Tentative Wagging

Russell’s dog Betty is a pretty smart dog, by dog standards.  She knows the basic commands, like “sit” and “hang on!” — the latter of which inevitably is used when she is trying to charge down the outside steps as we are heading out for a walk while I am trying to lock the front door.  And she clearly recognizes her name and words like “walk,” because the mere mention of the “w” word causes her to start leaping around with a pure, energetic ecstasy rarely seen in canine or human.

And Betty is a friendly, sensitive dog, too.  She’s a jumper who likes to greet her human friends with a set of front paws to the midsection, and she’s an inveterate tail-wagger, too.  Her full-fledged tail wag is impressive — the kind that can sweep glasses, magazines, and other bric-a-brac off the coffee table and send Betty’s hindquarters twitching back and forth like she’s being manipulated by some uncontrollable invisible force.

But sometimes the brainy part of Betty and the wagging part of Betty get mixed signals.  Typically this happens when a human being is directing some kind of communication to Betty that is of uncertain meaning.  The statement might be something along the lines of:  “Betty, the weather app on my phone says it’s very cold out today, so I’ll need to bundle up.”  Betty hears her name, and sees that the human is looking at her and apparently directing human speech at her, which I suspect she finds immensely flattering, but exactly what is being communicated is a bit of a mystery.  And, because Betty is by nature a polite dog, she wants to acknowledge the statement through some kind of response — but what is the right response?

Betty deals with this personal quandary by giving a quizzical look accompanied by what might be described as a tentative wag of her tail.  It’s not the all-out wag, to be sure.  It’s hedging, and usually consists of only one twitch, or perhaps two, of the tail.  The combination of look and wag says:  “I hear you, and know you are talking to me about something, but I’m not quite sure just yet so I’m reserving my full judgment and all-in reaction until more evidence is presented.”

I admit, I get a kick out of the tentative wag response.  In fact, sometimes I’ll talk to Betty just to get the uncertain wag.  It’s one of the things that makes it fun to have a dog around the house.



The Random Restaurant Tour (XXIII)

Kish and I are lucky to live in one of the great “walk to a restaurant” zones in Columbus.  We’re surrounded by great food options at virtually every point of the compass.  Last night, we walked a few blocks to the west on a cold, blustery night to check out Ambrose and Eve, a new place that opened recently on High Street.

Ambrose and Eve is one of those places that offers an intimate dining setting, with a seven-seat bar and tables positioned in different room-like segments of what looks to be a converted house.  It’s got a snug, welcome feel that is much appreciated on a frigid winter evening.  The place was hopping, so we sat and ate at the bar, which is dominated by the painting of the two people shown above.  We like eating at the bar from time to time — you always get great service, because the bartender is right there, and it’s also got a more urban, communal feel than sitting at your own table.

(To digress for a moment, sitting at the bar encouraged us to spend some time enjoyably analyzing the painting.  It’s interesting because the two people — we’re taking a wild guess that they are Ambrose on the right and Eve on the left — almost appear to be from different eras.  Eve’s got that ’40s coiffure and wide-shouldered look, and Ambrose looks like he stepped out of a bowling alley in, say, 1970.  But they looked very happy together, and we were very happy discussing them.)

The restaurant has an interesting menu, which can be found at the link above.  I ignored the “Eat Your Veggies” section, of course, but was a bit perplexed by the array of choices, all of which looked quite good.  If you’re sitting at a bar, the logical course is to ask the bartender.  He strongly recommended the chicken and dumplings, which I promptly ordered and is shown above.  I got the sweet bread nuggets as an appetizer, and Kish went for the wedge and the eggplant parmesan.  The food was great.  You don’t often get the chance to have veal sweet breads, and they were served with a scrumptious, light breading and two very tasty dipping sauces.  And the chicken and dumplings, which featured a delicate ricotta gnudi, will probably become Ambrose and Eve’s signature dish.  I ate it all with pleasure, and Kish reported that her food was also excellent.

When you really like a restaurant’s food, its ambiance, and its nearby location, you’ve pretty much covered the waterfront.  Ambrose and Eve means we’ve added another terrific option, at the west-by-southwest point of the compass.

Homemade Granola

Baking Christmas cookies isn’t an exact science.  Inevitably, your purchases of materials don’t align precisely with the cookies you’re baking, and you end up with something left over.  This year, my excess supplies included a big container of rolled oats, two bags of dried cranberries, a jar of honey, a bag of walnuts, and a bag of brown sugar, and I’ve been looking for something different to make with them.

