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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Probably Not Another Oscar

Okay, I'm a 100% Oscar predictor: Every time I've seen a movie, first run in the theater, and liked it so much I bought another ticket on the way out the door and went back in and watched the same movie, that's the Best Picture Oscar that year. It was true for No Country for Old Men, it was true for Silence of the Lambs.

Which makes me wonder: will it be true for this? This is the next movie I'm actually excited to see coming out. Because I loved the first one (I have a soft spot for White Castles) and because the idiotic humor of Harold & Kumar is based so thoroughly in ugly truths.

A friend of mine came to help me make a batch of beer back in late 2001. This was maybe a month after the World Trade Center became something you could accidentally inhale. The friend is of Pakistani descent, adopted and raised as white as a NASCAR race is loud. When he showed up at my house, he'd shaved his head and sported a goatee (much as I did then and do now). I commented at the time, he looked black. Well, mixed, but you wouldn't have thought Middle East, you'd have thought Africa for where his skin color came from.

'It's better,' he said, 'thank looking Arab.' His wife was black, I think that played into his fondness for the new style. But watching the trailer for this new piece of Harold and Kumar nonsense, I thought, damn: what would I have done if Timothy McVey and myself were part of a Caucasian minority? After that truck bombing, should I have expected to be strip-searched because my ethnicity made me prone to terrorism?

I doubt this film is Oscar material, but it does look like a better-than-average popcorn flick.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Impulse Buy

Okay, the pastor this week was talking about getting away from consumerism, and he proposed we all track our spending. Spending diaries are also recommended by the likes of Dave Ramsey, who possesses the annoying combination of giving advice that's hard to follow and hard to dispute.

Times past, when I've attempted spending journals, I think of impulse purchases I'e been holding off on because I know they're stupid, and I follow the impulses. Not always, but often enough.

It's like an addict wanting one more hit before he cleans up, the thought that I just want to buy this batch of model rocket parts, or homebrew ingredients and equipment, or clothing, booze, fast food or whatever.

So I turn a tool that's supposed to make me look harder at my spending habits and I turn it into its opposite. More than once, anyway.

I'll quit smoking tomorrow, but tonight I just need one more cigarette. Besides, I don't smoke that much and I really enjoy smoking.
I haven't smoked for over a dozen years, but I sure remember that whole shuck & jive.

So anyway, I'm keeping track, so far so good. But part of the keeping track is to categorize your purchases: need versus want. Reverend Dan went on to encourage us to show our list to an accountability partner, someone who'd call us on our delusions.

Dude, do you really believe a case of beer and a foam cowboy hat are 'just the necessities?' I think to myself, picturing the scene from Dumb & Dumber and thinking how closely I've resembled that scene in my own life.

So far, I've bought an Aerobed, $150.52 that falls neatly in the necessary column, and is much cheaper than the conventional mattresses I pondered. Or the Sleep Number bed I'd really prefer.

Then there was $39.52 for gasoline, pretty necessary.

Then there was this hat. True, I've wanted something like it for awhile, or really, something like it but more expensive, a Russian Ranger Hat. And when it's cold and windy (and it has been quite a bit this winter, despite the Goracle's end-time preaching), my shaved head and bare ears cry out for mercy. And at $30.50 including tax, it's probably $30 less than the ranger hat would be once I had it shipped. But still, this is a want.

I picked a green one because it'll do double duty if I decide to go as Ignatius Reilly for Halloween....

And is this not the best opening paragraph a novel could own?
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselvse, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person's lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one's soul.
— John Kennedy Toole, "Confederacy of Dunces"

I was taking the offending air mattress back to Bass Pro, and I guess getting a refund on the shoddy product made me feel like I wasn't spending money if I bought the hat. I was, after all, leaving the store with more money than I walked in with. Just not if I include the visit over the weekend that brought me the unsatisfactory bed.


My garage has been too cold to pleasantly work in, and below the temperature range of the epoxy I'm dying to try, but I'm thinking about what to do with my rocket building stuff.

I have tubes, centering rings, nose cones, but choices to make. I can build a Great Pumpkin type thing taller than me, but that'd be strictly composite motors and FAA notifications. Fun, sexy, but...

