Patchwork

Dogs have many good qualities, but they aren’t easy on yards. Especially in a tiny backyard like ours, the combination of accumulated canine answers to the call of nature, unfettered grass nibbling, and gleeful dog romping will leave the lawn looking barren and diseased.

Now that we’re dogless for the first time in years, it’s time to get out the latest scientically developed patch mix and tackle those bare spots.

A Moment To Savor

Photographs are great, but their inherent limitations mean they can’t possibly capture everything special about a moment.

As I was walking around Schiller Park the other morning, the branches of a beautiful old tree were backlit by the first glimmers of dawn, the air was crisp but not too cold, birds were chirping, mallards and ducks were muttering to each other as they waddled past on the lawn, and the promise of growing things was everywhere evident. When I noticed the scene I realized with a jolt that spring may finally be here, and I savored the moment, enough to stop and take a picture.

It’s a nice picture, but it really doesn’t do justice to the moment. Of course, when spring does come after an overlong winter, you don’t want to see it in pictures, you want to get outside and enjoy it with every sense and fiber of your being.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XII)

 

New buildings are going up all over downtown Columbus, and I’ve been hoping that we’ll be getting some new restaurants along with the new office and residential space. So when I saw that The Goat was open for business — even though the building it occupies is still seriously under construction — the Jersey Girl, the Origamist, and I decided to stroll down South High Street and pay it a visit.

Although the space surrounding the restaurant is a beehive of construction workers, scaffolding, and other equipment, the interior space at The Goat is finished and very pleasant, with high ceilings, an open, airy feeling, and lots of room between the tables and chairs. It’s reminiscent of a New York or LA bistro. The only downside we noted is that there were TVs everywhere, with the sound on, which was distracting while we were trying to carry on a conversation. I think there are too many TVs in America, period, but unless a restaurant intends to be a sports fan hangout — and the menu at The Goat doesn’t suggest that is the business model — it’s got to limit the idiot boxes to the immediate bar area. If I were running The Goat, I’d follow that approach and ditch a lot of the TVs. As it is, the place seems to be neither fish nor fowl.

As for the food, the menu is limited, but interesting.  I got the buffalo chicken wrap, which came with some very tasty fries.  The chicken was very tender and flavorful, and the wrap made for a substantial meal.  The only downside was that the wrap was chock full of iceberg lettuce, even though there was no mention of lettuce in the description of the dish on the menu.  This is another pet peeve of mine — a menu should disclose all ingredients in a dish, and diners should be entitled to rely on finding only what is listed when their order comes.  I hate iceberg lettuce, so I used the fork to shovel as much of it as possible out of the wrap.  Without the lettuce, the wrap was very good.  The Jersey Girl raved about her soup, and the Origamist liked her wrap, too.

I’ll go back to The Goat, which is a pretty nice setting for lunch, but I’d like it even better with fewer TVs and more information on the menu.

61*

If you’re a baseball fan, of a certain age at least, you think of 61 as a number that inevitably is accompanied by an asterisk.  That’s because, in 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s decades-old single-season home run record of 60 by bashing 61 home runs — only to have his feat placed in the record books with an asterisk.

roger-maris-1961The 1961 baseball season was an exciting one, with Maris of the New York Yankees and his Hall of Fame teammate Mickey Mantle each chasing Ruth’s record.  Mantle was the a hero to many and the sentimental favorite, but it was Maris who broke the record by hitting his 61st home run on October 1, 1961.  They even made a made-for-TV movie, 61*, about the season.

Some people weren’t exactly happy that Maris broke Ruth’s record, though.  Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, a friend of the Babe, insisted that Maris’ record go into the record books with an asterisk, to recognize the fact that Maris hit his 61 homers in a 162-game season, while Ruth hit his 60 round-trippers in a 154-game season.  It was a pretty bogus move by the Commish, because even though Maris held the record, the asterisk cheapened and delegitimized it somehow.  It communicated, implicitly, that 61 was not an authentic record and required explanation. It’s the most famous use of the asterisk in sports history — in fact, probably the most famous use of punctuation, period, in sports history — and the asterisk dogged Maris for the rest of his career.  (And he probably wasn’t comforted by the fact that asterisk comes from the Greek word for “little star,” either.)

The key point, though, is that I’ll always think of 61 as carrying an asterisk.  So today, when I celebrate my 61st birthday, I’ve got to put an asterisk after that number.

