Friday, September 29, 2006

What's on your desk?

Because our company's board of directors plans to visit soon, we've been encouraged to neaten our work areas. This does not usually take me very long because I don't keep much on my desk.

Besides my phone, CPU, monitor, monitor stand, keyboard, mouse and mousepad, I have:
  • two empty soda cans (diet A&W root beer and diet Pepsi - OK, I'm still working on the Pepsi, but it is almost empty).
  • my cell phone
  • a piece of paper with notes for a brief for Monday's paper
  • a red Bic "round stic fine USA" ballpoint pen
  • a promotional toy from Quizno's, one of those little cars you pull back and let go of and it zooms away. This one looks like a rocket.
  • a promotional card from the Popcorn Board. When opened, a little speaker plays the sound of popcorn popping. "Give your ears a little treat," the card urges.
  • a promotional toy from Dairy Queen to flog their Moolatte frozen blended coffee. It is one of those old-fashioned canisters that you turn upside-down, then right-side up and it moos. Cute.
  • an impressively feisty purple and green vinelike plant, which is in a yellow pot on top of my CPU (which is protected by folded-up newspaper under the pot). Besides the vine, which I love, the pot contains a small, white ceramic insulator and a pica pole (a type of ruler for unusual people).
And that is it, although near my desk is a filing cabinet that I use only as a place to put my planning calendar, which has color-coded information about stories that will appear in coming editions of the paper.

I don't know what my desk says about me, but there you have it.

A quick Indian meal

Oh, that's right, there's no such thing.

But because we have guests in town for a few days and home-cooked meals run counter to current events (10th college reunion for the butterfly lady and her homies), I whipped up:
  • A North Indian Muslim dish of beef with dark almond sauce
  • A vegetarian takeoff on that dish using acorn squash instead of Bessie
  • Sookhe aloo (I think that's Hindi for "yummy potatoes")
  • Rice with saffron, cardamom and cinnamon
I hurried, so the whole production took less than three hours. I should have enlisted help, I guess, but it was fun and the crowd liked the food.

I think the squash dish worked better than the beef version, though I think that next time, I'd use some tofu as well. And I would not make both dishes simultaneously, which although interesting was also hectic.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Making weight loss last

Until last year, my weight made steady progress in an upward direction since I graduated from high school, which is to say for many years.

I went through the customary denial (The dryer made my pants smaller! It's all muscle!) process until the point that the doctor showed me her chart, with my weight, in black and white, over the years I had seen her before leaving the area temporarily. So, I could see where I'd been, and I could certainly tell where I was. Plus, she showed me some other depressing numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, blah blah blah).

I promptly lost 28 pounds (how? swim, don't drink much, swim, swim, don't drink much and swim), and although a few pounds have come back, I'm where she wants me to be (and wearing the pant size I had when I was in my best cross country running shape around 1989-91). The best part, I have to say, has been getting new clothes.

My motivation is a combination of wanting to live a long time, liking how I look (and how others look at me) now, that sort of thing. I don't ordinarily write about this sort of thing, but I thought I ought to put pen to paper (OK, fingertips to keys) to remind myself, if I ever look back through my blog, that life is better now than it was then.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hey, how'd you find me?

Inspired by Lulu, I checked to see what my recent keyword activity looked like:

  • the mysterious davy jones (oh, shocking)
  • raven standard progression matrices (another thrill-seeker like me)
  • easy notes on ghana (Here is a much better place to go)
  • strep nose (it was staph - two varieties - not strep)
  • mbna rejection instructions for apr increase
  • evil mythical birds (I'd love to know a few!)
The staph, by the way, is in rout. But what a dumb thing to have: Staph Nose.

Changing times, changing fortunes

When I moved to Walla Walla the first time, in August 1990, some local folks worried the newly finished Blue Mountain Mall - the place to be for shopping and socializing - would drive the final nails into the coffin of the city's downtown.

In the old days, downtown had a Bon Marche department store (sort of old-fashioned in that you could buy frying pans, sheets and microwaves, not just clothes), a run-down drugstore, a couple of nicer drugstores, several sketchy restaurants (I've heard that two failed because of health complaints) and a few nicer eateries and stores.

