Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I was planning on adding a post or two tonight. Then I fell asleep on the couch. Guess I'm a little tired and stressed out after the past few weeks.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The recession is real.

My friend Amy over at Incertus has a great post about all the things she should be concerned about—Reverend Wright, Miley Cyrus, the Florida Legislature, and more. Except she can't focus on them. She's too concerned about the dollar-a-day she has left until payday.

The same feeling hit me over the weekend. First, it was spending $30 on half a tank of gas for my Jetta, and realizing the same amount filled the tank a couple of years ago. Then it was the grocery run that was easily $20 higher than it had been a year ago. Then it was seeing the businesses that had put up "Going Out of Business" signs along Cary Street. Then it was doing the math and realizing that the "stimulus" check I am supposed to get from the government this week will no longer go toward a bunk bed for Banana and a new sofa for the living room. No. The so-called "stimulus" check when it arrives — and believe me, I am watching my bank account for its arrival — is already budgeted for a mix of daily and random expenses. Hell, I won't even be able to earmark any of it for debt payments.

But, hey, it's just "tough times" according to our esteemed leader. The same esteemed leader who thinks that the solutions are drilling for oil in Alaska and making permanent tax cuts for the richest few, solutions guaranteed to make corporations and billionaires richer while the rest of us look at our receipts and wonder how we're going to make ends meet next month.

The canaries are dying. The coal mine is filling with gas, and I don't see any way out.


The initial Vanity Fair shots of Miley Cyrus that appeared struck me as a little over the top, but still artsy enough that I wasn't bothered by them. This morning, however, Gothamist posted this one, and my take on the whole thing changed. I am not a particularly prudish person, but this isn't exactly the best image of the whole Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana entertainment machine.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

what we talk about when we talk about wine

I volunteered to help my father pour wine at the James River Wine Festival this year. He has poured for one of the better wineries for the past few years, and I joined him this year. It seemed appropriate since this festival is something that brought me to Richmond annually for a few years in the nineties. At that point, the festival was a funky little affair held on Browns Island, downtown where the James River bisects Richmond, and it seemed important to the burgeoning wine industry in the state.

The festival has since been moved out to the far 'burbs west of town, in an odd little pavilion in a corporate park. It has also gone the way of many events that someone here thought they could make better. There are lots of craft vendors selling the usual "art" fare, there are the various random vendors selling things like home window treatments, and there are the requisite cover bands playing "Twist and Shout" one more time. Food is provided by the usual funnel cake/sausage/hamburger/gyro/fries/nachos stand, a crab cake stand, and one lone local restaurant that decided to buy in--without really being able to compete with the funnel cakes or the crab cakes. Hell, I even opted for the traveling crab cake stand and their overly sweet lemonade.

But the festival is supposed to be all about wine, right? Right. Except that many of the people who flock to these festivals know very little about wine. Instead, they know "what they like." As I learned, this means sweet wines. Think Riesling with sugar dumped into it. Or the berry wines hawked by several of the wineries. Some people are so adamant that they will categorically refuse to taste any other wine.

The winery I was pouring for is proud of the fact that their wines are dry. In fact, even their dessert wines have residual sugars as low as three percent. Considering that many of the "sweet" wines poured by other makers push into the 12-15% range, even the dessert wine we were pouring wasn't sweet by some people's standards. It was clear early on that it wasn't even worth trying to get some of the people to try the wines if all they wanted was sweet. (And the winemaker had asked us not to pour the dessert wine frivolously.) There were a number of people who treated it as a slight that we didn't have anything they wanted. What they seemed to forget is that these festivals are supposed to be a two-way street: festival-goers get to try new wines for a small price, and since the wineries are there to sell wine, festival-goers are expected to buy some wine.

After pouring for a few hours, I had the chance to roam around and do a bit of tasting myself. What I found, however, was that there were only a few of the better wineries present: Barboursville, Veritas, Villa Appalaccia, Tarara, Corcoran, and a few others I've already forgotten. Most of the wineries, however, were places like Peaks of Otter which serves a habanero wine and various fruit creations that don't really deserve to be called wine. In addition, there was a whole tier of wineries that also sell treacly, sweet creations, and whose main draw seems to be their proximity to the highway and their pretty tasting rooms. There was one winery, in particular, that I was shocked to see in attendance--their wines were so bad when they opened three years ago, I figured they'd go under.