I can also build a sequel to Mr. Creosote. And I could use the transition for the Great Pumpkin type thing to go the other way, make a rocket that narrows to the nose instead to the tail. I have a couple of smaller transitions, too, so I could make tapered rockets along the lines of Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby or more pumpkins.

In any case, I've had enough winter. When it's warm enough to build these things, I'll make the decisions and once I've used the parts for one idea, the leftover parts for the others will have to wait for future supplies to complete them.

Also, I need to build some more small stuff, things that are easily park fliers...

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (Branson Edition)

The friendly neighborhood eyesore got a facelift today. Sort of.

This billboard, across the street from where I work, is what inspired Kansas City to adopt new laws governing the size and location of billboards. It's what's known as a 'highway sign,' meaning it's of sufficient magnitude to be easily read from a hundred yards off by inattentive drivers going 80mph on an interstate.

Personally, I don't mind the billboards of Waldo on the whole: they are one of the elements that give the neighborhood a certain funky feel I like. It's not like the main drags of so many suburbs where you really can't tell where you are. I remember a stretch like that in Tulsa that must surely extend outside the borders of Oklahoma as long as it seemed, but every three blocks was the same thing. Like those rolling sceneries they used in old movies to run behind the stationary car with the two actors sharing dialogue.

Is it ugly? Well, sure, it can be. I guess when it comes to neighborhoods, I have an an appreciation for the fat friend who has a stellar personality.

Anyway, the NIMBY element aside, this hulking monstrosity has been unrented for over a year. The new law (which doesn't apply, the existing eyesore is grandfathered in), would require the owner of a billboard that's gone a year without a paid-for message to tear the thing down. I've heard more than one person wish the thing would fall on the psychic used car shack.

And in fairness, all those libertarian arguments I'd make about the market determining what's too ugly, the fact that one of the busiest non-interstate roads in the city, with 26,000 cars a day passing by, is not enough of a draw to sell this billboard for a year on end: the market seems to agree with the homeowners association types.

So now it's got a fresh ad, advertising Branson. The horror, I blotted out the URL they hint hat because really, friends don't let friends do Branson.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Crusty the Snowman (Don't Give Him Any Money!)

Crusty the Snowman was a low-rent sort of dude,
With a dog-bowl hat and lava-rock eyes,
and some gnarly tattoos carved in his icy hide with a stick...

We finally got to make a snowman, with all the snowfall we've had this year it's about damn time.

I didn't get my leaves up this fall, so the ball of snow was never going to really be clean. We did our best, but no matter, Crusty ended up looking dirty.

Em's friends from up the street helped with finishing touches, and they wanted Crusty to smoke a cigar or something. A stick anyway, and hey, why shouldn't a snowman smoke? He'll melt before he gets cancer and I doubt his mattress would catch fire.

In various versus of the song, Crusty may have recently been in jail, and whatever the sordid details you know he's made his Momma cry more than once.

The kids' improvised verses for the tune were shockingly depraved for a group of eight to twelve year old kids. When I chimed in with a verse about Crusty deciding to make homemade meth and ending up blowing up his trailer — Em reprimanded me for being 'inappropriate.' Even though she and her pals had him doing all the other Stranger Danger stuff...

Wheat Cat Body Biscuits

I decided to try the same recipe for buttermilk biscuits but with whole wheat flour.

I did cave and use some bread flour, maybe a half cup of the total. So basically...

Whisk together:
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup bread flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp salt

Cut with pastry knife until it looks like flour BBs:

1 stick butter, cold from fridge

1 cup buttermilk

Mix until it's a pasty dough and knead by folding over a dozen or more times.

Roll out and cut with a big, bad hamburger patty shape tool. This time, the recipe makes only six biscuits, but each is practically a meal by itself. Cat head biscuits? I think they might have been bigger than a cat's head.

I didn't make gravy this week, but I did do a couple sunny side up eggs to go along with...


This is what my walls looked like when I was twelve. Except my posters were all KISS and AC/DC and whatnot. Em has substituted Hannah Montana and Ashley Tisdale for Molly Hatchet and Black Sabbath in the pantheon of bedroom pinups.