What’s my footnote?  I guess that I really don’t feel like I’m 61, and in fact am a bit shocked that I’ve been around for 61 years.  I can’t say that I feel like a kid, but inside I’m more of a forty-something.

Rating The Captains

Kish and I have been spending the last few months working through the Star Trek TV shows.  We began with Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, after Richard recommended it as an interesting and thought-provoking show.  Kish, who just does not like science fiction and never got into the original Star Trek, gritted her teeth and agreed to watch a few shows.

To her surprise, and my surprise, too, Kish liked the characters and some of the plot lines on Deep Space Nine, so we watched every episode.  Then, after we finished that series, we turned to Star Trek:  The Next Generation, and now we’re on to Voyager.

star-trek-captains_610I think one of the things that we’ve found interesting about the different Star Trek shows is the different styles of the captains.  Deep Space Nine‘s Benjamin Sisko, stationed out on the frontier, was brave, tough and aggressive, with a sense of humor and a ready smile and a very strong mystical side.  In many ways, Sisko is the most outwardly human of the captains.  The Next Generation‘s Jean-Luc Picard, entrusted with the command of the Federation’s powerful flagship vessel, was formal, reserved, and by-the-book, an intellectual who was far more comfortable mediating a difficult dispute between warring alien races than dealing with the personal problems of his crew.  (Thank God Counselor Deanna Troi was on board to deal with those troublesome personal issues!)  And Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, trying to unite a patched-together crew and get them home after being thrust 75,000 light years away by a powerful alien, is careful and decisive but with a decided warmth and obvious interest in the individuals who make up her crew.  Sisko, Picard, and Janeway all can deliver a reprimand, but she’s the captain who is most likely to take a moment to offer a compliment.

Which captain is best?  Kish started out advocating for Janeway, then switched to Picard, and now is thinking maybe it’s Sisko.  Each of them has their own style and their own strengths and weaknesses, and each of them engendered great loyalty among members of their crews for different reasons.  I think your choice might depend upon the specific circumstances.  If you had to select a captain to make a decision that would decide the fate of the universe, I’d definitely pick the careful, thoughtful Picard.  If you needed a captain to try to beat the odds and come up with an imaginative solution, I’d go with Sisko.  And if you had to pick a captain to be your boss and colleague, day after day, I think I’d opt for Janeway.

How do these three stack up against Captain James T. Kirk, the swashbuckling adventurer who invented the captain’s role on the original series?  Well, he’ll always be my favorite because he was the captain of my youth, but the episode-by-episode nature of the original shows and the movies never allowed his character to be developed with the same care and consistency as the others.  One thing’s for sure — if you were one of those anonymous red-shirted security guys who got killed every episode on the original series, you’d prefer anybody but Captain Kirk.

The Lot Of The Working Stiff

Starbucks is embroiled in protests in Philadelphia due to an incident in one of its stores.  As CNN reports it, two African-American men initially initially asked to use the restroom inside the store “but were told the cafe’s bathrooms were for customers only. They then occupied a table without making a purchase, which many observers have noted is a common occurrence at the franchise’s locations.  A manager called police after the men declined to leave the premises because, they said, they were waiting for an acquaintance.”  Police then took the men out of the building, and the men were detained.

The incident has provoked outrage and resulted in a sit-in, other protests, and lots of criticism of Starbucks, and the manager who called the police is no longer working at the location in question.  Starbucks CEO has apologized, and Starbucks has announced that every one of its 8,000 stores in the U.S. will close the afternoon of May 29 to “conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores.”

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But this post isn’t about the unfortunate incident, the protests, or Starbucks’ response to the incident.  Instead, it’s about one picture taken during the protests, which appears at left — a photo of a Starbucks employee behind the counter at the store, wearing bright green Starbucks garb with “Zack” written on his apron, staring stolidly ahead while facing a protester with a bullhorn who is standing about three feet away.  That one picture, to me, aptly illustrates the lot of the working stiff.  Zack, the order-taking counter guy, isn’t the CEO of Starbucks, or the manager who made the decision to call the police, and we don’t know whether he was even in the store when the incident occurred.  But when things go south and the corporate crap hits the fan, it’s the little guys like Zack who show up for work and get sent out to face the music — and in this case, the bullhorn.

