Jubilee!

Jun. 14th, 2017 08:37 am
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It's cherry season!  I love cherries and will eat them like popcorn when they come in.  So will Darwin.  But last week, I bought two pounds and told Darwin to keep his hands off!

"I'm making Cherries Jubilee," I told him.

I've always wanted to make Cherries Jubilee, and I decided to go whole hog.  I took down my ice cream maker and whipped up a batch of home made vanilla ice cream, though I found to my dismay I was nearly out of vanilla extract.  I used almond extract to make up the difference, and discovered that vanilla almond ice cream tastes fantastic!

While that was in the final stages of freezing, I pitted the cherries and put them in a frying pan with some sugar and lemon juice.  I cooked them down until the juices ran tart and scarlet, then hosed it carefully with rum.  With Darwin and the boys watching, I flicked a long lighter over the pan.  Blue flame fired upward.  I swirled it all around until the flames died down and spooned this over chilled bowls of vanilla almond ice cream.

Aran looked askance at the whole thing, but once he tried a taste, he said, "Wow!"  He kept saying "wow" all the time he was eating.  The tart, hot cherries mixed with the sweet, cold ice cream into a delicious dessert.

Oh, yeah!
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Over the weekend, we hosted poker night.  We have a revolving poker tournament that takes place at different people's houses, though in reality it mostly happens at three people's houses.  Our house is specifically designed for entertaining large groups, so we hold the tournament here fairly often.

We tidied up the house during the day.  I also went shopping for party food.  The menu this time:

Crudités with French onion dip
Hummus
Pita chips
Corn chips
Cookies
Pizza rolls just like Mom used to buy
Home made macaroni and cheese
Soda variety
Birthday cake

The macaroni and cheese came from a recipe Darwin found.  "You should make this," he said.  "It looks good."

You'll notice he didn't say, "I think I'll make this. It looks good."  My husband has many wonderful talents and qualities.  Kitchen skills don't lie among them. 

I was actually skeptical.  The recipe looked good, but it made a LOT of mac and cheese, and I didn't think mac and cheese would appeal at a poker game, where people would want finger food.  However, I decided to give it a try.  We could have a chunk of it for supper beforehand, in any case.

I made the recipe.  It calls for a cup of butter, two and a half pounds of cheese, and a pound of macaroni. (!)  Everyone agreed it was absolutely wonderful!

We set up the food and the playing tables, and people started to arrive.  We had 11 players and two observers, so it was quite a crowd!  And people snarfed down the mac and cheese!  Darwin felt vindicated.  :)

It was Darwin's sister Cindy's birthday, too, which was why we had the birthday cake.

The game began.  It was an exciting evening, actually, with a great deal of suspense surrounding several high-stakes hands.  We actually played two games.  I won the first.  Go me!  It was great fun.


Buying

Jun. 10th, 2017 01:25 pm
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I've realized we don't talk about buying pets much anymore.  Have you noticed that?

For some reason, everyone has decided it's wrong to say they bought a dog or bought a cat.  You have to say you adopted it.  Shelters don't charge you--they ask for an adoption fee.  Animal rescue groups ask for compulsory donations.  Neither groups say you're buying a pet.

Fifteen years ago, the last time I got a dog, we answered an ad from a woman who had puppies.  She asked for a twenty dollar "donation."  She clearly felt like she couldn't charge, even though that's what she was doing.  We bought the dog and brought him home.

I don't feel entirely comfortable with saying I adopted a pet.  After the difficulty and heartache I went through to adopt two children, I have a hard time with the idea of applying that word to a cat or dog. 

Requiring a donation is a misnomer anyway.  Donations are given freely, with nothing accepted in return.  It's a complete fiction that you hand over $100 to an animal group as a "donation" and mysteriously receive a pet in return.  Would the organization give you the pet without the donation?  They certainly wouldn't.  You have bought a pet.

People have no trouble saying they bought a chicken for a farm.  Or bought a horse, or a cow, or a pig, or a goat.  But dog and cats?  They have to be adopted, for some reason. 

People are strange.
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I use ad blockers on my web browser.  Web sites hate this, of course.  I'm not seeing their carefully-placed advertisements with bouncing boobs that want me to order pizza or waggling bikini butts that demand I buy Smucker's or tumbling titties that tell me to get Tonka Trucks.  This makes me happy.

But some sites have started taking notice.  At certain sites, I'll be there for a few seconds and suddenly the screen switches to a blank screen surrounding a passive-aggressive plea.  "We notice you use an ad blocker. We wouldn't DREAM of telling you not to use one. Totally not. But maybe if you rethink it, we'll let you look at our site." 

There are workarounds to this.  I just reload the site and hit the STOP function before the reload finishes, which usually halts their detection software.  Other times I just select the entire page quickly and paste it into a blank document so I can read what I want.  One thing I don't do is shut off my ad blocker.

