Friday, February 27, 2015

The Volatility of Fermented Ginger

And then the ginger beer exploded.  It was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, in the dead of night, we were asleep, I was dreaming, nightmaring about some calamity befalling my youngest child, a mother's worry for her baby doesn't abate with age, when our peaceful slumber was shattered by a loud BOOM!.   It was quite impossible to discern the origin of the noise, since neither of us were conscious when it occurred.  To me it seemed like it came from outside, or the attic.  Had part of the roof collapsed perhaps?  Had the deck, though sound, given way to the incessant pull of gravity?  We checked the upstairs, the downstairs, the attic, the deck, all to no avail.  Everything looked fine, seemed fine.
We went back to bed.  It was around 3 a.m. and I found it difficult to return to sleep, as did Caty.  Finally, I drifted off,  right before the alarm went off at 5. 
We got up, did our morning routine.  Caty got ready for work, I packed her lunch, made breakfast, the usual.  Then it was time for her to leave.  The garage is attached to the basement, and the basement is also where we keep the cat's litter box and food, otherwise the dog will eat both.  Both of us went to the basement:  Caty to fetch her car and go to work, and me to tend to the cat.  That's when I saw that the lid had erupted off the fermenting tank with great force, and there was ginger beer all over one wall and the floor.  It had been a long time since I'd had a brewing explosion, and also the main reason why I quit making beer and started making wine - fewer explosions.  Foolishly I'd thought that making ginger beer would be less volatile.
Live and learn.  So far no explosions with the hard cider *knock wood*. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Shaking the Family Tree

SS Cincinnati, Pre-WWI

 There are times when I pick up where I left off with working on my family tree and it's like falling into a black hole of time loss.  Though I shouldn't complain because I love the immersion in the past, and sometimes I find such gems.  The above ship is the one my Italian ancestors crossed the Atlantic Ocean on in 1913.  Later that same ship was refitted for use in World War I, rechristened the USS Covington and sunk July 2, 1918 by a German torpedo.

See how this can be addicting?  Now I've discovered that nearly all of my German ancestors are actually from the Alsace-Loraine part of France, though formerly belonging to Germany, and even more formerly to France, again.  The territory has gone back and forth, but it doesn't seem to effect the people of the region much as they have their own flag, customs, governing bodies, and German dialect.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Venus, Mars and the Moon

Venus, Mars, Crescent Moon, Pittsburgh, 2015

I would not have even noticed the celestial bounty Friday evening had I not been driving home from the auto shop.  It was a frigid night, subzero, and typically I don't follow what's going on in the sky during the winter months.  But, my wife's car was telling her that one of the tires had low air pressure, and better safe than sorry, she ran it in to the shop, with me picking her up.  That's when we both saw what we could clearly identify as Venus, and of course the moon, but it was a pleasant surprise to later discover that the tiny orange dot was actually Mars.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Tree of Steel

Tree Sculpture, Pittsburgh, 2015

On Hot Metal Street on the south side of Pittsburgh stands the headquarters of American Eagle Outfitters.  Outside of the building is a steel tree sculpture by Kathleen Mulcahy erected in 2007.  It's representative of the city's past, and its changed and growing future.  So much ink and bandwidth have been dedicated to Pittsburgh's survival after the collapse of the steel industry, and I don't have anything to add to the conversation, no magic bullet as to why.  I've lived in this area almost my entire life and all I can say is that we're stubborn, and we don't mind being poor, if we know that through hard work we'll pull through.  Oh, and because of the endless hills you can only see so far ahead.  Maybe that metaphor becomes ingrained in our psyche where we only plan so much, then just trust that the next hill we have to go over doesn't drop us off a cliff.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Teacup Barbie

Teacup Barbie, Nude, Pittsburgh, 2015

I had a couple of delivery men here earlier today, and one commented on the naked Barbie in a teacup* on the mantel, saying how much he liked it.   And to think that woman at Goodwill tried to talk me out of buying this very teacup for a dollar because it's chipped.  The chip makes it!  Well, that and Barbie being naked, and the vacant terminal stare.
* The teacup was made by Thomas Ivory, Bavaria, Germany.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Niagara Falls, A River In Winter

