the other theo

There is no dark side of the moon really… as a matter of fact, it's all dark.

Month: July, 2015

First Adventures in A-B-C

The Peanut has an obsession for the written word lately.   As his verbal skills increase, he seems equally determined to learn more about the written word and speak those written words aloud (as our recent experience with Candy Crush attests.)   The Missus and I have encouraged this exploration whenever possible;  with the developmental apraxia we want to open as many avenues for communication as we can.  We include the Peanut in the reading of bedtime stories like Goodnight Moon by making him finish phrases or sentences by speaking aloud instead of us.

There are small signs that these efforts are paying off.  I sometimes let the Peanut watch an episode or two of Chuggington (his favorite) on Netflix while the Missus is at the gym in the morning.  Since he picked up most of the numbers below 20 several months ago, I can ask him which episode he wants to watch and he usually answers with a number.   Most often it’s 1 because he likes to binge watch from the beginning of seasons, at least until this morning.   Today, I asked what episode he wanted to watch and he said “Snowstruck Wilson” in a fairly firm, clear voice (Season 2, Episode 1.)

The Peanut also upped his game in another way this morning.  The Peanut insisted on constructing this, based entirely on his own initiative:


It took a while, with some anxiety along the way, and he needed some help to get it to look right.

Here’s how it happened:  the Peanut got some new wooden train cars, buildings, and track yesterday and was playing with them on the Pakastani rug with have in the living room.   He asked me to name the types of each of the freight cars in the train a couple times, much as we do for one of the trains in Trains, one of his favorite bedtime books.   After doing that for second or third time, he suddenly got up and went to his room.   I then heard the Missus saying “Peanut, what are you doing with that?   Peanut, why are you taking it to the living room?” from one of the back bedrooms with no answer.   I then turned around to see that he was bringing his collection of alphabet blocks to the living room.

Once he got them to the Pakastani rug, he immediately started getting individual blocks and laid them out in this pattern:


I pretty quickly got the idea that he was spelling out “train” but got one of the letters wrong (which I fixed).  After telling the Missus about this, I returned to the living room and he was trying to spell out something else, but was getting frustrated because he couldn’t find the letters he needed.   I asked him what he was trying to spell, and he said something like “arton”.  Since he has trouble saying “b” sounds, I pretty quickly got the idea and added an “S” to the “TRAIN”.

Knowing that the Missus made up a bunch of laminated paper letters a while back to help him learn the alphabet, I immediately started to looking around for those.   I eventually found them on top of a nearby media cabinet.   Once I did, I tried laying them down on the floor in a mess to get the Peanut to spell “Barton” but the Peanut seemed put off because they weren’t the same as the blocks.  He also kept pointing to an empty spot on the floor and saying something that sounded kind of like the word “by”.

I decided to take a different tack after a couple minutes.  I went to his room and found the book.  Maybe he wanted me to read it to him?   A small amount of frustration followed once I returned to the living room.   No, reading it was not what the Peanut wanted to do.   I put the book down on the floor and picked up all the paper letters.

Once I did, the Peanut looked the cover and began his spelling efforts again.  He immediately started taking blocks and spelled out “B Y R” under “TRAINS”.   Aha!  I helped him find an “O” but we were unable to find another “N” (it’s on the other side of the “A” block).   Another small amount of frustration on the Peanut’s part followed.

Finally, I got the paper letters out again and this time they were well received.   Once I pulled an “N” out of the pile, the Peanut placed it after the “O”.  After that, I tried to locate the next letter that the Peanut needed and he would pick it up, check the spelling on the cover of the book, and then put it in the right place.

Once we finished spelling out the title and author of the book, the Peanut had me read the book to him and all was smiles.


Go Set A Mockingbird

I’ve been reading a lot about the “new” Harper Lee novel, Go Set A Watchman, this week.   There appears to be a lot of hand wringing going on that boils down to “Dear Harper, what do you mean that Atticus Finch was really a racist all this time?   How could you do that to me?  I love me my Atticus and my To Kill A Mockingbird!”

Like many, many people, I was assigned to read To Kill A Mockingbird in school… in the 9th grade, if memory serves.  I treasure those memories.  I treasure seeing Gregory Peck play Atticus in the film adaptation.   Half of my ancestry comes from the Deep South, and the book confirms my personal experience from knowing people from there and visiting people there that it is a land populated with many different sorts of persons.  Some are better, some worse, and some are found more frequently, others more rarely.  That someone like the Atticus of Mockingbird could exist, I do not doubt… though when not seen through the eyes of a young girl (or an older woman reflecting on that young girl’s experiences), we might be a little surprised at the compromises that a more complex, layered reality might force that Atticus to make.

I haven’t decided if I will read Go Set A Watchman, but I know I will need to re-read Mockingbird first.

I also know that I do not consider the two books to exist in exactly the same fictional universe.   Though there evidently was talk at the publisher about making Watchman into the last book of a trilogy beginning with Mockingbird, the manuscript that comes down to us is not written or edited to be that book.   What comes to us is a first novel, a novel that the publisher did not feel was good enough for publication, but showed enough promise to continue working with the writer on revising the premise.  Those revisions took something on the order of two years, borrowed names, characters, places and some incidents from the original novel, but like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, they became something else.

