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Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Slight Political Rant

I completely understand that reasonable people can disagree about the proper goals of government and how to get those goals promoted.  I have absolutely no problem with rational and thoughtful debate, and I understand that things can get emotional and intense.

For example, I am not a general fan of US Republican ideology.  The idea that corporations can be trusted to self-regulate always seems to be disproved by what they actually do.  The idea that scientists are making false claims about the climate, the safety of water and food, and the proper way to rehabiliate prisoners (among many issues) seems to me to be a matter of wishing vs reality.  And all evidence I see suggests that giving money to the rich does not result in "trickle-down" economics.

And I might naturally be one of them.  I'm an "older white male with accumulated self-earned assets who worked hard, invested in the stock market, and believes that "success" is generally self-driven". 

So why am I not a Republican?  Because I had advantages many others did not.  And because a functional democracy has to allow social and economic mobilty.

For starters, let's just say that I had middle class parents who could live in a safe suburban neighborhood, I attended a safe suburban school, and I had safe suburban friends, all of whom were "just like me".  Of my senior high school class of 254 students, only 4 did not graduate and THAT was actually a sort of scandal.  There were some "minority students" in the school, but my recollection was that they were treated the same as the the rest of us (they might disagree), but even they were from middle class professional families and living in the same neighborhoods.  Their parents attended the same neighborhood parties.

I was probably about 16 when I discovered that there was another high school in town (when I got my learner's permit and drove around town.  It was decrepit.  It looked like a prison (barred windows - ours opened), had a small playground with rough ground and no grass - ours was a couple acres and had actual grass),  our school was neat and clean on the outside - that one was spray painted with words I didn't even know.

I asked my parents about it.  They said it was a poor school because the parents of the kids who went there were poor and couldn't donate much to their school.  But they also said it was about racism, politics, and that they routinely voted for town officials who promised to fix those things but those people never got elected.

You do have to understand that, in the 1960s, kids even at 16 years old were not so much exposed to reality outside their neighborhoods.  We didn't have much on TV to watch other than national news, sitcoms and western show, and cartoons.  We watched Walter Chronkite, Bonanza, Disney, and The Flintstones.

I went to school, did my assigned homework, pulled weeds in the garden, helped my Dad around the yard, learned to play golf as Dad's caddy, played some football and board games with friends, and that was about IT!

Two years later and I was thrown into college at the safe State University.  I was supposed to learn some academic skill, get a good job, and carry on the White European tradition.  I went to college in 1968, and The Vietnam War got in the way.  I started to learn things I wasn't supposed to learn. 

I learned about the treatment about minorities.  I learned about inequities.  I learned that not all was fair.  I learned that minority students faced difficulties I did not. 

And the Vietnam War was bad, but worse for minority soldiers than white soldiers.  They didn't get promoted as readily, so they were on the front lines more often.  When they came home wounded, they didn't get the same treatment.

And to be honest here, I was never in Vietnam.  My college deferment protected me until the government had that one massive lottery and I dropped my college deferment and I drew a number never called.  If my number had come up, I would have gone, and I would probably be a very different person than I am today.  But my number wasn't called.

So I stayed in college and started thinking about things.  I changed my major from mechanicl engineering to political science and started studying people and society and how "it all worked".  I had been vaguely Progressive Republican and changed to Progressive Democrat.   There is a difference. 

The former has a "noblesse oblige"aspect of helping those lesser than you; the latter has more of a "we are all equal so help those who need help".  I fail sometimes in attitude sometimes, but I keep in mind that a good start in life helps make a better future for most people. 

I know too many people who think that skin color somehow implies ability.  I know why skin varies and it is just a general adaptation to sunlight exposure.  There is a reason why Scandinavians have whiter skin than Southern Europeans and them being lighter than Africans.  It has nothing to do with intelligence or ability.  It has everything to do with history and geographical advantages. 

Read 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' sometime.  It will open your eyes.

Meanwhile, for the rest of my life after college, I have supported ideas to make the cultural and financial differences of minorities fairer. 

It's why I am a Democrat now.  Things have to become fairer.  That is basically the whole premise of a fair society.  I cannot not support the "Me First" attitude of the Republicans.  And to be honest, I think some Democrats go overboard.  But given 10 issues, I will probably agree with the Democrats on 8.

OK, I've had my say on the subject. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Odds and Ends

No recent updates on my niece and the consequences of the accident.  News could come tomorrow or in months.

