dirt is gone!
Here's another one of the stuffed animals that I made and gave away a few years ago. This is my good good friend Jhenn cuddling a punk rock kitten that I made for her. It's a very tuff kitten, as you can tell by the ear piercings and safety-pinned black dress w/ root beer bottlecap pin. It is probably the best stuffed animal I ever made. Although I did make an purse/creature that's even softer and more complicated. Photo coming soon(?)!
Due to a cooking accident, one of my favorite utinsils is no longer with me. I was making a grilled cheese sandwich with roasted peppers, and when I reached out to press it down into the pan, my old spatula just snapped in half! It gave me many good flips before it flopped. Here's to you, spatula.
Speaking of spatulas, I had my first taste of Chimay Ale this weekend. Chimay is a Belgian beer brewed in a Trappist monastery since 1862. They add yeast for a second fermentation that creates a little bit of sediment and makes the cork pop off like a bottle of Champagne. This alone made it worth trying at least the one time. The beer is really good, but for the steep price, it's not so good that I would buy it on a regular basis (say, more than once a year). Still, Chimay would make a great "gift" beer; maybe I'll buy my father-in-law a bottle of it for Christmas this year.
I thought about sewing up some new stuffed animals, but my plans changed when I saw the adorable knitted robots, zombies, and pillow creatures that people are making.* I had to learn to knit! My lovely and talented wife J taught me a basic stitch, and I was working away until I ran out of yarn. I didn't accomplish much, because it takes forever, but I learned an important lesson tonight. Knitting is fun!
*Also, many crocheted octopi.
One of many things I've only touched on so far in this blog is the fact that I fancy myself a bit of an artist. Recently, I've been trying to write fiction, but I was primarily a visual artist back in the days I was really productive. The Etsy/Voodoo Plush post reminded me of my own stuffed creations, and I thought that you might enjoy seeing them.
These are two of the animals that I made: Suture Bunny and Wiggly Legs. Suture Bunny is the one on the left, who does not look like a bunny (but whose mouth is, in fact, sutured shut). Wiggly Legs is the one who looks like a bunny but whose legs don't wiggle. I'm not very good at naming things. I did enjoy making them, though.
It's old news, but this man-made "floating island" is a very interesting project. As an inaccessible, uninhabited chunk of nature, it's like a life-size bonsai landscape arrangement. The NYT has the article (use bugmenot.com if you're not registered) and make sure you watch the movie just to see this guy and his most excellent bow tie.
What? Thursday already? What have I been up to all week that the time flies so quickly? I'm glad you asked! The highlight of my week so far was reading Blankets from cover to cover on Tuesday night. It was so good that I couldn't get to sleep for a half-hour afterwards.
I biked up to Roseville yesterday to help my dad disassemble his basement. That was fun work. As we tore down the walls, centipedes, spiders, and all manner of creepy-crawlies came pouring out of their newly exposed dens. Really put me in the mood for Halloween! The bike ride, however, was windy and cold. My ears hurt. Time to shop for a balaclava and full-fingered gloves.
When J got home, we drove to Minneapolis to look at a really cool house. There are any number of reasons why this is a bad time for us to actually purchase a home, but touring this one was just for fun. Then we stopped at another house to pick up a free stool that was advertised on Craig's List. To celebrate for my day of work and exercise, I insisted on a visit to Surdyk's. Hey, we were in the area. I bought one bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale and one of Chimay. Finally I can see what all the fuss is about!
Spicy! Our tiny neglected urban garden plot produced some food after all. These peppers were hiding within the plants, and we hadn't checked in so long that we assumed there was nothing there. Sure enough, we started looking and found a bounty of green veggies. Now I just need to find a way to use them all before they go bad.
Last night while working at the bike shop I agreed to be treasurer for the MBPA. John said they needed one, so I volunteered. Whatever it takes to keep this organization going. Since I don't have a paying job, it's an especially good time for me to do work for a nonprofit group like this one. It makes me feel like my time is valuable and that I'm contributing to something greater than myself.
