Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I know you’re not supposed to buy yourself things right before Christmas, but I wasn’t sure I’d get them, so I bought myself tube socks and t-shirts the other day. I’ve always hated white t-shirts. When I was required to wear them by maternal decree, I repeatedly told my mother that they gave me the swirlies.

The swirlies are experienced as an uncomfortable mismatch between layers of clothing, intensified by a discrepancy in size or the static cling of the dry winter months. You may have tucked in t-shirt that is being pulled in one direction by a confusing interaction with your belt, while the motion of your arms takes the upper layer of button down shirt in an entirely different direction. Think of it as small scale plate tectonics with homeostatic comfort lost in time like the quasi-mythical Pangaea. Only after many hours of wiggling randomly and tugging abstractly will comfort become possible.

Despite this tragically pandemic childhood trauma, I had recently considered, after a multi-year moratorium on all things tight and white, that I might cut down the dry cleaning bill through the cunning use of a fabric barrier. It may be that I am still too large for my larges, but I must confess that I have no languid largesse for the fabric of T and, still feeling swirly, would that all were return shipped to Germany, where this whole t-shirt thing started (incidentally).


A typical day in the life… The Flying J Truck Plaza sells discounted books on tape and our car has both a CD player and a tape deck so that I can be most flexible in my selections. So far this year I have listened to…many books. I was going to list them but then I realized that you don’t care. I do think it’s funny that I got Hillary Clinton’s & Madeline Albright’s biographies on CD for three dollars thirty three (cents – didn’t want to break the rhyme without a parenthetical buffer). In red states all blue bios are bargain bin bonus buys.


Com-stating: an observational form of description akin to complaint, but more redolent with banal indifference; often marked by the utterance, “Oh…huh…”

I had to stay late tonight at work, putting the finishing touches on a monster final exam that I am giving tomorrow. The evening’s basketball game had already started by the time I was leaving, around six, so I bought my dinner from the concessions booth – a cheeseburger and an RC cola – two bucks.

I left home at five thirty in the morning today and got back here around seven thirty. As I walked up to the back door of our apartment I caught myself trying to fit my classroom key into the backdoor’s lock. Sometimes your work life just takes over. Last night, as I was falling asleep on the couch before six, I told Jes that as of Thursday she’d have me for thirteen days. That’s the length of my “vacation”. If we are required to give finals in all of our classes it stands to reason that we are also required to grade them. Thusly, I have a ton of grading to do over the break, but I am generally up several hours before Jes is, so I can get my work done while she is here in body only. When consciousness is un I must needs be on.

I see a fair amount of nature on my treks to and from work. Today a massive owl flew across the road in front of me during my return trip. Sometimes hawks or other birds will fly alongside the car and actually keep pace with me for longer then you would think likely. A few days ago I had a blue jay dive bomb my windshield. I actually ducked inside the car, instinctively dodging what was coming right for me. He bounced off the glass in a depressing arc and disappeared into the roadside ditch with a stunned finality. If you add him to the squirrel that I clipped last month, evidenced by the rear view mirror flip flop, it puts the probable body count for our new car at two.

I have had three deer sightings that involved a great deal of white knuckled/white tailed breaking, and tens of sightings that didn’t. I also had a very close shave with a bunch of wild turkeys. What do you call that? Gaggle? Pride? Bunch? The main group of them went right, so I veered left and missed the lone statistical outlier by inches. Odd, I just gave you directions from their perspective. From my perspectives the turkeys went left and I went right. I’m not sure I’ve ever linguistically identified with wild potential road kill like that before; it must be guilt over the blue jay.


Monday, December 18, 2006

I go to bed earlier and earlier. Then I am up in the middle of the night grading papers and doing laundry… It’s an odd thing to wake for the day only slightly after midnight. My schedule is completely off kilter. I can’t imagine that it’s healthy and yet I woke up – didn’t feel the need for more sleep – and got to work on things that need doing. Perhaps there is some health in that.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday is the only day of the week when I can really see what my life looks like. Every other day of the week I am on my way somewhere and getting worn out. Saturday I am in recovery and then on Sunday I am me, the me that I would be everyday if I wasn’t exhausted all the time.

On Saturday I water the plants and on Sunday they look watered, they stretch out, they darken their greens. We have a number of plants. When I first moved back to St. Louis I tried to reconnect with several high school friends that were living here. One of them, Mike, came over and was shocked at all of my plants. When I started talking about them and it became clear that they really were my plants, not some feminine touch that I tolerated in an otherwise manly home, he was appalled. He said something simple and asinine like, “There not really yours, right?”

We only had a few more visits after that, simply not much in common and my plants were an affront to his gender role confusion. I offered another man, Becky C’s stepbrother, a cup of tea once and the same thing happened. Poor guys, no tea or plants permitted in their John Wayne worlds. No one ever told them that John’s real name was Marian.