I basically solved my confusion about the EU GDPR notice requiring even foreigners to post about cookie use.  I found a brief one elsewhere and stole it.  It seems to say enough.  Feel free to steal it yourself from here (right under the header).  I think that, after a month, I will move it to the bottom of the blog, and later, somewhere barely findable.  Eventually, it will become nearly meaningless like "This site complies with all international laws applicable in the United States Courts to the best of our understanding. 

I do NOT like that Blogger has eliminated forwarding of comments to email account.  There was no reason given.  If it saved them money, they should say so.  If they polled the community and got a positive response to the idea, they should say so. 

The change is a real inconvenience to me.  I mean, no complaint to Blogger if they had a good reason, but none was given.

I'm also annoyed about the end to Open ID commenters.  I have enough of them who are frustrated and they are long-time commenters who don't want to establish Google accounts.  Its not up to ME if they should or should not.

The rain as been amazing this Spring.  Starting in early May, it has rained about 16-20" total.  I didn't keep track (at the start, who knew it would be a lot?).  But I have a good rain gauge and a general idea of how many times I have seen 1/4" to 3".

And the hardest thing is that it has been rather steady.  3" was a LOT at once.  But most times it is 1/2" every day or so.  The problem is that it keeps the soil soaked.  You plant seeds in soaked soil and they just rot.

Joke:  "I planted rice in early May and they have all drowned".

Seriously, I have lost a month of planting.  I planted 4 square feet of Spinach and got only 4 seedlings.  There should have been 4 dozen.  And I can't plant my deck pots when they are all mud.  Squishing around the wet soil creates little tubs that dry out and form hard layers later that flower roots don't penetrate well.

I have molehills EVERYWHERE!  The soft soil is like Heaven to them.  They are even in the front lawn and I've never had them there before; it is usually too hard for them to dig through.  And the voles use the mole tunnels to get at plant roots.  I'm going to have to spray carol oil over the yard.  That doesn't bother the earthworms the moles feed on, but apparently, it gives them  an awful taste to the moles, so they go elsewhere.  and if there are no mole tunnels, the voles are forced aboveground where nearly everything wants to eat them. 

Their are mole poisons, but I can't use them.  A poisoned mole can mean a poisoned predator (like my cats).  And I've never found a mole trap that had any meaningful affect.  You spike or whatever an few adult moles and it makes little difference.  There are always a few fertile adults left and that means more mole babies.  You have to make the adult moles actually LEAVE!

I've started unclutterring the house.  Well, you have to unclutter before you can clean, and I've let that go for too long.  And no matter what you want to do, something else seems to have to be done first.  So I looked around for "first things". 

I tend to save interesting home maintenance, gardening articles and recipes out of the newspaper and stack them on a corner of the dining table.  I went through the stack and threw most of them away.  I'm not really ever going to make those fancy chocolate truffles or hazelnut cookies, I'm not going to make those "tandoori/honey/duck burritos", and I really don't need a 13th way to BBQ a chicken...

And really, if I ever need to refinish a water-spot on a table top or re-grout a tile, I'll just look it up on the internet. It is time to stop saving information when it it so easily available online!

What I DO need to do is collect all the random stuff off the living room bookcases.  There are aquarium supplies sitting there.  So I need to enclose the existing aquarium stand with wall panel wood and make doors so the stuff has a place to be altogether and out of sight. 

And move some kitchen appliances I seldom use out of the cat-stuff closet to above the cabinets, making room for the 2 shelves of cat toys so THEY are out of sight (but surely not forgotten). 

And then move some stacked books INTO the bookcases, etc...  Figuring out the FIRST thing to do is very important, or else I just end up shifting the clutter around...

And then there is the Cat Room.  Which doubles as a storage room.  My Xmas decorations are still out loose.  I could spend a whole day just in there!  I would like to store them up in the attic, but I had some energy-saving contractor in there a few years ago insulating the place 12' deep (and have never noticed any reduction in my electric bill).  So it is time to put down some plywood flooring (like I used to have there).  And I still have the plywood I originally installed and then removed for the increased insulation in my basement.  But that has to be done before I can move the seldom-used Xmas decorations up there.

There is always something that has to be dome first...




Friday, June 8, 2018

Hard Days

I think I am starting to wear out.  I turned 68 two weeks ago, but that is too early these days.

