February 2009

feb-wordsmiths“There, that should do it,” announced Jerry to his long-suffering wife. He climbed down from the scaffolding, squinted into the setting sun, and handed an overstuffed toolbag to Evelyn. She was already carrying a flashlight, spanner, spud wrench, and oil-soaked rags, but she silently shifted her load and accepted the new burden.

She was accustomed to the long hours of an obsessive tinker’s pack mule. Jerry had always been a mix of mad scientist, dim-witted inventor, and benign mastermind. Her mother quipped when they were courting, “That boy stays awake nights trying to figure out how to get more sleep.”

Long ago, he had rigged the ranch with a perimeter wire and rigged each sheep with a small battery-powered collar, so an alarm would sound whenever one crossed the line. Later, he devised a system for measuring the rate of grass growth using a complex network of jigs, strings, magnifying glasses, and magnetic latches. He insisted it would help him prepare for the inevitable drought, which never came, but might someday.

But in the twilight of his life, he had become more driven to complete – no, perfect – his pet projects. His latest creation’s purpose seemed a mystery to even him, but he was certain of its importance. “It’s critical we keep this thing out of the wrong hands, or even the wrong paws.” He had scoured the property for timbers of just the right strength, length, and curve, dragging them (with Evelyn’s help, of course) miles from their various resting spots to the sacred hill. He had Evelyn remove the windmill’s drive chain while he dismantled the old pontoon boat. She kept her concerns to herself while she pumped the well by hand for the first time in decades, dutifully bringing his meals out to the hill each day. She caught a glimpse of him taking a small figure from a mahogany box and suspending it inside a cage of sorts, but he shifted to block her view. The weeks swirled by until finally, this day, Jerry would retire this project in order to begin the next one.

She had hoped for an explanation or even a clue to what this chore was for, but none came. He simply dusted his hands off and left her to trail after him toward home. She stared a moment, shrugged, and fell in behind him for the short walk across the island.


lurch-wtfI’m doing my part lately to help the service sector of the economy.

Yesterday I brought my work van, formerly named Ed (for reasons I can’t quite remember), back to the dealer’s shop to fix the same problem it had when I brought it to them in December. Around 45-55 MPH, it would shudder and lurch. I feared a new transmission would be in our future, but they ran tests and cat scans and whatever else they do in the cavernous exam room and gave me a laundry list of minor items. Minor, except for the $600 total bill. All that work fixed the issue for about a week. It was better, but not gone – and it steadily got worse until I finally made another appointment. This time they fixed it all the way, and it only cost $250.

I’m still calling it Lurch, for romantic reasons.

Do you name your vehicles, or is it just us? Do tell.

Today I visited my new dentist. She is highly recommended, and I’ve always had relatively good experiences with dentists (although I have to consciously unclench my hands and shoulders and feet and neck and cheeks (all of them) several times during each procedure). Today was Initial Exam Day, even though I’d been there once before for a toothache, which went away on its own. I’ve never had so many pictures taken of my gob, from 16 X-rays to photojournalist-style mug shots to really really really closeups – all digital, with a viewing screen mounted on the chair. Freaky.

After the photos came the measuring, which is a code word for poking sharp tools into the gums until a) the tool stops, b) blood flows, c) the patient screams, or d) all of the above. That was a whole creel o’ fun right there, can’t wait to do it again.

The result of all this poking, suctioning, examining, and photographing? Dr. Dentist wants me to buy her a new boat, or maybe pay for a new jacuzzi in her cottage/ mansion. She says all my silver fillings, collected  before my 17th birthday, are cracking my teeth and showing decay around the meeting of tooth and metal. My (previously apparently healthy) teeth need all sorts of rejiggering and scraping and even replacing in one case, to the tune of about $11,000, which doesn’t include the $260 for today’s visit. My new dental insurance doesn’t cover even 10% of that.

I’m now collecting recipes for gruel and soup. I wonder if I can get all my meals in a shake?capn-shake

geese_poop_lake_1It’s already Sunday night, which is both sad and good. It was a great weekend, and it’d be nice to have it go another day or two.

Saturday, I got up early (because I was done sleeping, even though I tried) and balanced my checkbook over fresh coffee, before anyone else was awake. Great stacks of pancakes with freshly made apple compote followed – better than anything they could dish out at IHOP or the Methodist pancake breakfast. From there it was cleaning and fixing up bits of the house, trimming a sticky door and making some progress on a ceiling patch, a bit of yardly work, and a trip to (as Jeff Kay calls it) this exclusive club where we shop. I don’t think I’ve ever been in that place without it costing over $100. We got a bunch done with our day, but it didn’t seem all that busy – all at a liesurely ‘feel like it’ pace.

We had the last of the Omaha Steaks gift box for dinner – burgers over charcoal, with a packet of potatoes and onions and Momma Tiff’s Corn Casserole. OMG it was good. If you ask nicely, I bet she’ll share the recipe.

Neither of us go in for the big to-do of Valentime’s Day, and we each got what we wanted out of yesterday: A day at home doing whatever we wanted. And nobody got killed by a USB dongle-goblin.

