Thursday, December 31, 2009

Week 53

Sometimes 52 weeks just aren't enough to cram everything in. Herewith are some of the things from week-to-week that just couldn't be crammed in the regular posts.

Drank a cup of tea with licorice and slippery elm bark.

Went to bed before Darien -- several times.

Necessity being the mother of invention, had an English muffin for lunch instead of a hummus sandwich.

Went to a VCU basketball game in which VCU won over Hofstra, while my wife lusted after the coach.

Sat in Peter's chair in the dining room to give me a different perspective on life.

Got a Starbucks coffee in the library before 9 AM, without sharing (or telling) Antonia.

Ate with my fingers in an Ethiopian restaurant in Richmond.

Found my coffee frozen in a travel mug left over night in the car after the weather dipped down to 10 degrees.

Lived during the inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States. Had a party at our house to celebrate the occasion and took pictures with Barack.

Wore jeans to work.

Had Antonia pay for my coffee.

Went to Denver for the first time in about 30 years. Ate a Cobb salad for the first time. Used online chat with both Antonia and Darien. They are so hip.

Slept in Cincinnati, even though I didn't intend or want to. Got out before the next snowfall.

Rode my bike to Coturra's with Darien, in partial fulfillment of my Christmas present to her. We went off-map several times.

Went to see the Speckled Bird at the ADA Gallery, which was the first time I saw them perform with Josh playing cello and clarinet. It was also the first time I was in ADA.

Drove a Mitsubishi Galant. I can't really say taking my Mercedes to body shop was a first, since it has been there before. Sigh.

Walked around the block in the first heavy snowfall in about ten years. Stayed home from work because of the snow. Made Darien espresso and served it before she got out of bed, then made her pancakes. What got into me?
Had my car hit while parked near VCU. This isn't the first time it has been hit, but it is the first time it has been hit twice in the space of one month. And the first time I have had a car that was hit twice at the same location. It still had the smell of fresh paint from the last time it was hit.

Went to my first non-funeral mass at an African-American Catholic church.

Attended my first my first college basketball tournament game, my first final game in a college tournament, and my first time observing my team winning a college tournament.

Got sick. It was a Saturday and I slept on the couch most of the day with a headache, and didn't make it to the gym all weekend. Being healthy is definitely more fun.

Got serious (and nervous) about backing up all the pictures and music I've been saving. For the first time, I paid for off-site backup. Right after this, I realized I needed to back up my Casimir blog, but leetllama is dead and so is StorCenter. Had to recreate everything.

My first colonoscopy. It was very cleansing experience and I felt like a new man. I put a note on my calendar to get another one in ten years.

First time restaurants in Richmond visited: The Nile, Tarrant's, Bamboo Cafe, The Black Sheep, the Marriott (ok, it was a conference buffet), Firebird's, Maldini's, Gelati Celesti Ice Cream, Water Works, Ellwood's Coffee, Zen Asian Bistro, Sine Irish Pub, Savo, Balliceaux (where the gave us obsolete menus that they had no food for and ended up comping us a few dishes), Mexico Restaurant, Garnett's, Big Daddy's BBQ, and Tastebuds American Bistro.

Visited CNU library while waiting around for Peter's field hockey tournament to continue.

Saw the Wiremen from New York with Paul Watson. It was actually the second time I saw them, but this was the first time when there were two Wiremen rather than just one. Paul played an odd three-stringed instrument from Thailand; it was the first time I had heard one of those, or at least seen one being played. It had a crazy looking neck, capped with a carved head that looked like the prow of some Viking ship.

Visited Antonia and Jonathan in their new log home.

Helped organize the first Ex Libris Users of North America conference in Richmond. Other than too much rain, it turned out well.

Went to the Byrd House Farmer's Market for the first time, only a few days after attending the Forest Hill market. Byrd was smaller, more intimate, and felt like I had walked back into the 60s. On another weekend, I went to another farmer's market, this one at St. Stephen's, where I listened to The Speckled Bird and let children pet the Foo Wu.

Plotted a route to the Lowe's on Forest Hill and rode my bike. I overcame Darien's dark fears of riding anywhere other than a residential street and persuaded her to come with me.

Went to St. James's choir picnic at the Nance's house.

Crawled under the cabin to kung fu some bamboo.

Went to a Pandora meet-up. Got the t-shirt.

Found four pennies at one time in the road.

Drank Wielkopolanka ... Polish mineral water.

