Monday, July 30, 2012

Hierarchical Hand-me-downs

It's strange when you're sitting at work and hear someone else say something that sounds remarkably like something you would say.

About a year ago, when I was moved into a full-time editorial position (mostly) at work, I went through the hiring process and hired my replacement. Once she was on staff, it was up to me to also train her. Which I did.

And, since I was actually a teacher once upon a time, as well as having been a manager of various staffs along the way, I think I did a pretty good job of the training. I used some key points and worked from them, elaborating each day until the "new me" knew what was going on and could take over. (A far cry from when I started and my "trainer" handed me a packet and said "Everything you need to know should be in there. Let me know if you have any big problems.")

Just a couple of weeks ago, my replacement got a (rather sudden) promotion when someone else left the company. So last week she got to go through her own replacement's interview/hiring process. The second person conducting the interviews actually asked me if I had any of my old materials, so I sent her a list of questions I had used last year. Their interviews went quickly, and the new person started part-time today.

As luck would have it, the new person was being trained in within earshot of my desk, today, and it was funny how many times my name came up. Both as "If you have any questions, Robert can also answer them," and as "When I was learning this, Robert told me..." topics.

I guess if you have kids, and then they have kids, you probably hear them passing on advice and commentary from one generation to the next. But, well, I'm not on that track. So it was kind of cool to hear my words of "wisdom" being passed on to a new "generation" at work.

Or at least I hope it's a good thing. For all I know, I could have only been hearing the good parts, and the rest of the conversation might have been "...but whatever you do don't do it that way."

Of course, that is probably also how some families pass on stories, too.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

When the Chair Collapses

There are those times when you think everything is going along great and then it feels like the legs of your chair just go out from under you.

Like when you're tilting back in your chair (in a high school class or something of the sort), and the chair suddenly starts to go. If you're lucky, you catch yourself before it goes backward. If you're not lucky, you land on the floor with a massive amount of noise.

Sometimes it happens metaphorically, like when you go in to work and before you even have a chance to settle in for the day you lose your job. (Which - although it has happened in the past, did not happen in the past week.) (I figured I should say that so my parents don't worry.) (Everyone say "hi" to my mom and dad!)

Sometimes, however, it happens literally. Like when you're sitting at the house of some friends and watching the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, and you lean forward to scratch one of the dogs, and the chair just... well... kind of lurches forward. And you find that the front left leg of the chair has kind of come loose from its mooring.

Thankfully, they're good friends with a sense of humor, and they immediately said that the chair was a thrift-store find, not a big deal, and headed for the "to be fixed" area of the basement.

Oh. And I spent much of the rest of the night sitting on the floor and scratching the dog. It just seemed safer.

(And, well... I feel a tad guilty about it, even so.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I've been staring at this screen for about 45 minutes trying to figure out what to write about, today. And I still have no idea.

I was going to write about how busy I've been at work - and how in the course of one workday I spent time researching current US Olympians, Renaissance art, and iconic Sci-fi movies. But after that, I got stumped.

I thought about writing something about the pup, but she's sacked out and I decided not to infringe upon her snooze by asking her what to write about.

There was a little while when I considered writing a blog simply filled with pointers to other people's blogs. But that seemed... odd.

And with all that's going on in the world of politics and human rights these days, I contemplated writing about that, too.

Instead, though, I've opted for this ramble about everything and nothing.

I'll try to be back in a few days with something a bit more pithy.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Movie Monday - Archery Season (?)

In the past couple of weeks, I've seen more movies with archery as plot points than... well... ever. How many movies? you ask. Two. Which was one more than I should have watched.

Let me get the griping out of the way, first.

What is with "The Hunger Games"? Why is it a hit? Why are we supposed to be cheering for 12- to 18-year-olds when they kill each other? Who decided that these were good books and should be made into movies? Yes, cinematically it was well done. Yes, the acting was very good. Yes, I probably would have liked it better if it was adults. Yes, it reminded me of a cross between "The Running Man" and "The Lottery." No, I'll never get those 2 hours back.

(Although... Truth be told... I spent those 2 hours - and about 30 minutes more - having dinner and watching the movie with a couple of good friends, so I'm okay with the time spent. I just wish I hadn't been spending it with that movie.)

Oh. And I went to a book club last week where we talked about the movie and the books. I started to see why the books have such a following. But, no, that doesn't mean I'm going to read them or watch the movies when they're made.