I pulled weeds for 2 hours yesterday and ended up with involuntary finger clenches again.  It happens more and more frequently these days when I do gripping work.  It never bothers me at the time, but 2 hours later, some fingers decide to clamp tight.

The computer world is escaping from my mental grip.  I've never had more than a desktop computer and a laptop.  The new EU law really got me to realize I could follow help rules.  And I get angry about changes like that Blogger won't forward blog comments to my email (which I am used to) for no reason I can find.

More blogs demand I enter my blog name and email and blog url, and that is getting annoying.  That stuff used to autofill and it doesn't now.  So it gets harder to visit cat-blogs now. 

My teeth are falling apart.  I've been to my dentist 6 times in 3 months.  The last time was to replace an old crown that had developed a hole in the top.  He said I could have it replaced or wait a year and have the tooth pulled.  I went for the new cap.

Which came off the night it was installed.  Hadn't even eaten anything yet since my jaw was still numb.  I could only get an appointment yesterday morning.  And oddly, the cap wouldn't set properly (though it did before). 

I'll bet that means the permanent one will need a lot of adjusting.  I'm sure not looking forward to THAT in 3 weeks.

I find it hard to sit at the computer and visit my blogging friends.  There are always emails that seem more "urgent" these days, and I love those too.  I'm just not balancing things...  You know?

I'm going through some changes, and I don't know where I am going to come out.

Please forgive me if I don't visit for a bit.  I love you all and your visits matter to me.  My "To Do" list is just too long.  If I don't attack the wild blackberries and english ivy in the back yard and the poison ivy spreading everywhere, I'm going to completely lose control of the yard.

I shouldn't be feeling this old at only 68!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Storm Drain

I have a County storm drain at the street end of a long non-County drainage easement.  It is a constant problem, as is wanders down though the higher neighborhood through semi-wild woods.  Every storm brings more tree debris to rest on the top.  I remove them when I notice.  But after severe storms, the debris collects in inter-woven layers. 

Well, after storms this year, they were really tightly bound.  I refuse to stand on the grate because it might collapse.  So I emailed the County office about it a few weeks ago.  2 decades ago, I complained about the whole drainage easement and they advised me that they were "only responsible  for the drain".  So I have reminded them of that the past years whenever the drain got covered so much that it caused flooding in my lower yard. 

The previous times it took them almost 6 months to send out some people to clear it.  And that was done by hand (and poorly).  I don't want to get TOO political, but those were Republicans in charge at the time.  This time there are Democrats in charge, and a crew showed up in a few WEEKS.

They not only did a SUPERB job, they were polite, friendly, and understood how frustrating the flooding the covered grate caused.  WOW!

So here is what it looked like before.


And here is what it looked like today.


And just to be helpful, they cleaned the other one I had not even asked about...

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Snake

If snakes give you the "willies", stop reading.  But this one is harmless and eats only mice and moles...

So I went out to get my mail today, and saw this sitting on the driveway.  I looked at it for a while.  I wasn't sure if it was alive or not.  I mean, it was "LUMPY".
While I was looking at it, a guy drove past and then backed up and got out of his car with a camera.  We considered it.  I said it wasn't dangerous because it wasn't a viper.  I thought it is a black snake.  He said he just kills any snake he sees and I said they are rather beneficial (though I sure wouldn't want to step in on by surprise).  Even non-venomous snakes have teeth.

But it wasn't moving and it looked odd (lumpy).  The other guy said, he didn't think it was dead becuase its head was up (that was a really good observation I had missed).

So after taking a couple pictures each, I tapped its tail with my newspaper .  It twitched!  After another tap, it started slithering away, and went up a TREE! 
I was working under a tree once and felt a slight stinky spray.  I looked around and saw nothing.  Then a snake (just like this one) fell onto the ground right next to me.  HEY, IT PEED ON ME!

But I just shoved it with my boot and watched it slither away.  Well, it was no threat to the cats or me, so I admired it.  Snakes are fascinating.  There are few creatures who have completely unique ways of moving around.  Bipedal humans, kangaroos, and snakes...

Here is the snake climbing up in a small tree...
It wasn't there 15 minutes later, so I suppose it was a lot more worried about ME than I was of it.

May it catch many mice and moles...   Live long and eat well, black snake!




Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day




I will take this opportunity to thank all who have given their lives in the defense of freedom  everywhere.  Some were formal military, some were hidden resistance fighters, some were just civilians who tried to stand their ground when pushed by occupying forces, and some were just killed because they were "in the way".  I think all count.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Time Off

There has been a tragic family accident.  A niece drifted into oncoming traffic while driving late at night and hit another car straight on.  She is in the hospital with serious injuries.  The other driver died.

There will be very serious legal and financial consequences for her and her parents (she was driving their car and apparently that matters). 

My thoughts will be elsewhere for a while...

I will be back sometime.  I just don't feel like writing for a while...

Cooking Time, Part 3

OK, I got off on the cookware tangent yesterday.  I still want to mention my cooking.  LOL!

I'm no chef.  But I have been cooking for myself, and others at times, for almost 50 years.  I pretty much cycle though a couple dozen recipes using chicken, pork, beef, ham, shrimp, and pasta (I hate fish).  I can can pretty much do a decent stir-fry with whatever is in the refrigerator.

The stir-fry was a challenge for years.  The sheet-steel woks were always hard to manage and too large for one person.  I kept searching for a small true cast iron one.  I finally found it.  Wonderful thing.  As cast iron, it holds heat.  At 9", it is perfect for one or 2 servings.  It sits solidly on a gas or electric burner.  And it comes pre-seasoned.  I get nothing for saying this, I just like good stuff.

So I buy Boston Butt pork and slow cook it it in the oven at 250F for hours or smoke it outside and cut it all up into cubes I freeze in portions later.  Or buy beef short ribs and sear them to make beef stew (much more taste than stew beef).  I bake or pan fry chicken thighs.  I sear and pan-fry chicken breasts.  Sometimes I make my own "Shake&Bake" mixture, sometimes I just saute them skin side down.

I like searing fully-cooked 1/2" ham slices for later use in tossed salads or with roasted peppers.  I saute or M/W marinated shrimp for dipping in homemade cocktail sauce or commercial tarter sauce (I just can't make decent tarter sauce) or stir-fries.  I buy meatballs at a deli, but I make my own sauce (large canned crushed tomatoes and a small canned roasted diced tomatoes (with crushed fresh garlic, oregano, and dried red pepper).

Pork stew is great.  The diced Boston Butt stays moist and tender.  3 oz of pork, one diced potato, one dived carrot, one diced celery stalk, and I add a spoonful of "Better Than Bouillon" (and the low-sodium version when I can find it) chicken paste. And others.  At least, I never get bored.

I bought a Big Mac and a McChicken sandwich last week.  First time in years.  I was horribly disappointed...  So, I'll stick to my home-cooking for another few years.

I make pizza sometimes.  The pizza stone really helps.  I think I will aim toward thicker softer crusts though.  A little extra yeast in the bread machine recipe should help.

I made nachos for the first time a few months ago.  Too much cheap cheese and soggy chips.  The last time (a week ago), I used crushed hot italian sausage, added some salsa with black olives scallions, and sour cream of course), and used "scoopables" chips.  THAT worked out great.  I'm new to nachos.  Many of you are probably laughing at my simplicity.  That's OK...

I make tollhouse cookies routinely from scratch.  Well, actually, I make tollhouse cookie BARS.  I finally figured out how to convert the cookie recipe into a bar recipe.

Have you ever made banana cake?  I don't mean banana bread.  There is a difference.  You make it in a angel food cake pan and it involves separating the eggs yolks and whites and folding the whipped whites into the batter, etc.  My mom made it and I adored it.  She would never give me the recipe (saying "you will never visit if I tell you.  I'll leave it to you in my Will").  Turns out she got it from Dad's Mom.  Mom finally did send it to me.  3 times.  And every version was slightly different, LOL!

For dinner last night, I made a stir fry of marinated shrimp, asparugus, hot peppers, and mushrooms; served over broken up angel hair spaghetti.  With a splash of dry sherry, soy sauce, and sesame seed oil.  With a baked red beet and a tossed salad with ranch dressing.

When Dad was living with me, he was amazed I made "Sunday Dinner" every day.  Well, why not?  I have the time and the interest.  There is no point in not eating well, and I don't have to go to restaurants to do it.

Cooking Time, Part 2

I posted a recipe yesterday, but there is some background to my enjoyment of cooking...  In fact the previous post was mostly this one, so I decided to divide it.

I actually enjoy cooking.  Even as a child and teen, I was often around the kitchen, doing small chores like peeling potatoes, mashing cooked potatoes, cutting the ends off green beans, husking and desilking corn, etc. 