Over the subsequent 16 years (yegods, time flies), downtown businesses rallied to revitalize the city center, and the mall was the salient. Many an imprecation uttered in those days included "the mall."

As it stands now, downtown shoppers may visit restaurants, boutiques, salons, a Macy's department store (sort of old-fashioned in that you can buy frying pans, sheets and microwaves, not just clothes), a wide variety of winery tasting rooms, art galleries, a toy store and the older businesses that stood the test of time, including a popular deli, an auto dealership, a candy store where they actually make many of the goodies, a music store and many other nice places.

Many storefronts remain boarded up or vacant and the second stories of many buildings are in disrepair or tenant-less. So there's still a long way to go, but times are most certainly changing for the better.

And how about that mall?

A recent visit by the butterfly lady and I (we have weird ways to pass the time here) found a sad scene.

Sears, Gottschalk's and Shopko are the mall's anchors - an Emporium closed and wasn't replaced. Besides those stores, the mall has the following businesses:

  1. Claire's (hair clips, etc.)
  2. GNC (I always think of Hans and Franz from SNL when I see a GNC - mmm, gainer fuel!)
  3. Big Twist Pretzels
  4. A nail shop
  5. A Unicel dealership
  6. Antonio's (a genuine local barbershop)
  7. Fashion Bug (clothing)
  8. Maurice's (clothing)
  9. Foot Locker
  10. Bath & Body Works
  11. Teddy Bear Factory (open Friday-Sunday only)
  12. Dim Sum Inn (a pretty good Asian restaurant)
And these quasi-businesses:
  1. Cruisers Driving School (not open regularly)
  2. Army recruiter
  3. Air Force recruiter
  4. Marine Corps recruiter
  5. Navy recruiter
  6. Walla Walla Police Department's crime prevention office
  7. Two "community" rooms - vacant stores with some chairs inside.
Counting the community rooms, there are 32 vacancies, some ill-disguised by facades, some just left blank. Even the food court has only one occupant, having lost Sbarro, Orange Julius and Bob's Pizza.

I think it would be generous to say that the driving school, recruiters' offices, police office and even the Teddy Bear Factory are, strictly speaking, stores, so that would put the occupancy at less than 25 percent... not exactly the best of times.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Who says the TSA is unreasonable??

Having just bought and left behind some non-explosive toothpaste and similar items in Virginia (I don't check bags, regardless of how long I'll be on the road), I am happy to see that the Transportation Security Administration has eased its restrictions on what you are allowed to pack in your carry-on bag. The press release is here.

What it all boils down to is that you may now carry travel-size toiletries (three ounces or less each) in a quart-size Ziploc bag. You may also now take the soda you bought in the secure area onto the airplane, so you won't be at the mercy of the airline to keep you hydrated (or caffeinated, or liquored up)...

The fabulous photograph above is courtesy of TSA and shows the agency's idea of what you might carry. This rule change would be much funnier if the TSA would only allow you to carry those specific items. New slogan: "Unless you carry Scope, the terrorists truly win."

Choosy moms choose Jif?

Of all the slogans I could think of in the past couple of minutes, Jif's bothers me most. Choosy moms choose Jif. How exactly is that choosy?

When I whip up PB&J, I want to make sure the kids eat a few wholesome extras. Partially and fully hydrogenated oil, sugar, mono- and diglycerides are some of my favorite little downhome goodies, and I'm especially proud if I can get those into the each of the ingredients, too!

Now, I can see how the old-school Jif might still have all that crap, but the comparatively new brand, Simply Jif Creamy has this ingredient list:

Roasted peanuts, contains 2 percent or less of: partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean), fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono- and diglycerides, molasses, sugar and salt.

How's that simply? Of course, you can always get Adams peanut butter (made by the same people who make Jif) without the unwanted extras.

