December 21, 2007

It’s been an odd year in Paradise by the Pinchgut…

And not just because 2007 isn’t 2006 or 2008.

Although I think that’s still probably part of the problem. That, and monkeys.

But back to the point. Which is itself a first, seeing as how I’ve never felt constrained by the boundaries imposed by “polite society” to “make a point.” ::shakes fist at polite society:: Take that!

Anyway, it’s just been all sorts of topsy turvy—my new, bold, edgy blogging strategy at the beginning of the year—which I termed “NEW, BOLD, EDGY!!”—was quickly beaten to death by all of the usual old, timid, dull suspects. But at least there was still a vast quantity of old timid dull crap to look at, that is, until I quit blogging completely when I got my new job back in August.

That right there has itself been such an experience, one full of interesting stories and insights and catastrophes, all of which would have made such great new blog fodder if I still had time to write it all down. Which I haven’t.

And not only that, there was all the junk that’s been going on in the world that I had no way of commenting on, no matter how much I wanted to. All of the various celebrity shenanigans, the foibles of those quaint souls in the media, the vituperations of the vicious vivisectionists of the legal profession, the always bountiful stupidity of the criminal class and Congress (but I repeat myself), all the various heartwarming marsupial stories, the beauty pageants, the pie-eating contests, the World Series, the Piece of Wood That Looks Like Jesus Which Was Found In A Vacant Lot by a Poor Homeless Man Who Sold It On eBay for 5 Million Dollars But Who Had to Go To Jail When It Was Found Out He Was Really an Escaped Convict and the Wood Was Really Just a Hunk of Wood He’d Carved To Look Like Sorta Like Jesus and so He Didn’t Get Any Money Out of the Deal But Nonetheless Created an Even Bigger Stink When He Said He Found a Bar of Soap in Prison That Looked Like Muhammed And The Entire World Exploded in a Fit of Swarthy-Faced Wild-Eyed Rage By Militant Unitarians—that sort of stuff was just begging for someone like me to comment, but it was simply not to be.

But at least I am getting paid more now, and actually get to do productive-type stuff instead of acting as a bureaucratic anchor to progress, so hey, it ain’t all bad.

Back at the house, there’s been all sorts of stuff going on as well. It’s a constant blur, which was one of the nice things about having a blog, back when I had one, that being that I could write stuff down and have some way of not forgetting it all. That’s really the thing that hurts most. All those little stories and incidents with the kids or Miss Reba, none really earth-shattering or anything, just little bits of life, but they were bits of MY life, and there was some comfort in knowing that as they grew up and as I grew older and more forgetful, I’d have some way to look back and be able to relive a little of the fun. You didn’t get to hear about the dog eating the bike helmet, or Catherine walloping Jonathan with the broom handle, or the Christmas parade. Not that you really wanted to hear about them, but they had a nice touch of humor in them. Makes the day go by a bit faster, y’know?

SO, anyway, enough of all that. Here we are near to the end of the year. If I still had a blog, I’d note that yesterday was its 6th (!) birthday, and I’d tell you all that I’ll be at home all next week enjoying the holidays with my kiddos and the stuff they mooched off of Santa.

Oh, what the heck—I think, for just this once, I’ll act like this place is still in business, and wish all of you a lovely holiday (no matter which day[s] you holify) and a Happy New Year! All of you be nice to each other, and be nice to yourselves, too.

See you next year.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 12:51 PM | Comments (8)

December 17, 2007

Laptop Bleg

Y'know, I really messed up on my timetable for getting out of the blogging biz. Because if I were still at it, it would be SO MUCH EASIER to ask the following question:

Supposing you had a kid who'd saved up a couple of hundred dollars toward a laptop, and said child was in anticipation of a few hundred grickles more from Santa in a few days, exactly what sort of laptop should said child buy? And from whom?

Despite my aura of technological sophistication and incredible knowledge about things computery, I must confess I have absolutely no idea of the best way of going about choosing what sort of equipment to buy.