Speakinna charcoal, I made these killer fire starters a couple weeks ago. I think I got this recipe from my dad, but I don’t recall him ever having them – he just told me the idea. Take a fiberboard egg carton (18 or 24 egg size), a block of paraffin, and a few cups of sawdust. Melt the paraffin (put the wax in a coffee can, and put the can in a shallow pan of near-boiling water for about 10 minutes), stir in sawdust until it’s a thick paste, and scoop into the egg carton. Cover the top with dry sawdust and pat down.  When they cool, you break one ‘egg’ off, light a bit of the carton, and it’ll blaze long enough to start any firepit, fireplace, or charcoal chimney. No lighter fluid, newspaper, or kindling to mess with. Sure, you can buy firestarters, but why?

Today I got to play with the band, which is always fun. These folks are some of the best musicians I’ve ever played with (which is saying something), and they all have a good sense of humor. I got a bug to make spaghetti for lunch, so that’s what I set out to do. However, I just HAD to make Tiny House Bolognese sauce, which takes about 40 minutes to cook and 2 hours to simmer. So we had sushi and PB&J for lunch while the sauce cooked.

After a brief nap, it was still a beautiful and cool afternoon with some time to kill, so we went out tennising. And duck feeding. A whole sack of wild critter food and another sack of old bread were sacrificed to a very well-fed flock of waterfowl. This time the seagulls didn’t even come around, I think because they were too full to fly. Everyone and their half-brother was at that park today, as evidenced by a) the number of people there, b) the full parking lot, and c) the overstuffed trash cans which contained hundreds of bread and popcorn bags. Each of us got to touch the inside of a goose’s beak via hand-feeding.

ATC* has decided it’s time to quit typing and start petting. He’s sitting on my mouse. So bye.

*Albert The Cat

Tiny House Bolognese
This is a very thick & rich meat sauce that will make your house smell good for 2 days. Well worth the effort!

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, shredded
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • ½ lb ground beef
  • ½ lb Italian sausage
  • 1 ½ cups dry white wine (red works too)
  • ½ cup half-and-half
  • Oregano, nutmeg, salt & pepper
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups diced tomatoes


  1. Heat olive oil and butter together. Sautee onion over medium-high heat until it is a light golden color.
  2. Add carrot and celery and continue sautéing until they begin to change color.
  3. Add meat, breaking it up as you stir. Add salt and pepper. Cook until well-browned and slightly crispy.
  4. Slowly add wine and cook until it is evaporated.
  5. Add cream and 1/8 tsp nutmeg and cook until most of the cream is evaporated – about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes and stir in 1 tbsp oregano. Cook until tomatoes start to bubble, and turn heat to low. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  7. Serve over spaghetti or noodles of choice.

50This thing has made the rounds, and I hereby and now yoink it from the lovely Tiff. It’s a set of questions one is supposed to answer. Easy peasy, lemons are squeezy!