The other arrow-filled movie was much more on target. (See what I did there?) I really enjoyed "Brave." I liked the main character and her relationship with her family (especially her mother). I liked the animation and the 3D-ness of it. I liked the plot and the music and the animation. Have I mentioned the animation?

This is a Pixar movie, so we know that the animation is incredible before it even starts. But then you start to hear about it and see it and it's just amazing. The main character's hair took something like 500 different pieces of programming to get it to move just right. And then there's the fabric of the "costumes." No one is wearing smooth flat fabric. Everyone has bumpy, woven, rough cloth. In great tartans. If the world of "Avatar" had been done by these folks, it might not have re-made me hate James Cameron.

Sure, there were some odd moments. I didn't love some of the humor aimed at the younger audience members - but they probably didn't love some of the grown-up stuff, either. Overall, it was a win.

So... Ratings:

"Hunger Games" - B. The movie, itself, was really well done. But the plot and the "world" it's in... I can't give that an A.

"Brave" - A. And not just because "A is for Animation," but because it's just that good.

OH. And "Brave" has a short film at the beginning called "La Luna" which is absolutely amazing and was Oscar-nominated last year. Probably worth the price of admission all by itself. THAT I would give an A+ to.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Some Wibbly-Wobbly Stuff

I think that the passage of time really is filled with all kinds of "wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff." And, with that in mind, I would have to admit that, sometimes, it's the oldies that really are the goodies.

I say that while watching an episode of "The Wild, Wild West", and enjoying the campy hijinks and wishing something like it was on the air these days.

But it's also because in the past week I've gotten to see two friends from college. (Who will, hopefully, pardon me for using the term "oldies.")

The first was in town after a family reunion, and we met up at a pub downtown before he went with friends to a Twins game (and I went to a book club to discuss a book I had not read). Although he and I have been in touch off-and-on since college, we hadn't actually seen each other in about 23 years. But Happy Hour was good. And I think we both really meant it when we said that we should keep in touch and do it again.

The second was in town on one of her yearly (or semi-yearly) trips back to this part of the country to see her family and friends. We've seen each other almost yearly since college, and it's always great to see her and her family. We also ended up in a bar, but this was a bar/restaurant and we sat and talked over dinner with one of her cousins.

Since, unlike Christopher, I didn't grow up in this area, most of my long-time friends aren't around here. They're in places like Baltimore, or New York City, or Cardiff, or any number of other fairly random spots around the globe. And while that makes for good "let's go visit X" kinds of travel possibilities, it does make it hard to sit down with most of them over a beer for Happy Hour.

But these occasional check-ins are nice. They remind me who I was, which makes it much easier to remember who I am - and who I want to be.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chilling Out

Remember how, on Tuesday, I mentioned how nice it is to have somewhere cool to come home to on these recent hot nights?

Well... I guess I spoke too soon. You see, our A/C apparently had a freon leak. So it started to not work so well on - you guessed it - Tuesday. We think it might have been failing for longer than that but that we just hadn't noticed because it wasn't as freakin' hot out as it has been this week.

But, no matter what, Tuesday and yesterday were both days when the house temp pretty much stayed around 80 degrees. We found that the air conditioner had some ice on it, so we turned the unit off last night so that it could melt, and then turned it back on this morning. That helped... at least a little. But it still meant that we went to bed with the house at about 80 degrees, and slept with fans aiming right at us as the bedroom gradually crept up to about 84 by morning.

Today I called around to see about finding someone to come by to do a diagnostic on our air conditioner. I used recommendations from our local Ace Hardware, so I knew I was going to get someone good.

The first place was nice enough, and offered to schedule someone to come out any time after 10am. On Monday. So I tried the next place.

Option #2 took a while to call us back, but they apologized for that (the guy was apparently working in a basement - so no cellular service), and suggested that one of the other technicians should be able to come by today. So I called the second tech who did, in fact, offer to come by any time after 4 this afternoon. I said that would be great, and then wrangled myself an "early release" from work.

Between 4 and 6, the pup and I hung out and chatted with the A/C tech. He poked and prodded the house's machinery. He found ice on our coils and melted it. He put in about half a pound more freon than he thought he would use. He swapped out our air filter for us (which we were supposed to have done about 2 weeks ago - and had already put the spare "on deck" for). And, eventually, he pointed out that the temp in the house was gradually dropping.

He also mentioned that this means we have a slow leak in our freon line. And that a new A/C unit is probably going to be in our future in the next few years. And then he left, saying that we should call him back if anything comes up.