Basics are this: said child (who is a highly responsible 15 year old girl, not to give anything away) needs to be able to do your basic MS Office type applications--Word, PowerPoint, Excel--as well as be able to use the Internet, run her iPod, play games, maybe watch a video or two. She's not deep into video editing or online role playing games or anything that requires heavy-duty processing power. She needs to be able to seamlessly synch back and forth to our home computer (which is an HP running XP Home) or the computer at Grandmom and grandad's house (which is some kind of Dell running a full blown version of XP), and needs something that will not be obsolete when she takes it out of the box, will serve her needs through the rest of high school and be easily (within reason) upgraded when she decides she needs more horsepower. I would really rather NOT have anything with Vista, since it seems a step backwards from XP, although this might not be as big a problem with an OE install rather than an upgrade to an existing machine. Still, the word on the screet is that it's still got way too many entomology students working overtime.

I've seen specials at Staples and such like for a whole laptop package for around five bills, including a printer and a case and sparkly moonbeam stickers and coupons for fabulous savings on things you don't need. This one in particular seems pretty spiff, although, again, I don't know nuthin' but that it seems like an awfully fine price, even if it's not one of the ones with a free printer.

ANYway, it's all very confusing and everyone has something slightly different on sale right now, and that makes it very difficult to compare apples to lobsters.

So, for all two of you who've remained loyal to Possumblog even though it's no longer in operation, what say you when it comes to the best bet?

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:56 AM | Comments (15)

December 14, 2007

End of Week Brain Dump

Okay, okay--I know. A huge buildup like that, and nothing to back it up.

The shame of having not even a teaspoonful of inanity to offer. And it's not like there's not plenty of fodder out there!

Oh well, let's give it a try anyway. As long as you harbor no expectations of quality, you'll not be disappointed.

Politics: Oh, please. They ("they" being the candidates) all stink, in varying degrees and levels of venality. And even the crazy people are a bunch of pikers. Lyndon LaRouche craps bigger crazy than Kucinich. Anyway, best I can tell the choices right now on the pinko/hippy side come down to purest distilled evil, some goofy kid, a smug foppish twit (with a twist of evil), weird dude, three old guys, and some chubby guy. On the unworthy-to-be-the-successors-to-Ronald Reagan side we've got another bunch of old guys, some guy I've never heard of, a couple of guys with enough baggage to keep a team of fifty bellhops busy for a year, and a former fat guy, and that guy with the hot wife and stack of residual checks. Both sides seem to have a base of vocal supporters made up of enough cranks and loose screws to assemble a fleet of Model Ts. Take THAT, rest of the world!

Weather: The high temperature was close to 80 degrees here on Tuesday. It's going to be barely above freezing on Sunday. ::shakes fist at thermometer::

Sports: Steroids? Baseball?! Eh, whatever. I say any sport where you get to wear jewelry while you play needs as much help as it can get.

Entertainment: Writer's strike? I've not been so disturbed about a labor action since the Amalgamated Brotherhood of Buggy Whip Craftsmen staged their walk-out in 1913.

Family: I have four children and a wife. Each seem to be trying to outdo the others in driving me to an early grave. I love them all dearly nonetheless.

Work: Between the previous category and this one, I have no time nor ability to form anything more than a variety of whale-like squeaks, whistle, clicks, and grunts in lieu of actual substantive conversation.

It's a darned good thing I gave up blogging.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 05:28 PM | Comments (7)

December 07, 2007

I hate school.

Not really.

It’s good to learn things, even if it’s just for the sake of knowing something you didn’t know before.

I suppose what I object to is that schools nowadays take great pride in assigning gigantic enriching multiculturally-engaging, multimedia-focused research assignments to kids who probably don’t get all that much out of it other than a sort of glossy simulacrum of a facsimile of understanding about the topic at hand.

Seeing as how such assignments invariably wind up requiring a huge wad of parental involvement and supervision and assistance.

Because it’s important for parents to be involved.

Despite the fact that my parents never assisted me in doing silly crapwork school projects.

And despite the fact that I have not the socially-desirable overly-stimulated and pampered single child to dote upon, but the near-to-being-white-trash FOUR children, ALL of whom are also given similar gigantic enriching multiculturally-engaging multimedia-focused research assignments.

What brings on this sudden fit of pique?