At the school I taught at last year there was a wrestling couch who also taught computer aided drafting. He had turned his classroom into an arboretum. He was on the back of the building and had good light. He didn’t know the names of most of the plants; he just knew that if people brought him sick plants, he could generally save them. He had red hair like mine, and a barrel chest. He rode his motorcycle into work most days. We seem of a similar sort, look like we could be brothers. I wonder about our genetic ancestry and our green thumbs. There is something of Bacchus in the redheads.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

My first semester as a teacher in H is winding down. I’ll have thirteen days off to contemplate my navel and to grade the one hundred and thirty finals I am giving next week. Grades are due when we come back. I’m really not sure what to do about H. I like my coworkers, like the district, but the housing situation is just a disaster, plus there is the economics of debt. I am underemployed. I looked at two more houses on Friday and they just aren’t right…

Anyway, we’ve had some interesting doings this week. Ajax, our cat, got very sick and Jes took him in to the vet. They told her he had a high fever and there were three possibilities: he had a virus; he had an intestinal blockage, for which they took two x-rays and contemplated surgery; or he had a progressive genetic disorder that was going to kill him. Luckily it turned out to be the virus, two hundred and some odd dollars later. That cuts into the Christmas budget a bit.

Our land lady Kathy and her mother wanted to take us to dinner for cat sitting while they were in Europe, but as we were on sick cat watch it was decided that we’d walk up to South Grand for some Mexican take out. On they way home, warmed by the margaritas, we were taken a little by surprise when a ten year old kid tried to steal Kathy’s purse. He was walking behind us like he wanted to pass us and then he suddenly made a grab for the bag. She did not let go and instead she hit him with it and he ran off. It wasn’t really a scary mugging; it was more humorous and strange. All this talk of St. Louis’ crime rate has apparently emboldened the neighborhood youth. This incident happened right in front of the house, kinda makes you want to come visit doesn’t it.

It’s an odd thing to get used to. I was obviously upset when my car was stolen, but I got it back more or less unharmed. I was more indifferent when my BBQ grill went missing, in part because I had two – seemed more of a natural distribution of wealth thing. Is it the Helsinki syndrome to blame yourself for the theft? I mean after all, I didn’t lock the grill up so I must have deserved the theft. Getting pseudo mugged by a ten year old in front of our apartment is just a depressing new item to add to our list. The guy that did the rehab of the building next door wants four hundred thousand for the house, in part to recoup all the tools that were stolen while he was rebuilding it. If they really want to revitalize St. Louis they should hire a few more cops. At they same time, after the purse grabbing we didn’t call anyone, because what would be the point.


Monday, December 11, 2006

I apparently have a new winter hobby. I have been slow cooking chickens. Yesterday I made a chicken soup which I began at noon and we ate ten p.m. I should post the dumpling recipe as they were both simple and delicious.

In a Cuisinart combine two pieces plain white bread with one cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Add 1 and ¼ cup flower, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt
And ½ cup milk and four tablespoons of melted butter
Pulse into ball of dough
Use table spoon to divide – roll into dumplings – simmer in soup 12-15 minutes with lid on.

Tonight I am making this Brazilian stew with a cup of cilantro, two tomatoes, three hot peppers, two onions, and four cloves of garlic. You get the picture. The main idea is to simmer it until the chicken falls apart and then add two cups of coconut milk and a cup of finely chopped peanuts (I used the coffee grinder), then simmer it some more.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? We were never much for the Nog in my family. I’ve tried it a few times but would rather have the Chocolate, or better yet a Manhattan.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Some get wrapped, but I like that –stuff it in a bag and put crinkly paper on top – thing that people have started doing. It’s much easier.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? For reasons that are unclear to me I prefer white lights that do tricks. My lights have a little control panel with sixteen flashing options. I like slow glow on, slow glow off the best.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nope. My parents tried to one year and things got messy.

5. When do you put your decorations up? I started tinkering around Thanksgiving, but we’re so cramped for space I think we’re relying on the in-laws this year for our aesthetic cravings.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? My mom makes a pork meat pie with a flaky crust that is the bee’s knees.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: The last Christmas before my oldest brother went into the Navy. There was a huge stack of gifts for everyone under the tree, but most importantly we were all there. We went to church for the midnight Silent Night candle service. I fell asleep and they carried me home.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? He was marketed to me from an early age on our black and white TV, mostly through Bing Crosby specials. My mom was always there to throw a counter punch for Jesus.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Ah, yeah, all of them.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Go cut the largest tree that will fit in the space, put the bare side in the corner, lights, ornaments, sometimes with a topper. One year I put little drink umbrellas everywhere and had a tiki head on top.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? I have a wintry disposition and prefer cold to heat. White and cold is prettier than grey and cold.

12. Can you ice skate? I used to be better. My center of gravity has shifted forward and down, so it’s harder on my ankles. I might go this year if I can get summer girl to try it.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Lego was always a big hit as a child. As an adult my father saw me looking at a desktop bookcase in a junk shop. He went back and bought it, painstakingly refinished it, and it currently holds my poetry collection on top of my dresser. Thanks dad.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Spending time with family.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Hmm – pumpkin pie. I like Russian tea cakes – oh!!!!!! Butter horns – they’re a family thing – a heavy pastry shaped like a croissant and covered in vanilla icing. I’ll make some this year.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? I have a soft spot for the Christmas Eve service. I like stockings on fireplaces. I watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Cheese.

