Thursday, December 17, 2009

Signs and portents.

There are always signs around you, wherever you go. All you have to do is know where to look and how to interpret them.

Take these signs, for instance, from my trip to California in October.

A trained soothsayer would take one look at these and know immediately that they shout out: Danger! Beware! You were exposed to the flu on your flight across the continent, thanks to the person in the row behind you, and it will make itself known to you in about six more hours!

Sadly, I am not trained in the saying of sooth, and had to learn of their warning the hard way.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Another minute of fame.

I was in Iowa last month, for a family wedding. My first trip to Iowa since 1964, and while I imagine that it's changed a lot since then, I really wasn't paying all that much attention to the state back then. A fun trip. While in Iowa City, I did a little sight-seeing, taking in the Amana colonies and the Herbert Hoover presidential library/museum.

For me, though, the most entertaining part of the trip was a one-day side trip to Madison, Wisconsin.

Oh, sure. There were fun things to see on the way to and from Madison, like a winery, a well-regarded brewery, and the self-styled "World's Largest M."

But the best part was going to the Great Dane brewpub in Fitchburg, where they were serving the John Stoner's Oatmeal Stout.

No, sadly. Actually named after "the first farmer" in the Fitchburg region.

Still, of the eleven beers they had on tap, I thought this one was the best. So I had a bunch of it the evening I was there. I'll happily report that it was interesting, complex, smooth, full-bodied, and had a fine head, just like its namesake.

They don't bottle or distribute their beer, near as I can tell. You could buy a growler of it at the pub, but there's no way you could get a full growler onto the plane. So any of it that I was going to drink, I had to have that evening.

They were impressed enough that someone would come all the way from Virginia to try their beer that they gave me a t-shirt with the John Stoner's Oatmeal Stout logo on it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sami, 1993 - 2009. R.I.P.

Sami, my senior cat, passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was 16.

His health had been in rapid decline over the previous three or four weeks, getting to the point that he no longer wanted to go up or down stairs. But he seemed not to be in any pain, and still enjoyed getting attention and sleeping where he could sniff the fresh air.

He was a good cat: gentle, and friendly, and agreeable to all - humans and cats, alike. And he always carried himself with a good deal of dignity. He had a lot of feline companions during his life; probably 4 in Florida and 4 or 5 in Virginia (not counting the kittens who came and went). And before moving to Virginia 3 years ago, he was a good companion to my father.

He'll be missed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

... is for Mudflaps.

I guess the winters are long in the Midwest, and you've got to think of something to do. Which would explain all of the "World's Largest ____s" that you can find. World's Largest Rocking Chair, or Ball of Twine, or Hairball. Or, in this instance, the World's Largest M.

There I was, driving along and mostly minding my own business, when I happened upon The World's Largest M. Naturally, I had to check it out.

A giant M on the hillside. And an explanatory plaque. And a cement bench, engraved with an M. And a staircase beside it, so you could climb up the hill and view the countryside from each of the three platforms. (Each stair had a numbered plaque on it, so you'd know that it took 279 steps to get to the top. 279 steps of inconsistent width. And pretty much in a straight line.) And there was a telescope at the top.

I especially enjoyed the plaque which explained that the M was in honor of the University of Wisconsin's College of Engineering.

Friday, July 31, 2009

2009 Vermont Brewers Festival.

Back in 2002, I went to the Vermont Brewers Festival - a showcase for Vermont breweries of all sizes, from tiny little brewpubs to regional breweries (such as Magic Hat or Harpoon). I had a wonderful time, as every beer I tasted was worth trying, and I decided that I needed to go back someday.

Someday turns out to have been this year. I decided to do it up right this time: I bought tickets to all three sessions (Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday night), and stayed at the hotel across the street.

I can report that this year's festival was wonderful, too.

Oh, sure. The weather was quirky - it rained some during the Friday night and Saturday afternoon sessions, but that just made the beautiful weather of Saturday evening even better by comparison. And unlike seven years ago, this year I discovered a beer that I thought was horrid. (To be precise, a dry Irish stout, flavored with raspberries. An Irish stout is a light-bodied and -flavored style, and anything more than a hint of fruit flavor will overwhelm the roasty flavors of the beer. And this beer had about fifty times too many raspberries to be considered subtle. It's not often at a beer festival that I look around for a spit bucket or even a patch of grass reasonably devoid of people, but I sure needed to with that beer. Other people seemed to like it, though.)

Mostly, though, the beers ranged from good to excellent. If I have to pick a couple of favorites, then I'll mention two: a single-hop, cask-conditioned Chinooker'd IPA, from Lawson's Liquids (which appears to be a tiny, production-only facility that had to go to a larger microbrewery in order to brew large enough quantities to come to this festival), and a cask-conditioned IPA, aged with oak and dry-hopped, from Otter Creek.

A wonderful time was had by all. (Well, by me, and that's the only vote that counts here.) I'm ready to go again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

They don't make 'em like they used to.

This would seem to be a movie worth watching:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yes, I know.

It's quiet. Too quiet.

Sorry. I haven't done all that much of late that has made me want to post about it.

Oh, sure. There have been beer and wine dinners, and an all-Virginia breweries beer festival, heralding the return of Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale. There have been other interesting events that have cause me to wander outside on occasion.

There's been a primary. There's the return of Lance to the Tour. There was the new Star Trek movie. Lots of other things, any of which might have made me post something.

Oh, well. Maybe something a bit more interesting will come along.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Snow big deal.

It snowed a week ago. Started about 4 p.m. on Sunday and ended around 1 p.m. on Monday, accumulating between 8 and 10 inches. The first snow in the Richmond area that was more than an inch or two in three and a half years.
Once it stopped snowing, it cleared up and was beautiful: trees were outlined in white and the sky was crystal blue and clear. Very pretty, very nice.

And, this being Richmond, very short-lived as well. By Thursday, the temperatures were in the sixties; by Sunday, it was 84.

That's the joy of Richmond snow storms: the results don't hang around long enough to become gray and depressing and yucky.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

If it's February, that must be a crocus.

Time for the annual posting commemorating the first crocus of spring. This year's winner showed up on February 1. Its friends showed up in bunches about a week later.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Justice delayed.

It may take fifty years, but it's good to see that an organization can come to its senses and apologize for its idiotic behavior.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sign here. And here. And here. Aaannnnd here.

Saturday was a surprisingly nice day - the temperature touched 70 degrees - so I decided it was time to get out of the house to do something. After getting a much-needed haircut, I ended up in the middle of the afternoon at the Richmond Convention Center for a "Healthy LifeStyle Expo" or somesuch.

That LifeStyle Expo turned out to be worth about what I paid for it - it was free - and it had a wide range of exhibitors. Everything from hospitals and chiropractic clinics to the local grocery store to companies that will sell you a motorized wheelchair if you can get Medicare to pay for it. A mortgage company that specializes in reverse mortgages for seniors. Weird nutrition and fruit drinks. Mary Kay cosmetics. And the Marine Corps Marathon. And all of it sponsored by the local CBS-TV affiliate.

Not too surprisingly, this wasn't the only event going on at the Convention Center on Saturday. That evening was the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner for the state Democratic party, and all of the prospective candidates for this November's election were there. (Virginia has its state elections in odd years, so that every November has an election of at least state-level importance. It turns out to be good for county and precinct political organizations, as it keeps some continuing level of interest every year. This year's election includes the state-wide races of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, each elected separately.)

Well, that early in the afternoon, only one of the candidates was around. But they all had tables set up for their organizations to hand out literature and, more importantly, to collect signatures to get their candidates onto the ballot for this spring's primary. Eight or nine tables lined up in a row.

I've been on the other side of this exercise - going out and trying to collect signatures for ballot access - and I know how difficult it can be. So I always sign ballot access petitions, regardless of the candidate. (Okay: once I balked. It was for Lyndon LaRouche, and you can't blame me. As a general proposition, though, I believe that anyone who wants to be on the ballot should be allowed onto it, and the public can decide whether or not to vote for the candidate.)

I even made it easy for them. I'd walk up to the table and tell them what county and Congressional district I live in (there are separate petitions for each county, and if a county is split into multiple Congressional districts, each of those is separate, too), and wait for them to fumble through their stack of forms to find the appropriate one. I'd sign, they'd give me a sticker and perhaps some campaign literature, and off I'd go to the next one.

A half-hour later, and I was done. I'd done my civic duty, and was free to enjoy the rest of the day.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

And then there are days.

This year, I did the majority of my Christmas shopping online. No looking for a parking place, no hordes of foul-tempered shoppers, no dealing with sales staff who are too busy talking on their cell phones.

And, for the most part, it went pretty well. As I'm sure you know by the presents you received from me. (You didn't get yours yet? Well, I'm sure it's on its way.)

There were a couple of packages (a book, a DVD) that I was expecting to arrive on the Monday before Christmas, the day before I left for Florida for a week. But when I got back from work that Monday evening -- nothing there. Nothing on the front porch, nothing at the side door, nothing on the back deck. Oh, well. Guess I won't be taking those things to Florida, after all. And I'll alert Larry-the-Cat-Sitter that he should be on the lookout for those missing packages.

So Larry-the-Cat-Sitter conscientiously watched for the missing packages. But by the time I got home from Florida, they still hadn't been seen.

Okay, time to go into "So where are they?" mode. I checked the tracking page to see if I could find out when they might be delivered, although I thought I remembered they should have gotten to me before I left. And to my great surprise, I found out that not only should they have arrived by then, according to, they had been. That Monday afternoon before I left town.


Let me go look again. Nope, not on the front porch. Not in the bushes around the front porch. not under the leaves piled up behind the bushes around the front porch. Not by the side door. Not on the deck out back.

Okay. [sigh] Guess I'll have to get in touch with Amazon to let them know that the packages never arrived, and they'll need to resend them. Kind of annoying that they disappeared - I've never had this problem before in this neighborhood. Don't know whether it was swiped from the porch or was claimed as last-minute Christmas shopping by the carrier's temporary drivers.

Maybe I'll wait until tomorrow to contact Amazon. Maybe they were picked up by a well-meaning neighbor who saw I was away from home and that neighbor hasn't returned them yet.
Maybe I'll wait a couple of days, so I don't have to deal with the Amazon customer service people. "But it says here that they were delivered to your front porch." "Sure does. And yet - I never saw them." "But they were delivered to you." "But they weren't." Really not looking forward to that conversation.

After a couple of days, though, it was finally time. No, wait: let me put it off long enough to go to the grocery store for a big purchase: buying enough cat food to last me through long winter storms, should any appear. ("more cat food is good" the little voices near the floor seem to say.)

When I return home and carry the many bags of groceries up to the front door, I note that there's something a little bit odd about the welcome mat: it felt a bit, I don't know, lumpy when I stepped on it, and it's pushed off to the side about six inches - towards the hinge, so I hadn't been stepping on the mat when I went in the door. Okay, let me get the bags of cat food inside, and then I'll investigate.

Sure enough: both packages were there. And apparently had been there all along, underneath the welcome mat where the UPS driver had hidden them from view. Sure, they both were in packages a lot flatter than I expected - the bigger was no more than an inch high, and that's at least an inch shorter than I had anticipated - and they'd been well-covered by the mat. But I'd looked for the packages at least a half dozen times, and didn't see them where they'd been placed, and exactly where I would have expected them to be. The only saving grace is that Larry-the-Cat-Sitter had stepped over them every day for a week without spotting them, too.

Perhaps it's just as well I'm not a private investigator.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural quotes.

Today is certainly a day to quote prior inaugural addresses. Let me add this one, which I feel appropriate:

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.

You know, it's not that often that I get to quote Gerald Ford.