Plus, it gets me on my bike, and physical exercise is another important stimuli to keep from drifting down into a jobless torpor. So, my spirits are still high. Even if some of the jobs I'm applying for look like they may be giant leaps backward, at least I'm forging ahead with my personal life and individual goals. Ganbaremasu!
I love the little handcrafted creatures that are sold at Etsy.com! They are adorable, and many are very reasonably priced, when you consider the personal attention that is given to each item. Some, like this VooDoo Plushie from No Punch Backs, ooze with the smarmy cute Japanese style sensibility that I cannot get enough of. I bet I know someone who would like this for Christmas!
I'm not playing--I'm training. Sooner or later on this job hunt I'll need to pass a typing test with a standard QWERTY layout, which means that I need to re-learn it. Learning Dvorak was tough, but rewarding, beacause I was mastering a better system and doing something new. Now, on the contrary, I'm moving backwards and having to remember a nonsensical and more difficult layout of keys. At least I have a new job as my motivation to stick with it.
Of course, it makes sense that the switch back would be awkward, given that the QWERTY layout was originally designed to slow down typists to prevent the typewriter's keys from sticking together. Why we still insist on teaching it as a standard for computing in this country is beyond me. We're only intentionally handicapping ourselves to international competition in this regard. Don't even get me started on the metric system!
Very common and widely distributed collective species (with many variations) found on humus as well as on wood in late summer and fall . . . Edible, and one of the best small puffballs.I didn't eat any because I'm wary of the dangers of incorrect mushroom identification, but it looks like a fairly distinctive species; maybe next year I'll return and pick a few to try. Since today is nature geek day, also check out MoonDock, a pretty desktop phase display for OS X; and the online Calculator Cat module (as seen at Mental Multivitamin).
--The Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide, by Smith & Smith Weber
batavus monte carlo: see here for my visual history of a single-speed conversion. It's a nice bike and there's not much information about them on the English internets.
bianchi bicycles strada (also bianchi strada, review): my Strada is of an indeterminate age, but one thing I know for sure is that it's a great bike for commuting. The new Stradas look lighter and racier; mine's a tough middle-of-the-road streetfighter. Oh, there is one good thing about the new bikes: they come standard with bullhorns. Sweet.
nanawrimo: I think you're looking for this. NaNaWriMo is National Naval Writing Month.
bike kill: it's here and it's still awesome. Jousting? Yes please!
sui generis shop bike (also sui generis shop motorbike): hey if one of you finds the place, could you come back here and let me know where is this sui generis shop? Sounds like my kind of place.
review decathlon cruiser bike: my advice is to stay away from it; the ones I saw in Paris looked cheap. Then again, they could have been hiding the high-end models somewhere I couldn't find them. In any event, try before you buy.
sui generous: I'm heartened that so many 1Ls are learning to spell Latin terms of art from this site. I may not have gotten into law school, but never let it be said that I didn't contribute to legal education in the nation.
sui generis lyrics: My Spanish-singing musical counterpart (a.k.a. "Unknown") strikes again! Toma dos Blues.
what does see you in the funny papers mean?: after a while, crocodile.
You have found a mushroom. What do you want to do?
The mushroom is poisonous. You have died. Play again? (Y/N)
Remember when death was so abstract and reversible? (Oh, he's still on about this.) I think most kids in America are fortunate enough that they don't need to truly grasp the implications of death at a very young age. For me and the other little video game players, we died hundreds of times a day and it was undoable just by pressing Y.
Then we grew up and learned that death in the real world is serious, final, and to be avoided--that we should take care to protect our own lives and never threaten the lives of others. Or at least most of us learned that. The scariest thing about my recent local high school murders is how the kids did not seem to understand the gravity of what they were doing. They didn't take any precautions to avoid being seen or caught. As if they were immortal and invincible. But of course they were seen, and caught, and very likely they will have a long time to think about what happened, and to grow up.
