Feb 23

‘Hey kind friend’

I’m in the middle of the three longest days of the week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday and Friday will be postscript and epilogue. But yesterday was 10 hours, today was 10 hours and tomorrow is 12 hours. Tonight, tonight I had a bowl of soup for dinner at 9:30.

It isn’t the hardest work in the world, or overly demanding, but the hours do accumulate.

Also, despite my best efforts, no amazing anecdote emerged from the day. No outlandish story, discovery or incredible sequence of events fell into my lap. No astounding coincidence, tale with a surely fabricated punchline or other incredible thing happened. It was a Tuesday, he said, grateful that he did all of the ironing on Monday.

Some things from Mastodon, which is where all the cool kids are now that Twitter is sliding int its news inedible pot of broth.

Saw this on campus today and picked one up.

It’s a getting-on-our-feet first issue, 10 pages. Heavy on design, light on copy, but rich in information.

You wonder about the practical feasibility of research like this. It seems like we should have this and a few verifying elements of research and then, ya know, implement it.

But the corporate bosses don’t read studies like that, I’d bet.

Every time you turn around archeology is discovering a new not-so-small discovery that resets our understanding of what we understand. It says a lot about what we don’t yet understand, and all of the things there are to learn.

If you click through the link, and wait out the preroll ad, there’s a fantastic NPR package here.

I can’t go all the way to Charlottesville for a photo exhibit, but if I was at the University of Virginia, I would definitely spend some time with those displays.

It is once again time to clean up the browser a bit. These are some tabs I’ve been holding on to for … quite a while, as it turns out. Too good to close and never be found again — and bookmarks being a different, quixotic enterprise altogether, I guess — I’m collecting them here.

This one is dated 2021. Is it possible I’ve had it opened for that long?

A self-made millionaire and CEO shares 5 ‘quick tests’ he always uses during job interviews to decide whether to hire:

Having these quick tests in your back pocket helps you make smarter business decisions. Why? Because the more we think about something, the more our minds will try to play tricks on us. We second-guess, we let doubt and fear creep in, we hesitate, we overthink. The purpose of the five tests below is to get past all of that and get back to the truth that you’ve known deep down all along.

This is especially true regarding two of the most important decisions that managers at my company, Compass, make: When to hire someone, and when to pass on them.

All of those will strike you as general, but not incorrect.

I stumbled upon this sometime early last year and thought, “Clearly anyone can do this.”

I just need some canvas. (And paint. And artistic talent.)

This was a much more recent, perhaps realistic, find. Buckwheat chocolate chunk cookies:

I am a chocolate chunk girl all the way because they melt into the cookie so much better. In contrast, chocolate chips hold their chip shape even after they are baked due to their waxy coating. I also love the size variation that the chunks give. This recipe also doesn’t make you choose between milk chocolate or dark chocolate because it has both! The inner kid in me loves milk chocolate way too much to leave it out, and I think the sweetness balances out the bitterness from the dark chocolate perfectly. Always use good-quality chocolate — especially when it is the star ingredient.

This recipe yields a slightly thin cookie with the crispiest golden edges and a gooey center — just how a chocolate chip cookie should be! It calls for mostly all-purpose flour, with a touch of buckwheat flour. This addition adds a delicate texture and a hint of nuttiness. Lastly, a finish of flaky salt on top adds the perfect amount of crunch. Flaked salt just makes everything better — what can I say?

Say “Pass the cookies, please!”

Because of an impulsive decision to close some shopping sites, a decision no doubt brought on by a distinct lack of cookies available as of this writing, I am now down to just 30 tabs on my phone’s browser.

Today we also return to the Re-Listening project, which is where I’m working my way through all of my CDs, in order of acquisition. Not reviews, but sometimes memories, and most often an excuse to revisit music — most of it great!

This installment brings us to the late spring or early summer of 1997. I bought my second Indigo Girls CD. The first was the double-live “1200 Curfews,” this was a studio record, and “Shaming of the Sun” solidified my love for the band. I saw them that May and, thanks to the web, I can see the setlist.

Thin Line
Power of Two
Don’t Give That Girl a Gun
It’s Alright
Shed Your Skin
Get Out the Map
Scooter Boys
Everything in Its Own Time
Shame on You
Southland in the Springtime
Cut It Out
Chiapas Bound
Here I Am
Closer to Fine

Nine of those songs are on this record. I wish I could remember if I’d already bought it by then. Probably so. (I also saw them the next year, in Atlanta. I’ve seen the Indigo Girls more than anyone else, I imagine, and almost always as a two-piece.) It became their highest-charting album, at least in the United States. It hit number 7 on the Billboard 200.

The most important memories from this record would come still a decade later. The first two tracks are songs The Yankee and I sang together on a long car ride.

This is important because I don’t really sing in front of people, or sing with people outside of church. But it had been a good week and the sun was bright and the road was long and we were actually using an actual map.

Sometime later she made me a mix CD and that song is on there, too. We’ve also seen the Indigo Girls together twice, in Atlanta and Indianapolis. But for Covid, we would have seen them in Nashville too, just to round out the map a bit more.

The still-intriguing thing about this record is that it still fits at any time. Also, there’s a lot of message music on here. Protests and the like have never especially appealed to me, or sent me away, but the messaging is obvious, even to me. When I first got this I was still mostly taken by Emily Saliers’ incredible writing, even as I was starting to pay more attention to Amy Ray’s background vocals.

It was the next record when I would really learn to dive into everything Ray did. They compliment one another so well, of course. At the time, what Saliers wrote, the way she played, it all felt so true and intently earnest. And sometimes brooding and mysterious.

I just wasn’t hearing Ray yet, which seems hilarious in retrospect. (I have her entire catalog now, and I’ll ramble on and on about it in future installments, I’m sure of it.)

Those harmonies!

That’s why you sing along with a pretty girl, even if you’re not in the habit of making such a small thing about yourself available.

Feb 23

The Girl Scout cookie story

It has been four days and I’m doing fine — well, my hair has been unruly and the days since have seemed longer, though no more productive, but I’m fine — so I may as well tell this story. The timing of this telling was inspired by a longtime friend. The story involves an old friend, and it goes like this.

I had some Girl Scout cookies on Saturday. I bought them from a friend’s daughter.

My friend Jeremy called and asked if he could bring his daughter to sell some cookies. We lived between Jeremy’s house and the grandparents and so it turns out that we offered her first real cookie selling experience. It was bitterly cold the day Sadie rang the doorbell. I invited her inside.

Remembering this was her first sell, I made a big point out of this. Sadie, you’ve been to our house before, and I’ve been to yours. Your mom and dad know us and we see each other a lot, and that’s why I’ve invited you in out of the cold. People you don’t know shouldn’t invite you in, and you shouldn’t go into their houses when selling Girl Scout cookies.

It seemed an important teaching opportunity.

The thing to know is that Jeremy has a dizzying, dry wit. Truly, you can catch him in the right moment and see his whole head and upper body making tiny circles while his mind simultaneously and instantly goes through a dozen textured, punned, historical, hipster jokes for any given moment, discarding the 11 inferior ones and offering the two best, one each pared for red meat or white. The man has a talent. And he can’t hold a candle to his wife. So their oldest kid, you see, has no choice but to be funny.

“Let me go ask my dad. For ‘safety.'”

She even threw in the air quotes, which, though she did not realize it, earned her a few extra boxes sold.

So she came in and we made our selections and the transaction was completed.

And the year, was 2014.

I had some of those cookies Saturday. They were the last from that order. (It seems important to always have some Thin Mints on hand, just in case.) This came up Saturday when I got some grief about not eating any of the cookies I ordered last year from my god-niece-in-law (just go with it). The Yankee said she wasn’t ordering me any extras because I hadn’t eaten any of last year’s (#StockpileMentality), to say nooooothing of that final 2014 box.

And you’re wondering what they were like, the 2014 cookies. The plastic sleeve was opened. No memory of that. But they’ve at least been in the freezer throughout, at least — though we did move once in the interim. They smelled of a bit of freezer burn. You could see a bit of freezer burn on them. They tasted exactly as Thin Mints should.

Maybe I’ll get around to eating the second 2014 sleeve in 2024.

Back to Willie Morris who, at this point in his memoir, has moved on from his small town on the Mississippi Delta to the University of Texas, where he would eventually become editor of the campus paper, and launch his incredible career.

This says a lot. And says, perhaps, even more, that we’re in much the samea place.

There’s another paragraph, nearby, where he talks about being invited, as a young college student, to join some grad students for dinner. In the interest of not putting the whole book here, I’ll summarize. He was overwhelmed by all of the books they owned, more than he’d ever seen in anyone’s home. Sure, he was the valedictorian, but small town Mississippi and all. He tells us it made him shy. He couldn’t talk, he was just staring at those books, wondering if they were for sale, or an exhibit.

It is a rare experience for certain young people to see great quantities of books in a private habitat for the first time, and to hear ideas talked about seriously in the off hours. Good God, they were doing it for pleasure, or so it seemed. The wife asked me what I wanted to do with myself when I graduated from college. “I want to be a writer,” I said, but not even thinking about it until the words were out; my reply surprised me most of all, but it was much more appropriate in those surroundings to have said that instead of “sports announcer,” which probably constituted my first choice. “What do you want to write about?” she persisted. “Just … things,” I said, turning red.

He then goes on to talk about going to the library later that night, promising himself to read every important book that had ever been written, but not even knowing where to begin.

I know the feeling, Willie, I know the feeling.

Later, after studying at Oxford, and then coming back to take over as the editor of The Texas Observer:

Some things will be good for a long, long time. Like how you deal with hacks and, also, my appreciation for Willie Morris’ writing. And Girl Scout cookies.

Feb 23

‘So we tripped upstairs’

We spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon on the deck. We built a fire. There are woods behind us, but we went out and purchased firewood. I have joked about buying a chainsaw, finding the owner of those woods and … well, maybe I should do that in the other other … meeting the owner of the woods and ask if they minded if I pulled the occasional felled tree out for the fire pit.

But I haven’t done that. The Yankee bought some wood, some really green stuff, and we struggled through that for a while. I used every trick before adding an accelerant to make that stuff to burn. But we needed more firewood and so, yesterday, we went to a proper lumber man. He has an honor system set up. Put your money in the box over here, draw your wood from that stack over there. It was perfect. When we put the flame to the wood it caught straight away.

It was the perfect temperature. You didn’t need to hug the fire to be warm. You didn’t get too hot if you leaned in too far. I wonder how long a trunk’s worth of wood will last.

Light weekend on the bike for whatever reason. I just go by feel, really. And after a few low key days I’m sure I’ll feel the need to put in more miles. But I have screen grabs, because I need content. Here’s a flat spot after a downhill from Saturday’s ride.

And then, for some reason, all of the HUD graphics disappeared. It was lovely. No times of other rides or maps, just a road. It was a bit like, well, riding a bike.

I’m not sure how I managed to do that to the Zwift interface, or what brought the graphics back. I’ve cropped them out here, because I like the side view as a change of pace, those flowers are nice and … what is going on with my avatar’s knee?

My knees sometime feel like that, too.

I also got in 26 miles this evening, and my knees feel great! (It was a generally flat course, just 1,000 feet, or so, of climbing.)

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 71 routes down, 53 to go.

But enough about me on my site. Let’s get to what you’re really here for, the weekly check-in on the cats, who are both doing well, by the way.

Phoebe has absolutely developed a sun routine. At a certain point of the morning, on those days when we have sun, it can stream into the bedroom. We have some heavy duty curtains, so if her time of the morning has arrived, and we haven’t opened those curtains, she knows. She’s not a big complainer, mind you, but she will sit. She will sit, and she will wait. She will sit, and she will wait for the sun to be presented to her. She will sit. She will wait. She will judge.

She judges me a lot. Fortunately, she is fair, and forgiving.

Mostly because she likes to cuddle. Here’s the standard issue Sunday night cuddle.

Sometimes, you just have to sit on the steps and think on the deep, profound issues of life.

On this particular night, Poseidon was thinking about how he comes to find himself with a napkin over his head, holes cut out for his ears.

He’s thinking of a ghost costume for Halloween this year.

We play a game every Sunday morning. He rolls around on the oven cover, delighting in the heat that’s escaping after bacon and biscuits. After I do the breakfast dishes I rub his face down with a napkin. We pay special attention to his ears and his cheeks and his chin and he loves it. After a time, he feels his face is clean and at that point the napkin has somehow become offensive, and he starts biting it, and me. Yesterday that got a bit aggressive, and he tore a hole in the thin paper. Open it up, and the holes were the perfect size and spacing for his radar ears.

Back then, I just didn’t buy everything right away. Probably because I couldn’t afford it. Plus media consumption was a little bit different. It is also possible that some of these CDs got slipped into the CD books a little out of sequence. One of those, or some other banal explanation, applies here. Anyway, let’s call it the spring of 1996 and return to the Re-Listening project with a perfectly produced example of alt pop from Arizona.

“Congratulations I’m Sorry” came out in February of 1996. I probably bought this from one of the two independent music stores that were in town. (It wouldn’t be too many more years before that sentence was, itself, outdated.) I probably paid between $7 and $12 for it. Worth every penny. Panned by critics for a lack of innovation, it’s really a continuation of Gin Blossoms’ previous record, which we breezed through earlier this month.

This one went platinum, but underperformed their second record. It made it into the top 10 on the US Billboard 200 weekly chart, and settled at 138 on the year-ender. They are, of course, still playing the hits from both today. (We saw them twice last year.)

So here are some more prime alternative pop deep cuts coming your way.

Somewhere between the flannel and finding jobs, these songs were part of the soundtrack of a century slowing wrapping itself up. That’s as profound as I can get.

This one got nominated for a Grammy, and was probably a profound breakup song for someone trying to wrap up a century. Not for me, but for someone.

They were really after something with that video, no?

No video here, but a nice live audio recording which does a nice enough job pointing out that Jesse Valenzuela makes the whole band work.

The Wikipedia entry has a “People” review I can’t find quickly online, but runs the quote “a quick fix for any dark mood … the songs are so upbeat they almost conjure sunny summer afternoons.” And that seems fair.

Also, I think this is one of the better songs of its genre and time.

A lot of people posting and uploading to YouTube seem to agree. There are a lot of shaky phone shots of live shows, and more than a few personal covers of “Competition Smile.”

I saw them on campus on this tour, and not too long after that they went on hiatus for a few years. They’d been through a lot. The title of this record, after all, stems from people acknowledging their last record’s success, and sharing in their grief of the 1993 suicide of former lead singer, Doug Hopkins. “Congratulations I’m Sorry.”

He’s not on this record, but they’ll be playing his songs this weekend in New York and Pennsylvania.

The band in our next installment of the Re-Listening project is also on tour this spring. If you’re in Florida next month, maybe you can still get a ticket. But more from them tomorrow.

Feb 23

Time is mutable

This I don’t understand. It was 67 yesterday. We’ll have the chance of snow tomorrow. This is my only comment on the day, the only one that needs to be recorded for posterity about the mysteriousness of February 16, 2023.

But also this, time is a mutable construct. Tuesday, I unsubscribed from two series of emails. I have read them, perused them, skimmed them, clicked the interesting links within them faithfully. But, lately, they just seemed a chore. I have been on the fence for a while. A developer I know made some comment about each of these services that finally pushed me to the unsubscribe side. So, then, yesterday was the first day that I didn’t receive those daily emails — it could be two, it could be 12 a day, and you never knew what your inbox would receive. And yesterday, I noted at 3:31, had already been 32 hours long.

A friend told me I should re-subscribe, because friends are enablers, but I’m curious to see how this plays out. Today, for instance, was only 17 hours long. Time is mutable.

Let’s quickly get caught back up — before falling behind once again — on the Re-Listening project. I am forever impressed by how fast a CD goes by in the car. It’s a nine-mile round trip from the house to the office, but that’s somehow 40-50 minutes, whether I want it to be or not, and that’s in the window of a standard CD run time. But I digress.

As you know, I’m playing, and putting these here, in the order of acquisition. So we’re somewhere in 1996, but this was one of those tape-to-CD format upgrades, so we have to step way back in time, to 1994. And according to the arbitrary rules I have arbitrarily made, I can gloss over the upgrades.

I saw DMB on tour on the next few records, just before they got prohibitively expensive.

Back in the day my roommate, Chuck, and I had a sophisticated musical code. Certain records meant certain things. This CD, for a time, was one of those signals.

Yes, fair or not, I blame DMB for starting the concert inflation trend. But I caught them twice, right place, affordable times, I suppose.

Back then, virtuoso guitarist Tim Reynolds and fiddler Boyd Tinsley seemed like the band to me. I don’t think I’ve heard anything new since LeRoi Moore died in 2008 — so I’m four albums behind. There’s been some turnover in the band, but Reynolds is still there (he’s the secret weapon) and the rhythm section is intact. I’m sure it’s fine, but I don’t know if it is a time and place thing. Something else we’ll have to get around to discovering one of these days.

But not right now. When we next visit the Re-Listening project, we’ll be hitting peak emo pop 1996.

I asked my lovely bride to bring me some Advil this evening. She was nearer the bottle, and I didn’t want to get up to fetch it. It is one of those countless easy things one person does for another person from time to time.

“What’s hurting?”


See, I came in and wanted to get in a little bike ride, but I am also trying to be conscientious of not riding all night, because there’s dinner and getting ready for the next day and so on. At the same time, I am now getting into Zwift routes that are a little longer, so they’ll take a few more minutes, but there’s also a weird in-betweenness to them. I did two routes tonight. The first one was 10 miles and change, that’s nothing. But I thought I could get the next one, too. Only, it was about the time of the evening that I wanted to get it done. So I pressed a little bit.