This reminds me of another conundrum: When a company makes good and bad products, should you buy nothing from them at all or just the good ones? I'm pretty sure it doesn't really matter, but I still feel reluctant to buy canola oil from Crisco...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Returned from traveling abroad

OK, so northern Virginia ins't exactly "abroad," but it is a far cry from Walla Walla. I spent the last week in Reston - mostly - at a seminar for city editors at the American Press Institute (self-subtitled The Leadership Place).

Besides bringing home ideas, I also found:

  • The Reston Community Center has a decent pool. 85 degrees, but it was a good deal.
  • Gas was 30 cents a gallon cheaper there than here.
  • Jammin' Java, in Vienna, Va., is the best venue I've ever been to a show at.
  • Charlotte Martin was better than I expected, but still just pretty good (In my notebook, I wrote "This is what Tori Amos would have sounded like if she'd started with a drummer and a fancy piano thing" but I also wrote "All these piano licks are familiar" and "Joe Purdy rocked. Charlotte Martin should have opened for him").
  • Joe Purdy rocked. Plus, he's very funny.
  • If you need a cab in the Reston/Dulles area, call Mohisin Choudhry - (571) 232-6801 anytime. He's on call and a good guy to ride around with.
I found out a lot of other stuff, too, including that easy access to a computer where I could post was not to be had (as the six of you now know...).

Oh, and it is good to be back :)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Too skinny for the runway??

The second headline on this morning's Guardian feed reads "Jowell condemns thin models."

The British culture secretary (fuckin' A, you want to talk about big government? A culture secretary?) is chiming in on a recent controversy in Spain, where models with a BMI below 18 have been prevented from strolling the catwalk.

In a stand that runs counter to my parenthetical above, the Guardian quotes Jowell as saying, "It's categorically not an issue for government regulation. It is, however, an issue of major concern for young girls who feel themselves inferior when compared to the stick-thin young women on the catwalk. They all want to look as beautiful as that and see beauty in those terms. And I think it's fair to say that when they wake up in the morning, the first thing most 15- and 16-year-old girls do is feel their tummies."

Of course, being a nuisance, I had to check to find out what Tessa Jowell looks like. I found her picture here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The war, the future, etc.

James Fallows was (and may still be, for all I know) in town last night to talk about Iraq, Iran, the U.S. attempt to deal with global terrorism and the way forward for the United States and the Islamic world. The talk lasted less than 90 minutes and was therefore overly broad for my taste.

I would have preferred he spend the hour-plus just talking about Iran, but I guess that wouldn't have been far-reaching enough for the fairly partisan crowd (I'll let you surmise which side of the fence the crowd that came to Whitman College on a school night fell on).

If you read The Atlantic regularly, you already know the bulk of the talk, which did include some pretty funny lines from Fallows.

The only real revelation of the evening came in the Q&A period, when a guy tried to draw an analogy between the war in Iraq and the grieving process. The analogy failed, but the guy said something interesting: that at the outset of the war, everyone supported the idea because of the prewar intelligence.

Until Thursday night, I don't think I'd heard any non-politician actually say that aloud. Politicians, sure: How else can they flipflop on the war without looking like they're only following public opinion? But regular people?

Hey, I've been fooled before, but never in hell did I believe for one moment that Iraq: a) had weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed in a meaningful manner; b) that Saddam Hussein was actively involved in nuclear weapons research and production (I'd easily believe, however, that his masturbatory dreamland included an A-bomb or two); or c) that any of the above posed a threat to anybody outside of Iraq.

On the flip side, Saddam Hussein is an asshole, but I'm not sure that's in the Reasons To Go To War playbook.

Look: The Intelligence Community couldn't predict the fall of communism (most of it, anyway) or whack Castro. Why should anyone take their word - handed down by the president - about anything else?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Villainous scented things

While reading Lulu's post on her department's new "meeting room" and its Renuzit Caribbean Cooler room freshener," I was reminded of the headaches I used to get from the smell of artificially augmented potpourri, as well as the horrifying stench that emanated from our neighbor's apartment in the Granite State.

