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.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Back To Nature

Pittsburgh Press, October 24, 1962

Some friends are rehabbing an old duplex south of the city and discovered newspapers stuffed around the window and door frames.  Olive loaf was 35 cents half a pound 53 years ago!   Oh olive loaf, I haven't had thee in lo these many years - not since I stopped living with my parents 30+ years ago.
As for this ad, they sure don't make movies like they used to.  Interestingly, this movie was written and directed by a woman.  Go figure.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Desiccation is a Beach

Horseshoe Crab, Limulus polyphemus, Delaware Bay, DE, 2014

I didn't have much interest in the horseshoe crab before we spent a week on the beach in Delaware and were surrounded by them.  Curiosity got the best of me, as it almost always does, and lucky for me that our cottage rental had several books on the local flora, fauna, and even covered the geology of the region.
Above are two female horseshoe crabs, dorsal and ventral views.  The exposed pincers on the left specimen are what gives away the sex.  When sexing a horseshoe crab you simply turn them over and and look at the first set of pincers.  If they're pincer-like in appearance, then it's a female.  If they look like tiny boxing gloves, then it's a male.  The boxing glove-like appendage aids the male in mounting and holding on to the larger female.
While walking the beach we discovered many small, desiccated remains of horseshoe craps, and I brought a few home with me in a shoe box.  I should've paid closer attention because all of the specimens I gathered were female.  I'd based which ones to take on the condition of the remains, so that's my only excuse.
We're returning to the beach in Delaware this summer.  With luck I'll find a good example of a dead male horseshoe crab that's in one piece.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Facilitating Blitz Splatter and Beyond

Blitz Splatter, Acrylic and Gesso on Canvas, Cree Mullin, 2015

I've mentioned before that my oldest son is an artist.  He primarily paints, but also creates these enormous, and precarious, found object sculptures.  One day I expect to find him crushed beneath one.  Gravity yields to no man,  grasshopper.
Like most artists, he is on a shoestring budget, and to help out, I've learned to stretch canvases.  It's not hard, building the frame itself is a bit more exacting.  After you've made the frame and stretched the canvas, you have only to prime it and then you're set to paint.  Cree had some gesso leftover, but it was getting chunky, so I thought, "I bet there's a recipe online for making your own gesso!"  And of course I was correct in this assumption.  The one that worked the best for me was:
1 part white glue (like regular Elmer's)
2-3 parts HOT water
3 parts cornstarch
3 parts baking soda
3 parts white acrylic paint
Then pour into a container or jar and seal with a lid.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Endless Salad Bowl

Assorted Salad Greens, Pittsburgh, November, 2015

Climate change doesn't necessarily mean warmer global temperatures (though it looks that way), but it does certainly mean more weather outside the norm.  Because a couple of years ago I got swiss chard from the garden until early December, I've seeded a container with Italian Blend salad green seeds well into autumn.  It's wonderful to have fresh greens still, but alarming to think of the implications  of still gardening in hardiness zone 5 this late in the season.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Feline Asthma

Thorasic X-Ray Illustrating Feline Asthma

 Have I mentioned that we have a cat?  His name is Pepe, but we call him Peeps.  Actually, my wife spells it 'Pepys' because this is what I get for marrying a drama/english major. 
For a few days last week Peeps didn't seem to be quite himself, but he was eating and drinking, using his box, no vomit or diarrhea, and then on Sunday evening he became quite ill, struggling to breathe.  I sat with him for awhile on the bed in the spare room (his preferred place to sleep because sun streams through a window in there for most of the day) until it seemed like he was breathing better and calmed down.
We went to bed.
In the morning, yesterday morning, I found Peeps in the very same position in which I'd left him the night before; sitting upright on the bed, looking exhausted.  I don't know if he slept well or not the night before, but he was once again having a difficult time breathing.  I called the vet's office as soon as they opened (8am) and they told me to bring him right over.  Pepe was lethargic, but not so lethargic that it was an easy task to shove him in the kitty carrier.  He fought me tooth and claw.  Of course in the end I won because I had to.
Once at the vet's office a tech took Peeps' vitals and said that the vet would be in shortly.  Instead of the vet coming into the exam room, the tech came back with a radiology apron on and took Peeps for x-rays.  Once the x-rays were uploaded on the computer, then the vet came in.
I have to say that she, the vet, was very thorough in her explanation of feline asthma.  First she showed me a normal thorasic x-ray of a cat, pointing out the visibility of the bronchial tubes specifically, then the pulled up Peeps' x-ray, which in no way resembled the first - at least as far as the lungs were concerned.  The vet explained that she could do a biopsy to make sure that it was asthma, but she told me that she was 100% certain that it is feline asthma.  So, they gave Peeps a shot and some pills, and sent him home with me.  And then my research into feline asthma began in earnest.  I have to say that judging from Peeps' x-ray, he has acute asthma.  Which makes me wonder how we missed the earlier warning signs?  One of the main symptoms of feline asthma is a cough - a cough that perfectly mimics what a cat does when they are coughing up a hairball, only no hairball.  Runny nose and eyes is also a symptom, which we attributed to pollen allergies, and they could've been caused by pollen allergies, it's just that allergies can cause feline asthma.
Either way, I don't know how long Peeps has.  The vet mentioned that when the condition become chronic, most cat owners opt to have the cat put down because their entire existence at that point has been reduced to a struggle for each breath.  Right now we're exploring the use of cat nebulizers.  I just feel so bad for missing all of the early warning signs of the disease and now feel that I have to do everything I can for him.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

That's A Great Question!

Ants and Figs, Pittsburgh, 2015

I've noticed  a despicable trend that interviewees are employing: Exclaiming, "That's a great question!"  to an ordinary, completely unremarkable question.  This sounds like faux flattery, or possibly a stalling tactic while you cook up a response to an insipid question, or they've lobbed such a softball your way that you get to drone about your favorite topic (yourself) ad nauseum. 
People, everyday people, famous people, anyone at all really, drop 'That's a great question!' from your bag of pat answers.  Come up with something interesting, if not original, if you need to stall and mull over your answer, and have the good sense to NOT talk about yourself like you're something great and wonderful that the world has never seen before.  I am here to tell you that you suck!  unless you're Mother Theresa, and she's dead, you're a regular horrible, selfish human being, and nobody cares what you're thought process is while you tweet.