A student at my old high school allegedly murdered his parents with the help of his friends. Afterwards, he went grocery shopping and walked home to get ready for the homecoming dance. CREEPY. Then he and his friends were arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
I didn't want to write about that, but I can't think of anything else to say with that news hanging on me. My little brother is a student at that school now. Although he doesn't personally know the suspects, he does have friends who were friends with them and this is a tough time for all of them.
Plus, how would you feel if you were these kids' dates? Imagine if they had made it to homecoming and you danced with them and whatnot, and then they were arrested for murder. The mind reels. I don't know what to say. I'm done.
Some time ago, after finagling my first novel into more-or-less finished form, I found an editor's blog that offered free evaluation of one opening chapter in exchange for permission to post it on his blog with comments and suggestions for all the world to see. I was thrilled. Finally, an expert to validate my genius! I emailed him with the opening of my novel and waited for praise. He wrote back (I'm paraphrasing here), "it sucks. It sucks hard."
That stung. But it was exactly what I needed to hear. And in fact, he was more tactful than that, and complimented me on the things that I did right. What I got from him that was invaluable, though, were the frank explanations of what I'd done wrong and his ideas for how to make it right.
I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where) that when Hemingway finished his first draft of The Sun Also Rises, mentor Gertrude Stein told him to "start over, and this time, pay attention." He did, and ended up with a pretty good book in the end. The quote in this post's title is Hemingway's. If he can say so about his own work then it certainly holds true for me and any apprentice author. Not that getting a rough draft down is easy work, but it's only the first step in a long process. The hard part is the editing alchemy of turning shit to gold.
Although learning the new keyboard layout has done wonders for my wrists and typing speed, it really puts me in a bad spot with job testing. I can't type in QWERTY worth crap anymore. I tried; I sucked. I felt stupid enough going into a temp office today, but then with a sub-30wpm score I really felt like a tool. That's the only drawback to Dvorak--having to explain it to someone else. Just put me on the computer and I'll change the setting in a second. Sorry, bub, that's not how it's done.
The temp work is just a stopgap measure while I continue looking for a real job. I won't bore you with any more details today. Staying home all day isn't the total blast I thought it would be, but it sure beats going to work!
Mysterious front-wheel flats are keeping me off my bike, and not having a job is keeping me busy with job applications and (hopefully soon) interviews. It's important to have a plan of action. I agreed with J on some extra responsibilities that I'd pick up around the house. Usually we share the chores pretty evenly--although I know we both feel at times that we are getting an unfair share of the burden!
This morning I got the heat working. I'm cleaning up in between making calls to prospective employers. Later I'll go grocery shopping, since I promised to cook a real dinner every day that I'm unemployed. This goal is as fun for me as it is hopefully rewarding to J; I love to cook, but it's one of the things that fell by the wayside after marriage and other responsibilities crept into our lives.
The daily grind makes it too easy to lose sight of what we really want. At least, I've found that to be the case. I'm taking advantage of my jobless time to refocus on living the life that I want to live.
Harvest time in Champagne: the air was cool, the leaves were changing, the grapes were ripe. It was the perfect time to visit. The platform at Gare L'Est was cold, and I bought hot chocolate and a croissant for breakfast. On the train to Champagne, J napped and I enjoyed the scenery. We disembarked in the town of Epernay and walked straight to the nearest Champagne house, Moet & Chandon.
Compared to the ancient and old-fashioned Burgundy wineries, M & C was a super fancy-pants facility. Together with a bunch of old people and a couple of young snobs, we watched a short video, toured the huge cellars, and ended in a swank tasting room where we each got a glass of tasty Champagne. I got a couple of bonus glasses from the remainders. Score!!
Afterwards, we took a van tour of a family-owned winery (Domi-Moreau) and their vines. This was my favorite part of the vacation. Nathalie, who runs the company with her husband and his parents, was our guide and taught us a lot about Champagne. At the end of the tour, we headed up to their little tasting room for the best part. J told everyone it was our anniversary, so I had to open a bottle in front of everybody. Luckily, I have some experience in that area, so I didn't bruise the bubbles or hit anyone with the cork. The wine was really good and I bought three bottles to take home. Now we have something to drink for our next anniversary!