17. What tops your tree? Different from year to year – stars preferred.

18. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving? We do this thing in my family where we get most of our gifts at junk shops and then we tell each other how little we paid for them – thus everyone gets lots of nice stuff and no one breaks the bank. I like that – the giving I mean.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Let it snow – Jazz version – Dean Martin.


I’ve looked at some really bad property over the last few months, but the one I looked at yesterday took the absolute cake. It didn’t help that it was a half hour outside of town going the opposite direction from my current home, so I knew at the outset I was adding at least an hour to that day’s commute. It didn’t help that the snow made the dirt road and the gravel driveway leading to the property nearly impassible. It didn’t help that the realtor was popping Zoloft from a bottle she kept on her dashboard – not kidding. It wasn’t good to find three dead mice and a urinated on carpet inside the home, too much pee for three mice to accomplish. The missing exterior wall on the den – just some propped up ply wood – was cause for concern. However, the real deal breaker was the view. The house has two decks with railings half the height of railings that are up to code, both of which face a rolling slope down to the Missouri River. Directly across the river from those porches, one of them coming off the master bedroom, there is the unmistakable concave form of a nuclear reactor; the telltale coolant steam rising with the wind to drift gently toward town. My own reaction to the reactor was bemusement while the realtor said philosophically, “That reactor going bad is the least of my worries. I stuck my head inside it once, and it seemed fine.”


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mary has suffered a terrible loss in the passing of her mother. We mourn with her and ask that donations in Norma’s honor be made to the Delta Humane Society and Hospice of San Joaquin.

Stockton, CA

Oct. 21, 1930 - December 1, 2006

Norma Frances Hurley was born October 21, 1930 in Stockton, CA and died Friday, December 1, 2006 in the home in which she was born. Norma Hurley was a life-long Stocktonian who began her professional career as a clerk at Stockton High School. She went on to work for San Joaquin Delta College as Receiving Supervisor for 15 years, before becoming a real estate agent in 1975. She became a broker and held CRS and GRI designations. She established her own agency, Norma Hurley Real Estate, in 1987 and taught real estate courses at Delta College for many years. Norma was a member of the National Board of Realtors, the California Real Estate Education Association and the Stockton Chamber of Commerce. Norma was blessed with a beautiful voice and shared it as a member of St. Luke's choir for over 30 years, in nursing homes as a member of Sunflower, and at countless weddings, funerals and other venues. Norma was also interested in genealogy. Norma was a member of P.O.I.N.T. (Putting Our Italian Names Together) and spent many happy hours communicating online with members of the Busalacchi clan throughout the country. Norma loved her constant companions, dogs, Sparky and Sophie. She was preceded in death by her parents, Frank Paul and Mary Elizabeth Busalacchi. She is survived by her children, Mary Elizabeth Hurley, David Edward Hurley, Teresa Frances Hurley (Charles Cardwell), Margaret Mary Hurley and Catherine Ann Barnes (Ronald); grandmother of Ruby Lee Bengston, Nicola Yvette Hughes (Matthew Wood), Lisa Marie Smith, Sara Nicole Hurley, Matthew Francis Hurley; great-grandmother of Alexander Edward Hurley. Relatives and friends are invited to attend a Vigil on Wednesday, December 6, 2006 at 6:00 p.m. at DeYoung Memorial Chapel, 601 N. California St., Stockton, CA. The Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Luke's Catholic Church, 3847 N. Sutter St., Stockton, CA on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 10:30 a.m. Visitation on Tuesday, December 5, 2006 from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m and Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Committal at San Joaquin Catholic Mausoleum, Stockton, CA.

The family requests that donations in her honor be made to the Delta Humane Society and Hospice of San Joaquin.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Snow day part two. It’s a little ugly out there. The thing about Wisconsin vs. Missouri bad weather is that in Wisconsin we don’t really get these ice storms, or at least we didn’t when I was growing up there. I took our F150 truck up to the grocery store yesterday – mid storm – and had to drive fairly gingerly given the sheet ice I was driving on.

I’m up early, not waiting for the “school’s cancelled” call as that came last night, watching the power outage situation. There are currently four hundred thousand local homes without power. I am glad we had our summer outage as most of the trees around here have been trimmed and the power lines are new. Still, the ice on our lines is thick and they are hanging low. It is one thing to keep the fish aerated; it’s something else to keep them warm.

I am thinking about making Borsht. It’s six thirty a.m. on a snow day and I am not sleeping, I am planning a soup. I have ground turkey but I’d rather use a turkey leg, which means I need to go to the store. Jes doesn’t eat mammals so beef and pork are out. I also need dill… I am an odd man.