Niagara River, New York,Winter, 2009

This morning on the local (Pittsburgh) news they did a piece on people, tourists, going to Niagara Falls to see the partially frozen falls.  I've been to Niagara Falls in winter and it is stunning, but also bitingly, bitterly cold.  There's a constant wind fueled by the falling water, and there's no way to escape the wind and the spray.  It's seemingly everywhere.  The sight of the massive ice floes is impressive, and I'm glad that I've seen them, but I wouldn't go back, necessarily.  I don't feel a burning need to return.
In this photo a large flock of seagulls had just taken flight off the river as it neared the drop off of the American Falls.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Minus Six F

Polar Vortex, Connoquenessing Creek, Zelienople, PA 2014

It's convenient that I can use photographs of one arctic vortex to illustrate another arctic vortex since the exterior world behaves in the same manner when thrust into a deep freeze.  Today the sub-zero temps are prompting us to visit the museum, just so that we can get out and walk around a bit without actually having to be 'out'.  Yesterday we watched Harry Potter movies, but I've been told by a higher household power that we will not be doing that again today.  Bah.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Garden In Winter

Hudson Valley Seed Library, 2014

Last year I joined the Hudson Valley Seed Library.  I ordered some lettuce seeds and also got a free packet of miniature sunflower seeds.  The latter proved more productive than the former, and more engaging since it brought finches close into view while they wrenched free the mature seeds.
Planning the garden is one of the best things about winter.  What will I grow, how best to rotate the crops, when should I start the seedlings on the windowsill...It's a preferable thing to  spend my energies on than the pervasive cold and gloom that yet lingers.
A couple of years ago I bought a packet of Cherokee Purple tomato seeds, and since then I've harvested my own seeds from the tomatoes grown, saving then for the next season.  This is by far my favorite heirloom variety.  The tomatoes are large, the meat is dense and smoky sweet.  They're good just sliced up on a plate with a pinch of sea salt tossed over them.  I've already started one of those tomato plants, it's barely sprouted and by the time I can plant it in the garden I'll have repotted it at least once, if not twice.  But I don't care.  If I baby it along properly I'll have tomatoes in late June or early July, with the other plants then filling in with produce when this one is exhausted.
So, so much to look forward to - once this winter ends.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Genius Sans Artistry

My Little Pony, Princess of the Bullfight, Pittsburgh, 2014

Artistry is an intangible, uncomfortably subjective, gossamer in a pea-soup fog that never rolls out to sea to reveal its existence.  It's a personal struggle, for both the artist and an individual within the audience, to discern what any work of art is or is not.  Except if you're Kanye West, in which case it is up to him, and him alone, again, to tell the world what is what and who deserves praise and accolades for their efforts.
I'm ashamed, a little, that I'm even addressing something that West has done.  I tend to avoid shameless self-promoters, even if others deem them a genius.  These sorts of people bore me because every situation has to somehow be about them. West might argue that he's incensed on Beyonce's behalf in this matter, but the truth is, this is about him and his opinion, and actually detracts from Beyonce's achievements.  Remember, Beyonce won 3 Grammys that night.  West is outraged because she didn't win 4.  Boo hoo.
Beck won album of the year.  Sounds good to me.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Chicken Sweaters

Chicken Sweaters, Gibsonia, PA 2015

Friends of ours keep chickens, usually 4 or 5, sometimes fewer if a fox gets a couple of them.  The chickens are all in good health with proper plumage, and able to over winter without any thing other than the huddled warmth gained in their coop.  Yet, because of the battery rescue chickens in the UK, chicken sweaters have become a fad.  Battery chickens are industrial farm raised chickens, and as one might imagine, not in the best of condition.  Bald, or nearly bald, they require sweaters to maintain proper warmth.  Hence did those Brit rescuers of those poor unfortunate chickens hatch the idea to take up the needles and knit those defeathered chickens sweaters!  It's a brilliant solution to a problem, but completely unnecessary for a properly plumed chicken.  Because of etsy, and cottage industries being what they are, chicken sweaters are available for chickens who don't need them, and people who continue to anthropomorphize their animals, cannot resist buying them.  Better judgement be damned!
I will confess that I wanted to see my friend's chickens wearing the sweaters, but wast old that the chickens are unagreeable to being dressed up.  The chickens have spoken!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Living In An Age Without Reason