I’ve never had jobs where I had to deal with sit-ins and protesters using bullhorns, but I expect many of us have had jobs where we were the minimum-wage workers who had to deal with the red-faced customers who were angry about a decision we didn’t make.  And if you’ve had such a job, you suspect you know exactly what Zack was thinking at the moment the above photo was taken:  he’s thinking that the pay he’s getting just isn’t worth it, he’s wondering how long it is until his shift ends, and he’s trying to get to his mental happy place.  We’ve all been there.

And it also makes you wonder:  wouldn’t it be interesting to see how CEOs and high-level executives would deal with the bullhorn scenario?

Boarding Pass Breakdown

Anyone who travels much spends a good part of their travel day clutching their boarding pass.  We get it when we check in on-line, we make sure we’ve got it as we head to the airport, we present it to the TSA agent who peers intently at it for a nanosecond, then scribbles on it as we go through the security line, and then we give it to the gate agent.

american_airlines_boarding_pass_aa_198But how much attention do we really give this document that is, briefly, very important to the successful completion of our travel plans?  Other than glancing at it to remember our seat assignment or boarding group, does any traveler actually read their boarding pass?  For most people, at least, it’s as casually ignored as the tags on mattresses or the detailed agate-type agreements you immediately click yes to when you log on to the internet in a hotel.

The New York Post has an interesting article about some of the information on boarding passes — and specifically, how flight numbers are determined.  It turns out that, typically, airlines assign the lowest numbers to their most prestigious, long-distance routes.  Flights heading east or north usually get even numbers, and flights heading west or south get odd numbers.  Flight numbers with four digits starting with the numbers 3 and higher indicate flights operated by airline partners. And some airlines assign special numbers to reflect the destination, like American Airlines assigning the number 1776 to its flight from Boston to Philadelphia.

But I think the most interesting fact is that airlines at least give a nod to superstitions in assigning flight numbers.  If you’re flying to Asia, you’re likely to see an 8 in the flight number, because that number is considered lucky in many Asian cultures.  The numbers 13 and 666 are avoided, and when a flight crashes, the flight number gets quietly retired and replaced with another number.  The airlines might be superstitious, or maybe not, but they at least recognize that some of their passengers are.

Just something to think about the next time you’re twiddling you thumbs at the gate, waiting for your flight to board.

Seriously — Mayochup?

Heinz is encouraging Americans to vote on a question that could affect the tabletops of restaurants throughout the land.

The question is:  do Americans want Heinz to release a new condiment called “Mayochup” — a combination of Heinz Ketchup and Heinz Real Mayonnaise.  If 500,000 people vote yes, Heinz will roll out the new product and send it to stores.

mayochup-1Set aside the sad fact that some Americans have actually taken time from their days to cast their vote on what is clearly a marketing campaign ploy.  In modern, bot-ridden America, you could get 500,000 votes for just about anything.  Come hell or high water, Heinz obviously is going to bring their new condiment to market.

Set aside, too, the fact that the name “mayochup” sounds like some mythical creature that parents use to frighten their misbehaving children in southern Mexico, or the noise made by a barfing cow.  It is a truly awful name for a product.  Just having something called “Mayochup” on a table where food is being consumed is troubling.

And, finally, set aside the fact that “Mayochup” is made with mayonnaise, which is a disgusting, greasy, ugly substance that should never have been invented by the French back in the 1700s in the first place.

No, the worst thing about “Mayochup” is that it shows just how lazy Americans have become.  If some poor, benighted souls like the combination of ketchup and mayonnaise — which really says something disturbing about them, doesn’t it? — they can squirt some ketchup from the ketchup bottle, add some mayonnaise from the mayo jar, mix it up themselves, and go to town.  What’s next for Heinz?  An equally poorly named product called “Ketchtard”?

Stick To Your Ribs Fare

We’re up in Detroit for a visit with Russell. Since this is The Winter That Will Never End, we were treated yesterday to a hard, cold rain and temperatures in the upper 30s.

One time-honored approach to miserable weather outside is to go inside and fortify yourself against the elements. So, we stopped by the Krakus Restaurant & Bar in Hamtramck, which specializes in Polish and American cuisine, and I got the meat pierogies with bacon, onions, and sour cream, it came with a steaming bowl of spilt pea soup, and I topped it off with a bottle of Okocim beer. The food was excellent, the lager went down easy, and I relished a meal that Mom would have said would “stick to your ribs.”

