Guns, not butter

I have friends or loved ones on every side of the gun debate that is raging in our country right now.  Mrs. Geek is convinced that no one in a civilized society (outside the military) should need a gun with a fire rate of 15 rounds per minute (such as the AR-15.)  My Ph.D. dissertation adviser and his sons apparently think every American should be issued a gun along with a birth certificate and if you can’t defend yourself against bad people, that’s your problem.   A high school friend (and Second Iraq War veteran) vigorously defends the right to keep firearms in the home, even after she and her ex-spouse both had to be removed from the home they shared at the time in handcuffs because they’d pulled out hand guns on each other during a domestic dispute.  Myself, my ideas about guns sit closer to those of my wife than the others, so there are some things about the pro-gun side of the debate that do not make sense to me.

Buying guns should not be like buying groceries.  It’s not “criminal persecution of the innocent” to not be able to say “honey, I’ll go down to the store to get some milk, some bread, and that new automatic pistol you like.”  It’s not a baseball bat or a kitchen knife.  These things have other legitimate uses, wholly unrelated to their ability to cause harm to another human being.  A gun is made to shoot at objects, animals, or people.  Period.  Is it so unreasonable to ask that (at minimum) we have the same sorts of mechanisms in place to handle guns as we do to handle cars (e.g. every gun is registered, gun training must meet a regulated minimum, and the ability to own a gun is denied people who are mentally ill)?

Guns can’t heal people.  People heal people.  The one that gets me most is that there apparently is this notion out there that learning to handle a gun will make you a better person and a better citizen.   The mother of the Newton, CT shooter used guns to bond with her son, who she seemed to feel had behavioral issues.  Chris Kyle, an ex-Navy Seal and sniper, was apparently killed this week by a fellow veteran he was counseling… in part, by taking a trip to a shooting range together.   I understand that shared interests are important and that making someone part of a group can help their self esteem and bring them out of their shell.  Don’t people understand that it’s not good sense to put a gun in the hands of some others?

Someone I know had a FB post up this week that said “Talk to me if you want to learn to use a gun.  I will help you buy a gun.  I will help you learn to use a gun.  I will help you obtain parts and ammo.  Help promote gun use in the next generation.”   All I want to say is: “really?!?”.    Putting a gun in someone’s hand is not like learning to fish in order to feed themselves.  Are you going to get to know this person?  Are you going to make sure this person learns good gun safety skills?  Are you going to be there when this person is feeling depressed or angry at his/her spouse?  Are you going to make sure this person isn’t carrying a gun when drunk?   I also want to ask: “how will you feel if you help put a gun in someone’s hand and they use it to commit a crime?”

Responsible gun ownership currently seems to exist as a circle of trust.  Trust us, the gun owners say.  We’ll monitor sales, training, and membership, they say.  We should really be unregulated, they say.  The government shouldn’t even collect detailed public health information about gun violence because guns are safe, they say.  It is our right, they say.

That sort of attitude only seems to invite trouble for all of us, I say.

What not to do for breakfast.

Hi there. I know it’s been a while. There are a couple things going on. First off, I’m in the middle of a sprint to finish up a development and testing cycle at work to complete the next version of the product I help create for a living. Aside from all that, a full night of sleep is sometimes pretty hard to come by around there lately. Baby G. is waking up once or twice a night most nights, and waking up upset. He is usually almost crying and not willing to settle down without some time snuggling with Mrs. Geek or myself.

We were puzzled about the cause of this behavior for a good while. Was he having bad dreams? Is having the heater on all night bothering him (it’s been cold)? The probable reason came to light earlier this week when Baby G. and I were sleeping on the sofa from about 12:30-2am. After 3-4 weeks of poor sleep behavior, it’s getting to be second nature to grab the kid and curl up somewhere without really waking up too much. So, Baby G. and I feel asleep on the sofa fairly quickly. We probably would have stayed that way until morning, except Baby G. started thrashing and rolling around at around 2am. When I say thrashing, I mean it: he was between me and the back of the sofa, and he would roll on one side, then the other, then flop over onto my chest, then push himself over me, almost falling head first off the front of the sofa. Whatever is going on with him right now, I think he’s thrashing around in his crib at night and hurting himself on the sides. That causes the crying and the need for a snuggle.