Boy, and his assignment this nine weeks. Seems they’re studying Asia in social studies. Or possibly language. Or maybe math. You know how schools are nowadays with all this cross-training stuff. Anyway, I think it’s social studies. So, their teacher gives them this big laundry list of activities to choose from in categories such as Culture, Geography, Art, Inscrutability, &c., &c., with each activity worth a varying amount of points, the idea being to allow each student the freedom to pick and choose enough activities from each category to add up to a theoretical maximum total of 200 points.

I’m not sure how much time they were given, although I figure it’s probably been over a month. And you know how good 8th graders are at time management.

So it comes closer to time to start fixing and doing, and Boy had actually begun working on some of his stuff as long as a couple of weeks ago. Me, not knowing exactly how much was involved in the overall scheme of things, was kinda gratified that he hadn’t waited around until the last minute to do his colored picture of the Silk Road, and a clever origami scorpion, and a picture of a samurai.

Little did I know that this wasn’t all there was to it. And that it was all supposed to be turned in today.

It began to dawn on me last weekend, though.

“I’m gonna make paper!”

Great, yeah, whatever, Son.

“And so I need to save the Sunday paper, because I’m going to take that, and put it in the blender, and put water in it, and some glue…”


“No. Jonathan, we’re NOT going to put paper and glue in the blender.”

Hurt little puppy dog eyes. “But—but I have to make paper for my class assignment.”

“WHAT class, Son?”

“That stuff I’m working on for my Asia project—you know, like that map I was doing.”

“Oh. Well, no blender. I’ll help you out on that.”

Because, I am a moron.

SO, thus began an ever deepening hole of paternal, and ultimately, maternal interference.

Because not only did I get to make paper, in the last four days I also wound up making an Ivory soap carving of a fu dog, a large model of a segment of the Great Wall of China, a printed itinerary for a imaginary 14 day tour of Japan (including travel distances and times for each leg of the trip), and a box lunch of three separate dishes, along with the recipe for each item. Mom got involved last night, doing a poster collage of a variety of images of China and Japan gleaned from a stack of National Geographics.

Boy was ever helpful—cutting and pasting and fixing and doing and mixing and assembling and such like, but frankly, there would be no way for any kid really to do all this junk without a big hand from their parents, mainly in the all-important task of project management. Given infinite time and resources, I know the young feller could have figured it all out himself, but something of this magnitude requires a ready-to-go set of skills in production means and methods that is beyond your garden-variety middle schooler.

I don’t know—maybe it’s all this blizzard of information we live in, where there’s so much access to so much stuff, that we seem to have come to think the past got there by a combination of magic and CGI. The fact you can pull up a billion images of every square inch of the Great Wall with nothing but a click of the mouse makes it seem less of a feat of engineering. Building a cardboard model of it (or helping Dad build one) is fun, but I dare say he still has little appreciation for just how massive such an undertaking was.


I think he’d have been better served to do fewer things, but actually do them himself, and not just the simple thing like origami. How about the teacher getting some stones, and some mortar, and a corner of the schoolyard, and letting the kids work and see just how stinkin’ hard it is to lay a straight wall on crooked ground, and then maybe get an appreciation for how long and hard it would be to do the same thing all across 4,000 miles of mountaintop.

Yeah, I know. Lawyers would love that.

Anyway, I am happy to say it all got done and transported to school without incident this morning, so who am I to grouse?

I just hope I get an A.


Papermaking: I’ve seen this done on Beakman’s World, and got a refresher from several websites. Just look up ‘beakman’ and ‘paper,’ and you’ll find enough info. We took a section of newspaper (black and white—no slicks), tore it into thin strips, and then chipped those into very small bits with scissors. This part really would work better with a blender, but I knew a certain wife of mine would never go for it. If you want to make a lot of this junk, go get a blender from the thrift store. Anyway, get the paper all chopped up as fine as possible. I also got a wad of lint out of the clothes dryer screen to give it a bit more body. One thing I didn’t count on was the huge amount of girl hair in the dryer lint. This is gross, but not really noticeable until you get it all soupy and wet. Ick.

Next step was to get a plastic ice cream bucket and put the paper and lint in, and cover it with scalding hot water. Cover, and let it set for a couple of days to get good and mushy. This stuff was then mushed between my fingers until it was even mushier, then allowed to settle back out, and the water carefully drained off. The mush was collected, squeezed out, and then new hot water was put in the plastic tub, along with a big puddle of white glue. After this was dissolved, the mush ball was put back in and squeezed some more until well mixed.

