the other theo

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

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.

An Accident of Mixology

Flaming cocktails do not have the same appeal for me in my mid-40’s as they did in my early 20’s.   A case in point occurred over the weekend when I got 2nd degree burns on the thumb and forefinger of my left hand and the middle knuckle of my right forefinger.

We got some new neighbors back in January, but we didn’t have much chance to meet them.  They seemed nice enough; both in their late 20’s to early 30’s somewhere, him an engineer of some kind, and her a lawyer.   They seemed relatively quiet, nice, and polite.   We spoke a bit over fences and chance encounters coming and going.   We met their dog.

So, it seemed natural that when they planned to host a barbecue at their place and invited the Peanut, the Missus, and me over that we should go and say hello.

It turned out to be generally pleasant evening with good food and drink, and our hosts were positively genial.  We learned that he is originally from the Ukraine and is working on some stealth tech idea that he wants to turn into a startup.   We also learned that she is in her second trimester and expecting a boy sometime around Halloween.   They are also vegetarians, but nicely asked friends to bring meat to grill — which other friends did, including some lamb chops that were cooked over a very hot fire to crispy meaty perfection.

After the Missus decided to take the Peanut back to our house for bath and bed, I decided to linger a bit to get a little more to eat.  It was at this point that our host asked if I wanted to try this flaming shot that his brother (or brother-in-law) showed him how to make.    He called it a “Gorilla Boob” but the closest thing I can find in the online cocktail guides is the Gorilla Tit. I hadn’t touched any kind of flaming drink in years, but I figured it would be an “adventure”.

The Gorilla Tit is composed of Kahlua, Yuckon Jack, and Bacardi 151, and recommended to be served in an Old Fashioned glass.  The Gorilla Boob as I experienced it on Saturday is made from something I didn’t quite catch, Jägermeister, and Bacardi 151 served in a tall shot glass.  Both drinks are to be drunk with straws.  My sense of adventure raised a notch when I saw him pouring the Jägermeister; cocktail culture has become a very adult, serious, almost gourmet kind of thing in the last few years and this was starting to feel more like the kind of thing you do on a dare at a keg party in college.

So drinks were poured and lit.  Someone wanted to take a picture.  A phone was produced and a flash went off.

I picked up my drink.  The glass was HOT.  I could feel my fingers burning.   I put it down on the table.  It spilled and the liquid on the table caught fire.   I put that out with a strawberry margarita someone left nearby.   I picked up the glass and sucked the remaining liquid through the straw.

It was agreed later that taking the time to take picture was a mistake — the glasses got too hot.  I would also suggest that the shot glass was a mistake.   An Old Fashioned glass would give more to hold onto.

In any case, I immediately shoved my fingers in ice water and kept them there for much of the remainder of the evening.   When I was asked if I wanted to try again, I politely declined.

It was an unusual end to an otherwise pleasant evening.  I hope we see our neighbors again.


Mischief and Exhaustion

There are two poles on which Father’s Day 2015 was hung: mischief and exhaustion.

To clarify that a bit, let me start by saying that the Peanut may as well be renamed Mischief these days.   If you leave something out sitting out he’ll open it.   If there is somewhere you don’t want him to go, he’ll likely end up there.    If you leave some food out on the counter that he likes, he’ll take it.   If you give him water to drink, he’ll take it a gulp at a time into his mouth, spit it out into potted plants, and then look at you for approval as if to say “well aren’t I so clever?”  Bed time, well bed time, has regressed from a 10-15 minute process of stories and prayers during the school year to a 60-90 minute process of stories, prayers, quiet play, and frequent cries of “will you get back in your room and go to bed?!?”

The Missus and I think the bedtime issues have a number of causes.   The length of the day seems to play a part.  We also think that school was using a lot of his excess energy before it ended about a month ago.   The Missus tries keep him engaged and plan activities for him during the day, but there is only so much she can do.   There is also the possibility that he just may be getting a little older and can go to bed a little later.

With all that in mind, I started Father’s Day weekend with the firm idea that I would try to tire the Peanut out if I could.   The Missus would be out most of the day on Saturday, and it seemed like a good day to take the Peanut to the playground.    My initial plan was supposed to unfold something like this:  start walking down to the playground a little before 10am, get there by 10:30, run around and play together for about 30-40 minutes, get home just before noon, and have lunch.   It’s about a 3.25 mile round trip walk to the park.   He would burn off to some energy and I would get some exercise pushing him there and back in a (soon to be too small) stroller.