We had a particularly bad early morning on Monday. Baby G. woke up and then just wanted to be awake… for most of the time between 2:30 and 5:30am. He wasn’t being particularly upset or agitated, just awake, and kept both of us up taking shifts with him. I awoke briefly when the alarm went off, long enough to turn it off so everyone could sleep in a little bit. I slept for another 45 minutes and then got up.

Since I was up and both Mrs. Geek and Baby G. were still asleep, I decided to get Baby G.’s breakfast ready. My Mom says that some kids can get dressed and then eat in the morning, but I was the opposite. I needed to eat first thing in the morning because I’d be too grumpy to deal with otherwise. Baby G. is like that too. Breakfast had better be ready sooner rather than later in the morning routine. I decided that it might be a good idea to have breakfast for Baby G. ready when he woke up since he was getting up late. He would be hungry. It should be something he likes.

One of the things that Baby G. likes for breakfast is oatmeal. I often make oatmeal for myself on Saturday mornings. It’s a simple preparation: extra thick rolled oats, cooked in a 2:1 mix of milk and water with a dash of salt and served a little butter and a splash of maple syrup. Being the mooch that he is, Baby G. wanted to try what Dad was eating. Once he did, he demanded more. So I now make Baby G. a small bowl of oatmeal whenever I make it for myself.

Baby G. loved the oatmeal I made for him on Monday. He loved it so much that he had two bowls. That’s where the problem began.

After he filled his first diaper, I was still home and I changed it. It was stinky.

After he filled his second diaper two hour later, his speech therapist (more about this another time) had to bring him out of his office to Mrs. Geek in the waiting room for her to change in a nearby bathroom. Mrs. Geek called me after the therapy appointment to let me know how it went, and to remark that “Gee, it’s odd that he filled a diaper during his appointment.”

After he filled his third diaper two hours later, Mrs. Geek put him down for a nap and called me to ask what it was that he had for breakfast because two poopy diapers in one morning are no fun to change.

After he filled his fourth diaper four hours later, Mrs. Geek called me to say that I was not supposed to feed him that much oatmeal again, ever, unless I was home to do all the diaper changing.

Well ok. Lesson learned.

Christmas In My Memory

Christmas 2012 has come and gone. In general, it was a good holiday. I’ve been sick since around the 9th of December, and got some antibiotics for sinusitis on Friday, the 21st. They had me feeling much improved by the time Christmas rolled around (though I started another course of meds yesterday… but more on that later.) We went to Mass at 5pm on Christmas Eve, and then made it over to the in-laws by about 7:30pm to join them for dessert after a big turkey dinner. We opened gifts bright and early the next morning, and then returned to the in-laws for a less formal dinner on Christmas day (fondue and soup.) I made a Meyer Lemon Cake for the occasion that was a rather complicated to assemble — the cake is more a sponge/souffle and the filling is a lemon custard — but the amount of butter and eggs in the recipe ensures that it has to taste good.

Though my in-laws sometimes are sometimes a source of tension around the holidays, both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were largely a lovely time. One individual did briefly stir the pot a bit, as seems to be happening more lately, but two others jumped into the breach with some sympathy and understanding that smoothed everything over.

I believe it was when we were traveling on Christmas Eve that Mrs. Geek asked me “do you feel bad that we don’t go to the Land Of Your Birth for Christmas anymore?” I went home for the holidays for over a decade before I met Mrs. Geek, and we went a few times after we were married… the last time being 2007, I believe. We just don’t do it now. Airline equipment inventory and staffing and our vacation schedules just make it damn expensive and damn inconvenient to travel around the holidays anymore.

It’s more than that, too. The Christmas holiday in my parents house feels like part of my past. I could go back now, but it wouldn’t be the same. The relationship changed. I have my own home, my own family, our own evolving Christmas traditions. I’m sure that a visit at Christmas would be lovely, but parts of what made those Christmases past memorable to me are gone. Time marches on.