In college, I was in the first coed dorm at Univ Of MD my sophomore to senior years.  It was previously a women's dorm, and was THAT a surprise!  And not what you may think.  THEY had an oven and stovetop in THEIR rec room.  And just that same year, the Univ allowed dorm residents to go to a partial dining hall plan.  So I bought a mini fridge and kept basic food there.  I also worked 1 week for a cookware company who gave you your sample kit after your first sale.  I had to spend a day in instruction, 3 days before my first sale, and then I quit.  It was seriously high quality cookware. 

Ever heard of Wonderware?  The stuff was amazing!  Stainless steel outside, full copper to the top in the middle, and stainless steel inside.  It was so sturdy, you could jump on it.  The heat conduction was so even, you could simmer at the lowest temperature.  The tops were flat.  In the training session, the Instructor cooked a full meal and dessert by stacking 3 pots on top of 1 burner!  As I recall, it was beef stew in the large bottom pot, corn on the cob in the pot above, and pineapple upside down cake in the top one.

The pieces I still have will be 50 years old in 2 years and still look nearly new.  I had one piece stolen in the dorm (a strange but useless item like a half-height saucepan, and an egg poacher piece disappeared (I assume some apartment-mate stole it years later).

Funny story:  The one sale I made was to a former high school co-student.  I was showing how strong the stuff was when the drunken Dad (6' tall and 250 pounds) came home, glared at me, and said "I bet I can bend it".  So he jumped on the saucepan (on its side), skidded off, and pretty much knocked himself out when he fell (it might have just been the alcohol, too, LOL).  The saucepan was undamaged.

The daughter immediately bought a full set.  I bet she made sure Dad saw her using that set for a long time!  That was my only sale.  I'm not a good salesman, even with a good product.  I can't ask for the money...

But also, I was bothered by the sales pitch.  The company had a great product, but the stuff was expensive.  A few years ago, I considered replacing some of the lost pieces, and as far as I could tell, the price for the basic set was about $1500-2,000 in today's dollars. 

The companies sales technique was to hire college guys to go home for the Summer and sell it to former female co-students as "dowry items".  Sounds sick now.  But it gets worse.  It was sold as monthly payments for a year.  I learned their practce was to resell the contract to a 3rd party who repossessed the set after a single missed payment (which often happened to the young women who were the sales targets). 

How do you think that made the young women think about the guy they knew from high school?

It only occurred to me later that the sample kit I earned was probably a repossession.  And they were depending on using us college guys to sell to our female high school friends (well, what OTHER young women did we know back home?) 

Some of the guys I started with were real successes from Day 1.  One guy sold 10 sets his first week.  Sold a full set each to a former co-student, her  Mother, and an Aunt.  He spent some money to replicate the Instructor demonstration, and they all fell in love with him...  He is probably retired to a private Caribbean Island now.

I bet the company's sales technique didn't bother him in the least bit.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Cooking Time, Part 1

I've been cooking for myself for almost 50 years.  I don't often see a new recipe that I suspect I will like.  The newspaper food section offers stuff like fish smothered in strawberries or pork with aocado sauce.  I know what I like and don't like.  Adding stuff like tofu and pineapple to my tossed salad isn't my style.

But I came across one in Better Homes and Gardens (I got a free subscription with some thing I bought at a store).  It seemed weird, but I tried it.  And I LOVED it!

So here it is (my adjusted version):

1.  Preheat oven to 400F. 
2.  Spray or wipe some olive oil on a sheet pan. 
3.  In a plastic bag, place 6 bone-in chicken thighs, add some olive oil to coat, add some salt, ground pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and some dried red pepper flakes to taste.  Shake bag to spread spices.
4.  Place chicken on baking sheet.
5.  Add 1 lemon and 2 shallots cut into wedges.
6.  Bake 30-40 minutes until chicken thighs are 175F.
7.  Squeeze lemons to release remaining juice.  Careful, they are hot.
8.  Remove chicken to bowl and cover to keep warm.
9.  Add 1/2 cup green olives and 2 pats butter to pan.  Return pan to oven for 5 minutes.
10.  Pour heated pan liquid into a fat separator for 5 minutes.  It separates quickly.
11.  Pour juices over chicken and let sit 5 minutes.
12.  Serve over any starch or pasta you like or none.