I'm not planning to jinx anything this time. We've got his number on his card, and it's also in my cellphone. And as soon as I finish typing this, I plan to knock on wood. I'd appreciate it if you'd do the same.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Too Hot Tuesday

Yes, I know that it's hot pretty much everywhere in North America.

Yes, I know that I'm lucky to have somewhere to get away from the heat - my car, my office, our house.

Yes, I know that it's hot every summer.

So why is it driving everyone so crazy this year?

Apparently the weird weather is around because of a massive high pressure system that's not moving from the middle of the country, causing the heat to stay around and not go anywhere.

And my thought is that the atmospheric pressure is causing mental pressure to pretty much everyone in this part of the world.

All I know for sure is that, on my afternoon walk with the pup today, I actually started thinking "Wow, November is going to feel good."

Granted, I didn't go so far as to say that January would be good, but give us another week of temps a good 10 to 15 degrees above average with almost no rain, and I might even start daydreaming about January.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mixing It Up

Some weekends, Christopher and I don't seem to do much. Other weekends, we seem to be out of the house more than in it. This weekend, we kind of mixed things up. We had things to do on Friday and Sunday nights, and also on Saturday morning/early afternoon. It made for some nice socializing, but also plenty of time at home to do "house stuff."

But that's not the kind of "mixing it up" I was planning to talk about. I actually meant to talk about literally mixing things up in the kitchen.

The dinner we went to tonight was at some friends' house, and they offered to supply the stuff for the grill and a salad, and we took along appetizer and dessert. The appetizer was homemade guacamole with chips and veggies for dipping. And dessert was my mom's go-to cheesecake.

But I realized partway through baking the cheesecake that although it's really good, the only flavoring in it (and, really, the only ingredient aside from ricotta, cream cheese, eggs, and sugar) is the juice and rind of a lemon. And it seemed like it needed more than that.

So I started digging around to see what we could do.

I found some Smucker's Strawberry Preserves, and decided to warm them up and thin them out with... what? Yeah. That's always the problem. I get the idea, but I don't immediately think of the next step.

While I pondered that, I kept digging. I found some Chocolate Balsamic vinegar in the back of the cupboard. It's tangy. It's rich. It's not overpoweringly either chocolatey or vinegary. It went into the bag to take along with the cheesecake.

But I still wanted to do something summery with the strawberries (or at least the strawberry preserves). I realized we had some Cointreau in the pantry. Lemon cheesecake with Strawberry/Orange sauce. Hmm... That sounded pretty good. So I heated the preserves on the stove, poured in enough Cointreau to break down the pectins, and called it not-so-shabby.

And that went in to the bag, too.

Apparently I did pretty well. We were all full after our cookout, but we all cleaned our dessert plates, even so. And I have leftovers, so I'm guessing that Christopher and I will be sampling those toppings again, soon.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

I'm happy to say that Friday the 13th mostly passed me by without any strange Friday-the-13th-ness.

Granted, the pup would probably disagree. You see, as we were anticipating a break in the midst of our hot weather, we found out that we could get storms.

As I was on my way home, I got caught in some wind, some rain, a little hail, and some really stupid driving. And I kept looking toward home wondering if the lighter sky would mean that it would be nicer at once I got there. It's not that nicer weather was a better time to put the car in the garage. It's that nice weather would make it possible to take the pup for her late-afternoon constitutional.

You see, as we've discussed in the cooler months, the pup doesn't like to have stuff falling from the sky onto her. She's fine with walking through puddles on the sidewalk, and will do her duty in damp grass (although she's understandably not thrilled by that). But snow, or rain, or any other precip falling from the sky or dripping from the trees is bad.

Today, I decided to be smart. I left the main garage door open when I parked, thinking that she would have to be outside for a shorter time before getting to grass. And that worked. Sort of.

She walked out into the garage. She walked outside. She even walked over to the grass. Then she looked at me as if I am the worst person in the entire world, and we came back inside.

About 20 minutes later, the rain was down to a drizzle, and we tried again with better success.

Here's to Saturday the 14th, when the walks are predicted to have dry weather.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Sack of Beans

Someone at my work, it was announced today, is leaving the company and going to work for a competitor. Well, not really a competitor, as they don't do what most of our company does. But they do do the same things that his division of our company does.

Of course, this was kind of a surprise to most of us because we all have boilerplate "non-compete" clauses in our contracts.

But it seems that the person in question had been approached by the company in question a couple of months ago and then discussions ensued regarding whether or not it would be okay. Since he's going to be doing something mostly different from what his division does, there was some grey area.