To make the paper reconstitute itself into a thin dry sheet, take an old pair of panty hose and stretch it tightly over a wire coat hanger that you’ve bent around into a square shape. The next part I wasn’t really clear on, but what I did was place the hanger’n’hose into a shallow baking pan, and pour the whole mess of soupy paper mix over the top. I then patted out the mixture evenly and thinly over the whole screen and lifted it out, but that’s probably not the best way to do it.

The screen and mixture still has a lot of water in it, and if you have several days, you set it outside to dry in the sun. The heck with that. I laid it on some paper towels, and then carefully blotted the top to get out as much water as possible, then stuck the whole shebang into the dryer on top of the sweater rack, and let it run for an hour or so.

The end result made a nice 9 inch square of light blue paper, smooth on one side and pleasantly rough on the other, and my recycled paper only required a couple of gallons of natural gas-heated water, a half a roll of new paper towels, and an hour of electricity in the clothes dryer (set on high) to produce! Somehow, I think this is not the way recycling is supposed to work.

Eh, whatever.

Jonathan then decorated the paper with a rubber stamp we had of Chinese characters, and some brushed-on black paint in which he did a free-form sort of rendition of Chinese calligraphy.

Soap carving: I’ve never done this before, but I’ve read that all the great masters of sculpture merely carve away whatever doesn’t look like a horse or busty maiden, so I figured I’d do the same with the soap. Ivory™ brand soap seems to work best, since it’s soft enough to work with, yet strong enough not to snap in half. Boy found a picture of a pair of jade dragon/dogs, and I looked at it briefly and started whittling away stuff that didn’t look like a fu dog.

I blocked out the basic outline with a serrated paring knife, and then finished out the rest with my trusty reliable #11 X-Acto blade. It was very soothing, and I managed to do a really good version for a first effort, although the head looked less like a fierce dragon and more like a hungry pig.

Great Wall model: This one required some doing. Boy found a picture of a section with two guard towers on a rocky section of land. I figured corrugated cardboard would work best—it’s brown, and available in large quantities in our garage. The ground was another story. Needed realistic earth look, but no weight. And the whole thing needed a base to sit on.

Catherine had a big box her pair of boots came in, so I went and got that to use as the base, and fortuitously, it had several big wads of wrapping tissue inside. Hmm. I wadded up several sheets and put them on the boot-box lid, then laid several flat sheets over the top of that. Looks like rolling hills to me!

I glued down the edge of the large sheet to the lid of the box with white glue, then made a thin solution of white glue in hot water and sprayed the whole thing to give it a bit of body and stiffen it. This was then laid aside to dry for a couple of days.

In the interim, we built the guard towers by laying out a rectangle, scoring one side of the cardboard at three equal increments, and folding up the side and joining them with a piece of masking tape on the inside. Crenellations were cut afterward with the X-Acto—two slices down and one across (which would have been easier with a new blade), as well as doorways and tiny windows. I did one to show Boy how, and he did the other.

Needless to say, there was a difference in their appearance once complete. These were also laid aside for a day while I tried to think of how to finish the rest of the thing.

I finally figured I would slice through the tissue and insert the towers and glue them to the box lid underneath, and then connect the towers with sections of cardboard walls. Since the “land” surface rose and fell, one tower would need to be shorter to give the illusion of elevation change, so about an inch was sliced off the bottom of one, and the towers positioned on the now-dry base to eyeball in the correct alignment. Once that was settled, an “x” shape was cut where each tower would go, and the tissue paper flaps turned under.

Now, time to finish the ground.

First step was to try to get something approaching the look of dirt. I thought at first of spray painting it flat light brown, but remembered that stuff in the rattle can that is supposed to look like faux stone. Picked up a can of that at Wally World in the “Antique Ruins” color, as well as some model railroad grass from the hobby shop. (Didn’t need a lot, since the vegetation is supposed to be sparse.)

Sprayed the whole base, with special attention given to covering up the writing on the side of the box, and while it was still wet, sprinkled on the model railroad grass and patted it down gently so it would stick.

HEY! Looks like China!

