Archive for January, 2011
I was planning to take the night off from my typical ramblings, but I remembered something this evening that I decided couldn’t be ignored for even one more day. Namely, that I missed my anniversary. Well, actually, I should say that I missed our anniversary, but it’s alright. I did it with good reason.
You can all relax; I’m not talking about my wedding anniversary. That was in October, and was marked by one of my favorite, albeit somewhat sappy posts. And trust me, had I overlooked that event, odds are good the Puddinette wouldn’t have left me any fingers with which to type. No, instead, I’m talking about the first anniversary of Puddintopia. At least, the first anniversary of me deciding to put some effort into it.
The night I actually wrote that first post was January 29th, 2010. It didn’t publish until after midnight, or at least whenever my server thought it midnight, which could have been anywhere from 9:15 pm to 2 am. Either way, that particular post claims the 30th as its publication date. Leave it me complicate something as relatively simple as time-stamping.
At any rate, I was planning to do the anniversary bit up proper with a “Hooray and Three Cheers” kind of post on Saturday, but I got all caught up in the pizza business, and well, that grew a life of its own. In my mind, things definitely worked out better this way, regardless. Writing the question of the famous pizza, followed by the fun of its near-immediate delivery and subsequent sampling, was infinitely more entertaining than if I’d spun a thousand words patting myself on the back by reviewing the last year in posts.
If I learned anything over the past year, it’s that in bloggery (it is too a word…maybe), you take what you’re given each day and run with it. Honestly, when I first concocted this scheme, I feared for not having something useful and/or entertaining to say on a mostly daily basis. I was petrified the exercise would quickly devolve into little more than an itemized recounting of my day. “Dear Diary, today I woke up and couldn’t find a pair of socks that matched in the dark, so I just grabbed two. I got to work with a brown one with holey toes and an argyle one with a gaping heel large enough that Andre the Giant could have passed through easily. Then I spilled Cocoa Puff milk on my shirt. FML.”
Luckily, life is apparently at least somewhat more interesting than that.
So, anyway, shortly I will be raising a glass containing a beverage worthy of celebration and toasting the last 12 months, and the nearly 170,000 words about nothing that filled them.
I hope you will toast with me, because I could not have possibly done this without all of you.
I was out of the house last night, just finishing a few late-evening errands that are typical for me after the kids have gone to bed. I was about to head home with a bottle of questionbale vino for the Puddinette and I to share that wine purists would almost certainly turn up their noses at. But we typically end up going the sangria route anyway, so I’m not worried about impressing anyone. The bottle had a cork and was the contents were made from grapes. That’s good enough for me.
Anyway, I got a phone call from home, and my wife informed me that I needed to Get. Home. Quickly. Her voice sounded strange, I thought somewhat urgent, and I immediately feared that one of the puddinlings had either commenced Exorcist-style vomiting, or had decided to refuse bedtime and was running about the house in a wolf suit screaming about Wild Things. In that case, I assumed my presence would be required to apply some Parental Smack Down.
Luckily, that was not the case. Before hanging up, my wife assured me that all was well and that she sounded odd only because she was laughing out loud.
A few minutes after my return, four young ladies appeared at our front door with a special delivery for me. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought.
The quartet of ancillary cousins handed me a lovingly wrapped foil package of Uncle J’s Magic Pizza. With the pizza came two requirements: 1) I was expected to write a full, detailed review of the sample, and 2) any use of the microwave for reheating purposes would see me cutoff from any potential magic pizzas in the future.
Neither condition was required. Of course I’d be posting about the pizza now that I had an opportunity to try it, and the only pizza I’ve ever intentionally microwaved comes with a Red Baron picture on the package. I assured them I certainly wouldn’t even consider ruining the goods in such a manner.
So then, how was it?
It was some tasty goodness, indeed. The crust is a kind of middle-of-road between a thinner, chewy New York-style and the thick crunchiness of a Chicago deep dish. It embodied all the best qualities of both, and was unlike any other I’d ever tried. The sauce was excellent, having just the right spicy bite, and just the right amount was applied. This is a big issue for me, because many places, especially in this area, put so much sauce on a pizza that the stuff oozes out and makes the cheese and toppings structurally unsound. Also, the sogginess. Nobody likes the soggy. The magic pizza, of course, has it just right.
Was it my favorite pizza ever? I don’t know; I have a hard time applying superlatives to anything. It was without question the best homemade pizza I’ve ever had, and I’m still trying to figure out how a home oven was used to make it. I’ll tell you one thing, though, if there was a piece still here at the house, I guarantee you I’d stop writing this very moment to eat it.
So, I guess it probably doesn’t really count fairy tears or dehydrated rainbow powder among the ingredients that make it so tasty. I can think of one magical secret ingredient, though. I won’t come right out and say what it is, since it is, after all, secret. Plus I don’t want everyone calling me a big softy. But when you look at all the times the pizza has been made and enjoyed, I imagine you’ll always find an enormous crowd of brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, nieces, nephews, and children beyond count laughing together and celebrating a great tradition.
Yeah, there’s a magical secret ingredient alright, I’m sure of it. And it starts exactly where I started all this yesterday. Simply put, it starts with the family.
But the crust recipe is pretty good too.
I haz the bestest ancillary family ever. Within an hour, roughly, of when I published tonight’s post regarding Uncle J’s Best. Pizza. Ever., the Puddinette was speaking on the telephone to cousins interested in delivering the magic goodness in question. To my home. At 10:30 on a Saturday night.
Tomorrow I will write, likely at ridiculous length (as I am wont to do), about whether I believe it’s the unicorn horn flour or the fairy tears that make it so tasty. For now, it is enough to know that The Family thought the Puddinette and I worthy enough that the birthday girl herself (plus several unnamed accomplices, whose craziness equals my own) brought us a sample of the tastiness.
I am slightly humbled at the gesture, and at the same time not at all surprised.
As I said, I haz the best ancillary family.
Everyone has what I like to think of as “ancillary” family. No, that’s not meant to be a derogatory term, it’s simply a description of people you’re related to, but not closely. In my view of one’s heritage, that means relatives with whom I share a “great” grandparent or great-great, etc, but nothing closer. I think proper etiquette labels such individuals as being “removed” from me, or something, but that’s a little too esoteric for my liking. Besides, removed is what you have done to a mole or a business rival, if you happen to be a Soprano-like kind of fellow. No, I’m sticking with ancillary.
In this part of the United States, lots of people have ancillary family. The Cincinnati area is home to something like 900% of America’s Catholic population (the rest are in New Jersey and Pittsburgh), so the families around here tend to stretch past the simply large and into the realm of foolhardy. Being part of a historically Catholic family myself, I’m not lacking for relatives at any given moment, immediate or otherwise. There’s plenty of ancillary family in my world.
And yes, as I understand it, many of them read Puddintopia, at least on occasion. So, then, a shout out to all my ancillary family peeps (you know who you are): you’re good people that know how to have a good time. That’s always a good thing in my book.
Having said that, I think they also might be some form of cult. I regularly see evidence of a kind of “groupthink” posted in their respective facebook statuses; to me, it strongly indicates there’s a good potential for some brainwashing going on.
Ok, I don’t really believe they’re a cult. But there is something going on, something, oddly, pizza-related. Several times a year, one of uncles in the family apparently makes homemade pizzas, and for at least two days prior to the actual dining event, messages are posted describing how excited everyone else in the family is about said Italian delight. Uncle… J, we’ll call him, is apparently some sort of pizza miracle worker, is seems, and I really want to know what’s going on here.
Today is one of those nights, it seems, and reading down my facebook News Feed, I find posts from people who can’t wait, are so excited they were unable to spell correctly, and others that claim to be insanely jealous to be missing it. There’s even a fist pump or two, and the number of exclamation points used to describe the whole thing is simply beyond my ability to count.
So, then, ancillary family, I need some explanation. What makes Uncle J’s pizza The. Best. Thing. Evah? I’m currently of the opinion that the crust must be made with ground unicorn horns, the sauce contains the precious, magical tears of fairies, or a family genie blesses each pie as it comes out of the oven. Either that, or he’s been slipping in low doses of, um, controlled substances all these years. Perhaps there are some special mushrooms involved?
Whatever it is, I desperately need to understand all this crazed devotion to Uncle J’s pizza.
And more importantly, can it be delivered?
I’ve been somewhat remiss in my responsibilities, it appears. As you may have noticed, I’ve yet to turn in that 10-word short story. No, my frogs didn’t eat it. This latest batch of words, well, they gave me a few fits. The good news that I recently worked out an outline that I’m happy with, and I think I even know how I’m going to use all the words. Yay, progress! I intend to work on it this weekend, and hopefully it will be done soon. So, if you’re a fan of fiction where words that don’t necessary go together are fit like square pegs into round holes, you’ve got something to look forward to.
