Today is the feast day of my nativity; I am 53 years old.  It’s time to channel Mr. Beckett again with another Krapp’s last tape.

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Urs Truly is a regular reader of Cooks Illustrated. It specializes in the ultimate ‘proper’ recipes. They are not snobs; they merely want to make the best of everything, based on trial and error and the application of science.  In the latest edition there is an article on how to make a proper cup of coffee. As you know I am an acolyte of tea. My experience with coffee so far is the black bilge sold in cardboard cups or made in work office coffee-machines. The machines are suspect and worrisome for no one cleans them on a regular basis and the tap water at work is none too pleasant. Perhaps I merely haven’t had a ‘proper cup’ yet to appreciate what all the coffee fuss is about.

Cooks Illustrated is in full agreement. For a truly most excellent cup they recommend grinding coffee beans as you need them and to shun the pre-ground rubbish sold in bulk in plastic containers. They recommend brewing coffee in a device called a ‘French press” which I always thought was for making tea (having had one once upon a time for such purposes).  A quick trip to Crate&Barrel and Albertson’s (“Excuse me, do you sell coffee?”) and I was set.

CI says to use two tablespoons of freshly ground coffee for every six ounces of water. I am not skilled with the Cuisinart; I soon had coffee bean crumbs and brown powder all over the kitchen. I need practice; the ‘grounds’ were quite a myriad of sizes. Someone got cross as I jammed the machine and nearly broke it (he doesn’t like coffee by the way. He won’t touch the stuff).

It is mesmerizing to sit and watch the grounds float around the press during the four minutes steeping time. I wondered how the brown sludge seen through the glass cylinder before me was going to turn out. It smells good. By the way this is as good as time as any to interject I think the smell of ground coffee is one of life’s most pleasant aromas. The slow pushdown of the stainless steel mesh top is jolly good fun and worth all the fuss.

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What I drank puzzles me. It certainly is different than the Folgers made in the Mr. Coffee devices at work. The differences were shocking enough that I can’t determine whether or not I like what I made. This cup tasted more complex, more ‘fresh’ and I suppose more bitter – like my men. On the negative, it tasted harsh, and paradoxically more strong yet more watery, as if I got all the acidity out of the beans but not all the flavor.

I failed one of the basic rules of scientific research: I had no other cup of coffee to compare it to (preferably double-blind).

By my arithmetic I bought enough beans to make a month’s worth of experiments. Next time I will grind the beans  finer. I should perhaps use a ratio less than 4T per 6 oz. ratio.  I wonder if the type of beans makes the difference. I hadn’t a clue what beans to choose from – I thought all beans were the same. Heavens no!

As I sit and type, the coffee seems to becoming more balanced and pleasant. Whiskies and wines do that too – with exposure to air they ‘mellow’.  I will declare this first attempt a success and jolly good fun. However I am getting some palpitations to suggest next time I take my blood pressure medication before not after breakfast.

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I am in a state of decrepitude after two days in a row trips to the gym after a hiatus caused by a bad back. My back is fine, but the rest of my body aches. Last night’s sleep was marred by paroxysms of sneezing and nasal congestion; I thought allergy season was done. Between the lack of sleep and this morning’s allergy pill I shan’t be too alert today. I may join Harper in her philosophy of sleep most of the day long. Happy Fourth of July.

There are benefits from being useless. I get to sit and think. Today is Independence Day and I am reflecting on the country in which I am a citizen. I am not one of the zealots who proclaims this country as the ‘greatest on earth’ nor do I tell others to love it or leave it when someone  brings up my concerns about the place.

My recent partaking in a US history course has put things into perspective. One reason Americans are currently bellicose and derisive I see as growing pains. Paradigms and usual modes of operations are a-changing.  The country is getting more diverse; this challenges the status quo on so many levels.  We are not doing a good job adjusting to them. This is due to the usual: resistance to change and an inability to compromise.

