Old Times

In my last post, I suggested that my string of stays in hotels (for work) had prompted me to thoughtfulness, or at least reflectiveness. Hereʼs one such reflection (just about literally that) from May 15, written, while dining alone, during that long lull between ordering and receiving your meal… Even a glass of wine doesnʼt relieve that self-conscious, solitary tension.

hotel-key-courtyard_328_detailI am so old that I still feel I should turn in my room key(s) at the front desk before departing. Nowadays, with time-stamped digital pass cards, that step for checkout is unnecessary, even silly. But I remember well temporary possession of a real solid (often too large) physical key, the return of which (capable of opening the room in perpetua, or at least until the locks were changed) was of paramount importance, and so checking myself out without returning my means of ingress seems… incomplete, perhaps even unsatisfying.

I can recall vividly my first pass card — which we received in Hawaii, on Oahu, in downtown Honolulu (at some beachfront high-rising tower of a hotel that I am sure that Janet, were that she were with me, would yet remember by name — they had a Tiki restaurant in those distant days before Tiki bars again became kitschy cool; we ate there one night and brunch on the rooftop Sunday). I think our Hawaiian trip was in 1988.*

Upon arrival, somehow the only available room was in the antiquated, low-rise (low-rent, undesirable ghetto) side-portion of the hotel. However, if we accepted that musty accomodation for our first night, we could enjoy a beach-view, balconied, expansive chamber for the remainder of our stay. Exhausted, at late afternoon (I believe), it was an irresistible offer, particularly considering the minuscule rate my (lovely) travel-agent traveling companion had wangled (for rooming on the city-view side — of no comparison to our [eventual] Waikiki-viewing suite of [until then, at least for me] unparalleled elegance). The first night we acquired a familiar blocky brass key, but our subsequent 21st-storey aerie required a keycard. Which I had no idea how to use.

Previously, even in paradise (Fiji, that prior time**, where we blissfully enjoyed the islandsʼ [then] utter lack of television — but another story there altogether***) I got into my room with a practical, physical (analog?) key. What was this credit card theyʼd given us?

Fortunately, my bride, so worldly and so much better traveled than I, had the idea of this lodging novelty item pat (which makes strange her more recent behavior with keycards — never inserted quite the right way). She gained us admittance to our boudoir in the sky in skillfully masterful fashion. With practice (and patience) I got it right, too.

In those days (with my first pair of prescription sunglasses just for that trip) that electronic pass card seemed like the (sci-fi) future astonishingly realized in my mundane present reality: I had stepped straight into a John Brunner novel and expected the crime-solving immortal Karmesin to be in the lobby (a refraction of my actual experience colored, if not shaped, by my digital rereading of his excellent, classic The Squares of the City, which was originally a brain-boggling, mind-expanding barely pubescent reading experience from my sisterʼs mature [non-Hardy] library****). I felt expansively expensive and privileged for our whole stay.

Now, of course, the keycard is just another shoddy annoyance — the electronic validation always going bad about twenty hours before checkout time arrives.

So it goes. So it goes.

hotel key* Although The Lovely One and I tried to make a list of our trips year-by-year a few years back (five or ten) that I have extended and updated, I couldnʼt find the document just now — fat lot of good Spotlightʼs endless usurping of my computer does me.

** 1985, perhaps?

*** for that ever-promised, seldom (if ever) delivered future post… perhaps

**** and yet another possible topic for another possible blog… yet to come… perhaps…

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

For the Fam

Having just recently sent letters off to my aunt and my distant, Minnesota-immured brother, I realized that those two, however intermittent my correspondence may be, are far more up to date on the lives of The Lovely One and me than any of my siblings or the rest of my kith and kin (the undoubtedly most frequent visitors to the blog). so for their benefit, I thought I might post a brief review of recent months for us here in Our Town…

First, I evidently do have a job ahead this summer, the Republicansʼ wicked refuge of sequestration (permitting them as ever to continue doing what they do worst — nothing) notwithstanding. Things will change this summer, and my employment will only be part-time (it was already merely seasonal). The very fact that a year ago I was already at work (within a day or four) evinces the difference. I feel excited — not the least because My Beloved is already growing intoxicated at vacation possibilities (that I need a job to fund).