And she's incredibly proud of owning such things...


Okay, this might seem weird to you, but that's par for the course in Lobster Land, eh?

I sleep on an air mattress. Not a Sleep Number bed, but an inflatable camping mattress. This is something that's been going maybe three or four years.

This all started when the soft-side waterbed I used to share with the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster developed the nasties. The little tubes in it leaked and when we discovered this, it was just a foam case of mold. I'm not a squeamish guy, but I almost vomited when I realized what we'd been sleeping on, my gorge actually rose.

We were broke, so as a temporary fix, we put a camping mattress on the box from the soft-side. Nothing wrong with the box set, though being made to hold the weight of a waterbed, I suppose it's overkill holding up an air mattress.

After maybe a month, the cheap inflatable ruptured. Of course, it had been the cheapest one we could find, so we bought a little bit more expensive one and hoped. Keep in mind, neither I nor my ex are what you'd call sveldt, and our combined weight was in the same zip code as 500 lbs.

By the third mattress, we specifically bought one rated to hold 600 lbs. Room to grow even for us.

Once it was just me, occasionally me and a daughter having a rough night, the lifespan of these things grew substantially. See also when Calypso went to Kitty Heaven: the poor cat couldn't retract her claws or jump very high, so when she'd get on the bed, it probably came close to puncturing it every time. I put eggshell foam under the sheets to protect the mattress, but the fact she was too aloof to sleep with a person probably did more for the longevity of the bedding.

At this point, I believe I've tried a fair sampling of the market: I've slept on Ozark Trails, Serta, Simmons, Coleman, etc. As cheap as $40 and as pricey as $150. I've patched leaks and had leaks that wouldn't seem to take a patch, but mostly I've had leaks that cannot be found without my own private swimming pool to submerge the thing and see where the bubbles are coming from.

So this last one, it was the best Ozark Trails had to offer, and it lasted less than six months. I don't know why I don't have the receipt and warranty paperwork (okay, I do, it's called 'slow learner').

Researching a replacement, I found a Coleman that said it was suitable as a permanent bed. There's a Coleman outlet near my home, but they weren't open and the old mattress wasn't keeping me off the box more than about two hours, so I was a tad desperate. I thought Bass Pro would be the place to go to find a complete line of Coleman, so that's where I went.

They didn't have the bed I saw online, but they had an $80 queen that looked pretty stout. So I got it, assured they have a 30 day return window. I kept the receipt, at least.

I also resisted buying this dorky hat. I really want one. Actually, what I want is a Russian ranger hat, same thing but fur all over instead of nylon and fur. You can hate me for wearing fur if I ever pop the $50 for the ridiculous hat I want, but I don't think rabbits are endangered. So, please, don't spit on me, I'm just trying to keep my bald head warm.

I should have bought the hat and left the air mattress in the store. On inflating it, noting the bowed out sides and how easily an edge collapses, I was like, this is worse than the cheapest model I ever remember buying. Even if it wasn't going to develop a leak by the third night of use, it was just substandard.

So i headed to Mattress City this afternoon. I was half resigned to popping for a real mattress. But I had no idea how expensive such things were. Their bare bones, clearance house brand stuff was about where I figured top of the line conventional mattresses would be priced.

And they only get absurd from there. I know, a third of your life is spent on it and all, but a $3000 mattress???

I'm trying one last air mattress. Bed Bath & Beyond had an Aerobed on clearance. It has a three year warranty, and I'm keeping the paperwork and holding them to it, dammit.
And if it drops me next month, I'm either sleeping on the floor or paying usurious interest rates on a real bed.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Getting All Judgmental

This weekend was the Bier Meister's annual homebrew competition, the one competition I try to get to each year, by hook or by crook. We used to host an AHA first round nationals as well, which meant two judging sessions per year.

We were out at Holyfield again. Last year was pleasant enough at Pony Express and very close to home for me, but Les and Michelle have a special place in my heart, and a great venue for this event. For the uninitiated, Holyfield is an anomaly among midwestern wineries: they make some awfully good wine. They don't fight the climate, they just grow hybrids that work around here, and the results are awesome. They have, in fact, a substantial wall of ribbons and medals from competitions where they were up against California and Australia and whatnot. You don't get a double-gold in the Pacific Rim competition without putting something worthwhile in the bottle.