Thus fueled, we ventured forth again into the never-ending chill.

The Syria Dilemma

There’s news this morning that the United States, Great Britain, and France have launched air strikes against the Assad regime in Syria.  The strikes are in response to what the three Western allies call a chemical weapons atrocity committed by the Assad regime on its own people, and are targeting laboratories, production facilities, storage facilities, and other elements of the regime’s chemical weapons capabilities.

5ad199560f2544131873fb90Nobody wants to see civilians assaulted by chemical weapons, of course, and I agree with President Trump that anyone who uses chemical weapons is a “monster.”  The problem is that the Assad regime denies any use of chemical weapons, and its allies — namely, Russia and Iran — are backing the regime.  Indeed, at one point Russia claimed that Great Britain had, for some elusive reason, staged the chemical attack.  The outlandishness of that claim gives us a pretty good idea of how to assess the relative credibility of the charges and countercharges concerning who did what.

But in the curious arena of international affairs, questions of credibility and truth, and right and wrong, often don’t mean much.  Attacking Syria will have consequences for our relations with Russia and Iran, such as they are, and might put other American allies, like Israel, at increased risk.  Of course, it could also risk drawing the United States deeper into the quagmire of internal disputes in a foreign nation, a la Afghanistan and Iraq.  On the other hand, do countries like the United States, France, and Great Britain, which have the ability to take concrete steps to try to stop the use of chemical weapons, have a moral obligation to do something like launching these attacks when international organizations like the United Nations prove to be incapable of protecting innocents from monstrous and barbaric attacks?

It’s a dilemma that is above my pay grade, and one which I hope our leaders have thought through thoroughly and carefully.  I’m all for stopping the use of chemical weapons, but it is the unpredictable long-term consequences that give me concern.

A Big Hole In The Household

IMG_0575We lost our little pal Kasey today.  For six years, she has been a huge part of our family.  Now she is gone, leaving a big hole in our household, and an even bigger hole in our hearts.

We inherited Kasey from Kish’s Mom.  Kasey was a rescue dog that Kish and her siblings found at the Erie County Humane Society to serve as a companion for Kish’s Mom, who had just lost her dog and was dealing with her final illness.  It was a match made in heaven.  Kasey was perfectly suited for that role, and Kish’s Mom delighted in her company.  When Kish’s Mom passed, we added Kasey to our household.

Kasey immediately made an impact.  Even though she was much smaller than our other dog, Penny, who was a large, lumbering lab, Kasey immediately assumed the position of lead dog in the Webner pack.  And yet, her small size and big eyes inevitably caused Kish to pick her up, deposit her in Kish’s lap, and manipulate her paws to wave goodbye or do some hand jive or engage in other antics that made us laugh.  Kasey endured this terrible indignity with good humor and a perfectly deadpan expression that made us laugh even more.  From time to time she would puff out her cheeks in what we interpreted as a clear sign that her patience was wearing thin.  It was just one tiny, but memorable, example of her very distinctive personality.

When Kasey left the lap and got to be a real dog again, as when we took her on walks, she fearlessly strutted through the neighborhood as if she owned the place, barking at dogs 10 times her size with a raspy woof that one dog-sitter called a smoker’s bark.  She wasn’t a biter, but she wasn’t afraid to mix it up with any other member of the canine species, either.  When she first joined the family, as shown in the picture above, the brown in her coat was dark, and she was full of spunk and energy.  She stayed that way for years, as if she was somehow immune to the ravages of time.

Because she was a rescue dog, we never knew precisely how old Kasey was, although we think she reached the ripe age of 17 — which is pretty darned old in “dog years.” Gradually her coat got whiter and whiter.  It became too painful for her to put weight on her back leg, cancerous growths broke out on her face, and her eyes got rheumy and her hearing failed.  Her sleeping increased until she was dozing 23 hours a day, and she was losing all semblance of bowel control, besides.  As the end neared, she was more like a stuffed animal than a living creature.  Her appetite declined, and when it got to the point when she wouldn’t even bark for a piece of meat I was having for a meal, we knew the time had come.

If you have a dog in the family, you’ll know how difficult the decision is, and what a mixture of emotions it provokes — sadness at losing a great friend and companion, relief that their period of suffering is finally over, and hope that, somewhere, your dog is out romping on a grassy field, running without pain under a sunny, bright blue sky.  That’s what we’re feeling about Kasey.  We’ll never forget her.