A hint on the destination?

Zgubiłem się. Czy pan mówi po angielsku?

(But more on that in future. Right now, thereʼs nothing booked and just a Lonely Planet Encounter travel book in hand.)

Last week, exactly to the day as I write (but may not have sufficient afternoon ahead to post), our mailbox got “vandalized” — accidentally damaged, we think, in reality, based on the evidence we could observe:

  1. tire tracks veering into the gutter and apparently onto the curb,
  2. the door on the box getting bent and the latch twisted in the direction of the bending,
  3. the iron pole on which the box was mounted bent nearly forty degrees,
  4. no damage to the neighborʼs box right beside ours and first in line for damage.
Ours was rusty ad had long ago lost its little red flag

Ours was rusty ad had long ago lost its little red flag

We (neighbor Levi and I) concluded that a semi or big truck must have caught the latch and the door with the trailer or box of the vehicle, wrenching the whole mailbox askew (and almost apart) before releasing its unintended hold as the large vehicle made its turn to the nursing home across the street. We bet the driver didn’t even know what he had done, sheltered high up in his cab on the far side of his truck.

Anyway, we have now spent sixty-some bucks on a new, modern box, and I still have to buy a 4×4 post on which to place the new thing (not to mention, with Leviʼs assistance, dig out the old pole — on its concrete base, if itʼs at all like their old box was — install the new wooden post and get the mailbox upright upon its stand).

In other damage news, I broke my glasses about six weeks back, removing my balaclava as I arrived a the hospital to work out, the woolen facemask pulling my glasses away from my head to crash and break on the concrete floor. I got new frames (the style, however, being now defunct, I was “lucky” to get a stockpiled pair from across the Atlantic) and spent over a hundred dollars.

And in other optical news… Just over a week ago, Janet had a day off from work for her annual eye exam (now to change to semi-annual — Iʼll explain) which she has endured/enjoyed ever since her detached-retina surgery back in 2008 or ʼ09. This yearʼs was supposed to be in May (the ophthalmologist was trying to let her avoid snowy/icy roads that hadnʼt yet interfered for her formerly February appointment), but we got a call earlier in the moth letting her know that the doctor would be unavailable at the scheduled time in May, so she reset for March 27.

This was her first afternoon appointment so far (the next will be back to morning, we already know), and everything ran smoothly — particularly so since we got to sleep in relatively late (at least for us). However, there was big news: as had been predicted right after her surgery, she is beginning to develop a post-surgical cataract and will eventually need to have the lens in her eye replaced. This is not altogether bad news (or even bad news at all, she insists). The surgery so changed the shape of her eyeball that she is hugely nearsighted in that eye now (way, way worse than she was normally/previously), and that problem, which leaves her with great difficulty reading, could be resolved with a surgically implanted corrective lens replacement. However, her insurance pretends that simply replacing her lens is “elective cosmetic surgery” and will not pay for it (as though being able to see is in any way “cosmetic” whatsoever), but they do pay for cataract surgery. She has been kind of waiting for her predicted post-surgical cataract to develop so she can get her lens replaced and help her vision. We are to return in September (a six-month gap, scheduled to avoid overlapping my then-potential work schedule, to which I guess we now must get accustomed as the ophthalmologist keeps tabs on her developing situation).

Hmmm… what else?

We took a few days away from home to visit Schaumburg (that means Ikea) and St. Charles (to again find a favorite restaurant had closed — this one shuttered with a police notice on the door, scarily) for The Lovely Oneʼs birthday. Stephen and Aunt Alaire got the tedious details on both (and I could upload the same for a future post, too — there was some amusement involved periodically, along with the shopping and dining).

And more or less (neglecting that both of us are currently and mysteriously suffering back pain, mine inventively resembling what I imagine passing a kidney stone might be like — thus limiting our exercise regimens a little just now) thatʼs our news.

Posts of more general interest to come?

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

On the Other Hand… Good Stuff

While I was typing yesterdayʼs whining post about software intrusions hindering my efforts to actually use the computer, I was also eating my lunch. In yesterdayʼs case (actually right now, as I begin this new entry, intending it to auto-post itself tomorrow/today), I was consuming leftovers (a not uncommon practice, alternating with a Romaine salad). Yesterdayʼs deliciosity remained from New Yearʼs Eve* when The Lovely One made one of my favorite dinners (probably my most favorite and the subject of todayʼs post) — her own particular recipe (somewhat modified as time has passed) for Beef Stroganoff.**

Iʼll be kind and post the recipe (almost) right up front.

Janetʼs Outstanding Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound beef sirloin (cut into quarter-inch strips — bite sized)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 can sliced mushrooms (I recommend 2 cans)
  • ½ cup onion (half an onion, chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or 2 or 3)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (or margarine)
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 ¼ cup beef stock or 10 ½ ounces concentrated beef broth
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream (we, of course, use fat-free)
  • 2 Tablespoons dry sherry (My Beloved has started using any dry white wine)
  • 6 ounces noodles (a couple cups of brown or brown-and-wild rice is better)
Procedure
The actual (ancient and much abused — therefore difficult to read) recipe card from My Belovedʼs recipe files

The actual (ancient and much abused — therefore difficult to read) recipe card from My Belovedʼs recipe files

Combine 1 T flour and salt. Coat meat with flour-and-salt mixture, then melt butter in a large skillet. When butter is liquified, add meat and brown quickly on both sides. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cook 3 or 4 minutes or until onions are crisply tender. Remove meat and mushrooms, using a slotted spoon.

Then add 2 T butter to pan drippings and blend in 3 T of flour. Stir tomato paste in rapidly. Stir in cold stock/broth. Cook over medium high heat until thickened and bubbly.

Return meat and mushrooms to skillet. Stir in sour cream and wine. Cook slowly until heated through. Do not boil.

Serve over noodles (cooked, of course) or, better, brown and wild rice. [total prep time = 30-40 minutes, tops]

Lately, after our (for which read: “The Lovely Oneʼs”) tongueʼs awakening to the joys of paprika during the 2011 trip to Budapest, we spice with garlic (more than suggested above), pepper (just bought some Tellicherry black peppercorns, which we ground into the sauce) and both hot and sweet paprika. The paprika is a definite must — makes the dish wonderfully better, richer in taste, slightly more exotic. Sometimes (I donʼt recall right now what we did New Yearʼs Eve) we also add garlic powder and onion powder.

We usually have this dish only once or twice a year, almost invariably in the colder seasons. But it really is wonderful. More than well worth a try.

* Ah, with reference to yesterdayʼs justifiable criticism, the computer permitted itself to ignore the “v” I typed between the capital and lower case “e,” thus not creating “Eve.”

** And I deliberately made beef stroganoff (both above and here) a link so you could check out other, lesser recipes for this wonderful meal.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Happy Birthday, Beautiful!

Today is My Belovedʼs birthday. I noted the event a couple years ago with some verse. This year things are a little different, stranger. 

Birthday snow — still falling

The Lovely One is still at work, as she was last year and the year before, and… But her birthday dawned with a dark foreboding: suddenly yesterday afternoon, the weathermen began predicting a big winter storm to sweep through the region this afternoon and evening. We were predicted to receive eight, maybe ten inches of snow.

And just that quickly, our plans for her big day today began to crumble. Her parents and I were going to have lunch with her in Dubuque, and then this evening she and I were going out for dinner at what has become her favorite restaurant, in Bellevue. Fast-falling snow would cancel those plans.

Upon arising this morning the radio (and the local TV news, too, when I checked) had reduced the anticipated snowfall to a mere three to five inches, but it was still heading in, slated to begin, presumably, around noon — bad timing for our plans.

So she left this morning a little down at the mouth, intending to devise some way to go out for lunch on her own, determined that we would figure out something for supper instead of our planned outing. However, by 10:00 AM, nothing had developed, and her mom called to say that they were planning to go on up to Dubuque. Although Janet had delegated me with the job of deterring them, I failed, and the lunchtime gathering was still on. So I quickly dressed and headed myself up that way on good old Highway 61.