I finished a five day course of Zithromax on Christmas Day. By the following Friday, I felt sinus pressure return and sore throat assert itself. Clearly, the Zithromax had only won a temporary battle against the microbes in my head, not the war. A return to the Urgent Care clinic resulted in new prescription for a 21 day course of Levaquin. Take that, sinusitis!

filium suum primogenitum et vocavit nomen eius Iesum

Today’s entry comes to you courtesy of a blog chain by Harri3t Spy about holiday songs. Hugh mentioned the he was supposed to write 1100 words and mention six Christmas songs… I’m not sure that was part of the original assignment, but it sounds like a worthwhile goal.

The rest of the chain includes:
Harri3t at spynotes
Hugh at Permanent Qui Vive
Jeanne at Necromancy never pays
Cranky at It’s My Blog!
Dr. Geek at Dr. Geek’s Laboratory
Lemming at Lemming’s Progress
Readersguide at Reader’s Guide to…
Freshhell at Life in Scribbletown
edj3 at kitties kitties kitties
My Kids’ Mom at Pook and Bug
joyhowie at The Crooked Line
Magpie at Magpie Musing
Dave at The Ideal Dave
and back to Harri3t for a wrap-up at spynotes

I love Christmas music because it seems to reach back to the beginning of me. Some of the carols were probably the first songs for which I ever tried to learn the words. My Mom plays the piano and, then as now, she has a Story & Clark baby grand piano in the living room. In the bench for that piano, I recall two books of music, one green, hardbound, and thick containing many sorts of carols and folksongs, and the other red and white, soft bound, and much thinner solely dedicated to carols. Long before I knew how to read music, I remember looking in those books trying to figure out how the words to those songs flowed down the page from one line to the next, and then one verse to the next. When I later began to learn to play the flute, Christmas celebrations featured the extended family around a piano, my Mom or a cousin playing, with whatever instruments we knew to how to play… a flute, an oboe, a trumpet, one or two violins… accompanying a diverse group of voices, some dedicated to melody, others to improvised harmony.

I remember feeling particularly attracted to a number of songs in those years. “Jingle Bells” is perhaps the first song I recall, because its upbeat simplicity is something that attracts so many children. “Silent Night” was the first song for which I could read the words of the various verses off the written page. “Joy To The World” was a blast of radiant energy, as was “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”. I also recall “Good King Wenceslas” as being a simple, plainsong favorite.

Another time and place that brought a couple favorite Christmas tunes to my memory was in my late teens. My Mom joined our Parish church choir. Being raised in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, she has a reverence for four part harmony that fuels her participation in choirs and choruses to this day. I eased into the Church choir, at least to help fill into the baritone section during the holiday season, because a flautist was sometimes required for descants or obbligatos. Since I attended rehearsals, why not sing? And if I was singing during holidays, why not sing throughout the year? For a couple years, it turned into a full membership.

Four songs that I recall with fondness from this period are “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”, “In The Bleak Midwinter”, “O Holy Night”, and the Latin text of “Ave Maria” set to the Franz Schubert melody of the same name. The last two were often used during Christmas Masses as the Communion meditation before the priest was seated, the church darkened and “Silent Night” was sung. The version of “O Holy Night” is particularly memorable when the choir director sang it as a tenor solo; I have two recordings of this, one by Harry Connick, Jr. from his Christmas Album, and the other by Mahalia Jackson on a Starbucks Christmas compilation album. The Mahalia Jackson recording probably comes closest to touching this memory for its pious simplicity, but it is a memory of a voice heard in person, of a particular place and time. As such, it lay slightly beyond the reach of present day events.