Speaking of fiction, this is hard to believe, but it’s been nearly a full year since I quite unintentionally dropped the first few hundred words of my novel-in-progress, which has since earned the working title Famine. It started as an exercise in basic description and hopefully, characterization. In other words, could I make up a person in a specific situation? Would they seem “real”? To date, that exercise has grown by some 45,000 words.
I’m proud of that, but at the same time, I’m not completely happy with it. I really wanted to be further along than the halfway point a year later. Yes, I do understand that it’s pretty silly to expect so much out of something with such humble beginnings. Nobody said I had to be rational about this business, though. In fact, I’m writing my first novel, so, you know, I’m supposed to have unrealistic expectations. I still reserve the right to believe I’m going to finish this thing with minimal effort, sell it for a hundred quadrillion dollars to the first publisher that sniffs at it, and spend the rest of my days writing New York Times’ bestsellers on a Tahitian beach under the influence of rum drinks accompanied by tiny pink umbrellas.
No, I don’t really believe any of that, but it sounds good, right?
So, then, with a year of very part-time novel-writing under my belt, what do we know at this point? We know that this business is hard, for a lot of reasons. Those include:
- Doing the narrative voice right is hard when stuff is happening. When I was writing something that was nothing more than complicated than a thirsty, nameless guy waking up and trying to reach a faucet, things were mostly simple. Now there’s like, action and fights and stuff. In the midst of a car chase, it’s tempting to forget about the tone and revert to book report-style descriptions. I’m not trying to write Cliff’s Notes here.
- Characters are hard when the story’s not just about a dude alone. When there’s only one or maybe a pair of characters, keeping them straight is pretty easy. But when you start adding multiple new characters, you have to remember that Bob doesn’t talk like Jimmy, and Jimmy would never call someone “punkin” like Loralie might. And don’t even get me started on what “Candy” says when no one’s looking.
- The middle is hard. In the first 10,000 words, I had only a vague idea of what was supposed to happen later down the road. At the midpoint, though, there are quite a few threads going. All those threads need to somehow come together in the next 40-50k words, and can’t just diverge at a whim anymore without serious repercussions. Without the right planning at this point, I’ll have to make up a pink elephant to magically appear in the last chapter and grant everyone three wishes for resolving whatever issues are outstanding. I’m pretty sure only Dr. Seuss could get away with Pachydermata ex Machina.
Make no mistake, though, I’m not priming the excuses pump to explain why I’ll never have a finished manuscript to waste my paper and printer ink on. I will finish it, before the end of this calendar year, if I have my way. And I don’t want it to seem like I’m complaining and don’t enjoy the work. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth; I love every minute of it. But I see now why every Tom, Dottie, and Stieg Larsson believes they’d easily be the next Hemingway if they just found a few days to write down the words for that magic book they’ve got in mind, yet only a fraction of people manage to finish the job. The job, it ain’t easy.
It is, however, very rewarding, even if Famine never sees print. My characters continually seem to do whatever they want, regardless of what I had planned for them in the beginning. Being a newbie, at best, I don’t honestly know if that’s what’s supposed to happen, but it seems to be working in my case. And I couldn’t be happier.
Unless it was finished, of course. But if nothing else, I’ve learned now that you can’t rush creation.
Especially with four kids, a full time job, four fish and a pair of potentially expectant frogs.
Because it’s January 26th, it’s cold and grey outside, and my yard has been covered with the same snow since, um, July, I think, I decided that I needed to write about something light and quirky today. Otherwise, odds were pretty good my head was going to explode. I mostly do a fairly decent job of coping with the winter, having lived here, in the place with the winter, for 37 years. Every year, though, I get a little older, and the cold seems a little colder, the grey seems a little greyer, and by the end of January I’m contemplating foolish things. I get the urge to pack a bag, head to the Delta terminal at CVG, drop my 401k statement on the counter, and beg for a one-way ticket on the first flight wherever the sun keeps its winter home.
So, then, in the interest of having some fun, I decided to write about wildlife. Not just any wildlife, though, oh no. I realized this evening that I have egregiously neglected to introduce my loyal readers to the puddinpets.