There’s one two mile climb on that route, and I hate that particular climb.

But I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and got over the thing. I set a new PR and somehow got the polka dots jersey marking the fastest climber on the course at the time. I also got a second polka dot jersey for a second, smaller climb, as you can see on the right hand side of the graphic. (I am not a climber.) I also got a green jersey for the best sprint segment on the course. (I am not a sprinter.) All of this says more about who was riding around me, rather than me.

But I probably should have used better gearing on those climbs. Anyway, that was 75 minutes on the bike, tonight including two Strava PRs. And now my legs are tired.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker 68 routes down, 56 to go.

Feb 23

Did you have “Appalachian murder ballad” on your Bingo card?

I took three photographs today, each one less useful than the last. First, two big wheel cars came down Indiana Avenue. I have seen them both before. You see a lot of cars over and over in your daily routine, of course. Most sensible mid-sized sedans and the ubiquitous SUVs don’t stand out, but when you see the classic land yacht on oversized rims, it stands out. When one of them is purple and gold and celebrates the Los Angeles Lakers, you make a mental note. I saw that car today. He was in front of this guy.

They generate a lot of interest and, it turns out, they have annoyingly interesting horns. I only looked out of the window because it sounded like an animal was dying, over and over. And, thus, the from-the-hip photo.

The next picture was of a daisy someone brought into the building. It seems there was someone outside handing out flowers. If you’ve seen one thoughtless composition of an oversized flower, you’ve seen them all.

Also, this little guy. I’ll let you figure out what it does. I know, but do you? Here’s your hint, we have four of them in the studio.

And, if you cheat and look up those letters, you’ll quickly learn what it is. But it is more fun if you guess.

We have some catching up to do on the Re-Listening project, and so we should dive in while I can still remember the order of things. So two quick ones today, both of which I picked up from a radio station I worked at, probably in early 1997, or the very very end of 1996. I know that because this first one had a stamp in the liner notes. Not for promotional use.

It was The Lemonheads, their last record on the Atlantic Records label. Band members were coming and going around lead singer Evan Dando, including a lot of talented session musicians, and for whatever reason — promotion interest, most likely — it was not as successful as the previous alt rock records from the Massachusetts group. But it has developed a cult following, and that’s the least we can do. This is a great record.

The first track is one of my favorites.

But then there’s the next song, which was the one that got a fair amount of air play.

But you see pretty quickly, I think, how The Lemonheads’ style was being outpaced by what was being offered on radio and MTV. The mid-third of the record gets a bit eclectically moody.

Then, and I still don’t understand why, though I’ve certainly burned brain cells on it, there’s an Appalachian murder ballad in the eighth spot. I knew this song right away.

Let’s take a little detour. This is worth it. This is why I knew that song.

The Louvin Brothers’ version was published in 1956. And in the Tennessee Valley, in the Highland Rim, I heard that around a kitchen table or in a garage, or both. Charlie Louvin, who was born on the other side of the mountains, in the Sequatchie Valley, in the Cumberland Plateau, did a haunting version of it again, 51 years later.

It’s deep in the marrow, is what we’re left with. Knoxville Girl dates to the 1920s, but it’s all borrowed, a version of “The Wexford Girl,” a 19th-century Irish ballad, which owes its origin to a 17th century English ballad, “The Bloody Miller or Hanged I Shall Be.” (Samuel Pepys wrote that one down for all of history.) It may go back even further. I wonder if the three dozen or so bands that have recorded the song in the last several decades knew all of that.

For some reason, and maybe this is why this record has a cult following now, there’s an ode to the movie Se7en. Then another ballad and, finally, more glorious noise rock.

I wish I could give you a count of the number of country roads I sped down listening to that song, or, indeed, the whole record. It would be a substantial amount.

I could not say about this next record, which was another radio station freebie. It had a little airplay. It was not for me, the guy who is referring you to the history of an Appalachian murder ballad, but a girl I liked at the time loved ska, so I picked up Goldfinger’s eponymous, debut, record.

I remember one sunny day, one curve in a particular road, where I caught the punchline in one of these songs. Which, hey, if anyone remembers a joke I’ve done 20-some years on, I’d be pleased, but other than that …

On this listen, this is the only one that I find interesting at all.

I know what is coming up in the next few CDs, I’m going to like those much better. Maybe there will be some stories to tell. Maybe you’ll like them too. The stories, or the music, either one.