Ultimately, many of the people who attended the festival wouldn't even get to taste some of the best wines being produced in Virginia. Why? Because of sweet wines and suburban silliness. Or more to the point: when the festival was moved and "improved," attending became less profitable for many of the wineries who care more about interesting, challenging wines. Clearly, there are some that hang on, but even some of those producers have begun to push the showmanship a little bit and maybe even added a few sweet wines themselves.

The owner of the winery I poured for also made a good point. Because we don't have a food culture in the States, we are not culturally attuned to see wine as an accompaniment for food. Yesterday, that was made even more clear: food options were not only limited, they were not at all attuned to third word in the name of the festival. So what we have in the end is an event that is no longer held anywhere near the James River, and for which the wine (or what wine should be) ends up being secondary to the festival.


I could add more, but it's getting late.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Fun - I've left the office

This is classic. Classic. And appropriate.

(Pulled from comments at AdRants.)

The light posting ends?

We'll see. I'm still having trouble sitting at my desk at home. My workstation chair is not very good for my back, and I had gotten accustomed to sitting on the couch and working on the MacBook Pro I had to return to the university. I'm also trying to get many, many little details covered before I start the new job next week. Still, this feels like a garden I've been neglecting.

Friday Fun

I tried to find the clip from Stanley Tucci's Big Night, but this will have to do instead.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


One of the regular questions I've gotten about my decision to return to the private sector is why I would leave so much leave time behind. My reply has invariably been that my role at the university did not allow me to take the kind of leave time teaching faculty can take. Summer is a prime example of this issue.

Since Banana started school last year, I've had to think through what she would do for those absurd ten weeks that we still protect from the old harvest-based school schedule. Last year's alternative involved her spending big chunks of time with Banana mére and some healthy chunks of time at my office. This year, I am determined to put her in a summer program of some sort, but even with my slightly elevated income, schedules and cost are going to remain issues.

At this point, my alternatives include the following:
  • Several sessions of camp through the JCC (between $1500 and $2000), the Y (between $1200 and $1600), or a local school (between $1000 and $1600).
  • Various sessions with various camps (see above for cost estimates)
  • Joining with a couple other parents to hire someone to entertain the children at home, parks, museums, and the pool (approx $2,800 broken down between the families)

They're all fine alternatives, but each one comes with certain advantages or disadvantages. And they all jog my money anxieties. Furthermore, I see the pitfalls of each when it comes to scheduling a trip to Maine or Banana's time with her mom.

Why is it that this matter seems far more complicated than it should be? These are the moments I wish someone would just lay it out and make the decision for me. Tell me where to be and when to be there.

Monday, April 21, 2008

wrapping up

Cleaning the desktop of my machine at work, I just came across this shot of Banana's first day of kindergarten. That smile will make even the most bittersweet days seem better.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

still locked out...

Since the driver who delivers our UPS route won't deliver without a signature, I am still disconnected because of a f**king power adapter. I never realized how much I had come to rely on internet access for connections to people, records I keep online, my finances, and more. It's frightening.

So... more silence until I can get access again later.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Fun - the beer-soaked 80s edition

This just came on Radio Paradise. Such an 80s classic cannot be ignored in Friday Fun-land.

our discourse (or Friday not-so-Fun)

Last night, Jon Stewart went after Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos for doing his job--taking the trivial and making it the point. What is remarkable about our time--as we began to see in the 2004 election--is that the "fake" news reporters are really doing the true reporting. The core media has turned into an echo chamber of triviality, trying to drum up stories, while Stewart and Colbert are the ones who bring up the big points. Or rather, they bring up the big points by showing how they are being ignored by the "real" news people.

In fact, the Democratic debate the other night was the epitome of the absurdity. Can it truly matter who won or lost when three-quarters of the debate was squandered on meaningless spin items?

Sad, truly sad.

Friday Fun

Leaving the university in a few days, and starting the new job in just over a week. Judge signed the divorce yesterday. Awaiting word on whether a gun matches a certain bullet. What else? Whan that April with its shoures soutte

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Verizon sucks...

though this one really isn't their fault. It's the fault of their router vendor. It's their fault that the power adapter fried yesterday, and I'm dead in the water with access in my house until the replacement arrives.