I am reminded of a church I used to attend when I lived in Chicago. It was a Lutheran church in a neighborhood which had turned in time to mostly ethnic. In it was a group of old (white) long-timers who were dwindling in number but still held the power. The attendance and vitality of the church was failing; all recommendations to grow were met with passive-aggressive resistance. They preferred the place die out rather than change to keep it going.  And so they did – and the church closed. The building was later bought by the locals, the ones they could have welcomed in the first place.

What I want to celebrate today is not independence from Great Britain (overall a mistake in hindsight) but independence from old ways that prevent us from growing in mind and spirit.

Alas, I am not optimistic. It is so hard to exorcise the old useless ways and the ones in power who are determined to keep these ways alive. I am reminded of an Ibsen quote from “Ghosts”:

“Ghosts! […] I almost think we are all of us ghosts. It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that ‘walks’ in us. It is all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we cannot shake them off. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sands of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light.”

Today we celebrate as a nation, all for one and united we stand. Tomorrow we return to the internecine battles. Will we  grow, compromise and throw out out ways, or will we as a nation cling to “the same’ out of fears of the future and the unknown?  Time will tell.

It is an integral part of my summer, like blueberries and solar tea. Every July my medical news-sites send me a quiz-lecture titled   “Bug bites you need to know this summer”.  This is a series of photographs of nasty red infections on various limbs, each followed by a gigantic in-your-face creepy-crawlie picture that makes me leap back.  The identification of bug bites is a topic generally skipped over in psychiatry school, so I am grateful I suppose for the yearly refresher course on the grounds I don’t want sound stupid when a patient offers me his arm for an opinion on what bit him, only to say ‘And how does that make you feel?”. 

In general, bug bites are nasty and please don’t get one and if you do happen to get one for goodness sake have a proper doctor examine it or at least put some ice on it why don’t you. Try to tell as many people as you can in town.

I thought as a public education this little lecture on some more interesting bites that may occur. Pay attention now you might learn something.

rats

Rats 

Rat bites are very nasty and often mistaken for insect bites. You can tell the difference between them as rats are mouse-like furry shaped things while insects are small and don’t have whiskers or tails. Tewksbury rats have the worst bites so it is best to avoid anything to do with them.

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Griffons 

Griffon bites are not subtle. They are noticeable for suddenly gone missing limbs or heads. If you suspect you have been bitten by a griffon it is best to go right away to a Dungeons and Dragons healer for resurrection.

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Triffids 

These ‘bites’ are actually more like sudden lashes against the skin, usually against the face and with a sudden surge of the soundtrack.  Triffids are not found on North America but in certain provence of France or in B-movies.

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Grindrbeasts 

Their love bites range from a small single blemish on the neck to multiple wounds especially around the nipples or in the groin region. Compresses help, as does blocking them.

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Vampire Bats

But they are so cute so what’s the price of a two small puncture wounds?

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Fire sign males 

Them’s born under these ardent signs of the zodiac need repeated reminders biting’s no good. Otherwise they are nice sorts. Please don’t feed them buns and things.

athletes-footIt started last weekend with an itchy burning feeling between my third and fourth toe of the left foot. Athlete’s foot! Damned if I know where I got it. I haven’t been at all athletic, nor have I been traversing floors of ill-repute.  I suppose I picked up something unwholesome while walking barefoot in the backyard. Whatever the cause I have it and it burns like billy-o. I applied some Lotrimin but this seems to have been like gasoline to a fire for the nasty thing has not only spread to the other toes it is showing up between the toes of my R foot as well. Creams and sprays are proving feckless. At this rate I am going to end up like the narrator in “The voice in the night”.

Virus and bacteria don’t bother me but fungi gives me the creeps. There is something downright disgusting about them. Mindless plant-like growth on food or (worse) living flesh is loathsome. I am ready to immerse my tootsies in bleach or acid or hot coals rather than be the comfortable home for tinea pedis. Talk about the proverbial cutting off your nose to spite your face. But in my case it’s the piggies i’m reading to sacrifice for the sake of fungus-free feet.