So, with a tremendous amount of, um, pride(?), allow me to present:
the Fabulous Fish, and
our Fantastic Frogs, “Tiny” (front center), and “Swimmy” (back right).
Please hold your applause.
By the way, have you ever tried to take a picture of an aquarium? It’s not easy. For one thing, you have to get about three nanometers from the glass in order to see anything. For another, even if you do get a decent shot of the tank, the odds of capturing any actual aquatic life-forms in the image are roughly equivalent to those of the Bengals beating the junior varsity resident team from Sunset Farms Retirement Community.
It probably doesn’t help that we got our camera for free with American Express points in 2003. But I’ve become miserly in my old age, and the ability to capture life-like shots of critters in 900 megapixels isn’t a high priority.
At any rate, I believe you can see two of our four fish in the first picture. If you can’t see them, click the image for a bigger version. Our fish have all been named by the puddinlings, of course, so they carry the oddly familiar names Scooby, Daphne, Velma, and um, Dinosaur. There used to be a Shaggy, but he died, as family aquarium pets are wont to do. You can rest assured, though, that he received the appropriate toilet-side services and is now peacefully at rest. At the sewage treatment plant. “Dinosaur” is the largest fish pictured, and he’s my favorite, a type of shark. The Attitude named him while still in the pet store bag. We held said bag up for the kid and asked him for the fish’s name. At first he refused to say anything but “veesh” repeatedly. After continued prodding, though, he finally decided upon “dinohsar”.
We counted ourselves lucky and moved on.
The frogs are a better story. If you told me a decade ago that I’d have a small cube full of water and a pair of frogs living in my house at any point in my life, I’d have told you to lay off the Jagermeister. One day, though, Mini-Me begged and begged the Puddinette to take him to a pet store so he could see the guinea pigs. As they happened to be out running errands and hitting the stores already (and because she’s a big softy), she chose to indulge him. Little did we know that he’d brought most of his not inconsiderable cash with him.
It seems that the one way he’s not exactly like the childhood version of me is that he can save his money pretty well. As I’ve said, when I was a kid, a five dollar bill lasted me only as long as it took to make a trip to the convenient store.
Anyway, he was planning to use his stockpile to procure a little fuzzy pet. However, when he finally got to see the guinea pigs and hold them in hand, it was apparently a lot different than watching them spin on the Infinite Wheel of Rodent Amusement. It didn’t take two minutes for him to decide they creeped him out.
Of course, that left him with a problem. All this saved money yet no pet to show for it. And that’s when the frogs caught his eye.
I suppose we should count ourselves lucky. The frogs are pretty low maintenance; much more so than a rodent. Also, they can’t escape, which is a plus. That said, Tiny spent the better part of this week resting beside that blue rock pictured, and for most of Sunday and some of Monday, Swimmy did too. On top of her. Or, occasionally, next to her, back-end to back-end. They were quite chummy, indeed. So chummy, in fact, that I’m afraid they might have, you know, gotten to know each other. There might have been some Barry White playing softly.
I am fearful that Tiny could be in a, um, family way, and our little cube might soon be full of tadpoles. But I’m not sure. I don’t remember the details of amphibious procreation from high school biology, and quite frankly, I’ve been hesitant to Google “frog reproduction”. The internet is a dark place sometimes, and I deeply fear happening across a website belonging to a guy nicknamed “Frog”.
What he does with his private time is none of my business.
Just about a week ago, Cincinnati City Council Member Laura Quinlivan asked the public for thoughts about our city’s image. I had a little something to say on the matter, which ultimately became more than just a little something. I wrote a post all about Cincinnati and beer, and it’s waiting to be read, right at this very moment, at Hoperatives.com.
Go on, click it…you know you want to!
Tonight I wrote a Hoperatives post,
a little more serious than most.
I hope you’ll agree
when it’s published to see,
so then we can share in a toast!
Even a seemingly random, inconspicuous Monday in late January can mark interesting events. Usually I’m just happy when I make it through a Monday, because that’s the most active evening of our week. When I finally get everyone to and from everywhere they need to be, the dinner mess cleaned up, and the kids in bed, I exhale a great “whew” and begin the Great Monday Unwinding. That might, on occasion, include the consumption of a beer or two. Maybe.
At any rate, two key events took place for us today. Most importantly, my daughter, the Princess Puddinette, attended the very first of what is certain to be hundreds of Girl Scout meetings. Now, I don’t know if that makes her a girl scout, a brownie, a chiffon cupcake, or some other kind of bake-sale item, but we paid the requisite sign-up fees and are now in the market for the appropriate vest. So, you know, I guess…who needs a cookie hook-up? Let me know. No one wants my cute-as-a-button daughter crying herself to sleep because her fancy new sash or whatever is noticeably missing a cookie badge, right?
Ok, maybe that was a little much. If you need Thin Mints, though, I’m just saying…
What I found most interesting about this whole business is what it means for my little Princess Puddinette, who’s apparently not just so little anymore. This morning when I left for work, my daughter’s life was largely defined by aspects of my life and that of the Puddinette’s. When I tucked her in to bed tonight, though, she’d magically become a tiny part of the outside world, with cookie sale responsibilities and a club membership of her own, something that was a part of her life, individually.
Now, if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, my internet connection also decided to take a dive this morning. Not only was the Puddinette cut off from her primary source of daytime contact with the outside world, (aka the internets), the greater world beyond was also temporarily deprived of Puddintopia. Obviously, chaos ensued as people everywhere desperately tried to hold together the fabric of civilized society without my words of musing. You know, because finding out how I feel about Big K Cola “Oh!” is obviously pretty important.
Maybe it wasn’t that big a deal, and one probably should expect to lose online access from time to time. It’s not like our connection to facebook or twitter really needs to be supported by 24/7 redundancy. Utilities have hiccups; it’s a fact of life. Luckily, this time it wasn’t Cincinnati Bell’s fault, like it was in the past, after instructing the Puddinette in the steps to power cycle the appropriate hardware, everything was back in business. The whole thing, though, brought me to pondering if perhaps it’s time to consider professional web hosting.
I hesitate to start down that road, for some reason. As long as my server is sitting here, in my home, chugging away, I have total control over everything. Disk space, bandwidth, you name it. No one’s gonna tell me I’m over my monthly throughput quota, by gosh! Of course, the poor thing is running on ten year-old hardware. The CPU fan sounds remarkably like our Monday morning visit from the garbage truck, and the server’s incapable of dealing with the kind of occasional massive onslaught of traffic the internet can serve up. If I happened to write something novel about Star Wars that miraculously got linked for the millions of hyperlink-happy fans out there, my website would dive faster than Snoopy in his Sopwith Camel.
The thing is, though, the only reason I set my own web host up in the first place is because years ago I decided to make a linux server to toy around with out of some old hardware. I did it because, at my core, in addition to being a craft beer enthusiast and theoretically, a writer, I’m also a big geek. Sometimes I’ll fiddle around with techie things simply because I want to see how the parts work, whether I can make sense of which bits do what thing, and if the end-result works as expected.
That process of fiddling, back when I had time for it, eventually led to Puddintopia. It’s hard, then, to admit to myself that the creation, that end-result, is developing a life of its own and getting closer to outgrowing what gave it birth in the first place.
The point in all this is surprisingly not just to regale you with aspects in the Thrilling Life of Puddin. If that were the case, I might have also mentioned that I had some pretty tasty hot and sour soup for lunch AND got my six-month blood pressure check-up (thumbs up…woot!). Yep, my world’s like an action adventure movie sometimes.
No, the point here is that it struck me as more than a little ironic that from those two seemingly unrelated events, I came to a single conclusion. Namely, that many of the things that are important to me, the things I’ve worked hard to nurture, are close to outgrowing my daily control. And as hard as that letting go might seem, it’s something to be proud of, something a parent or creative person should welcome.
Something I need to be careful to stay out of the way of.
Life is kind of funny like that sometimes.
I imagine everyone is likely waiting on pins and needles to find out how I feel about the bargain soda, now that I’ve had an opportunity to sample it. Since I hate to disappoint, here you go: in my very questionable opinion, Big K Cola “OH” really ought to be labeled Big K Cola “OMG, This is Awful”. Personally, I think I’d rather drink melted road slush.
Ok, its really not that bad. If you’re a regular Big K drinker, especially, I think you’d find it acceptable. As I said, though, I’m a bit of Coke purist, and this stuff doesn’t taste anything like it. It has a much sweeter taste, and as a rule, I have little use for sweetness. I’m sweet enough already.
But, you know, in the most manly way possible of course. Yeah, that’s what I meant.
Ahem. Yes, well. Were was I? Oh, right. The drink’s not my thing; Coke Zero rules! Now then, let’s watch some football.