Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sense & Sensitivities

I imagine life sometimes; like a clock. We start with a tightly coiled spring and a shiny new mechanism and the days of our time tick away. The escapement traps and releases the stored energy of the spring bit by bit. Tick, a moment of life passes; tock, another flees; and so it ebbs until the spring is rewound. In some lifetimes the clock may be wound many times; in others only once, but in any case the spring begins to lose its resilience, the gears wear away, the mesh isn't shiny and new anymore, and ultimately the last tock occurs.

Countdowns, time left, time outs; we are obsessed (some of us at least) with time. How much time it takes to commute, to do the laundry, dress the kids, feed the pets, mow the lawn. How long will it take to download a file or respond to an email or Farcebook post. Am I likely to read all the blogs I am ostensibly following, much less take a moment to comment. What is important and what is chaff and how do I tell them apart?

I've been reminded recently, in a different context, that the pursuit of happiness is less about the destination and more about the journey. It has led me to ask which makes me happier, the having of a desired thing or the wanting of it. So often the 'new' thing proves to be not necessarily disappointing so much as anticlimatic. Achieving that goal of happiness is elusive because there is always the next thing out there. In modern terms I guess we are always looking for the next 'killer ap' in life.

Just for myself I have resolved to spend time with what feeds me as a human. Contact with friends and family for one. Time alone spent listening to what the flowers and the seas and the birds and the bees have to say. I want to feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face and the texture of sand and stones and trees. I will be reading less about how horrifying the mean streets are and more about triumph on scales large and small. I will write more, not because I have any great revelations to share, but because it brings me joy. If it brings others joy, so much the better.

It is the greatest mystery of life--the length of it. I have no idea how many times my spring will be rewound but I am resolved to spend more of those precious ticks pursuing that which is of value to the spirit and less in the chase for the ephemera of stuff. I promise to keep at it right down to the last tock.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, now I remember...

...why I started this blog. A little commentary, a little chit-chat, and oh yes, maybe a short story of two. Here's one, see what you think. Oh yeah, there's this whole 'it's copyrighted' thing going on here too.

The Day I Got Wings

I floated down to breakfast on wings, when my mother called. Above the gelatinous mucous-like oatmeal forced upon me thrice weekly I hovered enraptured; refusing to allow even this peasant offering to dampen my spirits, for today, indeed for the rest of my life I had wings.

Yesterday had been my birthday, a noteworthy date any year but of special significance on this, my tenth, because I had been inducted into the realm of Explorers Extraordinaire. Gone were the days of plodding earthbound along dusty paths worn by generations of lemmings, or perhaps wildebeests mindlessly following the ancient instincts of the pack. Ahead of me were endless days of adventure in distant lands amongst exotic peoples living in mystical castles. Now I could visit other famous adventurers known to me. Sherlock Holmes could show me the crooked streets of London. I could help the Hardy boys solve the mystery at Devils’ Paw. If I hurried perhaps I could get to the spaceport in time to ship out with the crew of the Copa de Oro to help them pick their golden apples from the sun. Anything is possible now, I have wings; I have a bicycle.

And not just any bicycle. Certainly not the tiny toy with spare wheels upon which I had tottered panic-stricken down the driveway as a child, (now a hopelessly embarrassing relic rusting away under a moldy tarpaulin in the back yard) but a Schwinn; and not just any Schwinn either, but a Tiger. This black beauty beckoned me to adventure with its sleek lines and graceful fenders. It promised, with its two speeds and impossibly large whitewall tires carried firmly with countless shiny spokes, to speed me along faster than Silver could carry the Lone Ranger to bandit hideouts. Even the dark of night would be held in abeyance by the bullet shaped chromium headlight with a black plastic switch on top and two D cell batteries to power the penetrating torch. Secured to the top of the graceful arch of the handlebars with premium vinyl grips this lamp would turn effortlessly to illuminate the trails ahead no matter the direction I chose. And with the addition of some playing cards and strategically located clothes pins I could create enough racket to simulate the roar of a real motorcycle.

Wiping an errant fleck of oatmeal from my face I dashed toward the back door barely noticing the nattered safety warnings issued from my parents. I did take just a moment to savor a sidelong glance of jealousy from my little sister made manifest by her protruding tongue as the screen door flung itself aside in self defense. Down the back steps, across the driveway and into the garage I ran and there--just where I had left her--was my Tiger. No mirage, no illusion, just waiting patiently for my commands.

Astride my trusty steed I raced down the driveway and onto the sidewalk, the warm June sunshine fell upon my face and the fragrant air rushed by as I set myself on the path to adventure. The steeplechase of the street was on; leaping effortlessly over curbs, dodging dogs, racing cars, waving madly at the neighbors as the trees and flowers and lawns flew by. Soon my posse was in hot pursuit. Billy and Jack and Harry and Joe trailed behind on their inferior one-speeds alternately struggling to catch up or dodging down an alley to try to cut me off.

All day we traced the steps of our adventures over hills and neighborhoods. We pedaled to the old sugar factory where we swung wildly on the rope dangling from the cottonwood above our swimming hole in the irrigation canal. Alternately we fled from lawmen to our secret hideout or died gallantly in heroic battles.

Old man Jenkins bought me a Coke at the Arctic Circle when he discovered it had been my birthday yesterday. My gang and I ate French fries dipped in secret sauce and hamburgers with pickles before sallying forth again.

But this day, like all others must come to an end and so as the sun sank lower in the late afternoon sky I bid my compatriots goodbye one by one as their names echoed down the streets, called back to the stables by their moms. Eventually of course my name could be heard in the distance too so, reluctantly, I headed home. Slowly now I savored the last moments, the halcyon time as familiar landmarks appeared, then all too quickly fled by, on the pathway back. I wheeled my Tiger to its place of honor in the garage and climbed the back steps of home.

I didn't even object to a bath after dinner and have no recollection of what I watched on the screen in the living room flickering by in shades of gray before ascending the stairs to my bedroom.

As I lay in my bed before dreaming of knights and knaves and damsels in distress I knew life could never be better than this because today was the day I got wings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mason Jar madness

I'm a foodie. I admit it with my fork held high and my taste buds waiting in anticipation for the next truly transcendent morsel to cross my lips. In the last year or so I've graduated from quantity to quality and in so doing have lost about 80 pounds. What I haven't lost is the pure sybaritic pleasure of a superb savory sensation, nor have I lost the pleasure I derive from creating great food for friends and family to enjoy.

And therein lies a problem. At any given moment, members of my family are on 'diets' or 'plans' or 'lifestyle changes' or medical restrictions or, among the preteens and teens just plain pickiness. Which would be okay if 'pickiness' wasn't defined by fast fooditis and sugar highs (I don't care what the damn studies say, kids get wired on sugar--or maybe just the anticipation of it.). So I don't get to cook that much for anyone except myself, which leads to a huge array of small containers in every nook and cranny of the fridge containing the remains of some wonderfulness only I have experienced. Fortunately, I hardly ever write down how I made something, so every meal seems like a new adventure. Occasionally I even get around to eating some of the leftovers.

I'm the only person I know that makes his own ketchup. I do so with tomatoes fresh from my tiny garden. Canned some yesterday and, today I used the last of my jalapeno crop to create pepper jelly. I make my own chicken stock. I'm sure it costs twice as much (or more) as the stuff in the box, but I'm such a cheapskate I just can't help it when chicken is cheap. First I fill the freezer with cut up fryers, then the backs, wing tips, excess fat and skin gets browned, add some spices, herbs & vegetables, simmer for 4 or 5 hours, filter, skim, bottle, process & voila, chicken stock. If there are enough livers, perhaps a nice pate' is in order.

When I owned a restaurant, and later when I was a caterer (two different endeavors), cooking was work. If you were good you did it to please patrons, not yourself. I was good. Chef-ing was long, grueling hours in a hostile environment which left you dead tired and yet exhilarated beyond common sense. It's hard to explain, really, unless you're a foodie, then you just get it.

Because of who I am, I pay as much attention to what and where I am eating when I dine out as a movie critic might to the acting, score, directing and editing of a motion picture. Which leads me to the real reason for this post; a recommendation.