Disassembled birdbath and birdfeeders in the snow

Lunch went off wonderfully. The parents-in-law presented their daughter with two Grant Wood prints (she had been seeking some for our living room but only found $10,000 originals available online, even, or particularly, on eBay). I had sent her last-minute flowers to substitute in lieu (I had thought) my less-than-flower-bright, uncolorful presence over lunch. Our lovely and thoughtful waitress Lisa even brought out a (free) strawberry shortcake with a candle to conclude the meal. Lunch was great, and Janet enjoyed herself remarkably.

And both the Nortons and I got home (in rain) without weather incident.

Unfortunately, as my pictures for today reveal, the snow has arrived. Heading out to get our mail, I even scraped nearly an inch off the driveway already (and that was before 3:00 PM our local time). Janet will have to drive with care when she gets finished working for the day. And a drive to Bellevue* seems unwise right now…

I guess there was at least one more gasp in the winter season this year. And we should have expected it would arrive at perhaps the worst possible time.

Oh, well. Happy Birthday, My Precious.

* And there is a whole ʼnother tale about that restaurant (not going belly up as we had feared yesterday, when no one answered my phone calls to ensure we had a table tonight and when I discovered their website was gone, the domain name available for sale) but not being what it once was, having lost the outstanding chef who made the meals the awesome experiences they had been.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Let It Be Over. Please.

Today, at about 3:00 PM, The Lovely One and I filed our taxes, federal and state. 

This is the absolute earliest I believe we have ever filed. In the old days, teaching, I had speech contests keeping me constantly busy, large group and individual, district and state and All-State, until the beginning of April. And the spring play started about mid-February… So I never filed taxes until we got right onto the Ides of April.* One year, very early in our marriage, I faintly recall appealing for late filing (easily granted, as we always made sure, living on the edge of poverty with no spare cash to fork over whatsoever, that we received a refund**). Regardless, we never filed our taxes in February.

As of 2006, filings got both easier and harder. Janet entered into a small business enterprise on her own, selling BeautiControl products*** part-time (and according to My Beloved herself, “half-assed”). But that made our taxes more complex, and so that year I first bought a tax software program, the same one I still use, and put myself in the capable grip of Intuit Software and TurboTax… And we enjoyed the taxation benefits of Janetʼs little business taking loss after loss (and no financial juggling there — her description of her business aggressiveness combined with BeautiControlʼs decidedly pyramid structure for profitability pretty much ensured she wasnʼt getting ahead providing friends and family with make-up and whatnots).

We still use TurboTax. And as I continue to feel familiar with its interface, I feel pretty warm toward it (I think only beloved Scrivener — used as I type right now — tops my affections for software). Granted the Q&A approach the developers devised as integral to the interface in TurboTax leaves a user like me several layers of reality removed from the actual tax forms (I couldnʼt believe the nearly literal ream of paper that printed out in the first year to be mailed off to the IRS and state tax authorities). And I have grown skittish of those red (meaning money owed) and green digits (indicating refund available) that appear in the upper left corner of the TurboTax window, changing marginally or dramatically with each new piece of information entered. I still look over the final papers (actual tax forms), closely but not always intelligently, in amazement, always surprised at what digits on what novel forms my answers have churned out.

The business forms have been expanded with self-employment forms (and, surprise! extra taxation for payroll taxes not automatically withheld/paid as one expects from an ordinary employer) as I have tried to develop my own business.**** (Unfortunately with little overhead and me witless about claiming my computer use or possibly the “office” where our computers sit as a home office, everythingʼs just taxable income.) The complexities keep multiplying. And the refunds keep dwindling, smaller and smaller year by year. (But this year we again avoided paying either state or federal government any additional cash.)