I don't object to the concept of advertising on-line--or anywhere else, for that matter.  Someone has to pay for all this "free" content, and there are goods and services that I want to become aware of.  I wouldn't know about the Wonder Woman movie, for example, without advertising.  However, nearly all advertising is sexist, racist, intrusive, homophobic, heterocentrist, or manipulative.  And so I do my best to cut it out of my life.

I become unhappy that I've been taught since I was a child that I'm supposed to go cuckoo for Coco Puffs, that Eggo waffles, McDonald's fries, Cookie Crisp cereal, and Lucky Charms are so delicious I need to steal them, that Ford trucks are tough as a ram (whatever that means), or that big-titted women will want to blow me if I drink Coor.  Internet ads are even worse than usual.  So I avoid them.

If advertisers want me to look at their ads, they should make their ads tasteful and watchable.  Since they don't, I will continue to block them.
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For those Christians who say, "This isn't what real Christians are like," my question is, what are you doing to help? Here are things you CAN do to help.

1) Help this guy pay his medical and legal bills. Send cash.
2) Contact this church by phone, email, and paper mail and tell them they're in the wrong. Do it repeatedly.
3) Attend a Gay Pride Festival this month and work a booth for a church that supports LGBT people; or carry a sign that reads REAL CHRISTIANS LOVE LGBT PEOPLE.
4) Get a group of like-minded friends and attend a homophobic church service and start a discussion to let the homophobic church know you and your church disagree with them.

It isn't enough just to say, "Well, I'm Christian and these people aren't real Christians." Sending "good thoughts" or "good prayers" is also useless, and lets these people grab the spotlight. Their version of your religion wins, even if they go to jail. The fact is, this church is presenting the face of Christianity, and if you want to change that, you need to DO SOMETHING. After all, THEY are.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/06/02/gay-man-says-church-members-beat-choked-him-for-hours-to-expel-homosexual-demons/

Soap

May. 31st, 2017 10:54 am
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I like hand made soap.  Whenever I go to a street fair or craft fair or something, they always have a couple-three crafters selling soap, and I like them.  I'm mostly unhappy with commercial soap, which always smells so heavy or artificial.  So perfumey.  Even so-called "men's" soap smells like cologne that was run through a gun barrel.  It's gross.  They often have a chemical feel to them, too.

The home-made soaps have a . . . quieter smell.  They smell like outdoors or the beach or sunshine.  They also feel softer.  Nicer.  And they come in lots and lots of fragrances and colors.  When one runs out, you can have a different color, so you don't get bored.

The only trouble with home-made soaps is that if you run out and there's no craft or art show handy, you're done.  This happened to me recently--my last bit was worn down to the nubs and I was forced to switch to--ack!--commercial soap.  But then I thought to check Etsy.  Ah!  Naturally, they had a ton of places selling soap.  The downside, though, was that I couldn't check them to see if I liked the scent.  But I took the leap and ordered some based on color and description.  They came yesterday and I like them very well.

If you're ever wondering what to get me for a gift, now you know.
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After supper, we stopped in at Darwin's office so I could have a look at the renovations and restructuring, which was very interesting.  Then we headed down to Higlhland Cemetery for the lantern tour.

Highland Cemetery is an enormous cemetery that opened in 1864.  Prospect Cemetery and the Summit Street Cemetery were too small, so the city bought a huge tract of land and had it landscaped for burial.  Rather than a military setup with straight lines, the architect chose to lay out the graves in swoops and spirals and flowers and stars, preserving also the hills and valleys and trees.

I love cemeteries, and my work in progress is set against this particular cemetery as a backdrop, so I wanted to attend this tour.  Darwin loves cemeteries, too, so off we went.

I posted photos at my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/steven.piziks/posts/10155286371292170?pnref=story

The weather was perfect--mid-sixties, fading sun, no bugs.  You couldn't ask for better!

At the main entry gates--wrought iron set against stone walls--we found a gray-haired man in chunky glasses who introduced himself as James Mann, a local historian who had written a number of books on Ypsilanti history.  I own a few of them, in fact.  After hearing him speak and watching him walk, I came to the conclusion that he's on the autism spectrum, though probably undiagnosed.

Anyway, about a dozen other people showed up, about half of them under 30, which was a nice surprise.  In my experience, it's the older folk who are most interested in this kind of thing.

James gave some introductory information about the cemetery, most of which I already knew, then lead us to the Starkweather Chapel, which is a mausoleum set up by Mary Ann Starkweather, a much beloved local philanthropist from the late 1800s.  In front of it sat dozens of oil lanterns, all lit and ready to go.  We each selected one and headed into the cemetery.