I am not a fiction writer, but I’ve written enough (including technical papers, white papers, a 150 page Ph.D dissertation) to feel like I know something about writing.  I strongly suspect that the first manuscript taught Ms. Lee a lot, and the writer she was at the end of that novel (or her collaboration with her editor Tay Hohoff) was not the one that existed at the start.   So the tale she wanted to tell, and the characters she used to tell it, changed as Watchman became Mockingbird.   For me, Atticus is not Atticus and Jean Louise is not Scout.

I suspect I shall eventually read it.  I am generally taken with the beginnings and origins of things.  Reading Watchman is like going into the hills above the Dead Sea and finding an alternate version of some story from the Bible on a scroll in a cave.  Does it affect what I learned from the Bible?  No.  Does it teach me about what was on the minds of the writers of the Bible?  Definitely.

Don’t think twice, it’s alright

This isn’t a post about breaking up.  It isn’t a post about Bob Dylan.  It isn’t a post about a song.  It’s a post about barbecue.

I wrote the other day about how the best barbecue that I make is the kind that feels worry-free and spontaneous.   I also mentioned that I was fretting a little bit about a pork shoulder roast that I was making for a get together the following day.

My worries were groundless.   I lit the smoker at about 7:30pm and had the meat inside by 8pm.   Aside from checking the temperature and water level a couple times before 10:30pm, I didn’t even look at it again until about 5:30am the following morning.    What I found in the early morning light was a smoker running at about 230 degrees F, or in other words, pretty much perfectly.   I added some fresh charcoal, checked the water level, and left it again.

By around 9am, I checked the meat and found this:


I took it off the smoker at about 11am, wrapped it in foil, and put it in a cooler to rest and slowly cool down.   I thought it was just great by the time we took it over to share with friends.

My one complaint is that I didn’t get to eat more of it; the host of the get together was feeling sickly and I left it for the host and hostess to have as leftovers.   Crunch on, as they say, we’ll make more.

When I lit the coal for this particular burn in the smoker, I used the Minion Method a hole in the middle of the pile made with a Rubbermaid food container (similar to the Minion Method – Hot Coals In A Coffee Can method here.)  I removed the container, put about 25 lit briquettes in that hole, and closed up the smoker.    After it came to temperature, left the bottom vents about 10-20% open and the top vent wide open.   That worked just fine.

Just like getting to Carnegie Hall, perhaps I need to simply practice, practice, practice.


Readin’ Writin’ ‘Rithmetic


Overheard at the breakfast table this morning while playing Candy Crush Saga together:

Peanut, pointing at the level indicator on the screen: “Level 2”

Me: “Yes, it is level 2.  *pause* Peanut, are you learning to read?”

Peanut: “Yes, Daddy.”

Well, that clears that up… at least until I ask if he knows how to balance the Federal budget and the answer will be the same.

Some days

“There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.” – Casey Stengel

Some mornings when you wake up, you just want to stay in bed but decide to go to the gym and work out anyway.  It’s got to be that on those mornings, your workout burns a few more calories, right?

My Favorite Barbecue 

I’m on a barbecue quest of sorts.   It’s not an obsessive thing, though I have my moments.   I first caught the bug in the 1990’s when I began to wonder “what is barbecue and how is it different than cooking on a grill?”  I had grad school on my mind in those days, and didn’t actively pursue the answer.   That changed a bit in 2000 with graduation and a full time job.   I lived in a top floor apartment, however, and there was only so much I could really do.   Finally, after living in my own home with a patio for better part of year, I got my first column-type smoker in August 2008.   It was a cheap unit that I modified heavily using ideas from the Internet.   By practicing and making the modifications, I learned a lot from that smoker.   When I changed jobs nearly three years ago, I decided it was time to graduate to a real Weber Smokey Mountain cooker.  It’s the WSM smoking a 3.5-4 pound bone-in pork shoulder overnight for pulled pork for a Fourth of July pre-party (on 3-Jul) tomorrow.

About a year ago, I discovered something slightly odd about my quest.  Of the barbecue I make, the barbecue that I like the best is the stuff I make on the spur of the moment.    The first time this happened was early on a Saturday afternoon.   I believe I decided on the spur of the moment that morning that I would make some ribs, simply because I hadn’t used the smoker in a couple months.    So, they were on the smoker by 9am and done some time around 1:30 or 2pm… somewhat earlier than I expected.   The Missus took a picture of me just as I was finishing a rack, with a big silly grin on my face.

Why is it the best?   It’s probably because I don’t worry about it.   I don’t set expectations.   It’s just there.  It feels easy.  Making good barbecue still feels a bit more like an art than a science at the moment, and still fret about it.  Take this pork shoulder I’m cooking right now, for example.   I’m allowing myself plenty of time for it to finish, and I know enough tricks to get it done for the party.   Yet part of me still worries a little… will the smoker hold temperature until tomorrow morning?     Will it be done too soon?   Barbecue is something that does not happen as much as unfold.


Then there is this rack of ribs I made a few weeks ago.   Yeah, the smoker ran a little hot and so the meat fell off the bone a little too much.  Yeah, the recipe followed my basic formula but I improvised a couple substitutions using what I had on hand.   But look at that color and the way the bones stick out at the end!   They were in the grocery store meat counter at 1:30pm and spare rib dinner by 6:30pm.  How can you not love it when that happens?

Perhaps I will one day have enough confidence to always feel carefree about my barbecue.   Right now, I can tell myself that I logically have little to worry about… but I don’t feel it in my marrow yet, not yet.