If you live in Whatcom County, or visit, you must experience Soy House. The unassuming name and tastefully minimalist decor, tucked away in a new shopping center at 414 W. Bakerview in Bellingham, disguises the tasty treasures on the menu. A Vietnamese cuisine cafe, this is not a six bucks a bowl pho joint. The menu is carefully constructed to offer a wide range of palate pleasers without trying to be all things to all people. To be sure, they have pho and it is superb. Well balanced broths, (not the same broth for everything) fresh organic ingredients, choice of noodle types. All well and good, but venturing into the heart of the menu is much more fun. Each recipe has been honed to perfection before being offered to the public and it is literally impossible to make a bad choice for a meal. I know this because I've tried virtually everything on that budget friendly menu.

Including a new take on an old favorite; flatbread. Okay, pizza really, but flatbread is so much more trendy in a 90's sort of way, and this flatbread is fab-u-lous. Forget glops of insipid tomato sauce & greasy slathers of cheese-like substance, that's old news-college kid stuff. These pies are at the same time ethereal yet substantive. Thin, crispy, crust and lightly sauced with a southeastern Asian pesto, just spicy enough to illuminate your senses, just subtle enough to demand your careful attention. Not up for pesto, however succulent and not Italian? Okay, how about savory pineapple sauce--just enough sweet, that little acid for balance yet not cloying in the least. Even the cheeses are selected for a smart new take on balance and flavor. Toppings are a work in process as they develop this menu line. I'm pushing for the lemon grass chicken on the pesto, and maybe Chinese sausage on the pineapple. There are a couple of other options for sauces, but you get the point--it will redefine how you think of bread, sauce and cheese--and it will be a good thing.

Now, I just have to educate all you eaters out there about the virtues of duck and maybe I can convince them to put some on the menu. Soy House, are you listening? How about a play on an Asian style BBQ sauce with duck breast on that pizza? Or maybe smoked duck pho. I'm telling you, it could be a real winner.

Just ask me, I know these things; I'm a foodie.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Connections-present tense

Time was when my household had one telephone that lived in one room of the house, with a cord that was six feet long (it cost extra for a longer cord). We didn't own it, we rented it from Ma Bell. It weighed about three pounds. When the phone rang (yes, real bells smacked by a tiny clapper in the body of the phone) we had no idea who it was until we actually answered the call. We had one phone number which was assigned to us. We shared our line with five other phone renters. It was called a party line, and though it rarely led to parties, it was often the source of lots of snooping when neighbors surreptitiously tried to listen in for juicy bits of gossip. Today this is done through something called Facebook.

When we wanted to speak to someone we dialed a call (yes, put our fingers in little holes and rotated a dial). If they picked up the phone receiver we talked. If they didn't, we called back (because answering devices didn't yet exist) or wrote a letter. With an actual pen and a piece of paper, which we stuffed in an addressed envelope to which we affixed a postage stamp and then mailed. Call it texting, for lack of a better description.

It was possible, way back then, to go fishing, or play golf or just a read a book at the beach and be unreachable. It was how we 'got away from it all' for a while. We left a note on the fridge. Mostly nobody worried much, eventually most people found their way home. Life was good. A person could think deep thoughts, ponder the universe if they so chose. Or even think shallow thoughts like how someone would look naked (usually not nearly as good as one imagined) or why red cars seemed faster than white ones. It was bliss. Now, not so much.

I suspect that Twitter is the most logical and least useful extension of a society that now obsesses over the trivial. It tirelessly demands through shrill electronic chirping, beeping, whirring, singing, grunting (or whatever sound has been downloaded) an instantaneous response. And we do respond. Scarcely anyone is without a cell phone. Try to imagine resisting the urge to at least look at the I.D. screen to see who it is, unless of course you have assigned different sounds for different callers and then you know just by listening in many cases. Anyone with a library card has internet access. At any given time of the day or night a photo or even a video clip shot on a cell phone makes its way to You Tube hoping for a moment of fleeting glory as the day's download king.

Is it really necessary that followers in say, Madagascar know that the lettuce in my turkey sandwich was a little wilty today? Or that my left sock keeps falling down? Come to think of it, is it really necessary that anyone other than the waiter and the cook know about the lettuce? And guess what, I can tell them directly...I don't even need a battery. And certainly my sock status is wholly irrelevant to everyone but myself.

I know, I'm hopelessly old fashioned. I have a cell phone. Should I wish it, it will take photos, it will text, it will access the internet (for an additional fee) and it will even take movies for me. Here's the thing: I don't wish it. On rare occasions I will actually use it to make a call. On slightly less rare occasions others will call me. Otherwise, I just want it to be a phone.