It was an interesting tour.  James showed us Civil War graves (including one of a soldier who was a member of the "Colored Division" and who, judging by the year of his death, died in action), graves with odd symbolism (a hand pointing up meant "gone to heaven" and a hand pointing down meant . . . well no one these days knows for sure. Probably not "gone to hell," but possibly "zapped by god and taken early."), the grave of Richard Streicher (a seven-year-old boy who was stabbed 14 times in 1935 and whose murder was never solved, and who only got a grave stone last year--Google it), the Potter's Field (a long, rolling hill with no markers on it), and more.

I asked James about how many burials they got, and he said about one a week, which is about fifty a year.  There are about 13,000 people buried in the cemetery, and they have enough room to keep them going for about 40 more years.

The most interesting part to Darwin and me was the "old" section.  Highland Park Cemetery was founded in 1864 because Prospect Cemetery, Ypsi's original cemetery, was too small.  Finally, Prospect Cemetery was abandoned, and by 1888 was overgrown and run down.  Ypsilanti grew out and around Prospect, and no one wanted this old, run-down cemetery among Ypsi's lovely new houses, so it was decided the cemetery needed to be moved. But how? Cities don't move cemeteries. It's too expensive.  Whenever a cemetery closes or is "vacated" (the official term for "moved"), the descendants are responsible for moving the graves.  Many graves were lost or forgotten--records were incomplete--and family members were unwilling or unable to pay to have coffins relocated.

Then the Ladies Club stepped forward. They could raise money to move the cemetery as a civic project.  Yay!  They worked on this for some time in the late 1880s and managed to lay the groundwork, so to speak.

But disaster struck: marriage.  One by one, the ladies got married.  The stresses of setting up a new household, being a new housewife, and even becoming pregnant meant the ladies suddenly had no time for civic projects.  The cemetery move was dropped.

In 1891, another civic group came forward--I forget which--and offered to move the cemetery.  Yay!  But they only hired ONE MAN. To move about 250 graves.  He did it, and he did it in only a couple months.

Yeah.

Let's look at that.  It takes one man with a shovel about five hours to dig a grave.  So relocating a grave takes ten hours of digging--five hours on the old, five on the new--plus time to haul the remains up, move the stone, haul everything to the new site, drop everything into the new grave, and reset the gravestone.  You could probably do two graves every three days.  Assuming a six-day work week, we're talking months and months and months for one man to move an entire graveyard.  And work would have to stop in winter.  And when it rained.  And if he got sick or hurt.  And when . . . and when . . .

Can you see where this is going?

Darwin and I had already visited the spot where the graves from Prospect had been relocated.  We found a whole bunch of grave markers, the old fashioned tall, thin, white kind.  Most lay in a too-neat rows on the grass and look liked they had been dropped there by someone who had tossed them off the back of a cart.  (No attempt was made to set the stones upright.  It was a very slapdash job.)  Many of the stones are mere inches apart.  There's simply no room for a grave underneath them.  Two groups of stones are jumbled together in a mess with some touching.  No room for graves there, either.

It's clear what happened.  The project got interrupted.  Pressure was on to get the cemetery out of there.  The new group hired the guy and told him to dig around and make it look like he'd done the digging, and just move the stones out to the new graveyard.  Who was going to check?  Who was going to care?  The last time anyone had been buried at Prospect was 20-odd years ago.  No one visited the graveyard anymore.  And that's what the worker did.  He hauled the surviving markers over to Highland Cemetery, dropped them on the ground in rows, and went home.  The end.

The Ladies Club got involved again at this point.  They turned Prospect Cemetery into Prospect Park, and it's still a park to this day.  It's very popular with families, and the school across the street uses it as a playground every day.  They don't know they're picnicking and playing atop over 200 dead bodies.

James, our guide, accidentally confirmed my theory.  I asked him about the gravestones being so close together and how actual graves could be down there.  He said a while ago, someone pushed metal probes down into several graves and they found nothing.  No coffins, no bones, nothing.

Ha!

We also visited the Trysting Tree.  This is a HUGE beech tree about 100 yards from the entrance of Highland Park Cemetery.  Carvings of people's names and initials cover it.  Some are way up high.  Graves are scattered beneath it.  It's supposedly the biggest tree in Washtenaw County, and this one is called the Trysting Tree.  For over 150 years--ever since the cemetery opened--it's been a place where young people come to canoodle among the dead.  They still do.  The tradition is that you carve your name or initials into the tree afterward.  There are lots of initials.  Some have commentary.  You have to see it.

I also learned that the Catholic cemetery across the street from Highland was transplanted.  It used to be closer to the heart of Ypsilanti on Ann Street, but the new Normal School wanted to expand (it eventually became Eastern Michigan University).  So the cemetery was relocated.  I don't know if it truly was or not.  More research is required to find out.

As the sun faded, our lanterns became bobbing points of yellow light.  We raised and lowered them to read grave markers and it felt like we had wandered back in time.  James said there are no ghost legends about Highland Cemetery, and no one felt spooked or spooky, just interested in the history.