So, I sit in my neighbors' house plugged into their router for a few minutes. Strange how attached we become to our networks in this day and age. If they're down for even a few hours or a few days, we begin to feel isolated, cut off. (South Park got it right in their latest episode.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

design geekitude

This little quiz is great. Now, if I could only break above 24... just one more sign that I've been administrating for too long.

(Thanks to Bonnie for the link.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

I like my life.

apologies for the navel-gazing moment...

This idea shouldn't be a revelation, but it is. The notion that I don't regret parts of my life in spite of all the ups and downs is new. Credit is, in part, due to a recent conversation about my maternal grandfather. He was a staid, upstanding, academic man from a staid, upstanding, blue-blood upbringing. He was also a very accomplished man--author of nine books, drafter of the U.N. Charter, recipient of fellowships and letters from such eminent figures as Winston Churchill. And the point of the conversation was how much he would disapprove of my life up to this point.

Obviously, as anyone who has known me a long time or who has read certain posts on this blog knows, there are plenty of things about my life that I regret. There are lessons I wish I had learned without hurting myself or other people. But the reality is I can't change any of that. What I can do is continue to grow and evolve based on those lessons. I can also learn to accept and love my life--whether or not my forebears would approve of it.

They would not approve--I'm fairly certain--of the fact that I count among my friends pool players, a soft-core pornographer, a F-to-M transexual, a witch, and all manner of ne'er-do-wells. I'm being partly sarcastic, partly serious. The reality is that I was raised to certain class boundaries, but I've spent good chunks of my life trying to live beyond the small neighborhood of expectations built by my families.

At some level, I think I've done this to escape certain insecurities and unhappiness with myself. When the need to compensate for insecurities fades, however, it is easier to see the good in one's actual life. And when you realize that unhappiness only breeds more unhappiness, it becomes easier to let stupid stuff go.

The point? Is there one? Can there really be one when life is constantly evolving? Yeah. The point is that we are in control of our own happiness.

(End navel-gazing moment. Return to regularly unscheduled programming.)

Friday, April 11, 2008


That's how many days I've been in one sort of pain or another. Not that anybody's counting. And not that it's getting old or anything...

Don't get shot, okay?

friday fun - vintage kids tv

Jack mentioned these last night, and I had to—just had to—put a sampling up.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gore - new thoughts

First, I still wish Al Gore had chosen to run as our re-elected president. Second, if you have a few minutes, go and watch his latest presentation. It is dynamic, frightening, and important. Be sure to watch all the way through to the Q-and-A. Please.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

design poll!

Here are two designs for posters for the Strawberry Street Festival, a major fundraising event for Banana's school. We may run both, but if we can only run one, I'm putting it out there for my few readers... which one would you pick? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Freddie the Frog

For the next week, Banana and I are responsible for Freddie the Frog. It is our sworn duty to care well for the frog and show him an exciting week. And that week must be documented in a journal.

We decided to start Freddie's week off right. He went with us and two other families to Carytown Sushi for dinner. While the kids ate their edamame, age tofu, and sashimi, Freddie went to town with insect gyoza and grasshopper rolls. He also held his own with a couple glasses of unfiltered sake.

Even though it was already pushing nine o'clock on a school night, we decided to carry on the welcome party next door at Bev's Ice Cream. The kids put away Richmond's best ice cream, and Freddie shared Banana's mint chocolate chip.

Unfortunately, Bev's does not put food coloring in their ice cream which kept the ice cream from matching the frog.


UPDATE: I will be cross-posting at Freddie's very own blog. Time for this frog to go high tech. Maybe we'll even go Twitter and Facebook next!

quick notes

This weekend, I revived my paella tradition. It was a small gathering—just four of us. There was good rioja and vinho verde to be drunk, plenty of cheese and olives, and the paella. The dish was a New Years experiment a few years ago, and I've taken to making my own way of doing it. I dug through a plethora of recipes, found the common themes, and created a social cooking and eating experiment. It's a grand way to kill an evening with good friends.


Stay tuned for the Freddie the Frog blog. We are "caring" for Freddie this week, and part of the requirement is that we document his adventures. And mis-adventures.

Friday, April 04, 2008

the pinch?

This comes from the No Shit Sherlock department:

Across the United States, consumers like Norris are finding that grocery shopping has become a sobering experience as their budgets fail to keep pace with food costs.
Prices continue to rise. A survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation in February showed that in the beginning months of this year, the cost of 16 grocery items, including flour and cheddar cheese, was $45.03, up $3.42, or 8 percent, from the fourth quarter.
Increasingly, shoppers like Wikholm must wait until payday to load up on groceries and then hunker down until the next paycheck.