At which point, apparently, our boss decided to bargain a little (I'm not entirely sure upon whose behalf). But it seems that, eventually, a deal was struck which included allowing person A to move to company B, as long as company B would throw in a sack of magic beans.

Okay, so the sack of magic beans was actually other compensation - kind of like when some sports team drafts a player based on so much pay and then a random future draft pick or something.

But, well, I kept thinking about "Into the Woods" and how Milky White gets traded for the sack of magic beans. And I kind of wonder what part of this trade is going to result in the giant crushing our house.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Movie-ish Monday - Roman Holiday

So you may (or may not) be wondering why I put the "-ish" in that since we all know that "Roman Holiday" is, in fact, a movie starring Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, and Eddie Albert. And it is such a very sweet movie. Audrey Hepburn (in her first big movie role as Princess Anne), Rome (in its first on-location movie role playing... well... itself), Gregory Peck as the "newsman with a heart of gold" Joe Bradley, and Eddie Albert as the photographer with more morals than he admits to.

There are some incredibly iconic scenes in it. Riding the Vespa through Rome. Putting a hand into the "Mouth of Truth." Tossing a coin into the Trevi fountain. Having a "barroom" brawl on a barge/nightclub. It's a movie that makes most people laugh and cry every time they see it.

And, as of last month, it's now a stage musical at the Guthrie Theater, here in Minneapolis. They've taken the movie, added in a fabulous new Italian nightclub singer and a slight twist to our newsman's backstory (he now also wants to write a Broadway show), and mixed it all with a liberal number of Cole Porter tunes.

They've kept many of the iconic scenes, and the look and feel of the production are enhanced by background images which splash across the back wall of the stage from time to time. (My own odd little complaint: They took the time to construct a Trevi fountain complete with running water, but from a distance it just looks damp - you can't see any water actually running.)

Of course, when you're seeing something which is already so ingrained in your memory (sort of), you compare everything to what came before. Luckily, the cast are up to the task of taking what was on the page and bringing more out of it.

Stephanie Rothenberg is playing both Princess Anne AND Audrey Hepburn, and she does it so that you forget that you already know the end of the story. Edward Watts (although with something odd about his hair that I can't put my finger on - maybe they're trying too hard to put him into the 50s?) has a perfect matinee-idol chin and the voice to go with it.

I have to admit, though, that my favorite characters were Francesca Scabulo, played with a diva voice and the curves to go with them by Christina Baldwin, and Anne's aunt, the Countess, played by Michelle Barber. It is in these two more worldly women that we see all that Anne has to live for - and all that she has to give up. Though wildly different, they ground the show both in its humor and its sentiment.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the ensemble - the dance numbers and street scenes are to die for, if for no other reason than the costumes... well... they're amazing, and you get to see more of them each time the ensemble is on stage. (Want to see more of the sets and costumes? Check out the info and pictures here.)

I had a discussion last week at work about a movie-versus-book situation. I was told that I'd have liked a movie better if I had read the book first. And I have to wonder, if - on some level - I would have liked the musical as much without having first seen the movie. I think I would have. I think the ending would be more bittersweet if I hadn't known it in advance. I think I would have been able to pay more attention to the music and the characters without the comparisons going on in my brain. But, that's obviously not possible.

In the meantime, if you want to get as close as possible to a lovely spring day in Rome in the 1950s with some of the most charming tour guides you'll ever hope to meet, I would highly recommend driving your Vespa over to the Guthrie and taking in the show.

Overall rating: A-. I think I've worked in too many theatrical situations to let the not-quite-right Trevi fountain slide. But, honestly, the rest of it was a perfect afternoon's Holiday.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes

After multiple days of ridiculous heat in Minneapolis, today was glorious. When the pup woke me up at five this morning to let her out for a constitutional, it was actually almost chilly out.

Not believing my own internal temperature gauges, I came back inside and turned on the TV to verify the outside temperature. It was in the low 60s. Considering that the A/C was keeping the house at no more than 76 degrees, I figured it was time for drastic measures. So I opened windows and doors, set up fans, and stretched out on the chaise in the porch to catch a few more Zs before getting up for the day.

Walking 'round the block at around 8:30 was equally nice. Puffy white clouds. Upper 60s. A light breeze. I actually walked farther than the pup wanted to go, I think, for the first time in ages.

Considering that I'd been cutting the walks short, all week, this was practically blissful.