Highlights of the Domi-Moreau tour:
- Cost of wine land: 1 million Euros per hectare
- Nathalie owns six hectares, three of which produce grapes that are sold to the major players like Moet & Chandon. Many growers simply sell all their grapes instead of making their own wine, because the demand is so great. Nathalie said, "we produce gold."
- The land is spread out--their six hectares were mixed in with other people's property. Right next to some anonymous tiny vineyard would be another one owned by Moet & Chandon or Mercier.
- Gypsies are hired to harvest the grapes. "Why do we hire gypsies?" asked Nathalie. "Not because we like them. It's because they bring their house with them."
- Co-ops provide wine-making equipment for small growers who can't afford their own. They can even do the entire process themselves, taking your grapes and handing you back bottles of finished Champagne.
- We tasted some grapes: they had thick, chewy skins and lots of seeds and just a tiny bit of delicious juice.
- Their bottle-capping machine was broken, so Nathalie showed us the one they were borrowing: it was 100 years old and still functional.
- Champagne is good!
The ride out to Dijon-Ville went through rolling hills in fog that made for a scene like a Cloudy Bay label. From Dijon we transferred to a local train that took us to Beaune, where we started off the day with lunch and a glass of wine. Foolishness! I forgot I'd be drinking wine all day. To add insult to injury, I liked my lunch wine better than most of the stuff I tasted later. But we did taste some good wines.
First stop, the cellars of Marché aux Vins. Self-guided tour, 16 bottles of wine to try, which all began to taste the same around #7 or 8. In fact, they were mostly puckery, raisiney wines that dried out my mouth and made me glad for the spittoons. I was a little bit sick of wine by the end of the tour--a personal first--but I sucked it up and we moved on to Patriarche pére et fils for 13 more samples.
The Patriarche was truly incredible and worth the visit. They stocked four or so million bottles of wine in a labyrinthine fifteen square kilometers of cellars (the biggest in Burgundy). I liked the Fleurie so well (despite being the cheapest wine we tasted) that I bought a couple of bottles to take home. It was representative of the dry grapey taste shared by most of the Burgundies I tasted, without being overpowering, and also adding a sweet floral note on top of what was already a lighter, fruitier body compared to its more sour cellarmates at Patriarche and even more so v. the Marché vins, which I found less palatable overall.
We were done with wines then and wandered around town. Beaune was a healthy-seeming mix of old and new, and we found a working artist's studio with abstract paintings that I really enjoyed (see Alain Seguin's work at a super-crappy website here). Sadly, there were no prints for sale and we couldn't pony up the cash to buy an original. It would have been a bastard to stow in the carry-on bin, anyway.
And that's what we did in Beaune, Burgundy! Tomorrow, God willing and the creek don't rise, I'll tell you a little tale of how we celebrated our first anniversary in Champagne.
Categories: wine, travel
*"The wine of Burgundy is the wine of kings" --Louis XIV
We had a cracking good thunderstorm last night and a nasty fight. It has been a while since J and I got really mad at each other; it is a good thing for couples to argue and vent some steam now & then. Some would say that periodical scuffles are the common element in all successful long-term relationships. More important than the bickering, though, is the making-up afterwards. If you skip that part then you're in trouble.
All of which just to say that I haven't got around to those France wine posts yet, sorry sorry, I'll do 'em soon. Right now the job search takes precedence and then I've got tons of other chores begging my attention. So.
SG staus update: unemployed as of 8 October, '05. Which means I need a new project (besides job-hunting) to keep me busy. Introducing a warm-up activity for November's NaNoWriMo: the October Three Week Writing, Uh, Project (or ThreWWUP)!! I know, believe it or not, that was the least crappy acronym I could come up with. Little help here? Anyway, I'm going for 60,000 words before this month is over. That should put me in the right frame of mind to shatter last year's record for November.