The Beer Judge Certification Program awards experience points for judging, and coupled with your score on a BJCP exam, those points translate to a ranking. I've been a National rank judge for a few years. The next rank up is Master, which would require I forget how many experience points, plus I'd have to re-take the test and do better than I did last time around.

Which would mean a lot of study. For one, the style guidelines have been massively overhauled twice since I took the test, sometime in the late '90s. Luckily, the competition organizers provide binders with the guidelines that are in effect for the competition, so we beer nerds have a reference to guide our scoring and to settle the inevitable beer-geek arguments about whether a Munich malt character is necessary in a Schwarzbier or if a hop aroma is or isn't acceptable in an Imperial Stout. The latter example, used to be a 'no,' but the current guidelines allow for a dry-hopped Imperial.

I know, I've lost you non-beer-geek folk already. For a bit of context: tell someone you're judging beer and they'll say stuff like 'I judged three of them last night. Know what score I gave 'em?' I'm waiting for someone to be more clever: 'I had to hold a beer in contempt of court the other day. Sent it to the cooler for a bit.'

Hop aroma in an Imperial Stout is, according to the guidelines I tested under, inappropriate to the style. I happen to agree with that, hop-head that I am, but the current guidelines allow it, so if I was judging an Imperial Stout, I couldn't dock it for having a character I personally think shouldn't be there. This is what makes beer judging not quite total bullshit: it's not about what you like, it's about whether what's in the glass is what's supposed to be based on the category it was entered in and how the BJCP is defining that style these days.

The second thing that would surprise the average Joe: it's a surprisingly objective process. Taste is subjective, but specific tastes not so much. You might like bitterness or hate it, but the answer to the question 'is it bitter?' is closer to objective.

When judging, the samples are poured, typically about 2 oz. in each judge's glass and usually the same for the steward. Stewards are not always aspiring judges, but they often are. Tasting along with the judges and listening in and participating in the discussion is a good education.

Each judge, two to three per flight typically, evaluates the beer's aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel and overall impression, relative to the style it was entered in, independently. It's a 50 point scale, and it's weighted: appearance is only worth 3 points, so if a beer fits a style perfectly except it looks wrong, it'll do fairly well. A beer that misses major flavor or aroma aspects is not going to do as well, even if it's something the judge likes in terms of what he'd be glad to drink.

One of the clichés in the overall impression is 'I liked this but...'

Very often, the three judges are within a point of each other after that initial evaluation. The maximum spread allowable is 5 points, which means that when one judge is missing something or doesn't understand the style he's judging, there's a check there. A discussion of why a beer is or isn't worthy of a score, informed by the style guidelines, gets us within the five point margin. This buffers the scoring from personal preferences, palate fatigue (judge a flight of American IPAs and even a club soda would taste like Cascade hops), and lack of attention to the guidelines.

The game is also about constructive criticism. Even when you get a beer so bad you can tell it's fucked up from a table away...

The third shocker for the uninitiated is judging beer is not drinking beer. I mentioned this 2 oz. sample, but it doesn't get consumed. A bit does, but you're evaluating, not knocking a few back.

The first time I judged, it was meads at AHA first rounds. I was signed up to steward but they were short judges and I found myself novice judge along side Jackie Rager and the Late Great Steve Ford. The first mead we judged was very good, and after we had all rated it and discussed it, I decided it was too good to waste and consumed the rest of the sample.

'We are not here to consume,' Jackie told me. 'You go and drink all these entries and you won't know what the hell you're tasting.'

And he was right. Beer judges don't aspirate like wine judges, the rationale being that aftertaste is a component of a beer's quality (and we judge fewer entries per flight by about a third and they're lower in alcohol in any case), but a half an ounce to an ounce is usually plenty for a thorough evaluation. Alcohol, though, dulls perceptions, and if you're judging, say, 14 entries, drinking the full sample will impair.