Since I am on the subject has anyone seen “Attack of the mushroom people”?  It used to be a stable on ‘monster week’ of the 430pm movie between the Godzilla and Rodan movies.  I forget the nuances but the plot is basically a group of castaways forced to eat the local mushrooms only to become walking mushroom monsters.  I found this more abhorrent than the slasher movies. With a serial killer you know where you stand. With spores you have no chance.

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1 July is Canada Day. I have some Canadian heritage on the paternal side (both French and English subtypes) and I am quite fond of the place. On this day I try to write something Canuck-like. Some of the entries of which I am most proud are about Canada.

This month we fly to for our annual trek to Ontario which ends this time in Ottawa. It is my first time in The Capitol. The hosts with the mosts are Laurent and William, both fine gentleman and well over four feet. I highly recommend their blogs for most are brilliant.

Here are some things I hope to see and do while in Ottawa:

I want to experience the fine cuisine of The Great White North. Most Yanks don’t know Canada even has a cuisine. Here are some imperial tidbits which capture the urtext of all that’s Canadian:

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Poutine

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All-dressed potato chips

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Alberta Premium rye whisky.

Laurent practically runs the National Gallery of Canada so I get a private tour worthy of royalty. I will see many naked people with parts missing. I will pay my respects to the dying General Wolfe. I will  face my fears and hug the 30ft mutant spider.

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I will be meeting a new blogger buddy Steven. What a treat.

If I am lucky I can get an audience with Harper –  the two-legged sort –  and show him photos of our four-legged version. We will laugh over who is the bigger bitch. I just hope he has a sense of humor.

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Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a press conference at the end of the G8 summit at the Lough Erne resort near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland on June 18, 2013. G8 leaders strongly endorsed calls for a peace conference to be held in Geneva on the Syria conflict

I plan to blend in with the natives so as not to be mistaken for an obnoxious Yankee tourist. I am in the process of making a shirt from the following:

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No one will be the wiser.

So Happy Canada Day! Have a Tim Horton’s why don’t you in honor of the day.

First of all, thank you everybody for the kind and supportive words from yesterday.  It was greatly appreciated. Here’s a quick chin-wag until I can come up with something more witty, profound, erudite, or ribald.

It’s the end of June when I take inventory of how well the year is going and how well am I doing.  In matters of new year’s resolutions I have utterly  failed – I can’t even remember even what they were. I had to look them up.  It seems the height of stupidity to make a lists of things to do (Bucket and NYE resolutions) only to forget what they are. I am going to remedy this by printing them and putting them up in several prominent areas to remind me what the hell I am supposed to be striving for.

July looks to be hopping with many adventures and weekend outings.  I discovered yesterday the office is closed this Friday happy joyous news indeed.  7 July falls on a Tuesday this year, so I won’t be doing much other than a good meal at a restaurant (Indian, probably). For desert I get a tub of oh-so-disgusting onion dip and a big bag of oh-so-nasty chips – my once a year indulgence.

Someone reminded me our trip to Canada is quickly coming up and if I want to trot around Ottawa in my oh-so-subtle “Canadian Flag” shirt I better finish it toot suite.

At some point we go to Santa Fe or Utah.  At month’s end I go for a family reunion.

All Journeys start with a single step and my first is getting through this week.  The at-work chart conversion continues and shows no end in sight. I am temporarily off exercise thanks to a bad back.  I have a lot of blogs-catching up to do.

A few people at work asked what I was doing for the three day holiday. My reply?: “As little as possible”

I asked Someone if he would marry me. He said yes.

I’ve often wondered about the details of the event. My fantasies over the years have ranged from hiring a ensemble to suddenly show in a public area singing one of Broadway’s more lavish tunes, to a prosaic matter-of-fact inquiry inserted over supper, something said between do you want my dinner roll and what shall we do this weekend. It was more the latter. My modest proposal happened on the drive home from the airport. We were discussing this and that. Then, with a pregnant pause, I calmly said (trying to keep a steady voice) I would be honored so if he would marry me. He said ye and he didn’t laugh or go into hysterics. Mercifully there was no car accident.
It was last week’s SCOTUS decision which set the years of inaction into motion. I’ve long fancied a wedding in Michigan so my many relations might attend, but until last week my home state was as unwelcome as Russia or Texas. Throughout the weekend my relations – even my high school classmates! – asked ‘So when are you two going to get married?” My brothers were the most ardent although I think they were more along the jocular “Hey we did it it’s not fair you haven’t put your head in the noose”. It was time to man up and make my mate an honest woman, as it were.

