31 October 2008

Halloween Is Cool Again

It's that time of year again. There is a nip in the air, the sunlight is getting that lovely gold tinge, and the fall is creeping in. Aaahhh, breathe that air, with a hint of wood smoke, and get ready for...Halloween.


I confess, I am not a big fan of the modern day All Hallows' Eve celebration of beggary and gluttony. Even as a little kid, I always felt awkward and silly (just like now, except older!) on Halloween. I didn't really like costumes then, still don't, and I could never say 'Trick Or Treat' with conviction. I will always remember standing on a porch, mumbling 'trigortree' or something like it while adults with sloppy (perhaps alcohol fueled) grins on their faces bellowing "Well, aren't you a cute/fierce/lovely fairy/tiger/princess, here have a Pixie stick! (hic)".

(Clarification: I was never a fairy or a princess. Well, there was that one year where it started out to look like like elf, but i hadn't had a hair cut in a while, and with the green tights...Damn you, Mr. Jenkins, I was NOT a fairy!)

Anyway, I grew up, moved away from home, did the responsible adult thing and all that. It was with a sense of relief that I realized I did not have to participate in Halloween. Hell, I didn't even have to answer the door if I didn't want to, and some years I just went somewhere else for the evening. Finally, that nonsense was over!

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The Wee Lass came along and I was dragged back into it. There was no way out of it. She is just so dang cute, and all the neighbor kids were dressing up, and there was the vast potential for all those photos I could use for major embarrassments when she becomes a teenager. One year, she was a chicken, the next a baby cow, and last year a cat. This year she wanted to be Sleeping Beauty. My mind has slowly been changing about Halloween, because of stuff like this:


She was having a grand time, and by extension, so was I. Lesson learned: Don't let adult prejudices get in the way of joy.

30 October 2008

Don't Let The Darkness Eat You Up

Today, a shout out to a favorite local reportress/blogger, Marissa Richardson of ‘b’ (a new local paper offering from the Baltimore Sun). She posts quite a bit about music and TV in a refreshing and insightful manner. Her recent post on the intersection of music media and TV was thorough, funny and got me to thinking (as they often do).(http://www.bthesite.com/archives/2008/10/thanks-to-tv-my-itunes-just-got-a-little-better/#more-2528)

Ms. Richardson writes about those light bulb moments of recognition, where background music suddenly becomes foreground. Songs that had faded in consciousness through the repetitive and pernicious association with television ads light trigger a notion: why is that familiar? Where have I heard that before? And is it in my music collection?

While reading the post and watching the linked videos, I had that same feeling. I was astonished at the recognition level, knowing I had heard much of the music before, knew the artists, but didn’t make the connections between what I was watching and who I had heard in other contexts i.e. radio/iPod/CD’s. “Teardrop” by Massive Attack is a case in point. I had heard that song on radio a few times, I had heard of Massive Attack, but never realized that “Teardrop” was also the theme to “House”, which I watch all the time! A ‘doh!’ moment. THAT’S why it sounded familiar!

It also triggered another cascade of memory. Where else had I heard it? It buzzed around in my head for a while, I was zoning out in front of my CD collection when it snapped into focus. “Teardrop” (http://www.jose-gonzalez.com/inournature.html) was also covered by Jose Gonzalez on his “In Our Nature” disc from last year. BLING! The light bulb went off. I get a great deal of amusement from that sort of musical “connect the dots”. I like finding the links between things, sussing out the cross-connections between one artist and another, or one form of media and another. Maybe it is a glimpse of a universal thread that gives insight into what an artist is thinking. Even if I can’t play a lick or carry a tune in the proverbial bucket it lets me feel like I am somehow in on the creative process; that is a valuable benefit of music that engages the senses.

Another valuable benefit is the occasional nugget of wisdom or encouragement that gets in your head while listening to a particularly good song. Inspired by my trip from Marissa’s post to “House” to Jose Gonzalez, I listened to “In Our Nature” on my way to work yesterday morning. There is a line in the song “Down The Line” where Jose sings ‘Don’t let the darkness eat you up’. Wow. Wow. Simple but powerful. I guess if hadn’t been so fatigued and stressed out (been in a bit of a rough patch lately) the line would have seemed merely good but perhaps not outstanding lyric. But in the grey light of another Wednesday workday with too much on my mind, it had the power of prophecy. I opened my eyes a little wider, took a few deep breaths and told myself that I could make it through the day. I felt a little less anxious, singing along with a Swedish-Argentinian musician and a talented local writer, both of whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting. Connectivity felt pretty good.

‘Don’t let the darkness eat you up’. My new mantra.
(Many thanks to Marissa Richardson and Jose Gonzalez for the inspiration)

29 October 2008

What I Am Is What I Am

A by no means exhaustive list of the Things That I Am....

A guitar of Spanish cypress (with a string missing)
Blue cheese on ciabatta
Loch Ness
Ozone before the thunderstorm
A cast iron Dutch oven (used over a campfire)
Calla lilies
A peat fire just inside the door
Sentry outside the garden gate
Farm dog
Mortadella with provolone, toasted, with hots
Flowers in a box, Easy Street, Nantucket
The last cool day before full winter
That chord I never learned how to play
Sky, Earth, Water, Air
The taste of iron and salt
Too many stations playing at once
A wee dram of single malt
The drone of an airplane on a summer day
Poet without portfolio
Timid for no good reason, sometimes
Skip tracer wannabe
A monk who likes beer
Realist in a harsh Universe
Funny man up against the wall
The next to last tomato picked in the fall
Novel in search of that last chapter
Waves breaking on the rocks
A worn bronze handrail on granite steps
The highest point on South Georgia Island
A jaguar who wants to take a nap
World-class bagpiper (in my mind)
DJ with an infinite playlist
Prayer flag fraying in the wind

Unusual manifestation of my ancestors intentions
Blast furnace


The better question perhaps: Am I the bowl or the gumbo?

28 October 2008

Damn You, DGM!

A few days ago, while perusing one of my favorite blogs, Dad Gone Mad, I came across this post:


In it, the inimitable Mr. Evans listed an unofficial soundtrack, which contained this:


Since then, I have not been able to get the Big Brown Beaver out of my head.

Damn you, Danny! (Great post, by the way).

27 October 2008

I Can't Live Without My Radio (or iPod or mp3's or wireless)...

It finally came clear to me that now, well and truly in this the 43rd year of my life, I can’t live without my radio. This isn’t the same desperation that I felt as a teenager, back when boom boxes were all the rage. I remember when the big, suitcase sized portables were all the rage. And I remember feeling jealous that I didn’t have one. The Christmas day that I got a portable music device was a pretty big deal, tempered only by the fact that it was a radio and 8-track player. That’s not a typo, folks. 8 TRACK PLAYER. It was a testament to just how much I wanted a boom box that I was willing to put aside the sheer dork factor of an 8-track. How was I supposed to rock the block, chill with the ladies, if I was lugging around a stack of 8-track tapes? As I am sure can be imagined, THAT went over like a lead balloon.

Still, I was pretty happy with it. I finally had tunes on the go. It was cube shaped, two halves back to back with a speaker on each face and the controls on top. It could be unlatched to separate the halves to move the speakers apart. Cool, no? I remember lugging that thing around, blasting “Cheap Sunglasses” by ZZ Top at full volume. It was great until the tape had to switch tracks in the middle of a song. Woo, what a buzzkill.

So later it was the Walkman causing all the stir. Man, this is great! I was thinking. No more 8-tracks. I could move up (up? gutter to curb?) to cassettes and still have a radio. Yeah, boooyeee! So now I was walking around with headphones on, trying to look cool, thinking “I’ll bet those people are wondering what hip stuff I’m listening to.” Ah, the delusions of youth! I took my Walkman to college, where it lasted almost a full school year. That is, until I wrecked it. In front of a lot of people. I was late for a class, running up the stairs and through the door, whereupon I somehow managed to hook the cassette tray door on the door frame, and my momentum ripped the plastic door right off the Walkman nearly taking my headphones with it. The door went one way, the cassette went the other, and my pride just shriveled up into a raisin sized ball and flew out the window. Quite a few giggles from the class during my Walk(man) of Shame to my seat.

These days it’s all digital, baby! I went through a few analog portables over the past decade, slowly converting to CD’s. I finally realized that I am still behind the curve a bit; I don’t have my own iPod yet, but I tricked out my laptop with wireless and bought a small transmitter/receiver combo that I can use to transmit to m speakers or other devices. I have been catching up to digital downloads, ripping stuff to my laptop and all that. Plus, my birthday is coming up and rumor is I’ll be getting an iPod Classic in black and silver (yeah, man!)There is a helluva lot of good toonz out there, and I want to be able to feed the music monkey on my back. Music is becoming something I don’t want to live without, so gimme, gimme! The latest gear looks so good, I’ll be a fashionable dork instead of just a dork. I can’t live without my radio!

26 October 2008

I Was Gonna...

I was gonna rip off another screed on politics, because there seems to be no end to the idiocy showing up in the news.

I was gonna write a hard-hitting, insightful and well-researched essay about Obama being the Man, and McCain being the Un-Man (sorry, John, not your election cycle).

I was gonna try to get some of the noise about the election out of my head, really lay it all out, and make sure the world could dig where Mr. Irish Gumbo stands on the matter. Testimony out there, my friends!

That is what I was gonna do. But earlier this afternoon, Mrs. Irish Gumbo and yours truly took the Wee Lass to a Halloween fall festival over at Centennial Lake here in Howard County, Mare-ee-land. It is a beautiful park, around a lovely lake with good walking trails. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky. The trees were carrying a lot of color and it just felt so damn GOOD to be outside. Especially with the wee one. She decided that she would wear her Sleeping Beauty costume, a few days early, complete with tiara. A plastic jack o' lantern bucket completed the ensemble. She looked lovely. We rode a little train, took her to the moon bounce, and walked the Trick Or Treat Trail. We didn't have time to do the pony ride, but we all had fun.


Sleeping Beauty Surveys The Kingdom

The combination of fresh air, sunshine and Sleeping Beauty's antics was quite the tonic, as they used to say (back when people actually drank tonics); by the time I got home all the piss and vinegar had left me and I didn't want to fire it back up by writing about politics. How could I?

So what I was gonna do became what I oughta do, which was unwind myself, take a deep breath and recognize that the good stuff in life is most often right in front of me. It isn't too late for me, or for anyone, to remember that and put it into practice. Time for some good vibrations...

25 October 2008

Squirrels Are A***holes

All right, that’s IT! I have HAD IT! This means WAR! Let’s get ready to RRRRUUUUMMMMBBBLLLE! It’s time for the all-Elkridge Backyard Squirrel-Smackdown!

Squirrels are getting on my nerves. Frickin’ tree rats! This time they chewed a big, BIG hole in the 19-pound pumpkin that the Wee Lass and I picked out at Larriland Farm last Friday. Plus, they have been nibbling on the four smaller ones we got that same day. Wee Lass even sustained an injury to get this humungoid pumpkin (humungoid relative to the lass, anyway). She was trying to follow me out of the pumpkin patch, tried to run and tripped on a cluster of pumpkin vines. I turned around just in time to see her do a face plant into the leaves. Two beats of silence, then a steady high-pitched wail as she flailed around amongst the pumpkins. I extracted her from the plant she had fallen on and in which she was entangled. I stood her up, brushed her off and smooched the tears away. We didn’t notice the scratches until after we later finished picking some apples. Following me out of a row of apple trees, she said “Daddy, there’s something wrong with my face!” Sure enough, there were some little red welts on her nose and cheek. So I think we more than deserved to get our punkin’ on!

The pumpkin was out on the back deck in preparation for carving this weekend. We thought it was okay, but something made The Spouse look out the back door this morning. AAIIGGHH! OHMYGOD,THEHORROR!THEHORROR!

Pumpkin fragments strewn across the deck, and a double fist sized hole in the side! Those little bastards bored into the pumpkin looking for seeds! So not only did they hate on my Halloween Jack O’ L, the little bags of scrofula secured their place on my s***list as competition for a food source! This isn’t the first time. I have been trying to grow tomatoes for a few years running. This year I had some nice ‘mater plants on the grow, including a lone precious Brandywine (possibly the Best ‘Mater on the Planet), and they stole about half the ones I could get to set. In all fairness, they left the cucumbers alone.

This means war. Not firearms kinda war. County regs prohibit THAT, plus my neighbors might be concerned about the loud bangs. No, it’s going to be sneakier than guns. It’s October and the ‘mater plants are dying off anyway. Winter is on the way, and I’ll have a few months to plot my revenge. I’ll take the organic route, no explosives or nasty poison. I don’t really want to HURT them, just serve notice that my deck ain’t no damn salad bar.

I know: habanero pepper juice mixed with Ex-Lax. Squirrels, I’m pullin’ your card!


24 October 2008

The Secret Life of Irish Gumbo

Here is a little nugget, extricated from the digital safe where I keep some of my experiments. This is a poem. Yes, a POEM, you wanna do something about? Huh, tough guy? BRING IT.

That's what I thought. Among the many things of interest one can find in a bowl of gumbo, I like the occasional foray into something different and outside of my normal experience. I wrote this for a friend of mine, a sweet person who was going through a rough patch. I channeled this one day at work. Hope you like it. Ahem:


Child awoke suddenly and
Swimming from deep in a dream
Trembling to match the leaves overhead
The trees swaying but not from wind

Silence fallen like a cloud
To her ears, unnatural, unknown
Because the mountain was never quiet
In all her time on its greeny slopes

Shadows wheel as Child, dizzy from
Deep within the Earth calls out:
Are you there? An urgent voice replies:
Child, come to me

Leaping as the deer along paths
Green and worn from her travels
Child bursts into sunlight
Where once was shady glen

A rent in the earth, edges raw umber but
Fresh green tendrils banding the face
Molten tears stain the dust, the voice:
Not long may I reach the sky

Faraway sea seems higher on her flanks
As Child implores the mountain:
A quake unknown that woke me
From my slowly passing dream?

From the high peak, a weary reply like
Wind before the avalanche:
Child, it happened years ago
But you were safe and sleeping

Child looks up with a fearing heart
Knowing the mountain is wounded:
But this will pass, there are new leaves
The cut cannot be so deep!

A loving voice from granite deep
As mountain soothes the trembling fawn:
This cut may pass, yet others may not,
And even the wise grow weary

This mountain will return to the sea someday
And you may walk the shore in fond sadness
But remember, Child, the stone that is me
Shall be in your heart forever

Whew! I have no idea where that really came from. I don't even know if it is truly good poetry. It sure did feel good to write it all down. So, where is your Mother Mountain?

23 October 2008

The Rats Didn't Stand A Chance

Maybe we should get her a piano:


Nah, she could never fit a piano in her mouth!

22 October 2008

Writer's (Un)block (Boogie Chillen')

"One night I was layin' down,
I heard mama 'n papa talkin'
I heard papa tell mama, let that boy boogie-woogie,
It's in him, and it got to come out
And I felt so good.."
-'Boogie Chillen' by John Lee Hooker

It's in him, and it got to come out. Oh, lawd, that is my life in a nutshell! I feel like that all the damn time these days! I have a pretty big noggin (which my Dad used to claim was all bone) and it can hold a lot. But pressure builds up over time, and it has to go somewhere.

For me it is the page, the computer screen, my journal, Post-it pads, napkins, small bits of paper I find on the floor. The thoughts and ideas keep coming. I am struggling to keep up. So many things I want to say, or have wanted to say for YEARS now, with all of it coming into bloom at the same time. Writing is the only way I know to deal with it. I've been an architect for almost 20 years now, and I have come to realize it isn't want I meant to be doing. It is a good living, but I have been unsuccessful in expressing myself in that medium, and I wonder if it may be time to switch out. I'd love to sing or play guitar or drums, hell, even a penny whistle; problem is, I don't 'got game' musically speaking. Love the medium, almost zero talent.

Painting, sculpture: these haven't grabbed me in the same way. I have had this odd obsession with becoimg a ceramicist, lately. Sounds fun, don't think I can convince The Spouse to let me put a kiln in our basement. Photography haunts the edges of my consciousness. I haven't yet been patient enough to research a good camera yet. I might dive into that particular pond eventually.

Writing seems to be the ONE. It doesn't take a lot of equipment. It is easy to get started, although very hard to master. I can try out myriad ideas in a short space of time, I don't have to wait for my supervisors to approve it, I can edit and redact and shape to my hearts' content. I can do a lot of this in the funky playground cave that is my brain. I can dredge up all the awfulness I care to chew on, I can relive my moments of glory. It is like being able to juggle fire without the permanent burns.

Most of all I like the way it makes me feel, which is GOOD, mostly. I started a journal 5 years ago, on the advice of a wise NICU nurse (Bless you Cris!), and by the time I started to feel self-conscious about it I found I couldn't stop writing in it. Sure, there is a lot of crap, a lot of self-pitying whines and general nastiness. But there is also poetry, history recorded in the moment, a catalogue of all the beautiful people and amazing events that impressed me enough in some way to write it down. I truly believe that writing is one of the most meaningful things I will ever do. It's that important. Find your voice, my writer friend Rich told me, you have to find your voice. I believe I will, and I hope friends and loved ones will be there when I do.

It's in me, and 'it got to come out'!

21 October 2008

'Skinny Love' & the Panic Hole

I know most of the music fans out there have already heard this, but I heard it again yesterday and it has been in my head ever since:


Bon Iver and 'Skinny Love', from For Emma, Forever Ago. The album title is what really got my attention a few months back, while listening to World Cafe. I suppose ever since my daughter Emma died in 2003, her name will always have a visceral hook in me, and when David Dye said the title I sat bolt upright in my car (I was listening to the radio on my lunch break), immediately intrigued. I don't remember what song was played (it might have been 'Flume' or 'The Wolves Part I and II') but I do recall being entranced. Even with all that, I haven't bought the album yet. There is a song on it, 'For Emma', that is holding me back.

Hearing 'Skinny Love' on the radio again revived my interest in Bon Iver or more precisely, Justin Vernon. So I did the Google/Wikipedia/YouTube thing to get the skinny (sorry, bad pun) and I found out that Justin had recorded most of the album while holed up in his father's cabin in northern Wisconsin. Even without having heard the entire album, I think I understand the process that created it. Sometimes my grief over Emma makes me want to sequester myself somewhere far away and quiet, wring it all out, make something from it. The creative result could be truly amazing.

This got me to thinking about Jim Harrison and the 'panic hole', which I read about in his essay titled (appropriately enough) 'The Panic Hole'. It is a concept he attributed to one of his favorite authors, Gerald Vizenor. I'll quote from the essay:

"Panic hole is self-defined as a place where you go, physically or mentally or both, when the life is being squeezed out of you or when you think it is, which is the same thing. A panic hole is where you flee to get back to the present as a wild season rather than a ruse."

Harrison gives as an example of a personal 'panic hole', a big, red Toyota Land Cruiser. Feeling the life squeezing out of him, Harrison drives the cruiser far north from his house to lie on the ice of Lake Michigan, watching three ravens feeding on a fish. This is a restorative event for Harrison, one that gets him back on the path to feeling human again. Reading it, I felt some of the restorative power myself. Harrison goes on to describe a roundabout trip, visiting panic holes, and slowly refilling himself with the stuff of life, getting air back in his lungs. Panic holes, it seems, may be a necessary part of dealing with what he terms the "sheer hellishness" of life.

I don't know if that cabin in Wisconsin was Justin Vernon's panic hole, but it sure was something like it. Jim Harrison's drive into a frozen landscape, to commune with the ravens, certainly served its purpose. I have my own reasons for feeling the life squeezing out of me, and I know my panic hole is somewhere nearby. Justin Vernon and Jim Harrison are going to help me find it.
('The Panic Hole' essay I quoted from is in "The Raw and The Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand", 2001 by Jim Harrison. It is a well I return to often for a drink.)


20 October 2008

Road Food, Part 2

More stories about buildings and food! Another vignette from my trip to Boston in May, as a card carrying member of the AIA! Woot! Architects, represent!

The little pink fellow at left is Pants The Bear, aka PTB. He was my faithful companion in Boston. I promised the Wee Lass that I would take him with me, see the world, that sort of thing. (That's also him in the masthead). Light, quiet and easy to carry, in some ways he was an ideal traveller. Here he is resting against the pretty flowers that were on my table at Rachels' Kitchen (http://www.rachelskitchenboston.com/), a small eatery on Church Street in the Bay Village section. There was an intriguing entry on it in the travel guide I had with me so I resolved to get there at least once.

I had plenty of time before my first seminar of the day, which was good because it took me a while to find Rachel's. My fault, not them, I was navigating the T and buses and generally wandering. I finally found them although I almost walked right past it, it is in the ground floor of an end-of-the-row house. That's it at below right.

I borrowed the picture from their website. (I hope you don't mind, folks at Rachel's Kitchen!) It is a small place with the kitchen taking up the back half of the space and three tables in the front half. I got a good vibe from reading the menu, so went in reasonably sure I could get a good, non-Dunkin' Donuts type breakfast. I say that because I was still working off yesterday's gut-bomb breakfast sandwich I got from the DD near my hotel. Calories, yes, but wuff. Next time I won't run like hell to catch the T afterwards. Lesson learned.

I wasn't disappointed. The menu is simple, the place bright and cheery. There were three other people there and it looked like they were enjoying themselves. The two lovely ladies at the counter greeted me like a friend (nice, being alone on the road) and I immediately relaxed as I took the last seat across from the door. I ordered the 'maya b': a grilled tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, red onions and cheddar. Extras were salsa, hash browns and black beans. Pretty tasty, and pretty looking, although I didn't remember to get the pic until I was almost done (Urp. Yum.)There was also something called the 'big bad wolf': scrambled eggs with bacon, sausage, ham, cheddar, potatoes and hot sauce, all in a tortilla. I almost ordered that, too, but realized I was full and I still had to get across downtown and over into South Boston. Knowing my history with T trains, I reckoned running would be involved: not good with a full belly. I would have liked to make it back for lunch, but it wasn't meant to be.