The last 10-15 years have brought more interest in secular Christmas fare. The soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by Vince Guaraldi is a perennial favorite, at least when two tracks (“Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “Christmas Time Is Here” (with vocals)) are excised to create a nearly instrumental jazz combo album. “Linus and Lucy” is nice to hear, but not really a holiday track. “Christmas Time Is Here” is a lovely, simple Christmas song… though of a more secular variety common to many holiday songs from the mid-20th century. Another favorite is “A Merry Affair: Starbucks Swinging Songs of Red Velvet and Mistletoe Kisses”, the 1999 Christmas Compilation CD from Starbucks. Later Starbucks compilation CDs have wandered more through a diverse range of time periods and styles (I have this and the six most recent discs from Starbucks), this one pretty much sticks to the jazz theme: Kurt Elling, Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan, lightly swingin’ Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Lou Rawls, Charlie Hunter, Diana Krall, and Nancy Wilson.

But what of more religious Christmas material? Popular or jazz artists generally don’t embrace it. Being a good Catholic boy, Harry Connick, Jr. did put the Schubert “Ave Maria” and “O Holy Night” on his CD “When My Heart Finds Christmas”. Likewise, Gordon Sumner (aka Sting) was raised Roman Catholic, and his winter album “If on a Winter’s Night” includes versions of “Gabriel’s Message,” “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming,” and the “Cherry Tree Carol” that at least touch on the religious core of the holiday.

The one exception I have discovered in the last few years is the album “A Christmas Cornucopia” by Annie Lennox. A chorister in her youth, she chose traditional French and English carols, occasionally arranged with Medieval and Middle Eastern accents in an otherwise modern instrumental palate. After hearing the “date rape Christmas song” (Baby, It’s Cold Outside) and the “gold digger Christmas song” (Santa Baby) more than few times a Christmas season, it’s nice to hear more about “our Savior’s birth” than a Greek saint (St. Nicholas) with corrupted Dutch (Santa Claus) and German (Kris Kringle) nicknames, and dressed in a red and white suit inspired by 1930’s advertising art (Coca Cola) who is delivering gifts on the wrong day (St. Nicholas Day is December 6th). The song also ignited my interest in several carols that I had not previously appreciated, including “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “The Holly and The Ivy”, and “The Coventry Carol”.

Thanks again to Harri3t Spy for giving me the opportunity to ramble through so many Christmas music memories. Lemming, you’re up next!

A meal that took seven days to prepare and two days to recover from

Thanksgiving 2012 is over. We had nine people (seven adults and two children) crowded around the holiday table and a good time was had by all. It was great, but I’m glad it’s over.

The full bill of fare was:
A smoked 12 pound organic turkey hen with gravy
Cornbread and sausage stuffing from an old Craig Claiborne recipe
Cranberry sauce with pinot noir from Epicurious
Potatoes au gratin
Brussel sprouts with lemon and pancetta
Homemade apple pie made with apples from our tree
Cheesecake and mini-bundt cake cupcakes

We started preparing in earnest for Thanksgiving dinner, about seven days earlier:

  • Friday, 16 November – I was committed to providing the first three items on the menu plus the apple pie, so spent an hour or two going over my archive of Thanksgiving recipes, plus a few new online sources to work up a master shopping list. My goal: to get as much grocery shopping done before the last three days preceding Thanksgiving to avoid the rush.
  • Saturday, 17 November – We have hardwood floors in the living room, dining room, and hallway of our house. They hadn’t been cleaned in far too long. Events early in the day kept me away from cleaning… so I got pretty much everything done between 6pm and 10pm.
  • Sunday, 18 November – What went for the hardwood floors on Saturday, went double for the bathroom floor on Sunday. I got that done by the early afternoon and then went to the local produce market to pick up the bulk of my shopping list with most of the rest coming from a nearby Whole Foods.
  • Monday, 19 November – While at work during the afternoon, I realized that I needed to increase the size of our turkey. The turkey was coming from Whole Foods, so I just called and changed the order from an 8-10lb bird to a 12-14lb bird. I also cooked up some cornbread for the dressing.
  • Tuesday, 20 November – Pick up the turkey day… a 12lb organic hen, that I promptly took home and put in brine for an 18-20 hour rest. I also stopped at a local wine merchant and picked up a couple bottles of Austrian dry Riesling. Some of the guests were bringing red wine, I wanted to have another option.
  • Wednesday, 21 November – After sitting in the brine, the turkey was removed and left to chill in refrigerator covered by a plastic bag overnight. I then picked the last four apples off our apple tree, combined them with one other that previously fell off the tree (a last apple fell off but rotted in the fridge) and a few of the same variety that I purchased on Sunday to make the apple pie.
  • Turkey Day, 22 November – The morning was spent doing some cleaning touch up and getting the table ready — the table was extended with a leaf, the table cloth changed, and the “good” china put out. Around 12:30pm, I started the fire in the smoker and put four quarts of water in the water pan. The smoker was slow to come up to the target temperature of 325 degrees F. It first started at around 225 degrees, perfect pork smoking temperature. I then lit and added additional charcoal, bringing it up to around 250 degrees. Then the turkey went in at around 1:15pm, figuring that if it went into the smoke for 60-90 minutes at lower temperature, I could finish it in the oven. I added more unlit charcoal, and the temperature climbed to around 295 degrees. After 90 minutes or so, the middle of the breast rose a third to a half the difference between the 45 degree starting temperature and the 165 degree finish. With bird in hand, I prepped the ingredients for the dressing. By around 4pm, the temperature rose to the 325-335 degree range, and the middle of the breast was 155 degrees. I made the cranberry sauce and cooked the dressing, and then saw to last minute details.

As it was, there was a small communications snafu — I told guests to arrive between 4:30 and 5pm, and Mrs. Geek thought I’d set a firm 5pm arrival time. So, husband, wife, and child were not quite as ready as we might have been when the first guests arrived around 4:30pm. That was my fault, entirely.. but it all came out ok in the end.

The turkey came out of the smoker at around 5:15pm and I made gravy. We dined on some cheese and charcuterie, while the last of the guests arrived. With a full compliment and some last minute (re-)heating, we sat down around 6pm and an excellent time was had by all.

A few pictures from the event:

Apples, home grown and store bought

A collection of apples, some from our tree, some professionally raised. The two runts on the ends are easy to spot as home grown, but the others not so much. I look forward to seeing what the tree will do next year!

Pie!!!

The apples (variety: Sierra Beauty) stay rather firm when cooked. I need to keep the apple slices on the thin side. I also used the America’s Test Kitchen “vodka” pie crust recipe — it makes a very soft dough, but I was afraid it would fall apart more than once. It did not. I need to remember to be more careful adding liquid. It made a good looking pie, don’t you think?

A good looking turkey

The turkey came out great this time around. A number of our guests had heard from me about smoked turkey and this one did not disappoint. The time in the brine generally made it so juicy that it practically made a mess of the kitchen floor once I started carving it.

Once the festivities were done, I was no good to anyone for about two days. It wasn’t so much as living as existing… but that’s what days off are for, I guess.

the rapture of the school bus people

school bus people

In a further sign of the apocalypse after the looming disappearance of the once nigh-invulernable snack cake “the twinkie”, we are presently dealing with the possibility that a group of seven small individuals were taken into Heaven, held out of harm’s way through the dark days ahead of four horsemen, dragons, and whores, since the Mayans predicted that the world might end next month.

I speak of course of six students and one teacher/driver who came with the Melissa and Doug Whittle World Wooden School Bus set. Various of the students had disappeared before, often placed into detention under the coffee table by Baby G. The reasons why certain of the students found themselves so banished were often murky, but they would be recovered for several days in a row from the same place away from the others. The whole group have now been missing for just over two weeks. They have never all been gone… or for so long. Hence, our concern that they were all taken away by supernatural forces.

They were last seen two weeks ago Sunday. Mrs. Geek and I had just returned from our first overnight trip away from Baby G. since he was born. We picked up Baby G. and brought him home, and Mrs. Geek went out to run some errands. I was camped out on the sofa, dozing slightly, while Baby G. moved from the living room to his room, playing. At one point, he had the school bus with everyone aboard. Later, I heard a toy crash to the floor in the hallway through a door and around a corner from where I lay. Much later, we found the bus but no people… and haven’t seen them since.