Rode a bike in Chicago and saw Darien weave in and out of traffic like a professional messenger. Visited a stunning cathedral in LA. Biked along the shore in Long Beach and dipped my toes in the Pacific. Saw a movie (Harry Potter) on the silver screen for the first time in I don't know how long. Visited the Grammy museum devoted to music (Grammy). Saw art at Gallery Skart and listened to jazz at Table Ten, and drank Icelandic water. Saw the Dodgers play for the first time in forty years. Gawked at a Laker and an actor, even not knowing who they are. Did the California cruise-around-in-a-hot-red-convertible thing.

Saw an $8,000 toilet, with an electric eye powered lid to anticipate your urgent needs.

Walked on a residential green roof.

Heard lots of new music, but forgot to keep a list.

Hiked the Furnace Mountain Trail with Peter and Darien.

Went to an art show at Planet Zero.

Got my release at a CD party that was really an EP party.

Changed a dimmer switch without electrocuting myself, thanks to Darien's watchful eye.

Bought my first low-flow toilet, at only 1.6 gallons per flush. Yowzhaa!

Found a cigarette butt in a candy bar.

Tried to sell something on eBay, without success.

Pulled a thirty-foot fallen tree limb off the roof without puncturing the roof or my head, thanks to Darien's watchful eye.

Listened to Els Biesman play the organ at St. James. This was the first time I had ever heard a classical organist compared to Ornette Coleman.

Sprouted sedum.

Watched VCU women play volleyball.

Wore a buff.

Ate dinner at 5:30 PM, even though we didn't have anything particular to do that evening.

Delayed getting any older for nine days while I waited on the rest of the family to get it together and have a birthday party for me.

Avoided singing karaoke at Mama Zu.

Read my first e-book all the way through.

Skipped Christmas, so I can have two of them in 2010. Delayed gratification can be a wonderful thing.

Witnessed signs, miracles, and wonderments.

I'm pulling the plug and signing off now. Thanks for walking with me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Week 52

With this post, I am ending this year-long blog, having fulfilled my externally imposed resolution. I can now return to my slothful ways.

It is comforting to know that some things in this world, like love and kitchen counters, remain the same.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Week 51

It pays to be nice, at least to your barista. Antonia and I visit the coffee shop in our library fairly regularly, so this is important.

I bought a large mug with the Starbucks' logo so I can get discounted coffee. I can't really drink that much coffee in one sitting, so the two of us split it. Actually, Antonia brings her own cup and they pour some in both. I always feel a naughty guilt when they do this, since I'm certain it is against Corporate Policy. Usually the baristas fill each mug more than half full, so it is even a better deal for us. Sometimes, if the manager isn't paying close attention, they will give us even more.

On International Days we speak different languages with the baristas, and they give us free coffee. We were trying our hand at Swahili recently, but very poorly. ("Ama ga hle." "Sal a ga hle.")

If someone doesn't pick up their froufrou drink, Antonia rushes up to claim it. More delicious guilt.

There is a photograph running in the rotation on the University's home page. The picture includes Antonia. One of the barista's jokingly asked her for her autograph. She declined and we laughed.

I write down the baristas' names in my restaurant database. It doesn't help me when they swap name tags. Maybe they know about my database.

To show our appreciation, we sometimes bring in treats for the baristas. Antonia usually takes care of this, but she was baking cookies for the Listening Room last week so I thought I might as well help out. Something Christmas-y should do. You can't go wrong with snickerdoodles ("fun to say ... to sniff ... to eat!") I thought. I just wish recipes in general were more explicit. "Shortening" for example. As soon as I saw that, I knew I was in trouble. I called Antonia. I could use butter instead. Unsalted. And take it out of the refrigerator now so it will soften.

I always wondered what cream of tartar really is. Darien didn't know either, so I looked it up. It turns out it is a byproduct of wine-making -- potassium bitartrate. It doesn't really add to the taste of the food; it is used more for its chemical properties, such as stabilizing egg whites and preventing other foods from crystallizing. Just remember, it is "not to be confused with Tartar sauce."

I didn't start making the cookies until 10 PM, so I put the dough in the freezer to chill. I rolled the dough into balls, the size of small walnuts, just like Betty instructed me. Darien said they looked more like large walnuts. They still came out ok. In fact, they tasted pretty awesome. Part of it was the cinnamon. This is the first time we had bought the Spice Hunter brand, and it seems to make a difference. I recommend it. I'll have to make some french toast soon.