  1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought? Meh (Hair is something I used to have, and there’s not much that can be done about it).
  2. How much cash do you have on you? None. Spent the last $7 on a binder for my work photos.
  3. What’s a word that rhymes with Door? Floor. Why does anyone want to know this? New to English, are we?
  4. Favorite planet? Earth is good. I’ve always had a fondness for Saturn too.
  5. Who is the 4th person on your missed call list on your cell phone? An outfit for which I do some work.
  6. What is your favorite ring tone on your phone? I don’t have the one I really want, which is an old-fashioned kitchen phone with the bells… And the yip yip monsters.
  7. What shirt are you wearing? White tee shirt under my NYC hoodie – tres comfy
  8. Do you label yourself? Nope. Why would I?
  9. Name the brand of shoes you’re currently wearing? Airwalk. Very comfy.
  10. Bright or dark room? Depends on the use, but generally bright. Lots of daylight, please.
  11. What do you think about the person who took this survey before you? She’s hott. And smart, funny, good with words, and snuggly.
  12. What does your watch look like? I break watches. So right now, it’s a hair past a freckle.
  13. What were you doing at midnight last night? Snoring and drooling, most likely. Possibly inflating the duvet. One can never know what one’s body does while asleep.
  14. What did your last text message received on your cell say? Grrrr
  15. Where is your nearest 7-11? Not sure – this area’s not big on 7-11ses.
  16. What is a word that you say a lot? Hello
  17. Who told you she loved you last? Tiff
  18. Last furry thing you touched? Mutzi the cat. She’s adorable.
  19. How many drugs have you done in the last three days? None, unless you count merlot. And a quantity in the ‘far-too-much’ range of bourbon over the weekend.
  20. How many rolls of film do you need developed? None more recent than 12 years. I don’t know if I have any of those around, I’m all digital all the time since 2002.
  21. Favorite age you have been so far? Now is good. 31 was good for self-discovery and maturity, 17 was fantastic for fitness, but I wouldn’t trade. Time travel always introduces time-space tears which require very convoluted and expensive solutions.
  22. Your worst enemy? Spiders. Oh and procrastination. I know no humans that I consider enemies.
  23. What is your current desktop picture? A plush moth, much like the last Wordsmiths prompt.
  24. What was the last thing you said to someone? Thank you.
  25. If you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to fly what would it be? Million bucks please. I would complete my flight lessons and still have $996,500 left over. Then I’d buy an airplane, pay off the house and cars, and live comfortably on the invested interest for the rest of my life.
  26. Do you like someone? I like more people than I dislike at a 20:1 ratio.
  27. What is the last song you listened to? I don’t remember precisely, but it was in the same batch as ‘Home Cooking’ by Rick Fink and his Gas House Gorillas.
  28. What time of day were you born? 10:30 PM.
  29. Favorite number? If I had one, it would be 5.
  30. Where did you live in 1987? Parents’ basement, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  31. Are you jealous of anyone? Nope. If I wanted to have what they have, I’d have to do what they did. Either it’s the time travel problem, or just not worth it.
  32. Is anyone jealous of you? Now how on earth would I know that? I doubt it.
  33. Where were you when 9/11 happened? At work, nearly every year.
  34. What do you do when vending machines steal your money? Sigh.
  35. Do you consider yourself kind? Mostly.
  36. If you had to get a tattoo, where would it be? Upper arm, I suppose.
  37. If you could be fluent in any other language, what would it be? German. I took 2 years of it in high school, and always liked it. They use lots of syllables.
  38. Would you move for the person you loved? I have done.
  39. Are you touchy feely? I like a snuggle, but not with just anyone. I am NOT a ‘close talker.’
  40. What is your life motto? “Yep.” Although I’ve always liked my cousin Jeff’s saying: “The best fertilizer is a farmer’s shadow.”
  41. Name three things you have on you at all times? Skin, hair, dust mites.
  42. What is your favorite town/city? Tough question. I like lots of ‘em, usually small towns like Rockford MI, Boone NC, or my current home town.
  43. What was the last thing you paid for with cash? See #2.
  44. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper and mailed it? Before Christmas, to my grandma.
  45. Can you change the oil on a car? See #40 (a).
  46. Your first love: what is the last thing you heard about him/her? Haven’t traveled in that circle since 1988, so it’s been a while.
  47. How far back do you know about your ancestry? 3 generations. There were immigrants.
  48. The last time you dressed fancy, what did you wear and why did you dress fancy? It was a hitchin’, and I wore a suit jacket and black pants. And a tie. Plus some nice flowers. And a smile.
  49. Does anything on your body hurt now? My back was sore until you asked me that. Better now.
  50. Have you been burned by love? Yep.

Eddie, his sister Stacy, and parents rode through the night in near silence, only broken by Eddie’s occasional heaving sobs. He drifted in and out of fitful, frightful sleep, trying to shut out the events of the afternoon. The shame and terror were miles behind him, but that was little comfort.

That morning, Eddie was so excited he could barely keep his cotton-candy coated hands from shaking. He’d been waiting for this day for what seemed a lifetime. The long trip from the wastelands of mid-Texas couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm, even though his mom and dad had clearly been sick of travel for the last 4 hours.

For weeks, he’d had the flier from the theme park taped to the ceiling over his bed (a trick he’d learned at the dentist’s office). After a month of begging, his parents relented and decided to take the family for a quick vacation. At 8 years old, he considered himself to be a real roller-coaster enthusiast, so this park simply had to be conquered.

It was mid-week, and the lines were moving quickly. He’d mapped out their route through the park from the entrance gate to the Drop of Doom, the Salad Shooter, the Amputator, and the Spin Cycle. After a break to have overpriced, oversteamed hot dogs, they continued down the Lazy Falls to the Skywire. From this height, he could see the new coaster rising from a muddy construction site. The landscaping, tags still on the plants, was dwarfed by the enormous steel track soaring into the air. Patience, he told himself. They’d arrive soon enough and he’d get to ride the Plush Moth. Two turns on the Lung Extractor, a very fast ride with no line at all, and they made their way toward the far end of the park. Tiki torches flamed, jungle drums beat through the hidden sound system, and mechanical mannequins menaced from perches along the winding, wooded path. Thick trees blocked the view above, but the screams of current passengers cut through the scenery like poison frog blow darts. A sign warned that the Plush Moth was just ahead, and escape would be impossible if one wandered too close.

Eddie gripped his mom’s hand as they rounded the corner. His dad whistled through his teeth as he focused his camcorder on the entrance, then zoomed in on Eddie’s face. His expression transformed from nervous anticipation to stark raving terror as he saw the entrance: A giant bug staring down at them, 40′ long antennae waving to and fro, and the path to the coaster running directly under the insect’s furry mandibles. Eddie froze, wet his pants, and bolted back down the trail.plushmoth

Mom and dad looked at each other over Stacy’s cries of ‘Eeew! He made a puddle!’ At first bemused, then concerned, all of them hurried to follow the boy to the park entrance and to the car. Mom tried to comfort her son through snot and tears, but he was inconsolable. “Maybe next year,” Dad said softly.