As that dried, I cooked up the foods, but that has a separate entry below. Just imagine I’ve started back again after the base has dried, and that it’s nearly midnight, I’m punchy, and the X-Acto is now no sharper than the side of my hand.

The towers were glued in place, and the layout of the sidewalls contemplated. Since they had to sort of snake along, it was actually not as hard as if they had to be in a precise location. More cardboard cutting, with some additional trimming needed here and there to make sure they lined up with the towers, and the aforementioned crenellations added before each sidewall was glued down.

I started with the short segments that ran from the towers to the edges of the box first, mainly as a way to practice what I thought would work. Got those done pretty quickly, put in a walkway surface on each, and then moved to the center connection. Due to the way the base “ground” was made, this took a bit longer to fix and do, but it’s nothing more than holding up the cardboard and chewing away the parts that interfered, and bending it slightly side-to-side to fix alignment errors. Got the center part done, including the multi-planar walkway surface (more cardboard, of course), sealed off the underside of each end of the wall so you can’t see inside, did some touch up fixing with strips of the brown paper that was peeled from the corrugated core, and pronounced myself done. It turned out looking pretty doggone nice.

Tour itinerary: Google is your friend, even if they deliberately decided to be evil if it means getting to play in the Chi-Comm internet market. Ahem. Sorry for the impromptu commentary.

Not really.

ANYway, I reread the requirements for the activity—14 days, no more than two days per location, include activities, and travel distances for each stop. Oh, and in 16 point Times New Roman font. Silly teacher.

Got on the Web and Googled “14 day japan tour” and got several different travel service suggestions for trips, and settled on one that ran 15 days, and edited it down to make it fit. The suggested tour stops at each location were all written in traveloguese (Breathtaking! Thrilling! Unimaginable Luxury! Red Hot Vixens! Oh, wait—wrong one), so this stuff got edited out so that we got a list of cities, and a list of sights.

Next, the travel between each usually called for a train, and luckily there are enough online train schedules for Japan to make it a snap to figure out.

If all you want to know is travel time.

Oddly, it’s harder when you want to find actual distances. And another thing, the mysterious Japanese use some sort of odd measuring system that uses something called the ki-lo-meter.

So, yet another website, or three, to figure distances, and then some judicious use of yet another website to translate these enigmatic distances into American. All said and done, it worked out pretty well, as long as the teacher doesn’t get too weirded out by instances of slightly more than two days when you figure in arrivals and departures.

Food: Okay, yet another potential for disaster averted. Boy had to fix three separate food dishes, and had it in his mind to fix something grand and involved, aided and abetted by a certain wife of mine and her collection of cookbooks. I intervened yesterday and went to the store to pick out a few ingredients that would be quick, simple, and more or less Asian. What I settled on was a little make-your-own-sushi kit, some rice thread noodles, some wonton wrappers, and an assortment of vegetable stuff and a little meat.

Sushi kit came with rice and some seaweed wrappers, and that’s about it. I figured some carrot ribbons, a couple of pieces of bamboo shoot, and a bit of fake crabmeat would work fine. It looked pretty cool once I got it rolled up, but the little wrappers are tiny and it was hard to roll up. I had to eat one by accident, and it was good. Dish one.

Next, some quick fried wonton noodles. Cut the wrappers into strips and dropped them into hot oil, and they were done in about five seconds. Same thing with the rice threads, although I let the oil get too hot and burnt one batch and it stank the place up pretty well. Okay, that’s the second dish.

Final one, I took some chicken breasts and sliced them up thin, dropped them in the oil, cooked them quickly and set them aside. Poured out the oil and left only enough to coat the pan, and dumped in a pack of extra firm tofu cubes, let them cook, then dumped in some straw mushrooms. Cooked a bit more, poured in some soy sauce and the cooked chicken, some white pepper, some sesame seeds, let it all mix together and get hot, and I was done. The food was put in a little oblong plastic box with a lid, and Jonathan said it looked like the bento box his friend (friend’s dad is an expat who works for a Honda supplier) brings to school all the time.


Oh, and I had to also type out the recipes. 16 point Times New Roman, natch.

Anyway, so there you go.

And yes, I know you’d have preferred some pictures, but I can’t do everything.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:35 PM | Comments (9)