Mighty Mouse, you see, had a small dog that whizzed indoors - nonstop as near as I could tell, and for every whiz, Mighty Mouse and her husband had a plug-in air "freshener." The smell was only noticeable if you were within a couple blocks of the apartment building, but even so...

So I was amused to read this quote from a local third-grader, on hand sanitizer her school has the kids use when they come in from recess, just before chow:

"It smells weird."

Damn right.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Luck of the draw

I'm soon to flee for Virginia, for a work thing, so I thought I'd troll for possible shows in the area while I'm there, to fill in a free evening or two. Lo and behold, Joe Purdy is opening for someone I've never heard of, on a night I have free, 10 miles from where I'm staying. What luck!

The aforementioned someone, Charlotte Martin, is also (so is Purdy) an L.A.-based artist. I've intentionally not listened to her since buying the ticket, so as to be surprised. I'm not optimistic. According to her Web site:

"Two years of virtually nonstop touring had effects. While on the road, Charlotte experienced the spectrum of human emotion: heartbreak, loss, guilt, and triumph. These years of intense transition and infinite potential found themselves in the words, notes, and production of Stromata."

My spider sense - which hasn't let me down on any musical outfit I've covered in the past - tingles when I read this kind of rubbishy solipsism. Here's to hoping I'm wrong!

Monday, September 11, 2006

So close and yet so far away

At this moment, five years ago, I was swimming at the University of New Hampshire pool, the last day I went swimming until I took it up again in September 2005. I recall thinking I'd better get in a swim before descending into news world for a few months. I was right.

Sept. 11, broadly defined, continues to depress me in the where's-our-country-going sense, though there are bright spots. My melancholy is summed up in part by the war-cost meter at Land-o-Lulu. Of course, there are the non-monetary costs, too...

But from a professional standpoint, Sept. 11 and the days and weeks after remain the zenith of my journalism life. Many good things came before, and many after, but nothing compares to Sept. 11, a time of focus, teamwork and relentless effort.

We who inhabit the Fourth Estate aren't government, but there are similarities, especially in this realm. We, too, can point to mistakes made before and after the attacks, triumphs and abyssmal failures that run parallel to those of the government.

I suppose the saving grace - for me, anyway - is that I have cultivated loneliness. My version doesn't take me to far-off lands to gather my own firsthand reports, but it does help to keep a distance between my professional and personal lives, and for that I am thankful.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Slice of life

Running delightfully counter to the hoity-toity stereotype you might have of "wine country," Walla Walla has a basketful of special events throughout the year that are decidedly non-pretentious.

In the spring, the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede brings about three dozen balloons to the area - not a big festival, but very popular. Morning launches, lots of tourists - pretty laid-back.

Of course, there's also spring barrel tasting weekend, a much newer way to ring in the season around here.

In late August, there's also the county fair - demolition derby, rodeo, carnies, cows, the usual.

Today was the splasho day for Wheelin' Walla Walla Weekend, which was expected to draw about 300-350 cars (Corvettes, Mustangs, street rods, El Caminos, lots of vintage models) and a few thousand people to the area.

Right around the corner from the fancy-schmancy wine tasting room, the butterfly lady and I passed a clot of vintage auto owners (hyphen oh so appropriately omitted) talking cars, at just enough above the volume of everybody else to raise suspicion. Sure enough, clutched in their mitts, obscured by insulating can holders, were a few cans on Natural Light (maybe it was Milwaukee's Best?).

I know a lot of people in my city worry about what the place will look like in a few years (good ol' Wally World with more money, or Upscaley Resortville filled with wealthy, New York Times-believing outsiders?), but I guess I mark the changing of the times by subtler cues.

Maybe someday our city, and our downtown, will change to the point that people who don't mind fracturing the open-container laws won't feel comfortable. That would be incremental change for the worse, a mark of just a little too much civilization for me.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Strep nose

I'm not yet diagnosed, but I am highly suspicious that the dreaded strep nose has returned.

I came down with it in 2003 or 2004 and had fun teasing the medical establishment by calling the snout trouble "strep nose." They seemed more partial to a mumble-y nonsense name, like intranasal streptococcal inflammation incident.

But strep nose is what it was, and the physician's assistant threw the kitchen sink at it with some high-powered, high-cost antibiotics. I'm pretty sure it's back, and I'm pretty sure it still sucks.

So off I go to have another round of nonsense with the doctor. What a treat!

Postscript: I have a more useful post on this subject, here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

MTV sucks

So, the geniuses at (Sometimes We Play) Music Television got the Raconteurs to play at their award show, but the producers went to commercial in the middle of a ZZ Top cover and came back with about 10 seconds remaining in "Broken Boy Soldier," which if I'm not mistaken is the title cut of a kickass album...

Maybe they didn't have time to spare because of needing to put Jack Black on stage for his little fuckfuck comedy routine.

Or maybe MTV figured that with Al Gore due up, they couldn't get too far off the beaten path of mind candy for the viewing audience and headed off Jack White's crew at the pass.

blogger comment nonsense

Having switched to blogger's beta a while back, I had merrily continued to post comments elsewhere (on the now-dreaded non-beta blogs) using my old password. Alas, this morning blogger breaks the news to me that "that feature is coming soon" or some similar rubbish.

Drat. I don't like being isolated, even in silly ways.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Wild-cow milking

The fair is on here, so the butterfly lady, her father and I went to the rodeo last night, to watch the usual roping, wrestling and riding. Besides standard fare was some silliness - too much rodeo clown, lots of victory laps in the back of a pickup, choreographed horseback riding - and the hinted-at wild-cow milking.

I strongly suspect the cows were not in fact wild, but they also weren't wild about the event:

Teams of two, initially on horseback, attempt to rope, subdue, cajole and milk one of a small group of cows. I thought for sure that the announcement of "wild-cow milking time" was a joke or maybe a code for something else, but it wasn't. As it turned out, only one of the teams was able to pull off the feat.

The other cowbows spent a lot of time being dragged around the ring by the miffed cows. Pretty silly.

Incredibly, this event is widespread (google can back me up here - I guess I've been going to the wrong rodeos or skipping out at the wrong time) and wild-cow milking is taken seriously, but mostly I thought it was just weird.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Be your own personal chef

So, you're busy all week, with no time to cook a brand spankin' new dinner each night. Unlike some people, you don't have the cash to pay somebody to fill your fridge and freezer with a week's worth of meals.

What you do have is a few hours free one day a week, some empty casserole dishes and ingredients. What do I have? A plan that will give you five tasty, healthy and interesting dinners, all fixable in a few hours on one day.

Here are my caveats:
  • I assume that you, a busy person, have already figured out how to keep breakfast easy but interesting (granola, plain yogurt and English muffins are my staples, and all three can take a surprising variety of condiments).
  • I assume you have either thrown in the towel and eat lunch at a local shop or simply pack a sandwich and some carrot sticks.
  • I also assume that you can fend for yourself on Saturday night and will probably nibble and snack your way through a dinner's equivalent while you whip up your five forthcoming meals...
And here are my tricks:
  • If you like to play grownup and have meals that consist of more than one food item, buy a bag of salad and a baguette every two or three days, one on cooking day, the other during the week - say on Wednesday - on your way home from work. Then you'll have fresh-enough bread and greens to go with your main courses.
  • If you hate that kind of salad, buy bell peppers, carrots, celery, cauliflower, cut them into bite-size pieces (crudite, I suppose) and keep them in a bowl of water in the fridge. Then you can pull a handful out and dress them to go with dinner.
  • If you can swing it, indulge in some nice cheese and olives. You can cut up some of the cheese and have it with the O's as an appetizer.
  • Some condiments, such as hummus and black-bean dip, can be made with ease while you are making other food. As long as you have a free burner to simmer the beans, you won't have to worry about dips needing your undivided attention on cooking day.
  • As you probably guessed from the above, I like to make my multi-course meals the easy way, by having other little goodies to go with them, not by going through the rigamarole of cooking three different dishes on any given night.
Coming soon, the first installment of recipes...