In fact, judging beer is something that works the the thirst for a beer like nothing else. Judging is the strip-tease that makes a beer lover glad to get back in the arms of his lover, even if some of the strippers turn out to be skanky.

I did get to judge Best of Show, which is always a treat. Well, a treat and a torture. You're evaluating 28 entries that each took first place in their respective categories. A lot of them are easy to kick at this point, but the argument that 1791 is a better Foreign Extra Stout than 1881 is a Munich Dunkel can drag on a bit. How many hop-heads can dance on the head of an IPA?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

I finally 'get it.' I never could get how a lunar eclipse was different from a new moon, or a partial lunar eclipse from a moon phase.

A new moon, the moon is between the sun and earth, and we don't see it because the dark side is pointed at us.

A lunar eclipse, we come between the sun and the moon, cast our shadow on the moon.

I also managed to get a couple of passable shots of the eclipse with a little help from Julie. When you can't figure out what you're doing wrong, if you happen to be friends with a Fulbright Fellow who does what you're attempting for a living, call your friend. Works every time.

The clouds weren't entirely cooperative, but they weren't a total wet blanket, either.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rosemary Chicken Sequel

Okay, I learned the hard way to use more fresh rosemary. I probably got as close to using to much as I'm likely to get without falling in. The pack claims three quarters of an ounce, though that includes stems I don't use.

I didn't go entirely purist this time in terms of fresh ingredients. I forgot to buy mushrooms at the store, and decided to go ahead and use a 26 oz. can of condensed soup. I cut this with a cup of skim milk, far less than the 1:1 dilution they recommend.

I diced for the saute: four shallots and two smallish white onions.

I did stick with fresh chicken breast for the meat. I seared it a bit in olive oil before adding a cup each of red wine garlic vinegar and white wine vinegar, which in retrospect was too much vinegar.

I did have fresh asparagus, which I cut into about 2-inch lengths.

I went with shredded mozzarella for the cheese this time, which is fairly blah and neutral, but it works. I did season the gravy part with about 1/4 cup paprika, maybe two tablespoons of minced garlic...

Yeah, and a bunch of crushed red pepper. And quite a bit of black pepper, come to think of it.

Man the Barricades!

I just did my 2007 taxes. Such a waste.

Here's the thing: we shouldn't have an income tax. I don't mean we should replace it with a national sales tax or a consumption tax or anything. It's just plain a bad idea and it needs to be abolished.

For a start, I know some of you misguided souls believe the state actually contributes something to society, and I'm not going to argue that in this post (though the contribution is often dubious in my view).

Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that every item in the 2008 Federal Budget is necessary, is efficiently used and accurately accounted for, and that everything it buys is essential to life as we know it continuing for even one more year. For the duration of this post, we'll pretend it's all money well spent, maybe even an investment that pays huge dividends. Whatever. Pretend.

In the first place, it's none of the government's business how much money you make. Or how you spend it. This is a matter of privacy.* When they allow you to deduct mortgage interest from your income, the effect is to punish those who rent. Or who have their home paid off. It's your money, and if you decided to live in a tiny shack that was paid off and spend your money instead on, say, a top fuel dragster, that should be your business. I imagine owning and maintaining a top fuel dragster (or whatever) does as many good things for the economy as owning a home. Somebody has to make those silly decals, roll bars, parachutes and so on.

Which speaks to the destructive nature of the income tax. It takes money out of your pocket that could be saved, invested or spent in the economy. Which would be a good thing. That economic activity pays off with even more economic activity. And all economic activity is, really, is people doing stuff. Smart, stupid, meaningless, profound, don't presume to judge: going 300 miles an hour within a quarter mile might be shockingly important. One of my goals for this year is to break the sound barrier with a mid-power rocket, so who would I be to call some gearhead a gearhead?

Think about it like this: anything you tax, you'll get less of. This is why anti-smoking zealots love hikes in the cigarette excise tax. You want people to have less income?

One reason** the income tax does not need to be replaced by another tax is the government does not spend tax dollars.

When you earn a paycheck and deposit in the bank, you spend that money. If you 'deficit spend,' you have to find a lender to underwrite this, and those lenders always want to be paid back. They're rather insistent about it if you haven't noticed. So even your deficit has a limit.