Things didn’t exactly play out as planned.   We got started out about an hour late, just before 11am.   Since I knew that this would mean cutting play time close to lunch time, I had the idea that we could pick up a fresh bagel or two on the way to the park and then the Peanut would have something to tide him over.   I thought “Score!”   Once we got to the park by 11:30am or so, the Peanut just wanted to run and play all over the place.  We ended up staying there until after 1pm.   Again, I thought “Score!”  Barring the minor problem that I forgot to get some milk to wash down the bagel, it all seemed to go swimmingly.    We made it home by about 1:45pm.

It only became apparent a couple hours later after the Missus got home that I’d forgotten something: sunscreen.   Going to the park for 30-40 minutes between 10-11:30am is a little different than going to the park for 90+ minutes in noon day sun.   Sunscreen would be nice for the trip I originally planned, but not absolutely necessary.   Consequently, I didn’t put two and two together to realize that the later hour and longer exposure increased the chance that one or both of us would come home looking more like lobsters fresh out of the steam pot.

As it was, we escaped without serious damage.   The Peanut was covered in a stroller for nearly half the outing, so he was ok except for some rosiness on his cheeks.  Me, I had a pretty nice farmer tan… or farmer burn.  It wasn’t painful, just a little warm and uncomfortable.  In the end, I hoped that the burn would be worth it.  Though the Peanut spent the rest of the afternoon not far from the television, he got a lot of fresh air and exercise.

It wasn’t to be.  He was still his mischievous self and bed time and got me up when he climbed into our bed at about 3:30am.

This is how I started Father’s Day.

Our plans for the day were fairly simple.   The Missus’ Dad got some frozen Kansas City mail order steaks a gift a while back and I promised to grill them.  I caught the early morning 8am Mass, got some groceries, took an hour+ nap later in the morning, and put together the bill of fare:  grill sous vide bacon-wrapped filet medallions, fresh homemade fettuccine alfredo, and fresh English peas plus olives, cheese, and charcuterie for appetizer and wine to drink.

It call came together fairly easily.   The one hitch during the process was that I decided to sous vide the steaks in the vacuum sealed plastic wrappers used for shipment.  These were not up to the task, and three of them cracked while immersed in the warm water.

Here’s the dinner served on our patio:

fathers day 2015

The fettuccine turned out to be real treat.  It turns I didn’t have the recipe I got from my Mom handy in written down form, but I remembered it pretty well.    It’s been several years since I made it, and we used to use Kraft-type processed Parmesan cheese whenever my Mom or I made it before.   That was not the case, this time.   Here, the sauce got a big old block of real Parmigianio Reggiano.  That made a big difference.   The sauce had a nutty, creamy flavor that I never remembered before.

Since it was Father’s Day, I got a couple gifts.  The most interesting one was an old fashioned-type whiskey/cocktail glass that she etched with the family name and initial.

After dinner and some clean up, I faded pretty fast.   The Missus took her Dad home, and I stumbled through bath and bedtime for the Peanut.   After the Missus got home, I handed off to her and collapsed.

Let Down

Ok, I’m back again after a two month hiatus.    It turned out to be a pretty rough Spring, in some respects.   The Peanut brought home a cold in early April that got passed around to me by the end of the month, and ended in both sinus and ear infections.   Since then, my schedule at work has heated up.  Two week code development sprints became the rule of the day, starting in May.   Those sprints did a lot to end some work-related doldrums I experienced in the first quarter of the year; they forced me to travel more often to the office where the bulk of the team works, and I delivered key components of the new product we are creating.   I worked some long hours and burned myself out a bit, but my overall feeling is positive.

The main thing I want to write about right now is my weight.    The last year and a half have been both triumph and tragedy as far as my weight loss and fitness goals are concerned.   On January 1, 2014, I was hovering at about 24 pounds of weight loss from my peak weight almost 4 years ago.   That weight was a little higher than the 27-29 pounds of weight loss where I was  hovering for the previous two years.

So, I made a 2014 New Year’s resolution to lose some weight.  I checked some (seemingly credible) online sources, upped the amount of protein in my diet, cut out some carbs (but not completely), eliminated pretty much all between meal snacking, and pushed hard on my daily routine on the elliptical trainer.   The weight started coming off, and fairly quickly.   Soon, I was back down to 29 pounds of weight loss, and the weight kept coming off.    I dropped below my previous best weight since I turned 30, and crossed 37 pounds of weight loss — a key round number that I used to define my ultimate weight loss goal.  By early June 2014, I was hovering at around 46 pounds of weight loss.   That’s a huge number… the kind you see on weight loss ads on TV.   If I lost about 5 more pounds than that, I would cross another big round weight number that I never thought I would get close to again and weigh about what I did at age 19.

The Peanut, the Missus, and I had to travel to a family wedding in early July.   I was thrilled for everyone to see my “new” body, including wearing a nice wool suit that I bought sometime in the 1990’s.   It was, in some ways, the peak of a giddy climb.