More surprising, for three years now, we have taken the standard deduction! At least according to the software, that choice is our better bet (and now that we own our house outright, it even makes sense). Still, it takes some weeks of consideration and search to conglomerate all our records (and for Janet to work through, compile and total her figures for her “business”) and for me to get TurboTax up to speed (and its latest updates installed each time I fire up the software) and information filled in (this year we were waiting until, well, now for Intuit to pass on IRS Form 3800). Even retiring, I didnʼt immediately get on the ball with our annual tax calculations. In ʼ10 and last year, I didnʼt really get to it until about now.

So this year I resolved to be better, and I had most of our information input a week before Andrew Community School got around to mailing the W-2 for my subbing in 2011 (and I had those numbers pretty accurately temped in from the last paycheck). And now weʼre done (I hope, I pray, I plead, I desire… oh, donʼt audit us, Infernal Revenue Service, please donʼt — I donʼt think I actually understand any of it, nope, none of it, not at all).

* (being an old codger I really miss — not really, appreciating the extra month with that schedule I just summarized — being able to “Beware the Ides of March” for the IRS)

** Yeah, yeah, sure, I know: if weʼd kept that extra withholding, weʼd have been able to invest it or save it or somehow earn money on it… Like hell. Although the feds never grant any interest earned on what amounts to overpayment, I would rather sleep easy believing I do not need to scrape together a few hundred (or thousand — neither of which amounts would I have available) to gratify Uncle Sam at the last minute. Since Bush withholding adjustments and moreso since retirement, finances have gotten trickier, and we keep running very close to no refund.

*** Can Rick Perry, Herman Cain and everyone else out there say, “Pyramid scheme?”

**** Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A. 

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©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Something to Eat, or “What to do with This Shrimp?”

I was just making meatloaf for supper tonight and wondering if I had ever posted my recipe (I had). However, that mental irrelevance reminded me that The Lovely One wanted me to remember and record* a recipe we pieced together helter-skelter awhile ago and just ate the leftovers last night…

Last Saturday night My Beloved and I enjoyed an invented dish.** She had felt like having shrimp but didnʼt want me to marinade and grill them as we usually would do. I had pulled the bags of frozen, precooked shrimp from our freezer the day before and placed them within the refrigerator to thaw, so we were basically ready to go. Precooked shrimp just need to get warmed, after all.

Once Janet concluded her nearly weekly phone call with her sister,*** we got started on dinner. We had no plan. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed was feeling creative…

So she had me chop up an onion and sauté that in a tablespoon or so of olive oil with some diced garlic (lots of the last, to my taste) as she cut up some asparagus that we had found on sale (reduced a buck a bunch) as we bought groceries that morning. She added the asparagus to my onions and garlic and decided we needed some diced tomatoes. When she noticed that the can I brought in from the storage cupboards was “Italian style,” our dishʼs orientation was set. We dumped the drained can into the onions, garlic and asparagus, and she decided we needed a second can. I also brought in two cans of button mushrooms (sliced), which she okayed adding.

Then we spiced and seasoned — a dash or four of hot sauce, pepper, a pinch of sea salt, some paprika,**** a pinch of red pepper flakes (and whatever sounds good to you when you make this; the “Italian style” tomatoes tasted like they had oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme and probably marjoram). We continued cooking until the asparagus was still crunchy but tenderized. And we removed the tails from our no-longer-frozen shrimps.

Meanwhile, Janet selected spaghetti as the proper pasta (now that our shrimp dish had taken an Italian turn). We had a box of whole wheat (because I like the taste of whole wheat products — fully flavored), of which she used about half, precooking those many sticks of pasta, broken in half and/or thirds. As the pasta was cooked al dente and drained, I added the shrimp (which only needed to get warmed) and a bit of corn-starch water to thicken the “broth” we had created, then the spaghetti and a handful or so of shredded “Italian cheeses” — mozzarella, provolone, Romano, asiago and Parmesan (it was a packaged product). We kept cooking for maybe another five minutes and then, transferring to two plates, ate.

The result? It was wonderful. Thatʼs why you are reading about it today (finally).