Then I thought — well, why not try to make some granola?  Kish and I both like it.  She eats it like cereal, and I like to add it to yogurt.  So I searched for simple yogurt recipes on the internet and found this one at The Wholesome Dish website:

Basic Large Chunk Granola Recipe

Ingredients:  1/2 cup vegetable oil; 1/2 cup honey; 1/3 cup light brown sugar; 1 tbsp. vanilla extract; 1/2 tsp. salt; 5 cups old fashioned rolled oats; 3 cups of your favorite granola items

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line an 11×17 baking sheet with parchment paper,  Add oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and sale to a large bowl, and whisk until sugar is dissolved and oil is well incorporated.  Add the oats and granola items, and stir well.  Pour the oat mixture onto the baking sheet and spread it out into an even layer, using the baking spoon to firmly pack the mixture onto the baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan half way through cooking.  Remove from the oven and let the granola cool at room temperature for one hour.  Break the granola into large chunks, then store at room temperature in a sealed container or ziplock bag.

This recipe was easy to make and fit perfectly with my holiday baking leftovers; I used the walnuts and dried cranberries as my added granola items.  The only tricky steps are the whisking, where you need to make sure that you end up with a cohesive, well integrated liquid mixture, and then the stirring, where it is essential to keep flipping the oats, nuts, and cranberries through the liquid mixture to make sure they get thoroughly coated and sticky and can be packed onto the cookie sheet.  You’ll need to use a little elbow grease in that step.  It’s a good recipe, too, because it’s highly flexible.  If you like your granola basic, as I do, you can stick to nuts and dried fruit, but if you want to jazz it up you could add chocolate chips, coconut, cinnamon, or whatever floats your boat.

And here’s another thing about making granola at home — breaking it up after the baking and cooling is actually a lot of fun.

The Eternal Question

Well, it’s Super Sunday again.  That means it’s time for the New England Patriots to play for the pro football championship . . . again.  It’s the third straight year the Patriots have kicked the ass of the rest of the AFC and made it to the Super Bowl.  Overall, it’s the eleventh Super Bowl for the Patriots, the most for any team.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are still sitting on that inglorious goose egg.  Which raises, as it does every time a Super Bowl is played, the seemingly eternal question for we Browns fans:  will the Browns ever play in a Super Bowl — much less win one — in my lifetime?

I was a rosy-cheeked lad of 9 when the first Super Bowl was played, 52 years ago, after the end of the 1966 season.  At that time, the Browns were a very good team.  They’d won the league championship only two years before, at the tail end of the pre-Super Bowl days, and had lost in the championship game the next year.  If you’d asked people then whether the Browns would ever play in a Super Bowl, they might have viewed it as a trick question, because there was a legitimate question of whether the Super Bowl was just a kind of exhibition game or a permanent fixture on the pro football scene.  But if you’d said the Super Bowl would be played 53 times and asked how many times, the Browns would play, no one — absolutely no one — would have guessed that zero would be the right answer.

Yet, here were are.  I’m in my 60s, and the Browns haven’t made it.  They’ve come close — the last time, incidentally, was 30 years ago — but they’ve nevertheless been shut out.  And while this past season was a ray of sunshine after three of the worst seasons in Browns’ history, the goal of a Super Bowl still seems very far away.

So, will the Browns ever make it to a Super Bowl in my lifetime?  I honestly don’t know, but I do know that I’m steadily getting older.


10 Years Of Blogging

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the Webner House blog.  The blog was a Christmas gift from Richard during the Christmas of 2008, but it took a while before I steeled myself to write something.  The first posts appeared on February 1, 2009.

A lot has happened in the intervening years, both generally and in our little corner of the world, and we’ve written about some of it — whether it involves politics, movies, musics, art, food, TV shows, or places to take a vacation.  According to the WordPress statistics, 7,948 posts have been published during those 10 years, which comes out to a bit more than an average of two a day.  The postings are definitely a mixed bag.  We’ve shared family memories, tackled some of the issues of the day, vented about air travel woes and the perils of being a pedestrian, written some bad poetry, and presented a view of the world from the perspective of our dog Penny.

During the past 10 years, writing a blog post about something while I drink my coffee has become a cornerstone part of my morning routine and, as any regular reader of the blog probably knows, I’m definitely a creature of habit.  Writing the morning posts helps to get my brain moving and prepares me for the day to come.  The blog clearly been one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received.  How many presents do you get to use on a daily basis over a 10-year span?