Categories: life, work, writing
I think mine is broken? Anyway it's been a while since I've heard from her. Sporadically I get some inspiration. Shakespearean poetry novel disaster, creativity is all over the map, missing the bulls-eye by a million meters. Sudden desire again to do The Novel, the big one I put away in a box after slaughtering it last November but it reconstituted reincarnated and grew, magnetically gathering new perspectives and plot arcs and it's slavering to escape--"you can write me better now"--time to surrender. Start over from scratch. See what it's become.
I had other plans, different stories, but I can't move on until this one's told right. Why wait until November? How can I with looming unemployment and screaming ideas poised on the tips of my fingers and the prospect of entire free days alone at home. Shall I project a world?
I strive for balance in my life. Most people probably do, I assume. Still no matter what I do there's always something out of whack. But I do seem to trade security in one area for insecurity in another; case in point, I quit my job without a backup plan, but we can stay in our house throughout the winter. It was for sale when we moved in, and has apparently been taken off the market as of last weekend. Good to know that I may be unemployed but at least we won't be on the street.
What else is upcoming in the month of ROCKtober? Many exciting things are about to happen!
- Tomorrow is a very thrilling annual bonsai auction & sale hosted by the MN Bonsai Society. I probably won't buy anything, but it's fun to see all the tiny trees.
- If you are interested in mushrooms like I suddenly am, than you may want to join me at next Monday's meeting of the Mycological Society!
- I am working at the Sibley Bike Depot every Monday evening until 8:30. Stop in and say hello.
- The weekend of the 14th is for the St. Paul Art Crawl. Don't miss it!
- You will help me get a job. Please.
You'll have to prove it before you can post comments now.
Over the weekend, this blog was slammed with spam comments for the first time. I deleted all of them manually, but I know that now I've been targeted, I will continue to receive these bogus posts. Rather than disable comments, I have instituted Blogger's "word verification" feature. When you go to leave a comment, you will need to verify your autonomy by typing in a short character string.
Sorry about the hassle, but I really wanted to keep comments, and this will hopefully block the automated spamming systems. I hope it won't deter my dozens of real readers from responding to my posts. Hope to hear from all of you!
quick review of Aquarius café: went for lunch. Tight-packed space, cranky waitress, confusing menu. We guessed on the food and it wasn't good, but it did end up being cheap. Our cashier spoke some English, and there was singing, but overall Not Recommended. Now for the good one:
La Victoire Suprême du Coeur was a little tricky to locate, since the side street it's on is not listed on most Paris maps. This website would have made it a lot easier, if I'd found it beforehand. It was a nice, open place painted in cool colors; the photos on the site don't do it justice. I requested English menus, which were provided. J ordered the vegetarian "chicken" and I got Seitan escalope w/ mushroom sauce.
I was glad the menus were printed in clear English, because when our food came, the resemblance to meat was remarkable. My escalope looked and tasted almost exactly like a fine cut of beef. J's "chicken," especially, was astounding. I've never come across anything like it. A hardcore vegan would undoubtedly be grossed out by the resemblance to real hunks of hen flesh. And it was 100% vegan to boot!
The desserts were equally good, but I had to cut my raving short for a long trip to the bathroom before we left. Sadly, something about that remarkably tasty food had an unsettling effect on my tummy. After I finally came out of there, I was a bit shocked by the size of the bill--apparently we misunderstood the pricing scheme--but it was easily worth every centime. That was our one expensive dinner in Paris, and we would go back in a heartbeat. La Victoire Suprême du Coeur! Best vegetarian restaurant EVER!
Maybe this will be a new feature on Sui Generis. Not everyone is into wine recommendations, but doing one a month seems reasonable to me. As always, let me know in the comments if you'd like to see more (or less) of this kind of thing. So, without further ado:
I'm no fancy-pants Dom Perignon-drinking wine snob, just a regular guy looking for bargain pours. I review wines that are good, cheap, and obtainable. After all, I drank some great wines in France, but I could write about them until I'm white in the face and you still wouldn't be able to buy them. So why should you care? Instead, this month's pick is a French wine that I bought at my neighborhood store right here in St. Paul, Minnesota. If it sounds good to you, then I hope you can track it down, too.
Monmousseau Vouvray is a blanc des blancs from the Touraine region (central Loire valley). Here's what you get for just $10: Cidery, sweet aroma. Lush, buttery flavor. Similar to several I've tried, except that where they tip over the edge with sticky-sweetness and are spoiled, this one goes just up to the zenith and then backs down again with a smooth finish. Perfectly balanced; never offensive.
This wine is fine on its own, but it was very complementary with the grilled shiitake mushrooms and rotini pasta that I made for dinner. Part of the reason that it blended so well might have been the fact that I used the wine in the (highly recommended!) sauce recipe. With food or without, this wine stands out as one of my favorite whites in some time.
My first post on the city was a bit cantankerous, but as I said, there were good times to be had in Paris. Here's a partial list of places that I enjoyed visiting and would recommend to anyone.
- Shakespeare & Company: new & used English-language book seller. One shop sells mostly new stuff, and its neighbor stocks old, rare, first edition, &c. While we were there, the old and rare side of the store was closed up, and I didn't get a chance to browse inside. The "new" side had a good selection and a few (misplaced?) rare finds as well.
- Musee d'Orsay: Best museum that we visited in Paris. Crowds were less insane than at the Louvre, and both quality and quantity of art works was vastly improved (I thought) over the Centre Pompidou. Add to that the gorgeous building that it's all housed in, and you've got a museum that's worth the price of admission.
- Our apartment: No matter how great or crappy our day was, it was always fun coming back to our own place in the evening. I cannot recommend this route enough. If you stay at a hotel in Paris, you are missing out on the best part of the trip!
- Monoprix: French grocery store chain where we shopped at least once a day. Fresh bread and pastries at the bakery, great selection of wines for me, and huge bottles of Orangina for J. Also an excellent store-brand tiramisu. Not a place worth seeking out, per se, but you probably won't need to; they're all over Paris.
- La Victoire Supreme du Coeur: vegetarian restaurant with the best meat analog ever. For the full story on this place and another one that's worth a look, come back for tomorrow's post.
We got lucky for one day in France and both got to do stuff we loved. We met early in a Paris train station with the group leader for Fat Tire Bike Tours (f/k/a Bullfrog Bikes) and took a train towards Normandy. The plan of the day was to pick up the bikes in Vernon, ride to a picnic spot, continue on to Monet's grave, gardens & house, poke around on foot for a few hours and then reverse.
The rain started during our train ride and continued for a few hours while we shopped in the Vernon market and claimed bikes from FTBT's fleet. Fat Tire is an apt name, since the cruiser-style 3-speed bikes float on huge balloony tires. The seats were ultra-comfortable, the frame weighed a ton, and the components were shiny and dialed-in. It was like riding on rails--you couldn't fall off one of these bikes if you tried. Or so I thought, until there was an immediate minor fiasco when a woman in our group pulled out into the road, saw a car, and freaked out. She fell over.
We lunched in a pretty park where Monet used to paint. Our tour leader supplied regional cheese and cider. The drizzling intensified, and we hid under a graffitied bridge to wait it out. Eventually, we had to go and took a nice rainy ride along a paved country bike trail up to Giverny. We saw the man's grave and extensive gardens (photo of the pond here). The walls of his house were covered in Japanese woodblock prints--a major inspiration for his impressionist work. I was delighted; J was hoping for more Monet.
After a few hours of touristing, we got back on the bikes and returned to town. This is where it got really ridiculous as people started walking their bikes. We are talking about giving up on a slow, easy ride with foolproof bicycles on flat ground and a dedicated two-lane bike trail. Those of us who enjoyed riding and wanted to catch our train back to Paris were dumbfounded. Why would you take a bike tour if you don't like riding bikes?
Our group leader handled this well and shepharded the slowpokes back to the stable. I felt like riding around for a few more kilometers, but it was time to go. The rain had cleared up when we arrived at the gardens, so we hung out on the train platform and talked with the leader about working for FTBT. Sounds like a fun and easy job, I was thinking about doing it myself some day, but I wouldn't have wanted to deal with our group. Moral: good times, Fat Tire recommended.
This movie rocks your socks. I give it 5,000 SGs. I don't aim to spoil anything here, but let's just say that fans of the show will adore the film, and even if you haven't seen the show it's still a great movie in its own right. The TV show was a good medium for introducing compelling characters and themes, and the big screen was a perfect venue to tie it all together in grand fashion. If you like sci-fi, I bet you will love this film. Go see it.
I read that "the French are very serious about cycling," but the Paris we visited did not match up with my preconceived notions. While we were there, I saw very few of what I would call "serious" cyclists (Lycra-clad riders on racing bikes with drop bars). On the contrary, the vast majority of bicycles around Paris were purely utilitarian.
The average bike had straight bars, basic pedals, a comfortable saddle, fenders and a rack. For some reason that I never grokked, many were "girl" bikes--partly explained by the fact that more women ride bikes, but lots of these bikes were being ridden by men.
Being a bike geek, I ogled every chained-up bicycle that we passed on the street and looked for trends and standouts. Not a single single-speed or fixed gear could be seen. And yet not a more suitable city could be imagined, since Paris is nigh entirely flat. One thing was for sure, though, these bikes got used. They were dirty and beat and old. As for brands, Peugeot was popular (as they were for cars and motorcycles), and "Decathlon" bicycles were ubiquitous as well.
We found a Decathlon store on or near the Champs-Elysees and went in to investigate. Sure enough, they sold and serviced a line of bikes along with tons of other sporting goods (think REI). I found a floor model "Vitamin," one that I'd seen plenty of and thought it looked pretty cool... being sold for 100 euros!* Had I been admiring the French equivalent of a Wal-Mart bike?
Not being able to speak or read French too well, I couldn't much tell. Suffice it to say that Parisians as a whole aren't some super-knowledgeable elite bicycling clique. They buy their bikes to use 'em, and considerations of weight or quality don't compete with low low prices. Just one more way that they're really just like us Americans.
*121.11 U.S. dollars
Paris is like any other big city: they have crazy traffic, urban decay, beggars, pickpockets, buskers, scam artists, and homeless folk. It's dirty, noisy, crowded, smelly, and busy. It is important to understand this. Paris is not a utopia of laid-back lunches in cozy cafes and romantic sunset strolls along the Seine. But, like any other big city, it's got its charm if you are willing to search for it (and it mostly won't be where you expect).
We lived there more or less like unemployed locals for two weeks and had a great time. "Loved every minute" would be a lie. "Made the most of it" is better. My favorite days by far were our jaunts outside the city, and my France return trip plans do not include Paris whatsoever. Still, I'm glad we went. Here are some highlights of big-city livin'.
- The Metro. When it wasn't too busy, we had fun riding the train system. It covers every corner of Paris and took us where we wanted to go every time we went out. Going without a car in this city would be easy (but all that traffic had to come from somewhere--out of town commuters, perhaps?)
- Proximity to necessities. On a daily basis, we could have got by without using the Metro at all, simply browsing our neighborhood's cafes, restaurants, bakeries, groceries, laundrettes and the such. There was at least one of absolutely everything we needed within a few blocks' radius.
- Apartment perks. Drinking a glass (or two) of wine on our balcony. Taking a hot bath at the end of a long day of walking. Cooking grilled-cheese sandwiches in our tiny kitchen corner. Those little details made us feel at home, and of course--thanks to J's big push to get us something that we could not do at home--our bedroom view of the Eiffel Tower.
- Assortment. An endless procession of patisseries doesn't translate into an infinite selection of baked goods, but it does ensure at least some variety. If we didn't like the menu of one restaurant, we just tried our luck with the next one down the street. We never had to go more than a block or two before finding something we could both agree on.
- Culture. Saved for last because it's obvious. Paris is packed with museums, cathedrals, parks, historic sites, and nifty architechture aplenty. The only drawbacks to the best tourist attractions were the half-mad packs of feral tourists. Ah, well, there's just no escaping other people.