Monday, August 29, 2011

Yo, Sandy, What's for Dinner?

Much to my surprise, I discovered last night that I have been wearing a belt this week.

This has been a week of major eating. LK comforted with her food - shepherd's pie, pulled pork, burritos - and last night she, Peg and I squeezed into the car for dinner at Sandy's. (And really squeezed in for the ride home.)

Sandy was debuting a Low Country Boil. I had not heard of this before, but in the future I will make sure to find a seat at any table that is serving it.

If you haven't had the pleasure of this dish before, my description probably will not make it sound anywhere near as delicious as it is. It amounts to a clambake in a pot. Sandy flavored the water with a couple of traditional mouth-kicker seasonings - each of which seemed to have pepper, pepper and a little more pepper as its key ingredient. Into that boiling water, she added potatoes, corn on the cob, andouille sausage (in case there wasn't already enough pepper in the boil), shrimp and mussells.

Being Sandy, she prepared enough food to feed everyone if several dozen friends dropped by unexpectedly. She was so worried that the five of us might not be satisfied eating the equivalent of three or four meals that she even had Dave grill a couple of steaks and asparagus. My favorite part of the feast came at the end when she said there was no dessert, as if any of us could have handled it. (Not even a wafer-thin mint.)

Other than eating, this has been a typical dog days of summer week. One day we drove to the outlet mall where a record was set as I managed to spend more on my stuff than LK did for herself.  But how can you pass up $29 sneakers? Anyhow, neither of us bought all that much. I think we spent more buying fancy dips and sauces at the food store.

We read a lot this week. LK finished "The Help" and is engrossed right now in "Word War Z", and I have just downloaded that last one onto my Kindle, ready for some low-brow stuff after finishing the very interesting "A Visit from the Goon Squad", which won the Pulitzer this year. (Obviously, reading quality writing has not taught me how to avoid run-on sentences.) But before the zombie book,  I want to tackle "Blood, Bones & Butter", a chef's autobiography that Sandy is reading.

Enthused by the novel, LK wanted to see the movie version of "The Help", and she and Sandy and I went to see it Thursday. It's a movie about minorities, which in this particular case also applied to men in the audience. LK had told me the movie is about how badly black maids were treated, and I was quite surprised that they could make a movie about Dominique Strauss-Kahn so quickly. Turns out it is actually about black maids in the south during the early 1960s. It was OK but I think others liked it a bit more than I did. Probably my favorite part was watching Bryce Dallas Howard channelling Michelle Bachman in one of the key roles.

Speaking of movies, LK and I made a short one (2 minutes) this week as well. More on that later on, though.

Other than that, I didn't do any work this week. Didn't exercise, didn't write a blog, didn't answer some e-mails that just beg to be answered. Oh, I did start playing Words with Friends on my iPod. Sandy is addicted to this game, which is as close to Scrabble as you can get without violating the copyright (or whatever it is that board games have). And now I am approaching the addiction, too, as she and I seem to constantly be taking turns in the last couple of days.

And that, for this week at least, is pretty much what I did on my summer vacation.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tourists at Home

This picture is an object lesson in some basic principles when photographing chubby folk. First, overweight people look better when filmed from above. The downside for me is that bald people look better when filmed from below. Face-on, needless to say, isn't flattering for either. But I am used to that.

The other key principle is that people tend not to notice that the subject is overweight when there is a very large elephant head in the frame. This isn't always possible, of course, but when it is, the smart photographer will take advantage of it.

I am focusing on photography because this picture was taken by Sandy when we visited the George Eastman House in Rochester yesterday. Eastman was the guy who started Kodak after inventing major breakthroughs in film technology. He ended up being so rich that when he died they called his place THE George Eastman House, rather than George Eastman's Old House.

Walking through the house was a fascinating way to spend the afternoon. (OK, half the afternoon. The other half was checking out the bar with $2 Bloody Marys down the road.)  Besides being a fantastic building filled with so much beautifully detailed work, the house was also a testament to another time.

Take the elephant head, for example. For the life of me, I cannot imagine wanting to put the head of a dead animal on my wall - even if I had a wall big enough to hold an elephant head. More bizarrely, throughout the house there are numerous ashtrays made from the hooves of various critters. This must have been considered pretty cool 100 years ago, but it's really off-putting in the 21st Century. Perhaps not enough to make you a vegan, but it certainly would make smokers think twice before lighting up.

