Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Saucy Pictures

You know you're in trouble when the recipe calls for ingredients in bushels. But, when you have several bushels of tomatoes, that's the sort of recipe you reach for. We'd already made a few weeks' worth of salsa (which is saying something for us), and several months' worth of pizza sauce; why not take another crack at that spaghetti sauce that gave us so much trouble last year?

Wash, rinse, and photograph tomatoes. (Sorry, I dig the reflections here...)

Batch two of six. (The cherry tomatoes were for snacking; they didn't go into the sauce.)

Chop and add other ingredients. Never, ever, did I imagine that I would look at this pot and think it was too small...

Cook it all down for 2½ hours...

Take turns running it through the food mill, and blending the bits that won't go through the grate...

Cook it again... (Note how much less the volume is here. We poured off a lot of liquid to make a thicker sauce.)

Rack 'em...

Boil 'em to disinfect and seal the jars...

...and you're done!

Costs: 6-7 hours of time, one dead blender (RIP, Oster; you had a long and interesting life), and marginal increases in the gas and electric bills.

Yields: Seven quart jars of spaghetti sauce.

Yeah, I'm still trying to figure out if it was worth all the trouble, too!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The dark days

Summer promised so much. It always does. Now all those opportunities are scampering away, wasted, perhaps, by the joy of actually getting enough sleep, of getting to work by 9, rather than by 7. Tomorrow, Deborah goes back to work — if the car is repaired in time — and I go back to the split shift. The easy temptation to stay up late and have fun is no longer matched by the grace of a flexible starting time in the morning. I look at Deborah's growing belly, and wonder how long I can do this. How long, until all the kids are in school? Six, seven years? I don't even like to think about it. Part of the challenge of life, is living in a way that meets with one's own approval. Leaned up against that, are the realistic options one has. So I do what I must, and move along, during these dark days of the year.

Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines

"If they built a plane, would you fly in it?"

I've heard that phrase for years now, mostly in reference to a particular brand of motorcycle. The phrase took on new meaning for me when we all drove down to the annual Popular Rotorcraft Association Fly-In in Mentone, IN. In this case, "Popular" means "for the people" and if regular folk are owning and operating rotorcraft, that generally means that they're building those helicopters and gyrocopters themselves.

I know one such person. In fact, I'm related to him — and he's the reason I wanted to go, to take him to see the gyros fly around. See, my father-in-law built his own gyrocopter when he was 18. He ordered it as a kit, and spent countless hours building it. Shortly after completing it, he was drafted.

He's never flown it.

He'd never even seen one fly. Until now.

We didn't know exactly where the Mentone airport was. We knew it was roughly south and west of Mentone, so we drove down in that general direction, and watched the skies. Sure enough, little spindly craft started appearing, arcing lazily through the sky like dragonflies on a hot summer day, and it wasn't hard to figure out where they were all coming from.

Happily, there wasn't much to separate us common folk from the men and their machines, and we spent a good number of hours walking between the aircraft, talking to owners, builders, manufacturers, and sellers. ($7500 buys you a gently-used gyrocopter. I thought about it.)

The cool thing, of course, was watching them fly.

You mean to tell me that this thing flies?

Oh. I guess it does!

Regular rules about distances in flying don't seem to apply... but then, they were doing an exhibition, so maybe things are different for those.

Navigating around Mentone by air apparently involves being able to discern the difference between corn and soybeans at an altitude of 100 feet.

How often do you get to watch aircraft this close? When was the last time you got to actually watch airplanes take off and land at an airport?

A big part of the fun, for me, was to hear the reports of what my father-in-law was doing and saying as he ran around, talking to people and looking at aircraft. At first, I didn't think he wanted to go — he kept saying things like, "Oh, I can't go rebuilding my gyrocopter, I'm living on savings, and I have to be responsible..." but only later did I realize he was saying that to contain his excitement!

This, right here, is the real reason we came: so my father-in-law (right, in red) could meet people, see gyros, and rekindle an old dream.

This 1966 Benson is virtually identical to the one my father-in-law has tucked away in a trailer. It had pride of place in the gyrocopter museum.

This one in particular captured my FIL's imagination. This is a new, clean build, and features things like a seat that doubles as a gas tank. I suppose I'd object to the safety of such an arrangement, but then, I regularly go riding with a gas tank between my legs, so who am I to say? There's a certain irony in a motorcyclist complaining about the safety of... well, anything.

One of the editors I was working with a year or so ago, Micah Ross, told me that most people that fly airplanes also ride motorcycles. You would have been hard-pressed to disprove that at this show; I saw as many two-wheelers on the ground as I did gyros in the air. The same spirit of cheap innovation was applied to the bikes I saw, too.

Yes, those are mailboxes attached to each end of a Honda Ruckus.

The Wright Brothers were originally bicycle mechanics. This apple didn't fall far from the tree.

And after the day was done, and we were driving back home with the kids, I had to wonder... If I built a plane, would I fly in it?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Kid Could Paint That

At the insistence of a number of people, we rented My Kid Could Paint That. The odd thing is that it's a documentary: A four-year old girl created abstract paintings on the kitchen table that sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The ambiguity is: did she really?