It didn’t stay that way.   My resolve to let my body adjust to the “new” normal wavered.   I began to consume what I called “the fourth meal” in the evenings — snacks and alcohol, mostly.   There were lots of calories, and less nutritional value.  Some of it was a response to stress.   The Peanut started a new therapy regime in September,  and the first few weeks were tough.   It was a new routine for all of us, and he wasn’t a happy camper AT ALL for a while.    Then layoffs came at work in late October, followed by my assignment to a new team.  Some changes in my extended family also happened last Fall, and some of those added to already busy schedules.

By the end of the summer, I was hovering at about 42-43 pounds of weight loss and by December, it was hovering at about 38 pounds.

In December, my body failed.   I started experiencing pain in my right leg when it moved in certain ways.   This was especially problematic at night; sometimes I rolled over or my right foot got tangled in blankets in ways that caused shooting pains that woke me up.  I began to skip exercise days to try to rest my leg, if that was somehow aggravating the problem.   I saw the family doctor in February or March.   He determined that the problem was very likely not joint damage, and referred me for physical therapy.

The Peanut’s life also became more than a little chaotic from January through March.   He did not get along with his speech therapist, was evaluated for additional services, and then placed in a new preschool for kids with special needs.   This process had all of us just trying to roll with the changes.

The weight began to pile on: first 36 pounds of weight loss, then 34, and then… I stopped getting on the scale.

By the end of my physical therapy in April, we determined that the leg pain is very, very likely due to some kind of ergonomic issue at work.  Knowing that has helped me deal with the problem, but I still need to talk about it with human resources at work.   I need a better chair.    The physical therapy also helped me develop some muscle groups to combat the problem.

By May, I resolved to start working out more regularly again.   This was aided by the gym I belong to opening a new snazzy location much closer to our house.   The strength in my workouts has come back, and my resolve to eat better is returning. The scale says that I’m hovering it about 27 pounds of weight loss, about where I started on January 1, 2014.

I’m trying to take stock of the last 18 months.   Do I have the resolve to bear down and lose the weight again?  Can I do the same thing and repeat the result?    Did I lose the weight too fast for my body to adjust?   Did I just wear myself out in the process and increase the possibility of injury?

If I am a duality of body and spirit, I feel that each let the other down.   My spirit broke when I started eating and couldn’t stop.   My body broke when sleep and exercise became more difficult.  I reached for the brass ring, got it, and fell.   That’s a let down all the way around.

It’s Easier With The Right Incantation

We have a garden shed in our back yard.   It holds various hand tools, the lawn mower, the string trimmer, fertilizers and pesticides, paint for the interior and exterior of the house, and some lawn toys that we want out of the weather.

I’ve done some work on the shed over the 7+ years we’ve owned the house.   Somewhere in the past, previous owners of the house thought it would be a good idea to stick the shed to the concrete slab underneath with spray foam.  I guess that the idea was to keep the water out and preserve the floor.  This effectively did the opposite: any water that leaked in instead stayed there and rotted out the floor.  So, I took a day around Memorial Day weekend in 2012 to re-frame the floor.  At the same time, I also raised the shed an inch or two off the ground to get wood away from water and allow water to evaporate.

The one remaining problem with the shed was there since we bought the house: you couldn’t lock it.  There was a handle on the door, and the handle had a lock.    Unfortunately, that lock had no key… and the handle was locked in the open position.   Again, previous owners attempted to solve this problem by installing a hook-and-eye latch near the top of the door.

It was an imperfect solution to the problem, at best.   The hook occasionally came free from the latch, causing the door to swing open.   It’s position at the top of the door also meant that door didn’t close particularly well at the bottom.    My bandage on a bandage for these problems was to latch the door at the top and then put a small ceramic planter against the bottom.

The Missus and I both wanted a better solution ever since the Peanut was born.  With sharp tools and chemicals inside, we wanted to firmly lock that door.   Sharp edges, chemicals, and toddlers don’t mix well… unless you want Nancy Grace inventing a nickname for you during Court TV coverage of your negligent homicide trial.

I new there had to be way to replace the handle on the door.  It looked like a relatively common piece of hardware… and there was an id stamped onto the lock to identify the key required to open it.   Yet, in order to ask for a replace something, you need to name it or otherwise describe its function.   Other than “shed door handle”, I really didn’t know exactly how to do either.

That changed a few weeks ago.  Throwing “shed door handle lock” into the image section of Google finally got me a picture of a “T-handle door lock”.   Throwing that term into Google Web got me pages that had such a lock with its common sibling, the “L-handle door lock”, and that was exactly what I was looking for.

I ended up paying about $25 for a universal replacement L-handle lock, commonly used to lock residential garage doors.   That took about 3 days to arrive, and now it looks like it’s always been there: