Thursday, August 30, 2007

tomatoes & other garden stuff

I am attempting to make some sun-dried tomatoes. Last year I made some in the oven, and they turned out very well; I tended to eat them like raisins after they were done, so I didn’t get to keep as many for use over the winter as I had planned. But the ones I did keep were pretty useful. I just dropped them into boiling pasta for the last few minutes of cook time, then drained it all together, then added some butter or olive oil. That was good.

Unfortunately, drying in the oven can be a little annoying, because one must run the oven at low temperature for a long time—six to ten hours. I over-cooked quite a few. This year, the idea of keeping the oven running while the air conditioning was fighting off the 90+ degree heat just didn’t appeal to me at all.

So I am trying a new method. I happen to have a Ford Festiva-shaped solar-powered dehydrator, which I brought with me to work. I placed it so that the front solar screen was facing the sun, put a tray of little sliced tomatoes on the front panel, and went into the office to work.

I think this might take two days. Wish me luck.

Also, the newspaper mulch I’ve attempted to use in my watermelon bed has failed catastrophically. It is now difficult to see the watermelon vines under all the 18-inch-tall grass, as well as the volunteer tomatoes and basil (I won’t complain about the last two. The basil is especially welcome, and has a pleasant lemony flavor.) My garden, almost every inch, looks terrible. It’s extremely weedy, overgrown, and browning.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Just like 8th grade

Book Report

A Book I Read on My Summer Vacation by Mark T.

I just finished reading a novel! That makes a total of two for this year, which is as many or more than I’ve read in several years. I turned the last page yesterday as I sat at the Mall St. Matthews food court, waiting for the Goodyear mechanics to be done with my car.

Since I spend so little time reading fiction, I must select great monuments of literature, right? Yeah, sure. This particular book was Riders of the Dead by Dan Abnett, and was published by The Black Library, the fiction-publishing arm of Games Workshop, which produces the popular Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 miniatures wargames and roleplaying games. You can clearly see the tie-in because, above the book’s title and the cover art depicting a bunch of men killing one another with giant medieval weapons, is the big “WARHAMMER” logo. The book was recommended, and loaned to me, by David.

Well, I thought it was pretty darn good. There was a time when I primarily read science fiction and fantasy novels, but I left off with that because…well, I was going to say that so many of them were lame-o, but that’s not really why. There are countless titles, and among those countless titles are many, many very good books that I’ve never reached for. I think it actually comes down to this: I don’t allot much time for fiction. I read (or, most often, browse) non-fiction. When I do get around to reading fiction, I want it to somehow matter. I want it to be something important, or educational, or unforgettable. I don’t often set aside time for reading fiction for the joy of reading fiction.

I sure used to, though. When I was a teenager, I’d often start a novel and not put it down until I had finished it, opening it when I got home from the library and finishing it sometime before dawn the next day.

A month or two ago I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a great or important literary work, but it was well-written and clever. I loaned it to David, and he loaned me Riders of the Dead. One evening I cracked it open and read a few random pages involving some guys killing one another on horseback in the middle of a stream, and it was pretty engrossing. So I decided to I’d read it soon.

This is the first swords & sorcery novel, besides The Lord of the Rings, that I’ve read in 15 years, maybe more. I call it swords & sorcery although there is little sorcery in it. The Warhammer setting, clearly but loosely based on late medieval Europe, keeps magical fireworks a rarity. There is, however, plenty (buckets and buckets!) of limb-hacking, decapitating, bone-smashing, blood-puddling, horse-toppling, chest-impaling, skull-stacking, and war-whooping. In between, Abnett does a fine job of painting cultures and landscapes in a way that feels quite real and down-to-earth without becoming overlong or wordy. Having a pseudo-European backdrop certainly must have helped; the cultures didn’t need to be created from whole-cloth. But it’s imaginatively told.

The story involves two horse soldiers from the continent’s great Empire. They travel with a large army to the steppes of the northeast, preparing for an incursion of brutal barbarians. They are quickly overrun by the hordes of the north; one is captured, and the other escapes to join a local band of horsemen in their resistance fight. The bulk of the book skips back and forth between the two over the course of a year.

I found the writing to be surprisingly good, as was the editing. The language is descriptive and evocative. My only real complaint is that the final scenes—the climax of the book—seemed rather abbreviated. Perhaps the author wanted to convey the sense that the reader was rushing unstoppably towards a fateful confrontation, but it instead feels like he just wanted to finish because he was tired of writing it.

That flaw, however, is minor. I’d have to file this book under “ripping yarns.” I’ll add, for any of you knitters who read this, that a “ripping yarn” can be a good thing in certain contexts. But I bet you knitters aren’t too likely to read any novel in which the stacking of trophy skulls is featured prominently.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

And so the cosmic dance continues

At ten minutes before six this morning, I walked out the front door in nothing but my boxers, crossed the lawn, and stalked up my neighbors’ driveway. Then I was able to see the moon. The Earth’s shadow hid our milky whiteness, hers and mine. The eclipse had ink-washed the moon’s top three-quarters; the bottom still shone a bright salmon hue against the grey-brown of the morning sky.

Every time I view a lunar eclipse, I think of a story that a professor at U of L told me once. He was in France with a bunch of friends. After dinner, they were all outside as a lunar eclipse was occurring. He knew some French, but was not fluent. Looking up and noticing the moon, he blurted in French, “Look! The moon! …It isn’t there!”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Movie review, random thoughts, restaurant review

The Host

David came over last night and we watched “The Host,” a Korean monster movie. I thought it was pretty good. After a fairly standard set-up in which an uncaring U.S. Army doctor orders the dumping of scores of bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River, I was treated to scenes of a hideously mutated, bus-sized creature (fish? lizard? salamander?) trampling and mauling panicked pedestrians and picnickers.

After the initial rampage, four family members band together to rescue another who was kidnapped by the beast.

The monster, at least as it appeared on the small screen, was nicely done. There were a few scenes it which it was a dark shape moving underwater in which it didn’t look very convincing; it had a “painted-on” look. But for the most part, as it ran, tumbled, and jumped through the cityscape in broad daylight, it had a natural look.

I found the main characters to be interesting and appealing. Although I’m not sure I got some of the plot nuances (I feel like I’m missing a few grains of understanding with the whole virus/no virus/ “agent yellow” deal), it all held together and progressed in a more-or-less believable* fashion, taking into account the bumbling-comic aspects of the family’s situations.

Yesterday I mowed my front yard and about a third of the back. I had to quit in order to fix dinner for the girls and relieve their Nana, who was sitting them while I cut. The grass really needed it; the front lawn had not been mowed in more than a month. It was hot and humid and the cut grass came out chunky and gloppy. When I came in and picked up Jill, she kept reaching down to touch the front of my T-shirt. She’d make a “Gee-ahh” sound, some sort of commentary on how wet I was.

The night before last Kim and I had a date night. We had dinner at Puccini’s, again while Nana watched the girls. Thank goodness for grandparents—Erin and Jill have the four best. Puccini’s was good. I had a small pizza with artichoke, olives, mushrooms, and bacon. Kim had fettuccini with pesto sauce. Both were very good, as was the garlicky cheese pepperoni bread appetizer. Prices were reasonable. We’ll go back, some day.

*edited to add: When I say “believable,” I mean as compared to similar movies.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Last night, as that crazy storm was winding down, I headed over to Carrie’s to work on that saw. I am almost done! A couple more hours of work, maybe less, should do the trick. Really, it might be less than an hour of painting.

The night before last I finished “Revenge of the Sith.” The second half was a definite improvement over the first. Instead of rating the movie a 3 out of 10, I’ll raise it to 5. That means, to me, that it was watchable, some parts were fun, but overall my reaction was tepid.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hop on the ferry

You're Siddhartha!

by Hermann Hesse

You simply don't know what to believe, but you're willing to try
anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you've spent
some time in every camp. But you still don't have any idea what camp you belong in.
This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It's
time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Well, it’s at least as accurate as my horoscope.

Yoda says

Paul, Aaron, and Karen came over a couple weeks ago for D&D. Paul brought his two sons, who watched movies while we played. The next day, I realized that they had accidentally left their DVDs. Some Scooby-Doo cartoon movie and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

That, I thought to myself, is great. I haven’t yet seen the final Star Wars movie, since I’d sworn I wouldn’t pay money to watch it. I just didn’t think it would be worth it, after seeing the last two.

Last night I started watching it. Eh. Perhaps it is the best of episodes I-III, but still. I like the ‘splosions just fine. However, it (like Episodes I, II, and VI) lacks the …something… of III and IV. What is that “something”? Charm? Focus? The sense of drama and comedy and character that arose from a more limited special-effects palette, budgetary constraints, and the relatively short (several years, as opposed to thirty) period of mythos-building and commercial tie-ins?

It’s stupid for me to post about it. Thousands upon thousands of Star Wars nuts have discussed this to death; I really don’t care that much. I’ll probably try to finish watching the movie, but if I don’t get the chance, oh well.

All of this is just leading up to the following point: My very favorite part of the movie so far is when Yoda, sitting on the Jedi Council, says, “Good relations with the Wookies I have.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Un sol de oro

I really like this Peruvian coin. It’s brass, but it looks rusty, which would normally be a bad things but seems quite nice here.

I’m fond of coins with animals, especially ones that are simple, straightforward designs. They don’t get much plainer than this. It’s a very nice little llama; what more can you say?

This is one of the ones my parents found at a yard sale.

blackberry picking

The girls enjoy picking blackberries. They usually come back in the house with maroon juice stains on their faces and clothing. Also a hit are the cherry tomatoes, although Jill usually just gnaws on hers for a moment before taking the mess out of her mouth and either throwing it on the ground or handing it to me. I think she likes the flavor but doesn’t like the thick skin.

The blackberries are usually fairly tart. It’s possible to get them when they are perfectly ripe and quite sweet. However, at that point, they are so tender that they can easily fall apart in my hand as I try to pull them away from the plant. They are also more likely to be damaged by bugs or to have been chomped by birds. I’ve seen cardinals eating them. I suspected insects were responsible for the chunks missing from the ripe ones, but I finally witnessed some cardinals in the act. That explains why the ones that are damaged tend to be ones that are easily visible; berries that are hidden down low and under leaves stay safe.

Also pictured is our first watermelon. I picked it a little too soon. Yesterday, though, I got another one. I haven’t cut it yet, but its stem was starting to shrivel, so it must have been time, right?