I recently discovered something important about this device. I can turn it off. I could go golfing if my back didn't ache so much, or fishing if I had any gear and a license. I can think deep thoughts, ruminate on the intricacies of my next post, relax on the beach. Life is good, it is bliss once again.

Did I mention my left sock keeps falling down?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

52 words

Fifty two words: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.''

What follows are several articles setting out the mechanisms for electing and removing representatives, divisions of power, allocations of responsibilities, and twenty seven amendments correcting, modernizing and otherwise making more (or in some cases less) perfect this experiment in government. You should read it, it takes less than an hour and can be found in any library in the country and about twenty six million places on the internet.

Since ratified, this document, more than any created before or since, has been scrutinized, dissected, pored over, mulled, modeled, muddled, misconstrued and manipulated. It has been used to further and beleaguer the same issues, to ascribe rights by inference and deny them by constructionism. Liberals and conservatives, the fearful and the fearless, solace seekers, religious zealots and atheists, businessmen and unionizers all frequently point to the same article or amendment to press their case. Indeed, its very existence solicits these debates with the implied promise that each decision rendered regarding the broad, and deliberately vague it seems, words within, will make incremental steps toward that 'perfect union', so unattainable, yet wished for so devoutly.

But it seems to me that so many of these debates miss the main idea and forget a critical point. Those fifty two words, which I was required to memorize in the fourth grade, are not just the 'preamble' to the Constitution, they are the soul of it. Everything that follows those fifty two words are just the sausage of lawmaking; the meat and potatoes the founders created in order to implement the ideals and goals so nobly and simply advanced at the outset.

Raging now is the debate about healthcare reform. Outrageous lies fly carelessly about in a maelstrom of partisanship. Each histrionic syllable is breathlessly reported by an increasingly flaccid Fourth Estate, which has overthrown responsibility for ratings, and rushes past reasonable discourse to get to the most contentious and least illuminating sound bite. Creeping Socialism, Death Panels, higher taxes, hidden agendas, birthers, do nothings, abortion squads, Medicare killers, these are all code for the right wingnuts (yes, I do mean wingnuts) to try to cobble together the remains of what was once a party that honored those fifty two words, into a mean-spirited cabal of embittered, racist, fear mongers. I don't use these terms carelessly; words matter, lies matter, truth matters and these words reflect what I believe to be true.

Lest anyone think I'm just another leftie posting an anti-conservative screed, I should tell you I'm a Republican. Or at least I was. Now I guess I'm a republican-one who favors the republic form of government-soon to be no longer a member of the Republican Party. When I change my affiliation back to Independent it will be done wistfully, wishing that the Bill Buckley's of today's party, if any are still out there, would have the backbone to call out, expose and excoriate the misanthropes that have hijacked and held hostage my party. They are killing thoughtful conservatism, and in the process, strangling those precious fifty two words.

Surely it is not just, that the most vulnerable among us perish at the doorsteps of insurance companies for want of affordable healthcare, any more than it was just that children should labor at dangerous machines for long hours during the industrial revolution. That was wrong and our government made it illegal over the vociferous objections of business owners, yet our Republic survived, thrived even, as an example of enlightenment.

The common defense is not just about wars and rumors of wars, but about enemies within and without. When the Constitution was written little was known of disease, medicine had little or no scientific basis, and food born illness was only a vaguely formed theory. But these were, and are enemies within. We as a nation commonly defend our citizens against disease, regulate foodhandling and purity and devote billions for the relief and reconstruction of the ravages of disasters natural and man made. How is defending our population from illness on an individual basis through health care suddenly creeping Socialism? It's not, purely and simply.

The general welfare and the blessings of liberty are not free. Civil war was waged (and in some quarters is ongoing) over civil rights. The opportunity to vote as a person of color or as a woman required repairs to our founding document's articles, but not to it's ideas. However this debacle over health care resolves, whether with justice and dignity for all citizens or as a lingering albatross around our collective necks, is yet to be resolved. But I believe in those fifty two words. They are why I fly the flag. They are why I get sentimental at parades and put my hand over my heart to say the pledge. They are why I thank members of the Armed Forces for their service. They are why I decided to start this blog. They are what set forth the most precious tenets of our Republic. They provide the working definition of what it really means to be an American.