By the end of the tour, Darwin and I were pleasantly tired and hungry.  We thanked our tour guide and popped over to Aubree's restaurant for a snack.  (We had visited the grave of Aubree's founder and learned that in the 80s and 90s, a motorcycle gang basically took over the restaurant as their main hangout.  I remember this.  Rows of motorcycles were always parked outside the restaurant, and they roared through Depot Town, and everyone hated them.)  The founder, Mr. French, finally got rid of them by gentrifying the place.  He changed the menu, raised the prices, replaced regular beer with imported beer, hired a bunch of young college girls to be waitresses, and gently told his motorcycle patrons that they couldn't swear around such Sweet Young Thangs.  After a couple weeks, the gang left.

It was a fine way to end the evening.


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Saturday, Darwin and I drove down to Ypsilanti for a late evening.  We were scheduled to join an after-dark cemetery tour, and we had decided to have supper down there beforehand.

We ate at Bona Sera, a relatively new restaurant in downtown Ypsi that's in kind of a cursed spot.  Since I first moved to Ypsilanti 20 years ago, there have been four or five different restaurants in that location, and all of them have died. 

The name made me think this was an Italian restaurant, but it wasn't.  It was an upscale fusion restaurant, with a variety of dishes.  I ordered an appetizer plate of sweet chevre with fruit and nuts, with baguette to spread it on.  Darwin, to my despair, refused to try even a bite.  But I liked it very much.

The salads were spring greens with an olive oil and vinegar based dressing.  Darwin liked it, but I found the greens bitter and the dressing too heavy.

For the entre, I ordered the shepherd's pie (chicken), and Darwin decided to try their version of four-cheese macaroni and cheese.  Both were wonderful.  And filling!  We could only eat half.  We took the rest home.

I pointed out to Darwin the variety of the people in the restaurant around us.  The server had blue hair and pierced cheeks.  The other waiter, rake thin, wore all black with huge glasses and had the sides of his head shaved.  The couple a few tables away was mixed race, with the woman's hair done up outrageously white and fluffy, her clothes high-end, while her companion wore a baseball cap and workman's clothes.  The young man and woman at the bar--he from the Middle East, she from India--wore casual business attire.  The foursome behind us--one straight couple, one gay couple--wore a variety of outfits.  One of the men stepped out of a J. Crew catalog.  His husband was a Brooks Brothers man.  The woman wore purple from head to foot, while her husband dressed in cargo shorts and a polo shirt.  Outside, a woman walked past carrying the World's Biggest Shopping Bag (tm) and looking unhappy about it while a white college student with sculpted everything jogged by.

"If we were up in Oakland County," I said, "everyone would look much the same.  Down here, it's a variety."

Darwin agreed.

The foursome, incidentally, loudly discussed politics at their table.  They castigated Donald Trump, his administration, and his trip abroad.  They mused how long it would take him to be impeached and whether the country would be better or worse off under Pence.  Darwin and I eavesdropped with amusement.

"It's like coming home," Darwin said.

On our way out, I stopped at their table and leaned in.  "Your political discussion sound just like ours," I said.

They burst out laughing and applauded a little.  We made ten-second friends. :)

More . . .
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Now the Internet is losing its shit over a screening of Wonder Woman:

https://www.yahoo.com/movies/wonder-woman-update-theater-chain-behind-women-screenings-responds-complaints-adding-screenings-174319106.html

Short version is, a movie theater company arranged a women-only screening of WONDER WOMAN.  In certain quarters of the Internet (you know the parts I mean), this was met with howls.  Clutch your balls, gentlemen!  The wimmins have become sexist!  How dare they!

Shut your fuckity-shit mouths, trump-holes.

Let's look at what's really going on, shall we?

First, the guys howling sexism aren't really worried about sexism.  They're being small children.  For thousands of years, men have had power over women, and we're now in a society that is trying (and usually failing) to right this wrong.  Certain men, the ones who have only half a scrotum among them, are afraid of this.  So they meet every positive change with a demand for an equal-and-ridiculous sexist change.  "Women have demanded equal access to men's spaces such as men's clubs and men's board rooms and men's jobs, but now they want a special women-only place?  THAT'S NOT EQUAL! THAT'S HYPOCRISY!"  And they leap around clutching their balls because they're afraid someone is going to cut them off.  This can't actually happen--you can't cut off what doesn't exist.

At any rate, the WONDER WOMAN screening is a party, and a party is allowed to have a limited guest list.  Tell you what, ball-clutchers--when all of you demand to be included in baby showers, bridal showers, and strip clubs where men bare all, I'll believe your whimpering about WONDER WOMAN.  Until then, it's plain your protests are as fake as your wife's orgasms.

Second, if you're really and truly upset about a special screening for just women, then arrange a special screening for just men.  Go for it!  Nothing's stopping you--except the fact that you have a sphincter where your mouth should be.  There's no rule that says the group that arranged the women-only screening is required to arrange a men's screening for you--that's your job.  Get off your flabby, artery-clogged asses and arrange it.  Maybe I'll even buy a ticket.  If I'm in town.  And I can stand the thought of sitting next to a bunch of emasculated ball-clutchers with half a scrotum among them.

