Monday, November 30, 2015

Within The Lines

I am conflicted about the adult coloring book fad.  On the one hand I often doodle while pondering the deeper meanings of existence (should I have a cookie now, or wait until after dinner?) and even color in those doodles, but as a child I usually struggled to stay within the lines while coloring, and on this hand I remember only the stinging criticisms of my scribbles.  My mother liked to point out that my younger sister could color nicely, why couldn't I?  You'd think that this sort of comparison would've made me hate my sister, but it didn't.  I didn't hate my mom for saying it.  No, I hated coloring, the thing that I did not excel at, it was to blame with its damn LINES that you should not cross!  It was too strict, too arbitrary, too strident in its demands that you must stay within the boundaries imposed.  To me, it was prison.  And now to think that people find it restive and relaxing to color - as full grown human beings - is almost unimaginable.  No one forcing you to color one more Thanksgiving hand-out portraying a native American foolishly aiding starving European refugees, but you choosing to color it.
Never say never, but I can't imagine joining in this coloring craze.  For now I'll stick to my doodles...and maybe have a cookie.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Giving of the Thanks

Only when I was a child did Thanksgiving seem to have any sort of continuity, a sameness year after year.  It wasn't monotonous, just the entire family (extended family too) gathering at our house,  my mother making the turkey colossus, mountains of mashed potatoes, rivers of gravy, never enough stuffing, cranberry sauce (both freshly made and sliced out of the can), green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, dinner rolls, pumpkin and apple pies...I think that covers it...Wait!  How could I forget; frozen corn, steamed with butter melted over.  Until I was at least 12 I sat at the kids' table, which was just as well because many of the adults would be smoking during the meal.  Despite being a smoker myself, I have never smoked at the table.  It's disgusting, and then that old nasty habit of stubbing out a butt on your plate.  Honestly, I have no words for how foul a practice that it is, especially for the person cleaning up after.
Now, as an adult, I find Thanksgiving to be unique every year, something memorable invariably happens to distinguish one turkey day from any other.  There was the year that my father decided to celebrate Festivus early and instead of opening the meal with a prayer of thanks, launched into the 'Airing of Grievances', of which he had many.  Then there was the year that my grandmother so pestered my sister-in-law in the kitchen over that said sil spun around and rammed right into a corner cabinet, nearly knocking herself out and then sporting an angry black eye.  The year my oldest brother got so drunk that he slept throughout the entire gathering (this is why I am vehemently against morning drinking).  The only thing that remained the same about Thanksgiving was that while my maternal grandfather was alive (1908-2003), he would bring his own tupperware containers and demand leftovers, instructing whoever was hosting to not be stingy with the gravy.  I can't look at tupperware and not think of him, that self-centered old coot.  But now he's gone and his habits, once annoying, now seem quaint.
This Thanksgiving will be remembered as the year Caty, my wife, missed out on one meal (we have to attend 2 Thanksgiving meals, the first with my family, and the second with hers), the good traditional meal with my family, because of a sprained ankle - which then aggravated the pinched nerve in her neck (crutches are a pain, literally).  We'll go to the nontraditional meal with her family.  No stuffing, no mashed potatoes (they hate starches, in fact, her entire family has a hostile relationship with food, which explains why none of them can cook worth a damn), dry pathetic bird, a grotesquely quivering jell-o salad, a bunch of raw vegetables, and some sort of store bought dessert, probably ice cream. 
Ah well.  I'm still ever thankful for the companionship and love shared by family, all the more so because of our quirks and flaws.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Jessica Jones, The Final Analysis

I finished watching the first season of 'Jessica Jones' yesterday, and I was not disappointed.  I'm not crazy excited, can't hardly wait for season 2, but I was NOT disappointed.  It is dark noir-streaming (as opposed to noir film, or noir television) at its best with a tortured, flawed hero who feels authentic, never contrived.  That aspect of the show's success can be laid at the feet of both the writers, and Krysten Ritter.  Given decent material to work with, Ritter runs with it, fleshing out what haunts Jones, and drives her.  Despite a boozy self-destructive bent, Jones still tries to figure out her place/part in making the world as a whole a better place - never specifically her world, but the world that other people, all of the other people, inhabit.
'JJ' is a much better Marvel universe show than 'Agents of Shield', which is saddled with a horribly miscast cast, and more engaging than the other Netflix Marvel offering, 'Daredevil', but not as completely satisfying or thrilling as 'Agent Carter'.  Perhaps that can be attributed to the fact that the first season of 'Agent Carter' was a succinct 8 episodes in length, with no extra time to roam down blind allies or toss out red-herrings.  Not that 'Jessica Jones' teased the viewer with a bunch of false leads, but at times the 13 episode story didn't feel tight, as if it was wandering around looking for itself.   And that is my only beef.  Otherwise, I'd say the show is a hit, if not a homerun.  A long single stretched into a stand-up double.  At least.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jessica Jones

Since my wife is off work today because of a sprained ankle, I'm going to see if we can start the binge watching today instead of tomorrow.  I will post my thoughts on Marvel's latest foray onto the small screen upon completion of the 13 episode season.  Here's to hoping that it's more 'Agent Carter' and less 'Agents of Shield'. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, Pittsburgh, 2015

This is an adult male Red-bellied woodpecker, foraging for insects in the rotted knot of a Norway Maple, Acer platanoides, in the backyard.  As I examined the photo more closely I came to realize that this is by far the fattest woodpecker I've yet encountered.  He certainly looks prepared for winter - if winter ever comes.  The mild temps continue to linger.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


 Kombucha Scoby Side View
Kombucha Scoby Top View

About a year and half ago I started making Kombucha out of sheer cheapness.  We wanted the health benefits but not the expense.  It sells for $3.79 a 16oz. bottle at Whole Foods, and we were going through a bottle every two days, and once I got a look at how this was impacting our monthly grocery bill, I knew that I had to take drastic action.  Drastic in that I found a website that sells kombucha materials and it's pretty easy to find and follow instructions on how to brew it.  Actually, it couldn't be easier.  The only thing you have to keep in mind is that anti-bacterial cleaners can kill your scoby, since your scoby is basically a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.  You DO NOT want to kill the scoby!
I have tweaked recipes and this is how I make kombucha at home:
I use a 1 gallon glass jar (always use only earthenware or glass) .  The glass jars I use were former pickle jars that I bought at Costco.  We ate the pickles and then I had the jars!  You don't need the lids.
Wooden spoon
Large Rubberband
Large cooking pot

7 Black Pekoe teabags - sometimes I make a batch using Earl Grey, but this is a more expensive tea, so typically I use just the pekoe
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 gallon of water - the water can be from the tap, but it's a better kombucha if you use bottled spring water
1 Pint of either reserved kombucha from a previous batch, or a bottle of store bought kombucha
1 Quart of fruit (optional, and blueberries and black raspberries are by far the best tasting in this)

Place all of the teabags in half a gallon of water and bring to a boil uncovered.  Once the brew is boiling, turn off the heat and stir in the sugar, making sure that it dissolves completely.  Let steep twenty minutes and then remove the teabags, allowing the brew to further cool to room temperature.  In the jar with the scoby should be the reserved kombuch from a previous batch or the store bought kombucha if this is your first batch.  Once the tea-sugar brew has cooled to room temperature, pour into the jar, topping off the jar with the reserved half gallon of water.  Place the cheesecloth over the mouth, securing with the large rubberband.  For best results I set the jar in room with a constant temperature (not much fluctuation) that is not too cold (I use a shelf in a spare bedroom, but a closet would be fine as well), out of direct sunlight.
I have two jars going at once which allows each to sit for about 28 days before it gets bottled since I bottle about every 14 days.  This rotations works good for us as we always have some kombucha in the fridge. 
Each batch yields approximately 6 - 16 ounce bottles.  Remember to reserve 16 oz for the next batch, and to always, ALWAYS bottle the kombucha in glass bottles.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Does Medium Matter in a Rorschach Test?

You should be terrified of the question posed by the heading on this blog post.  Or maybe not, given the photograph I've used to accompany this post.*  Over on Hyperallergic they've got an article on, and interview with, performance artist Xander Ibarra, aka, La Chica Boom.  LCB had the idea to fold watercolor paper and place it in her skivvies while menstrating.  When opened back up, the blood creates inkblots that in some cases do very much resemble those images used in a more traditional Rorschach test.  In other instances they just look like bloody smears.
There are aspects of the art world, the creation of art, the methodology, the intent...where I'm not quite sure what I think of it.  It's always those things that push boundaries and buttons (a crucifix in a jar of piss, elephant dung paintings, can o' shit) that give me pause.  I don't hate it, at least not right away, but it does make me question what constitutes art?  Is any thing art?  Everything?   Nothing?  I question the validity of something that is compelled to be so heavy handed with its message and its execution.
*I chickened out and removed the photo.  Baby Jesus on a used sanitary pad.  So, now, what the hell does that say about me?  I created the shot, but don't have the nerve to post it on a low traffic blog?  Pathetic.