Of course, considering that Minneapolis is really only supposed to top out in the 80s in the summer - at least according to the historical averages - I guess that means that I ought to be spending the entire summer blissed out.

And, this being Minneapolis, we simply couldn't have that.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Historical Fireworks

I should start by saying, for the record, that I am a big fan of pyrotechnic displays. When I was a kid, we would shoot off all sorts of fireworks in the yard, in the street, in my grandmother's "way back" yard, at the golf course - all the regular places.

I love smoke bombs (the little round ones with the fuse that you had to fray just a little so it would light easier), and I liked those weird ash "snake" things, and the spinning things that didn't lift off the ground, but just bounced around and changed colors. And, yes, I've lit my share of bottle rockets which launched from bottles, through culverts, and even from my hands (don't tell my parents - and definitely don't remind them of the year I held Roman candles in my hands and shot them off that way).

But the great big watch-em-explode-then-feel-the-thud-in-your-chest ones have always been my favorites. I've watched them from a distance, and I've watched them up close, and they never cease to make me happy and a little wistful.

Last night, Christopher and I had a great Fourth of July at a friend's condo in downtown Minneapolis. She had invited us over to cook dinner and then go outside to watch the fireworks - since she only lives about a block off the river and right near the main Minneapolis fireworks. And it was a great evening. There were five courses - from a bruschetta appetizer all the way to a dark chocolate souffle - and sangria and some dancing, even. And then there were the fireworks.

We watched the displays start off in the distance from her living room before heading outside to watch the close-up ones. And after we got ourselves to a bench, we watched the sky explode and felt those thuds in our chests. And as I sat there next to Christopher, I started thinking about all the fireworks from before.

The fireworks in the alley next to my parents' house with coordinated "ooo's" and "ahh's." The fireworks out in back at my grandma's house - which almost always ended up in at least one incident of people screaming and running from something that went awry.

There were New Year's fireworks that I watched alone from my apartment in Baltimore. And fireworks above the castles in multiple Disney parks where I stood with family and friends. And a year when we actually braved the crowds to sit on a blanket on the National Mall to feel all that patriotism wash over us.

There was even one Fourth of July when I remember standing with friends and we spontaneously started humming/singing the 1812 Overture, just because the fireworks seemed to need some accompaniment.

The fireworks last night were pretty cool. Between the distant ones and the ones that were so close that we felt the thud and heard every single echo off the buildings. And the fact that Christopher put up with the threat of bug bites in 90-degree temps to go out and see them with me will definitely add them to the list of some of the best.

I suspect it's a good thing that fireworks always shoot off at night. I'm not sure the emotions they bring with them would survive the harsh light of day. At least not without a box of Kleenex close at hand.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Movie Monday - Dudley Sings

As many of you know, "The Wizard of Oz" has been a lot of things, along with being multiple movies. Today's post, though, focuses on a stage production of the show. Or, rather, it focuses on a very specific player in one stage production of the show.

A friend of mine out in Maryland works at Toby's "The Dinner Theater of Columbia," and her dog had the supporting role of Toto in their production. I've been hearing about this online for a while, but haven't really paid too much attention. Until she posted a video from curtain call of one of the final shows.

It seems that Toto (played by Dudley) just couldn't hold back during the finale and had to sing along. This may have shocked some of the folks behind the scenes, but the audiences seemed to love it (you can hear it in the video), and although I'm not usually partial to the "cute animal" videos everyone always shows online, this one makes me very happy to see. (Yes, I've watched it multiple times.)

Here's the link to the video: . (If you want to share it, you can either have people check out my blog, or just send them that link.)

May it offer you a moment of peace beyond the rain - be it literal or metaphorical - of your Monday.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Calm in the Morning

When I've been walking the pup, lately, the world has been oddly calm. I'm not really sure what has seemed different, but it's just been really quiet out.

Maybe it's that the schools down the street are out for the summer, so there aren't kids and parents coming and going. Or maybe a lot of the neighbors are already gone for the Fourth of July, so when we're walking around the block at 8:20, they aren't driving through the neighborhood.

All I know is that the world has seemed kind of insulated, for lack of a better word.

I've been able to hear the birds, and the rustle as a rabbit bolts across a yard. And, yes, way off the distance, I can hear the low hum of the traffic. But, for the most part, it's just felt like the two of us walking through the quiet world.

I fully admit that a lot of mornings I'm running a little late and don't have a lot of time to spend on a long walk, but even for a short time it's nice to be able to let the world just be.

Me and Zen in the middle of Southwest Minneapolis. Who'd'a thunk it?