Unfortunately, this experience is all too real. Taken in small doses, a jump of a dime or two on the price of pasta (from $.69 to $.89 at Trader Joe's) doesn't seem critical. When every item begins to jump a little bit and some jump by a dollar or more, the whole hit on a grocery run can grow, as it has for me, from $125 for two weeks to $160 or more for that same two week period. Couple that with gas prices that finally hurt, and the budget begins to look tighter and tighter.

More times than I would like, I have had to tell Banana that we can't get things or I've had to shift budget items to make a few small clothing purchases (kids grown, you know!) fit. Savings and extra payments on credit card balances are out the window, too.

What amazes me is that this is even news. Scratch that. What actually amazes me is that stories like this come out, but there are still pundits and politicians who will argue that we aren't in a recession and push the line that the economy will be just fine. As the cliche goes, be careful when the price of milk rises...

media bias?

Why is it that NPR seems so pre-disposed against the current Democratic candidates? Their editorial bent all week has been that the race between Obama and Clinton is a problem, and how sad it is that poor McCain isn't getting enough coverage.

My guess is that much of NPR's audience falls on my side of the political spectrum. While this doesn't necessarily suggest they should tailor their coverage accordingly, there seems to be a distinct editorial bias creeping in. When even the progressive commentators fall on the center-right end of the spectrum, I get the sense that they are trying to create "balance" by tipping the spectrum too far to the right.

friday fun - 80s edition

I couldn't help it...


Thursday, April 03, 2008


I gave notice at the university today. It was surprisingly nerve-wracking and difficult. So much so that the pain in my stomach doubled me over at times. I dreaded telling my staff, and just the thought was enough to turn my stomach again as I was discussing it with my boss. Beyond that, I am dealing the frustration that I'm jumping ship right in the middle of major projects, major projects that were my signature accomplishments over the past three and a half years. Regardless, change is a good thing. In this case, change will bring more money and a chance to get out of the managerial/bureaucratic line for a while. It will also bring a return to advertising and marketing.

This blog started a few weeks before I joined the university in 2004. I wrote very occasionally on it until last year, after the shooting. Since then, it has become a more regular fixture of my weeks. My plan is to continue to refine and focus it as I shift gears into the next chapter of life in Richmond.

Richmond, a.k.a. the smallest city in the world.


In the background, Bowie's "Heroes" is playing. Old pool teammates may remember that I always played it on the juke box during my matches.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Why are hiccups a bad thing?

Conversation this evening:

ME: Where did you get the hiccups?

BANANA: I don't know.

ME: You didn't have them earlier, so you must have gotten them somewhere.

BANANA: From you?

ME: No. Hiccups aren't contagious.

BANANA: From Reilly?

ME: No. He's a dog, and I already said hiccups aren't contagious.

BANANA: From the Hiccup Fairy?

ME: More like the Hiccup Troll.


ME: Because hiccups are a bad thing.

BANANA: Why are hiccups a bad thing?

ME: (stymied)I have no idea, sweetie. They just are.

BANANA: (giggling)April Fools!

Random 10, etc. (late evening notes)

In honor of Incertus, here is this evening's random 10:
1. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah – The Pogues
2. Saturn Return – R.E.M.
3. The Old Grunt – Guided By Voices
4. A Little Soulful Tune – Taj Mahal
5. No Birds Today – Cowboy Junkies
6. What Is This Note? – Eels
7. Fire On Babylon – Sinéad O'Connor
8. The Colossus Crawls West – Guided By Voices
9. Mistress – Red House Painters
10. Dash 7 – Wilco


Spent some time in Forest Hill Park again this weekend. Our public spaces became a source of fascination (and pleasure) for me long ago, but what particularly interests me is the effort that went into creating remarkable urban facsimiles of nature. And the degree to which these same spaces were ignored and left to ruin a half century later. What is the predilection of much of this country against public spaces which results in this sort of neglect? That is one question that continues to fascinate.


John McCain has begun to remind me of Bob Dole. He is, after all, another supposedly-honorable, war-hero senator who seems to have been offered up as a sacrificial lamb in a very bad—increasingly bad, even—electoral climate.