The Great Grilled Cheese Debate

Yesterday was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the glories of the grilled cheese sandwich and to reflect anew on the delectable nature of melty, gooey, crunchy goodness.

wide_51094On such a day, you’d expect red-blooded Americans to engage in a vigorous debate on the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich — and, especially, what kind of cheese makes the best GCS.  The so-called experts will discuss at length the respective merits of different, high-end options like aged cheddar, fontina, gruyere, Monterey Jack, raclette, and havarti, but they also pooh-pooh the traditional choice that many of us grew up with — namely, American cheese.  One grilled cheese chef, who probably spoke with a grimace on her face, dismissed American cheese thusly:  “It’s not really cheese to me, it’s some kind of weird plastic-y substance that should be banned from the face of the earth.”

Well . . . lah de freakin’ dah!  I’m guessing that same expert would sneeringly dismiss the use of Wonder bread, too.

I beg to differ.  I love different cheeses, and I think those high-falutin’ grilled cheese sandwiches you can get at restaurants are just fine, but when I think of a truly succulent grilled cheese sandwich, I think of them the way Mom used to make them — with Kraft American cheese (or maybe Velveeta), on Wonder bread, with a little butter smeared on the outside, then grilled so there was a crunchy, buttery outer shell for the melty cheese inside.  And, of course, the resulting masterpiece of the culinary arts had to be sliced diagonally and served with Campbell’s tomato soup made with milk, so you could dip the edges of the sandwich into the soup and gobble the result up in perfect combination.

I’ll take Mom’s grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup over the fou fou offerings of the so-called “experts” any day of the week.  When National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day rolls around, that’s the one I’ll savor.

Celebrating Gold Pants Day

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Today members of the 2017 Ohio State Buckeyes football team received their treasured gold pants.  For members of Buckeye Nation, it’s a day worth celebrating.

In 1934, after years of Michigan gridiron dominance over the Buckeyes, legendary Ohio State coach Francis (“Close the Gates of Mercy”) Schmidt told the Men of the Scarlet and Gray that the Wolverine players put their pants on one leg at a time, like everyone else.  In short, the players on That Team Up North were human and could be beaten.  Ever since, players on an Ohio State team that beats the Wolverines in The Game receive an old-fashioned “gold pants” charm.  It’s one of the cooler traditions in the tradition-soaked world of  Ohio State football.

If you click on the link above, you can watch a video that Ohio State football released about the distribution of the gold pants, including comments from J.T. Barrett and some other recent Buckeyes about The Game — and how many pairs of gold pants they’ve earned during their Ohio State careers.

Swedish Death Cleaning

Many of us have closets that are full to bursting.  They’re so tightly wedged that you get serious anaerobic exercise shoving heavy rows of clothing to one side or the other, desperately trying to clear a space to hang something, because you know if you don’t clear that space and try to wrestle free a hanger, it’s likely to come springing out of the crush and inflict bodily injury.

If this sounds like your closet, it may be time for a Swedish Death Cleaning.

That’s the grim name for the latest personal decluttering trend that’s sweeping Scandinavia.  The underlying, admittedly morbid “death” concept comes in because the goal is to try to make sure that your estate is as easy for your survivors to administer as possible.  Why make them tackle that jam-packed closet when you could just do it yourself now, and save them the trouble later?

Some of the tips involved in Swedish Death Cleaning seem pretty sound to me.  The author suggests starting by discarding or giving away bulkier items, like coats, to immediately clear space, giving you the feeling that you are already making progress and incentivizing you to continue.  Other tips are to adopt a “uniform” — i.e., accept and embrace what you typically wear, rather holding on to things that you might someday wear for a once-in-a-blue-moon event — donate the impulse purchases that you don’t wear anymore, rather than keeping them because throwing them out makes you feel guilty that you made a dumb decision in the first place, and get rid of things that have no “worth” for you.

It’s all good advice, but the trick is always with the execution.  What to do, for example, with those jeans I wore when I was 25 pounds lighter and hope, someday, to comfortably wear again?

And when you’re done with your closets, it’s time to give the Death Clean treatment to those drawers that are so full that you have to depress the clothes with your hand to push the drawers closed.