I saved half of the dough in the freezer so I can bake some when Peter is home. The baristas seemed to appreciate our effort, ensuring many more months of good service. My only qualm about the whole experience is that Betty lied about the recipe making five dozen cookies. After taking into account all the raw dough I consumed, there is no way you can get that many cookies out of it.

I hate to be a whiner, but things really are deteriorating around here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Week 50

St. James had their annual Advent Lessons and Carols. Antonia is often featured in their services, but Mark was not available this week, so she was asked to help assist with conducting. This, along with her accordion skillz and solo vocals, put the evening over the top. Score one for the Begonia.

I've never been sure which way the ocean goes when it is ebbing and which way it goes when it is flowing. Whichever way it is, we seem to be witnessing it here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Week 49

Sometimes I seek out new wine, and sometimes it seeks out me.

We have had some neighborhood break-ins lately. Mostly the thieves grab small things that are plainly seen and quickly taken. It is probably just kids, but it has the neighbors talking, and has even generated an article or two in the paper. It got to the point where Darien was getting nervous, so she decided we should start using our deadbolts.

We are not stupid people, but we are sometimes forgetful, so we always keep an extra key secreted away outside. Just in case. Since the deadbolts are on different keys than the doorknobs, I asked her to be careful and not on start locking the deadbolts until we had a second key outside. OK, she says. She went and had duplicate keys made and put little nails next to all the doors where we could hang them when the deadbolt was in place so no one could simply break the window and turn the inside key. We are not stupid people.

This was on Tuesday. On Thursday morning, Darien left for work before I did. I was preoccupied with thinking about the meeting I had scheduled with my staff for 9 AM that morning. I was still dwelling on what I would say when I walked out the front door and pulled it shut tightly behind me, as I do every morning. That is when I had that sinking feeling. My routine was a little different that morning and I didn't have any recollection of putting my house or car keys into my pocket. I frantically dug my hand in my pocket. Nothing. I went to the side door to get the hidden key. It was right where it was supposed to be. We are not stupid people. But no deadbolt key. Was the deadbolt thrown on that door? Of course. Was it thrown on the back door as well? Of course. Were all the lower windows locked with the screw bolt so that no one could simply break the window, reach in and flip the latch? Of course. We are not stupid people.

I was supposed to pick Antonia up and give her a ride to work. I thought, fine, I'll swallow my pride and call her and ask her to come over and let me in the house. Do I own cell phone? Of course not. I hate talking on phones, and I'm too cheap to pay for something I already have at home. I went across to ask Mr. Lewis if I could borrow his phone. His house was very quiet. I rapped lightly and no one answered. I didn't want to disturb him. I went next door and knocked.

"Hi. I locked myself out of my house. Can I borrow your phone?"
"And who are you and where do you live?"
(Quickly taking my cap off.) "I'm John. I live next door." Like for the past year, and we just had a conversation about raking leaves last weekend.
Mr. Neighbor was kind enough to bring me his phone after that. Fine. What number do I call? My mind went blank. All the numbers flitted away. If I could call Darien, she could call Antonia. Could I remember her cell phone number? Of course not. But wait! I remembered the number to her school. Not the number to the library, which would have done me good, but to the front desk, where they have an answering machine. I started punching in numbers that had some similitude to Darien's or Antonia's, and had some pleasant exchanges with strangers. My neighbor watched me with growing wonder. He showed me how his phone had this feature called redial. Amazing. His wife and child came outside, waiting for me to finish so he could take them to work and school. They too watched me fumble with the phone. I was thankful for the antiperspirant I had applied that morning, although frankly I was starting to believe that I could make a case for violation of the truth in advertising laws.

Finally it hit me. I had a list of phone numbers in my wallet! Just in case. I've had it there for years. We are not stupid people.

Not an unreasonable pile, but it is growing, and more than imperceptibly. She has three more weeks to hold on. It is enough to drive one to drink.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Week 48

I have to go to Boston in January, so I booked a hotel. As I was booking at the Omni, I noticed that those age 55 or older received a discounted fare. Gulp. I went ahead and signed up. I might as well get something out of this.