Nah.  I wouldn't be able to.  I'll wait until the movie opens and make my sons go see it with me.  Like real men.


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CBS released an actual trailer (instead of a stupid teaser trailer) for Star Trek: Discovery. And the Internet is losing its shit: 




As of this writing, the trailer has over four million views on YouTube and zillions of negative comments.  Why, you ask?  Well . . .

1. It only shows one white man in the trailer.  Instead, the show revolves around two minority women.
2. The Klingons are different.
3. The uniforms and Star Fleet insignia are different.
4. Although the show is set ten years before the original series, the technology seems to be more advanced than in the original series.  It's different!
5. We have to pay CBS's streaming service to watch it.

So what's happening here?

Well, for #1, the Internet is full of white snowflakes who, even after centuries of stories about straight white males, can't handle it when a story isn't all about them.  Sorry, boys.  The world is moving on.  You can either move with it and enjoy it with the rest of us, or watch BIRTH OF A NATION again with your hands down your pants.  The choice is yours.

As for 2-4, people forget that Star Trek ISN'T REAL.  Wake up, peeps!  It's all fake.  Hand-waving.  A story.  We can have anything we want, whenever we want it.  Besides, times change, and our stories change with them.  No one talked to a computer in the original show because no one back then even thought the idea was possible.  We do that NOW, and our stories reflect that.  The Klingons changed radically from series to series.  They're changing again.  So what?  It's fun to see how a new team of people (with a bigger budget and updated effects) envision Klingons.  It's nice to see them look more alien, too boot.  Pull the tri-corder out of your ass, and enjoy the show on its own terms, dudes.

And as for #5 . . . know what?  I'm ready for this!  Let me choose the channels I want and pay a lower fee to get them. It's way cheaper than a cable service that forces me to pay top dollar for channels I'll never see!  And I'll bet the streaming customer service is better.

Know what else?  All the complainers will bitch and moan and wail . . . and they'll watch the show.  Every episode.  Four, five, and six times.  Then they'll buy the DVD, and the Blu-Ray, and the digital when they come out.  Then they'll log back into CBS and watch the episodes there again.

So just shut up and hand CBS the money, little snowflakes.  You know it's going to happen.


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Saturday morning, I dragged Darwin to the hardware and garden store.  He always complains about these trips, but once I get him there, he doesn't want to leave.  So many pretty, shiny things!

I needed to replace the hanging plants and planter flowers that our unseasonable frost had killed.  We also needed rocks to line a gutter overflow area and a new hose caddy.  We spent considerable time collecting all these things and gently arguing over what color flowers worked best.

When we arrived home, it started to rain.  And rain and rain and rain.  This meant I couldn't do anything with all the stuff we'd just bought, but that was okay--I had a huge pile of papers to grade.

It's difficult grading freshman research essays.  They range wildly from really good to barely legible.  The biggest problem is that there are so MANY of them.  Thanks to budget cuts, I have over 130 freshmen.  They rightly want feedback on their essays, but with 35 students in a class, I simply can't give the careful critique I did back when I had only 21 or 22 students per hour.  I'm forced to read quickly and rely on circling numbers on a rubric, which isn't nearly as helpful.

I already had about a quarter of them done.  I spent the entire rest of the afternoon, evening, and night grading these.  I started before lunch and finished at 11:00 PM, in fact.  Now you know why teachers have summers off.

Sunday, I refused to have anything to do with work or writing.  The guy we hired to power wash the deck came and set to work, with water rushing in all directions while I caught up on small things around the house.  When he was done and everything was sparkly clean, Darwin and I put the front porch furniture out and hung all the plants.  The front porch is shaded all day in summer, and I use it as a second office.  It stays cool all day, it has an electric socket for my laptop, and it's screened from the neighborhood by generous foliage.  The plants everywhere make it feel even more homey, and I sit out there quite a lot.

Out back, we put out the patio furniture.  One project for this summer is to re-furnish the back deck.  We need something to shade the back deck--in summer it gets a lot of sun and is flatly unusable.  I want to get a cantilever umbrella and some more comfortable deck furniture than we now have.

I also set more potted flowers about the deck, then planted the rest in the old tomato boxes.  Two years ago, Maksim and I tried to grow tomatoes in big boxes, but our yard just doesn't get enough sun, so the plants died.  The boxes have been sitting with their dirt, unused.  I dragged them out and planted purple petunias in them, and they contrast nicely with the yellow ones in the pots.

Just as I finished, the rain arrived again.  It poured!