The WordPress stats also tell us that the blog has more than 4,000 followers, and during the last decade it’s had more than half a million different visitors, some of whom have left “likes” and comments.  We appreciate everybody who stops by and has a read — particularly the “regulars.”  Thank you for making the last 10 years more interesting!


“Discordant Retirement”

After you turn 60, you start getting a lot more retirement-related communications — just like you begin to notice that you’re getting a lot more spam mailings and internet ads about things like cheaper prescription drugs and various devices that help the enfeebled perform daily chores.  And it all starts, really, when you get that AARP application in the mail that is the official acknowledgement that you are old.

istock_000021521956largeMost of the retirement materials you receive are just a variation on the kind of stuff you’ve probably received for years, that talk up some great investment opportunity that is so bullet-proof you’d be a fool not to put your money in, or promise to take great care of your savings and lead you to the retirement of your dreams.  For me, those kind of “cold call” communications get moused into the trashcan.  But sometimes you see something that’s actually interesting — like this piece on “discordant retirement.”

What’s “discordant retirement,” you say?  That’s the name retirement planners have given to married couples that effectively retire at different times — where the wife keeps working after the husband stops, or vice versa.  It’s a cultural phenomenon of sorts, because it’s obviously a reflection of the prevalence of two wage-earner couples, rather than the ’50s sitcom model of working husband and wife on the home front, where the husband’s eventual retirement would be the decisive, unilaterally defining retirement event.

And it’s also interesting in that it illustrates something else about the concept of working:  people react differently to it.  Some people tire of working and decide that once they’ve reached a certain financial point they just won’t take it anymore, while others find work empowering, or important to their self image, or a significant part of their social life that they just aren’t quite ready to give up.  The article notes that “retirement” isn’t always easily defined, and often a “retired” person has just decided to do something else, like work for a charitable entity.  There are many reasons to “retire” — however you define that notion — and an equal number of reasons to keep working, and everyone is going to approach the issue somewhat differently.  In a sense, the notion of discordant retirement shows just how far we’ve come, with each half of a couple making their own individual decisions about when and how they want to retire.

After reading the article I thought about couples we know and how many of them are illustrations of “discordant retirement.”  So, what are potential “discordant retirees” supposed to do?  Well, obviously, it’s something that couples need to talk about, just as any successful married couples need to talk through and reach agreement on many issues in their lives.  And discordant retirement offers opportunities, and challenges, as couples try to figure out when and how to pull the trigger on things like Social Security payments, Medicare coverage, and other consequential retirement-related decisions.

“Discordant retirement” sounds bad, like it’s a cause for bickering — and perhaps, for some couples, it is.  But it’s actually the result of people exercising their basic individual freedoms and working through their desires and needs in the context of a partnership.  The retirement planners need to come up with a better name for it.

Going Off The Beaten Path

We’ve been watching Russell’s dog Betty recently.  She’s a very nice, well-trained dog — kudos to Russell on that! — who absolutely loves taking walks.  Every morning I leash her up and take her for a walk around Schiller Park so both she and I can get some fresh air and exercise first thing in the morning.

img_0028For the most part, Betty is an easy dog to walk.  She keeps her nose down, hunting for interesting smells, and stays on or in close proximity to the sidewalk, swiveling her head from side to side and remaining on absolute tactical alert for any random dog that might be seen off in the distance.

But the interesting thing is what happens when we depart from the sidewalk for even an instant — say, to drop a tied-off bag of doggie doo into one of the Schiller Park trash cans.  When that happens, Betty’s entire personality changes.  She goes from the dedicated, straight-ahead walker who diligently tracks down every stray scent to a young dog who clearly wants to frolic.  She does a kind of antic, bouncing dance, going down onto her paws then leaping into the air, makes a growling sound, veers suddenly from side to side with tremendous force, and then starts to nibble at my shoelaces while I’m trying to walk.  Frankly, it’s pretty annoying on a cold workday morning, but she’s just having a dog’s definition of fun.  After a few minutes of such play, I give her a tug on the leash and we head back home.

It’s instructive, isn’t it?  Betty likes her walks, to be sure, but what really charges her up is to go off the beaten path.  Betty’s little dance just demonstrates the value of departing from the straight line and going free form every once in a while.