The visit to The George Eastman House is part of an effort by LK and me to do a little more of the tourist thing when we make our annual visits home to be with family. Last week in Vermont we stayed one night in Stowe and checked out the shops the next morning. LK - retired from some work, but still very much a professional shopper - decided we needed to compare the Stowe shops with the Woodstock shops, and so we made a bit of a loop on our route back to Rutland. She gave Woodstock a big tick.

In Rutland, we decided to stay in a hotel up on the mountain near the Pico and Killington ski resorts. And one night we went out to dinner with Bob and Deb at a lovely resort high on the mountain overlooking Chittenden Dam. All in all, doing a bit of the tourist thing made me realize why people flock to Vermont. It's a beautiful state.

We also made a side trip during our time in New England and caught up with an old friend, but I will leave that for another post.

Meanwhile, this is another shot Sandy took during yesterday's tour of Rochester.

It was taken at the bar after, I believe, a second Bloody Mary. I assume you can see that I look much happier by this stage of the tour.

And you photographers might want to note that another tried-and-true method for photographing us big guys is to place someone else in front of us and have just our heads pop into the frame. Works for me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


 Off the top of my head, I can rattle off lots of advantages of living in Oz. This week I can add another. It is not good being in real-time while Wall Street goes through its manic-depressive extremes.       

At home I usualy wake up after the US market has closed, and what's done is done whether it be good or bad. Here, especially when there seems to be a sense of panic about the market, it is too compelling not to take a peek at what's happening. And so for the last three days it's been Ouch! or Whew! or Arrgh! but of course there's absolutely nothing I can do about it. Kind of like watching a train wreck from inside the train, I guess.

Our financial advisor wrote to us and used words like "gloomy", which is not a word that makes you feel real good, but immediately added that the good news is that much of our retirement fund right now is not in shares. Apparently that is the difference between wet and dry cat food if this doesn't sort itself out.

So in the wake of the world having a financial nervous breakdown, there is only one appropriate response - and that is to eat, drink and be merry. The other night we did just that when Sandy and Dave had us over for a barbecue. Peg, Linda and I arrived just in time for cocktails (which I think is whenever we show up), and it was a classic time with this family - great stories, lots of laughs and great food.

This particular meal featured gorgeous grilled veal chops, fresh sweet corn, roasted potatoes and cucumber salad. So good! And the zinfandel washed it all down way too easily.

We sat around after dinner talking and laughing until it got late. OK, it was only 10pm, but you've got to understand that for most of the people at the table this was late. And for LK and me, jet lag was still a factor. But the real giveaway that this night of festivity was over came when we noticed that Peg had put her arm on the table and was resting her head on it.

I know you have to make allowances for 92-year-olds, but we were all pretty sure this was her way of letting us know it was time to go home and to bed, so we bundled ourselves into the car and made the very short drive.

It was during that drive that LK said to her mom, "When I looked at you with your head on the table, I didn't know if you were tired, drunk or dead."

Peg thought for a few seconds. "Well, actually," she said, "that wouldn't be a bad way to go."


We're making the Pittsford-to-Pittsford run tomorrow, from Pittsford New York to Pittsford Vermont. The good news - if we keep the radio off, we can ignore whatever is happening in Wall Street.

It will be great to see the folks again.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


With all my focus on the excitement when we landed here in Rochester, I forgot to mention a funny incident as we were clearing immigration in Los Angeles.

Because we hold dual citizenship, we are lucky enough to always get in the shorter lines both in the US and Oz. Well, not quite so lucky this trip.

It wasn't a long queue leading up to passport inspection, but it had snaked back so we were standing beside the people about 8 ahead of us in line. Tired after a 14-hour flight, no one was saying much. And then we all heard it. The unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat of gas escaping from the Valley of the Cheeks.

It was fairly easy to figure out who the culprit was because the woman next to us acted out of reflex, taking a step backwards from the man in front of her and grimacing as if the smell of the flatus that was wafting her way might very well prove to be lethal.

That quick thinking undoubtedly saved her from distress, and no further noises were heard - except for the odd snuffly sound a dozen or so people make when they are all trying hard not to laugh out loud but trying at the same time not to breathe through their nose. As the great Benny Hill knew all too well, there just isn't anything quite as funny as a fart.

When the culprit made it to the immigration agent, he came under a lot of questioning until finally the agent rose from her chair and escorted him into some sort of detention area marked "For Further Questioning". I assume I was not the only one who was pretty sure that this further questioning was in no way related to his expulsion of gas. But this being US Immigration, I also was not 100% certain that farting in public may now be one of the actions that marks you as a suspicious person.

Or perhaps immigration officers just perform this as a public service, acting as Fart Police who remove guilty transgressors from public areas. At any rate, LK and I were especially relieved when we cleared passport control. Neither of us had any desire to sit in a small room with that guy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Welcome to America

It is official. By going to America, Linda and I don't count any more in the eyes of the Australian government. Literally, we do not count.

Next Tuesday is Census Day in Oz, and the official census guy stopped by the house a couple of days ago to give us our forms. We opted for the online form. On the Tuesday before leaving, completing the census was No 5 on my To-Do List.

It was a quick process. The first question asked how many people would be present in the house on Census night. Since we will both be domiciled in the US that night, the answer was 0. And so the next screen came up and abruptly told me to sod off:

So that makes it official. This time around LK and I are non-persons. When Australia makes policy decisions in the future, they will be based on numbers that do not include us. That means that retirees moving to Tasmania will be undercounted, thin men with a full head of hair will be overcounted and - as a fitting continuation of my retired life - I will be ignored.

But that was the price to pay for going to America this month. And what a welcome we had!

Our first two legs were uneventful. The final leg taking us from Chicago to Rochester, however, was just a little bit more noteworthy.

It all started innocently enough when we began to board the plane. A woman was putting a bag in the overhead bin above our seats. When she saw us waiting in the aisle, she stepped aside to let us pass. Problem was - she stepped into where we would be sitting.

She seemed to wonder why we were still standing still and looked at us quizzically. "These are our seats," Linda said. At this point the woman seemed to get flustered, although I cannot imagine why. She told us that she was just helping the woman next to her seat put her bag in the bin. Which seemed like way too much information when all we wanted to do was sit in our seats.

By now the queue trying to get on the plane is stretching further and further down the jetway, and I could sense eyes burning holes in our backs. Anyhow, the woman decided that we didn't need any more conversation so she stepped from our seats and, instead of returning to her seat in the row in front us, she stood in the seats across the aisle.

To make a very long story a bit shorter: At some point, since she was still blocking people trying to get to their seats, someone apparently told her she made a better door than a window. And she apparently decided it was me, although to that point - and in fact to this point - I have never said a word to her.

Oh well, doesn't seem like much, anyhow, does it? Nonetheless, two of her friends were sitting across the aisle from her and the female friend kept reaching out and patting her and asking her if she was all right. Since I knew LK hadn't been rude to her and I hadn't even spoken to her, I figured it was something else bothering her or at the very least it wasn't my business. I forgot that we were now in America.

Once we landed I started getting the stuff out of the overhead bin and the man from the couple came up. Since the only thing that wasn't ours was the bag that had started the original tie-up, I said I would get it for him.

"It's not mine," he snarled.

Which made me wonder why he had come back to our row. Turns out his next sentence or two made it quite clear. (And by the way, I will use the Australian spelling here so I can avoid dirty words that might offend my mother and mother-in-law.) For he called me "an arsehole for being so rude to our friend and ruining her flight."

At this stage I did notice that his pudgy face was turning quite red under his silver brush cut. It occurred to me that he had all the looks of ex-military turning to seed. Which meant I really should just back off. So of course, I didn't.

I told him that I had never spoken a word to his friend, that my wife had told her only that she was standing in front of our seats and that anything else that was bothering his friend was her probem but clearly not mine. I then suggested rather vigorously that perhaps he should get his facts straight and think twice before calling someone an arsehole.

To my surprise, he seemed a bit taken aback that I would be kind enough to explain these facts to him. "Well then forget it," he snapped.

So of course, I didn't forget it. I decided I would lecture him on the importance of getting his priorities right. "You are getting all exercised about something that didn't happen," I told him. For some reason,  he had let on that somehow he knew we were travelling from Australia. So I decided to end the discussion as a true-blue dinky-di. "You know, mate," I said, "you've got your knickers in a knot over nothing." I assume he got the gist of this even though he had no idea what I had just said.

At this stage all the people who had been delayed getting to their seats because of the little episode on boarding were starting to get delayed in getting off the plane. So there was a collective sigh from behind us when he turned and left the plane. I assume the sighs were of two kinds: Most were just happy that the idiots having an argument weren't going to hold them up any more than they already had, while a few certainly were hoping it would go further and make their evening more entertaining.

No matter, that was the end of that. Well, almost. I had actually enjoyed our little stoush once it became clear I wasn't going to get a knuckle sandwich. First of all, I was 100% in the right - and believe me, that doesn't happen very often. Second, I got to publicly lecture a guy who called me a naughty name and he ended up skulking away. As Nelson says on The Simpsons, "Ha! Ha!"

And finally, I thought it was pretty cool that I was able to go all Aussie on him and leave him with a line which he probably was still trying to figure out this morning.

Naturally, I wasn't able to let our little set-to end merely by having him walk away. As we walked down the concourse to the baggage area, he and the two women were a few yards ahead of us. Pressing the advantage of my obvious victory, I kept up a rather loud patter with LK about just how wrong he had been to initiate this exchange.

Rather loudly - and maintaining my newfound Aussieness - I said, "Such typical bloody Americans! First they lie about something and then they want to start a war over the lie!"

But then I remembered. I am also an American. And for all my posturing, Australia isn't even going to count me this year. So I shut up, collected the bags and was very, very happy when Sandy and Dave pulled up to get us.

Welcome to America!

Monday, August 1, 2011


Perhaps because I have answered to it for 63 years, I quite like my name and was bemused to see Tropical Storm Don barrelling through the Caribbean the other day. Bemused, that is, until I read some of the comments on the CNN web site.

"Don? Seriously? I refuse to be prepared for anything named Don," wrote ksig162. "Don is the weird great-uncle that shows up at the family reunion and eats all the potato salad. We need better names like Prometheus or Shaniqua."

Well, ksig162, let me address a few of your issues. First of all, yes, I am the sort to show up at a reunion and eat all the potato salad.

But Don (and its formal version, Donald) have a proud tradition. In the 1930's and early 40's, it was one of the ten most popular baby names in the US. In my birth year of 1948, it ranked 14th which means there are a lot of baby boomers named Don. Which, to be fair, may very well explain thinking it sounds like a great-uncle's name.

Even as late as 1990, Donald was in the Top 100 for boys names in the US. Now, inevitably, it has declined in popularity and in 2010 it had fallen to #377.  But you think Prometheus or Shaniqua are better names? I challenge you to name even three great people with those names.  (OK, the guy who brought us fire and the lady wrestler, but have you got a third?)

Yet consider the Donalds and Dons of this world. (And I'm not even going to go for the the honorary title of Don and bring in such characters as Don Corleone and Don Diego de la Vega.)

In the field of entertainment, we have Don Cheadle and Donald Sutherland, Oscar winner Don Ameche, the great hoofer Donald O'Connor and my favorite soul singer, the late Donny Hathaway. Here in Oz, our greatest sporting legend is Don Bradman, probably the greatest cricketer ever.

We do seem to have dropped the ball in politics. All I can come up with right now are Rumsfeld and Trump, but I think even with those two you wouldn't refuse to be prepared if they were coming your way.

And then there's my Uncle Don. The man I was named after and who was one of the great gentle men of this earth. (And I do mean gentle man and not just gentleman.)

You may mock my name, but it is a great legacy. The brainy ones at Wikipedia explain the name  means "world ruler". coming from the Gaelic "donn" for chief. And it is such a Gaelic-sounding name, isn't it? "My name is Don," sounds just about right in English, but "Soy Don" or "Je suis Don" just doesn't ring true.

Nope, when a storm is named Don, it's coming from the cold north and carrying a shilelagh. So maybe the problem was that they used the name for a tropical storm from the Caribbean. In any case, I have to admit that you were right not to get too fussed and prepare for the storm.

As the Gonzalez Cannon reports on its web site, Tropical Storm Don was more accurately named Tropical Storm Dud.