But that was okay--I had to make supper.  The menu: roast lemon and herb chicken; grilled naan bread; baked carrots; roasted asparagus.  The latter was because Maksim had never had asparagus and wanted to try it.  Darwin said he hates asparagus, but I told him that's because he's never had it prepared properly.  "I'll bet you've always had it steamed or boiled at a restaurant with a glob of margarine on it," I said.  "Nasty!"

I tossed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put it in the oven for ten minutes.

Everything was tasty.  It was a seven-pound chicken, and almost nothing was left by meal's end.  And even Darwin liked the asparagus.

Whew!
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Yesterday it hit 90 degrees.  The weather report said it was supposed to stay in the high 60s all night.  The house was all opened up, with fans in the windows to keep things cool.  We left everything as it was at bedtime.

I woke up at 5:00 and found the house was FREEZING!  It had dropped to 40 out!  I rushed around the icebox house, closing windows and shutting down fans.  I turned the furnace on and dove back into bed.  Darwin yelped, "Why are you so cold?"

But that's what a nice, warm husband is for!

It's been chilly all day, not even 60.  Half the flower baskets I put on the altar and hung on the porch are dead from unseasonable frost, and all the daisies I put on the deck planters are dry and dead.  WTF?  This is mid-May, not late October.
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Last weekend, Darwin and I were on our way to a card game at some friends who live in a very conservative community.  We stopped at a grocery store for some party food, and at the check-out counter, I busied myself with the debit card and asked Darwin to start loading the bags into the cart.

"You're so good at that," chuckled the cashier, a dark-haired lady who was maybe 18 or 20.  "Are you his helper?"

"He's my husband," I said absently, "and he's eating this stuff, so he'd better help!"

"Really?" she said.  "That's so nice!"

For a confused moment, I thought she meant it was nice he was eating the food we bought.  Then she went on.

"It's so great you can be open about it," she said.  "Not everyone feels like they can be."

Oh!  Oddly, I hadn't even thought twice about it.  I've written about the twinge I felt whenever I said the words "my husband" in public, and here I'd said it without hesitation--or really noticing.

But the cashier wasn't finished.  "I'm Catholic, and the church doesn't support this kind of thing, but I don't feel that way.  I think you should love who you love."

She went on in this vein for several more sentences, actually.  I was a little startled.  We were edging toward the door--we were running late anyway--but she wouldn't stop talking.  At last another customer came up to her station, forcing her to turn away.  We waved a farewell and fled.

It was nice to get a message of support, especially from the Catholic sector in a conservative sector, and it was certainly better than scorn or derision.  And I wouldn't change anything if we did it over again--even today LGBT people come across as invisible, and saying things like "my husband" or doing things like holding hands in public reminds people not to assume everyone is straight.

But it was also a little embarrassing. I think her enthusiasm startled both of us a little, and we didn't quite know how to take it from a stranger.  It was a decidedly odd encounter.
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Over the weekend, we went to see the dramatic adaptation of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.  I dragged Darwin and Maksim.  Aran was looking forward to going.

It was a fantastic adaptation of novel to stage.  The stage is black with white lines that form a grid.  A set of white boxes line the sides, and a single red chair sits stage right.  Eventually learn the entire stage is embedded with LEDs that combine with lights and cookies to transform the stage into whatever set the scene needs, so we can pop quickly from a living room to a school to a neighbor's house to a city street.  Noise and lighting sometimes become overwhelming, deliberately so.

The story is told entirely from the point of view of Christopher, an autistic teenager who discovers his neighbor's dog has been killed with a pitchfork.  He sets out to learn who killed the dog, and discovers far more than he thought possible.  It's based on the novel of the same name.

The stage reinforces Christopher's autism.  The other characters, the set, the lights, everything happen from his point of view, so the actors don't act quite right--we're seeing them from an autist's eyes instead of our own.  The same is true of the set.  Lights snap from simple to confusing.  Christopher acts in ways that are confusing at the beginning of the play, but by the end make sense to the audience, even as they continue to confuse the other characters.

The play was painful and difficult for me.  There are a number of parallels between Christopher's situation and Aran's (though unlike Christopher's father, I've never gotten into a fistfight with Aran), which makes the play raw watching.  I understand what Christopher is going through, and I understand what his father is going through.  It was powerfully done and destined to become a literary classic, but I don't think I want to watch it again.
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Saturday, Darwin and I continued the Great Car Hunt.  We went down to the Ford dealership on Saturday to haggle over an Escape and a new C-Max.

Always a pleasure.

Car dealerships are always busy on Saturdays, especially in spring and summer, yet they always close at 3:00.  This strikes me as foolish.  Darwin says it's to prevent you from shopping around in your excitement--you don't have time to go looking if everything closes at 3:00 instead of 5:00 or 7:00.  This may be true, but when I go car shopping, I go with the attitude that I'm going to be at the dealership for several hours.  My phone is fully charged, I have a book for backup, I eat a big meal before I go.  And if 3:00 comes and we're still talking price and stuff, I'll keep going.  No skin off MY nose.  (This happened the last time we were there--we went for a test drive at 2:30 and kept the salesman there until 3:30.  Tough titty.  When I'm dropping several thousand dollars, the dealership can do things on my time.)