I’ve had a longtime intuition it was my job to propose to him and he’s been stomping last season’s Pradas for sometime.  (Editors note: Someone reminds me we’ve talked about this before and he proposed to me. This is not our first and only process on the matter!)

No, I don’t know when, or how, or who may be coming or (most important) where we will register. It may be some time before it’s all figured out. We need consultations with the accountant and tax man before the pastor and the caterer. I don’t think we will rush out anytime soon. We’ve been marching down the aisle for nearly twenty years and that’s a long walk but a few more steps won’t harm us.  I will keep you posted.

We two

Many Spo-fans have asked ‘How went the high school reunion?”  In brief – very well. I will write about that anon.  What I will say now is both my parents insisted on driving me down to the reunion in downtown Detroit (‘Oh you will just get lost if you drive yourself”). Picture it: a hopping hip joint with a line of 20-30 year olds waiting to get in and Ur Truly waiting for his parents to pick me up. I felt underaged to drive and seventy years old.

Today is Father’s birthday of which he isn’t too pleased. Several brothers with their families (if not all of them) will descend en masse in about an hour for a structureless birthday bash. We were supposed to go boating but it is too cool and damp to do so. Rather we will bounce off of each other (as is our wont) for a few hours doing relatively nothing other than talk talk talk.

I asked him what does he want to do on this feast day of his nativity. His response: “Oh I just want to have the pleasure of everyone’s company.” Well, if he prefers food and family over things of real value, so be in. Whatever floats your goat.

For breakfast Father made a large pot of Dunkin Donuts coffee (his favorite); I am having a pot of Constant Comment Tea (the official ‘tea’ of the House of Spo). I suspect both of them shouldn’t be consuming sweets but the breakfast spread is piled up with coffee cakes. Questions about their health and do they have a list of Rx/allergies handy (with hints of diet concerns) were paid no attention. My parents are too polite to say ‘flake off”.

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I didn’t pack shampoo or shaving cream thinking there must be some but alas there is none in the guest bathroom. The available toiletries show subtle signs of six year olds. I have experienced my first “Hello, Kitty!” product. The shampoo smells like a flamingo was sick. I feel sorry for my airplane row when I fly home this evening, for I smell like bubble gum. It was either this or some brat named Dora. I can only imagine what she smells like.

One of the curious hazards of ‘going home’ is the reemergence of old child-parent dynamics. I am in town for a high school reunion, but I might as well be the age I was when I attended it. It’s amusing to see the parents ‘treat me like a kid” again.  Do other 52yo people get this when they visit their aging parents?

Father insists on driving me places rather than loaning me the car. He explains the weather is bad and I am not used to driving in the wet (coming from a man who has suspect eyesight and who doesn’t drive after dark). This is not ‘control’, this is he wanting to take care of his kids. Landsakes, he wants to drive me to and from my high school reunion as if he was dropping me off for school back in the 70s!

Mother does her bit at well. I merely voice wanting something and she starts for the kitchen. Her locomotion is not good; I tell her I can get it myself but ‘it is no fuss” and besides I don’t know where things are (as if I haven’t lived here).  My offers to help make dinner/clean up etc. also deflected with rationales there isn’t enough room in the kitchen for two etc. Again this isn’t control (or questions about me competency to toast an english muffin); this is about her happy to mother me.

Although it feels a tad ridiculous to be treated like a 16yo I know better than to challenge them. They like taking care of their kids, even if they don’t seem to realize at times we are all well over forty (and well over four feet).

I just hope I don’t die from embarrassment this evening when dad drops me off at the high school reunion.

Come to think of it, I felt embarrassed when he dropped me off at high school back in the late 70s.  Who says you can’t go home?

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