A few days later, I was in an irrigation supply store, looking for a piece of piping I need for the back yard. It was the day before Thanksgiving and the crotchety old fellow behind the counter was complaining because someone owed him a thousand dollars, and he was not showing up as expected. I commiserated, secretly wondering what it would be like to be waiting on a thousand dollars. He found the piece I needed, but I would have to buy it with the complete elbow assembly. I only needed the top piece. He eyed me up and down and said if I were over 49 I could get the senior discount. I don't think there really was a senior discount, but he could tell by looking at me that I wasn't there to throw money away. At $25, I reckoned it was still too expensive. The guy nodded.

He said he took advantage of senior discounts all the time. "You can get a McDonald's coffee for 58 cents." I didn't know that. "Best deal on the street. It ain't Starbucks, but it is still decent coffee."

Getting old isn't that bad if you can get paid for it.

Clean as a whistle. Go Darien.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week 47

Sometimes you just can't be totally honest with a person. This was brought home to me by a one-day art project in the courtyard outside the library. The idea was to write on a Post-It note a lie that you have told in the past, or that has been told to you. All Post-Its were signed the same -- "Liar" -- and then put up on a temporary kiosk in the courtyard. Antonia and I were there early and lied together and had our pictures taken. I think this project is posted somewhere on the Web. Maybe someone will point me to it.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post. It wasn't an actual lie -- more like an incomplete disclosure of the truth. Darien and I were going to the inauguration of the Listening Room RVA. I had read a decent review of Fleming's Steakhouse, and how they were offering a $25 discount certificate on all meals before December 20. I'm a sucker for saving money. My problem is that Darien has extreme, unreasoned prejudice against two things: steakhouses and chains. I can sort of understand the first, but chains? This from a woman who thinks every Starbucks barista is a close family member?

So, I needed to get her to the restaurant, without telling her where we were going. After all, Flemings severs fish, too, and the $25 was a sore temptation for me. So I just e-mailed and told her to be ready to go. She is a sucker for dates, so I knew I was on safe grounds making a reservation. Like all modern young couples, we arranged everything by e-mail:

Mine: We have to leave at 6:10 P.M. Don't be late.
Hers: Is this a me-date or a you-date? and, are we leaving from home or do I pick up a Hot Guy at The Pit? 
Mine: This is an us-date; you just won't know it until afterward. We will leave from home.
Hers: appropriate dress? I was planning on wearing my Speckled  B. tee ... 
Mine: You might feel more comfortable if you were a little more fancy. But I like you just the way you are.
Hers: You don't LOVE me just the way I am?
Hers: you didn't tell me if we are leaving from home or from The Pit ...
Mine: Wrong. "This is an us-date; you just won't know it until afterward. We will leave from home."
Hers: oops.
Off to the gym; I'll be at home in time.
Hers: Shall I have a cappucino ready to prepare when you walk in the door?
Mine: Yes! Leaving now. [Another lie. I didn't get away for another twenty-five minutes.]

I consider it a successful ruse, since she didn't actually believe we were going there until I was opening the door to Fleming's for her. There were a few glitches. She ordered a Honig Chardonnay, but the waiter brought her a New Zealand Zinfandel instead. She ended up liking it very much. Also, the waiter never did get back to us on what the definition of a wine bar is, which we have been debating for the past six months. The bread was very good, and made better by the champagne infused brie that we used to spread. We split a salad and asked for the dressing on the side, so they brought us each our own beaker of dressing -- maybe a week's worth. No wonder their prices are so high. We wanted to split their bisque, but it was too spicy for me and Darien had to eat the whole thing. She feigned sorry for my altered taste buds. For the main dish, we split rock fish with scallops and risotto, with a side of grilled asparagus. We drooled over the desserts, and denied ourselves.

I think she was mildly surprised at enjoying herself in a chain steakhouse. And I saved $25. Score one for John. I was so pleased I got drunk on coffee.

The Listening Room was a great success. Jonathan organized most of the decorations and the talent and the deer head, and they recouped enough money to keep on going. We listened to The Low Branches, Englishman, and Ferdinand Thomas. As far as I can tell Englishman is actually two people, and there really is no one named Ferdinand. My favorite of the evening was "Oh God" by Ferdinand Thomas. That set is up on YouTube now. Very lo-fi, though. Be warned. I had to poke the woman next to me a few times to get her to be quiet and listen.

Can't wait for the December 18th show. And they better get those kick-ass sisters from Georgia here soon.

[Oh my God! I forgot to post the counter pic on the original message. I hope my millions of followers haven't caught on yet.]

Question: Is this the place where we put our books? Answer: No! this is not the place where we put our books!