Anyway, we arrived at 12:30 and "our" salesman was duly summoned.  We told him what car we'd settled on, that we wanted to trade in our current car and truck, and the numbers began to fly.

The trade-in numbers on the F-150 were initially scandalously low.  This was, the dealer assured us, because the truck had a lot of rust on it and needed new tires.  I know exactly how much rust there is, and tires are not a real factor in trade-ins.  They also ignored the upgrades and repairs I'd put into the truck since I'd bought it.  So I pushed the paper back and said they needed to do better.  The salesman did the "call the manager over" thing, and he did the little "I don't know what we can do" thing.  Darwin and I smiled and nodded and said he needed to do better.  (Darwin quoted him a number three thousand dollars higher than we expected to get.)  The manager said he could make some phone calls.  We told him to do so, and off he went.  I know he wasn't making them and he knew I knew he wasn't making any phone calls, but I suppose he had to dance the dance.

We waited a long time between spurts of number activity.  I calmly played video games on my phone or chatted with Darwin.  Meanwhile, the salesman was juggling two other sets of customers and he was growing more and more frazzled.  I did not offer to let someone else take out place at his desk.  I did not ask if we could speed things up.  Time was on my side.  Tick tick tick. Is it 2:30 already?  Oh, did that customer grow annoyed and finally leave?  What a pity.  I'm just sitting here, waiting for some favorable numbers.  I'll be happy to speed things up, but . . .

Eventually, the sales guy came back with a much higher trade-in on my truck.  Way higher than we expected.  Very good!  The truck continued to pay off for us.  (When we bought it, the credit union loan rep was shocked at how little we paid for it.  Now we're getting more on the trade in than we owe.  Ha!)

But the trade-in offer on our current C-Max was startlingly low.  It was so low, in fact, that Darwin snapped, "Absolutely not!" and snatched the paper away.  He crossed his arms and refused to discuss the matter further.  The manager was duly summoned, and he said this was the best he could do.

"Then I'll be keeping my car," Darwin said, and they lost the sale of a new C-Max.  Suddenly the salesman's commission was cut in half, despite all his work.

But we have a good deal on the Escape.

Now we're waiting for the processing of the loan paperwork.  We have to go back one more time on Monday to finalize everything and get the actual car.
stevenpiziks: (Default)
Aran turned 20 last week.  Wow!  Now I have two sons over twenty!

Aran didn't make it easy.  For his birthday, he wanted to eat at the Tilted Kilt.

Sigh.

The Tilted Kilt is a half-step above Hooters.  Well, a quarter step.  Eighth.  It has a psuedo-Scottish theme in that the waitresses wear tight plaid mini-skirts and bikini tops under knotted shirts. 

And my mother wanted to come.

So we all went.  (I think my mother's husband Gene was a quietly happy man that day.)  We all had a birthday dinner with chocolate or salted caramel sundaes afterward.  Aran posed for photos with several of the waitresses.

And now he's 20!
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My husband Darwin likes horror movies.  As a rule, I don't.  I do like SF movies, though, and here we have ALIEN: COVENANT, which combines the two genres.  This, I thought, would be a perfect date movie!  Horror for Darwin, SF for me.

Then I learned it has a gay couple in it.  A married gay couple.

You might think this would engender happiness.  Joy.  Even a certain amount a giddiness.  Instead, my metaphorical ears went back and my hackles went up.  I spent a few minutes looking up spoilers and discovered my hackles were justified.

I will not see this movie.  I will not rent the DVD.  I will not support this movie.  And I urge you to do the same.

SPOILERS (you are warned)

According to various on-line sources, the sins of the same-sex relationship portrayal are the standard ones we've come to expect.  First, although there were several initial shots to the contrary, there is little or no indication of a marriage--or any kind of relationship--between the two men throughout the film.  They don't touch.  They don't exchange endearments.  There was apparently a brief moment of hugging between them in a preview, but that scene has been cut from the film, and that preview has been removed from the Internet.  In other words, gay people are still invisible.  No LGBT characters are actually in the spotlight.  No LGBT protagonists.  Just a couple of background guys who may or may not be in a relationship.

But the worst sin comes early in the movie.  Hallett, one of the men, becomes infected with the alien infection, and a baby alien bursts out of his face.  (Not his chest, like in the other movies, but out of his freakin' face.  He's gay, so we have to up the nastiness.)  While the ship's captain leans in to murmur quiet apologies, Hallett's husband Lope whispers, "I love you" and then is forced to walk away.

One more time, we have the tragic gay.  Gay men continue to be the objects of tragedy and disgust and ridicule.  We're only interesting or worthy if we watch our partners die.  No happy relationships for the gay guy.  In fact, we're going to get an alien burst out of our faces, just to super-compound the tragedy.  Because, you know, just dying of an alien tearing out of your chest isn't bad enough for the gays.  Let's make it worse.