And that was too bad. The food was good, the atmosphere cozy and relaxed, and it took the edge off of being in a new city and far from home. The ladies and I chatted a bit, and everyone got a chuckle out of me taking pictures of the food and PTB. The lady customer at the table beside mine confessed that she did the same thing while travelling. Nice to know I am not a lone weirdo. Pants The Bear even got a photo op; they let him help behind the counter.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say breakfast at Rachel's was a highlight of my trip. Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's would have been faster and easier, but they wouldn't have been as good. Fast food chains supply calories but they really don't supply PLACE. The food was really good, no doubt, but I also was able to locate myself in my surroundings. I don't remember the meals or (sadly) the servers in fast food joints, unless they have been particularly noteworthy in their lack of quality. Or even worse, in their aggressive mediocrity, which often makes me feel sad that I spent money there. I will always have a good memory of Boston, because of a place like Rachel's. The size, scale and the human beings there helped me make a connection, helped me feel like I was in a different room in my house rather than feeling too far from home. That sense of place is invaluable, and I hope to make it back. Rather than feeling like I flew a long way to see the same thing I could have driven a few blocks over for back home, I got to know a part of Boston and ate well in the bargain.

19 October 2008

Flea is 46!

Reading the paper earlier this week, I came across one of those little columns where they list famous people and their birthdays. I haven't paid much attention to them for a while, just another timesuck, I guess. Although a few years ago, I was bemused to see that The Spouse shares a birthday with Benito Mussolini. No resemblance, whatsoever! (She told me to say that. I never disobey Our Exalted Leader). But this week, one name in particular stood out. I had to laugh when I saw it.

"Rock musician Flea, 46."

That's right. Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea is 46. 46. Wooo! Suddenly, I didn't feel so unsettled by my impending 43rd. This is a guy who as recently as 1999 played shows NAKED. This is a guy in a band whose earliest memory I have is a photograph in Creem(?) magazine, showing them onstage wearing sneakers and tube socks while playing. Nothing else, just sneakers and socks. The socks were on their feet and their, er, junk.

For me it was a defining moment in my late teens and early adulthood, and the music I was listening to. The Chili Peppers' version of "Higher Ground" (the Stevie Wonder tune) was a revelation to me. I really, really dug the funky bass groove. As a shy dork with no musical talent, but with secret musical ambitions, that kind of stuff was powerful. Years later, I heard a quote, attributed to Flea where he said something like "You gotta play bass like you got a big dick." I could never really conceive of being able to play bass guitar (or any instrument for that matter) with that kind of energy and abandon. And as to the size of certain things that could give ones' playing a boost, let's just say I would have made a modest bass player. Of course, I should have listened carefully at the time: it was "play like" you have a big one. So, in that case, dear readers, I would have been the All-Universe Prime Overlord Bassist! Really! (Thonk,thonk,bowmpa,bowmpa,bowpma...)

Flea is 46. Ha. I read that he has recently started taking music classes at USC. Encouraging that he is still looking to learn, gain some knowledge. This is great. I hope to learn to play bass sometime; it might happen. Who knows? Someday, SOMEDAY, even if only in my head, I'll get my chance to play bass on stage, in front of a crowd, wearing nothing but Chuck Taylors and a tube sock on my unit.

Happy Birthday, Flea!

18 October 2008

Every leaf a soul

It was another gorgeous early fall day here in Elkridge, Maryland. Cool, breezy, sunny and comfortable. After a walk around the park near home, I took a seat on a bench facing the lake that is the centerpiece. The geese are on the move, honking and circling above the water. The backdrop behind them is of trees beginning to turn, a wavering canvas of green, red and yellow.
The trees remind me of Skyline Drive in Virginia, a sight well worth the effort to get there. The lake trees do not sport the same eye-popping intensity as Skyline Drive, but they are pretty enough for this transplanted Virginian. Ha, I say transplanted but I have lived in Maryland for nearly 2o years now, so I am not sure just how much Virginia is left inside. Maybe more than I knew until today, this moment, while watching the red and yellow leaves swirl in the wind.
My last visit to Skyline Drive, eager to see the trees, was over 20 years ago when I was still a student of architecture at Virginia Tech. It was fall, I finally had a car, and was in easy driving distance of prime leaf-viewing territory. Being otherwise unoccupied on an October weekend, my then-fiance/now-wife and I hopped in the '77 Chevy Nova that served as a limo. The weather was gorgeous, and the leaves more so. I took some pretty good pictures, one of which I had blown up and that I matted myself and then gave to my parents as a gift. In hindsight, it was painfully amateurish, but that picture still hangs on the wall of my parents' dining room. Part of me likes to think the quality of the leaf photo was worthy of such display, and maybe on some level it is. Part of me, the young man that still exists somewhere in my heart, is grateful that Mom and Dad liked it because they love their son.
As I said, that visit was over 20 years ago. I also had not really spent much time there beyond that trip and visiting once or twice as a kid. Today at the lake, I found myself missing Skyline Drive a lot. It was puzzling to me, this nostalgia for a semi-familiar place far way in time and space. How could I miss so intensely a place which I hardly have known?
I think I know. Beautiful places can take root in your heart and affect you far beyond the amount of time spent in their physical presence. Stunning visuals and the feelings of the day, the joy of 'in the moment' experience, combine in a lasting imprint on the senses and the soul. No wonder I miss it.

The same can be said of beautiful human beings. It has been true since 2003 that every fall, my thoughts turn more often to the memory of my dear departed twins. I don't know them in a traditional sense, because I was only in their presence for six days, in my first daughter's case, and three weeks in my son's. Not enough time by any measure. This fleeting encounter with such incredible beauty left indelible imprints on my heart and my soul. I was fortunate beyond belief to have been with them in the short time we had together. The arrival of the twins was eagerly awaited, but upon us much too soon. Perhaps the turning of the leaves affects me in much the same manner. I wait and wonder and suddenly, God manifests!
It is sad and beautiful that leaves change color and disappear so soon. The shift from green to red, to yellow and finally brown an unavoidable echo of our tragedy. My daughter and son fell from the tree of life too swiftly, never to return. Yet the colors are beauty incarnate. In the fall I stand in the swirl of red and yellow, hoping, watching, listening to the leaves: each one a syllable in the faintly whispered names of Love.

17 October 2008

Water of (gasp!) Life

Doing my best Hemingway imitation (minus the firearms), I am feeling whisky-ish tonight. The Wee Lass is in bed and asleep, The Spouse is catching up on ER via TiVo, and I have a few minutes to kill before I (drum roll, please) FOLD THE LAUNDRY.

Wooo. I am living of the f***in' edge. Still, such domestic obligations give me the opportunity to indulge in one of my vices as an adult. Ten minutes to go on the ol' Kenmore is just enough time to sip a glass of Scotland's finest while twirling around in my desk chair.

Ah, the life of the artiste.

I have on my desk two bottles, one empty and one just over half-full. No, they didn't get that way today. It was a concentrated effort of weeks. It would have been today if I hadn't been out pumpkin and apple picking with the Pearl O' my Heart. Plus grocery shopping.

The empty bottle is (was?) Macallan 12 year old single malt. The other bottle is 15 year old Macallan. One I got for Christmas, the other I got for Father's Day. I am, as you probably said to yourself, a fortunate man. If I get a bottle of 16 year old Lagavulin this year, I will have hit the Trifecta!

Single malt scotch was the stuff I hated as a younger man, could not conceive of why anyone would want to put it in their mouth. Rum or bourbon or Irish whiskey was the hard tipple of choice, on the rare occasions I strayed from beer. But somewhere along the line, I grew up (I think) and started wondering just what in the hell happened to me. 'Once in a lifetime...' indeed. The next thing I knew, I found myself sitting at the bar at the White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island, a glass of Laphraoig in my hand, and the bartender watching me with a grin, expecting me to spit out the amber liquid at any second. I very nearly did. Somewhere in that mouthful of whisky, though, I unknowingly transformed into an adult. It took a few more years for me to realize it.

So sitting here, listening to the buttons scrape the dryer basket, I wiggle my toes and spin the chair. One last swallow of The Macallan makes it way to my gullet, the fumes rise up into my nose. I don't cough anymore, or at least, not very often. The chair slowly spins to a halt. The dizziness continues from the influx of Scotland's gift to civilization in my veins. Considering that Scotch originated in a country with a reputation for dark, misty winters, I understand the appeal. I think I know why it is made and why the Scots would drink it.

I won't be shearing sheep or scything oats tonight, for sure; but with a wee dram in my belly, folding laundry really isn't bad at all.

Father's Day, 2008.

16 October 2008

A Personal October Surprise

In my spare time, I fancy myself a writer. I scratch out stuff, jot down ideas, leave cryptic notes to myself. Sometimes I have really sniff out the ideas, searching, searching, searching. Other times, the ideas click into place, come out of nowhere, make their way to the surface. Memory falls from the sky to shatter on my head. Tonight, the decision was made for me. I was trolling my archives, looking for things to tidy up or expand upon and maybe have that Eureka! moment for a new story. I came across the following essay, written on July 16th, the 5th anniversary of the birth of our twins.

It surprised me. It wasn't that long ago that I wrote it, yet I had forgotten I had written it. All the more strange that their loss still feels like it was last week; looking over the essay, it (or maybe me) felt ancient, a history from the Middle Ages. Trauma plays tricks on your memory.

In memoriam, I offer words because I cannot offer my embrace.


"Five years ago today, the most precious creatures in the world were brought into it. Five years ago today triggered the metamorphosis from boy to man. Five years ago today I was anointed as Emperor of the world, the power coursing swiftly in my veins.

Five years ago today the huge, black doors shielding the heart of the universe were thrown wide open. We were bathed in light, a golden pure light that was the very essence of love. It was light so thick we scooped it up in our hands and brought to our mouths to quench a ravenous thirst. Liquid sweet light like honey, like manna; it dissolved on our tongues to spread tender warmth to our hearts, minds and souls. Swallowing this pure light, we laughed and cried to realize no boundaries stood between Inside and Outside. There was no ‘I’ or ‘We’: only Us as we laid hands on those roseate bundles of life.

Five years ago today Connor and Emma stepped from the heart of the Sun to convince us that life is not confined to this blue marble. Aliens they were not, but perhaps not entirely of this world. They bridged the abyss between Sun and Earth, illuminating our lives like lightning cracking the sky on a hot summer night. For that brief instant we were afire, limned in silver and gasping from fear and wonder.

Five years ago today, God stepped down from the mountain of His throne to stand before us. We could only glimpse His face through the overwhelming brilliance. His hands lowered to us gifts of awesome splendor as His peaceful, warming voice washed over us:

“Take these and know the heart of Beauty.”

Five years ago today, we were on our knees under the weight of ecstasy. Tears streamed down our cheeks to soak the ground in a waterfall of joyous gratitude. The soil erupted in a rush of riotous color. This was the miracle of creation pouring vital power into our pounding hearts. It all became clear as never before: it is possible to know the meaning of life.

Five years ago today we were wealthy beyond belief, in a currency not fashioned by the hands of man. Five years ago today every field was in flower, every brook was running clear and there was peace upon our souls. The boundaries between ego and love dissolved in the nurturing warmth of a divine radiance composed of joy.

Five years ago today we were swept up in a storm of mystery and grace. There was little time for true fear because joy had our undivided attention. We were so captivated by love that, in the heat of this shining moment, it slipped our minds that lightning is almost inevitably followed by thunder.

God was granting us a measure of mercy, perhaps, in that gap of memory."

KS – 07/16/08

Good night, children.

15 October 2008

Dr. Polka and Mr. Metal

I was going to write something political tonight, because I read something that got me all riled up earlier (http://www.dadgonemad.com/2008/10/8.html#comments), and am just now winding down. But I am not going to be political, because I am TIRED and I spent some time playing with my daughter. She reminded me that I need to take it easy, set the vexations of real life aside. So that is what I am going to do.

Instead, I am going write about something I really love: MUSIC, SWEET MUSIC! I got to thinking about silliness and stuff that makes me laugh and want to dance or bang my head. Not that I can dance, more like semi-rhythmic spasmodic flailing. So what comes to mind? Well, POLKA! of course. Not the Lawrence Welk or Schmenges' Brothers(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Polka) kind of polka. I'm talking turbo-charged, amped up and just plain good polka. Polka in the name of Brave Combo:


In a slightly (!) different vein, I was reminded of a vid that my brother clued me in on. Fast, loud, infinite combinations! Keep an eye out for Darth Vader:


Ich bin ein Rock und Roller! Be careful if you try this at home!

14 October 2008

The Big Girl Bed

A red-letter day for us here at Shea HQ. Today is the day that IT arrived:


The Wee Lass has been wound up most of the last week in anticipation. She had been in a little people bed, basically a souped-up futon, for what seems like a long time now. We had been discussing the switch for a couple weeks, and it wasn't sinking into my headbone.

The Spouse did all the legwork (she is a world-class hunter when it comes to online shopping), picking out a sorta-traditional looking four-poster with beadboard ends and round ball finials on the posts. It even matched very well with the other stuff in Wee Lass's Royal Sleeping Chamber. Her Highness was on the verge of wetting herself when she found out that it was due to arrive today. "MY NEEWWWW BEEEDDDD! YAYYYY!" Too cute for words, honey, now go wipe yourself off.

I got the call from home around 3:00: 'Target subject has been delivered. Assembly complete. Operation Sleeping Beauty Makeover is underway!' Excellent. At this point, even I was getting excited in anticipation. I zipped home, and arrived to...vacant silence. The Wee Lass was at her usual station, scribbling absently in a coloring book while staring all slack-jawed at the latest SpongeBob episode. A gentle reminder from her moms broke the trance, THEN she said "Daddy, I'll show you my new BED!" while falling all over herself. So we rushed upstairs.

There it was, pushed into the corner and looking like it was taking up half the room. Man, it looked big! Much bigger than I would have thought. The princess was jumping up on the bed, well, TRYING to jump up on the bed: taller than her old one. She was babbling about how pretty it was and look new pillows and pink! pink! bedspread! with Hello Kitty sheets and polka dots and Daddy, Daddy, guess what? this bed is good for jumpin', watch, watch this! Boing, Boing... Such glee, such unfettered unselfconsciousness in action. How cool is that, to be so excited about a bed? For me to get that kind of happy takes, oh, a new stereo or a lap dance.

After showing me all the cool stuff, testing out the pillow and declaring that we could 'read books in bed tonight' she gave me a hug and we went back downstairs for dinner. Actually, we finished watching SpongeBob, then we had dinner.

What my big girl did not know, bouncing around and watching me with those brilliant baby blues, was that this new piece of furniture isn't just a bed. It is a milestone, reminding me that she is growing, faster than I ever imagined possible. Four years ago, I was freaking out because I had just become a new dad with an eternity ahead of me. Now I'm freaking out because time is flyin', my girl is growing like the proverbial weed and I am beginning to forget what it was like to hold her in two hands with her head on my shoulder. I watched her back, smiling like a fool and trying to swallow the lump in my throat. We'll grow up together, she and I.

Tonight, we'll go jumping on the Big Girl Bed.

13 October 2008

I Am Not From Naples

Tonight, between arriving home from work/kissing the Kid/greeting the Spouse and post -dinner cleanup/eventually getting the Kid to bed, I actually made a batch of pasta sauce. My own version of "sugo di salsicce" (when I am feeling as the pompous ass), or "sauce with sausage" (when the spirit of my departed Gee-Maw whacks me with a spoon and tells me 'Don't get full of yourself, kid!' Ouch!). I can hear the collective "So What?" blaring in over the Web, and I don't blame you. Hang with me, kids, just a 'little bit longeeerrrr'...

I have this particular recipe down to basics, easy, simple. I can do a lot of prep work beforehand and store stuff in the fridge to make sauce as the opportunity presents itself. So it was: onions chopped, carrot grated, salsicce, er, SAUSAGE sliced the night before. Praisethelord for Ziploc, hallelujah, yessir! So all that remained was to get all that and the tomato puree in the pot and simmering whilst attending to other important activities like Net surfing, navel gazing, kid tickling, burping, etc.

Everything went smoothly I am happy to say. The sauce was done by time for the Wee Lass' bath, so I let the sauce cool while the Spouse hosed the princess down. Then I read some books with her.

(Digression: bedtime reading with my daughter, most of the time, is one of the highlights of my day. Tonight we read "Where The Wild Things Are"; she and I had great time 'roaring the terrible roars, rolling the terrible eyes, showing the terrible claws'. She can growl pretty good! I say most of the time because there are the days where Her Highness is not pleased to read and just wants to play games on Noggin. Sigh. The attractions of the Digital Age. Now, back to our story...)

So it went well. While my daughter played some pre-bed games with her moms, I divvied up the sauce into containers. Of course, I tasted the sauce as I was ladling it out. Pret-ty goood, as Larry David might say. Although I don't recommend biting down on a bay leaf. Yurrk. Anyway, I had the sauce all Rubbermaided (no ziplocs this time), heading for the sink with pot and ladle in hand and sipping the remaining sauce out of the ladle bowl. Mmmm. Then it happened.

I licked the pot. I licked the pot. Not the lid, not the rim, the inside. I actually stuck my face in the pot and licked some sauce off the sides. Good thing it wasn't hot. THAT would have been embarrassing.

"Kevin, what happened to your face?"
"I stug id a ha pat, ad id borrned my cheegs!"
"AIIGHH, was that your TONGUE!? EEEWWW, shut your mouth, man!"

I can honestly say that is the first time I have ever done that. Ever. Good thing everyone else was upstairs. I'm pretty sure there weren't any cameras rolling, either. Sheesh, next thing you know I'll be eating cheese out of the sink. Oh, wait, never mind...

IRISH GUMBO'S SUGO DI SALSICCE: (makes 2-3 servings for two in my house)
1 medium onion, white or yellow - dice fine
1 medium-ish carrot - grated fine (I use a microplane grater)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 28oz. cans whole peeled tomatos in juice - drain, puree in food mill or processor, strain seeds
+/- 1 lb. Italian sausage - casings removed and sliced into 1/2" pieces (if links)
1 Tablespoon olive oil (evoo okay)
Bay leaves - 1 large or 2 small
salt, black pepper

Heat oil at medium heat in a large saucepan. When shimmering, put onion/carrot mix in, cook until slightly translucent. Spinkle in pinch of salt. Add garlic. Cook 1-2 more minutes. Add sausage. Let sausage brown up - it doesn't need to cook all the way. Skim off excess fat. Pour in tomato puree. Add bay leaves. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25 - 30 minutes. Let it reduce and thicken. Add more salt if needed, fresh grind some black pepper if you like. Remove bay leaves. Serve over favorite pasta. I like penne or rigatoni with this sauce. Note: Plum tomatos work best, they have less liquid, so the sauce thickens up faster.

Simple. Easy. Good. Works for me. Authentic? Hell, I don't know. I'm not from Naples.

(All props to Giuliano Bugialli. His book on pasta gave me the original idea.)

12 October 2008

Bless Me, Father, For I...Wait, I'm Not Catholic

It is time to come clean. I must confess. It is an inevitability that chose now to manifest. It has to do with the real reason that I started this blog. That core reason has little to do with food, drink, or music, although all three are important and will feature prominently in this venture. No, the core reason has very much to do with a subject that seems to drive a lot of blogs.
The subject is pain. Not the 'heartbreak of psoriasis' kind of pain, or 'my team lost' kind of pain. I am talking about the crushing pain of personal tragedy. The sort of pain that makes you want to crawl into a hole and tell the world to go to hell. The sort of pain that makes you think things like 'I don't want to kill myself, but if I just stopped living that would be okay'. So it is with me.
I had the luxury this morning, of a solo walk in a park near my home. It was around the lake that is the centerpiece of this park, on a paved path that encircles it. Being alone I was able to meditate in silence and give a stir or two to the bubbling crock pot that is my mind. I was thinking about everything and nothing, while wondering what I would write about today. Somewhere in my head, a chunk of memory detached itself and crashed down on me from out pf the blue: it was about this time five years ago that I went back to work for the first time in months following the deaths of my first two children. It was they who planted the seeds of change in my head, which have since sprouted into the trees of resolution.
I was 37 years old before I finally woke up from a daze and realized that maybe my wife and I were missing something in life. I was coasting pretty much until then. I don't know exactly what prompted it, even to this day. I think my wife had a similar epiphany because we had little difficulty deciding that we wanted to have a kid. Life took a certain glow after that, because after all, trying to make babies (for the most part) wasn't a task to which I had any objections! The 'how' part even gained in enjoyment, at least it did for us, when the consequence I was careful to avoid was now the cause and result I wanted. Ahh, bliss...
There were some problems. It turned out to be slightly more difficult than we figured, for a variety of reasons I won't get into right now. Suffice to say that it took longer than expected, but when it did happen, Oh! Man! did it ever! The day the pregnancy was confirmed I have blurred memories of, it was so OVERWHELMING and EXCITING. But the day in March 2003 when we went for a checkup ultrasound I'll certainly NEVER forget. Not only was my wife pregnant, she was pregnant with TWINS, a boy and a girl!
I thought I was going to faint. Or throw up. Or run around laughing my head off. TWINS!?, I thought, you have got to be effin' kidding me! I could see them on the screen. I had to lean over with my hands on my knees. I started laughing and had a hard time stopping. Man, this was so cool, so much more than I expected. We were going to be parents of twins. At that moment I had never felt so human, so alive in my life. I even remembered to thank God, which was something I hadn't done in years of passive agnosticism.
So it was with intense sadness, anger and rock-bottom despair that we suffered the soul-searing tragedy of having not one, but both of our precious gifts taken away from us within a span of less than three weeks. This was a psychic explosion from which the echoes are still fading away. It was those echoes that I heard in the mournful cry of a lone goose, this morning while walking around the lake. In that instant, I felt the tiny hands of my precious son and daughter caressing my heart, reminding me of why I want, no, need to write: who will tell their story?
I am the vessel, the pathway, the circuit needing completion. I will tell the story.

11 October 2008

The Pork? Meh.

So I mentioned a sandwich yesterday. I went to a local 'cue restaurant (which shall remain unidentified for now) as I feeling rather carnivorous and jonesing for some smoked meat. The special was a pork sandwich, bunned, sopped in spicy sauce. It was plenty o' meat, I had every reason to believe that it would hit the spot. Or at least come close enough to the spot that I could make it to dinner without undue snackage. It arrived on a plate accompanied by a mound of green beans (more on those later), looking all cute and yummy. Just the hit I needed!

Then I took my first bite. Ahhh....wait. Hold on. chew,chew,chew..? Pork it was, and there was a sauce like substance. The pork was a bit dry, chewy (although sometimes that isn't necessarily bad), but it didn't have that lusciousness a good BBQ needs. The sauce was wet, sure, but no kick. Hey, man, where's the HEAT, the TANG? A few bites later, I was getting desperate. I was so hungry though I couldn't give UP. Plus I was paying for this! Finally, I had to admit defeat. The 'cue was just, well, meh.

It didn't suck, but it didn't really satisfy, you know? You know that saying about pizza:

Pizza is like sex: when it's good, it's REAL GOOD, but even if it is bad, it's still pretty good.

That doesn't apply in this case. Mediocre seems a bit worse than truly AWFUL, at least then righteous anger is justifiable. Here I was just disappointed. They could have done better. They HAVE done better.

So it was with a sigh I turned to the green beans. Hallelujah! There amongst the crunchy greenness were bits of crispy bacon. And just about everything tastes better with bacon on it.

Now, if had only had a pint to go with it...

Query: How do you feel when you get mediocre food? Does it make you sad, or do you just suck it up and go back to work? How about a Worst Food Experience? I'm curious.

(Note: I left out names because I want to give them another chance. I like them, but like a friend with less than fresh breath, I haven't figured out how to TELL them.)

10 October 2008

Dear Wee Lass

"Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It's beautiful and so are you"
---The Beatles (like I need to tell you that..)
I was sitting down to write about a sandwich I had today, and I was listening to the White Album, when 'Dear Prudence' came on. For some reason my mind substituted 'WeeLass' for Prudence in the song lyrics. The effect caught me off guard and got me to thinking of my beautiful daughter.
This, of course, made me all choked up, especially at the "It's beautiful and so are you" part. Why? Because Wee Lass is indeed beautiful. She makes life beautiful. She makes me a better person. She makes me WANT to be a better person. I suppose being tired and shagged out from a long week of architectin' made me a bit vulnerable, hence the pensive sniffles. I need the cut this short so I can go upstairs and kiss my beautiful lass, and make sure she is all tucked in.
The sandwich? A story for another time. My heart lies sleeping.

09 October 2008

Hey, GOP: Demand Your Money Back. Seriously.

A big ol' bowl of stupid:


I don't know where to begin. I am at a loss for words. Almost.

Is Andrea Tantaros expecting us to take this seriously? Evincing "outrage" over a non-issue, breathtaking in its vapidity, so monumentally STUPID?

One thing that was a little unclear: Andrea's title says "Republican Media Consultant". Does that mean she is a consultant working for Republicans, or a consultant that happens to be a Republican?

She could not even stick to a point, assuming she had one. Pissed off because the photo was unretouched? Or a supposedly unflattering headline? Pissed because she secretly wants to be on the cover? A true WTF moment.

Let's deconstruct a little: It's a slap in the face because...

"The photo was unretouched." So Newsweek should do the 'right' thing and purposefully alter the truth? Wouldn't that make them...Republicans? The assertion that Newsweek should have done it because other magazines always do it for fashion models "to cover up the lines, pores, etc." indicates a level of absurdity approaching the toxic. This is a presidential election, not a photo shoot for Elle.

"Sarah Palin is a gorgeous woman." If that is true, then why does her photo need retouching?

"Sarah Palin is a gorgeous woman." And gorgeous women couldn't possibly have pores.

(Paraphrase) "They put a halo on Barack" No they didn't. Please, get your head out of your ass.

Getting all hot and bothered, by claiming the "one of us, that's the problem" as an insult to us 'folks' out here, is stunning in its inanity. The McCain-Palin ticket has been pushing the hockey mom-regular person angle since day one of this debacle. So which is it? Is Sarah Palin an average person who can understand 'Joe Six-Pack'? If she is, then shut the hell up. The headline wasn't an insult in that case, YOU MISSED THE POINT.

If Palin is not the 'average' person we have been told she is, then the GOP has been deliberately misleading us 'folks'. In which case I am even less inclined to believe them, much less vote for the ticket. I am saddened and furious by such an insulting, patronizing treatment of us as citizens. How can the Republicans say with a straight face that Sarah Palin is qualified, that we can trust Senator McCain's judgement, that they really can lead effectively? With the debacle in Iraq, the worsening situation in Afghanistan, Iran and Russia increasingly belligerent, and an economic situation that looks like the Titanic, I expect better than what we are getting. No, I DEMAND better. If your house is on fire, don't stand in your front yard complaining about the dandelions in mine. Complaining so vociferously about a magazine cover shows just how out of touch and desperate SOME Republicans have become.

Overblown "outrage" like that witnessed on Fox is like fake crying from children: Annoying at best. But REALLY annoying and offensive when it is coming from someone who knows better and does it anyway. If I hired a media consultant for political coverage, and this is what I got in return, I would demand my money back, I suggest to whoever hired Ms. Tantaros that they do the same.

08 October 2008

Road Food, Part 1

I traveled to Boston earlier this year, in May, for the American Institute of Architects annual convention. I had to go by myself this year, couldn't bring the Wife-N-Child this time. This meant I was alone, untethered, set loose in a city where it is a) Easy to walk around; b) Easy to find Guinness; and c) Easy to find good eats.

Aaaahhh, the Garden of Eden (Eating?). Convention? What? Where?

Fortunately, I was able to STICK TO THE PLAN. Said plan consisted of me grabbing my stuff, heading for the nearest 'T' stop, quick ride for educational and business type stuff at the Convention Center (Note: The Hynes Convention Center is freakin' HUGE. Pack a lunch, wear comfortable shoes), then a breakneck trip through downtown Boston for lunch and sightseeing and stuff for the Folks Back Home.

I exercised more in three days than I had in three months. Man, was it worth it! I ate some seriously dee-lish victuals, including a pastrami sandwich as big as my face. Sam LaGrassa's, on Province Street, in case you find yourself in need of lunch in Beantown. I tried running back to the T after that; Pastrami + jogging + briefcase = hernia/near hurl. Great sandwich, bad idea.

The second night I was there, it was raining, I was lonely and tired, and found myself wandering around the Downtown Crossing area. I had almost decided to grab a sandwich and head back to my hotel, when I happened to read in my NFT (Not For Tourists) guidebook a little blurb for the Silvertone Bar & Grill. Persuasive, plus it mentioned comfort food (i.e. mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, the usual suspects). Looking up form the book I could see the diner sign just down the block. You know what happened next.

The place was packed, but I got a table by the bar because I was by myself. I think the hostess took pity on me. So I ordered a beer (Harpoon lager, I think) and made eyes at the meatloaf. The waiter recommended it, said he ate that regularly of all the things on the menu. Tired, a little buzzed (empty stomach, remember?) I took the meat loaf.

Oh.My.God. This wasn't just meat loaf, this was Meat Loaf Prime. The Ur-Meat Loaf. The Big Bang of Meat Loaf. With the mashed potatoes and green beans, it was too much. But I ate everything, mopped the plate, then scraped up the last molecule of gravy with my spoon. I would have licked the plate if I wasn't in public.

Here it is, in all its glory, perhaps the Best Meat Loaf In The World:

Best of all, I felt at home, warm and dry, and not so alone anymore. Many thanks to the Silvertone. If you make it to Boston, look 'em up.

07 October 2008

Revisiting The Vinyl Frontier

Not too long ago, my daughter was cavorting around the living room, tossing stuff around, and she threw a toy (a little bear, I think) behind the TV set. I heard her rummaging around back there, and then she said, "Daddy, what's this?" I turned around to see her holding my vinyl copy of "A Different Kind Of Tension" by the Buzzcocks. She was holding it up and waving it around like a Frisbee. I stifled a yelp and made a slow-motion grab for it before it broke. Safely in my hands I put it back in the milk crate that was holding it.

Wait. Did you catch that? No, no, not 'Buzzcocks' (heh, heh..shut up Beavis!), I said 'vinyl'. That's right: VINYL. I still have a small crate full of full size albums, cardboard sleeves and all. Okay they aren't all mine, some of them belong to my spousal companion. I won't embarrass anyone with THOSE albums. Instead, I'll embarrass myself with my albums.

Once the wee lass was safely out of range, I rifled through the remaining albums in the milk crate. I was pleased to see my copy of 'Dark Side of The Moon' still there, and I felt a little weirded out to find a Black Flag Album and ‘The Record’ by Fear. Leftover relics of my punk influenced dissolute youth. Oh, and I think I threw away my Flock of Seagulls album. Whew!

While I am not too sentimental for the sheer bulk that vinyl took up, I do miss the album covers, and the great art and the liner notes that read like a book (instead of like something inside a matchbook cover). Funny, having a turntable and having to buy needles (phonograph needles, you stoners) didn’t seem that cool when that’s about all we had. 8-tracks were a complete pain in the ass, and cassettes weren’t that much better (how many times did I accidently unspool the tape? Too many!) But I realized a few years ago that there really was something special about the needle hitting the groove. You got that little bit of scratchy sound, a few hisses and pops, and then BAM: a good fat sound. It was a Robert Johnson collection on CD that gave me that epiphany. I think it was ‘Stones in My Passway’ that I listened to first. What a weird experience to listen to vinyl recordings that had been mastered to CDs! The scratchiness of vinyl with the clarity of digital audio. Weird and how postmodern can you get?

Most of my collection is on CD now, and while it is convenient, it does lack some of the cachet of vinyl. My brother still has a lot of vinyl, with album covers hung up on the walls of his computer loft at home. Pretty cool to see that stuff hanging up. That is one thing you definitely don’t get with digital music; who cares if you are carrying an iPod or an mp3 player? You can’t really tell anything about the person, and while the gadget is cool, it seems more like a fashion accessory than anything else.

True vinyl story: One of my uncles, a Vietnam vet and a low-key hippie, had a pretty cool record collection. He gave me and my brother a copy of The Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, a second edition (I think) when we were just old enough to start appreciating the music. I had it for a while, but between college and moving around and just generally trying to stay employed and be an adult, I LOST IT. To this day, I still don’t know where it went. My uncle is gone now, passed away about twenty years ago. I never told him about the album; I didn't get the chance.

Uncle Harry, I’m sorry, bro. We were young and stupid…

(Note: This is a longer version of a very short essay I posted to a local newspaper blog back in May 2008)

06 October 2008

IrishGumbo, Explained

Curious, aren't you? You want to know, but are perhaps hesitant to ask. After all, who the hell has ever heard of Irish Gumbo?

I have. The name of the blog came to me after a lot of serious thinking, consideration, a few naps, plus one or two beers. Not all in the same day! I wanted something cool, innovative, that maybe described who or what I am (metaphorically, of course). I thought of some names I have been called over the years, like 'dipshit', 'blockhead', 'sensitive'. 'Chowderhead' even, but I didn't get that until I was in college. I like chowder, but still. None of those had the charm, the bling, the (dare I say?) 'elan' I was looking for. Consider this: 'www.dipshit.blogspot.com'. Catchy, but not exactly the image I was wanted to present.

Names are VERY important. Know anyone named Nimrod? Neither do I. Probably good reasons for that.

(Disclaimer: No offense intended to anyone out there who is actually named Nimrod. It's just not that common. Plus, it's all Biblical-like, and nowadays it has an association with words like 'dork'. If I do meet anyone named Nimrod, I will be sure to treat them with the dignity they deserve. At least until they show they really are a dork.)

So, whither 'Irish Gumbo'? The Irish part was easy. I have a fair amount of Irish blood in my lineage, plus my last name is Shea, and Guinness is my favorite malt beverage. Irish seemed a natch. The gumbo? That's a bit more complicated.

I am not Creole, Cajun, or from Louisiana. I didn't know from gumbo until a trip to New Orleans some years ago. I didn't even make the stuff for the first time until about six years ago. But once I did I fell in love with it. I owe a debt to Emeril Lagasse's 'Real and Rustic' cookbook (which I still have) for getting me started on the path. I have been tinkering with it ever since.

There a lots of ways to make a gumbo, and many folks never make it quite the same way twice. Start with a roux, most say, but from there who knows? Use andouille sausage or chicken or oysters or turkey or shrimp. Or all. Or some. Bell peppers/onions/celery (the Holy Trinity). Or some. You can use greens (gumbo z'herbes) if you don't want meat. In that case, probably not a roux either. Maybe okra or file powder. I use garlic sometimes. I've been known to throw in a pinch or two of smoked paprika on occasion - but I'm not a heretic! And you know what? Only once have I made a bad gumbo. And that's because I was in a hurry, and didn't take CARE of it. Aside from that, it's all good.

The point (and I do have one) is that everyone agrees that gumbo exists, even if hardly anyone can agree on exactly what goes in it. You take all sorts of good stuff, put it in a pot with the dark mystery that is roux and a few hours later - MMMMM, MMM! - there it is. All anyone knows is that 'Gumbo, c'est bon, c'est tout' (Gumbo, it's good - that's all there is to it). My apologies to Emeril, I hope I got that quote right.

So there I was, driving my daily commute on the Trail Of Boredom, and out of the blue it came to me: THY BLOG NAME SHALL BE 'IRISHGUMBO', YOU CHOWDERHEAD. The Voice was right. No refuting it.

The fact is, I don't know exactly what is in me. Some darkness, some light, some spice as well. I have hope that it's all good, and who knows? With a little time and attention, I just might turn out to be a mighty fine pot of gumbo. So good, ya hurt yaself!

05 October 2008

Testing, 1,2..Is This Thing On?

Everybody out of the plane!

Greetings fellow bloggers, citizens of the world and other interested parties! After much hemming and hawing, dithering, analysis and just a little bit o' scotch, I finally decided to get this blog underway.

Took me long enough, dammit. I have been watching, reading and following for a while now. Heard a lot of people talking about it, getting in it, but lacked a certain OOMMPHH to do it. Jeez, even my brother has (or had; I'll check) a blog. YOU HAVE BEEN SERVED. Okay, not really a threat. I am a little short on material at the moment. I have been writing a lot of fiction lately, when not doing my part at my day job, plus taking care of a wee one at home.

My goal is to get my musings on board for dissection/discussion/hooting by all, along with some links to subtopics that arise from STUFF I LIKE, OR NOT. I am interested in a lot of things, and usually have no trouble forming an opinion.

So please, bear with me. Music, food, art, writing, politics, design: If I build it, they will come. Stay tuned, and thanks.