The mistake is to pretend the Federal Government spends money on the same basis. But as Ron Paul points out, the Federal budget in 1976 was a mere $300 billion, and the coming year is looking to be a $3 Trillion year. Have revenues from taxation tenfold in the same timeframe? In 2006, net personal income tax revenue was slightly less than $1 Trillion according to the IRS. I've had trouble finding the corresponding 1976 number because the IRS web site stats only seem to go back about ten years. I did, however, find an article that questioned whether the Ford budget was unrealistic in calling for a $52 Billion budget deficit.

The deficit would be the amount collected minus what's spent, but of course there are excise taxes, import duties and so on that contribute to the pool of 'available' money. This is if you assume the government is spending tax revenues and not simply adopting a fraction of the economy as essentially nationalized.

All the Federal Budget represents is the percentage of the GDP that's appropriated by the government. In order for your tax dollars to be spent, the spending would have to be related in some way to the available revenue.

So it's high time we drop the fiction. If we can't get rid of fiat spending, we can't get rid of it. Without going to hard currency (i.e. backed by a finite resource such as gold reserves), I'm not sure it's possible to make our Supreme Soviet accountable. But at least they could leave the legitimate (read private sector) economy alone.

I still say if we outlawed withholdings so everyone had to write a check this time of year, we could get rid of this nasty income tax altogether. Maybe get rid of the nasty government that uses it for dubious social engineering aims as well.

*Explain to me this: A thirteen year old girl shows up at a clinic for an abortion. Her pregnancy is absolutely proof she has been sexually abused, yet even her parents may not be notified of the situation, let alone law enforcement. This is because, supposedly, her right to privacy trumps not only the life of her child but even her own right to not be molested. Yet the government asks you about such intimate details as gambling losses and what you spent for babysitting to calculate your supposed responsibility to the treasury?

**The other reason, of course, is being what it is, government will find a way to make even the fairest taxation scheme unfair. Those with power and influence will out, every time.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Dream Come True?

I had a dream one night...

I'm not done planning, but I'm taking the honyocks on vacation for the first time since before the divorce. Last time, really, was Chicago and that was what? Four years ago?

I can't really afford much of a vacation, but if I waited until I could 'afford' it, the kids would be grown. So yeah, I could put my tax refund to many sensible uses, though none so profound I wouldn't be living hand to mouth to the extent I presently do.

And I've been feeling the need for a getaway myself, lately. Almost anything, as long as it's a change of pace.

Anyway, the dream I had: me and the girls are in an old convertible, I think a Pontiac Bonneville, and we were tooling down a two land blacktop through marshy, coastal country. We were in Florida, one of those things you just know when it's a dream, and there was a rocket on a launch pad. We drove right by it. Like maybe 100 yards from the thing, and the road just went by it like it was any other building.

And the rocket, it was Empire State Building size. The Saturn V was 393 feet tall and I bet it wasn't as imposing, even up close, as this rocket. A rocket that would have been lost in the clouds if there had been one in the sky.

So anyway, impossible rockets with impossibly easy access to the public (let me drive right through an area I'd be fried in!) aside, a vacation to the Cape would be awesome. See a shuttle launch, that would be awesome in the very literal sense of the word. Knowing what 40 Newton Seconds of thrust sounds like compared to five, I can only suppose that two million Newton Seconds, even from a couple of miles, would be a religious experience.

So anyway, the Cosmosphere is super busy on weekends, I'm told. Sells out on Saturdays. So to minimize the stress on Mo, I thought to go during the week. Spring Break, for instance.

But it's more complicated than that. Besides the fact the Cosmosphere is insanely busy during Spring Break, because it's not just my honyocks that are paroled from school that week. Plus, my first choice of hotels was another problem.

The Grand Prairie Lodge boasts a space-themed 'splashdown' water park. How perfectly tied in with the Cosmosphere!

BUT the water park features are not on during the week. I found some scathing online reviews of the hotel that came down to 'The water park was turned off and even when I tried to bully the poor girl at the front desk, it stayed off.' One review even warned of bedbugs, but I think that was just more 'the water park was turned off!' venting.