Here are the ingredients…

Italian Shrimp

  • large onion (or two)
  • garlic (crushed)
  • fresh asparagus (letʼs pound or so, cut into about one-inch pieces)
  • diced tomatoes (two cans or four to five fresh tomatoes)
  • mushrooms (two cans or plenty of fresh ones — which, if fresh, should be sautéed before adding the asparagus)
  • shrimp (we used frozen precooked, and so added them only at the last minute to warm; otherwise you add them either before or after the onions and garlic and cook until just about pink) — remove tails
  • pasta (we used whole wheat spaghetti broken in half, cooked and then mixed into the dish at the very end, along with some shredded Italian cheeses — not much of the last though)
  • corn starch (mixed with a little water and gradually added to the dish to thicken — just a very little)
  • seasonings

The preparation and cooking steps are narrated above.

* Okay, it wasnʼt reallly that much of an invention. But since we didnʼt know what we were doing or where we were headed, coming out with incredibly edible food in the end felt wonderful. And inventive.

** (somewhere; I am fairly confident she did not mean here)

*** Janet and her sister generally speak for a couple of winey hours most Saturdays, which is why I often get something written those afternoons. Then in the evening we like to enjoy our “best” meal of the week, making something “nice.” That goal usually means I grill. And we get bread! Last Saturday it was “rounds” — sliced baguette with olive oil and garlic salt, broiled in the oven.

**** I have been adding paprika to just about everything I cook since we returned from Budapest (and I will finish our weekʼs trip review someday).

I almost entitled this post “Serendipity.” It would have been more than splendidly appropriate.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Sunday : Fun Day

extraordinarily up-close and ineptly impersonal: Windows XP Media Center Edition identifying itself on Janetʼs laptop

Weʼre cleaning up Janetʼs laptop today.

We have several reasons. First, the cursed thing runs like lead, with any mouse click requiring several geological æons to stir a response from within the sluggish code-bowels of WindowsXP Media Center Edition and the torpid silicon synapses of her HP Pavilion dv8301nr; and The Lovely One has harped at me (for a few years now) to get rid of several programs that I installed when that machine was our only online access at home (QuicKeys and Now Up-to-Date and Contact seem particularly worthless to her, along with the eBay toolbar daemon). Second, our special Qwest MSN software became worthlessly out of date nearly a year ago when that MSN service died. Third, she has two virus-protection packages that seem to conflict with each other in the latest updates — one of those is not very recent at all (because I allowed one package to expire this past summer), so itʼs time the Webroot software disappeared. (Fourth, the Apple updater hasnʼt worked successfully on her computer for more than a year, meaning that her version of iTunes is way out of date. But then, someone stole her old iPod at the Y anyway, and she has never even gotten the new one I bought her for her birthday a year ago out of the box.)*

I am attempting about a half-dozen uninstalls right now, and itʼs only taken about two hours… And one of the Webroot programs wonʼt uninstall, apparently, until I “close all open aspects,” which is really stupid, as I canʼt find any open Webroot applications. Isnʼt that what an uninstaller is supposed to do? Quit the program you are attempting to uninstall and delete all the various parts of the program?***

Itʼs Windows… so who knows?

“Just keep trying, Wakdjunkaga. Just keep trying…”

My Belovedʼs HP laptop on her actual (not virtual) desktop

Anyway, personally I am hoping to have her machine working in a sleek and spiffy way it hasnʼt known since five years ago, so that Livescribe can do something funky to my smartpen to permit it to register itself (it works fine, itʼs just not officially registered**). However, “Toby” of Tier 3 Technical Support tells me via e-mail that if I hook up the pen on a Windows computer, the problem can be fixed (I guess the Echo smartpen isnʼt quite as multi-platform compatible as Livescribe would like to advertise).

Anyway, with a little luck (and a lot of time) maybe She-Who-Must… will be able to get herself online on her own again (and here at home not just at work).

With Valentineʼs Day just around the corner, metaphorically, weʼre spending such richly romantic time together…

* Fifth, I would like to clone her computer as the Windows partition to run via VMWare Fusion here on my iMac (which would greatly simplify the connect-the-smartpen-through-Windows-to-fix-the-registration-issue/problem for me).

** Wouldnʼt you think they could just register it by hand at the company? They have all my information…

*** That is how it works in Apple-reality here on my Mac.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.