Bumpersticker, Pittsburgh, 2014

As a young child I had measles, more than one form.  My older brother was exposed to chickenpox, mumps, and measles at school, and he basically infected our household.  We'd all been vaccinated against smallpox, which left a flat shiny scar on your upper left arm, and been given the oral vaccine against polio.  All of the other maladies that can plague childhood had yet to have their vaccines developed and readily available.
By the time my children were born (1989, 1991) there were vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, diptheria, pertussis, hepatitis A&B, polio, tetanus, and probably other stuff too.  I know that there's been a growing paranoia that vaccinations cause autism, and a myriad of other ills as well, but the simple truth is there is ZERO science to back up this claim.  Nada, nyet, nil.  So why does the anti-vaxxer movement continue to grow, and diseases that my children's generation didn't have to contend with are making a come back?  Is it simply paranoia mixed with idiocy?  No, it's much more insidious than that because you have parents - parents who were vaccinated as children, it should be noted - unwilling to accept the responsibility of what their infected child can do to any other person they come in contact with.  This indicates a lack of empathy, and by extension, a lack of humanity, a severing of the ties to community.  Without a sense and support of community, humans would never have evolved into the glorious beasts we are today.  So how have some of us so disenfranchised themselves from what is done for the greater good of the community?   I'm not quite sure.  There isn't a simple or easy answer, I'm convinced that it's multi-layered with a thick glaze of distrust for the government on top with anti-science sprinkles thrown in for good measure.  You cannot talk reason to these people.  No amount of 'proof' that you might show them will have any impact.  They embrace fully that which they believe, and YOU are the fool, the one who buys into all that crap about vaccinations being good.  It's a logic that only they can understand.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Yes Please, Bossypants

Books, Kitchen, Pittsburgh, 2015

  I just finished reading Amy Poehler's memoir, "Yes Please" and I thought; I have some thoughts on how this compares to Tina Fey's memoir, "Bossypants".  I should share those thoughts...And then, I further thought, although this is not a case of comparing apples to oranges, more like apples to apples, they are still very different varieties of apples.  Think a red delicious against a gala.  Depending on your mood, either or both might serve.
  My wife observed that Tina's a better writer and Amy's a better performer.  I drew in a quick breath to counter that claim, but then I thought, yes, she's right.  Amy can seemingly effortlessly carry off so much on screen and stage to glorious comedic effect, and Tina is basically great because her material -which she probably wrote - is so strong.  Fey's memoir is funnier because she's a tremendous writer with a keen eye and appreciation of the absurd.  This is not to say that Poehler's memoir isn't funny, it's just different, almost angry.  Not angry at any one thing, but at a lot of things, including the process of having to write a book.  See, this is what happens when you are a gifted comic but not really a writer, and a publisher foolishly comes to you, dangles a big fat advancement check in front of you and you simply cannot resist.  I believe that Ellen Degeneres said that's the trap she fell into with her first memoir, "My Point...And I Do Have One".  She'd cashed the check, agreed to write the damn thing, spent the money and then when (how dare they!) the publisher wanted the finished product, she had to actually write it.  Both Poehler and Degeneres write at length in their books about the pain of writing.  Here's a tip to future comedic memoirists:  Do not belabor the writing the process.  The reader doesn't give a shit how HARD it was for you to get paid a boatload of money to write a book that we just shelled out 28 bucks for.  Seriously, how can you whine about this?  It's not a high school term paper assignment where you have to compare and contrast Virginia Woolf with Willa Cather (hint, they were both women, and queer, and there all similarity falls off a cliff), for God's sake!
And now I've gone ahead and compared apples, throwing an extra apple into the mix.  Just a word to editors who receive a memoir that begins with complaints about writing a memoir, and continuing to complain throughout - unsheath that red pen and cut, cut, cut.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dreams of Summer

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware, 2014

On such a cold as this I'm thinking fondly of going out birding on a hot (but not too hot!) summer's day.
Great Blue Heron, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, 2014

The estuary in Prime Hook is vast, with birds of every feather summering there.

Osprey Nest, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, 2014

We observed from a single vantage point seven active osprey nests.