For a while we feared that they might have found their way into our floor furnace (we have an old gas heater sunk in the floor near the center of our house.) It was near where Baby G. played after all. Subsequent cleaning of the furnace in preparation for winter revealed no sign of teacher or students there. We also searched the living room, the bathroom, the dining room, and a good part of Baby G.’s bedroom.

The number of places in the house where they could be is getting small. Unless they were placed in a garbage can or diaper pail that was subsequently emptied, rapture seems like the best option… despite its prediction of the end of days.

A year of changes

Though the year 2012 has about six weeks left on the calendar (where did it go?), another anniversary passed a couple weeks ago that marks 12 months of extensive changes in my life.

Halloween 2011 was the moment when I finally put my foot down and decided to make my personal health a priority. My weight was an issue in my late 20’s and all through my 30’s. I weighed somewhere around 204-205 lbs in my early 20s and that started to balloon as grad school progressed in the 1990’s, at one point reaching about 222 lbs before a doctor told me to lose weight to reduce my blood pressure. I did so, dropping to around 212-214 lbs. It started to creep up again after I graduated in 2000, reaching almost 238 lbs by the time I got married in 2004. I made a concerted effort to lose the weight after getting back from my honeymoon, and dropped to back to around 220 lbs about 8 months later. Then the climb began again… slowly… until two years of working like a dog and a first year of being a father had stressed and tested me… and had me leaning two much on food and alcohol for comfort. I’m not exactly sure what my weight was on October 31, 2011 but it was somewhere above 245 lbs. My best estimate is about 246.5 lbs but I can’t be completely sure because I didn’t want to even step on a scale for about 6 weeks after starting to eat right and exercise. I do know what my doctor was telling me, however: my weight was unhealthy and I was showing signs of pre-diabetes.

I now usually weigh in somewhere between 217.5-219.5 lbs depending on how much salty food I’ve had; a few days ago it was 217.5 and it was about 219 this morning. I accomplished this in three ways. First, exercise has a fairly priority in my life. If it comes down to getting to my desk at work an hour later or not exercising (assuming I don’t have, say, a meeting), I get to work an hour later. Second, I changed the kind of workout I do. I used to do a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise. Now, I do low impact aerobic exercise exclusively. Third, I try to practice portion control and limit the amount of snacking I do.

I’d love to lose another 10 pounds, but my weight has stabilized at its present level for about 5 months now. Part of that is because I got tired of religiously watching every damn thing I ate. Part of it is also because I think I need to change up my exercise routine a little bit. I’m looking at adding some strength training back into the mix in the New Year. A fitness trainer friend says that exercising more of the core muscle groups can be very beneficial. I also have friends who are getting good benefits from Cro$$fit. That tempts me… but it seems a little bit cultish.

The other big change in the last year was a transition from Company O. to Company A. I’ve wrote about what precipitated the change elsewhere, but it was a long time coming. Thoughts about changing jobs were rattling around in my head for years, with varying levels of intensity. That level jumped up a notch or two last March. I don’t remember exactly what happened at work, but something in me said “there’s got to be something out there better than this.”

Part of it was a realization that I have probably another 20 years (or more — probably more) left on my career and I couldn’t see myself doing what I was doing at Company O. for all that time. Part of it also was that part of me was dying. Work that I genuinely enjoyed at one point had become a tangled knot of frustrations that seemed to be getting me nowhere.

At that point, I decided to try to take stock of my previous attempts to get another job — none of which were successful. My skills had grown stale; I’d lived so long in the Company O. technical cocoon that technologies in the wide world had moved on. I was also unsure how to even describe the kind of position I was doing, making it difficult to know what kind of job to look for. Finally, I needed to mature a little in my thinking about how to sell myself and my skills — I was no longer the the “new” professional just a few years out of college.

Of course, all that turned out to be moot… because I was hired at Company A. by one of my former managers. Still, I think the effort was not wasted. But let us hope that my time at Company A. lasts a few more years, at least.