The movie is really more about art and adults, and the stupid things they do to each other, but there was a lot that resonated with me as an artist — particularly the frustration of the parents to prove to everyone that Marla really did do all the paintings herself. The work that gets captured on camera seems like the work of a normal four-year-old; a start-to-finish video of a complete painting is criticized for not being as "polished" as other works. Watching this, I could see why. Would I produce a great opus on a red canvas in a dreary basement while NBC secretly filmed me, and someone was egging me on to do something great? Probably not.

Even under ideal circumstances, I don't sit down and knock out a great book cover every time. Some of them stink. Some, I get no inspiration. Some, I start, and find something more interesting along the way. (Those are fun.) And some of them are good. The expectation that Marla produce an outstanding work every time is frankly unrealistic. I'll reveal some of my own bias here: I think some of those paintings look way too good. But most of them, the vast majority, I think she did.

My sister-in-law, Sara, was inspired by the film, and got out a canvas and paints for her son.

If you ever come across the works of Galahad Grey Gove in the future... that's his real name. But, like every other artist that ever made it big, it's all about the marketing. So. You saw it here first...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Indefinite Shelf Life?

Three years ago, Marti, the customer service manager at Eisenbrauns, bought five Twinkies that had just reached their expiration date, and set them aside in a desk drawer with notes on each of them as to when they should be opened and tested. Does the urban legend of an indefinite shelf life had any truth to it? You can see the results yourself...

I felt surreal and light-headed for about half an hour afterwards. Then I had an apple, and that made me feel better. Thanks to James for recording and posting the video (his first ever!) I think it came out pretty well, especially since I wasn't working from a script!

Nothing Like a Good Story...

It could be because my sisters and I grew up having stories read to us. (Thanks, Dad.) Or, it could be that, with my head so immersed in right-brain stuff at work, my left brain needs something to do, lest it chatter away to my distraction. Whatever it is, there's nothing like a good story to help me sit down and keep plugging away at whatever I'm doing.

Now, obviously, I can't go reading books while I'm correcting manuscripts or retouching photos, but I have found that I can listen to them... and that, rather than distract me from what I'm doing, it keeps me planted. My feet don't wander when I want to know what happens next, and I don't think of a dozen things I'd like to say when someone else is reading.

The real trick has been finding good stuff to listen to. I've listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks (Jim Dale is an incredible narrator), and discovered the Septimus Heap and His Dark Materials books, but the talking books selection at the library has largely been hit-and-miss. While I keep trying books there, I have found a few reliable sources for stories done right:

There's a pretty wide variety here, and I've yet to find a story that wasn't worth finishing — which I find remarkable, given that most of the stories are done by the authors themselves in home studios.

Escape Pod
All sci-fi, all the time, with many new and notable names of the genre, reading half-hour to hour-long stand-alone stories. Sci-fi is a fairly broad genre, but this keeps close to traditional sci-fi while also linking to other, often-mingled genre stories in the form of Pseudopod (horror) and Podcastle (fantasy) if those are more your cup of tea. The presenter (and often-as-not narrator) Steve Eley throws out many thought-provoking bits in his intros and (as the neologism goes) out-tros.

The Secrets of Harry Potter
Not stories, per se, but commentary on stories, specifically the Harry Potter series. Although this claims to be a Catholic podcast, but there's really not much that a Protestant should take offense to. Production and content vary from episode to episode, but for the most part, it's worth wading through some of the awkward bits to get the nuggets of insight into the mythological and theological symbolism that J.K. Rowling's books are drenched in.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Three conversations

Deborah and the kids were getting ready to go to Science Central this morning, while I was getting ready to head off for work. (Which is grossly unfair. I want to go to Science Central...) While I was pulling on my socks, Aiden came and found me.

Aiden: Daddy, daddy, daddy, are you going to work?
Me: Yes.
Aiden: OK, just make sure you come home.
Me: OK, Aiden.

It was the sort of thing where you laugh for five seconds, and think for two hours.

* * *

As I was shaking out a bag this morning, something wet and black slipped out, streaked my leg, and made several blots and a lump on the floor.

"Ack! What in the world was that?"

Fiona hurried over and looked at it in fascination.

"It's a splatterpillar!"

I still don't know what it was — or used to be — but Fiona's neologism was certainly apt.

* * *

Aiden: Daddy, daddy, daddy*, would you get me the golf ball from the Everything Room?
Me: What's it doing in there?
Aiden: Sitting still?

* Daddy, daddy, daddy:
When Deborah reads books, she's largely lost to the world. After some research, we figured out that you have to call her at least three times to actually get her attention. Fiona gets around this by combining a greeting with a flying leap, but Aiden and I resort to the triple hail. Aiden, however, has gotten the idea that this is what you need to do to get anyone's attention, not just Deborah's while she's reading. The fact that he also tends to stutter a bit, and restart his sentences often, makes for some rather recursive conversations.