In any case, the hotel is totally sold out for the weekends we're looking at. There's some sort of junior college basketball tournament on top of the Spring Break Action and I can't get a room there. I can take the girls to the water park on the weekend and pay admission, though.

The other hotels are pretty picked over, too, really. I had zeroed in on a Holiday Inn and spent too much time comparing it to other hotels. It sold out before my indecisive eyes. I even called their front desk to make sure, and I'm SOL on two queen beds, non-smoking, for $89 a night. Which was about as good as I was gonna do.

So I booked a cheapie, a place I don't think even has a pool. If we swim, it will be at the Grand Prairie.

Other than that, I'm looking for other attractions on the way to and from Hutch. There's a salt mine museum where you can go 650 feet underground, that's officially on the agenda. And Wichita has it's share of museums and whatnot.

I haven't entirely ruled out a third hotel night, maybe in another town if it connects well with the trip. The cheapie hotel is cheap enough it's not impossible. Carhenge is out, Alliance is over eight hours away from the Cosmosphere (and something to hit on the way to the Black Hills if I ever get a vacation that ambitious planned).

Possible additions to the itinerary include the world's largest ball of twine...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Buttermilk Biscuits

This is my first time making biscuits from scratch. Partly because they always intimidated me for some reason. Turns out they're pretty easy.

One trick is the butter. I suppose I could use margarine, but most of those are worse for you than butter. Back when I had my heart attack, I became obsessed with, among other things, trans-fat. At the time, when I tried to tell someone their 'reduced fat' whatever was worse than if it was shortened with lard, only my cardiologist failed to scoff. He knew, of course, but try telling someone in 2002 that a Boca Burger has some serious artery clogging shit in it.

Smart Balance is pretty good stuff, but I was wary that it might not perform as well as butter. You want the butter cold so it'll be hard, and I wasn't sure Smart Balance got hard enough. So I bought some unsalted butter. I go through a pound a year of the stuff, give or take a stick, so I'm probably okay — I hope.

Anyway, I whisked together:

2 cups flour
1 tblsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda

Then cut it with my pastry knife with a cold stick of butter until the butter was like little white BBs.

Then I added a cup of buttermilk (what else?) and stirred until it was stiff.

I kneaded it by folding it on a floured countertop, maybe twenty times. Mash it out, fold it in half, mash it out again, fold it in half.

I rolled out the dough and used my martini shaker to cut the biscuits (it was the largest diameter thing in the glasses cupboard that had enough edge to do the job). Baked them for ten minutes at 425ºF.

Em had wanted Spam for breakfast, so I had that going, and I made a Spam red-eye gravy she refused to try with the drippings of the Spam and a dollop of pork stock.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Okay, my dryer is on the fritz. Push the button and it will buzz like usual, but the buzz doesn't lead into the hum of it drying clothes like it has the past 16 or 17 years.

This dryer was a cohabitation present, given to me and the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster when we were technically living in sin (though we had engagement rings, a firm date for the bad mistake of marriage, and both our signatures on a mortgage). Which is to say it's not like I can't imagine it breaking down.

I've left messages for a couple of appliance repair joints, but nobody returns my call. My ex's husband is a handyman who might fix it for a fair price, but in the meantime, well...

I have been running out of plausible clothing to wear to work. And out of Pajamas for Mo, who now won't go to bed without some sort of change of outfit.

This wasn't supposed to be my weekend with the honyocks but we're splitting this weekend and next so I can judge beer, meaning I have less time than I otherwise would on that fourth weekend to get caught up on housework. There might be a polar bear rocket launch tomorrow, and there's definitely my taxes to do if I want to stand any chance of taking my offspring on vacation during spring break, so the dirty clothes problem needed resolution.

Well, my wet clothes, anyway, but as long as I was going to spend a fortune in quarters, I figured I'd wash the balance of my dirty clothes as well.

The solution? Spend my Friday night at the laundromat. I mean, if I'm going to spend $30 on a Friday Night out, and spend a lot of it chatting up a 24 year old, I ought to get more out of it than clean clothes and a conversation with a 24 year old who spends Friday Night at the laundromat with her mother.