No.

I will not spend a dime for that movie.  I urge you to avoid it as well.
stevenpiziks: (Default)

Am I the only one who’s tired of the surveys?

Every I do business with sends me a “customer satisfaction survey.”  The plumber installs a new faucet, and the next day I get an email.  “How did we do?  Click here!”  I pay the electric bill, and a side window pops up.  “What did you think of our service?”  I order something online, and I get redirected to a new site.  “Do you like us?”  I pay for groceries, and the cashier hands me the receipt with a gentle demand to fill out an on-line survey.   “I get a bonus if you like my job,” she says with earnest puppy eyes.

My insurance company is the worst.  I get an email from them that cheerfully asks, “Would you mind completing a short survey?  It’ll only take five minutes.”  I delete it.  Two days later, another arrives.  “Hey, bro!  We haven’t heard from you about that survey.   Can you hit us up?”  I ignore it.  Another couple of days go by, and yet another shows up.  “ ‘Sup, brah?  Uh . . . kinda twisting in the wind here.  Haven’t heard from you.  Just wondering if you’re still interested in me.  Us.  But you know, whatevs.  Uh . . . fill out the survey when you get a sec, ‘kay?  Or not.  But let me know so I can move on.  It’s okay.”  And a few days later: “So you don’t like me, is that it?  You’re a real self-centered jerk, and I’m going to tell all the other insurance companies about you.  You freak!  You—oh, god, I didn’t mean any of that.  I’m such a mess.  Please, please, please fill out the survey.  I promise it’ll just take a second.”

Delete.

“Tell us what you think!”  “Rate us!”  “Grade us!”  Every company wants feedback, feedback, feedback.  It’s as if they’ve suddenly developed an inferiority complex. My money and continued custom isn’t enough—they need praise.

They’re mining data, too.  They already know where I live and how old I am and a bunch of other information about me.  Now they want to cross-index it with my responses.  On MY time.  No thanks.

But . . . but . . . PRIZES!  We’ll give you a gift card!  Well, a chance to win a gift card.  Well, a chance to enter a drawing to win a gift card.  Have you ever heard of anyone who filled out a customer satisfaction survey and then actually won something worthwhile?  Me, neither.  I did hear a rumor that my second cousin’s neighbor’s best friend’s wife got a fifty cent coupon for grooming after she said she liked the way the pet place stroked her shi-tzu, but don’t quote me on that.  I think the grocery cashier is in the same boat.  The store holds out a promise of a bonus if enough people give her a thumbs-up, but sets the bar so impossibly high that no one actually gets one.  When did any corporation give its minimum wage workers a real bonus?

We all want praise, I know, and as a society, we don’t hand it out often enough.  When the guys at my regular sushi hangout produced some exceptional sushi one evening, I paused on my way out the door and said across the bar to them, “You guys were =on= tonight!  Delicious stuff!”  And one of the waitresses thought I was the nicest guy ever.   Another time, my ex and I were having a bad day and we stopped for dinner at a restaurant, where the staff seemed to go out of their way to be extra nice to us, and we felt rather better for it.  I wrote them a letter of thanks and later learned the manager framed it.  Maybe if we said such things more often, companies wouldn’t feel the need to bombard us with surveys.

Lost Morels

May. 3rd, 2017 07:11 am
stevenpiziks: (Default)
Morel mushrooms are a great delicacy, and they grow in Michigan in the wild. (When you saute them, they taste like steak!) You have to hunt for them, partly because morels are secretive, and partly because they get harvested by morel-sniffing Michiganders.

Most Michiganders who are into morels have a super-sekrit spot only they know of. They don't tell anyone where it is, and sneak out to that spot, often after dark, to harvest the tasty, rare morels. (I'm not kidding about the after dark part.)

Here's my secret: morels grow like crazy on my front lawn. Dozens of them. Every year. I walk out my front door and there they are. They don't grow on anyone else's lawn in the neighborhood--just ours. I don't have an explanation for it. Just my good fortune.

However . . .

My husband, whom I love more than life itself, contracted a lawn fertilizer company to goosh our grass. They came out a couple weeks ago. So this week, when I found this:




Are they safe to eat?  It rained a LOT in the two weeks between the times the lawn got gooshed and the time this year's crop sprouted.  Hmmm . . .

The question here is, do I love my husband more than I love morels?


stevenpiziks: (Default)
Maksim has basically outgrown all his t-shirts.  When he puts one on, he looks like the Hulk.  So I took him to the store to buy replacements.

First up, of course, we had to figure out what size he wore.  After minimal trial and error, we realized he now wears a men's medium.

This is Darwin's size.

They can trade clothes!  Max can dress like a little businessman, and Darwin can be a skater in training.  I'll post pictures.

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